NBC news employees tested for anthrax
NEW YORK (CNN) -- Health officials tested more NBC employees for anthrax Saturday, one day after an assistant to "Nightly News" anchor Tom Brokaw tested positive for a mild form of the disease, a network spokeswoman said.
Portions of the third floor at NBC News' Rockefeller Center headquarters remained closed Saturday, part of the FBI's criminal investigation into the case.
A source close to the investigation said the letter, sent in an envelope with a suspicious white powder, threatened attacks against several American cities. The nature of the attacks threatened could not be learned.
NBC officials said the 38-year-old woman -- described by Brokaw as "a rock" of the operation -- is in good condition and expected to recover after testing positive for a cutaneous (skin) anthrax infection Friday.
"This is so unfair and so outrageous and so maddening it's beyond my ability to express it in socially acceptable terms," Brokaw said in his Friday night broadcast. "So we'll just reserve our thoughts and our prayers for our friend and her family."
The substance itself had been tested twice by the FBI and once by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, testing negative each time.
The FBI said that the NBC envelope and another containing a powdery substance received by The New York Times both were postmarked from St. Petersburg, Florida, and bore similar handwriting. Earlier, the bureau said there was no evidence linking these cases to another one in Florida in which three people were exposed and one died.
A New York Times reporter, to whom one suspicious letter was addressed, and 30 other newspaper employees have been tested and been given antibiotics as a precaution, newspaper spokeswoman Christine Mohan said.
A preliminary test of the substance itself by the New York Department of Health "has found the culture negative for dangerous biological materials including anthrax," Mohan said.
Tests of the paper's newsroom for radioactive and chemical substances came back negative, and the Times was fully operational Saturday, the spokeswoman said.
Brokaw and 200 other NBC employees will be tested for anthrax exposure and put on a regimen of antibiotics as a precaution, according to the network.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said that "we have no proof whatsoever" that the NBC anthrax case is connected to terrorist activity.
But Vice President Dick Cheney, in an interview on PBS' "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer," noted that the terrorist manuals associated with fugitive Osama bin Laden instruct his followers on "how to deploy these kinds of substances."
"When you start to piece it all together, and again we haven't finished the investigation and maybe it is coincidence, but I must say I'm a skeptic," Cheney said. "I think the only responsible thing for us to do is to proceed on the basis they could be linked."
CDC officials said the NBC infection "may have occurred when an envelope was opened on September 25, 2001, that may have contained material contaminated with the spore-form of anthrax." A source familiar with the incident said NBC received two suspicious letters, but the investigators are focusing on the September 25 letter.
"The employee developed a skin infection and was seen by an infectious disease specialist who suspected cutaneous anthrax," the CDC statement said.
New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said Brokaw's assistant was put on a regimen of antibiotics October 1 after coming down with a low-grade fever and breaking out in a rash. The positive test results for cutaneous anthrax came in Friday morning.
CBS News and ABC in New York closed down their mailrooms as a precaution as did Atlanta-based CNN. CBS also said all buildings of Viacom, which owns CBS, closed their mailrooms.
Barry Mawn, head of the New York office of the FBI, said investigators had no evidence the anthrax infection was related to the September 11 terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center. Investigators also said they had no evidence connecting the NBC case to the anthrax found at a Florida-based tabloid office.
Cutaneous anthrax is not as serious as inhalation anthrax, the form of the disease that killed a tabloid employee in Florida and brings the bacteria spores directly into the lungs.
A memo sent to NBC employees Friday morning stressed that the infection was "not the same respiratory anthrax that has been reported in the news."
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