Police: Powder sent to NY media was harmless

January 21, 2009 5:21:17 PM PST
White powder sent in envelopes to the Wall Street Journal building prompted an evacuation but was harmless and likely was flour, police said. Each envelope bore a Knoxville, Tenn., postmark and contained a blank piece of paper, police said. Similar mail was received Wednesday at Harvard Law School in Massachusetts and also appeared harmless.

No injuries were reported.

The New York Police Department said the envelopes might be linked to mail with white powder sent Dec. 2 to Fox News and to a number of conservative media commentators. That powder was declared harmless.

Police ordered about 250 people out of the Journal's Manhattan newsroom and executive offices after about a dozen envelopes were found. Five employees were decontaminated as a precaution, FBI spokesman James Margolin said. Those people were released from quarantine Wednesday evening and were in good health, a newspaper spokeswoman said.

The envelopes were addressed to several executives. The postmarks said Knoxville, but each envelope had a different return address. The company expected to resume work at the building Thursday.

The FBI in Knoxville said another envelope with powder was received at Harvard Law School, addressed to political commentator Alan Dershowitz, who recently published an opinion piece in the Journal defending Israel's actions in Gaza.

Dershowitz said a secretary opened the mail and was exposed to the powder, but he didn't think it was hazardous.

"All indications seem that it was not the worse-case scenario," he said.

Police closed the fifth floor to Hauser Hall, where Dershowitz's office is located, and redirected scheduled classes to another part of the campus, a university spokesman said.

Harvard Law School said in a statement Wednesday evening that preliminary tests by the state police lab found the material was not hazardous and the building would be open on its regular schedule on Thursday.

The Journal envelopes were found in three locations in the Manhattan building, said Margolin. The 11th floor is shared by newspaper executives and editorial page employees. The newsroom and mailroom occupy the ninth floor.

Additional tests will be done on the powder.

In the meantime, employees who weren't needed immediately to publish the Wall Street Journal or publisher Dow Jones & Co.'s other publications were sent home. Other staff members were working on two unaffected floors and at the nearby Marriott World Financial Center.

Dow Jones & Co. is a division of the media and entertainment company News Corp.

The investigation is being conducted by the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces in New York and Knoxville in partnership with the United States Postal Inspection Service. The Department of Homeland Security was monitoring the situation.

FBI spokeswoman Gail Marcinkiewicz in Boston said about seven other suspicious envelopes were received elsewhere in Massachusetts. However, she said authorities believe those were unrelated to the Harvard and Wall Street Journal mail.

The Rockland, Mass., town hall was briefly evacuated at midday Wednesday when several suspicious envelopes were received there. The building was declared safe after a brown, granular substance was found not to be a biological hazard.

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