Daily Updates

April 17, 2013

Senator: Police have suspect in ricin mailing

WASHINGTON — Police have a suspect in mind as they investigate a letter mailed to Sen. Roger Wicker that tested positive for poisonous ricin, a Senate colleague said.

“The person that is a suspect writes a lot of letters to members,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said Tuesday as she emerged from a classified briefing.

Authorities declined to comment on a suspect or any other aspect of the investigation being led by Capitol Police and the FBI after tests indicated that a letter mailed to the Mississippi Republican’s Washington office contained the potentially deadly toxin. The letter was intercepted at a Senate mail facility in Prince George’s County, Md., just outside Washington, said Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, a member of the Senate’s Democratic leadership.

The letter’s discovery shook the U.S. Capitol, where several events were canceled Tuesday in response to Monday’s Boston bombing that killed three people, injured more than 170 and ignited fresh fears of terrorism. There was no evidence of a connection between the two events.

FBI spokesman Paul Bresson said initial field tests on the substance produced mixed results and it was undergoing further analysis at a laboratory. Only after that testing could a determination be made about whether the substance was ricin, Bresson said.

Capitol Police spokesman Shennell S. Antrobus said police were notified that the mail facility had received “an envelope containing a white granular substance.”

“The envelope was immediately quarantined by the facility’s personnel and USCP HAZMAT responded to the scene,” Antrobus said. “Preliminary tests indicate the substance found was ricin. The material is being forwarded to an accredited laboratory for further analysis.”

One congressional official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation wasn’t concluded, said evidence of ricin appeared on two preliminary field tests.

Antrobus said operations at the Capitol complex had not been affected by the investigation.

Terrance Gainer, the Senate’s sergeant-at-arms, said the envelope bore a Memphis, Tenn., postmark but had no return address or suspicious markings.

Mail from a broad swath of northern Mississippi, including Tupelo, Oxford and DeSoto County, is processed and postmarked in nearby Memphis, according to a Postal Service map. The Memphis center also processes mail for residents of Western parts of Tennessee and eastern Arkansas.

Gainer told Senate offices there is “no indication that there are other suspect mailings.”

But in an email to Senate offices, he urged caution and said the mail facility where the initial tests were performed will be closed for a few days while the investigation continues.

“Our primary concern right now is the safety of our employees, the safety of our customers and the safety of the U.S. mail,” Postal Service spokeswoman Patricia Licata said.

She said the agency is working with health and law enforcement officials but didn’t answer a question about whether any employee had been exposed to the substance found on the letter.

Among senators there was a mix of apprehension and appreciation that security protocols — put into place after anthrax mail attacks following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — seemed to work.

The 2001 anthrax-laced letters appeared in post offices, newsrooms and the offices of then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. Two Senate office buildings were closed during that investigation. Overall, five people died and 17 others became ill. The FBI attributed the attack to a government scientist who committed suicide in 2008.

“Luckily, this was discovered at the processing center off premises,” Durbin said. He said all mail to senators is “roasted, toasted, sliced and opened” before it ever gets to them.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said it was clear the revised mail screening system had worked as it should.

“It was caught in a way that did no damage, so I’m not obsessively concerned,” Levin said.

Sen. Jeff Flake called the letter “a big concern, obviously, for all of us.” The Arizona Republican described senators as “very anxious to get more details.”

Wicker was appointed to the Senate in 2007 before winning a full term last year. He previously was a House member for 12 years. He is viewed as a solid conservative.

Milt Leitenberg, a University of Maryland bioterrorism expert, said ricin is a poison derived from the same bean that makes castor oil. According to a Homeland Security Department handbook, ricin is deadliest when inhaled. It is not contagious, but there is no known antidote.

———

Associated Press writers Donna Cassata, Andrew Miga, Seth Borenstein, Eric Tucker, Eileen Sullivan, Pete Yost and Pauline Jelinek in Washington and Emily Wagster Pettus and Jeff Amy in Jackson, Miss., contributed to this report.

 

1
Text Only
Daily Updates
  • NASA’s space station Robonaut finally getting legs

    Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs.

    April 19, 2014

  • Documents detail another delayed GM recall

    Government documents show that General Motors waited years to recall nearly 335,000 Saturn Ions for power steering failures despite getting thousands of consumer complaints and warranty repair claims.

    April 19, 2014

  • Captain of sunken SKorean ferry, 2 crew arrested

    The captain of the ferry that sank off South Korea, leaving more than 300 missing or dead, was arrested Saturday on suspicion of negligence and abandoning people in need. Two crew members also were taken into custody, including a rookie third mate who a prosecutor said was steering in challenging waters unfamiliar to her when the accident occurred.

    April 19, 2014

  • Asia seeks Obama’s assurance in territorial spats

    As President Barack Obama travels through Asia this coming week, he will confront a region that’s warily watching the crisis in Ukraine through the prism of its own territorial tensions with China.

    April 19, 2014

  • Delay won’t quell 2014 wrangling over Keystone XL

    Democrats sweating this year’s elections may be hoping that the Obama administration’s latest delay to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline takes a politically fraught issue off the table for the midterms.

    April 19, 2014

  • In Other News, April 19

    April 19, 2014

  • 5 features an Amazon phone might offer

    A report this week in The Wall Street Journal that Amazon is planning to release a smartphone has prompted industry analysts and technology blogs to muse about what the device might offer.

    April 19, 2014

  • Colorado deaths stoke worries about pot edibles

    A college student eats more than the recommended dose of a marijuana-laced cookie and jumps to his death from a hotel balcony. A husband with no history of violence is accused of shooting his wife in the head, possibly after eating pot-infused candy.

    April 19, 2014

  • Boston prepares for huge wave of marathon visitors

    With an expanded field of runners and the memory of last year’s bombings elevating interest in one of the world’s great races, the 2014 Boston Marathon could bring an unprecedented wave of visitors and an influx of tourism dollars to the area.

    April 19, 2014

  • Autopsy to ID dead boy; body cast off side of road

    All Massachusetts authorities could say for sure is that they found the lifeless body of a small boy, apparently cast off the side of a highway.

    April 19, 2014