Jessica Hagstrom

Last week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his Washington D.C. based gun-control non-profit both received threatening letters that preliminarily tested positive for ricin. The samples are currently undergoing conclusive testing at a lab in Maryland. The first letter was discovered at an off-site sorting facility on Friday afternoon. The second letter was opened on Sunday by the director of Bloomberg’s organization, Mayors against Illegal Guns. According to authorities, the letters contained the same threatening content that made reference to the gun-control debate. Inside the envelopes there was also an “oily pink-orange substance” that tested positive for ricin. Both letters were postmarked from Shreveport, LA on May 20. The letters were sent anonymously, and there was no return address. Additionally, New York Police Department (NYPD) Spokesman Paul J. Browne stated that there was something suspicious about the way the envelope sent to New York was addressed. At this time, none of the staffers who initially opened the letters are showing symptoms of ricin poisoning. However, three officials who later examined the letter exhibited minor symptoms that have since cleared up. They remain hospitalized as a precaution.

There are currently reports that a similar letter addressed to President Barack Obama was received by an off-site mail screening facility for the White House. The substance contained in the envelope is currently being tested for ricin.

The MSA Research and Intelligence Analysis Group has been following this situation closely, and has identified the following implications:

  • The substance mailed to Mayor Bloomberg was the first to test positive for a dangerous toxin in New York City, since the 2001 anthrax attacks. Ricin is made from castor beans and is relatively easy to produce. Inhaling or ingesting even a small amount can be deadly. There is no known antidote for ricin poisoning. The toxin is best disseminated in small enclosed spaces and is more suitable for small-scale, targeted attacks. Ricin is not an effective tool to inflict mass casualties. In this case, the ricin was reportedly “crudely made and of poor quality.”

  • Over the past two months, there has been a string of ricin attacks. In April, a Tupelo, MS man was arrested for mailing ricin to President Obama, Senator Roger Wicker and a local judge. Earlier in May, the toxin was sent to a judge in Spokane, WA. Arrests were made in both cases. Although there is no indication that the incidents are connected, the earlier attacks may have acted as inspiration.

  • As a result of the recent ricin incidents, companies should review suspicious mail guidelines for their facilities.  MSA would like to reinforce the importance of having knowledgeable and reliable screening measures and technologies in place.

MSA's mail room screening consultants are available to visit your mail handling facility to conduct a comprehensive threat assessment and provide a detailed strategy for enhancing your facility's security design, procedures, and equipment. For more information on MSA's mail screening services and consulting, contact MSA Security at 212-509-1336.

(Image Credit: CBS News)


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