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Postal Service Seeks Origin Of Anthrax Sent to Daschle

By Robert A. Rosenblatt and Josh Meyer

Postal inspectors hunting for the senders of anthrax-laden mail have a number of tools to figure out when and where a letter was mailed. But their techniques might be insufficient to find the individuals who sent the envelopes that have generated anxiety among the public and postal workers, according to security experts.

But authorities cautioned that the odds are not great that they will be able to back trace the anthrax-ridden package unless there is a major break, figuring out where the anthrax was produced, or lifting a matching fingerprint from an envelope, the odds are long that law enforcement investigators will track down the culprits.

“I would say if you sent a letter, you will have a reasonable expectation that you will not get caught,” said a former top Postal Inspection Service security administrator. “It’s just too hard to track them down.”

Working closely with the FBI, postal investigators on Monday were trying to lift fingerprints from the letters, including one sent to the office of the Senate minority leader, Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and to take DNA samples from any saliva found on the envelopes.

Meanwhile, the Postal Service announced Monday that it will furnish gloves and filtering face masks to employees who request them. The agency also said the formation of a special task force of management, union and major corporate mailers to discuss the threat of biological and chemical materials sent through the mail.

After the Unabomber case, the Postal Service changed its rules, banning any packages weighing more than 16 ounces from being dropped into mailboxes. In such cases, they are returned to the sender or examined by postal authorities. Packages heavier than a pound must be handed directly to a clerk at a post office, who can look for anything suspicious and demand to see the mailer's identification.

Postmaster General Jack Potter urged Americans to combine vigilance with calm. “We have mobilized our military, but we also must mobilize our common sense,” he said. “Panic must not defeat us.” He told his agency’s workers: “If you see a suspicious package or letter, leave it alone. Don’t shake it or bump it. Isolate it, and call for help.”

Postal inspectors have had success catching people who send bombs through the mail, but few arrests have been made in incidents where someone sends a threatening letter, whether the letter actually contained hazardous materials or simply claimed to have dangerous contents, officials acknowledged Monday.

In investigating the anthrax cases in three states and on Capitol Hill here, authorities analyzed handwriting on the letters and scrutinized the envelopes to see if they bore any special characteristics that would help determine where they were sold, and who bought them. Authorities also are trying to determine if the packages containing anthrax are from the same source.

The Postal Service has promised its unions a nationwide video conference Tuesday “giving better and hopefully more specific management instructions and guidance on this issue,” said Tom Fahey, a spokesman with the American Postal Workers.