Poison-Laced Letter Sent to Senator Roger Wicker

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Senator Wicker, pictured being non-controversial. Photo: Alex Wong/2010 Getty Images

Here's just about the last thing the nation needed today:  A letter sent to Senator Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, tested positive for the poison ricin at a Senate mail facility outside D.C. on Tuesday morning. While the news is a disturbing reminder of the anthrax scare that started shortly after September 11, there's no evidence that the mailing is linked to the Boston bombing, and the fact that it was intercepted before reaching the Senator's office actually shows that the practices put into place after anthrax-laced letters killed five people and sickened seventeen others are working.

The U.S. Postal Service started screening mail headed for Capitol Hill more carefully after the incidents in 2001, and the letter was discovered at a Maryland facility designed specifically for that purpose. (The anthrax attacks were later linked to Army microbiologist Bruce Ivins, not a foreign terrorist). The letter was taken to an FBI lab for more testing, since field tests for ricin have produced false positives in the past. The substance is found in castor beans and can cause long-term organ damage if ingested or inhaled.

Senators were briefed on the situation late on Tuesday and no other suspicious mailings have been found. The letter was sent from Memphis, Tenn. and according to Senator Claire McCaskill it came from someone who frequently writes to lawmakers. It's unclear why the letter was sent to Wicker, especially since he's one of the more low-key members of the Senate.