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Anthrax Scare: Giuliani Holds Press Conference

Aired October 13, 2001 - 13:44   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: To New York City, where we listen to Mayor Rudy Giuliani on the latest on anthrax.


MAYOR RUDOLPH GIULIANI, NEW YORK: ... therefore people can be alerted to that particular postmark.

The other letter was postmarked the 20th of September, and that was from St. Petersburg. There were two other St. Petersburg letters, one to the Times, postmarked October 5, and one to the St. Petersburg Times, postmarked October 5.

Those letters, although they contain powder, the powder was determined to be negative. At least the early test on the powder delivered to the New York Times, it appears to be negative.

Basically what is done here is, you try to develop a culture and to see if Anthrax can be found. And I'm told we're 20 hours into it, and there is no Anthrax found in the powder that was sent to the New York Times. And that, of course, was the case with the powder on the 20th of September that was sent to the Times.

We had a lot of people go to emergency rooms yesterday. We had lot of people checked yesterday. And the fact is that the surveillance system that we have does not yet indicate any incidents of Anthrax.

So I say that to people, not because I want them to go to emergency rooms -- in fact, don't go to emergency rooms. I'm saying it to them so that they have some confidence and calm down with the notion that there some kind of, you know, spread of some kind of disease going on. That is not happening.

Right now we have, you know, one case that has been dealt with. And then there are the people at NBC, have to all be tested. And some of them are on Cipro already. There could be situations there.

But beyond that, there is no indication of any kind of spread of Anthrax of any kind. And we can have confidence in that because we've tested many people. And at least the early indications are -- again, these tests take a couple of days to be absolutely sure -- but the early indications are that there doesn't seem to be any spread of the disease. From the point of view of NBC, we will now have to move the date back somewhat. The people that need to be tested are people that may have been in those areas from about September 19 to September 25. That would be the period of time in which the letter was either received, handled, passed around. So 358 people so far have been tested at NBC. We will have to go back somewhat and see if there are more people that need to be tested.

In other areas, the numbers -- the missing persons report now is 4,688, as well as so far 445 bodies that have be recovered, of which 388 have been identified; 57 unidentified.

The recovery operation continues, and we continue to move a great deal of debris out of the area.

On Monday morning, we're going to open the Holland Tunnel, starting at 5:00 in the morning, to vehicles that have two or more people. Remember, that ban applies to all entrances to the city below 63rd Street, where you have to have at least two people in a vehicle. And as we open the Holland Tunnel, it will apply to the Holland Tunnel as well.

Otherwise, things in the city appear to be pretty normal. I think people absorbed this news about Anthrax. I think they now understand a lot more about Anthrax than they ever wanted to know.

But there are things about it that they should be reminded of: It is not contagious. It can be treated and cured. And the reality is that the treatment for it that exists is effective, so that people shouldn't be overwrought about it or nervous about it. It's something that can be dealt with.

BARRY MAWN, FBI: The only thing I would add to the mayor's words is he mentioned to you that there were three negatives from St. Petersburg, those envelopes which were postmarked St. Petersburg. We will continue that investigation vigorously with, obviously, the joint terrorism task force here, as well as FBI and Postal, in both Florida as well as over in New Jersey.

But as far as we're concerned, these negative -- the ones that are turning out negative are as serious; it's a tremendous drain on resources. So we will continue the investigation on all those that come in negative in hopes of identifying them and subsequently prosecuting them.

QUESTION: Are those negatives on those three, is it now extremely unlikely that there was Anthrax in any of those three? Or can you, at this point, not...

GIULIANI: I guess it depends on the date. If you go to the one back on the 25th of September, that's definitive. The ones on the -- the one that have been like the powder from the Times, we're 20 hours into it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're very confident. Anthrax tends to grow very quickly on culture. And after 20 hours, and with our other measures that were done last night, we're very confident that, at this point, we're ruling it out.

And we'll go forward with holding the culture for an extended period of time, but we're quite confident now that we're not seeing what we've seen in the letters that came to NBC News earlier in the month.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it's also important to point out that that letter has been tested in multiple laboratories, multiple times, and has been consistently negative.

QUESTION: Which letter?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The one from St. Petersburg from the 25th.

QUESTION: And you say that you are ruling it out -- I'm sorry (OFF-MIKE) that you are...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we're going to continue to hold the culture for a number of more hours throughout the day. But after 20 hours and with the other testing we did yesterday, it is appears to be negative.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) the investigation of the letter from Trenton. Was there a return address? Was it typed? Was it handwritten?

MAWN: All I'd give you on that is that there was no return address. It was an anonymous letter, white envelope, postmarked Trenton on the 18th, as the mayor indicated.

QUESTION: When was the letter found?

MAWN: We're still looking at that, and we're talking to all of the people at NBC that had any contact with the letter, as well as to the actions that were taken with the letter.


MAWN: There was a threat in the letter, but I'm not going to give you the wording.

QUESTION: Did the letter contain a granular substance inside, as some reports said?

MAWN: Yes, our understanding is that it was a brown, granular substance that initially was -- most of which was thrown away.

QUESTION: Yesterday the police received several threats. Which ones do the police consider credible? I mean, aside from the "New York Times" one, and the second NBC letter, are there other credible threats that the police received?

MAWN: None credible.

QUESTION: And what about the -- is it true that there's another television personality who also received a threat in the mail? MAWN: Maybe the best way to sum it up is, the things that we know are credible and that we are seriously dealing with is the one that the mayor mentioned, which is the Trenton postmarked the 18th, and then the other one, obviously, which preceded or is ongoing, is the one down in Florida. Those are the only two known Anthrax positives that we're dealing with at this time.

QUESTION: When did the FBI first learn of the Trenton letter? And when...

GIULIANI: Before we move ahead, I want to thank NBC for their cooperation in this investigation, and also express to them how sorry I am that they have to go through this. Their employees all had to be tested yesterday. This is a tremendous strain. And they have handled really, I think, in a very, very positive and strong way.

ROBERT WRIGHT, NBC PRESIDENT & CEO: I also want to thank -- it is very important to note that for NBC this is a -- there is a real benefit here. Now we have identified the missing link, so to speak, the actual cause of the Anthrax which has created this whole situation, and we're no longer dealing with an unknown time, date and place, so that's very important.

And I'd also point out that Dr. Aufstruff (ph), who is here from the Center for Disease Control, has been very upbeat about the prospects of the areas and the ability to go on about our business very quickly, and that's also very encouraging.

QUESTION: Mr. Mawn, when did you become aware of this second letter from Trenton? When was it found, and when was it tested?

MAWN: It was found yesterday as part of the investigation by the NYPD and the FBI and, in particular, the joint terrorism task force.

As we were responding -- as a result of the positives, we went up there. We were doing a complete and thorough investigation, making sure we had talked to everybody. During the course of that, we were provided information for the first time that there were other -- there was another letter, threatening in nature. We retrieved that letter, and that's the one that we are speaking about here.

QUESTION: Has that letter been forwarded to the FBI also?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) since it was received? It was at the NBC offices for the whole time?

MAWN: Yes.

QUESTION: Mr. Wright, can you explain, sir, what the process was that was followed at NBC under which one letter was give to the FBI, another letter or maybe a series of letters were segregated in the mailroom or somewhere else? What was the thinking, and what happened there, sir?

WRIGHT: Well, I think it's very difficult to reconstruct that. It was a very hectic time period. It's not unusual for a number people to receive letters which are threatening in nature, or certainly letters that are very unbecoming, unattractive, and sometimes totally unexplainable. And it's not unusual that only certain types of letters would be actually brought to the attention of security. And given the circumstances of the last few weeks, there were many such letters.

And the focus of the investigation was clearly on the letter of the 25th, which contained the powder and so forth that we all are much more familiar with.

It's fortunate that this letter was saved. It was preserved, at least what it could be. And it was examined, and gives us the ability to feel more comfortable about a solution here.

QUESTION: What was it about the letter that led NBC to be suspicious enough to segregate it but not suspicious enough to forward in to the FBI with the first letter?

WRIGHT: Well, it was kept along with some other letters that were threatening in nature. They were also some reports of granular substances. Those substances, since that point in time, were thrown away or disappeared. So it was really in a category of threatening letters.

QUESTION: The FBI held on to that letter for a while before it was tested. Is there any concern that there are other letters that were forwarded to the FBI that hadn't been tested?

MAWN: No. And the New York Times article, as far as I was concerned, was inaccurate this morning. That quote's "two weeks of holding onto that." I thought I explained that yesterday.

We did have two agents go there on the 26th. They picked up that letter. They came back. It was in the processing of being prepared to be send to the FBI lab. They didn't get to talk to the victim. They were waiting to do that.

You should understand that the protocols are in addition to our response and handling it, and I think I mentioned yesterday these are not our evidence response people, but due to the time, we didn't have them; they were all down at ground zero.

But the protocols also call for, which actually caught this, is that if anything goes to DOH, and there's something, they reach out for us. So there's actually two ways of this thing to come to the FBI attention. It would have been better if it had been turned over immediately, but it was only four days before it was sent to the lab.


QUESTION: Mr. Mawn, can you tell us anything about the investigation into these two gentlemen that were pulled off the flight, the Delta flight, last night, down for Amsterdam. We were -- CNN is reporting that they had one-way tickets, that they were of Arabic descent, and that two other Arabic men attempted to buy one- way tickets. MAWN: I'm not going to get into any detail other than the fact that we were conducting an investigation. Again, the JTTF out at the airport, there were some individuals that, as far as their ticketing and their status, we were checking, and that is ongoing.


KAGAN: We've been listening to New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani giving the latest on the anthrax situation in that city.

We learned in that news conference that apparently another letter sent to NBC News, that tested positive for anthrax. But some positive news in there, in that there were two other letters sent from St. Petersburg, Florida, both with powder, and both of those letters have tested negative for anthrax at this time.

Also out of NBC, it looks like more employees there will have to be tested because the original letter in question might have arrived earlier than they originally thought.




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