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Letter with Suspicious Substance Sent to White House; White House Letter Similar to Wicker Letter; No Confirmation on what Substance was in White House Letter; The Latest in the Boston Bombing Investigation

Aired April 17, 2013 - 11:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO,CNN ANCHOR: ... to Boston in just a second, but we want to show you this U-Haul truck.

It's parked right near the city hall buildings in Oklahoma City. Police do not know what is inside this van. They do know it is unattended.

The bomb squad has been called in. That's not to say it has bombs inside of it. We just don't know.

But the city hall buildings around this truck have now been evacuated in Oklahoma City.

As you well know, back in 1995, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was bombed by Timothy McVeigh. One-hundred-sixty-eight people died that day.

The whole nation, as you know, is on edge in light of what happened in Boston. As you can see, well, it looks good. Police are going inside that U-Haul truck to check it out.

And if you don't admire police officers and bomb squad members, you should admire them right now because they had no idea what was inside that truck.

They're checking it out. They don't appear to be overly concerned, but again, those city hall office buildings have been evacuated just as a precaution.

As you well know, security has been heightened in baseball stadiums, at concert halls, in any venue where a lot of people are involved.

When this is all resolved, and it looks like it's going to be okay, but when it's all resolved, I'll fill you in.

So let's head to Boston and check in with John Berman along with Brooke Baldwin because there has been a major break in the investigation.

Good morning.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Carol. Thanks so much.

Hello, everyone. I am John Berman along with Brooke Baldwin here in Boston.

We' are really just a couple blocks away from ground zero in this investigation, investigators working the scene all night.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Yeah, I've noticed since we were here this morning and now there's a little bit more of a sense of a hustle and movement.

You see behind us it's the medical tent that was there for the marathon, and fortunately so. There were so many doctors and that's where so many people initially were treated.

Boston library right here, so we're really yards from where the explosions took place on Monday for that marathon.

In terms of the investigation, though, it's important to talk about these new clues and these new pictures that we're now seeing, this mangled mess and wires and bits of BB pellets, you know, giving us a whole new perspective on these attacks.

Photos looking straight down on the scene as the explosion sent shockwaves really through this city here in Boston.

BERMAN: Absolutely.

And here with us to talk about all this -- and, also, we should say this new discovery reported by CNN first of the lid, the lid of a pressure cooker much like this, believed to be used in one of the explosive devices found on the roof of a building nearby here. This is seen as a very important discovery.

Juliette Kayyem, the former Massachusetts Homeland Security adviser, a CNN analyst, also a columnist for "The Boston Globe," she's here joining us right now. Thank you so much.

Let's talk about the lid first. We've been talking about this all morning, found on the roof of a building nearby here. The significance of this discovery?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN ANALYST: Well, it's a big piece of physical evidence. We don't know what kind of condition it is, and it's going to have trace materials. It might have fingerprints. It might have hair.

It is going to have what the explosive was. One of the reasons why they're asking for picture is because the color of the smoke is unclear.

In one of the bombs, it's white. In one of the explosions, it's sort of white. The other one, it's white-gray. That does tell you about whether it's fertilizer, or gun powder, or whatever. All of this is forensic evidence.

And then, of course, there might be -- it might give a hint where it was purchased, which is going to key because that's going to tie you to a person. So it is a big clue, but there are literally thousands and thousands of big clues sort of right there. And that's why it's going to be a while before this opens up.

And, Brooke, you were saying it's getting crowded, but this is really Grand Central of Boston and ...

BALDWIN: This weekend, I was just in the public library in the beautiful reading room and I almost don't recognize where we are right now.

KAYYEM: It's bizarre. It's like, you know, downtown New York, but there's no one -- there is really nothing going on.

BALDWIN: I just want to step back, Juliette, because, as we were looking at the pictures of this U-Haul in Oklahoma City, and you were sort of remarking that, listen, this is natural. This is perfectly natural.

And in this time, people are maybe overly cautious, but for a good reason given what happened here in Boston. Could we see more of this in the coming days?

KAYYEM: First of all, that would have regardless of Boston. We just wouldn't have covered it.

So part of this is that our public press is sort of more attuned to things like this. This is happening all the time.

We know that. You pass by your neighborhood and there's some barricades -- exactly. And so we're just focused on it because of this high-alert. The police are obviously very nervous.

Oklahoma City also does have a history, of course, as we know, and it's bombing of the Murrah Building was also this week, so that Oklahoma is on higher alert. It's just not a surprise. And the fact that it was nothing is just good.

And that's just going to happen. I mean, the governor, Deval Patrick, said yesterday, you know, this back-to-normal will happen in time, and I think we just have to get used to that.

BERMAN: It should be noted, though, there is someone out there. There is a bomber out there.

Whoever did this behind us in Boston has not been caught yet. What kind of public safety threat does that pose? Do we have any sense if these people are likely to be repeat offenders?

KAYYEM: Well, I think in the immediate hours, that's when you worry because someone tries to either do something in Boston and then a colleague does something in another city, and I think that's why Monday was so stressful.

Over, now, we're sort of three, two days -- two or three days out, the expectation that something would happen by this person is probably minimal.

They're in hiding or one or two or three are in hiding, and if it ends up being -- which is typical, and so what we're just trying to do is hunt them down.

And one of the things about this bomb that is now being disclosed is that it was clearly made here. That is -- there's no way you would transport something so basic and fluid and that could detonate easily.

So the investigators are going to be focused on Boston. This may have global impact and a global investigation, but there was someone here who brought something like this, who weaponized it, and then transported it right over there just 48 hours ago.

And that person may be a thousand miles away, but the investigate is all here.

BALDWIN: OK, Juliette Kayyem, we're all waiting for the arrest. We want to find this person or persons responsible for this horrendous act.

Juliette, thank you so much for joining us here in Boston.

BERMAN: Security, obviously, such a concern here. It was a concern at the marathon, no doubt.

We heard yesterday from officials there that they had swept it twice with these bomb-sniffing dogs beforehand, but still, you know, something happened.

Officials saying that security was actually tighter than it was last year. They decided they needed more police after last year.

But take a look at this video we have to show you right now. We've highlighted the innocuous looking backpack sitting on the sidewalk right there.

BALDWIN: See, it's spotlighted right there, so you can see it here. No one obviously noticed it then. Again, they did the security sweeps. There are many people wearing backpacks. Obviously, this is in high interest now.

Brian Todd, let's go to Brian Todd. He's with us in Boston.

And, Brian, how tight was security this year and how will investigators -- I know they're talking about looking frame by frame by frame, the surveillance video out here along Boylston Street -- how key is that in finding the perpetrator?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, first, on the security measures, we are getting new information about tightened security this year versus last year.

We have learned from a Boston law enforcement official that there were about 70 to 75 more police officers on the street this year, additional from last year, about 70 to 75 more police officers on the street for this year's marathon than there were in last year's marathon.

This official said that between K-9 teams, air patrols, ground officers, and other teams out there that there were probably more than about a thousand law enforcement officers on the streets in the Boston marathon, for the Boston marathon, overall, and that would include state police, Boston city police, and other law enforcement agencies.

Specifically, we asked this official about -- just questions about whether security actually may recede or security may disburse a little bit after the elite runners cross the finish line when the VIPs may go away and some of the middle of the pack and people in the back of the pack are coming across.

This official said, absolutely not. Security levels remain the same until the close of the race at about 4:45 p.m., this official said.

So learning more a little bit more incremental information about the security and the additional security from last year.

Now, on the surveillance, what we're told is they're asking and combing through thousands of frames of surveillance video. And they're asking for and combing through video from media outlets, just private citizens who were shooting video and still pictures.

They've got mountains of video evidence to comb through. They are doing that now.

Merchants along the area where the first and second blasts occurred, merchants including a restaurant called The Atlantic Fish Company -- there's a Crate & Barrel there, a Starbucks there -- all of them, according to Boston officials who I've talked to, very likely had surveillance cameras.

They're combing through all of their surveillance cameras as well. So a lot of surveillance video.

You put together the surveillance video with maybe something that a private person shot to establish a timeline. That's what experts are telling us about how they're going through this, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Yeah, the positive news, also, according to Boston officials, is that this marathon on Monday was one of the most photographed events in the entire country, so that at least can help them.

Brian Todd, thank you so much.

BERMAN: We're getting some breaking news just into CNN right now. Let's go to Carol Costello for word on that.


COSTELLO: Lots of breaking news this morning, unfortunately, and this is really a concern.

A letter addressed to President Obama contained a suspicious substance. It was received at that remote White House mail screening facility.

And, as you know, this facility routinely identifies letters or parcels that require secondary screening or scientific testing before delivery.

Now this is according to the Secret Service.

As you well know, yesterday, Senator Wicker from Mississippi received a letter. Authorities believe it might have been laced with ricin. That would be a very poisonous substance. It was also intercepted at an offsite mail facility.

Let's head to Washington now and check in with Brianna Keilar. What more do you know about this letter that was addressed to the president?


Preliminarily, that is what we do know. I think it's important to note what we don't know.

It's not confirmed at this time that that suspicious substance is ricin, but of course, considering the news with Senator Wicker, it's very much would make you wonder if that isn't the suspicious substance. But, again, we don't have that confirmed at this point.

The way the White House gets their mail is similar to the way that members of Congress get their mail, especially in the wake of September 11th, is that mail goes to a offsite facility so that it's screened far away from the White House, that if there is anything ever suspicious it is supposed to be picked up well outside of the White House before anything would ever come into the White House grounds.

So this happened on Tuesday, we're told by the Secret Service, that a letter was addressed to President Obama containing a suspicious substance, was received at that remote White House mail screening facility.

So, as I said, it routinely receives this kind of mail. And they go through screening. They go through scientific testing, the mail packages do, before they ever come to the White House, and there it was picked up.

At this point, the Secret Service, Carol, is working with very closely with the U.S. Capitol police as well as the FBI in this investigation.

COSTELLO: It's just -- it's just strange. And I know that authorities say that there's absolutely no connection with what happened in Boston, but it just seems strange that these two letters now, suspicious letters, show up if there -- are there suspicious letters that show up that we're not aware of that happened previous to this, or is this really unusual?

KEILAR: I think it is pretty unusual. I don't recall something like this happening. Obviously, you may have some different kind of suspicious package, or certainly some sort of letter that is addressed to the president or is addressed to a White House official that never really needs to go to the president or a White House official, but I think in terms of something actually being dangerous, potentially, like this, and again we don't know for sure that it's ricin, but this is very rare.

If it is something like ricin, and, obviously, this is the concern with that offsite mail center for Capitol Hill as well, then it poses very much a danger to the entire -- to really the entire facility and whether that facility is contaminated, whether the workers who are there sorting the mail could be affected by something like this something like this.

So, in the case that something like this happens, we find out about it. And, Carol, certainly, this is not an instance that happens all the time.

COSTELLO: All right, Dana Bash is also standing by because she has more information on Senator Wicker's letter that was believed to be laced with ricin.

You also have more information on this other letter that was laced with some sort of substance that was addressed to the president.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're waiting for results to come back from additional testing that's being done on an offsite facility in suburban Washington not too far from here in Maryland.

But one thing I wanted to point out, you asked Brianna a really important question about there being no connection necessarily that authorities know of right now between what happened in Boston and these letters, and that certainly is what I'm hearing as well.

But one thing that this does sort of bring up is what happened after September 11, 2001. Of course -- and I'm talking about in the fall, maybe about three, four weeks after the attacks on 9/11, we did see a series of attacks here in the U.S. Capitol, and also at NBC in New York with the poison anthrax.

So it is kind of -- it's eerily similar, Carol, that there was no connection then, we learned later. There doesn't appear to be a connection now, but it just is similar in terms of everybody already being on heightened alert and then learning about potential poison coming to the office of a U.S. senator. At least they're trying to get it there, and then trying to send it to the president of the United States.

I remember back in 2001, I was -- I had to take Cipro. A lot of other people around here had to take the antibiotic Cipro because of the scare that went on here.

And this is not happening now. Ricin is not that kind of poison. It's not as deadly. It's Category-B, unlike anthrax, which is much more lethal. But it very, again, eerily similar in terms of everybody watching a very big event -- in this case, it's Boston -- and something else happening which is tangential, but also gets everybody on their pins and needles.

COSTELLO: Stay right there, Dana, we're going to go back to Brianna Keilar because she's picked up some added information. What is it Brianna?

KEILAR: Carol, we're just learning now from a law enforcement source, when you're asking about the connection here between these two letters. According to the source, the letter was addressed to President Obama with the suspicious substance that was intercepted is very similar to that sent to Senator Wicker. So there does appear to be some similarity. We don't know exactly what that is, if it would be the type of envelope, if it would be the type of handwriting, if it would be the message inside. We're still waiting to figure out the details on that.

It's interesting what Dana did say that bears commenting on was that in the wake of 9/11, where it was weeks later, and there were the anthrax attacks. This is a little different because you see the attack in Boston happening Monday, and obviously we don't know if there is a connection here, but the letters being received on Tuesday. The letter that was addressed to President Obama received the day after. So obviously very close in time, and because of that, because of that proximity in time, it certainly raises the question of whether these might be connected, although we certainly don't know at this point, Carol.

COSTELLO: Just do bizarre. Brianna Keilar and Dana Bash, we're going to get back to you. We're going to release you so you can find out some more information, but again a letter addressed to President Obama laced some sort of substance was stopped at an off-site mail facility. We don't know what that substance was right not, but as you know Senator Wicker of Mississippi received a letter yesterday that supposedly, maybe, investigators say may be laced with ricin. We'll have more on that story, and of course the story surrounding President Obama

And also new developments in Boston. Investigators found the entire lid of a pressure cooker on the rooftop of a building in Boston. More on that, too, when we come back.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, I'm Brooke Baldwin standing alongside John Berman here in Boston, yards away from that explosion on Monday at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. We're going to get you back to that and the investigation, these new photos. But I want to begin with the scene we've been watching along with Carol Costello of this truck in Oklahoma City. We can now tell you according to Oklahoma City police that situation is clear right now. So it's clear, you see the truck, they were checking it out, with the Oklahoma City bombing anniversary this week, and everything that happened here, over the course of the last few days, there is absolute reason to be very, very cautious. Just given everything else. So that situation is an all clear.

BERMAN: Timing is everything. As with this next story we have to report, we just reported a moment ago, Brianna Keilar learning at the White House that there was a suspicious letter addressed to President Obama. Law enforcement officials telling Brianna that the letter was connected somehow to this letter that was to Roger Wicker in the Senate that did contain ricin. I'm going to Dana Bash on Capitol Hill with the latest on this update.

BASH: That's right. Brianna was reporting that, the letter that apparently, we now know, went -- at least they tried to get it to President Obama -- had very similar identifying characteristics as the one that tried to get to Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi. And we know in the case of Senator Wicker, this letter tested an initial positive, and one more reliable positive test at a lab that makes Senate officials and law enforcement officials feel confident enough it is the deadly poison ricin that they're taking precautions.

They closed the post office facilities, off-site facilities, that is sort of the first stop for mail now. It has been really since 9/11. So they're also taking other precautions. I can tell you the reason I'm talking slowly is because I'm trying to listen to what's going on behind me.

As we're speaking, it just sort of gives you a sense of the flavor and the atmosphere here, they have made an announcement, I'm in the Russell office building, and this is one of three that are related to the Senate, where senators have their offices. They're making announcement that people should stay off the ground floor because there is a suspicious package in one of the buildings Hart, but we also just got that same exact one right here in the Russell building.

I should tell you that it's not unusual to get warnings of suspicious packages, it does happen all the time, but given the heightened state of alert, given that frankly the anxiety that people are feeling because of ricin and because of Boston, even though officials saying they may not be related, it's not changing the way that people react to things right now. So that's why they're actually evacuating the Hart building right now. We're here, I'm in the Russell building, they have not evacuated, but we'll let you know what they find with this suspicious package as soon as we get a update from them.

BERMAN: We appreciate that, Dana. The timing here is just so interesting. It may just be a coincidence, we just don't know. Here's the issue: Roger Wicker received that letter with ricin. His office received that letter as Dana said. Tested with Ricin. The day after these attacks in Boston right behind me. One day after, we're more alert now, our sensitivities are a bit heightened. Now this news that there is suspicious letter addressed to President Obama at the White House that law enforcement officials say is connected to that letter sent to the Senate. As Dana said, there are more alerts and more to be concerned about in the Russell office building, in the Hart Senate building right now. Brooke?

BALDWIN: As we get this information, you're looking at a picture of the White House. As we talk about these letters here and this ricin is certainly frightening. We are getting some more information. Let's go to the White House to our correspondent, Brianna Keilar. Brianna, what more are you learning.

KEILAR: We just learned froma law enforcement source that the letter is similar to the letter that was sent to Senator Wicker who is a Republican senator from Mississippi. Now we don't know exactly what that means, what the similarities are. We know about the Wicker letter according to capital police that it has a Memphis, Tennessee postmark, that it did not have a return address. Are those the markers that may be on this letter to President Obama? We don't know.

But this was a letter according to the Secret Service, that was received on Tuesday, the day after the Boston bombings. And law enforcement is not drawing a clear connection between these two things, but of course that's a huge question when you're talking about something like this and you know what happened after 9/11 with the anthrax letters.

But according to the Secret Service, this letter was addressed to President Obama and it contained a suspicious substance. We know that the substance in the letter to Senator Wicker has preliminarily tested positive for ricin.

We don't know that in this letter to President Obama, we just know that it's a suspicious substance. But this was received at a remote White House mail processing facility, of course. The White House receives a ton of mail. A lot of people write letters to President Obama and also to his aides. And that mail goes to an off-site facility for this very purpose. That if something like ricin were it to be sent, or some other contaminate, or some other suspicious substance, that it would be intercepted before it would ever become a danger here at the White House.

For folks who aren't familiar, Brooke with what ricin is, it's actually a natural compound but it's highly toxic. It is a byproduct of processing castor beans. So that is what preliminarily the Wicker letter tested positive for. Again, we don't know that that's the case with President Obama's letter. But of course, this is something that is developing quickly and we're digging and trying to get more information on it, Brooke.

BERMAN: I want to welcome in our viewers from around the world and all over the U.S. right now, we have a great deal of breaking news coming into CNN right now. Brooke and I are in Boston right now. Where of course the investigation into the bombings at the Boston Marathon go on at this very minute.

The area behind us still very much a crime scene. It is closed off to the public. While that is going on, while the nation is very much focused on that, there is other breaking news out of Washington where we learned overnight a letter addressed to Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi tested positive for ricin, and now this new breaking news just in, to remind people, that there a suspicious letter addressed to President Obama at the White House. It was picked up at an outside processing facility, that law enforcement officials say does bear some similarities to this letter that was addressed to Senator Wicker with the ricin. Brianna, just give us an update about where the president is, what he's doing, and if there are any added precautions being taken right now inside the White House.

KEILAR: You know at this point, he is here at the White House. I don't think there are any added precautions, certainly not at this point that we know of. He is very much secure at this point. He was briefed this morning about the latest in the Boston bombings, by his homeland security advisor, the attorney general, and by the director of the FBI.

So he has been staying up to date on the situation in Boston. But the latest that we've just found out, just moments ago, John, from the Secret Service, is that on Tuesday, the day after the Boston bombings, yesterday, a letter addressed to President Obama was received at this off site mail facility.

Not here at the White House, addressed to him at the White House, and processed off site. There are a number, obviously, there are a number of questions that we're still trying to figure out because we're told by a law enforcement source that it is similar to this letter that was sent to Republican Senator Wicker of Mississippi. But we don't know why that's been determined. There is probably some pretty apparent markers in both of those those letters. We know the Wicker letter had a Memphis, Tennessee postmark with no return address, and there was a message inside of it. So, certainly things to compare these different letters to,

We're also trying to figure out what this substance was. In the case of the Wicker letter, it preliminarily tested positive for ricin, a deadly poison. And we don't know if that preliminary test has been conducted in the case of this later or what results of that may be, John.

BALDWIN: All right, Brianna, thank you. We should remind our viewers that we will be taping live at the daily briefing from White House Spokesperson Jay Carney. A lot of other items on the table today in Washington, but certainly, this will now certainly be added to that. And if I may just share what you and I were talking about earlier, briefly, this is reminiscent obviously of post-9/11, the anthrax letters at the time you worked at ABC News. You all received one in addition to folks on Capitol Hill, so certainly a frightening time.

BERMAN: Yes, law enforcement officials are not drawing a direct connection between the two, but it is fair and understandable questions to ask, and one that we will continue to ask as these stories unfold right now on dual paths. We have a lot more information on this news. It is just breaking right now about the suspicious letter sent to the White House as well as the investigation here in Boston. We'll be back with some new details right after the break.