CNN BREAKING NEWS
NBC News Employee Tests Positive for Anthrax Exposure
Aired October 12, 2001 - 14:59 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Let me update everyone here on where we are. A lot of people on the West Coast join us at about this time.
Today, NBC News notified health officials that an employee of NBC News had tested positive for anthrax. That has set about really a stream of stories throughout the day about where we are in the anthrax investigation.
The young woman involved, her name not released, as they say, an employee of NBC News, is being treated. All the indications are that she's going to be OK. We are enormously thankful to hear that. The anthrax she contracted came -- is a form that comes through the skin, not like the ones in Florida that were inhaled, OK? It's different and it's an enormously important difference -- the skin form a far less dangerous. Still plenty dangerous enough, but significantly less so.
At about 12:15 or so, East Coast time, Mayor Giuliani went over to 30 Rockefeller Center where NBC is located, with executives of NBC. Talked to reporters about what was known, the course of the investigation. Here's an excerpt of that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, MAYOR OF NEW YORK: People should not overreact to this. They should realize that, given all the events that have occurred, particularly September 11 and the things after that, when we have situations like this, everybody wants to go the extra length, particularly all of the health agencies, to make sure that there are no problems. And much of this is being done to allay people's fierce.
I know people will be concerned about this, but this is in very good hands. NBC has been on top of this from the very beginning, worked very, very closely with us. The same thing is true of the federal government and the FBI and the CDC and the police department. We're all working together and we'll try to get this resolved as quickly as possible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: The mayor of New York, virtually simultaneous to that, we received word that a suspicious package had been found at "The New York Times," which is not terribly far away from NBC News, down on 43rd and Broadway. And that area is being checked. That was apparently a package or a letter delivered to reporter Judith Miller. Ms. Miller is the author of a number of books. She is a leading journalistic authority on biological warfare and Islamic fundamentalists. Among her books, "Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War" and "God has Ninety-Nine Names: A Reporter's Journey to the Militant Middle East." So in an instant, these two areas of her reporting came -- well, that's a leap. I don't want to make that a leap -- might have come together.
And Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, while urging Americans to go on, did use the word "terrorists" when talking about this threat, which takes us to Kelli Arena, our Justice Department correspondent.
Kelli, how did they -- you know, they keep saying they don't see these things as connected. They don't see it connected to September 11th. To a certain extent, it feels like a stretch, OK? Do they really believe that, or are they just waiting for the absolute incontrovertible proof?
KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think what they're looking for is evidence, and unfortunately, that's what we are very short on right now. I mean, investigators have a lot more questions than answers at this point, Aaron.
No. 1, they don't know the source of the anthrax, either in Florida or in New York City. They don't know if there's a link between the anthrax infection in New York City and the anthrax infection in Florida. Nor do they know, as you said, whether there's a link between the September 11th terrorist attacks.
Now, we do know, through investigative sources, that all of the forensic evidence that was gathered after the September 11 attacks, all of the belongings of the suspected hijackers was gone through with a fine-tooth comb. There was absolutely no trace of anthrax on any of that evidence.
They have not picked up, we are told by sources, any intelligence that would suggest that the anthrax cases are indeed connected with any broader terrorist plot. It is frustrating to investigators, as well as to everyone else who wants to know, exactly what is the threat that we are facing. And, Aaron, I will point out that this comes just one day after we got that warning from the FBI saying that there is intelligence that suggests that there could be a terrorist attack on the United States within the next several days.
I was asked by someone whether or not -- just got off the phone, "is this in any way connected -- did they know about this anthrax?" And the answer was no. That warning was based on the intelligence gathered, I'm told, by the CIA on Wednesday that was passed along, and there was a decision made to go public with that warning. But it had nothing to do with today's anthrax case.
The government did not find out about that positive anthrax case in New York City until this morning. So the two are not connected, but it just lends to the uncertainty and to the nervousness that is being felt across the nation, Aaron.
BROWN: Certainly does. And in the case of the NBC News employee, the suspicious package -- and this is really, frankly, a bit complicated, because the suspicious package arrived at about the 25th of September. That's well back from the FBI intelligence warning. And the substance that was suspicious, this white powdery substance, was checked at the time and...
ARENA: And was negative.
BROWN: And was negative.
BROWN: So one should not presume here that the only way you could transmit the anthrax, if that's a clear sentence there, is through some white powdery substance. There may be a variety of different ways. There's nothing magic about something that looks like talcum powder here. There may be other ways to do it.
ARENA: That's right, Aaron. And I will tell you that -- we've talked about this before, but there have been a lot of false alarms on the anthrax front, and in some cases white powdery substance turned out to be dried up Elmer's glue, in some situations.
So it doesn't necessarily mean -- I'm told that some bike couriers use powder when they're -- you know, when they're going through the city, you know, inside their gloves, and that that is a cause of some of the white powder that has been reported to a greater extent, recently, to law enforcement authorities.
BROWN: I think there was a case yesterday in the Netherlands where it was a bag of cocaine, at the U.S. embassy in the Netherlands.
ARENA: White powder.
BROWN: There you go.
ARENA: There are a variety of reasons why you might see a white film on your mail. As we know so far, we just have the Florida situation and the New York City situation. But as you have mentioned, Aaron, we have some concern over at "The New York Times." We have some concern over at the State Department here in Washington.
I think everyone, of course, is on high alert, as they should be. I mean, even the president of the United States says be on high alert. There's a fine line, though, between prudence and paranoia, and I think that it's a difficult line for everybody to walk these days.
BROWN: I was going to say, I think all of us, and given the events of today, I do mean all of us, ourselves included here, are very aware of that fine line, and trying to prudently push up against it without ever crossing it. None of us has ever handled anything quite like this before, though that's probably true of almost everything that's happened in the last 30 days. We are waiting now for Florida officials to update theirs. Kelli, stay with me here while we go. I asked Jon Zarrella this, are your sources in Justice indicating to you that they have anything approaching a solid lead on this stuff yet? Kelli?
ARENA: Oh, I'm sorry. I thought you meant to John Zarrella.
BROWN: No. No, I meant you.
ARENA: No, Aaron. They don't have anything approaching a solid lead just yet. And they are -- as you know in Florida, they're talking face-to-face with anyone who may have anything to do with that American Media building, whether it's construction workers that work in the vicinity, messengers and couriers that come into that building. Investigators, some investigators are suggesting, you know, if you look them square in the eye, you might be able to sense something that you may not get from just looking at evidence from within the building.
So we know that has taken it up to the next step. But no clue, no clue. And that is, indeed, the most frightening and frustrating situation about, at least, the anthrax part of this investigation, is that there is absolutely no indication of where this stuff came from in either case, how it got there.
I mean, I had FBI agents suggesting that maybe the first person who was infected with anthrax may have sneezed on his keyboard, and that that transmitted it to other people. They're really searching, but nothing clear and concrete.
BROWN: Kelli, I need to ask you something here. When you said no clue, were you using that idiomatically?
ARENA: Idiomatically, yes. I have to be careful. I am a Justice correspondent. Sorry.
BROWN: Got it.
No, I may be pushing the paranoid prudence line a little far there. I don't know whether they have clues or not, but I hope...
ARENA: We do know, Aaron, in the case of New York City...
ARENA: Go ahead.
BROWN: Hang on one second. We'll get back to you. The officials in Florida are about to start their update.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to introduce everybody. We are going to give their statement, and then we'll have questions afterwards. But first I just wanted to introduce everybody so you knew who to address your questions to.
This is Hector Pesquera. He's the special agent in charge for the FBI Miami division, .
QUESTION: Can you speak up please?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sorry.
This is Rubin Garcia, he is the assistant director out at FBI headquarters. Dr. Bradley Perkins, he's the lead investigator for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
BROWN: Just simply introducing the participants in this update from Florida, the FBI, the CDC, the mayor of Boca Raton, the postal service, all involved in this. They're each going to make a statement, and then they will answer questions. But as Kelli has been indicating, and John Zarrella earlier, the work on sources, which is pretty much how these guys do their work, they're on the phone a lot, they're not giving up much, if there is any solid lead out there.
This is the FBI -- special agent in the FBI for South Florida.
HECTOR PESQUERA, FBI SPECIAL AGENT: We've been working this diligently, as you know, since last week, and since we had our last press opportunity. There have been some lingering issues out there we'd like to put to rest, if we will. So I'll read a brief statement and then we'll go into a question and answer period at your will.
We have been conducting an intensive investigation to determine the source of the bacteria. As was the case when we spoke to you on Wednesday, we have not found any evidence of the bacteria outside of this location. We have found it in those five locations that you know, even within the building. So it's -- even within the building, it's limited to the five locations you are already aware of.
More than 1,000 individuals have been tested for possible exposure, and as of today, we are very happy, extremely happy to report that 965 of those results are back, and we only have one exposure, and that is a case that you are already aware, of Stephanie Daily.
Overall we are going to be conducting around 800-plus interviews within this weekend, just for touching bases with employees, visitors, relatives -- someone that may have some information that could be useful to the investigation.
In the building, in addition to the testing, we have revealed the presence of the bacteria. We've collected 78 samples, that were shipped to CDC yesterday. Those results will be communicated to us soon by the CDC.
Because of a possible link between the bacteria and the mailroom, which is where we have it located, we have taken the additional public step of looking very closely at the mail facilities that serve this location. There are 3 of those in this area.
This is a precautionary -- I have to underline -- very precautionary measure, but we believe it's a prudent measure, because we've always stated that public health is the first priority in this investigation. Investigation takes a secondary step. Public health will always be the issue here.
The efforts of this task force are mainly driven by scientific analysis. This is not a typical investigation. This is absolutely a non-traditional type of investigation. So we need patience, so you understand that the analysis and the testing, sophisticated testing, that is being conducted by CDC, is the most important factor in driving this investigation.
I want to reassure you one more time, though, that public interest is the first priority here. But fortunately, we've been able to locate and isolate this bacteria within only one area of the building. Those are all good news. I want to highlight on that.
We are pursuing every investigative lead that we come across. Needless to say, I just want to reiterate it, this is the most intensive investigation that this state has ever known, and there has been no spare of resources from any of the agencies. I'm extremely proud of the cooperation of the members of the task force, and I can't say anything more about them. The chief, Scott, has been exceptional in the support that they've been giving us, and every member of this task force should be proud of the work that they have done to this day.
I think at this juncture, if I may address, or any of the members here may address any questions, we will gladly do so. But let's be measured about the questions, please.
QUESTION: What are the five locations?
PESQUERA: Five locations. Five locations. We have Mr. Stevens, we have the keyboard, we have the mail container, we have Stephanie, and we have blanket. Five locations. We call them "locations," although they involve individuals.
PESQUERA: I said measured, please.
QUESTION: You said they're all in the same area?
PESQUERA: Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Explain that.
PESQUERA: The same area, meaning they are contained, basically, within the mailroom area. With the exception of Mr. Stevens.
QUESTION: What do you mean by the mail container?
PESQUERA: Mailroom area. Contained. No, I meant contained within the mail -- there is an area within the building that is a mailroom, that sorts out the mail that goes to the different entities within the building.
QUESTION: Do you see a link between these incidents here and the recent reported case at NBC in New York? PESQUERA: No, sir. No link whatsoever so far. Understand that we are well ahead of New York, in the sense that New York just got received this information. We have been in touch with New York. CDC obviously is in touch with New York. I'm in touch with my counterpart, and we are coordinating both investigations.
But you must understand -- I mean, the New York information came about today, so they are in the infancy stage of their investigation.
QUESTION: We keep hearing the strain is genetically modified.
PESQUERA: Fortunately, I have two experts that will address that question. Whoever wants to do that. Brad, or Douglas Beecher, who is our expert that is accompanying us for this matter.
QUESTION: Your name?
DOUGLAS BEECHER, MICROBIOLOGIST, FBI: It's Douglas Beecher. B- E-E-C-H-E-R.
QUESTION: You're with who?
BEECHER: I'm a microbiologist with the hazardous materials response unit of the FBI.
QUESTION: OK, what can you tell us about what we keep hearing, about the strain of anthrax that has been genetically modified?
BEECHER: OK. The analysis that is going on on the strain of bacteria that was isolated from all the locations at AMI is essentially a genetic fingerprinting technique, OK? That technique is not capable of determining, first of all, a specific location from which an organism originated, and second, whether or not it was genetically modified.
As far as the location, what the test can tell us is the general idea of what geographic location the strain may have originated, in nature. The strains travel in nature, for natural reasons and with human travel, so they're now mixed throughout the world. To find an organism with one genetic fingerprint in one location, and find an organism with the same genetic fingerprint in another location is very common.
The most we can do is estimate, in a certain area, if we have one organism or one genotype, the genetic type, that is predominant over others. For example, we can fairly well determine whether an organism originated in Africa versus North America.
The genetic modification, this technique, current techniques do not address that issue. It may be possible to determine, but those methods would take months or longer. But I would point this out: the point of genetically modifying, or making it resistant to our antibiotics. This organism shows no indication that there has been anybody genetic modification. It's completely susceptible to all of the antibiotics that the naturally-occurring organism is susceptible to. QUESTION: Does that mean it will be...
QUESTION: ... exposure may have taken place, at a specific time?
PESQUERA: We do, but we don't want to go into that detail because that's part of the investigation that we'd like to monitor for a future
Hang on a second.
QUESTION: Can you explain the mailroom scene, exactly in what instance the spores being found, in what particular location in the mailroom.
PESQUERA: Five locations. In the mailroom, two individuals that work in the mailroom -- you are all aware of that -- Mr. Blanco and Stephanie Daily, and the receptacle within the mailroom, one receptacle within the mailroom.
QUESTION: Like a heater?
PESQUERA: I'm not aware of what it is because I haven't been there. But I will make the assumption that each of the entities have their own distinct mail slot, if you will. And that's where it is.
QUESTION: The date of Stevens' exposure.
PESQUERA: The date of Mr. Stevens start feeling ill about the 29th, and he took a trip to up north, North Carolina.
QUESTION: From what Mr. Beecher was saying, can we infer that any connection between the bacteria found here and the bacteria found in New York will be very difficult, because it's not necessarily -- your DNA fingerprinting, won't be able to 100 percent detect whether it's from the same origin?
BEECHER: As I said before, the genetic fingerprint provides information on the genetic pattern, let's say, on a gel, during a fingerprinting analysis. It would certainly add to the suspicion if the genetic fingerprint from this location were identical to the genetic fingerprint from New York.
But strictly speaking -- and we hate in science ever to say 100 percent surety about anything -- you cannot tell that the New York strain is identical, or came from the same source as this strain. It's just another piece of information. The case has to be made on investigative techniques, that the FBI is very good at.
QUESTION: You told us what you can find out. You've told us what the parameters are that you can learn. Can you tell us what you do know about what is in this building now? Can you just tell us where you are, in terms of your discovery process with this material that has been found here in this five locations. What can you tell us about it? PESQUERA: We don't want to get into that for obvious reasons. That's our big juncture, and we won't.
Somebody said something about the mail.
QUESTION: How did the mail get into this building? What is the procedure for delivering U.S. postal service mail into AMI?
PESQUERA: The mail is delivered by Mr. Blanco.
QUESTION: Does he pick it up in another facility?
PESQUERA: That's why, in abundance of caution, in an extreme abundance of caution, we're taking the public health step, in conjunction with our partners from the postal authorities, to pre- screen the employees at those facilities that may have potential of being in contact. Assuming that it is a male delivery assistant that was utilized here.
But pre-screen means that the CDC has a lead conducting pre- interviews of the individuals. CDC will make the determination and the individuals will be swabbed, not swabbed, or whatever the course of action. Trust them. They are good at that, and we rely on them.
PESQUERA: It will be soon. Sir.
QUESTION: We do know already that initially the stages of this investigation with Bob Stevens, Florida health officials came out and almost unequivocally said this is a biological fluke. Now you're telling us, just hours after what has happened in New York with "The New York Times" and NBC, you're standing here saying, "we already know that there is no connection at all."
America has already heard that Florida has had to basically reverse its stance and say, you know what, this is not a biological fluke. This is now a criminal investigation. What can you tell Americans, how can you make this link so quickly, that there is no connection at all between Florida and what happened in New York?
PESQUERA: Apparently, you missed the second part of my (UNINTELLIGIBLE) when I said that they are in the infancy stage of the investigation. When they get to a more precise area where the -- where what Dr. Beecher stated, that they could make that determination, that, of course, will be a significant step to take. And a conclusive determination, to the extent that one can be made, will be at that time, appropriate. Not at this time. They just started with theirs, so we have to get them into a step where we are.
QUESTION: Do you believe at this point that the anthrax came in through the form of a letter?
PESQUERA: What is fair to say is that it is contained within the mailroom facility area. That's what it is indicative of. I'm not prepared to say that that's what happened. We are not excluding any possibility.
QUESTION: In what medium were the anthrax spores found? I mean, we've heard powdery substances, things like that.
PESQUERA: That's one part of the investigation that we, at this juncture, we cannot address.
QUESTION: We heard today that there was some type of powder or an explosion or something that went off at a bank in West Palm Beach. Do you know anything about that?
PESQUERA: We are not familiar with that, no Ma'am.
QUESTION: Have you given tests, actual tests, to any postal employees?
QUESTION: What's your name?
BRADLEY PERKINS, CDC: Dr. Bradley Perkins. I'm the lead investigator with the CDC team. We are applying methods that are quite common in public health, and that is the identification of concentric circles of possible risk for exposure. And we are identifying and suggesting that a very small number of postal mail sorters involved with delivery of mail to the AMI building, be tested with nasal swabs.
Again, this is a step of extraordinary precaution, to ensure the public's safety.
QUESTION: Have you actually tested them yet? And how many?
PERKINS: Some of them have been tested this morning.
QUESTION: Do you have a number?
PERKINS: No, I do not.
QUESTION: Do you have an idea when the 40 or so remaining tests from the first batch will be processed, of the 1,000-some people?
PERKINS: It takes about one day to finalize those tests.
QUESTION: You're still waiting for about, how many again, 45...
PERKINS: In that range.
QUESTION: Can I ask the postal inspector how postal procedures have been changed, if at all?
HENRY GUTIERREZ, U.S. POSTAL SERVICE: What we have to do is bear in mind, and you know, you've asked for several numbers. But there's 208 billion pieces of mail handled by the postal service on a yearly basis. And to date, even as of today we still don't have a confirmed case of this. So let's bear that in mind. We've asked all our employees to do, as our president has asked us to do, is to be extremely diligent and to report things that are completely out of place. And I think we're doing an excellent job in that particular area, where we're using overabundance of caution, as all the gentlemen behind me have said this afternoon.
QUESTION: What are the three areas you are concerned about?
GUTIERREZ: The three facilities, I believe, are the local post office facilities.
QUESTION: There's talk amongst postal workers, window clerks in particular, that they are being told to shake incoming packages. They feel that their lives are in danger by doing this. Have those procedures been looked at at all?
GUTIERREZ: No postal worker has been asked to do anything other than his job.
QUESTION: Is that included in the job?
GUTIERREZ: In their job, they're always asked to keep their eyes open and report anything unusual.
QUESTION: Have any changes been made, in light of what has happened?
GUTIERREZ: To their job description, no.
QUESTION: Are you testing those three because they are associated with AMI?
GUTIERREZ: I have no knowledge of the testing. I would have to refer that to the doctors.
QUESTION: Why did you do these three postal areas, as opposed to any other postal areas?
GUTIERREZ: Because they deal with the immediate area, and they would be the ones that would sort the mail at one point or another.
GUTIERREZ: No, there is no letter carrier. The AMI building gets what's called caller service. What that is, it's large companies that have a large amount of mail have a courier, I believe Mr. Blanco was that courier, that goes to the post office and picks up the mail every morning, earlier than the normal public gets that mail.
GUTIERREZ: I really don't know.
QUESTION: Can you say which offices you asked some of the postal workers to do the screenings?
GUTIERREZ: I have to refer that to the doctors. I don't know that information.
PESQUERA: As you are going to see throughout this procedure, this is a joint task force, and everyone is going to have an opportunity to address you all. The mayor is next in line. So please, Mr. Mayor.
MAYOR STEVE ABRAMS, BOCA RATON, FLORIDA: Thank you, Hector. And I want to say publicly, on behalf of the city of Boca Raton, that we thank the FBI, the CDC, the state and health and county health departments, for all of their efforts in this matter.
We are providing full cooperation, as you know. As many of you know, our police officers have been quarantining the area. Our fire rescue personnel have been decontaminating the health workers at the building, and we are very proud of them. They really are our heroes.
We obviously are familiar with other communities and what they faced in the past month, and we really feel that we have Boca Raton's finest and Boca Raton's bravest right here. So we are very grateful for all of your efforts and for their efforts.
And also, I want to say that we are heartened by the news, as this investigation is unfolding, that this incident is confined to the one building, to certain areas in that building, to the one location. Whatever took place there across the street was not directed at Boca Raton.
Our people are going back to work in this office park, and people all over the country and the world are continuing to enjoy the quality of life that Boca Raton has a reputation for and is offering. And we want to get that message out. And again, we thank you for all of your efforts in this regard.
UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: A-B-R-A-M-S. Excuse me. Chief Scott.
Just briefly, folks. You know, we're dealing with an unprecedented type of issue, never seen before in the country. But I can tell you, with the cooperation between the local, state and federal agencies, the cooperation has not been unprecedented. It has, in fact, been typical, typically outstanding.
There has been some comments brought to my attention during the course of the media today that there was some concern. I'm here to tell you and to recite and reiterate what Mr. Pesquera had stated that the level of cooperation has been outstanding. It will continue to be outstanding. The firefighters and the police officers of Boca Raton, in addition to the Florida department of law enforcement, in addition to Delray Beach Police Department has been superior. And with that, thank you very much.
QUESTION: How many of these like -- anthrax hoaxes have you guys had to deal with since this whole thing started?
UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: We've had no, per se, hoaxes of anthrax. However, we've had three calls from a variety of citizens in our city with suspicious packages.
One turned out to be rat poison at a local retail store. Another one happened to be some sugar that was contained in an envelope. And the third substance was nothing more than some type of chemical -- garden type chemical. And bottom line is: We've had no other types of recurrences, no hoaxes, no envelopes delivered to houses, etcetera.
QUESTION: Do you encourage these kind of calls -- to tell people to call in as soon as they get anything like that?
UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: Absolutely. We've sent out a press release that if there is a suspicious envelope, that they are to call the police department. We will then subsequently respond with the fire rescue personnel and the hazmat personnel. And we'll treat each one as a legitimate concern until proven otherwise.
QUESTION: What about the MBNA building that was evacuated this morning?
UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: That's correct. There was a call stated by a particular unknown individual, stating some type of concern about some ethnicity. And unfortunately, the members within MBNA interpreted that as some type of bomb threat.
As a precaution, the building was evacuated. We responded and found out there was, in fact, no threat, per se. It was just a comment that was made that was derogatory towards a particular ethnic group.
QUESTION: Has your department been overtaxed with calls? I mean, are your -- is your staff able to handle the number of emergency calls that are coming in right now?
UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: I'm proud to say that our level of service has not diminished whatsoever.
We've been able to draw and reallocate our resources to primary service. We have not diminished our service whatsoever. And I have to commend the Delray Beach Police Department in conjunction with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for assisting us in staffing security positions over here.
And we will go to whatever extent necessary and -- to assist the FBI and any other local law enforcement and federal and state agencies to keep this building secure until further notice.
QUESTION: There have been complaints from AMI that they weren't given early enough warning of the seriousness of the situation.
Given -- although the building -- the contamination has been confined purely and simply to this building, do you think, in hindsight, that the building should have been shut down earlier than it actually was?
UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: I'll turn that over to Mr. Pesquera.
PESQUERA: We don't deal in speculation. When we receive information from the CDC regarding the results of their testing, that's when we acted upon the information.
Got two more questions.
QUESTION: Are there any plans right now...
PESQUERA: You've got one already. Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Mr. Pesquera, earlier this week, the FBI said that they did not believe this was terrorist related. Are you changing your mind at all...
PESQUERA: No, sir.
QUESTION: ... with the incident in New York?
PESQUERA: No, sir. No, sir. Please understand, at this juncture of this investigation, I can not entertain the New York investigation because, obviously, it's not ours. But it just started today.
At this juncture of this investigation, I'll say it one more time: We have no information whatsoever that correlates what we've got here with what New York has there. And likewise, we have no information to indicate that this is a terrorist action.
QUESTION: ... the remaining mailroom workers at AMI have gotten those results back?
PESQUERA: I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Have we gotten all of the results of the mailroom workers at AMI?
PESQUERA: We've gotten 965 back. I would surmise -- I don't know the answer. Brad?
Yes. The answer is yes. OK, we will now have to switch to the Spanish press because they have the shot, too. (SPEAKING IN SPANISH)
BROWN: The special agent in charge of the Miami office, Hector Pesquera, talking to reporters.
Not a lot of new information on the state of the investigation. The best news that we heard come out of this -- and I want to run this by Kelli Arena in a moment, OK. He said they have gotten 965 tests back and there are no new exposures. So the number of cases at American Media Incorporated in Boca Raton remains as it was: three -- Robert Stevens, who died a week ago -- Ernesto Blanco. But we did learn today was the AMI who would go to the post office every day and pick up the mail and bring it back to that office building, he has been exposed to, but has not contracted anthrax.
And then there the young woman who we heard from yesterday. And I hate when I forget names. But there she is and I've forgotten her --Stephanie -- and the last name will come to me, probably later -- Dailey -- thank you, guys. And she obviously is looking OK, but no new cases there.
He talked about five locations where anthrax has been sited. So it's the three individuals, and then in the mailroom at AMI. And he talked about some kind of container -- we assume here that we're talking about some sort of mail bin -- and the keyboard. This is Mr. Stevens' keyboard. And very early on, it turned out they were able to isolate some anthrax spores or anthrax bacteria off the keyboard.
Kelli, I'm just curious if you heard anything on the investigative front there that I might have missed, because I kept hearing Mr. -- or Agent Pesquera bobbing and weaving around the investigation pretty good, right up to and including the end, when he said: At this juncture, we have no reason to believe this is a terrorist action -- at this juncture being a pretty good qualifier.
ARENA: Right, and he kept saying, you know, we are still at the very early stages, especially in New York City, where they just found out today they had a positive anthrax situation.
I think that the two things that we can link together here, Aaron, of course, are the mailrooms. We know that the FBI has said, at least in the New York City situation, that they were looking at a suspicious letter that came in on September 25. When they first ran tests on a so-called white, powdery substance on that letter, it came back negative. But we have also been told that they continue to test that letter to see if there's something that they missed.
And again -- and in Florida today, we heard -- obviously, the focus again on the mail -- the mailroom. So it does lend some credence to the theory that perhaps this is coming in through the mail.
BROWN: Yes, it sure does, doesn't it?
But we don't know.
BROWN: You know, I chuckled a bit. There's not much to chuckle about here folks.
But when Mr. Gutierrez (ph), the postal inspector, said so far we don't a have confirmed case, that this has to do with the mail delivery -- well, yes, that's true. We don't have a confirmed case as in, we could absolutely -- they could absolutely prove this is the vehicle by which this got here.
But we've got a fair amount of circumstantial evidence, if you will, that sure points that way. We have mailrooms that are closed in New York. We have a mailroom that was infected -- if that's the correct term -- I think it would be -- in Boca Raton. We have concern at the "New York Times" about a piece of mail. We have concern at the State Department in Washington about a piece of mail. I'm not saying this is how it happened, but it's the first place I'm looking.
ARENA: Very suspicious.
Of course, you know, someone could've -- I mean there's always an alternate scenario. Someone could have come in to each of those mailrooms and deposited this material...
ARENA: ... on their own without having gone through the traditional mail service. So obviously, Aaron, lots of loose ends here -- very early stages of this investigation. But I think the bottom line remains that investigators still have not identified the source and they haven't identified exactly how each of these people were exposed to the anthrax. And that has been the status quo since we found out about the situation in Florida.
BROWN: I want to get to Steve Cantrill in a second.
Kelli, we're expecting the attorney general shortly. Any idea -- what sort of announcement he may have here?
ARENA: Well, we are told that he's going to be talking about a company called Argenbright Security. That is a company that screens passengers before they go on airlines. They happen to work at Dulles and Newark, two of the airports where we know that two of the hijacked planes took off from.
That company has been under some scrutiny for some time. It, actually, was on probation. It apparently has not screened employees well -- has hired some ex-cons in situations, people who lied about education levels on forms, and so on. The Justice Department announced yesterday that they were suing the company -- very relevant, obviously, with the timing of increased security at airports.
And beyond that, we don't know, Aaron, what else he'll talk about. But he does have a tendency to bring us up to date on the latest in terms of the FBI and the investigation. So perhaps we'll get a little bit more on that front as well.
BROWN: OK. I did see something on that, actually, as I was coming up here today.
That there was some evidence that they still weren't even in this post-September 11 moment, that there were some screening issues.
ARENA: That's right.
BROWN: So, we'll wait for the attorney general.
Steve Cantrill -- Dr. Steve Cantrill is on the line. He is the associate director of Emergency Medical Services at the Denver Health Medical Center.
And it seems like a lifetime ago, doctor, that we talked -- I think it was actually a week or so ago.
DR. STEPHEN CANTRILL, DENVER HEALTH MEDICAL CENTER: Yes it was.
BROWN: But, yes. But, as I remember, you were involved in some mock test of biological or chemical exposure and how that might be contained. How's my memory on that part?
CANTRILL: That -- it's pretty good.
We actually had a bioweapon test here in May of 2000 as part of a national multi-site disaster drill.
BROWN: Now, let me just throw a bunch of things out at you, and if they're not your area, just tell me and we'll move on to the next one.
I seem to be obsessing on the idea they could've tested this substance in New York, this white powder and come up negative. And yet the woman did ultimately contract anthrax.
Is it hard to find it in the lab -- hard to detect it in the lab?
CANTRILL: It's somewhat -- this is not my area of expertise, but I have talked with some pathologists. And sometimes it can be difficult to differentiate it from some other quite common organisms.
BROWN: So maybe now -- you know, we were talking -- I think actually the same day you and I talked last week, with someone who said that we don't really know, for example, that there's only been a few cases of anthrax, particularly the skin kind of anthrax, but it's not normally the kind of things that runs through the medical protocol.
But here is a case where they must have clearly been looking for anthrax.
CANTRILL: Right. Cutaneous anthrax is relatively uncommon, but it is more common in the inhalation form that we saw in Florida.
The good news is that it's -- the fatality rate, even untreated, is around 25 percent. And it's very easily treated with antibiotics -- so really not the great, great concern that the inhalation form is.
BROWN: I must now start a slow search towards a silver lining on kind of a dark cloud day.
Anthrax as a weapon -- hard, medium, really easy to deliver in large forms that would impact large population centers?
CANTRILL: It does require a fair amount of skill.
The spore clumps have to be just the right size. Too big and they won't get into the airway passage. Too small, they'll go in and right back out. So, it does require some technical capacity to be able to get the size correct.
BROWN: I remember a program that former colleagues of mine at ABC News did, which was an experiment where, basically -- this was a mock experiment. They didn't obviously do this, where anthrax was released in the subway system, and, basically, the train, the subway train, carried the spores throughout the system.
Would that be a plausible way to spread it?
CANTRILL: I'd say it's hard to know, especially if you are going to expose people outside. That's very difficult. You then have things like wind conditions and temperature and sunlight. An enclosed space would be probably easier.
There are probably several different ways, but wide open spaces make it quite difficult.
BROWN: I think -- for some reason, doctor, I'm making this interview more complicated than I need to. Let me ask you a real journalism 101 question here.
What was your reaction when you heard about the Florida case?
CANTRILL: I thought it was -- the initial case, I thought, it was troubling. It could be true and unrelated. I think, obviously, something that needed to be very carefully investigated by the CDC, as they have done it.
I think the second case made it pretty clear that this was an intentional exposure. It was not an accidental exposure to a contaminated animal. So it is of -- certainly of some concern.
You don't know, however, is this another individual, a disgruntled employee or some other inner personal problem. So I think it's -- we do need to investigate these carefully and not really overreact to the situation. The situation in New York, again, could be completely unrelated. This, unfortunately, may bring out the worst in some folks that just are out to cause trouble.
BROWN: Fair enough, and I don't disagree with any of that.
But it would -- you have to agree with me, I think, on this: It has to bring out the worst in someone who also has access to anthrax, which I don't think you can get at the store.
CANTRILL: That's true, and I'm sure anthrax now is very difficult to obtain, although several years ago, it was not that difficult for a normal citizen, maybe with a little lying, to obtain samples of anthrax. BROWN: Dr. Cantrill, it's nice to talk to you.
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