Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Postal Stationary That Carried Anthrax-Filled Letters

Noah Shachtman writes on Wired's Danger Room website, "It was the biggest manhunt in FBI history. So it’s not surprising that investigators took all kinds of extraordinary measures to try to figure out who mailed the anthrax-filled letters that killed five people, scared the country half to death, and have jumped back into public consciousness, thanks to a series of independent reviews over the last six weeks."

According to Noah, "The envelopes were an immediate locus of the investigation. Forensic technicians from the FBI Laboratory and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service ran all kinds of tests on the envelopes and letters recovered from the anthrax attacks. Most of them went nowhere."

He goes on to say, "There were still one potential lead left, however. All four envelopes were of the same type — 6 3/4 inches wide, pre-stamped with a blue eagle logo, and made by the MeadWestvaco Corporation between January 2001 and June 2002. But they weren’t exactly alike.

"The printing plates that produced those stamps were made of a flexible polymer material. Which means there were microscopic differences between the eagles — the result of tiny irregularities that arose as the printing plates pressed ink onto the envelopes. A little excess ink or a slight abrasion could cause small changes. In theory, those small changes could identify approximately the point within a press run when the killer mailings were produced.

"In December, 2006, U.S. Postal Inspection Service agent Tom Dellafera traveled to MeadWestvaco’s Altoona, Pennsylvania, production plant, and ordered a print run of a half-million of the so-called “Federal Eagle” envelopes. By comparing the microscopic differences in these blue eagle stamps to those in the original envelopes, Dellafera’s team was able to point to the part of the press run that produced the envelopes used by the anthrax mailer."

To learn more, click here.
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posted by Don Schilling at 12:01 AM