- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2002

Preliminary tests of a powder-filled envelope opened yesterday in Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office inside the U.S. Capitol turned up negative for any hazardous substance, federal authorities said.

Officials said the envelope contained a "threatening note," but did not immediately say the incident was a hoax.

"We don't know exactly what the substance is," U.S. Capitol Police Lt. Dan Nichols told reporters at a news conference. "We do know that the substance is not hazardous. Further analysis will tell us what [it] is."

The envelope, opened just off the Senate floor in Mr. Daschle's second-floor office, led to a partial closure of the Capitol for about an hour yesterday before noon.

Federal law enforcement authorities said the wording of the note was similar to that of the anthrax-tainted letters sent to Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, during the anthrax attacks in October.

Both the letters, in nearly identical handwriting, bore the same message "09-11-01," "We have this anthrax," and "Allah is great."

Lt. Nichols said initial tests on the envelope found yesterday cannot determine whether it contained anthrax or another deadly material at the time it was mailed.

"The FBI will do further testing," he said, adding that any lethal substance may have been destroyed by the extensive irradiation process conducted on all congressional mail since late October.

"Once [mail] goes through that process, it's taken to an off-site delivery center for the House side and for the Senate side of the Capitol complex," Lt. Nichols said. "There, it goes through additional screening procedures before it even arrives within the Capitol complex."

The envelope was transported yesterday afternoon to Fort Detrick, Md., to determine whether it once contained a lethal substance, said Chris Murray, spokesman for the FBI field office here. "Right now, we don't believe it did," he said.

Mr. Daschle was inside the Capitol when the envelope was discovered. Lt. Nichols declined to comment on whether Mr. Daschle was in the room when it was opened.

The incident briefly recalled the panic of last fall, when anthrax-letter attacks in Florida, Washington and New York killed five persons.

On Oct. 15, a letter filled with anthrax-tainted powder was opened in Mr. Daschle's office in the Hart Senate Office Building, across the street from the U.S. Capitol. An anthrax-laced letter addressed to Mr. Leahy was discovered a month later in a pile of quarantined congressional mail.

Spilled anthrax spores and cross-contamination from the Daschle letter prompted the closure of the Hart Building on Oct. 17. Teams of technicians, under the watchful eye of the Environmental Protection Agency, are still trying to rid the building of the deadly bacteria.

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