Report: Now, ricin-laced letter has been mailed to Obama

First, there was the report last night that mail containing ricin had been intercepted on its way to Mississippi Republican Sen. Roger Wicker.

Now, there’s this:

 WASHINGTON – A letter addressed to President Obama, containing a suspicious substance, was intercepted at a screening facility outside the White House, the Secret Service said on Wednesday.

The letter was received on Tuesday – similar timing to the letter addressed to Senator Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi, which tested positive for ricin. The letter had similar markings and is similar in appearance to the one addressed to Mr. Wicker, according to a law enforcement official.

The Secret Service did not disclose what was in the letter or provide any details, saying it was intercepted in a facility that “routinely identifies letters or parcels that require secondary screening or scientific testing before delivery.”

The mailing facility is not close to the White House grounds, the Secret Service said. An official said the Secret Service is working with the United States Capitol Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

This is more than weird. After 9/11, we had the anthrax mailings. Now this, after Boston. Is there something about overt terrorist acts on U.S. soil that stimulates a certain kind of deviant to put poison in the mail?

Ricin, you say? Does anyone know the whereabouts of this man?

Ricin, you say? Does anyone know the whereabouts of this man?

This really brings back the memories. Since some media types were among the targets last time around, we went the extra mile at The State to make sure ensure the safety of employees. Some regular travelers like Doug experienced inconvenience at airports. For me, the biggest direct impact of extreme security measures was dealing with the mail in the fall of 2001.

It was decided to move mail sorting out of the main building, into a smaller structure located on the grounds of The State. And senior staff members — the executives in charge of news, editorial, advertising, circulation, etc. — worked shifts supervising the process. So it was that I found myself going over to the other building for an hour or two, a couple of times a week, to personally supervise the shuffling of mail. There was no practical point to senior staff doing this, beyond the point of showing that we would share any one-in-a-million danger involved in the process.

It was as boring as it sounds, and every moment was imbued with a sense of absurdity. But such was the atmosphere in the country at the time.

The interesting thing about these latest developments, for me, was that I learned that Congress and the White House were still processing mail at remote locations. Well, it makes a lot more sense for them to be doing it than for a private business. But I didn’t know it until now.

27 thoughts on “Report: Now, ricin-laced letter has been mailed to Obama

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    As I was finishing typing the above post, I got this alert from AP:

    April 17, 12:10PM: FBI says preliminary test indicates poisonous ricin in letter sent to President Obama.

  2. Doug Ross

    “Some regular travelers like Doug experienced inconvenience at airports.”

    And continue to experience and observe it it on a weekly basis.

    In the past two weeks I saw:

    A mother of a young boy in a wheelchair who was likely undergoing cancer treatment get stopped at the TSA initial ID checkpoint. She was denied entry because her license had apparently expired while she was in Memphis for the treatment for her child. Last thing I heard her say as she pushed the wheelchair away to sort out the problem was “They told me at the Ronald McDonald House that it wouldn’t be a problem”.

    An elderly woman in a wheelchair who could not stand be put through a physical patdown with a TSA agent running her hands along and under the woman’s legs in full view of everyone else in the TSA area.

    A “little person” attempt multiple times to walk through the body scanner but it not working because he was too short. I’m sure that wasn’t embarrassing for him.

    An extremely obese man who had to struggle to fit in the body scanner. Again, I’m sure he was thrilled to be on display for everyone to watch.

    Meanwhile, in Memphis since I travel so frequently, I get to go thru the TSA Pre Check line which doesn’t require taking off shoes or removing laptops from bags, etc. There are typically five agents standing around waiting for one person like me to go thru their line. There is an agent next to the conveyor belt, an agent at the front of the scanner, and agent at the rear of the scanner, an agent manning the scanner, and an agent collecting the plastic bins at the back of the conveyor belt.

    All of this because there wasn’t a sturdy lock on cockpit doors on 9/11.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Hey, a coincidence — I’m about to go to Memphis myself soon. But I’m going to drive.

      This is a bit of a non sequitur, but I wonder: Did the obese man have to buy two tickets?

      1. Doug Ross

        Considering I’m a svelte 225 pounds and can just fit into a typical coach class seat, I’d be surprised if the guy who had to have been 500 pounds could get by with one seat. Either that, or I would feel very sorry for his row mates.

        1. Silence

          I had an awful 8 hour flight earlier this year. The woman in the next seat was obese and literally hung over the armrest. There was nowhere for either of our arms to go – for 8 hours. It was awful, but on a full flight, what are you going to do?

          Silence’s Rules for Air Travel:
          1) If you need a lap-belt extender, you also need an additional seat.
          2) If you are getting on a flight, take a bath with soap and water, not with frankincense perfume.
          3) Be courteous to the passengers around you. If everyone else is asleep and the cabin lights are off, please turn off your overhead light.
          4) If someone is travelling on an official (non-tourist) passport, that should mean they need less screening, not more.

          1. Steven Davis II

            This is why I no longer fly unless absolutely necessary. I look forward to flying about as much as a prostate exam. Airlines now have become what Greyhound used to be.

          2. Mark Stewart

            1) aisle seat
            2) sit as far forward as possible
            3) dress to be profiled
            4) two small bags; no damn rollers
            5) water
            6) ear plugs, mask, light jacket – little zonky pills for long flights

          3. Silence

            Airlines are now indeed the equivalent of Greyhound, or possibly the modern equivalent of a Union Pacific Railroad livestock car.

          4. Silence

            Agreed Mark – always go with the aisle seat, and of course as far forward as possible. First or Business Class, preferably. Economy Plus if nothing higher is available. Dress nicely, like you are travelling for business, or at least have money. No fuzzy pajama pants, slippers or T-shirts. Backpack or briefcase, definitely no roller bags. If it has to roll, than it’s not a “carry” on. Water for hydration, for sure. Flying is dehydrating. Earplugs or noise cancelling headphones unplugged but left on. Airline blanket and eyemask. Sleepy pills are definitely a must for overnight flights. Pop ’em when you board and hope you sleep through dinner and breakfast.

  3. Kathryn Fenner

    I learned about ricin from the deadly attacks on the Japanese subway years and years ago, and I am not even in the news business.

  4. bud

    Doug, while I consider all this security largely overkill it will only take one person dressed up as an old lady in a wheel chair to blow up a plane to bring out the howls of protest over the “lax” security at the airports. In Statistical parlance what we especially want to avoid is a Type A error, that is allowing a terrorist with a weapon onto a plane. But at the same time we don’t want to commit an extensive number of unnecessary Type B errors whereby we get carried away with senseless, unnecessary and intrusive security measures. For the infrequent flyer like me I’d prefer we ere on the side of too much security. However, if there are effective changes that would lower the Type Bs without increasing the risk of the Type As I’m all for that.

    1. Silence

      I’d say in our politicallly correct efforts NOT to profile, we have skewed our airport security way into the unnecessary Type B error column.

      1. Doug Ross

        Exactly, Silence.

        We could have the same level of confidence in the security for airline travel at 1/10 the cost and inconvenience.

        I’d really like to know how many terrorist attempts have been foiled in ten years at the TSA gate.

        1. Mark Stewart

          Personally, the only thing that gives me pause about airline travel is standing in those tightly packed snaking lines to get to the TSA.

          Reminds me of the 1980’s European airport bombings at check-in and baggage claim, but more densely packed.

        2. Steven Davis II

          Doug, total… you could probably count them on one hand, and those would likely be idiots who forget they had a loaded pistol in their carry-on luggage.

      2. Steven Davis II

        I’m all for profiling, afterall that’s what you create profiles for. Do you search the Middle Easterner who paid for a one way ticket with cash and has that glazed over look in his eye and talking about Al’s snackbar or the little old lady who’s headed to Las Vegas with a purse full of nickels?

    2. Steven Davis II

      I worry about the terrorists dressed up like 4 year old children.

      The little old lady in the wheelchair still has to go through security, I just don’t think there’s any need to frisk 90 year old women when the best makeup artists in Hollywood couldn’t due a good enough job to convince a TSA agent that that 30 year old terrorist is really a 90 year old woman. But then we are talking about TSA agents, who aren’t absolutely the sharpest knives in the drawer.

  5. Karen McLeod

    Are we sure these both were Ricin? There seemed to be some question about it last night. One or more of the tests turned up negative.

  6. Brad Warthen Post author

    We’ve got another one. Per the WashPost:

    A suspicious letter was discovered Wednesday at the Phoenix office of Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), according to spokeswoman Genevieve Rozansky. “There was a suspicious letter intercepted by a member of Senator Flake’s staff at his Phoenix office. At this time, we do not yet know any more details as to the contents of the letter. Law enforcement officials are on the scene, and all staff members are safe. We will release details as we know more,” Rozansky said in an e-mail statement.

    1. Silence

      I don’t wish any harm on any congressional staffer or postal worker. That said, how do I express my lack of caring about congress regarding this safety issue, without sounding like a butthole?

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