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Charles Patrick Garcia: Being prepared for bioterrorism

Charles Patrick Garcia is a highly-decorated military expert on counter-terrorism and was a U.S. intelligence analyst in Latin America. For his published works and his field work in training Latin American militaries in counter-guerrilla warfare, he received the Defense Service Meritorious Medal, which is one of the highest peacetime award given to a member of the U.S. Armed Forces.

CNN: Thank you for joining us today, Charles Patrick Garcia, and welcome.

CHARLES PATRICK GARCIA: Welcome to everyone who's joining us, and I'm ready to answer your questions.

CNN: Last week a Florida man contracted and died from anthrax. This week another man working for the same company has been hospitalized after Anthrax spores were found in his nasal passage. How concerned should we be?

GARCIA: I will give you the facts, and I'll let you arrive at your own conclusions. Fact number one is that inhalation anthrax is very rare. In the last 100 years, only 18 people have contracted anthrax through inhalation. The last one in the United States was 25 years ago. Thirteen of the 18 worked in areas where they were coming in contact with goat hair and goat skin, and this is the first time in the last 100 years where someone has contracted anthrax in a building. Second fact is that Robert Stevens, the man who died on Friday, has a home that is less than a mile away from the airport in Lantana, FL, where Mr. Mohammad Atta, as recently as this August, was training. And his home is less than 40 miles from another airport which Mr. Atta, who was the ringleader of the terrorists, with other terrorists, was at another airport which had cropdusters. We have to ask ourselves, why would the terrorists be interested in cropdusters?

Fact number three is that in order to deliver anthrax, terrorists would have to have the capability, and would have to be working with a state or country that supported terrorism that had a capability to introduce biowarfare chemicals, such as anthrax. And we know that Mr. Mohammed Atta met recently, prior to September 11, with a high-ranking member of the Iraqi intelligence force. Fact number four: in 1992, after the Gulf War, inspectors from the United Nations discovered that Iraq had enough Anthrax stored to kill every man, woman, and child on earth. ...and that he had loaded anthrax onto missile warheads, but never fired them.

Fact number five: according to the U.S. Congressional office of technology assessment, in an August 1993 report, 220 pounds of anthrax delivered into the air somewhere in the vicinity of Washington, D.C. would kill from 130,000 to 3 million people. It was discovered that Iraq had over 50 tons of anthrax. In conclusion, delivering anthrax into the United States would be extremely difficult, and extremely hard to pull off. But another thing that would be very difficult, and very hard to pull off, would be hijacking four airplanes and using those airplanes to destroy the World Trade Center, and flying them into the Pentagon.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: How long does anthrax survive?

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GARCIA: Anthrax can survive up to 100 years on spores in the ground. Anthrax which is delivered in the air can probably only survive for a few days, depending on the concentration. Anthrax does not do very well in the sunlight, but the actual spores that are on the ground can survive up to 100 years.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Mr. Garcia, do you feel the American public is getting a balanced view of the threat of biochemical warfare within this country?

GARCIA: I do not believe that the American people are getting a balanced view. The tendency in government, because they have a lot of interests to balance, is to err on the side of caution. Some members in government believe the American public can't handle the truth. My personal experience is that when Americans are given the facts, as horrible as they may be, that we will work with government officials to arrive at creative solutions. For many, many decades, we lived with Soviet nuclear warheads pointed at all our major cities, ready to destroy our way of life. We understood the threat, and we created solutions to live with that threat. Ultimately, I think we have, and will continue to, survive with that threat.

CNN: How can you tell the difference between a natural outbreak and a terrorist attack?

GARCIA: One of the key ways is to look at the actual strain of anthrax. There are many different strains. Another way is to see if the anthrax respond to various antibiotics like penicillin and to determine how virulent the strain is. Another way is to look at the delivery. A terrorist attack is going to be delivered with inhalation anthrax, so anytime there is inhalation anthrax, we need to be extremely cautious and suspicious.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Do you think stores should be pulling these tabloids from the shelves in case they carry anthrax?

GARCIA: I do not believe that we need to go to that level of precaution. You need a minimum of 4,000 to 50,000 spores of anthrax to be effectively contaminated, and they have not found any evidence of anthrax on any other equipment or material in the building.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What can we do to protect ourselves in case of a biological attack?

GARCIA: We need to insure that we're properly educated as to the various biological agents that may be introduced into the country. We need to make sure that we are properly vaccinated, or have quick access to antibiotics. We need to understand that some biological agents such as smallpox do not respond to antibiotics, because they're a virus. We would have to be vaccinated, and understand where we'd go, and what the symptoms would be. We need to put pressure on our government officials to insure that the appropriate level of training is happening at the local and state levels, so that state and local public health officials are properly trained and equipped to deal with a biological attack.

As of June 11, according to the department of defense, they were going to severely curtail the anthrax vaccination of all military personnel, because there was only 24,000 doses of the Anthrax vaccine left. Given the fact that it takes six shots over 18 months, that would effectively mean that in June, they could only vaccinate 4,000 military personnel. The Food and Drug Administration has only licensed one company to manufacture the human anthrax vaccine, a company called Bioport Corporation, in Lansing, MI. This company has stopped since 1998 delivering the anthrax vaccine to the United States military, because of problems the FDA has had with the company.

Given this fact, we need to find creative solutions, such as working with other countries, some of our allies, that also have anthrax vaccines, and seeing what we can do to quickly develop an anthrax vaccine, which could be given to the general public, if we needed to. And one that was easier to administer, versus this 18-month procedure and six shots one has to currently undergo. I want to make it clear that the anthrax vaccine is not available for the public, only for the United States military.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: So do you believe the threat of biochemical terrorist attack to be a "horrible fact" or a slim possibility?

GARCIA: Again, I would have told you six weeks ago that it was a fantasy that a terrorist could demolish the World Trade Center, or that a terrorist could drive an airplane into our own Pentagon. I would have said that was a fantasy. Today, I know better. Today, I would say we need to be prepared. We need to be cautious, and we need to err on the side of being ready for events that may seem improbable, but that might happen.

CNN: Do you have any final thoughts to share with us?

GARCIA: In 1992, when Boris Yeltsin came into power, he dismantled a clandestine bio-warfare program that the former Soviet Union was conducting. We found out at that time that there were 65,000 scientists, which included microbiologists, pathologists, and experts in aerosol physics. Our own government has acknowledged that a conservative estimate is that 7,000 of those scientists are out of work, and pose a proliferation risk. We need to be realistic and understand that an emboldened enemy with the appropriate resources and tenacity could introduce a biological warfare agent into this country, and we need to come together and devise solutions as quickly as possible, and to solicit the help of our allies in doing so. I have every confidence that our government and local officials will be able to do this. America has always come together in a time of crisis. That is what makes us great.

CNN: Thank you for joining us today.

GARCIA: Thank you.

Charles Patrick Garcia joined the chat via telephone from Florida. CNN provided a typist for him. This is an edited transcript of the interview, which took place on Wednesday, October 10, 2001.


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