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Cablegate: Closing Cac at Amembassy Colombo Due to White

VZCZCXYZ0005
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHLM #0619/01 1771303
ZNR UUUUU ZZH (CCY ADX0AA9D8E MSI9613 611)
O 251303Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8332

UNCLAS COLOMBO 000619

(C O R R E C T E D C O P Y) CHANGING DATES IN TEXT

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

FOR DS/IP/SCA, DS/IP/WMD, DS/CC, M/MED, SA/INS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ASEC CASC PTER AMED CE
SUBJECT: CLOSING CAC AT AMEMBASSY COLOMBO DUE TO WHITE
POWDER INCIDENT CLOSES AMEMBASSY COLOMBO FOR NORMAL
OPERATIONS

1. (SBU) Summary: At approximately 1000 hrs. local on June
25, 2008, RSO Colombo received a report that a mailroom clerk
had opened an envelope containing a white, powdery substance
while conducting a secondary screening of the envelope in
post's mail screening room. Further inquiries revealed that
someone hand delivered the envelope at approximately 1430 hr.
on June 24 to the guard post at the Compound Access Control
(CAC) inspection area. Guard personnel kept the envelope in
the CAC until mailroom personnel collected it and took it to
the secondary mail screening facility. After gathering the
basic facts, RSO Colombo notified the duty officer for
DS/IP/SPC/WMD, who instructed the RSO to close the CAC until
such time as lab analysis reveals the nature of the
substance. Consequently, AmEmbassy Colombo was forced to
suspend regular business, closing the Chancery to all but
official visitors and emergency American Citizen Services.
End summary.

2. (SBU) RSO Colombo learned of a white powder incident at
AmEmbassy Colombo at approximately 1000 hrs. local on June
25, 2008. Subsequent queries revealed that a mailroom clerk
had been conducting a secondary screening of a suspicious
envelope when, upon opening the envelope, a white, powdery
substance spilled from it. The clerk had contained the
envelope within a sealed glove box inside post's mail
screening room, which is located in an outbuilding, separate
from the Chancery. Therefore, the Chancery was not affected.

3. (SBU) RSO Colombo interviewed mailroom personnel and CAC
guards and discovered that the envelope had arrived on June
24 at approximately 1430 hrs. (i.e. the day before the
mailroom clerk opened it). Guard staff said that someone hand
delivered the envelope and signed their log book to
acknowledge delivery. The subject who delivered the envelope,
which was addressed to "The Ambassador," signed his name "B.
SATHYOJAHTHAN." However, the guards had not obtained any
other biographical information. The guards checked the
envelope with X-ray equipment and set it aside on a desk,
where it remained until mailroom staff collected it and took
it to the secondary screening room. The envelope could have
sat on the desk in the CAC from one to two hours. The
mailroom clerk who retrieved the envelope took it directly to
the screening room and deposited it in the glove box. A
mailroom supervisor opened it the following day (June 25),
keeping it contained in the glove box, as per Embassy
protocol. RSO note - Guard and mailroom personnel are trained
to detect suspicious mail. All of the staff involved in this
incident recognized that this particular delivery was
suspicious, taking the proper steps to inspect it with X-ray
equipment and set it aside for secondary inspections.

4. (SBU) Upon gathering these basic facts, RSO notified the
DS Command Center and requested to speak to the
DS/IPC/SPC/WMD duty officer. The duty officer instructed the
RSO to close the CAC immediately, which the RSO did at 1100
hrs. However, the CAC contains the majority of the devices
(metal detectors, X-ray equipment and Itemizer machine) that
the guards use to properly screen visitors. The only way for
visitors to enter the compound on foot is via a entrance in
the perimeter wall. This entrance cannot serve as a CAC
because it leads directly onto the compound and has no
mantrap capabilities. The guards will have to use handheld
metal detectors to screen visitors and there is no way to
contain anyone who poses a potential risk to the Embassy. In
order to reduce the number of pedestrians that guard
personnel will have to screen, as well as minimize possible
security risks, Embassy Colombo has closed to routine
business. The Consular Section will provide American
Citizens' Services on an emergency basis, but has canceled
visa interviews until further notice. Visitors arriving for
business meetings will have access to the compound. Post has
issued a Warden Message and Public Announcement to this
effect, as cleared by the Operations Center. This closure
will remain in effect until such time as DS/WMD directs RSO
Colombo to open the CAC, and this decision is contingent upon
determining the true nature of the white powder.

5. (SBU) Post's Chemical and Biological response team
collected samples of the powder in accordance with WMD
protocols. The Chem/Bio team collected the samples in two
vials - one for local analysis and the other for delivery to
the Centers for Disease Control, Rapid Response Advanced
Technology Laboratory. Post has utilized the local laboratory
in the past for several similar events and the results should
be reliable. RSO personnel, working through the Sri Lanka
Police Service (SLPS), will the deliver the sample as soon as
possible on June 26.

6. (SBU) RSO has not been able to personally inspect the
POWDER INCIDENT CLOSES AMEMBASSY COLOMBO FOR NORMAL
OPERATIONS

envelope and will not do so unless the results of the
laboratory analysis reveal a benign substance. Consequently,
RSO has no investigative leads to report at this time.
However, digital video recorders capture images from the CAC,
and the subject who delivered the letter should appear on the
recordings. RSO will coordinate an investigation into the
incident with the SLPS and report developments septel.

7.(U) Point of contact for this message is Michael V.
Perkins, Regional Security Officer, who may be contacted at
94.11.249.8756, 94.11.249.8888 (MSG Post One after regular
business hours), and via the unclassified and classified
email systems.
MOORE

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