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Former Surgeon General’s Letter to Reid Raises Alarm

Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop unwittingly set off a scare in the Capitol on Wednesday when someone hand-delivered his letter on health care reform to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) office.

The letter appeared in Reid’s outgoing box sometime before 2 p.m., unstamped and with “C. Everett Koop— handwritten in the top-left corner. Staffers soon reported it to the Capitol Police; they found the envelope “unusual,— police spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Schneider said.

Police moved staffers out of the office, ran tests on the envelope and sent out an alert directing staff to “avoid— the area. The letter was “opened by professionals who were properly suited and the contents tested for hazardous material,— Senate Sergeant At Arms Terrance Gainer said.

An hour later, the letter was cleared — and Koop, reached by phone later in the afternoon, was perplexed. Now living in New Hampshire, he had typed a few pages on his views on health care reform, suggesting that Reid insert a provision to ensure that doctors and medical students not be forced to perform abortions.

“I wasn’t aware that sending a hand-delivered letter was an offense,— Koop said. “I can’t believe all this nonsense.—

But Capitol Police officials have been cautious since the 2001 anthrax attacks, when laced letters were sent to some Members of Congress, shutting down Congressional offices for weeks and exposing dozens to the deadly substance. Security has also increased since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001; not only is the force much larger, but its bomb squad responds each day to several “suspicious package— reports — most of which are false alarms.

Jim Manley, Reid’s spokesman, declined to comment on the incident. Koop would not say who delivered the letter for him, citing “complicated— details, but he said it was a “good letter— that was “beautifully typed.— Koop, who served as the surgeon general under President Ronald Reagan, is now a professor at Dartmouth College and a senior scholar at the Dartmouth Medical Center’s C. Everett Koop Institute.

“I did it over a weekend,— he said of writing the letter. “I don’t have a lot of secretarial help, and I’m 93.—

That letter is now in the hands of the police, but Gainer said Reid will probably soon get a copy. The case, he said, is effectively closed.

“It appears it was dropped off and it was a legitimate letter,— he said. “We can put a fork in this one.—

John Stanton, Emily Pierce and Byron C. Tau contributed to this report.