- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The FBI said late Wednesday that it had arrested a Mississippi man accused of sending letters tested positive for the poison ricin to President Obama, a U.S. senator and a Mississippi justice official.

The arrest capped a day in which official Washington was on edge after several senators reported questionable mail delivered to their offices at the Capitol and in their respective states.

FBI special agents arrested Paul Kevin Curtis, 45, at his residence in Corinth, about 100 miles east of Memphis, Tenn., at 5:15 p.m. local time. The agency didn’t report a struggle during the apprehension.

The FBI reported the letters addressed to the president, Sen. Roger F. Wicker, Mississippi Republican, and the justice official, whom they didn’t identify, were postmarked April 8 in Memphis before Monday’s bombings in Boston.

The letters to the president and Mr. Wicker were intercepted at off-site facilities before final delivery.

Both said: “To see a wrong and not expose it, is to become a silent partner to its continuance.” They were signed, “I am KC and I approve this message.” It’s uncertain whether the justice official received a similarly worded letter.

The FBI said Wednesday that there was no indication of a connection between the letters and the Boston bombings.

The U.S. Capitol Police, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the U.S. Secret Service helped in the investigation, which also was aided by state and local agencies.

The FBI said Wednesday that more testing was underway as preliminary field tests often show false positives for ricin.

But the mailings amped already high tensions after the deadly bombings in Boston, and the response to every report of suspicious packages or letters quickly became more intense.

Earlier in the day, White House press secretary Jay Carney said it is premature to speculate that America is under attack.

“Before we speculate or make connections that we don’t know exist, that the FBI has made a clear statement about, we need to get the facts,” Mr. Carney said. “First things first. The president bases his judgments and the things he says to the American people on the facts.”

Pressed as to whether Mr. Obama believes the incidents this week mirror terrorist attacks of 2001, Mr. Carney cautioned against drawing conclusions.

“The president has faith in the FBI, and faith in the entire national security and homeland security team,” Mr. Carney said. “He is confident that we’ll find who’s responsible. The top and highest priority of this president is the safety and security of the American people.”

U.S. Capitol Police on Wednesday removed a suspicious package found in the atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building and mail from the third floors of the Hart and Russell Senate Office Buildings.

One of those parcels was from the office of Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican. His office issued a statement saying police had given it the “all clear” after removing the package and that no one was harmed.

Capitol Hill authorities also questioned a person who had suspicious letters in his backpack, Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska said Wednesday.

“Police are questioning a man who had numerous letters in a backpack. Thankfully, the safeguards authorities put in place since 9-11 are working to protect people,” the senator said in a statement.

At least three senators reported questionable letters or packages at offices in their home states.

Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan said law enforcement officials were performing tests on a suspicious letter delivered to his Saginaw office. The staffer who discovered the letter was kept overnight at a hospital for precautionary reasons but had no symptoms.

“We do not know yet if the letter has any connection to suspicious mail sent to other public officials,” said Mr. Levin, who has closed the office until further notice.

Sen. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, said suspicious letters at his Phoenix office had been cleared with nothing dangerous found. A package at Sen. John Cornyn’s Dallas-area office also was declared harmless, a fire department spokesman said.

This week’s security issues are reminiscent of the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S., when letters with the poison anthrax were mailed to some Senate offices, as well as several other offices throughout the country.

In the wake of that incident, all mail to the Capitol is now received and tested at an off-site facility.

Senate Sergeant at Arms Terrance W. Gainer, who oversees the chamber’s operations, issued a statement Wednesday reminding Senate offices and staffers not to open any mail that hasn’t first been opened and inspected at the testing facility.

In testimony before a House committee on Wednesday, U.S. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said that his organization will work with other federal agencies to track down those responsible.

“We’ve got the absolute best detection systems going. Our inspection service works in concert with the FBI. … They’ll work back [through the system] to catch these criminals,” he told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Mr. Donahoe also said that the Postal Service is now better equipped to handle these situations, having learned valuable lessons from the anthrax mailings of 2001.

Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican and committee chairman, said the American public must not forget that mail carriers sometimes are put in dangerous positions.

“I think that people would be so vicious as to put a deadly poison [in letters] is another risk that we don’t think of postal carriers being involved in,” he said.

Ben Wolfgang contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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