Two pieces of mail intended for top Pentagon officials have tested positive for ricin and are being further analyzed by law enforcement.
“On Monday, the Pentagon Force Protection Agency detected a suspicious substance during mail screening at the Pentagon’s remote screening facility,” Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning said in a statement today. “The envelopes were taken by the FBI this morning for further analysis.”
“All USPS mail received at the Pentagon mail screening facility yesterday is currently under quarantine and poses no threat to Pentagon personnel,” he added.
The mail facility is separate from the Pentagon building, ensuring the more than 20,000 employees there were never exposed to the letters.
CNN reported that the letters were addressed to Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson.
Ricin is a poison that is released from castor beans if the beans are crushed; it can also be derived from the waste products left after castor bean processing to make castor oil.
Ricin can be delivered in powder or pellet form, dissolved into liquid, or sprayed as a mist. It was used in the 1978 London assassination of Georgi Markov with a poison-tipped umbrella.
Symptoms of exposure, which differ depending on whether ricin is inhaled or ingested, to the toxin begin anywhere from four to 24 hours after exposure. Death can occur within 36 to 72 hours; there is no antidote.
In April 2013, letters containing ricin were sent to President Obama, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and a Mississippi judge. James Everett Dutschke of Tupelo, Miss., pleaded guilty to the crime and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
A guide circulated online among ISIS supporters in 2016 directed lone jihadists to use poisonous plants to inflict casualties.
The guide underscored that children especially have “weak resistance” to the naturally occurring ricin. They discussed extraction methods once the jihadists are able to obtain seeds.