Ricin Detected In Letter Addressed To A U.S. Senator

A letter addressed to Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker was found to contain ricin poison after a preliminary test at a screening facility:

An envelope that tested positive for the deadly poison ricin was intercepted Tuesday afternoon at the U.S. Capitol’s off-site mail facility in Washington, congressional and law enforcement sources tell CNN.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he was told the letter was addressed to the office of Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi. A laboratory in Maryland confirmed the presence of ricin after initial field tests indicated the poison was present, according to Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer.

However, the FBI said additional testing is needed as field and preliminary tests 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 more tests would be conducted at the Army’s biomedical research laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland.

The letter had a Memphis, Tennessee, postmark and no return address, Gainer wrote in an e-mail to senators and aides.

Sen. Claire McCaskill told reporters after a briefing for lawmakers that a suspect has already been identified in the incident, but a knowledgeable source said no one was in custody Tuesday night.

Obviously, this brings up memories of the post-9/11 anthrax letters that were received by Members of Congress as well as several media outlets, an incident for which no definitive determination of legal liability has ever been made.  Whether this is a false positive, or another attempted attack, remains to be seen.

Update: ABC News’s Terry Moran has just reported via Twitter that ABC has confirmed that ricin has been detected in a second letter sent to a Senator.

Update #2: It’s now being reported that a letter addressed to the White House has also tested positive for ricin:

Authorities have intercepted a letter to the White House that tested positive for ricin poison, according to multiple media reports.

The Secret Service has acknowledged the letter addressed to President Obama contained a suspicous substance but has not stated it was ricin, a deadly poison.

On Tuesday, lawmakers revealed that a letter addressed to Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) had tested positive for the poison.

The Secret Service said the letter was sent to Obama on April 16 and was discoved at a remove White House mail screening facility.

“This facility routinely identifies letters or parcels that require secondary screening or scientific testing before delivery,” the Secret Service said in a statement. “The Secret Service White House mail screening facility is a remote facility, not located near the White House complex, that all White House mail goes through.”

The agency said it is working closely with the U.S. Capitol Police and the FBI in the investigation.

It’s unclear if this is the second letter that Moran was referring to, or a third one. Nonetheless, it appears we’ve got someone doing something out there.

Update #3: The Associated Press now reports that there was a second ricin letter since to the Senate:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Law enforcement officials say a second letter sent to the U.S. Senate has been intercepted and is being tested for poisonous ricin.

Two officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the letter was being treated in the same manner as a separate one sent to Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker and was undergoing field tests.

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

That makes three letters.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Rob in CT says:

    1. Glad it was caught.

    2. Hope they do have a lead.

    3. Hope this doesn’t result in our ruling class freaking out and doing stupid things.

  2. Gustopher says:

    Sigh. We’re going to have to take off our shoes while standing in line at the post office now, aren’t we?

  3. Anderson says:

    I had thought Wicker might be the victim of a gun nut enraged over his vote to allow debate on the Manchin-Toomey bill, but now I hear that the letter was sent before that vote.

  4. matt says:

    This is basically a joke as ricin is not effective when delivered in a letter. The person opening the letter would have to litterly snort the powder or inject it for it to be effective (or if there’s enough eat it). Now anthrax is a whole other thing..

  5. walt moffett says:

    And now we have an arrest.. The Clarion Ledger reports Paul Kevin Curtis is in custody.