For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 18, 2001
Press Briefing on Homeland Security
by Governor Tom Ridge; Attorney General John Ashcroft; Surgeon General David Satcher; Postmaster General Jack Potter; FBI Director Robert Mueller; Cdc Director Mitch Cohen; Deputy Surgeon General Ken Moritsugu; and Assistant Secretary of Defense-Designate William Winkenwerder
Presidential Hall, Eisenhower Executive Office Building
- President's intention to provide timely as much accurate info. as possible
- Anthrax situation, update
- Priorities of Justice/FBI: Prevent further harm, search for bacteria source
- Anthrax hoaxes are federal crimes
- Four people charged in connection with anthrax hoaxes
- Gen. Ashcroft: False threat participants/perpetrators will be prosecuted
- FBI Update
- Homeland Security Office and FBI mutual support in counter-terrorism
- Volume of threats handled by FBI since Oct. 1
- FBI agents responding swiftly and fully
- Need for collective effort, seamless and comprehensive effort
- Reward of up to $1 million for info. on anthrax mailings
- Need for a calm, vigilant, educated American public
- Surgeon General, Dr. David Satcher, on the Public Health System
- Public health infrastructure's response to bioterrorism
- Reassurance to Americans
- U.S. is responding quickly and effectively to cases of anthrax
- U.S. is delivering the appropriate medications
- Governments are working well together
- Public must be informed on how to minimize risk of anthrax
- Although serious, Anthrax is not contagious
- When exposure is known, ability to treat exposure, prevent disease exists
- Supply of antibiotics is plentiful, ability exists to deliver antibiotics rapidly
- Steps taken to expand antibiotic stockpile even further
- Cipro is not the only drug to deal with anthrax
- All anthrax strains identified to date are sensitive to antibiotics
- Physicians should not prescribe antibiotics for anthrax when not needed
- Penicillin severely weakened over the years by inappropriate use
- CDC special conference, "What Clinicians Need to Know"
- CDC health alert announcements accessible via web
- Role of the Public
- Sec'y Thompson assigns Dr. Ken Moritsugu to work with Senate on anthrax
- CDC epidemiologists' evaluation, recommendation
- Gov. Ridge daily communication with Gen. Ashcroft, FBI Director Mueller
- Science of identifying and confirming bacteria
- Confusing message from Capitol Hill
- Smallpox, purchase of 300 million vaccines
- Ability of U.S. to combat both anthrax and terrorism simultaneously
- Anxiety in the public over flying, anthrax
10:05 A.M. EDT
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Good morning. This briefing will be the first of many opportunities that we will have to discuss homeland security and our government's response efforts. The President has made it very clear that he wants to provide the American people as much accurate information as we can, as soon as we can. I intend to hold regular briefings with government experts and relevant officials.
Since September 11th, our government has worked so well together -- both at the federal, state, and local, public and private sectors. The American people can have confidence that their government is working around the clock to protect them. Our government is more coordinated than ever.
We want to use today's briefing to update Americans on the current anthrax situation. Attorney General Ashcroft and FBI Director Mueller will update you on their investigations, and new additional efforts on the law enforcement front. Also present is the Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. David Satcher, and Dr. Mitch Cohen, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who will update you on their ongoing testing. The Deputy Surgeon General is also with us today. He is working directly with the FBI and other key officials on the anthrax detection at the U.S. Capitol.
The Postmaster General is here today as well and will brief the American people on ways to ensure the safety of their mail. And finally, Major General Gerry Parker from the U.S. Army Surgeon General's Office is here to discuss the U.S. Army's Medical Research Institute for Infectious Disease efforts to support the anthrax situation at the U.S. Capitol.
While the federal government is more coordinated than ever, we are also working hand-in-hand with state and local governments. We are in constant contact with doctors and health care professionals, law enforcement officials, governors, mayors, city council leaders, and many others, to determine ways to protect our homeland and respond to potential threats. Later today, administration officials, including myself, will be briefing representatives from state, local, and county governments. I will report their feedback to the President to ensure that we are serving their needs as effectively and efficiently as possible.
Later today, Secretary Thompson, the CDC, and the Surgeon General will also conduct a conference call with leading representatives of organizations that represent doctors and other health care professionals. We want to make absolutely certain we are getting important information on anthrax prevention and detection as quickly as possible to our health care experts all across this country.
Now, if I can, I would like to take just a few moments to bring you up to date with the latest information on the anthrax situation. There is a great deal of speculation out there. There is obvious concern to most Americans -- all Americans. And instead of speculating, we would like to focus on the facts.
First, thousands and thousands and thousands of people have been tested for anthrax exposure, and thousands of environmental samples have been taken as well. Yet only five people have tested positive at this time for anthrax. I will tell you we are in the process of confirming a sixth; we will get back to you with details on that later.
But today, as of now, we have only five, out of those thousands that have been tested for exposure. Only five actually have the disease. Two of these cases have treated positive for inhalation anthrax. While one gentleman unfortunately passed away, the other is expected to make a full recovery.
Doctors and medical professionals are receiving regular health alerts and have timely access to the information they need, again, to respond as quickly and as effectively as possible.
I want to take some time to review the latest facts from the different anthrax situations.
The only death at this point, as we all know, sadly, has happened in Florida. We continue to say prayers for that family and everyone who has been involved in this situation there and around the country as well.
In Palm Beach County, one man has also been diagnosed with inhalational anthrax disease, but he is on antibiotics and he is expected to recover. There has also been one confirmed case of exposure in Palm Beach County; however, she has recovered and she has returned to work.
An NBC employee -- now we're going to New York. An NBC employee has tested positive for cutaneous anthrax. But because of the quick diagnosis by her physician, she was placed on antibiotics and is expected to make a full recovery. No other cases at the NBC building have been reported. In fact, an intern who likely handled the suspicious letter has tested negative for anthrax.
After we learned of the NBC exposure, the federal government and the New York state and local officials immediately took preventive action to investigate other media outlets in New York.
As you well know, regrettably, at ABC a seven-month-old infant has tested positive for cutaneous anthrax disease. Our coordinated teams continue to investigate exactly how the child came into contact with the anthrax bacteria. But the child is also taking antibiotics, and the child is doing well.
The ABC building is the focus of a rigorous investigation, and the New York City Health Department has reported no other individuals with symptoms of anthrax at the ABC building.
At CBS, an employee has tested positive for cutaneous anthrax. The assistant has been placed on antibiotics and is expected, again, to make a full recovery. I suspect you are familiar with the details of this individual, but she had on October 1st noticed some swelling in her face, went to visit with her physician. The physician, I think on October 4th, gave her penicillin. With all the other activity with regard to anthrax, she checked herself in with the city's health department. Mayor Giuliani reports to me that she got Cipro at that time and she is doing very well, and they expect her to make a full recovery.
At Governor Pataki's office, out of prudence, the employees who worked near a suspicious letter that may have been opened have been placed on antibiotics as a precautionary measure until testing is completed.
In all of these cases in New York, the federal government, the CDC and the FBI continue to investigate, to test, and to treat those who may have been exposed.
Now finally, Washington, D.C. Currently, over 3,000 nasal swabs have been taken -- over 3,000. And to be prudent, those tested have been offered antibiotics until the nasal samples are analyzed.
A total of 31 individuals have tested preliminarily positive for possible exposure and will be evaluated further. Apparently, these 31 individuals most of the time were confined, or had their office, or did their work, on the fifth or sixth floor of the Hart Building.
As was announced yesterday, relevant federal agencies are working hand in hand with Congress to further examine areas in the Capitol complex to ensure the safety of the legislative branch and those who work in it.
Finally, Nevada. The final test results for Nevada are in from the CDC, and they are negative. However, additional samples are going to be taken to ensure there is no threat.
Now, before my colleagues brief you further, I want to remind all Americans that they can get the latest information from government websites. The Center for Disease Control at www.cdc.gov. It's accessible. It's called Health Alert. And there are questions and answers that really give every citizen an opportunity to learn for his or her self all they need to know about anthrax and about the work that has been going on with the CDC.
The Department of Health and Human Services has anthrax tips as well, and that site is www.hhs.gov. And of course, the FBI, www.fbi.gov.
All of us, beginning with the President, appreciate the extraordinary patience of the American people during these extremely challenging times. We will continue to hold regular briefings to ensure that the American people have as much information as possible, as soon as possible.
Now, I would like to turn the next segment of this briefing over to Attorney General John Ashcroft.
GENERAL ASHCROFT: Thank you, Governor. The Justice Department and the FBI are working closely with Health and Human Services, the CDC, the Postal inspectors, and Capitol Hill police to investigate the anthrax cases around the country in Florida, New York, and in Washington, D.C.
We have two priorities. First, to use the information we have about these cases to do what we can to prevent further harm. Second, we are aggressively searching for the source of the bacteria and for the person or people responsible for the criminal acts of dispersing and sending these bacteria in the mail.
Unfortunately, this week, in addition to the continuing investigation into the September 11th attacks and the anthrax cases, the FBI and United States Attorneys have also been investigating numerous hoaxes. People who use this time in our country as an opportunity to compound the concern of Americans through hoaxes will pay a serious price, because we intend to prosecute these offenses to the fullest extent of the law.
These acts are serious violations of the law and grotesque transgressions of the public trust. False terrorist threats tax the resources of an already overburdened enforcement system, and they also tax the public health system. They create illegitimate alarm in a time of legitimate concern.
Terrorism hoaxes are not victimless crimes, but are the destructive acts of cowards. Making a threat is a federal offense, even if the person making the threat doesn't have the intention or the ability to carry out the threat.
The law clearly prohibits the mailing of communications which, and I quote, "contain any threat to injure the person of the addressee or of another." This offense carries a penalty of up to five years in prison.
The law also prohibits the threatened use of a biological toxin. This offense carries a penalty of up to life in prison and a potential for very serious fines.
Individuals may also receive up to five years in prison for lying to law enforcement officials.
This week, we have already charged four people in connection with false anthrax threats, and we are working with state and local officials to prosecute additional cases. Two individuals lied to federal authorities about their knowledge of or involvement with a hoax. Two others falsely threatened to use biological weapons of mass destructions.
Just yesterday, the United States Attorney in Rhode Island charged William Silvia of Portsmouth with mailing a threatening communication. According to an affidavit supporting the complaint, Silvia last week mailed a letter to a person in Lincoln that purported to contain anthrax. It actually contained talcum powder, but the threat caused the recipient to call 911, triggering an emergency response and investigations by state and federal law enforcement.
The message is clear: anyone who participates in or perpetrates a false threat of anthrax, or a false threat of another kind, will be prosecuted by federal, state, and local officials. We are working carefully with state and local officials in this respect. Many of our states have very serious and substantial legal frameworks to prosecute such individuals as well.
I want to thank the American people for their patience, their vigilance and their cooperation in all of these respects. I am pleased now to introduce the Director of the FBI, Bob Mueller, and also the Postmaster General of the United States, Jack Potter. Together, they are working very well to help Americans develop a sense of confidence in a system of mail and mail delivery which merits our confidence, and I am grateful for the opportunity to introduce them at this time.
DIRECTOR MUELLER: Thank you, General. Good morning. Last week, I had the opportunity to attend Governor Ridge's swearing in, and at that time, and later, to pledge the FBI's full support and cooperation with the work of his office.
The task at hand is larger than any one agency. And the new office headed by Governor Ridge, we believe, can only help we at the FBI to better meet our critical counter-terrorism mission. And the Bureau, the FBI, will provide whatever resources, information and assistance the Governor needs to fulfill his mission.
Our participation in that mission will be a critical component in the information sharing process, not only at the federal level, but also with state and local authorities.
Now, in an average year the FBI handles approximately 250 assessments and responses involving chemical or biological agents, or other weapons of mass destruction. Over the past 18 days alone, we have handled more than 3,300, including 2,500 involving suspected anthrax threats alone.
As we have heard, one person has died from anthrax bacteria, and a limited number of individuals have been exposed. But our nation is quite clearly concerned. I want you to know our investigators are hard at work -- are hard at work in New York, in Florida, in New Jersey, in D.C., and throughout the country, responding swiftly and fully to each and every request for assistance, but most particularly following up on each and every lead that could disclose the identity and provide the proof against those who are responsible for these anthrax attacks.
We are treatingevery instance around the country as a serious crime. And we will not relent; we will pursue, and bring to justice, those who are responsible for these harmful acts.
It is quite obvious and clear, however, that this is a collective effort with many agencies, not just those standing here today but others, both in the federal government, as well as with the state and locals. And the process must be seamless and comprehensive.
And also, as the Attorney General has previously mentioned, we are addressing anthrax hoaxes. And when we find such a hoax, we will pursue the investigation and prosecute to the full extent of the law.
I want to finish this segment by saying the FBI and all of its federal, state, and local colleagues look forward to working with Governor Ridge and his office, and to continue the close cooperation that we have seen certainly since September 11th, and most particularly with regard to these anthrax attacks.
Let me discuss for a moment, if I might, another matter. We in the FBI are pleased this morning to join with Postmaster General Jack Potter to announce a reward of up to $1 million for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for terrorist acts of mailing anthrax. Now, this reward continues the strong partnership between the FBI and the postal authorities in tracking down criminals who use our mail system to further their illegal deeds. And we are very pleased to contribute to this endeavor, and once again call upon the public to assist us in this fight against terrorism.
Now, let me, if I might, turn this over to Postmaster General Jack Potter. Thank you.
GENERAL POTTER: Good morning. First of all, I would like to thank Governor Ridge for having me here today to represent the Postal Service. And I would like to thank the FBI, the health officials from the federal government. And I would also like to thank law enforcement officials and health officials throughout America for their support of the Postal Service throughout this effort, and for their quick action to respond.
We are very happy to participate in the effort, with our Inspection Service and the FBI, with the effort to apprehend those who are responsible for these heinous acts. We are also very anxious and thank the Attorney General for his efforts to go after those who would use the mail to make a hoax.
We have to be vigilant, and that is our message to the American public. When it comes to the use of mail, we are asking that people use common sense. And we are going to mail, within the next week, a postcard to everyone in America. This postcard outlines what they should be suspicious of in the mail, mail that does not have a return address, and other things that are likely to occur in the mail.
The best defense that we have right now is an educated American public, an educated work force -- both the employees of the Postal Service and those who work in mail rooms. And our message has been consistent, it has been very clear: if you receive something that is suspicious, we want you to isolate it, put it in a plastic bag, don't let other people touch it. Don't shake it, don't taste it, don't sniff it -- I mean, these are very common sense things that we are asking the American public to do. And then we are asking them to call law enforcement. And law enforcement agencies and local health officials, state and national health officials, are all ready to get involved and respond to their needs.
In addition to that, the Postal Service is putting out a poster that will be issued to mail rooms throughout America, so that the folks in the mail rooms will know what to be on the lookout for. We also have information on our website, www.usps.com.
My message to the American public is to remain calm, be vigilant, be aware of what you get in the mail. And as the President has said, heightened awareness right now is what we are asking all of America to do. Yes, we believe the mail is safe. It is very safe if you are prudent, and if you follow the simple directions that we're asking you to follow.
Again, let me close by thanking Governor Ridge for having me here today, and for allowing the Postal Service to participate in this effort. We're committed to homeland security. And again, I want to thank local law enforcement officials, and federal law enforcement and health officials, for their support of the Postal Service.
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Jack, I just want to publicly recognize the extraordinary work that you and the Post Office have done. The card that you are sending out to every single home and just some good, common sense practical suggestions that we want all Americans to be aware of and to take.
I have asked our Surgeon General, Dr. David Satcher, to spend a little time with us this morning. Doctor?
GENERAL SATCHER: Thank you very much, Governor Ridge. We too are very pleased to join with you and with Attorney General Ashcroft and people from the Justice Department and the Postal Service in responding to this ongoing threat.
I think you know that Secretary Thompson has pledged the full suport of our department, including the Public Health Service, to you in defending the homeland security.
I want to make a few points about the Public Health Service. We believe that from a health perspective, the best defense against bioterrorism is a very strong public health infrastructure, and we believe that the public health infrastructure is responding very well to this threat.
Americans should be reassured in knowing that we are responding quickly and effectively to cases of anthrax exposure and presumed exposure throughout the country. We are delivering the appropriate medications to those who need it, and we are erring on the side of caution in making health care available to those who may have been exposed to anthrax spores.
Let me say that the federal, state, and local governments are working well together in terms of public health. The CDC is our lead agency in responding to this kind of threat, and the CDC, in addition to providing epidemiologists to be involved in detecting and investigating and diagnosing cases, is also supporting state and local health departments. CDC's health alert network now includes more than 80 state and local health departments and laboratories, and more are being developed.
I think we are doing well as a nation and we need to stay the course. We need to continue to do those things that we know are effective. We have a very strong public health infrastructure, and it is getting stronger, as it should.
We need to make sure that people are informed as to what can be done to minimize the risk. It is important to continue to point out that, as serious as anthrax is as a disease, it is not contagious. And from a public health perspective, that is very good news.
It is also important to point out that we have the ability -- when we know that someone has been exposed to this bacteria, we have the ability to treat them with antibiotics and to prevent the development of the disease. And so what we are treating in many cases now, we are treating exposures. And by treating exposures, we are preventing the development of the disease.
The American people should know that we have plenty of antibiotics to get to those who need them, and we have the ability to deliver those antibiotics rapidly. Over the last three years, we have developed a stockpile at CDC. There are sites distributed throughout the country. There are agreements with vendors, manufacturers, that can aid in getting antibiotics anywhere they are needed in a very short period of time, in a matter of hours. And we have demonstrated that in Florida, in New York, and certainly in Washington, D.C.
The administration took steps this week to expand the antibiotic stockpile even further. We now have enough to serve 2 million people for up to 60 days, which is what is recommended when one has been exposed to anthrax. We have now taken steps to expand that so that we could, in fact, serve at least 12 million people with ciprofloxicin up to 60 days.
There is another very important point that needs to be made here. There has been so much attention given to the drug Cipro, it is very important that everyone understands that Cipro is not the only drug that we have in our armamentarium to deal with this problem. Several varieties of penicillin and tetracycline can also be used. FDA has, in fact, now taken the steps to label those drugs so that physicians will be very clear about the use of them.
But in most cases, we try to start people who have an exposure on ciprofloxicin, and after a period of time when we have been able to determine the sensitivities, we are able to move to other drugs.
Let me just say I think despite all of the discussion, and perhaps sometimes confusion, about the nature of different organisms -- for example, the discussion with Capitol Hill -- I think what is really important to understand that so far all of the strains that have been identified are sensitive to the antibiotics that we have. They are sensitive to ciprofloxicin and, in most cases, sensitive to penicillin and to tetracycline.
So we have not only the antibiotics that we have been describing in terms of ciprofloxicin, but we also have penncillin and various forms of tetracycline that can also be used. And we can deliver them.
We certainly do not recommend -- and I want to state this again -- we do not recommend that physicians prescribe ciprofloxicin and other antibiotics for anthrax when they are not needed. We do not believe that the treatment for anxiety in patients is to give them prescriptions. We believe the treatment is to really discuss this issue with them and to try to make them understand that we are able to respond, but to also understand the harm that can be done if people hoard antibiotics, use them inappropriately, so that we develop more resistant strains.
And I just have to remind you that over the years the powerful drug penicillin has been severely weakened by inappropriate use, and so we don't want this to happen in this case. We need your cooperation. The public is a very important part of this public health approach, and so we hope that that will happen.
Today, between 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m., the CDC, as Governor Ridge mentioned, will be holding a special conference for physicians and others on the front line. It is entitled, "What Clinicians Need to Know." That conference can be accessed on www.cdc.gov/phtn, and information will be provided for physicians and others on the front line.
But also, as Governor Ridge mentioned, it should be pointed out that on a very regular basis the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention makes information available for the general public. Health alert announcements that are provided -- they can be accessed at www.cdc.gov.
But to keep all of this in perspective, we've had a lot of concern over the last few weeks, and I think it's appropriate. We've said that we think it's appropriate not only that the public health system be on high alert during this time in our history, but also that the public be on high alert.
Now, what is the role of the public? And it's not a new role -- there are certain things that we have said all along that people should do in the interest of the public health. We've talked about the importance of hand washing. We've talked about the importance of carefully handling foreign objects or substances. And you've heard the Postmaster General describe what we need to happen relative to the mail, and CDC issued guidelines in terms of handling envelopes, especially those that are not familiar and those that are unusual in terms of their bulkiness or their odor, or their stain or what have you.
But these are public health precautions, just like the thorough cooking of food. If people are worried about the danger of anthrax in their food, then the best defense against that is to thoroughly cook foods. So, the general public health guidelines apply here as they have before.
We have now had -- we have announced before, and I think the MMWR that's coming out today will still say that there have been four cases of anthrax disease, the two in Florida and the two in New York. However, CDC will be announcing today that we have confirmed a fifth case, and that we're in the process of confirming a sixth case of anthrax disease. Dr. Mitch Cohen, who is here, and who is head of the Division of Mycotic and Bacterial Diseases at the CDC will be here to discuss that.
Also, as you've heard, with us today is the Deputy Surgeon General, Dr. Ken Moritsugu, who has been detailed of assigned to Capitol Hill to work very closely with Congress. He has certainly been very active in the last two days in dealing with the situation there, and will discuss that with you.
Again, I want to thank Governor Ridge for his leadership at this very important time in our history. And we look forward to working very closely with you.
DEPUTY GENERAL MORITSUGU: Good morning. As Dr. Satcher mentioned, on Tuesday Secretary Tommy Thompson assigned me to work together with the Senate leadership on Capitol Hill in coordinating both the assessment and the response to the anthrax incident that occurred on Monday morning.
CDC epidemiologists have been on-site since Monday afternoon and have been evaluating the situation within the Senate. And based upon their evaluation, of greater than 3,000 nasal swabs there were only 31 nasal swabs that indicated an exposure to anthrax. And for that reason, yesterday afternoon the CDC epidemiologists recommended that there was no need for further nasal swab evaluation; that CDC had identified the area of exposure, and that area was on the fifth and the sixth floor on the southeast wing of the Senate Hart Building, and it was confined to individuals who either worked in or traveled through that area on Monday.
Furthermore, those individuals who had worked in or traveled through that area on Monday should be on 60 days of medication. There is continuing analysis and evaluation of that area, as well as other areas of the Senate and the Capitol. And we will be reporting as we get additional information.
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Two quick observations, if I might, before I ask Dr. Cohen. First of all, Dr. Satcher referred to the fifth case, and that's the third case in New York. Remember, we've got two in Florida, three in New York, and I told you there will be a sixth that we're in the process of confirming right now.
And secondly, I thought it was very important for you to know that every morning I meet with, or talk to, the Attorney General and the FBI Director. And every morning, among many things that we discuss, we discuss the need to commit FBI and Justice resources, and public health resources to follow up as aggressively and as quickly as possible on every single potential threat.
And we just want to assure America that when the threats turn out to be a hoax, that the Department of Justice and the FBI will move as aggressively against those as they do to investigate to make sure that a threat exists in the first place.
It's inconceivable to me that under this extraordinary set of circumstances that this country is dealing with, to me, that the Department of Justice, and the FBI, and the CDC, and public health officials have to respond -- and will respond as aggressively as possible and as quickly as possible -- and then we find out that it's fraudulent, that it's a hoax.
Let there be no mistake about it; let it be a strong message and a very clear message. The federal government -- and, I might add, the Attorney General pointed out that there are state and local officials who will assist us in prosecuting these individuals to the fullest extent of the law.
In the past couple of days, several people have asked the administration, asked different officials, and queried about the delay, from getting the swabs and getting the samples to getting public information. Obviously we like immediate gratification. We like to know as quickly as possible. But there is some science that is involved in making this determination, in drawing the appropriate medical conclusion. And I have asked Dr. Mitch Cohen from the CDC to join us today to talk to you a little bit about the science of identifying the bacteria and confirming the bacteria.
DR. COHEN: Thank you, Governor. Good morning. As you have heard, there have been several additional cases that are being evaluated. As those people are notified about their diseases, we will be able to provide you more information about those.
We have a series of investigations that are going on in several places. These are jointly conducted with state and local public health officials, and with law enforcement officials as well. These are very, very good collaborations, and we are making tremendous progress in all those areas.
I will be happy, during the question and answer period, to answer any specific questions that you have concerning some of the laboratory tests, some of the investigation issues. I know the laboratory test work is often very confusing, and that is in part because this is an unusual disease, and there are many different types of tests that have to be used to determine its presence on people, in people, in the environment, in letters. And all of those can be very complex and confusing, and I will be happy to provide any additional information that anyone would like to know on that. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WINKENWERDER: My name is Dr. Bill Winkenwerder, and I am the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health affairs. Just confirmed two days ago, so very new to the situation here. I am joined by General John Parker, who is with the Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases, who has been involved in performing some laboratory testing and other support to the CDC and to the FBI.
I just want to say that our role thus far has been to be a support to the CDC and to the FBI and to other agencies that have called us in because of the expertise and skill and special resources that we are sometimes able to bring to the table. And so we are more than glad to play that role. We do have some things that we can offer, and we look forward to playing a supportive role in the fight against these acts. So, I will be glad to answer any questions in the question and answer period. Thank you.
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Yes, questions.
Q Governor Ridge, clearly the Administration is putting out a message today, "Be calm, we're engaged, we're doing what we can to help you." Yesterday we got a confusing message from Capitol Hill, and a troubling message: the House went out, the Senate stayed in. Were you consulted? Do you agree with what they did?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I think both branches, in consultation with their members, did what they thought was reasonable and prudent based on the information they had at the time. And certainly we've talked about it with them.
Again, I think an excess of caution, given the situation, particularly on the Senate side, led to the Speaker and Minority Leader Gephardt, in consultation with their caucuses, to make those decisions. And I think, again, caution was the word. And they will be back to business, ready to go, on Tuesday.
The Senate did remain in session today, I believe, for a vote or two, they had some committee work to do, some conference committee work to do perhaps. They are going to continue to conduct their business.
But I think, again, everybody is trying to respond properly based on information they have available to them. And the individual leaders, in consultation with their caucuses, made independent -- you know, it's not the first time the House and the Senate have disagreed on certain things. You go talk to Nick Calio -- it happens more than once. Yes?
Q Governor, the federal government is asking for money to buy 300 million smallpox vaccines, that's enough to treat every American. Why are we buying all of these vaccines, and when does the inoculation program begin?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: First of all, answering the second part of the question, we can't start inoculating until we have the vaccine. But again, we have decided, as a matter of prevention and protection, to strengthen the stockpile of antibiotics and vaccines that we have. And we looked at potential challenges to this country -- smallpox is one of them -- and decided to prepare for that challenge. Again, it's a very appropriate response.
Q So it's the intention to vaccinate every American against smallpox?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: It is the intention to determine, after we have sufficient supplies available to commence inoculation, to make the decision at that time.
Q One of the things that is noticeable out in the public is this fear that in case they get exposed, will they get the antibiotic, be it Cipro or be it anything, on time? There seems to be some doubt out there of what the period of incubation would be, what the symptoms would be to make sure that if they have it to go to the doctor and get the medicine.
Because we keep hearing there is plenty and there is going to be 600 percent more in stock. But how do people know not to hoard the medicine -- when they should go to a doctor to be tested?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I will let Dr. Satcher and Dr. Cohen respond. But let me just say, that one of the things that he FDA has done -- because there has been so much public discussion about Cipro, and everybody thinks that's the only antibiotic that can be used to treat exposure and to use as a preventive measure. And that's just not the fact. There are a wide range of antibiotics available in every drugstore in the country. But let me ask Dr. Satcher to elaborate on that.
GENERAL SATCHER: A couple of things. I think we have demonstrated that we have the ability to deliver the antibiotics in a very short period of time, and in much larger numbers than we've had to do to date. So we feel that we have demonstrated the ability to perform in that sense. CDC has been developing the stockpile now since 1999, and that stockpile, as you know, contains Cipro and other antibiotics that can be used to treat people who are -- and we're using "treat" in an interesting way here -- to treat people who have been exposed, or who are presumed to be exposed, to anthrax.
And I do want to make the point, there will be people who have negative nasal swabs who will still be treated. Because a negative nasal swab test does not rule out exposure to anthrax. And so, if we have a reason to believe that there is a high probability that someone has been exposed, they will, in fact, be treated. We can deliver the drugs in a very short period of time. That system of stockpiling and vendor management agreements are in place, and the transportation modes are in place. So we can deliver on that.
I do want to say a word about smallpox. That is, I think the issue here is, of course, is when you don't -- we haven't seen a single case of smallpox in the world since the late 1970s, except those that may have been related to vaccines at a particular time. But smallpox has been eradicated since 1977, and so you're always hesitant to immunize people against a disease unless you're certain, fairly certain, that there is going to be a risk.
And that's what has to be assessed as Governor Ridge said, ongoing. Will there be the risk to indicate immunization against smallpox?
Q How about the period? From the moment you start getting the symptoms?
GENERAL SATCHER: The incubation period for anthrax is usually between one and seven days. It's a very short incubation period. It probably averages two or three days. And as you know, the symptoms can be very difficult, because they include things like fever and fatigue and muscle soreness. So in a sense, they can be very similar to the flu.
And the other thing, of course, it can be rapidly progressive. So that is why we focus so much on exposure. We try not to wait for symptoms; we try to really respond any time we know there is an exposure. If we find symptoms in any given person, then we are concerned about who else around that person has been exposed, and we move aggressively to put those people on antibiotics also.
Q Governor Ridge, really this press conference is a demonstration of how much the U.S. government is putting into investigating these anthrax cases. And I'm curious as to whether you feel that the devotion of this amount of personnel and resources to anthrax heightens the risk that the U.S. government could be blindsided from another direction by any terrorist?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Oh, no, I would say, even though this press conference suggests that it's really about anthrax generally, we are more vigilant today, and continue to get more vigilant every day as we assess different risks that might present themselves in this country.
I mean, if you take a look at everybody in the FBI, the Border Patrol, the Coast Guard, CDC, everybody is working 24/7. We have engaged the state and the federal communities. So no, I think our antennae are up for all conceivable risks, and you ought to be reassured of that.
Q One for the Attorney General, if I might.
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Oh, good. Yes. (Laughter.) General Ashcroft?
Q Are there any promising leads in terms of tracking down the sources of the anthrax letters, particularly those sent to Senator Daschle and to NBC?
GENERAL ASHCROFT: We are devoting every resource and pursuing every lead. I don't think it's appropriate for me to announce that we have any promising leads, but we are investigating very thoroughly.
And that includes --
Q Are there leads to disclose?
GENERAL ASHCROFT: I will have to defer on that. I am not in a position to say that there are, and I don't know whether the Director wants to make a comment or not. Obviously the FBI is a very important part of this investigation, but the Postal Service authorities are also involved. And our desire to make this investigation a successful one is indicated by the fact that today we are offering a reward of up to $1 million for individuals who provide the information that will lead to the successful arrest, detention, prosecution and conviction of the individuals involved.
Q Can you say whether there's evidence linking --
Q Mr. Mueller, do you want to answer?
Q -- each of the three cases now?
DIRECTOR MUELLER: I will perhaps respond to the question about leads. I can't get into whether lead A is better than lead B. I can tell you that from each of the areas where there has been anthrax exposure -- Florida, New York, and D.C. -- the samples relating to the spores in the anthrax exposure are being analyzed by a variety of laboratories to determine alikeness, and to determine whether or not there is a sole or single source of each of those attacks.
Likewise, we put out yesterday, I believe, the envelopes, the two envelopes of the letter that was sent to NBC in New York, as well as the envelope of the letter sent to Senator Daschle. And that, you can look at it yourself and compare it. And by putting out those two envelopes, we are getting a number of leads.
We put those envelopes out there for two reasons: one for leads, but also so persons would look at those envelopes, and if they saw an envelope with similar writing, or a similar return address, they would let us know. I think we are over 300,000 leads since September 11th to now. Many of those in the last few days have been related to anthrax, and every one of them is being pursued.
Q Just to follow on that, there have been a number of public statements by officials saying that there is some belief, without hard evidence, that al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden may be behind these anthrax attacks, letters. Is there any hard evidence that perhaps another rogue nation or a domestic terrorist, an American terrorist, could be behind this?
DIRECTOR MUELLER: Let me start by saying that the mailing of anthrax is a terrorist act. It is a terrorist act. And we are pursuing it as a terrorist act. We are not in a position at this point to determine those who are responsible to the extent that they could be put into an indictment or arrests be made. I'll just leave it there.
Q Governor Ridge?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Every single day, the organizations represented by these individuals with me today, along with others that are not represented here -- every single day they work to improve our ability to identify and prevent a threat, and they work every single day to improve our ability and strengthen our ability to respond to it. So please know that every organization in the federal government right now is focused on the widest possible range of anti-terrorism activity.
Q Governor Ridge, there has been -- Dr. Cohen talked about other places being investigated. Have there been any other cases of anthrax found in government buildings or field offices, and would you tell us if they were?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: To date, there have been none. And secondly, we will, but my experience has been, at least it seems to me that sometimes you find out before we do. I mean, the local response to the effort, frankly, generates a great deal of interest. All of a sudden, the public health department and a couple sirens perhaps, and it draws your attention to it.
But obviously the President and everyone in the administration understands that it's very important for us to get information to you, validated information to you, as quickly as we possibly can.
Q Can someone talk about how mail is being handled at the White House? Is it being screened with extra care? Have any threats been received here with regard to the mail supply in light of what's --
GOVERNOR RIDGE: The mail has been handled the way it has been handled for a long time. I don't think we're doing -- we're following the Post Office regimen very carefully.
Q Governor Ridge, if there is a bioterrorist -- a large-scale bioterrorist act in the future, who is in charge of the response? Who has authority to make decisions related to the response?
What I am trying to find out, basically, is are the boss here or are you a coordinator?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: If there is a -- well, I guess a coordinator is like a conductor with an orchestra. The music doesn't start playing until he taps the baton. Coordinate -- if you've got a response to a bioterrorism activity, you've got several agencies that spring into action immediately, simultaneously. And my role would be to participate in that effort to make sure that the response -- agency-wide, cross-government-wide -- is coordinated so that it is quick and is aggressive and is complete as possible. That's my job.
Q But nobody believes that this -- do people have to listen to you if -- do they --
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Well, first of all --
Q -- make a decision about how people are going to respond or who is going to respond? Do they have to listen to you or not?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Well, there are some areas that they are certainly going to have to listen to me. But your question was around what happens in the event of some form of attack, and everybody has pre-assigned responsibilities. Everybody knows the job that they need to do.
And in that eventuality, they immediately proceed to do that work, and I'll oversee that work. And if there is a gap, if there is something I think that needs to be done differently, if there are additional preventive measures I think need to be taken, if I think we have overlooked something, I make the call.
Q On the science of the anthrax, please? Do we know yet whether the three cases are all of the same strain? And secondly, could someone speak to the D.C. anthrax? We've heard weapons grade, not weapons grade, you know, you need a special machine to make it, you don't. Could someone just talk about that?
DR. COHEN: Well, in our laboratories we have done preliminary tests on the strains from Florida and from New York. These preliminary tests do not show any differences between those two strains. They have been sent to further laboratories for more detailed tests to see whether or not we can sort out any differences from them.
Q And you don't know about D.C. yet, whether it matches those others?
DR. COHEN: Well, those studies probably will be done today. We haven't received the isolate yet, enough to do them.
Q Okay. And on the quality of the type of the D.C. anthrax, whether it's -- you know, how sophisticated it is?
DR. COHEN: Well, from my perspective, from a public health perspective, anthrax is a dangerous organism. And so I think the important public health message is that people have to be careful and alert with their mail, so that if you have anthrax in an envelope, you have to be alert and take care, as prescribed by the Post Office.
Q How many of these other cases are outside of Washington and in New York and Florida?
DR. COHEN: Well, as soon as the sixth case is notified, then we will be able to provide that information to you.
Q But is it fair to say that of those several that you said you are looking at, first, can you put a little bit more specific number than several? Several could be anywhere from five to fifteen. And are they outside of the Washington, New York, Florida axis you have seen, so a lot of people elsewhere have reason to be even more worried?
DR. COHEN: Well, the cases that we are working with are in the general areas of where we have been conducting investigations. There are a number of people who have specimens sent -- there are several -- or evaluated cultures from their nose or skin biopsy specimens. Some of these may or may not turn out to be anthrax.
So this is a very small number that we are evaluating in the laboratory, in addition to the six that we'll have identified.
Q The question, I think, about the grade of the anthrax here in D.C. up on the Hill is there was some confusion. We were initially told it was very high quality, raising fears that there was state sponsorship behind it, that this was a very serious act of terrorism. Then we were told, well, no, not necessarily so. So I think that is where the confusion is. And could you or someone else maybe address that?
DR. COHEN: Well, I think those studies are actually being done to answer the questions that you are asking about, but certainly the folks from the Department of Defense might want to comment.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WINKENWERDER: This is just based on the conversations that I have had with General Parker and others that are involved in the technical aspects of this. And first, obviously the sample was confirmed as anthrax by the USAMARID -- an acronym we use here -- lab. It looked to be run of the mill. They are sensitive to all antibiotics. There was no evidence, based on what we know thus far, that it was any different from any samples at this time. Now, more comparative work may need to be done to confirm that.
There was some suggestion that there was less debris in the specimen, which could suggest that it may have have been processed in some way. But, again I wouldn't even put that forward. It is not confirmed at this point.
Q What were the particle sizes?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WINKENWERDER: I don't believe that there was anything unusual about the particle size.
Q But the spores were --
Q Milled --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WINKENWERDER: I don't know that that's a term that we would use. That is an inference as to how something may have been altered in some way, and I don't think we are prepared to make that inference at this time.
Q Did the powder look the same in all three instances? And what does it look like?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WINKENWERDER: Well, my point was I don't think we have compared this one sample from Washington with the others to be certain about that.
Q Can you give us the characteristics -- the color of it and what people might be alarmed --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WINKENWERDER: Again, I think that is work that needs to be done.
Q Is it correct that it had a aerosol-type quality, that it plumed, popped up in the air? Hastert suggested that at one point. Is that incorrect, as far as you know?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WINKENWERDER: I can't comment on that.
Q Can you speak generally to weapons grade anthrax, whether or not --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WINKENWERDER: No, I can't. I'm not sure how that term even came out, but no.
Q -- let it stay in the air, as Dr. Woolridge (phonetic) talked about special ones that have coating that allows particles to stay in the air longer? Did this have that coating?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY WINKENWERDER: Again, I think that analysis still needs to be done.
Q Governor Ridge, there have been waves of anxiety in the public -- over flying, over anthrax. Is that a separate problem that needs to be treated separately from the medical attention, the law enforcement that is dealing with these other issues?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: On a daily basis, individuals associated with our effort within the administration assess different kinds of threats. And obviously one of the reasons that we worry about the crop dusters is it could potentially be a vehicle to deliver these substances. That is why every single day we do an assessment, and why we have acted as we have done in the past -- to ground them, to check licensing, to check ownership.
And so -- someone asked a little bit earlier today about this assembly of people and what it really means. And I just want to tell you that we assembled this group today -- obviously it's my first opportunity to spend a little time with you -- but to show you that on a daily basis, on an hourly basis, every single day, there is communication and collaboration between all agencies of government.
And we are not just focused exclusively on anthrax, I assure you. But since that is the public challenge at the moment, it was appropriate to bring these individuals here today to address some of the issues that you and America have been asking for the past several days.
It is also my first opportunity to explain to you that I do not have -- in response to your question, I don't have tactical or operational authority. These men and women throughout this government have for years -- for years have had experience in the areas for which they presently work for the United States Government and for the American people.
What President Bush asked me to do was come to Washington to work to create a comprehensive national plan, to deal with homeland security; to deal with a 21st century environment that says the challenges to American's sovereignty and our security, which historically have been offshore, but because of the 20th century environment we find that the challenges are here; and to do whatever I could in conjunction, in consultation -- and yes, I have the authority -- I certainly have access. I have the President's ear. But my job is really long-term.
And when I say to you that if I find some gaps, if I find some areas that need to be filled, if I see some -- and basically I find strength that could be strengthened. I find areas where there may be more collaboration. But the bottom line is I don't have technical operational authority. These men and women are doing an extraordinary job.
You don't get a chance to see it like I do. You don't have a chance to interact every single day like I do with every single one of these agencies. The President has tasked me to take a look at the 46-plus agencies, to take a look at everything that everybody considers to be homeland security, and over the next several months put together a comprehensive national strategy to deal with this -- heretofore a threat that perhaps we thought about, but really didn't think too long or hard about it.
There have been plenty of things written. There have been plenty of things said. There are experts all over this country, inside and outside the government. The President says, "pull in the best," and help design a plan that these individuals and their organizations would be able to implement over the years. But I assure you, there is extraordinarily strong foundation in this country. See how quickly CDC responded; FBI and the CIA and the Department of Justice, everybody collaborating in their efforts. It is strong. The President said to me, "Make it stronger." That's my task.
But I don't have operational authority.
Q I just was wondering how you plan to work with the NSC? There seems to be to be some overlap between your office --
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Well, one of the great relationships I have is with Dr. Condi Rice. There is some overlap. I don't know if you were here the other day when General Downing and Dick Clark were introduced; again, the President's goal is to provide the resources to me and the access -- and I have it. The resources of the federal government and access to every area of the federal government to develop a national strategy to deal with a threat that up until September 11th -- maybe we thought about it, we might have anticipated it, people had written about it, but maybe we were hopeful in our own mind that it really wouldn't happen.
This magnificent country bordered by two great oceans, neighbors with whom we collaborate and cooperate all the time. We're open, we're accessible, we're free. We trust. But unfortunately the 21st century suggests that we want to remain open and accessible, but friendly borders and large oceans no longer immunize us to 21st century threats, particularly from non-state terrorists.
So the President says -- he's assembled an extraordinary team. I couldn't possibly do the job that General Ashcroft is doing, or Dr. Satcher is doing, or Bob Mueller is doing, the Postmaster General is doing --they're doing extraordinarily fine work. But take a look at it. I'm the one person in government that can stand back from the different agencies, stand back from their missions, and stand back from their history and say, "Well, Mr. President, I would recommend that we strengthen our national ability to respond to these threats with this strategy." That I have been asked to do, and that's what I'll do.
Q Will you also be sort of the spokesman -- the main person who will interface with the public?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Yes. We're going to try to have more regular briefings of this type. Obviously on many occasions it's not going to be with the array of agency and department heads. But I'm going to try to be -- and want to be -- briefing you on a more regular basis. And I intend to.
Q In the context of your oversight responsibilities do you think you should have the national security and intelligence briefings every day with the NSC or the President and his aides have --
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I have been cleared by the President to have as much information as I want.
Q What does that mean in terms of national --
GOVERNOR RIDGE: That I am cleared by the President to have as much information as I want or need, which means that I have access to that kind of information.
END 11:07 A.M. EDT