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What We Learned from the Recent Ricin and Mail Bomb Attacks


6 Things We Learned from the Recent Ricin and Mail Bomb Attacks


1. The Threat is Real

These are not hoax devices.”   FBI Director Christopher A. Wray -

Many times, the news we hear about mail terrorism involves a hoax effort.  While they continue to investigate the possibility of detonation, there is no question these were intended to be explosive mail bombs to do harm.

The devices found so far have been called improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and they can be very deadly.  Learn more about the threat of explosives in the mail as well as the threat of biological hazards from our earlier newsletters.


2. Dangerous Attacks are Making it Through the U.S. Mail

"..the U.S. Postal Inspection Service website says "the overwhelming volume of mail does not permit the Postal Service to screen every piece." -- NPR

There are a lot of questions surrounding how pipe bombs could travel such distances through the U.S. Mail -- and even get to their destination without being detected. Screening protocols are in place for the USPS, but the volume is such that not all pieces get screened.

And the danger of biological threats getting through is even greater due to their small quantities. X-ray or bomb dogs cannot detect biological threats.  In order to mitigate all possible danger, mail screening is an important component to your organization's overall security plan.


3. Attacks Through the Mail are Still Nothing New

"America's long and frightening history of attacks by mail" - CNN

From mail bombs as far back as 1919 to last month's ricin letters sent to the President, there is nothing new about mail threats getting through to an individual or an organization.

This is a frightening reminder we must stay vigilant.  And we must use all resources available to mitigate possible threats to employees,  assets and organizational reputation.


4. You Won't Know If or When Your Organization Might be a Target

"Mail Bomb Suspect Had a List of 100 Potential Targets, Officials Say" – New York Times

A terrorist or lone wolf's list could be long, with many types of targets included.  Why one public organization and not another?  We won't know the reasoning, and that uncertainty leads to possible danger.  There is no question that the best protection is planning ahead for the worst case senario.


5. Mail Screening Works

"What all of the attempts have in that they have, so far, been intercepted before they could cause any damage."  –Wired Magazine

If you stop and think about the fact that none of the mail bombs made it to their targeted end recipient, then it becomes clear that individuals and/or organizations who rely on mail screening are realizing its benefits.  Disaster and possible deaths have been averted by trusted mail screening security services.


6. Even Hoaxes are Damaging and Costly

"Mail Bombs Don't Need to Explode to be Destructive" - The Verge

Fear is the goal of any type of terrorism, including mail targets. So although both incidents this past month were very real -- the fact that they did not reach their targets or do bodily harm, does not mean they were not and are not continuing to be destructive.  Furthermore, all the mail employees along the mail route of these dangerous deliveries were put in harms way.


How Can Your Business or Organization Stay Safe?

Basic steps for Mailroom Safety include:

1. Provide training
2. Put a plan in writing
2. Install correct sensor equipment
3. Train employees
4. Run practice drills

If this is not possible, consider outsourcing mail screening to a third party or sending mail to a third party screening facility.

As always, I appreciate your comments.


SoBran BioScience IBC Meetings


SoBran IBC Meetings are open to the public.  Please email to obtain for the date and time for the next scheduled meeting.

What is IBC?  Institutional Biosafety Committees (IBCs) were established under the NIH Guidelines to provide local review and oversight of nearly all forms of research utilizing recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid molecules. Over time, many institutions have chosen to assign their IBCs the responsibility of reviewing a variety of experimentation that involves biological materials (e.g., infectious agents) and other potentially hazardous agents (e.g., carcinogens). This additional responsibility is assigned entirely at the discretion of the institution.

Mail Screening Diverts Suspected Ricin Letters from Reaching President Trump


Mail Screeners Divert Suspected Ricin-Tainted Letters from Reaching President Trump

Luckily, earlier this month, when envelopes were sent to President Trump and top military leaders contained the natural ingredients used to make the deadly poison Ricin, they did not reach their destination. They were identified and isolated at a dedicated mail screening facility first. Describing the incident, the FBI has indicated that potentially hazardous chemicals were also found but have not provided additional details.

Why Choose the Mail as a Channel to Harm President Trump?

The President is flanked by Secret Service when in public, locations for his appearances are checked in advance, and visits to the White House are invitation-only and carefully screened.  An attacker assumes that an innocent-looking package can easily get mixed into the mountain of mail that the President, like many public officials and business leaders, receives every day.

Are Biological Threats Like Ricin on the Rise?

Ricin is a biotoxin, on the CDC’s list of biological threats. Similar to Anthrax, it could be weaponized to cause illness, death, fear, societal disruption, and economic damage. As discussed in previous Insights articles, Bill Gates has warned that “a biological attack by terrorists that could kill up to 30 million people is increasingly likely due to the ease with which pathogens can be created and spread.”

Just three years ago, both President Obama and Mayor Bloomberg of New York were sent Ricin-tainted mail. Again, those letters did not reach their destinations thanks to skilled mail screeners.

What are the Effects of Ricin?

Ricin is incredibly deadly. The poison prevents human cells from creating proteins, causing them to die. As more cells die, the entire body shuts down. The poison comes from the husks of castor beans, the seeds of the castor oil plant. When castor oil is created from the plant in order to be used in pharmaceuticals and manufacturing, Ricin is created as part of the waste.

If mail handlers were to open a package filled with Ricin, they would be in danger unless they operated with Personal Protective Equipment, ideally in a clean room environment. Ricin in the form of a fine powder can be suspended in air, similar to anthrax, and could be inhaled.

Ricin poisoning could be deadly for those who encounter it directly, but it would not be contagious to others.

How Could Ricin be Identified by Mail Screening?

A manual screening process in a standard mailroom or an inexperienced screening team would have no capacity to differentiate a Ricin-filled package from any other.

  • Ricin – or the castor beans of the plant – would not have a particular odor to alert mail screeners to its presence.
  • It wouldn’t leave a residue on a package, cause it to become wet or otherwise stand out.

Only an advanced main screening process that includes CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive) detection would have a chance to identify Ricin within a letter or package. Advanced tools that determine the level of Ricin bioactivity will dictate the emergency response plan and waste removal plan.

What are the Types of Biological Threats?

  • Bacteria (i.e. Anthrax, Plague and Smallpox)
  • Viruses (i.e. Smallpox or Ebola)
  • Biotoxins (i.e. Ricin or Botulism)
  • See the full CDC list here

Who is at Risk?

While attacks on high profile targets like politicians make the news, we know all too well that the mail is used to send dangerous materials to all types of targets. If Ricin, or even castor beans, were to reach a food protection facility, a hospital, a school or a business, many more people would be at risk.

Every mailroom team should be aware of possible biological threats and a plan in place to respond.

Steps for mailroom safety include:

• The correct equipment to screen for biological threats
• Personal Protective Equipment
• Trained staff
• A written plan

If this is not possible, consider outsourcing mail screening to experts or sending mail to a third party facility.

Thank you to all the mail screeners who put themselves at risk to keep us safe.

Stay safe,
Soma K. Martin and your SoBran SafeMail Team

Ricin sent to the President shows importance of Mail Screening


Have you ever worried about receiving something dangerous in the mail? Although it seems like an increasing amount of business is conducted online, physical mail is still incredibly prominent, and can be much more harmful than the emails in your junk folder. Each day, the US Postal Service alone delivers 493.4 million pieces of mail. That comes out to 5,711 pieces of mail every second!

Given these enormous numbers, the importance of a mailroom in large organizations should not be understated. Corporate mailrooms process thousands of letters and packages daily and must ensure not only that each letter reaches the intended recipient, but also that all the mail is safe to open.

Beginning with the anthrax attacks of September 2001, bioterror in the mail has become a significant concern. During “Amerithrax,” as that attack became known, 22 people developed anthrax infections and five died from exposure through inhalation. Despite a substantial government investment in detection technology since then, mail threats are most certainly not a concern of the past.

As recently as this week, letters containing ricin addressed to President Trump and Secretary of Defense James Mattis were discovered at the mail screening facilities of the White House and the Pentagon. Thankfully, each of these government facilities has effective mail screening systems in place to catch such threats.

Mail screening systems are becoming a necessity in modern mailrooms. The ability to identify dangerous mail and take swift action is paramount to an efficient mailroom operation, not to mention the health and wellness of employees. With a proper system in place, any pathogens present in a letter or package can be found in real time and controlled appropriately.

A secure and reliable mail screening procedure neutralizes the possibility of disruptions. If a suspicious powder is discovered in a mailroom without proper diagnostic capabilities, it can take hours or days for security personnel to determine whether the powder is a threat or something innocuous like flour.

Typically, entire buildings are evacuated due to the threat of suspicious powders becoming airborne and harming employees through inhalation. It is also common for those exposed to be hospitalized, even if the powder turns out to be harmless. Rather than sacrifice time and peace-of-mind, large corporations and government institutions should focus on modernizing and securing their mailroom processes.

Several options exist for properly screening mail. Some organizations choose to outsource their screening to third-party businesses that operate remotely, while others elect to bring their operation in-house. In the former, mail is sent directly or transported to a warehouse location where the screening is performed and suspicious packages are dealt with accordingly.

With in-house testing, a screening system is installed by the company and mailroom staff are trained to operate the technology.

Both methods are effective at detecting mailroom threats and ensuring that mail is delivered to the correct recipients without risk of contamination. Choosing one over the other depends upon a company’s requirements, risk profile, labor force, and financial resources.

Regardless of which type of screening system one prefers, the bottom line is that threats like those sent to the President and Secretary of Defense this week cannot be taken lightly. Rather, large organizations—such as fortune 500s, banks, and government institutions—need to be prepared when suspicious letters or packages appear in their mailrooms. Instead of leaving the safety of employees up to chance, such organizations should ensure that their mailrooms are optimized for safety and capable of catching pathogenic threats at their source.

PathSensors and SoBran SafeMail (r) have partnered for many years to provide clients with industry-leading mail screening solutions, both in-house and offsite. If you’d like to learn more about cutting-edge mail screening technology and how to install it in your mailroom, contact us at or

UPDATE:  Fentanyl and Opioids in the Mail Room


Senate votes to make it harder to ship fentanyl to U.S. by mail -- 

"By closing the loophole in our mail screening and holding the Postal Service to the same standard as private carriers, we can give law enforcement the tools to keep these dangerous synthetic drugs out of our communities." Senator Rob Portman

Senate Joins House in Passing Bill to Limit Postal Service Role in Opioid Crisis --  

"The legislation would bring requirements currently enforced on private shipping companies to the Postal Service by 2021, when the mailing agency would transmit the advanced electronic data, or AED, to Customs and Border Protection on 100 percent of international packages. USPS, which currently only collects the data on 40 percent of inbound international packages, would have to provide the information on 70 percent of packages by the end of this year. "

Last November we reported on Opioids in the United States Postal Service and the danger to mailroom workers and anyone who opens mail in your organization.

Legislators have been working for over a year to fill loopholes and try to stop the inundation of opioids in the mail. With the passage of this latest legislation, we are a step closer to ensuring greater mail safety as well as helping those who are vulnerable to opioid addiction.

What is this Legislation?

This legislation is a conglomeration of about 70 bills that address differing aspects of the United States opioid crisis -- everything from providing more access to medical-assisted treatment to measures preventing “doctor-shopping” in order to obtain opioid prescriptions.

Why is it Important to Mail Security?

The most relevant item for mail security is the effort to reduce the amount of opioids coming into the United States from foreign countries through the U.S. Mail. Currently because no sender identification data is required on incoming USPS packages as it is from other commercial carriers, the USPS is the unfortunate delivery method of choice for illegal drug shipments.

USA Today reports "Because of the volume of mail flowing into the country, the Customs and Border Protection cannot manually scan these packages and stop illicit goods from crossing our borders.

Why Does this Matter?

According to GovExec, “Private carriers shipped just 50 million international packages in 2016, however, compared to 600 million shipped via the Postal Service.” The volume of United States Postal Service international package shipping is staggering compared to private shippers. So we are talking about the majority of international shipping for this mail safety effort.

What Changes Would Happen with USPS International Mail?

The USPS will be required to collect Advanced Electronic Data (AED) including:

  • Who the package is coming from
  • Where the package is coming from
  • Who the package is going to
  • Where the package is going to
  • What is in the package

This information will help law enforcement better target possible illegal items to search. Recently, Customs and Boarder Patrol (CBP ) has characterized the challenge of identifying possible opioids in the mail as searching for a “needle in a pile of needles in a needle factory.”

When Can We Expect changes?

If signed into law, the USPS would need to provide this data for 70 percent of packages by the end of 2018.The legislation would require the USPS to provide advanced electronic data on all packages in 2021.

Currently, the USPS provides data on less than half of incoming international packages.

Do We Have the Right Equipment for Protection?

First and foremost, protect your employees.

At a minimum, provide the protective equipment needed including:

(1) Nitrile Gloves

(2) Safety Goggle Glasses

We suggest the following the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) recommendations from the CDC website for emergency workers using perhaps the "Minimal" or "Moderate" categories.

Their categories are as follows:

Minimal: "Response to a situation where it is suspected that fentanyl may be present but no fentanyl products are visible."

Moderate:"Response to a situation where small amounts of fentanyl products are or appear visible."

For more information visit

Do We Have the Right Equipment for Screening?

Currently, the following are being used by mail screeners:

1. Hand Held Sensors
2. Automatic Sensors
3. X-ray Machine
4. Canine Teams  -with care, dogs can become sickened and handlers are carrying proper canine Naloxone kits in case of danger.  (More information at the end of the CDC page.)

How Can We Ensure Protection?

Unfortunately, since this threat is so new, there are not yet federal or private guidelines developed and proven. In fact, this past October, the U.S. Congress sent a letter to the USPS requesting a USPS audit to examine how it is protecting its workforce from the risks of illegally shipped opioids.

You need to know what is coming through your doors. Parcels that are illegal or endangering employees are compromising your facilities and reputation Relying on the USPS inspection of parcels is not protecting you.

1. Appoint a mail center security coordinator and an alternate to be responsible for your screening plan, your employee protection plan and to ensure compliance.
2. Establish lines of communication between the mail center security coordinator, management, and the security office.
3. Screen all mail and packages when they first arrive at your mailroom for sorting.
4. Staff who sort mail by hand should perform the screening, as they are the ones most likely to notice a suspicious item.
5. Prominently display a list of suspicious letter and package indicators in your mailroom and provide a copy of the list to all staff to ensure they’re familiar with it.

Basic steps for Synthetic Opioid Mailroom Safety include:

1. Provide and train employees to wear the correct protective equipment
2. Put a plan in writing
3. Install correct sensor equipment
4. Train employees on proper screening procedures
5. Run practice drills

If this is not possible, consider outsourcing mail screening to a third party or sending mail to a third party screening facility.

As always, I appreciate your comments.

The Secret to a Comprehensive Security Plan


What is the Challenge?

Comprehensive company security should involve more than just security guards at the entrance and protecting online servers.  A myriad of risks must be mitigated.  These could include the following risks:

Physical facility
Fraud, embezzlement and theft
Human capital and health
Info/intellectual property loss
Information and Cybersecurity
Product or supply chain risk
Regulations and compliance
Political Instability
Natural Disasters

The list has gotten very long in the past couple decades.  However there is a risk that is far too often overlooked, and is the secret to a complete plan to protect your employees, your facility and your reputation.

Mail Security is the Secret to Comprehensive Organization Security

Your Mailroom or package delivery is the 'forgotten back door' that can be easy entry to do harm.


Mitigating mail security threats is crucial part of a comprehensive security plan and critical to preventing business disruption.


Is Cybersecurity Stealing Your Budget?

Many companies spend their budget on the exciting new thing. In the security industry, that is information security or ‘cybersecurity.' It’s in headlines daily, and indeed it can harm business operations.

Mail threats harm people. Mail screening isn’t the new kid on the block anymore — SoBran has been screening our clients' mail for over 17 years. Sometimes executives forget how incredibly important it is.... until it’s too late.

Mail hoaxes cause mental harm, and disruption to business continuity. Actual mail attacks cause physical harm, damaged reputations, all in addition to costly business disruption.

Basic steps for Mailroom Safety include:

1. Provide mailroom security training
2. Put a plan in writing
2. Install correct sensor equipment
3. Train employees
4. Run practice drills

If this is not possible, consider outsourcing mail screening to a third party or sending mail to a third party screening facility.

If you need help determining your best course of action, let us know. We’re here to help.

As always, I appreciate your comments.

How to Determine Your Mail Threat Level


The mail is an easy and low-cost, accessible form of terrorism. Whether it is a terrorist group, a lone wolf or a disgruntled employee, you need to be prepared.

But how prepared should you be? You might wonder how vulnerable your particular business is to possible mail attacks.

How to Determine Your Mail Security Risk Profile:


Here is a handy security formula for calculating your organization’s risk factors:

RISK = Threat + Vulnerability + Consequence

- DHS Best Practices for Mail Screening and Handling Processes

What is the “Threat?”

Threat in your organization’s mail and deliveries is defined in terms of Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives  (CBRNE). This includes any substance that could turn out to be a hoax, but at the time of discovery, the threat is not yet known.

A threat is any substance known or unknown which the sender intends to do harm to your employees, your organization or your corporate reputation.

What is the "Vulnerability?"

Vulnerability is your organization’s particular strengths or weaknesses when encountering potentially harmful mail and/or packages.

The possibility of a mail attack grows if a company is lacking a particular screening technology or an organization can be more exposed to mail threats if the staff has not been trained.

Example questions include:

Is your staff trained?
Do you have the needed screening equipment?
Do you run training drills?
Is your mail delivered to your physical place of business?

What are the "Consequences?"

The key factor in evaluating Risk is the possible consequence to your organization.

Example questions include:

Will the entire building have to be evacuated?
Will employees be potentially harmed?
Will there be long term emotional consequences to employee absenteeism and comfort?
Will clients and/or income streams be disrupted?

DHS sited Case Study: Large International Organization
This organization received a letter containing white powder. This caused the entire organization to shut down for a period of 2 to 3 days while the substance was analyzed and ultimately determined to be a hoax. In a post-event analysis, the organization estimated that the cost of paying employee salaries for the period of the shut down exceeded five million dollars.
Ultimately the organization determined that the cost of an offsite mail screening facility would cost only a fraction of the lost wages on an annual basis–thus it is critical that an organization include financial impact in their risk profile assessment.

What to Include in Your Risk Profile:

A variety of factors, both internal and external, can help determine the vulnerability of your workplace.

Target Status: Is your organization a known industrial or infrastructure target for terrorism?

These could include:

  • Banking
  • Energy
  • Power
  • Defense/Military
  • Legal
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Chemical
  • Nuclear
  • Transportation (air/land/sea)
  • Health and Medical
  • Telecommunications
  • Construction
  • Bio-Medical Research

Location: Does your location make your business an attractive target for mail threats?

Example questions include:

Is your organization located in a large major metropolitan area?
Is your organization located in a location of national or patriotic significance?
Is your organization in a location of high population?

Visibility/Fame: Is your organization a high-visibility well known name or brand?


How Do I Know if My Organization is "High Risk" for Mail Terrorism?

Answering "yes" to any of these questions can put your business in the high risk category:

Has your organization appeared in the media?
Has your organization been engaged in a lawsuit?
Has your organization been threatened with a lawsuit?
Has your organization made public statements on sensitive issues?
Is your organization a member of an industry whose services, research or products could be the subject of public controversy?
Has your organization experienced a recent reorganization or buy-out requiring layoffs?
Has an employee made threats to harm the company or any other employee?
Has your organization attracted political or potentially controversial attention?
Has your organization done business internationally?

If your business is High Risk - view our infographic to see how offsite mail screening can better project your employees and your organization and your reputation.

Each business is unique, therefore, assessing your organization's unique risk can be a helpful first step to determining the plans needed to mitigate possible attacks and keep your organization safe.

At any risk level, you should ensure your mail is safe.

Basic steps for Mailroom Safety include:

1. Provide mailroom security training
2. Put a plan in writing
2. Install correct sensor equipment
3. Train employees
4. Run practice drills

If this is not possible, consider outsourcing mail screening to a third party or sending mail to a third party screening facility.

If you need help determining your best course of action, let us know. We’re here to help.

As always, I appreciate your comments.


Easy to Make – Hard to Spot


“Mail threats are so common today they don’t make the news unless they reach a high-profile target. If you wait to screen until mail terrorism threatens your company, it’s too late.”
Amos-Leon’ Otis, SoBran Founder and CEO

To assess how organizations are protecting themselves from mail terrorism, SoBran, Inc. conducts an annual survey of security and mailroom professionals. Click here to view the new 2018 Survey Infographic.

Why Is This Important ?

Anyone can be a target.  At least 25% of companies say they received threats in the mail this year.  These threats can occur at any time, for any type of organization.  They may come from terrorist actions, homegrown extremists, or individuals with a grievance against a particular company

Mail screening is an essential part of an overall security plan that includes physical security and cyber security strategies to protect an organization’s staff, assets and reputation.

Understanding how organizations included in this survey address mail security challenges can help security professionals, facilities managers, mailroom staff, and business leaders shape their own risk management practices.

How Worried Should We Be?

Each year, the FBI and US Postal Service receive thousands of reports of hazardous or threatening mail. High profile or controversial organizations are not the only ones targeted by mail terrorism.

Unfortunately, half of companies surveyed don't screen incoming mail at all.  Those that screen typically stop at visual inspection (69%) or X-ray (60%) leaving themselves vulnerable to threats including biological or chemical.

What are the Main Roadblocks to Mail Security?

When asked to name their biggest challenge, 40% of survey respondents indicated equipment and budget were the main issues they must constantly address for mail security and the proper screening equipment.

As the results of this survey indicate, even organizations that are aware of the threat of mail terrorism and have taken steps to address it, have gaps in their security strategies which could leave them exposed to an attack

Where Can We Improve?

The primary area for improvement is the screening location. 60% handle screening onsite on their own - potentially exposing employees and assets to harm. Moving screening offsite is the most effective way to keep
employees safe.   When mail is screened in a separate location from where most employees work, risk is minimized.

A second opportunity for improvement is a deeper emphasis on training.
Organizations can increase the knowledge of mailroom staff as well as anyone who handles incoming mail with a variety of training strategies.

Basic steps to Mail Safety Include:

1. Put a plan in writing
2. Install correct equipment
3. Train employees
4. Run practice drills

If this is not possible, consider outsourcing mail screening to a third party or sending mail to a third party screening facility.

Every day, threatening letters and parcels land at corporate and government offices. Most are inconvenient. Some cause damage. A few change everything. As long as terrorists have low cost and easy access to mail, all organizations must consider comprehensive mail screening an essential part of a security program.

For more information on mail security best practices, SoBran can help.

All this information, and much more is included in the complete survey brief: “Easy to Make and Hard to Spot: Lessons Learned from the 2018 SoBran Mail Security Survey."

SoBran BioScience at Maryland Tech Council’s 30th Anniversary Industry Awards Celebration


SoBran BioScience was proud to sponsor and present the Grand Prize Winner for the Innovation for Impact Prize 2018 at Maryland Tech Council's 30th Anniversary Industry Awards Celebration this past May.

Congratulations to Dr. Emily English, Matthew Boxer, Ph.D. and Joshua Y.C. Yang along with the other award winners at this event.

It was a wonderful evening celebrating the transformational science coming out of Maryland and the surrounding area.

Please enjoy and share the pictures.

Innovation for Impact Grand Prize Winner: Dr. Emily English Chief Operating Officer - Gemstone Biotherapeutics, LLC


Innovation for Impact Prize Finalist: Matthew Boxer Ph.D. Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer - Veralox Therapeutics


Innovation for Impact Prize Finalist: Joshua Y.C. Yang Chief Executive Officer - Helispot, Inc.


All the winners onstage with SoBran's Simon Selwood Ph.D. and Maryland Tech Council's Tammi Howie


Innovation for Impact Prize Winners


The Innovation for Impact Grand Prize "award"


Enjoying the MTC Awards Dinner