You probably remember that almost immediately after terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center, ordinary citizens and state and federal government officials began receiving letters containing anthrax in the form of a powdery substance. The letters were sent though the US Postal Service (USPS). Dozens of other letters were found waiting for delivery in various post offices across the nation.

To this day, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) continues investigating this and other incidents.

Other incidents? The US mail system is still being used to deliver suspicious powders, as well as other illegal activities.

Dateline: 2010

In early January 2010, almost nine years after 9/11 and the anthrax scare, letters showed up in the mail delivered to federal government officials and politicians in several cities across Alabama. The letters contained a powdery substance. Presuming anthrax or some other biological agent or poison, emergency procedures were set in motion, such as evacuations of affected buildings.

The FBI is investigating the matter still, but it’s been confirmed that the powder isn’t anthrax or any other hazardous material.

Unfortunately, the Alabama incident is the latest in a long string of post-9/11 incidents. In many cases, like the one in Alabama, the powdery substance isn’t harmful. Rather, the letters were meant to scare or terrorize the recipients but not actually harm them. Other letters over the years, however, have been laced with biological toxins.

The Law

Under US law, it’s illegal to mail hazardous or injurious materials like anthrax. The Post Office has a Dangerous Mail Investigations program to prevent misuse of the mail and investigate incidents such as the recent Alabama scare. The USPS also has a publication explaining what can and can’t be sent through the mail. There are mailing restrictions on things, like chemicals, perishable food, and alcohol.

In addition, anyone who sends anthrax or other toxins and poisons through the US mail may face criminal charges of terrorism or use of a weapon of mass destruction. If officers, agents, or employees of the federal government are the recipients of such letters, he may face other federal criminal charges as well.

Sending a threatening letter is a crime, too. As in the Alabama incident, while the letters don’t contain anthrax, they threatened the recipients, according to investigators. Whether you call it a hoax, joke, or a bluff, it’s a crime.

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