By James Rowley - Apr 16, 2013 9:29 PM ET
Postal officials intercepted a letter sent to a U.S. senator from Mississippi that contained poisonous ricin, with lawmakers learning of the incident as they were being briefed on yesterday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon.
Investigators have identified a suspect in the mailing, a person who “writes to a lot of members,” Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, told reporters. The letter was postmarked from Memphis, Tennessee, and tested positive for ricin, Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer said in an e- mail. Authorities have “no indication” of any other suspicious letters, he said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
Still, the timing of the letter’s discovery following the Boston bombings evoked memories at the Capitol of anthrax mailings that targeted lawmakers in 2001.
Shortly after that year’s Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S., letters containing anthrax were mailed to two senators during a series of mailings to media and government offices that claimed five lives across the country. No lawmakers were harmed.
Forbes:Ricin And The Risk Of Bioterror: Are We Ready? 4/17/2013 @ 7:59AM
The ghastly bombings in Boston followed by envelopes laced with the lethal poison ricin that were sent to the U.S Capitol and the White House, renew fears about our vulnerability to these kinds of terrorist acts. It invites unwelcome memories of 9-11.
Speculation is widespread about the potential origins of these attacks, and whether they could be related (seems unlikely). Investigations are underway. In time, we also must ask how much safer we’ve made ourselves based on the lessons we learned after 9-11. And whether there are still precautions we should heed.
When it comes to bioterrorism, it’s a mixed bag. Programs enacted after 9-11 helped shore up our defenses. But they’re not equipped to promote development of the kinds of technologies that we need to thwart modern day threats. These threats may not come from established agents of bioterror, but new strains of bugs engineered for deadly purposes.
Programs were started after 9-11 to underwrite the federal development of medical countermeasures. The centerpiece of the effort was Project Bioshield.
Congress passed the Bioshield Act in 2004. Its aim was to fund the purchase of vaccines and treatments aimed at thwarting bioterrorism. A key element of the Act was to allow stockpiling of countermeasures. Some of these agents would be approved for government purchase based on testing in animals alone. It’s not feasible to infect people with deadly bugs like smallpox just to enable human testing.
Since the 2001 anthrax attacks, the feds have allocated nearly $50 billion to address the threat of biological weapons. A lot of the funding also goes to Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), established in 2006 to help companies through the initial (and high risk) stages of drug development.....
Here is the interesting nugget from the second page of the article:
"In the future, the bigger threat may come from the deliberate misuse of engineered organisms. These are biological agents that can be engineered to spread from person to person, like a deadly form of flu or a re-engineered version of smallpox.
DNA synthesizers for making weaponized bugs are small, cheap and easy to procure. The technical means for harnessing these tools is relatively straightforward. The instruction sets for making these kinds of deadly organisms can be found on the Internet.
Rogue regimes and lone villains could exploit these scientific methods for deadly aims. In the extreme, such an attack could play like the creepy plot of the 1995 film “Twelve Monkeys,” where a wicked scientist engineers a virus that nearly drives mankind to extinction.
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With the advent of what some have called “garage biology,” such scenarios are no longer wildly implausible. The most recent attacks only serve to reinforce the existence of evil motives that continue to search for these means of wicked ends."
Update from NYT:
President Obama -- via NYTa few moments earlier --
FBI spokesman Paul Bresson said preliminary tests on the letter to Obama showed evidence of ricin, a powerful toxin.
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., -- supecious item recieved
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., -- suspicious package
Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan-- suspicious letter
An interesting group.