Ricin suspected in letter sent to Obama

Apr 17, 2013 (CIDRAP News) – Federal authorities said today that a letter addressed to President Obama contained a substance that initially tested positive for the deadly toxin ricin, amid investigations of suspicious mail sent to at least three senators.

In a press release, the FBI reported that a letter "containing a granular substance that preliminarily tested positive for ricin was received at an off-site mail screening facility."

The report follows yesterday's revelation by US Capitol Police that a letter addressed to Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., also contained a substance that appeared in initial tests to be ricin. Material from both letters is undergoing confirmatory testing, which takes 24 to 48 hours, FBI and media reports said.

In addition, Capitol Police today investigated a suspicious package that was delivered to the office of Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., in the Russell Senate Office Building and another left in the atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building, the Washington Post reported. The police later fully reopened the two buildings, without immediately saying what they had found, the Post said.

Also, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said a suspicious letter was received this morning at his field office in Saginaw, Mich. In a statement, he said a staff member turned the letter over to authorities without opening it. The staff member is well but is being kept at a hospital overnight for observation.

Today's FBI statement said filters at a second government mail-processing facility, not the one that intercepted the letter to Obama, preliminarily tested positive for ricin this morning. "Mail from that facility is being tested," the agency said.

The FBI also said there is no indication of a connection between the letters and the twin bombings 2 days ago at the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

CNN, quoting unnamed law enforcement sources, reported today that the letters to Obama and Wicker featured similar language and signatures. Both letters said, "To see a wrong and not expose it, is to become a silent partner to its continuance," followed by, "I am KC and I approve this message."

CNN said the statement about exposing "a wrong" comes from John Raymond Baker, a longtime Texas chiropractor, and has been widely quoted online. Baker's wife, Tammy Baker, sounded surprised that it was used in the letters, the network reported.

Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer told senators by e-mail that the letter sent to Wicker had a Memphis, Tenn., postmark and no return address, according to CNN.

Mail addressed to the White House and Congress has been screened at off-site facilities since the anthrax mail attacks in the fall of 2001, which sickened 22 people and killed 5. The attacks included letters to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and then-Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D.

Ricin is a natural poison found in castor beans and can be made from the waste material from processing the beans to make castor oil. The US military experimented with ricin as a weapon in the 1940s, and the substance might have been used as a weapon in Iraq in the 1980s, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Ricin poisoning can be fatal within 36 to 72 hours, depending on the dose and whether exposure is by inhalation, ingestion, or injection, the CDC says.

See also:

Apr 17 FBI press release

Apr 17 Washington Post report

Apr 17 statement by Sen. Carl Levin

Apr 17 CNN story

CDC information about ricin

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