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Operation Table: Ambassador Cyanide Letters Threat

Updated 26 Feb 2003

Operation Table - Ambassadors Cyanide Letters Threat

Police are investigating a letter threat to the United States Embassy and the British and Australian High Commissions.

The text of a threat letter has been released and an 0800 number (0800 THREAT, 0800 847328) has been set up allow the public to pass on information that may help the enquiry.


Identical letters were sent to the Embassy and the two High Commissions. A copy was also received by the NZ Herald at its offices in Auckland city. All three letters and the copy were accompanied by powder substances. One of the letters contained a crystalline substance which testing has confirmed as cyanide.

The Assistant Commissioner for Counter-Terrorism, Jon White, said today that the Police investigation into the correspondence was continuing. It was not the Police’s intention to make the specific contents of the letter’s message public, in order to diminish the risk of copy-cat action.

The letter’s message referred to action being taken if Iraq was attacked. There were references in this regard to the America’s Cup.

"At this stage we can’t rule out the possibility that the letter may have been written by the same author who sent a threatening letter accompanied by cyanide to the American Embassy at the time of the New Zealand Golf Open last year," said Mr White.

"As was the case last year, Police encourage the public to maintain their vigilance particularly around public transport and consumption of pre-purchased food.

"Ministry of Health advice includes people making sure they buy food from a reputable source, ensuring packaging of products is intact, contacting the public health service if products look, smell or taste unusual and contacting a medical practitioner immediately in the case of suspected foodborne illness

"Police encourage spectators and participants in the America’s Cup to continue with their normal business but to be observant about anything which might seem out of the ordinary and worthy of reporting to Police. If in doubt please do call the Police so we can make an assessment of the information.

"Security around the Amcup event was recently reviewed and our security approach moved to a higher setting. The current threat is within the approach the higher setting addresses. The situation and our response will be constantly monitored.

Assistant Commissioner White said that similarly security arrangements for British, US and Australian diplomatic representatives in New Zealand are under constant review.

"Given the current global situation New Zealand Police have been working closely with diplomatic missions in New Zealand and this latest threat underscores the value of such work," said Mr White.

The Assistant Commissioner said he wished to thank the NZ Herald for taking an editorial decision of its own accord not to publicise the letter it had received in today’s edition of its paper. This allowed officials to complete testing for cyanide before advising the public.

"I would encourage everyone to take a similarly measured approach to this issue. Terrorism feeds on rumour and speculation.

"NZ Police will inform the New Zealand Public of any developments which might affect on their safety but meantime it really is just a matter of continuing to be vigilant," said Mr White.

Contact the Operation Table Team
Please contact us with information that might help the investigation:

Phone 0800 THREAT or 0800 847 328


Suspicious Mail
People handling mail should therefore be aware of the procedures to follow if they receive or notice a suspicious piece of mail.

This is a particularly important for staff in mail rooms or other areas where bulk incoming mail is handled, however anyone may be exposed to a suspicious piece of mail at work or at home.

The following guidelines are provided.

Factors that will help identify suspicious letters or packages

Excessive postage;
Incorrect titles;
Title but no name;
Misspelling of common words;
Handwritten or poorly typed addresses;
Oily stains, discolourations or odour;
No return address;
Excessive weight;
Lopsided or uneven envelope;
Protruding wires or aluminum foil;
Excessive security material such as masking tape, string, etc;
Visual distractions;
Ticking sound;
Marked with restrictive endorsements, such as 'Personal' or 'Confidential';
Shows a city, state or province in the postmark that does not match the return address.
How to decide if an unopened letter or package is suspicious

If there is a ticking sound or protruding wires or aluminum foil, then it should automatically be regarded as suspicious.
The addressee should be contacted to see if the letter or package is expected.
A letter or package can be regarded as suspicious when it is obviously not promotional/marketing mail, the addressee has examined it and at least three suspicious features (see above) have been identified.
How to deal with a suspicious unopened letter or package
Should any suspicious letters or packages be identified, then:

Do not shake or empty contents of envelope or package;
Place the envelope or package into a plastic bag;
If you have been wearing protective gloves then place them into the same bag;
If hands or any part of the body may have come into contact with the envelope or package then wash with soap and water;
Call the Police.
How to deal with a suspicious opened letter or package
Use the same procedures for unopened letters and packages (above), and also:

Put on gloves;
Place opened letter/package in a plastic bag;
If contents spilled;
Don't clean up or wipe spilt contents;
Clear the area of people;
Isolate the area;
Switch off air conditioning;
Wash hands with soap and hot water.
If contents are spilt on clothing;
Select a room for changing;
Remove clothing and place in plastic bag;
Shower with soap and hot water;
Change into other clothes.
Call your local Police station.


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