FBI Investigating Dead Fish, White Powder That Homeland Security Official Brought to Work

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A senior official at the Department of Homeland Security set off alarms last week after she received white powder and a dead fish in the mail at home and brought them to work, sources said.

The FBI is investigating the incident, and the official, Maureen McCarthy, a career official in the department's intelligence and analysis directorate, continues to work, DHS spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said.

Lawmakers briefed about the episode said they were troubled by lapses that led to a biohazard response at a DHS-occupied building at 1120 Vermont Ave. NW.

"It is critical that the department has sufficient procedures in place for responding to this type of incident and that it trains its employees to follow them," said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Senate homeland security committee.

McCarthy, a former Energy Department official, was assigned to collect intelligence to counter weapons of mass destruction in 2006.

She received a container with the dead fish at home, sources said. According to National Journal's CongressDaily, which first reported the incident, a source disclosed that McCarthy left the fish in her car parked under a ventilation shaft in the DHS building garage and entered a secure area inside, potentially contaminating both places.

The FBI, Federal Protective Service and D.C. police and fire units later sealed off the building and took samples.

The powder did not appear to be harmful but laboratory results were pending, Debra Weierman, a spokeswoman for the FBI's Washington field office, said yesterday.

A source said McCarthy sealed the fish in a plastic bag without noticing the white powder, contacted DHS security and was told to bring the fish to the office, CongressDaily reported.

The publication reported that the package had a return address from Battelle, which is managing a National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center for DHS at Fort Detrick, Md. Company spokeswoman Katy Delaney would not confirm that, but said the company is working with investigators.

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