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Letter sent to NY Times with white powder, own editorial

The New York Times on Friday received a letter containing a suspicious white powder and a copy of a recent editorial in which the paper defended its coverage of the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism programmes.

Tests found the powder to be harmless, but not before the incident helped push US stocks lower and raised fears of a possible recurrence of anthrax-tainted letters sent to newsrooms and other offices in late 2001.

”Field tests of powder contained in an envelope mailed to The New York Times indicate that it is an organic substance, probably corn starch. A definitive analysis is awaiting laboratory testing by the Department of Health,” a police statement said.

The substance was found to be ”nonthreatening and nonhazardous,” the Times said.

The handwritten envelope, opened by a mail room worker, was addressed to the paper, not to any individual, with a postmark from Philadelphia and no return address, Times spokesperson Catherine Mathis said.

Emergency vehicles and an ambulance responded to the newspaper’s offices on 43rd Street and Mathis said the man who opened the envelope was taken to hospital for precautionary tests and treatment.

Conservatives have criticised the Times recently for writing about the Bush administration’s covert anti-terrorism programs. This week protesters rallied outside the newspaper to object to its decision to publish details about terrorism financing and secret government programs to monitor phone conversations of US citizens.

Mathis confirmed that the envelope included a copy of a June 28 editorial entitled ”Patriotism and the Press” with an ”X” marked through it.

”Over the last year, The New York Times has twice published reports about secret anti-terrorism programs being run by the Bush administration,” the paper wrote in that editorial. ”Both times, critics have claimed that the paper was being unpatriotic or even aiding the terrorists. Some have even suggested that it should be indicted under the Espionage Act.”

After defending the decision to publish those articles, the editorial roundly criticised the White House for overstepping its authority in the post-September 11 era.

”Ever since September 11, the Bush administration has taken the necessity of heightened vigilance against terrorism and turned it into a rationale for an extraordinarily powerful executive branch, exempt from the normal checks and balances of our system of government,” the newspaper said.

The powder incident raised fears of a repeat of a series of anthrax attacks in the United States, which started one week after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

Letters with a Trenton, New Jersey, postmark and containing anthrax bacteria were mailed to several media offices and two US senators, killing five people and sickening 17 others.

Since those attacks, which remain unsolved, there have been a number of anthrax-related scares in the United States.

The latest incident contributed to US stocks extending their losses.

”The level of pessimism is extreme. From bombings in India, to the escalation of violence between Israel and Lebanon and now white powder sent to The New York Times — it all adds to the negative sentiment,” said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer at Solaris Asset Management in Bedford Hills, New York. – Reuters

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