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Pataki News Conference

Aired October 17, 2001 - 12:29   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: With the discovery that 29 people we know of have now tested positive exposure to anthrax, all of them apparently in the Senate office building, the office of Senate Majority Leader Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, and with the new information we have just received within the hour, anthrax has been confirmed found in the New York City office of the governor of New York state, George Pataki, a number of new developments we are watching here.

As Aaron was saying just before the break, we in no way want to alarm you. This is not something that is widespread around the country. Right now we are talking about a few locations in Washington, D.C., and in New York City and in Florida. But beyond that we have no evidence, and therefore no reason to be spreading alarm about it.

Having said that we want to try to be as clear and as helpful as we can as we all try to understand this as you do. Want to talk now to Mr. Javed Ali who is an expert on bioterrorism. He has worked in the federal government and is going to be helping CNN out in the days to come on this subject.

Mr. Ali, first of all, when you hear that 29 people were exposed in one office, in one Senate office, and we know now this is a more concentrated form of anthrax, what does that tell you about the anthrax that we are dealing with here?

JAVED ALI, CNN BIOTERRORISM ANALYST: It's still unclear what it tells us specifically about the anthrax or the material for the organism itself, but with the 29 people being exposed I think there's some questions that need to be asked with respect to what is the route of that exposure.

Were those people -- did they test positive for traces of the organism in their nose with nasal swabs? Did they happen to have it on their hands or on other parts of their bodies? Because I don't think we can say with certainty at this point whether everyone has been exposed through the same route of exposure.

WOODRUFF: And we Want to tell our viewers we are still waiting for a news conference with Senator Tom Daschle which is due to begin any time now, and perhaps also shortly, Governor George Pataki will be holding a news conference.

Mr. Ali, what about how much easier it is to become exposed to this more concentrated form of anthrax, how much easier is it?

ALI: It would be easier only in the sense if it was a dried powder and it was a very fine powder and some of the normal problems associated with other terrorist organizations or nations have even tried to manufacture biological agents into that dried powder form, if some of those obstacles have indeed been removed, at least with respect to the source in Senator Daschle's office, that could theoretically make it easier for the bacteria to be energized and somehow cast a wider net of exposure.

WOODRUFF: Let's be very specific about this. As far as you know, how many people around the world, as best as you can tell, have the kind of knowledge it takes to make this more deadly form of anthrax?

ALI: I think that's a really difficult question to answer with any degree of precision. All we can assess is that we know there have been countries that have had offensive biological weapons programs or that the government suspects has offensive biological weapons programs, but that doesn't mean that automatically those capabilities or suspected capabilities would translate into the form or the type of anthrax material we are looking at right now.

WOODRUFF: We know even the United States was involved in biological weapons work in the 1960s.

ALI: Correct.

WOODRUFF: What are some of the countries we know? Iraq has been very much in the news, questions about Iraq, where else?

ALI: Well the two major countries that we know the most about there...

WOODRUFF: Javed Ali, I am going to interrupt. Let's go to Aaron in New York.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Judy thank you. We are just looking at a monitor over our shoulder. We see that New York Governor George Pataki has taken the microphone. Let's listen to him after anthrax was found in his New York office.

GOV. GEORGE PATAKI (R), NEW YORK: ... It was not deemed suspicious, and my secretary didn't think anything particular of that letter. But after what has happened in Washington, and at NBC and ABC, she became concerned and turned it over to the state place, and asked that she could be tested for the possibility of anthrax.

We conducted tests on her and two of the mail handlers in our New York City office and they all came back negative with no exposure to anthrax indicated. But in response to these concerns, Monday night we ordered a environmental test of our offices here in New York City.

Those tests came back this morning. And one did indicate a positive test for the probability of anthrax being present in the office. There was no indication of anthrax in my office or my secretary's office or in the airways, air filters of the building, or the space. But in a secure area used by the state police, one test result was positive indicating the possibility, the likelihood that anthrax was present.

As a result of this we have closed our state offices, the 38th and 39th floor, where my offices are located approximately 75 to 80 people work there. They will be cleaned, beginning right now, and we are hopeful that by Monday they will be cleaned and we will be back in the office. The people in my offices are being given Cipro as a prophylactic. I too will be taking Cipro.

But as I indicated earlier there's been no positive indication in any individual, of anthrax. The vast majority of the tests taken at the executive offices came back negative, and there was this one positive indication in the area, secure area, where the state police are based that is not an area where employees of the executive office generally go. It is not an area where visitors to the executive offices go. So we have no concerns that people working or visiting the office may have been exposed.

Again, as a precaution, and I think it is the intelligent thing to do, all the people who work in our state offices are given Cipro. We are going to reach out to people who have visited the state office since September 25 to let them know what they should be looking for. But the primary advice will be to stay in touch with their physicians and make sure they feel all right.

But the bottom line of this is I feel great. We temporarily relocated our offices here. We are going to continue to run the state government from here, and run it well. We are going to continue to do what we generally do, which is lead this state, and go about the city and the state in the way New Yorkers have always been accustomed to doing. Not only do I feel fine but I intend to go see my kids, go out to a restaurant, try to get tickets to one of the play-off games.

We all, of course, get upset when this type of activity occurs, particularly when it hits home in your own office. But there's a very simple message: We can't let them win. These are evil people who we are going to drive back to their caves where they belong, and in the process we are going to continue to live our lives as New Yorkers, maybe we will be a little more diligent, and a little more cautious in what we do, but we are not going to overreact, and we are going to male sure that not only do we get through this particular incident, but that we as New Yorkers and as Americans continue to live our daily lives as we have a right to live.

So I want to thank my colleagues who have been so instrumental in helping us to get through this. Doctor Novello (ph) , our health commissioner, who has taken the investigation from the health standpoint, in charge, and has done a great job there; and Jim Calstrom (ph) , our director of our new Office of Public Safety who has been coordinating with FBI, city officials; and Katie Lab (ph) , our director of Criminal Justice Services.

There obviously is an ongoing investigation into the possible source of this anthrax, and it is being conducted by the state police with the FBI and help of professionals and we are confident that that investigation will be done as thoroughly and productively as possible -- questions.


PATAKI: Let me say that we do not -- the stated police have tracked down the source of that and they do not believe, and we don't believe, that that envelope was in fact the source of the anthrax. But we don't know what the source is so they are investigating along with the FBI all possible sources of the exposure.


PATAKI: That is the room where the state police are based in my offices. And the state police have been obviously at NBC, at ABC, all over the environments over the course of the past month. They base their operations there, but it is not an area where visitors go. It is not an area where staff go except on very, very rare occasions. It is very much of a confined area.


PATAKI: I don't want to speculate, but the point is we don't know the source. We don't believe that the particular letter that caused the initial anxiety was the source, but there will be an ongoing investigation, there is an ongoing investigation.


PATAKI: You will have to ask the health professionals what the possibility to bring in from another site might be. I don't want to speculate as to that may or may not be possible.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for the most part have a dedicated executive service (OFF-MIKE)

PATAKI: Right.


PATAKI: The troopers do all sorts of things. I'm not going to speculate as to what they may or may not have come in contact with. Let's just stick to the facts, and the facts are that in that one confined area there has been one positive indication of the presence of anthrax. Now the anthrax is going to be cultured. It will be a couple of days before there's 100 percent confirmation. But it is a positive indication that it is present.


PATAKI: No. Mail comes through my secretary's office, but she took that particular letter and others that she had questions about to the state police.


PATAKI: I feel great.



PATAKI: It's simply as a preventive measure, as a precaution.


PATAKI: This is a very different situation where there has been a test, and a positive indication of the presence of anthrax in that site. I'm not going to get tested. I imagine that the vast majority of the people in my offices aren't going to be tested. No one has tested positive for anthrax in our offices, but it is better to be prudent and to be cautious, and that's why the people who work in those offices -- and they are not there one hour, two hours, they are there night and day, oftentimes six, seven days a week, as a precaution, they are going to be taking Cipro.


PATAKI: I don't think it is necessary. I honestly believe that the likelihood of any contamination is very slim, but we are going to make sure everyone takes Cipro as a precaution.


PATAKI: I don't want to speculate on that. There's an ongoing investigation, the FBI, the state police. All I can tell you is that there's been a positive test for anthrax that presumptively positive, in our offices. We are taking the appropriate cautionary measures, the appropriate investigations have begun, and are underway. I don't want to speculate as to where those investigations may lead or may not lead.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) can't let them win and we are going to drive them back to their caves, what were you referring to?

PATAKI: All of those -- it is obvious that we are engaged in a war, and a very different type of war. It is a war of nerves and terror. And there are evil people. And as I said on September 11, their effort wasn't simply to destroy two towers and kill thousands of people, however horrible that was.

Their effort was to take away our confidence and our ability to live as Americans and go about our daily lives. It is a different type of war and it requires a different type of response. And part of that response has to be confidence, belief in our country, belief in our security, belief in our way of life and an unwillingness to let these evil people win. We are not going to do that. Our office is open today, and functioning. We had to find temporary space.

BROWN: New York Governor George Pataki, after a presumptive test of anthrax in the security wing of his New York office where the state police are. Couple of things to deal with there, but I want go to Jon Karl in Washington on the Hill. Jon, you have got something breaking?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Aaron, some new information here.

And that is, we have confirmed from Senate sources that they believe that the number of people exposed to anthrax in Senator Daschle's office is now (INAUDIBLE) to be significantly lower than the 29 mentioned by the speaker of the House -- also confirmation from Senate sources they believe that there was no anthrax exposure outside of Senator Daschle's office and his mailroom.

We will see Senator Daschle come to microphone to make a real effort to significantly turn the temperature down.

BROWN: Jon, I need to interrupt you here because I'm not hearing you very well. I'm not clear if that's the way it is going out on the air or not. But let's fix the audio problem, if we can, if, in fact, that's what it is. And we will get back to you and understand what are you saying.

Let me go back to the governor for a second. A couple of things that we noted: It is a first test for anthrax. There was a letter that came into the office, I believe he said September 28, that raised some suspicion eventually. But the tests on that letter came back negative. So it is unclear how this anthrax -- if, in fact, that's what it turns out to be -- got into his office. This would put it in a category like the ABC case, where the 7-month-old baby somehow came into contact with anthrax. But they're not sure how.

Obviously, it may have been a letter that was opened in the office. But they haven't identified that. They have a similar case now in the governor's office. It's not clear how it happened. The governor said a number of people on his staff -- I think he used the number 100 -- but I think that was a rough number -- are being tested and taking Cipro. The governor said that he, too, was going to take Cipro -- which is the drug used to treat this, I assume you know by now -- but that he is not going to be tested for it.

And it struck me -- perhaps it struck you, too -- that the governor, like all us, I think, in the country right now, are trying to find the right balance.

Let me just go to Sanjay again. Does that make any sense to you to take the medication, but not take the test, because we've been saying to people for days now, "Don't take the medication just on to take the medication"?

GUPTA: I feel exactly the same way, Aaron. I am -- a little hard too explain that one.

The important point is, you wouldn't really know when to stop taking the medication. I'm not sure if the governor is planning on taking a full 60-day course. As you've heard, what they're usually been recommending is, take it for three days, at least until the tests comes back. If your test comes back negative, stop it. If the tests come back positive, continue it. I'm not sure what his benchmark for stopping or starting is really going to be if he hadn't gotten tested.

BROWN: And I don't, in any sense, want -- I don't mean this, in any sense, critically of the governor. I think what all of us are dealing with, everyone in the country -- certainly those of us who find themselves in a line of work that may be, in this case, a little riskier than others -- we are trying to do what is smart here with our own lives as well.

But that one jumped out at me as something that just ran contrary to what we have been saying. So maybe they'll rethink it or maybe they won't.


BROWN: Just a thought. Go ahead.

GUPTA: Yes. No, I mean, I think that's exactly right.

I imagine that some of the people who are advising him might say that a test might be a good idea. I have certainly -- and a lot of other doctors have certainly been recommending that, in front of taking antibiotics, and then certainly starting the antibiotics at the time you get the test, but again stopping it if the tests come back negative. I think that would be the most prudent thing to do.

BROWN: Sanjay, thanks. I know you are going to stay wired up there as this goes along.




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