April 17, 2013
Suspicious letter to Obama
April 17, 2013
Suspicious letter to Obama
WASHINGTON: Law-enforcement authorities announced Wednedsay they had intercepted a poison-laced letter intended for President Barack Obama, and locked down some Senate office buildings amid rising concerns of a terrorism-by-mail campaign reminiscent of the anthrax attacks that followed the Sept. 11, 2001 strikes. The missive tested positive for the deadly substance ricin.
The new threats emerged one day after a letter destined for Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi also tested positive for ricin. Officials said there was no evidence of a link to the bombings at the Boston Marathon.
Asked whether the Obama and Wicker incidents were connected, a law-enforcement source told Yahoo News that "the letters are very similar."
Obama was never in any real danger: Since the anthrax attacks, mail addressed to the White House goes through extensive off-site screening. The same goes for that of U.S. lawmakers.
Ricin, for which there is no known antidote, is made from ground castor beans—and ground castor beans lacking the poison's potency can still trigger a positive test.
One day after the letter to Wicker was intercepted, "a second letter containing a granular substance that preliminarily tested positive for ricin was received at an offsite mail screening facility," the FBI announced. "The envelope, addressed to the president, was immediately quarantined by U.S. Secret Service personnel, and a coordinated investigation with the FBI was initiated."
Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan also disclosed that a staffer in his Saginaw office had alterted authorities after receiving a "suspicious-looking letter."
And U.S. Capitol Police investigated a fresh potential threat to lawmakers: “Suspicious items” that led them to clear three floors in two Senate office buildings, according to a spokeswoman.
“Currently, we’re investigating two separate issues,” Lt. Jessia Baboulis told Yahoo News. Capitol Police “have asked that people remain off the first and third floors of the Hart office building, and the third floor of Russell,” another office building.
Asked whether there was any sign that those situations were linked to the Wicker letter, Baboulis replied: “None at this time.”
The White House worked to tamp down fears.
"Before we speculate, before we make connections that we don’t know exist, that the FBI has made a clear statement about, we need to get the facts," press secretary Jay Carney told reporters at his daily briefing in response to a question about whether the nation is "under attack."
Levin also appeared to play down the situation in his field office.
"Earlier today, a staffer at my Saginaw regional office received a suspicious-looking letter. The letter was not opened, and the staffer followed the proper protocols for the situation, including alerting the authorities, who are now investigating. We do not know yet if the mail presented a threat," he said in a statement. "I’m grateful for my staff’s quick response and for government personnel at all levels who are responding."
The suspicious letters and items on the Hill follow heightened tensions in the wake of Monday's deadly Boston Marathon bombings.
The letter sent to the president was never near the president or the White House. Following anthrax scares in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, the White House moved all mail processing off-site. The screening facility that caught the president's letter Tuesday is "not located near the White House complex," U.S. Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary noted in a statement.
"On 4-16-13, a letter addressed to the President containing a suspicious substance was received at the remote White House mail screening facility. This facility routinely identifies letters or parcels that require secondary screening or scientific testing before delivery," Leary said.
"The Secret Service is working closely with the U.S. Capitol Police and the FBI in this investigation," he said.
Senate Sergeant At Arms Terrance Gainer said in an email to all Senate staff that mail delivery would be interrupted on Thursday and Friday, and urged exceptional precautions when dealing with incoming mail:
- Offices should NOT accept sealed envelopes. All unopened items should go through screening. You should accept mail only from a uniformed Senate Post Office employee or a government courier bearing a bona-fide government ID. Should an individual attempt to deliver a sealed item to your Washington, D.C., office, please redirect them to the Congressional Acceptance Site located at 160 D Street, NE (across the street from United States Capitol Police headquarters), or if you have any doubts, call the police. We will process these items safely and deliver them after they have cleared testing. If a sealed envelope already has been delivered to your office and it is of unknown origin, you should contact the United States Capitol Police."
News of the intercepted letter to the president was reportedly announced to senators during a briefing Tuesday evening.