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Powder mailed to newspaper, law school

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Hazardous material vehicles respond to a call to the World Financial Center, where the Wall Street Journal has offices.

Mary Altaffer / AP Enlarge

NEW YORK - Authorities investigating white powder found yesterday in envelopes at the Wall Street Journal in New York and Harvard Law School in Massachusetts said the material was harmless.

Police evacuated about 250 people from the Journal's Manhattan newsroom and executive offices after about a dozen envelopes were found.

FBI spokesman James Margolin said five employees were decontaminated as a precaution. They have been released from quarantine, a newspaper spokesman said.

A newspaper spokesman said the New York mail was addressed to several executives. The postmark was Knoxville, Tenn., but each letter had a different return address. Each contained a blank piece of paper with the powder.

Police in New York said the envelopes might be linked to mail with white powder, also declared harmless, sent Dec. 2 to Fox

News and to a number of conservative media commentators.

Additional tests will be done on the powder, which was thought to be flour.

The FBI in Knoxville said another letter with powder and a Knoxville postmark was received at Harvard Law School in Massachusetts, addressed to political commentator Alan Dershowitz.

An assistant to the well-known lawyer opened the envelope, which contained a card, at around 11 a.m. yesterday. She saw the powder and alerted authorities.

"My secretary was really brave and endured most of the trauma," Mr. Dershowitz, who wrote an opinion piece for the Journal defending Israel's actions in Gaza, said last night. "It was terrible. It's a serious crime even if it turns out the powder was not contaminating."

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 Mr. Dershowitz's office is located.

Though authorities said they did not believe a full evacuation of the building was warranted, administrators canceled classes in the building and urged faculty and students to study and hold classes elsewhere for the time being.

The building will reopen today.

"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."

The FBI in New York, Boston, and Knoxville in partnership with the United States Postal Inspection Service were investigating the incidents.

The Department of Homeland Security was monitoring the situation.

In New York, the letters were sent to Wall Street Journal Managing Editor Robert Thomson, Dow Jones Chief Executive Les Hinton, and Journal editorial page Editor Paul Gigot, according to a source familiar with the matter.

U.S. authorities have been on alert for mail with white powder in it since 2001 when envelopes laced with anthrax were sent to media outlets and U.S. lawmakers, killing five people.

The envelopes were found yesterday on the 11th floor, where News Corp Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch and Mr. Thomson have offices, Wall Street Journal spokesman Robert Christie said.

Mr. Thomson was not in the building at the time. Mr. Murdoch's whereabouts are unknown.

The incident follows others late last year in which powder was sent to media outlets and financial institutions.

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