A lot of packages move each day through the mailroom at the B'nai B'rith International Headquarters in Washington, D.C. This one was different. The 8×10 bubble-wrap envelope was torn, and a red, gelatinous substance was seeping out. And the package was addressed only to "B'nai B'rith," no name, no room number.
The mailroom clerk brought the package to Carmen Fontana, the Jewish organization's director of security. Fontana told me:
The package just didn't look right. Then I smelled it. It had an ammonia type odor. I was thinking "bomb" 100 percent. I immediately put it in a trash container and brought it outside. When I came back in, I told the guard who was on duty to call the police.
The bomb squad came and X-rayed the package. No bomb appeared to be inside. "So they opened it up," says Fontana. "And once they opened it up, inside the package was a petri dish with this red substance in it. And there were some numbers on the petri dish itself. They ran the numbers and it came back as anthrax.
What followed was an eight-hour siege. Washington, D.C. police immediately closed off a 20-block area around B'nai B'rith headquarters. The package was put in a decontamination box and sent to Bethesda Naval Hospital for analysis. But downtown, the police and fire departments needed to assume the worst. City streets, buildings, and parking lots were closed to the public, effectively preventing more than 10,000 people from going home. Still more people were trapped in the gridlock ...