When the state government mail room clerk opened a package addressed to Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley shortly after noon on Thursday, 1/6/11, a popping sound, like a firecracker was heard, accompanied by a flash and immediately followed by the release of a sulfuric odor. The believed stink bomb singed the fingers of the employee who opened the book-sized package and caused an evacuation of the immediate area. A similar incident occurred some 15 minutes later at the Maryland Dept of Transportation Building in nearby Hanover. The employee opening this package was taken to the local hospital for examination, but other than the release of sulfur smoke, no other damage was sustained.
This was not the work of New York City's "mad bomber" of some 60 years ago, and not "the Unabomber" from 1990's fame, nor were the devices the work of someone connected with the sending of the anthrax letters shortly after 9/11/01. And no matter what the media calls the devices, they were actually incendiary devices and not true exploding bombs. In fact, since the sending of the anthrax letters, the US Post Office has delivered millions, really almost two trillion pieces of mail while in the past five years only 13 devices classified as mail bombs have been found in our collective mails.
Both of these devices were accompanied by envelopes bearing five Christmas stamps for postage, perhaps suggesting the sender had them left over after sending his non-explosive Christmas cards to friends, or perhaps that was all he could buy at his local post office. Both envelopes bore the typed addresses of the indicated recipients, Maryland Gov O'Malley and a state transportation official. One source suggested the letters contained in the envelopes mentioned Maryland's terrorism tip line, one widely publicized in the state that the writer referenced as "Report suspicious activity! Total Bull----! You have created a self fulfilling prophecy." You need only drive along the main roads in Maryland to see 113 such billboards proclaiming "Report Suspicious Activity." The tip line receives on the average about two calls per day.
Because of recent incidents across the country, including suspected terrorists using the mails and other similar means of transportation to ship and send real bombs to addresses in America and across the world, the typical "abundance of caution" was exhibited. Offices were shut down and mail was intensely scrutinized in mail rooms in Washington, DC, Maryland, Virginia, and many other states and public buildings. The fear, of course, was that if there were two devices, there could be others, perhaps devices received in Thursday's mail or ones waiting for delivery on Friday.
State and federal officials, including US Postal Inspectors and the FBI will examine the evidence in an attempt to identify the sender of the so far two known devices. The envelopes could contain the sender's DNA while the enclosed letters could have latent fingerprints, DNA, evidence of the type of computer or printer used, and other forensic evidence that could help to link the devices to their sender. If the devices were of commercial manufacture, that, of course, would be another clue.
Authorities now know the "what," they need to learn the "who" and the "why." Were these incidents just juvenile stupidity or were they the work of someone whose life style, ethnic origin, or personal belief system just didn't like the idea of the "1984-isk' 'Big Brother is Watching-like'" tip line, one that can be used to turn in your friends, enemies, and your neighbors if you are unhappy with them.
Some officials will be waiting for "the other shoe to drop," this by the receipt of similar devices today, while investigators will be reviewing the letters for evidence of motive. There is always the fear of "copy cats," attention seeking individuals who simply copy the actions of another to get similar media attention. When we see by these incidents in a nation as large as ours, with all of our security precautions to include metal detectors, bomb sniffing dogs, and thousands of people dedicated to preventing such incidents, we are once again reminded that we simply cannot prevent every incident. In a nation of almost 310 million people, we are left, many times, to count on the good will of the people not to do bad things. Sometimes some of them disappoint us...
On Friday a similar package addressed to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano ignited while at a postal facility in Washington, DC. The package apparently self-ignited as it was not being opened at the time if began popping and smoking and emitting a brief flash of fire. This latest package and the two Maryland packages were sent to the FBI Lab at Quantico, VA for examination, this while investigators fully expect to find other similar devices in the next few days.