Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Ricin found in Senate majority leader's mailroom 

A white powder laced with ricin, a very powerful poison easily made from the castor bean, has been found in the mailroom of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN). Tests have shown that the ricin was active, meaning it could sicken people, but apparently no one has become sick so far. An anonymous Senate source says that between 40 and 50 Senate employees have been decontaminated.

Postal officials have told lawmakers not to open mail. Capitol Hill mail has been radiated since the yet-unsolved anthrax attacks on mail at the office of then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD). But radiation has no effect on ricin.

The Dirksen, Hart and Russell Senate Office Buildings were closed today. Some senators set up work areas in nearby places. The Senate met but most work was cancelled today. The Capitol was closed to tourists and is expected to remain so for several more days.

The ricin attacks come two weeks after some members of Congress applauded during the State of the Union address when George W. Bush mentioned that the USA PATRIOT Act was scheduled to expire. The anthrax attacks on Capitol Hill occurred while the act was under discussion. At the time, it was in danger of not passing because of its major threat to constitutional and civil liberties.

In the 2004 State of the Union address, Bush called for congressional reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act. He got more applause for that comment than he did for the comment about the act's expiration.

Despite that apparent indication that PATRIOT will be reauthorized, could someone who very much wants to see the act renewed have planted ricin on the Hill to make sure that a terrorized Senate does the “right” thing?

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