reflections

'The Bishop's' Escalating Tactics

Fred Burton
Chief Security Officer, Stratfor
10 MINS READFeb 8, 2007 | 02:40 GMT
It can be difficult to separate the important from unimportant on any given day. Reflections mean to do exactly that — by thinking about what happened today, we can consider what might happen tomorrow.

A mail clerk performing routine duties at American Century Investments on Jan. 31 opened a package addressed to an officer of the Kansas City firm, which offers financial services. The daily routine, however, was shattered when the clerk found a note inside reading, "Bang! You're dead," and warning that the box contained a live improvised explosive device (IED).

A police bomb squad summoned to the scene examined the package, finding a PVC pipe filled with what appeared to be smokeless powder and buckshot. The device also had exposed wires protruding from it, though reportedly had no power source, switch or other ignition system — meaning the sender intended it to terrify and not kill.

A day later, the Chicago financial services company Perkins, Wolf, McDonnell and Co. received a similar package. The device had originally been mailed to the Janus Capital Group in Denver, but was forwarded to the Chicago company, apparently because the return address was from the Chicago area, and Perkins, Wolf, McDonnell is a Janus subadviser in Chicago.

The two devices appear to be linked to "The Bishop," an unidentified person (likely male) who has been sending threatening letters to financial services companies since at least 2005. The escalation of The Bishop's behavior from mailing threats to actually sending incomplete IEDs is a clear indication that he is frustrated by his targets' failure to heed his demands, and is upping the ante. This escalation also suggests he will take more drastic action should his demands continue to be ignored. In other words, The Bishop could be on the path to becoming the next Unabomber.

The Bishop

The Bishop first appeared on Stratfor's radar screen in 2005. At that time, he was sending anonymous, threatening letters to various financial services companies demanding that the targeted companies take action to move specific stocks to a predetermined price, frequently $6.66. The demands, however, were delusional because many of the firms targeted did not even have investments in the stocks mentioned, and even if they had, the companies were not large enough to manipulate the stock's price (even had they chosen to act in concert with the other targeted companies).

Although the handwritten envelopes were addressed to senior managers of the targeted firms, the letters themselves (neatly typed and produced on a computer) do not contain specific names, and appear to have been drafted with the intention of sending copies of the same letters to several different firms. The author also occasionally used the name and address of a member of the manager's family as a return address in an apparent attempt to ensure that the letter was brought to the manager's attention. The Bishop's letters were sent from various cities in the Midwest, including Wisconsin and Iowa, and some of them, like the recent IED packages, were sent from Illinois.

In The Bishop's first few series of letters, he used the same basic text and made slight changes, such as the name of the stock he wanted manipulated. The type of attack threatened also was somewhat vague in the first letters. The letters themselves are poorly written, though whether that is an intentional ploy to mislead investigators is not known.

In one letter, however, the author incorrectly states the name of one of the men convicted in the D.C. sniper case, Lee Boyd Malvo. He wrote, "You will help, after all it is so easy to kill somebody it is almost scary. Just think it could be as simple as mailing a package just like The Unabomber use to do simple mail out a package and when the suspecting recipient opens it they don't even know what hit them, or maybe like Salvo did in the D.C. sniper case just a small hole in the trunk of the car and BANG!!" Later in the same letter he also discusses the possibility of kidnapping a member of the victim's family, saying "… possibly the worst thing that can happen to someone is to have a child or grandchild go missing. Kids are snatched all the time and the poor parents are tormented for years not knowing what happened to their angel do you really want to be responsible for that."

In mid-2006, the tone and substance of The Bishop's communications changed. Having seen several of his deadlines pass without action on his demands, he became more belligerent and terse in his letters, and the attacks he threatened became more specific. Instead of discussing a wide range of possible attack scenarios, he focused on one: package bombs. In one letter, mailed in June, he begins the letter with "TIMES UP!" and threatened to mail three "packages" if a specific stock price did not "end green" for four specific days. If it ended green on two of the days, he would send two packages; if it ended green three days, he would send only one, and if it ended green for all four days the target would have "BOUGHT YOURSELF ANOTHER MONTH." The people to be targeted by the devices were to be a relative of the addressee, a relative of one of the addressee's co-workers and a friend or neighbor of the addressee. He ends the June letter with the phrase "IT IS BETTER TO REIGN IN HELL, THAN TO SERVE IN HEAVEN."

It is not known for certain whether Janus and American Century Investments — and the specific employees the devices were addressed to — were previously targeted by The Bishop, but it is highly likely. By sending the incomplete devices last week, however, The Bishop appears to be attempting to increase the pressure on the targeted financial firms. Practically speaking, in order to send devices to three targets selected for each addressee of his June letter, The Bishop would have had to construct and mail dozens of devices. It does not appear at this point that he has mailed even one device to the managers at all the companies he has targeted in the past. Instead, it appears The Bishop believed that, by sending a couple of warning devices, his message would be received by all his victims. Indeed, with two devices sent, the other firms he has targeted in the past are now almost certainly aware of the devices and are taking precautions.

The Packages

The packages themselves are described as being made of white cardboard. One report describes the devices sent to Kansas City as measuring approximately 12 inches by 18 inches and 3 or 4 inches deep, while another report described the package received in Chicago as being approximately 9 inches by 12 inches and 3 or 4 inches deep. It is unclear whether there was a mistake in one of the reports or if the packages were in fact two different sizes. The packages reportedly were sent by priority U.S. mail and it was noted that the intended recipient's name was underlined in the second line of the address.

The packages both carried the same return address in Streamwood, Ill., and were postmarked Jan. 26, 2007, from Rolling Meadows, Ill. The Bishop, however, has used a variety of return addresses in the past and has mailed letters from a number of different cities. Therefore, it is entirely possible that he has sent other devices using alternate return addresses and from other post offices. Based on his past actions, he almost certainly will vary the return address and use a different post office for any future packages he sends. The way The Bishop assembled these packages is in itself revealing. Had his sole purpose been to disrupt business at the targeted companies or to cause a temporary scare, he could have easily accomplished this by sending a letter containing white powder — a tactic used by many hoaxers following the 2001 anthrax letters.

Instead, he made the effort to construct a functional, though incomplete, device. By doing so, he sent a clear message that he has the ability to construct and deliver a real bomb should he wish. This indicates his desire to be taken seriously, to be feared by his victims — and to have his demands met. Had he sent a letter containing baby powder or cornstarch, he would be considered a nuisance rather than a menace. It also is important to note that although the device lacked some components, that does not mean it posed no danger. Static electricity or even a transmission from a handheld radio could have set it off under the right conditions. Therefore, any such device should not be dismissed as harmless.

The Future

Despite investigative efforts at the federal and local levels, The Bishop has not yet been identified and apprehended. In most cases in which someone is sent an IED, the recipient has a relationship of some sort with the attacker, and the victim can readily provide authorities with information that can lead to the identity of a suspect. Cases such as this, where there is no apparent connection between the victim and the attacker, are far more difficult to investigate.

Given that The Bishop has now escalated his tactics to include actual devices, the investigation into his activities will receive much more attention from the authorities than it has in the past. Furthermore, the devices themselves will provide authorities with far more forensic evidence than they have been able to recover from the letters. One media report notes that The Bishop claimed to have left no forensic evidence in his latest package — apparently echoing the Unabomber's taunts and false leads. However, constructing and sending such a device without leaving any forensic evidence is extremely difficult — though even investigations involving a significant amount of forensic evidence can be difficult to crack. Looking back again to the Unabomber case, Theodore Kaczynski began sending IEDs in 1978. Of the 16 devices he sent, several either did not explode or did not function as designed, while authorities were able to recover the remains of the devices that did function. Despite this large quantity of physical evidence, it was not forensics that led to his 1996 arrest, but rather a tip from his brother.

The Bishop appears to have many of the same characteristics as the Unabomber. He is most likely a white male, a loner with minimal social skills and one who harbors delusions of grandeur — to the point that he believes he can influence the behavior of particular stocks. If The Bishop is not identified and apprehended, he likely will continue his efforts to manipulate stock prices. As his threats are ignored, his demands unmet and his grandiose plans thwarted, he probably will continue to escalate his behavior — and eventually will send live devices to his targets. This case focuses on only one small segment of American business, but it, like the recent letter bombings in the United Kingdom, underscores the need for vigilance in screening mail and packages. Many companies instituted programs to screen mail after the 2001 anthrax attacks in the United States. However, such programs are costly to operate and, as complacency set in, might have been relaxed.

The Bishop case provides corporations with a good reason to once again review their mail-handling procedures and emergency plans. The threat, however, is not limited to the corporate mail room. Bishop's particular threats extend to family members, neighbors or friends of the prime targets — meaning home-delivered mail also requires careful scrutiny.

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