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Officials Intercept Letter to Obama That May Contain Ricin

With suspicion already high across the country following the deadly bombing at the Boston Marathon, the Secret Service has intercepted a letter addressed to President Obama containing a “suspicious substance” which might be ricin, a poison.

The Obama letter comes less than 24 hours after U.S. Capitol Police confirmed it was investigating a letter addressed to Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., that preliminarily appeared to test positive for ricin. In addition, Senators Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and Carl Levin, D-Mich., reported receiving suspicious packages.

According to the FBI, preliminary tests on the Obama letter, which was intercepted at a facility away from the White House, indicate the presence of poisonous ricin. 

Both the Obama letter and the Wicker letter arrived Tuesday at off-site postal facilities set up after the 2001 anthrax attacks. They both have been sent to laboratories for additional testing, authorities said.

“This facility routinely identifies letters or parcels that require secondary screening or scientific testing before delivery,” Secret Service spokesman Edwin Donovan said. “The Secret Service is working closely with the U.S. Capitol Police and the FBI in this investigation.”

Though a laboratory in Maryland confirmed the presence of ricin on the letter addressed to Wicker, the FBI said additional testing was needed because field and preliminary tests can produce inconsistent results.

“Only a full analysis performed at an accredited laboratory can determine the presence of a biological agent such as ricin,” according to the bureau. “Those tests are in the process of being conducted and generally take from 24 to 48 hours.”

In a statement late Tuesday, the U.S. Capitol Police said further tests would be conducted at the Army’s biomedical research laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland.

Although Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, told reporters after a briefing for lawmakers that a suspect has already been identified in the incident, a source told CNN no one was in custody Tuesday night.

But Wicker has been assigned a protective detail, according to a CNN source.

After the 2001 anthrax attacks that targeted then-Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, among others, postal workers started handling mail at a site away from Capitol Hill. Following the 9/11 attacks, mysterious letters laced with anthrax were sent to lawmakers and some journalists, killing five people and sickening 17 others.

“The bottom line is, the process we have in place worked,” McCaskill said, adding that members of Congress will be warning their home state offices to look out for similar letters.

The letter sent to Obama on Tuesday was intercepted at the White House mail screening facility, which is a remote facility not located near the White House, according to Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary.

The White House declined to comment, referring all questions to the FBI and Secret Service, which is leading the investigation.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the president was briefed on the suspicious letters on Tuesday night and again on Wednesday morning.

At about noon today, Capitol Police were investigating reports of suspicious packages or letters in two Senate office buildings and they evacuated the first floor of the Hart Senate Office Building. They were also questioning a man who raised suspicion over the content of his backpack and how he responded to police questions, two Capitol Hill police officers said. The officers said the backpack contained sealed envelopes and was being x-rayed.

But according to CNN, authorities do not believe the man was connected to the letters found Tuesday.

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