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FBI Profiler Had It Right in Anthrax Case

Ronald Kessler By Friday, 19 September 2008 03:04 PM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

FBI profiler James R. Fitzgerald told the bureau five years ago that it probably had pinpointed the wrong man as the culprit for the anthrax mailings that killed five people, but those in charge of the investigation ignored him.

Fitzgerald, who also is a forensic linguist who analyzes communications, offered a profile that generally excluded initial suspect Steven Hatfill but fit Bruce E. Ivins, the man the FBI ultimately decided was responsible for the mailings in 2001.

The FBI asked Fitzgerald, now retired from the bureau, to review the documents in the anthrax case early on.

“A total of 29 words were used in all the anthrax letters,” Fitzgerald tells Newsmax. “There wasn’t a whole lot to go on from a linguistic perspective, but there were some interesting stylistic perspectives, including the way the person used dashes to separate the dates, used uppercase lettering, and used larger uppercase lettering for certain words in the beginning of sentences. On the envelopes, he didn’t use commas between the city and the state.”

As when Fitzgerald worked on the case of Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski, he offered suggestions on what details to reveal to the public to elicit cooperation. But he also drew up a profile of the likely perpetrator.

The profile said the culprit probably was a domestic male, working on his own, and not a terrorist. He probably worked for a U.S. biochemical agency. That would have included the Army’s Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, where both Hatfill and Ivins worked.

The suspect may not have wanted to kill anybody, the profile indicated. Rather, the anthrax enclosed in mailed envelopes could have dispersed when processed at postal facilities, killing people accidentally.

The man did not want to promote an ideology or overturn the government, the profile suggested. Instead, he had a specific personal agenda.

The suspect’s behavior before and after his mailings would show marked changes, the profile said. Anyone who knew this person would observe him working longer hours before the mailings and departing from his normal schedule on weekends and nights. He also would be taking an extra interest in the media and news accounts.

The FBI should have known that Ivins — not Hatfill — had been working inordinate hours at his lab on the nights and weekends just before the mailings. He rarely had worked nights or weekends before that. The anthrax spores and production equipment were stored in his lab.

“Quite frankly, Steven Hatfill’s pre-offense and post-offense behavior was not significantly different from what we saw around the time of the anthrax incidents,” Fitzgerald says. “I was in a group of several other profilers who were asked to meet with the Amerithrax investigative team at the Washington field office. In the group were two or three investigators, the inspector-in-charge of the investigation, and at least one assistant U.S. attorney. We were asked point-blank if we thought Hatfill looked good as a suspect. We said, based on his pre-offense and post-offense behavior, he did not appear to be a likely suspect and that others should be considered.”

Specifically, Fitzgerald suggested that the FBI should look for someone else who had altered his work schedule for a month or so before and after the attacks.

“The inspector in charge decided they had no reason to look in any other direction,” Fitzgerald says. “They had their man.”

But the FBI’s new Amerithrax task force eventually recognized that Hatfill was the wrong target and had been maligned unfairly. After Hatfill filed a lawsuit, the Justice Department paid out $5.8 million to settle the case. As the FBI closed in on its new suspect, Ivins committed suicide on July 29.

Fitzgerald, who now works for the Academy Group in Manassas, Va., which provides profiling services for private industry, knew nothing about profiling or linguistics when he joined the FBI in 1987. But while assigned to the field office in New York City, he worked cases involving stalking or threatening letters sent to Jane Pauley, Bryant Gumbel, Don Imus, Donald Trump, and Rush Limbaugh.

“I found it fascinating to look at the language itself,” he says. “I would attempt to figure out, do we have an older person, a younger person, is it a male, is it a female, is it a native English speaker or not? Are they educated or not educated? Are they trying to disguise their style of writing? And I said, there must be people that study this stuff. I’d love to get into that someday.”

In 1995, Fitzgerald became a profiler at the FBI Academy at Quantico, Va. As noted in the Newsmax story “The Real Story on FBI Profiling,” profiling is not about singling out people based on race or ethnicity. Rather, it is about helping to solve cases by comparing characteristics found at a crime scene with characteristics of other known crimes and their perpetrators, then drawing conclusions based on the previous cases.

As part of Fitzgerald’s profiler training, he learned about analyzing communications. He later obtained a master’s degree in linguistics from Georgetown University. As he has at the Academy Group, Fitzgerald created a database of threatening or suspicious letters, similar to one the Secret Service maintains.

Fitzgerald was on vacation when he got a call from his boss.

“Jim, they need some help out at the Unabomb investigation in San Francisco,” his boss said. “There’s a brand new task force. They want a profiler. Would you care to go out?’”

The assignment was to last 30 days. A year and a half later, he was still working the case.

Kaczynski eventually demanded that The Washington Post and The New York Times publish his 35,000-word manifesto. Fitzgerald and others persuaded then FBI Director Louis Freeh and Attorney General Janet Reno to push the newspapers to publish the document to see whether anyone recognized the author’s writing style.

After the papers ran the document, “The task force in San Francisco gets a phone call in February 1996, and we have a new name to add to our 2,500-person suspect list,” Fitzgerald says. “And that was the name Ted Kaczynski, called in by his brother David Kaczynski through his lawyer.”

The only FBI profiler who is also a court-certified forensic linguist, Fitzgerald analyzed other writings of Kaczynski and concluded that the Unabomber probably wrote them. His findings helped narrow the investigation to Kaczynski and were cited by the FBI in a warrant to search the Kaczynski cabin, now on display at the Newseum in Washington.

Kaczynski is serving a life sentence at the supermax prison in Florence, Colo.

Fitzgerald worked other high-profile cases like those of Danny Pearl, JonBenet Ramsey, and the D.C. sniper. In that October 2002 case, he was the first to suggest to the task force working the 10 murders that at least one suspect was an African-American.

As it turned out, both John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, who were convicted of the crimes, are African-American.

“It’s an indication of how the science of linguistics combined with and criminal profiling can help solve cases,” Fitzgerald says.

Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via
e-mail. Go here now.

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FBI profiler James R. Fitzgerald told the bureau five years ago that it probably had pinpointed the wrong the man as the culprit for the anthrax mailings that killed five people, but those in charge of the investigation ignored him. Fitzgerald, who also is a forensic...
Friday, 19 September 2008 03:04 PM
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