'Fallen Angel' Focus of Ricin Probe
By CURT ANDERSON
The Associated Press
Thursday, February 5, 2004; 5:41 AM
WASHINGTON - The investigation into the appearance of the deadly poison ricin on Capitol Hill this week and earlier in two ominous letters is focusing on a mysterious "Fallen Angel" who threatens to use ricin as a weapon unless new trucking regulations are rolled back.
Three senior federal law enforcement officials, speaking on condition of anonymity Wednesday, said the FBI and Capitol Police Department were investigating the possibility that the same person or persons who made those earlier threats sent ricin-laced mail to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.
The typewritten letters, addressed to the White House and Transportation Department and signed by "Fallen Angel," warned that more ricin would be used unless some trucking regulations that went into effect Jan. 4 were scrapped.
Hazardous materials teams from the FBI and Capitol police continued the search Wednesday night for a letter or parcel that might have carried the ricin powder found Monday in a mail-sorting room in Frist's personal office suite. No such parcel was immediately found.
Three Senate buildings were closed for a second day, but Frist announced one of them would reopen Thursday, one Friday and the Dirksen building where the ricin was found will reopen on Monday.
Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer said investigators have found "no obvious direct connection" between the Frist case and the letters signed by "Fallen Angel." Those letters were discovered in mail facilities that serve the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport in South Carolina and the White House.
They were found Oct. 15 and Nov. 6, respectively, but the existence of the White House letter was not disclosed by the Bush administration until Tuesday.
The letters, described as nearly identical, claimed that the author owned a tanker truck fleet company and demanded that rules governing the numbers of hours truckers can drive remain unchanged, according to the FBI.
The FBI said the South Carolina letter was in an envelope with a typewritten warning "Caution RICIN POISON." The letter included claims that the author could make much more ricin and would "start dumping" if the new regulations weren't abolished. There was no delivery address and no postmark.
No one has fallen ill in any of the incidents.
There is no known antidote for ricin, a strong toxin which is relatively easy to make from castor beans. Ricin is considered a less effective weapon for causing mass casualties than anthrax, which was mailed to Senate offices in late 2001, because it is more difficult to make airborne and requires inhalation of large quantities to be fatal.
The FBI focused on ricin in its weekly intelligence bulletin to 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies. The confidential bulletin, obtained by The Associated Press, said no threat of any kind had been received in the Frist case. It concentrated mostly on the dangers of ricin and how police should respond to potential contamination.
The trucking industry has been working with the FBI and Transportation Department inspector general's office on the investigation. The American Trucking Association has sent bulletins to its members urging them to be aware of people "displaying aggressive behavior" or engaging in suspicious activity.
One association bulletin asked that members "be alert for either a potential disgruntled trucking company, trucking company employee or person purporting to be from the trucking industry" who has made threats in the past against government agencies.
© 2004 The Associated Press