The nation's top law enforcement official also announced a new government crackdown on phony bioterrorism hoaxes.
Amid a rash of phony anthrax scares, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the Justice Department has launched a new effort to find, prosecute and punish people who make false bioterrorism threats.
"A few isolated individuals … have seen fit to compound the concerns of America and of Americans by perpetrating false threats of anthrax attacks," Ashcroft said at a news conference in Washington this afternoon.
"The Department of Justice will prosecute and punish with the full force of our laws those who issue false anthrax threats or any other form of terrorist threat."
FBI Director Robert Mueller said authorities have responded to more than 2,300 incidents or suspected incidents involving anthrax or other dangerous agents since Oct. 1, the overwhelming majority of which turned out to be "false alarms or practical jokes."
"They are squandering millions of dollars in public health and law enforcement resources," Mueller said of those responsible for such incidents. "More importantly, they are taking manpower and time away from individuals who could be ensuring that there are no future terrorist acts."
Ashcroft announced a Connecticut man, Joseph Faryniarz, was charged a day earlier with making false statements to the FBI in connection with a phony anthrax hoax at the state Department of Environmental Protection last Thursday. The incident prompted officials to hose down a dozen employees with a decontamination solution and evacuate the entire facility for two days.
"Terrorism hoaxes are not victimless crimes, but are the destructive acts of cowards," said the attorney general.
• Anthrax Scares Around the World
Although there hasn't been a single recent case of anthrax confirmed outside the United States, anthrax scares have been reported around the world, particularly in Western nations that could be potential targets for terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists.
There have been recent false alarms in Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, Israel, Egypt, Canada, Britain and Australia. In some cases, suspicious powder was found and rushed to laboratories for analysis. In all cases, no harmful bacteria was found.
The incidents highlight the sense of vigilance and apprehension felt by people overseas in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks and the recent spate of anthrax cases in the United States.
Authorities in Britain are stockpiling antibiotics used to treat anthrax as similar precautions are taken in the United States.
The Bush administration has said that part of the $1.5 billion in new funding it has requested for the Department of Health and Human Services would pay for a dramatic increase in the stockpile of antibiotics used to treat anthrax.
The current government supply could treat 2 million people over 60 days. The White House wants to boost the capacity to be able to treat 12 million people over the same period.