At first it seemed last night's incident that closed down parts of Miami International Airport was an overblown mistake. However details are now emerging about the past of the man at the center of the scar. Dr. Thomas C. Butler was found with a metal container in his luggage that TSA workers thought was a pipe bomb. The container did not have any explosive in it, but Butler has a previous conviction for illegally transporting the bubonic plague.
Back in 2003 Butler, then a professor at Texas Tech, reported that 30 vials of plague had gone missing form his lab. It later turned out he had swiped them himself, and was found guilty of "exporting the vials, lying to federal agents and stealing research funds." He spent about two years in prison for the incident, but was later acquitted of charges of transporting the plague.
A frantic search for the vials ended when Butler gave FBI agents a written statement in which he admitted a "misjudgment" in not telling his supervisor that the vials had been "accidentally destroyed," according to court records.
Before Butler's trial, leading scientific organizations expressed concern about the criminal case against him and its effect on infectious disease research. Four Nobel laureates said in an open letter that Butler had been "subjected to unfair and disproportionate treatment" and that prosecuting his case "is having a negative impact on the future of research in this crucial national-security-related field."
Butler testified that FBI agents forced him to make the admission to calm the public's fears.
There's no word on whether Butler's past conviction played into TSA's decision to evacuate the airport. It also appears that Butler will not face charges.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Miami New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Miami's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
At the time, Butler was returning to America from Saudi Arabia where he teaches at a university.