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Anthrax Scare: Many Americans Feeling Bioterrorism's Chokehold Tighten

Aired October 16, 2001 - 05:00   ET



MAYOR RUDY GIULIANI (R), NEW YORK CITY: There shouldn't be an over reaction at all. This is a non-contagious, very treatable disease.


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Calming words as a new case of anthrax is linked to another television network.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Colin Powell walks a diplomatic tightrope. He tries to shore up coalition support in Pakistan while at the same time trying to defuse tensions with India over Kashmir.

PHILLIPS: And targeting the Taliban -- the United States introduces a specter gunship like this into the ongoing air strikes in Afghanistan.

Good morning. It's Tuesday, October 16. From the CNN Center in Atlanta, I'm Kyra Phillips.

HARRIS: And I'm Leon Harris. Glad to have you folks with us this morning.

We have got quite a bit to talk about today.

Let's begin now with the very latest developments in America's battle against terrorism.

Biological attacks are spreading in the United States and the news media appears to be a favorite target. The infant son of an ABC producer has contracted skin anthrax after visiting his father's office in New York. The child is being treated right now and is expected to make a full recovery.

PHILLIPS: Colin Powell is on a delicate diplomatic mission to Pakistan and India. He met today with President Pervez Musharraf to update the Pakistani leader on the status of the coalition campaign in Afghanistan. Later, Powell heads to India to discuss tensions in Kashmir. This meeting is increasingly important in the wake of India's overnight attacks on Pakistani positions in the disputed region. HARRIS: Meanwhile in Pakistan, the Taliban's stronghold of Kandahar took a fierce pounding from coalition war planes. One of the targets was the compound of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar. And for the first time, the U.S. used an AC-130 gunship in the strikes. Some people on the ground thought it was a helicopter assault.

Reports of anthrax boomerang across the country. Here now a quick overview before we get to the details. In Reno, Nevada, new test results at Microsoft show that a suspicious letter there did not contain anthrax after all. Good news there.

Now, as for the confirmed infections and exposures, the only death thus far has been in Florida. That's the same place where another American Media employee is now in intensive care trying to recover from the most lethal form, inhalation anthrax.

In New York, two people, one a seven month old baby, now being treated with antibiotics for cutaneous or skin anthrax. And in Washington, it's too soon to know if any of Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle's staff were exposed when a letter containing white powder arrived in his Capitol office.

Now, that seven month old baby is one of two cutaneous anthrax cases in New York right now. An ABC News producer brought the baby boy to work about two weeks ago. The child, as we said, is expected to make a full recovery.


DAVID WESTIN, PRESIDENT, ABC NEWS: The child is responding well. The prognosis is excellent. We are, however, of course, taking this very seriously. We have been working with the authorities through the evening to set up a policy by which we will do a thorough investigation to try to identify exactly what the source of this was to make sure that there is no further exposure possible here. There are no other instances of which I'm aware in which any people at ABC News have exhibited any symptoms of anthrax disease.


HARRIS: And as you may know, there still is that one case at NBC News as well.

Now, with anthrax turning up at these various television networks and other media outlets, police and health officials this morning are conducting what's being called an environmental review at the larger news organizations, including right here at CNN. The measure, they say, is strictly precautionary.

PHILLIPS: With two more potentially tainted letters surfacing in New York and Washington, many Americans are feeling bioterrorism's chokehold tighten.

CNN national correspondent Eileen O'Connor has the latest on a threat Americans have never feared before at home.


EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A staff member of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle opened the letter postmarked Trenton, New Jersey at about 10:30 in the morning, discovering a powdery substance which tested positive in preliminary tests for anthrax.

SEN. THOMAS DASCHLE (D-SD), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Well, I'm concerned deeply for my staff and I feel so badly for each of them.

O'CONNOR: The staff member who handled the mail was tested, treated, as were others present, and the office immediately cordoned off.

DASCHLE: There is no immediate danger for them given the fact that we were able to respond as quickly and as directly as we could.

O'CONNOR: The president echoing investigators who say they are looking at all possibilities, including domestic extremist groups, but are not ruling out Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I wouldn't put it past him, but we don't we don't have hard evidence yet.

O'CONNOR: One new lead: a connection. The letter sent to NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw was sent, like Daschle's, from Trenton, New Jersey. Officials say finding the exact source of that mail is no easy task given the 650 million pieces posted nationwide each day.

TONY ESPOSITO, U.S. POSTAL INSPECTOR: The article of mail that was postmarked here in Trenton, New Jersey on September 18, along with approximately 246,000 other articles of mail, was brought here from any one of possibly 46 other post offices and/or stations or branches.

O'CONNOR: New Jersey has already been a focus of investigators with evidence some of the hijackers stayed in this apartment in Patterson, New Jersey, as well as links to those involved in previous terrorist attacks.

SKIP BRANDON, FORMER FBI DEPUTY ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: You have to look at it, but you can't discount the possibility that it just happens to be somebody who's not related who's using Trenton as a mail drop.

O'CONNOR (on camera): CNN has been told the anthrax letter sent to NBC contained threatening language toward the United States and Israel and ended by praising Allah. But investigators still do not know whether that was a real terrorist threat or was simply meant to be deliberately misleading.

(voice-over): Law enforcement sources say the letters fit bin Laden's goal of disrupting the U.S. government.

BRANDON: It may be that this sort of thing is really all that they can do right now. But if it is their involvement, it is effective. It's certainly causing a lot of concern in the United States.

O'CONNOR: In Florida, health officials now confirm 73-year-old mailroom worker Ernesto Blanco has been diagnosed with the inhaled form of anthrax. Blanco delivered packages and letters inside the tabloid newspaper office where the only victim to die, Robert Stevens, was a photo editor. Blanco was hospitalized two weeks ago with pneumonia. He's been moved to intensive care. So far doctors say he has been responding to treatment.

Meanwhile anthrax spores have also been reported at the U.S. Post Office in Boca Raton, Florida. Officials say they are cleaning the area. Postal workers in Trenton, New Jersey are nervous, too.

ESPOSITO: At this point we have two employees that reported to us that they had symptoms that could be construed as possibly being related to the anthrax virus.

O'CONNOR: So far the nationwide exposure to anthrax remains limited to a few cases. But the unease is epidemic.

Eileen O'Connor, CNN, Washington.


PHILLIPS: With report after report of possible, or people possibly being exposed to anthrax, the situation has become twofold. First, there's the realistic threat. But there's also the fear that threat generates.

Author Judith Miller of the "New York Times" is familiar with both and gave this advice last night on "LARRY KING LIVE."


JUDITH MILLER, AUTHOR, "GERMS": Well, I think that someone or some group is trying to engage in bioterrorism. You know, in bioterrorism you don't necessarily have to kill a lot of people. You just have to spread terror. And that's what whoever is doing this is trying to do and I think part of the obligation I feel is to help people understand what's going on and to let you know that you shouldn't panic if this happens to you and that whatever it is inside that letter can be treated with antibiotics and you will be safe. And if we all kind of watch our mail a little more carefully and be careful and attentive, I think this period of anxiety will pass just as other threats to us have passed.


PHILLIPS: So just what are the 10 things you should know about anthrax? Well, if you're curious, it's simple to find out. Just log onto our Web site at and you'll find the list.

HARRIS: Speaking of lists, the United States Postal Service has come up with some tips on what to do if you suspect that mail that you've received is contaminated with anthrax. Now, first, the obvious, don't handle the letter or the package, and make sure that any damaged or suspicious packages are isolated and the immediate areas around them are all cordoned off.

Now, you can see the United States Postal Service's full list of a dozen tips on so check that out.

Now, we've got some other things for you to check out as well, these right on the tube. Some important guests are going to be joining us this morning to talk about these latest anthrax cases. Coming up in about two hours from now, Senator Tom Daschle is going to join us and talk about that anthrax letter that showed up in his office. Expect that to come around 7:00 a.m. And New York's mayor, Rudy Giuliani, is going to be the guest coming up at 7:30 Eastern this morning and he's going to talk about the latest anthrax case in New York, that 7-month-old baby. And he's also going to update us on the recovery efforts under way at the World Trade Center.

So there's lots to watch right here on CNN this morning.

PHILLIPS: Well, the first hint of trouble on September 11 came from a voice in the cockpit of American Airlines Flight 11. The "New York Times" reports that an air traffic controller had been trying to make contact with Flight 11 for several minutes before an unidentified voice came over the radio and said, "Nobody move, please. We're going back to the airport. Don't try to make any stupid moves."

When the controller asked other pilots if they had contact with Flight 11, the pilot from United Flight 175 radioed, "Sounds like someone keyed the mike and said everyone stay in your seats." Within minutes of that message, Flight 175 became the second airliner to be hijacked that day.

When Flight 11, already gone, had already gone and Flight 175 was speeding toward the World Trade Center, air traffic control warned pilots, "We may have a hijack. We have some problems over here right now."

Just after the first crash, controllers tried to raise the pilot of American Airlines Flight 77, calling, "American 77 Indy, radio check. How do you read?" There was no answer. That plane later crashed into the Pentagon.

HARRIS: Well, Pakistan is pressing for a quick end to U.S. air strikes in Afghanistan and, of course, help in its fight against India, as well.

PHILLIPS: When we return, a closer look at why Americans' top diplomat is trying hard to smooth relations.




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