By Tracy Jan, Globe Staff
FBI authorities investigating an unknown white powder found in more than a dozen envelopes sent to the Wall Street Journal said today that Harvard Law School had received similar mail, addressed to the well-known professor and lawyer Alan Dershowitz.
A Harvard official said that an assistant to Dershowitz opened the white envelope, which contained a card, around 11 a.m. today, saw the powder, and alerted authorities. Results of preliminary laboratory tests for anthrax came back negative last night, according to university officials.
"My secretary was really brave and endured most of the trauma," said Dershowitz, who recently published an opinion piece in the Journal defending Israel's actions in Gaza. "It was terrible. I hope they find the people and prosecute them. It's a serious crime even if turns out the powder was not contaminating.''
The discovery of the envelopes at the newspaper and Harvard -- which both bore postmarks from Knoxville, Tenn. -- sent authorities scurrying in three states and rekindled memories of the 2001 anthrax panic. In Massachusetts, authorities also responded to suspicious mail in Rockland, although it was not related.
As a precaution, the law school alerted the Harvard University Police Department, the university’s environmental health and safety team, and the Cambridge police and fire departments. They cleared the fifth floor of Hauser Hall, where Dershowitz’ office is located.
While authorities said they did not believe a full evacuation of the building was warranted, law school administrators cancelled classes scheduled in the building today and urged faculty and students to study and hold classes elsewhere for the time being. The building will reopen Thursday morning.
“You have to take these things extremely seriously,” said Robert London, spokesman for the law school. “Even with negative lab results, it’s still a form of domestic terrorism.”
Gail Marcinkiewicz, spokeswoman for the FBI in Boston, said, "We’ll investigate all leads to determine who sent the letters and why.”
Marcinkiewicz said six suspicious letters were also sent to the Rockland Town Hall, which was evacuated yesterday, but the letters bore different postmarks and did not contain white powder.
The Journal reported that two floors of the newspaper's lower Manhattan headquarters were evacuated as authorities investigate the matter. The suspicious mail -- in identical, white envelopes -- was addressed to several New York-based executives at the newspaper, which is published by News Corp.'s Dow Jones & Co.
The New York Police Department said the envelopes might be linked to mail with white powder sent Dec. 2 to Fox News and to a number of conservative media commentators. That powder was declared harmless.
The newspaper investigation is being conducted by the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces in New York and Knoxville in partnership with the United States Postal Inspection Service. The Department of Homeland Security was also monitoring the situation.
Correspondent Eric Schwartzel contributed to this report. Material from wire services was also included.