Amid the worsening coronavirus outbreak in the US, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen warned officials in a Department of Justice memo that they may encounter threats against individuals or the general public or even purposeful infection of others with the coronavirus and that such threats and actions may be considered terrorism.
"Because coronavirus appears to meet the statutory definition of a 'biological agent'...such acts potentially could implicate the nation's terrorism-related statutes," wrote Rosen, referencing statutes on the "development/possession of a biological agent for use as a weapon," "threats by mail" and "false information and hoaxes regarding biological weapons."
The memo discussed criminal activity related to the outbreak in general, including fraud, hoarding and selling designated scarce medical supplies and devices at excessive prices and the sale of fake drugs and cures. Conspiracies to fix prices, rig bids or allocate markets with coronavirus materials are also mentioned in the memo and are prosecuted criminally under federal antitrust laws.
"Capitalizing on this crisis to reap illicit profits or otherwise preying on Americans is reprehensible and will not be tolerated," warned Rosen, asking officials to report criminal actions and to coordinate with the DOJ and state and local authorities in order to find and punish misconduct.
Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) National Security Project, highlighted issues with the DOJ memo.
"The Department of Justice should not be sending such a counterproductive and harmful message as the nation responds to this pandemic," said Shamsi. "Rather than heeding public health experts' advice to promote public trust in science and reduce prison populations, the Justice Department is threatening to use vague, overbroad, and flawed coercive powers that will make people more afraid to seek care."
ABC News recently obtained a FBI report stating that white supremacist groups across the United States are promoting their members to spread the coronavirus to members of the Jewish community as well as police officers.
"Members of extremist groups are encouraging one another to spread the virus, if contracted, through bodily fluids and personal interactions," according to the FBI.
ABC News reported that messages disseminated between the groups encourage their members to use "spray bottles" filled with infectious body fluids in order to attack police - with regards to the Jewish community, they instructed their members to travel to "any place they may be congregated, to include markets, political offices, businesses and places of worship."