Calif. State Capitol mail screened for anthrax, ricin

April 17, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
The FBI has announced that a man from Tupelo, Mississippi has been arrested for sending letters laced with ricin to President Barack Obama and Mississippi Republican Senator Roger Wicker.

The letter, sent to the White House and addressed to the president, was intercepted Tuesday at a postal screening facility.

The Secret Service says the same man, Paul Kenneth Curtis, sent both letters, which were postmarked in Memphis. No word yet on a motive, but officials say he signed both with his initials.

At the California State Capitol, they use the exact same security procedures for mail coming in to the Governor, state lawmakers and other leaders as the feds do.

Senate Sergeant-At-Arms Tony Beard says it's screened at an undisclosed off-site facility first for things like ricin and anthrax before mail ever gets to the Capitol mailroom.

"It's a combination of technology," Beard said. "But it's also a combination of visual skills that we teach people. There are also FBI protocols to follow."

The procedures worked in DC as the ricin-laced envelopes were discovered in the initial off-site location.

Still, the screening doesn't always work and that's where staff training can help provide another layer of protection.

"But there's a fine line between threatening a Constitutional Officer and having a first amendment right to disagree with a Constitutional Officer," Beard said.

Beard says nothing chemical has ever been detected in mail sent to state leaders here. Lots of threats, though, do get through. State Senator Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, has been targeted several times, most recently by a Silicon Valley engineer who police say sent anti-gun control death threats to the San Francisco Democrat.

Investigators also found explosive materials in the suspect's garage. Yee is aware his next hate mail could contain ricin.

"While it's always on your mind, you kind of separate it by assuming that the appropriate authorities are going to protect you," Yee said. "But your family members are the ones that really take it hard."

Senator Yee says the threats do not deter him from tackling controversial issues.


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