Skip to main content /TRANSCRIPTS


Anthrax Investigation: FBI and Postal Service Offer Million Dollar Reward; CBS Employee Diagnosed with Cutaneous Anthrax

Aired October 18, 2001 - 12:41   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: The postmaster general is holding a news conference of some sort in Washington, along with the assistant director of the FBI. We'll listen in for a bit, see what the plan is.

JOHN POTTER, POSTMASTER GENERAL: ... and safely respond to suspicious materials received in their mailrooms. This will protect everyone at those businesses.

All of this information is available on the Postal Services's Web site,

I have one simple message to the American people. We are doing everything we can to help keep the mail safe. Until these crimes are solved, people should remain calm, they should be vigilant, they should be aware what they are receiving in the mail, and they should also be familiar with the simple, common sense actions that they can take to keep themselves safe.

In addition to the handful letters in the mail with anthrax, there have been number of hoaxes throughout the country. Working with the attorney general, FBI, our inspection service will diligently pursue those committing hoaxes and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.

Chief postal inspector Ken Weaver with us today to shire more information about our efforts to find the perpetrators of these heinous acts -- chief Weaver.


And I have two very important partners here with me today. One is Tom Picard, deputy director of the FBI, and Mr. John Walsh from "America's Most Wanted," that I will ask a little later to provide some comments.

But this afternoon, I am announcing the offer of reward of up to $1 million for the information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the mailing of the anthrax letters to Tom Brokaw and Senator Daschle. This reward also applies to any other mailing that may occur. This reward is being offered in partnership with the FBI, and is a unique partnership with "America's Most Wanted".

Postal inspectors take these mailings very seriously. We are going to ensure the mail continues to be a welcome visitor in every home and business in the nation. We know there's someone out there who saw something or knows something about the letters. We hope this reward will demonstrate how serious we are about finding these who did this and bringing them to justice. It's now my pleasure to introduce one of our partners this investigation, deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mr. Tom Picard.

TOM PICARD, FBI DEP. DIRECTOR: Thanks very much, Ken.

Law enforcement has called upon the American people for help many times in the past, and they have delivered. This time, the public's job is a lot tougher. We don't have a name or a face to give them, just the images of the envelopes sent to Tom Daschle and Tom Brokaw. We hope that the million-dollar reward announced today will provide an extra incentive to our citizens to help us solve these serious crimes.

Over the past six weeks, the American people have already been an important set of eyes and ears in our investigation into the terrorist attacks of September 11th. The American people have provided a remarkable...

BROWN: The FBI and U.S. Postal Service, offering a million dollar reward on the anthrax letters.

On the right side of the screen, looks like Dan Rather to me and president of CBS News Andrew Heyward.

ANDREW HEYWARD, CBS NEWS PRESIDENT: Andrew Heyward, "CBS" News, president.

All right, let me keep going, everybody can hear me, let's start. I'm Andrew Heyward, president of CBS News. Can you not hear me yourself, or are you worried about -- I mean, it's booming out of the ceiling.

I'm sorry, so we'll have to hold off for a second.

BROWN: While we're working on an audio problem, just a reminder, that an assistant to Dan Rather, someone who works in his office and apparently opens the mail, has tested positive for exposure to anthrax. She's being treated. All indications are, they will confirm in a minute I think once they solve the audio problems, she's doing OK, she's expected to recover. She went on penicillin first, and I'm not precisely sure if they changed that, but in case, she is expected to recover. That is the third anthrax case.

Let's see if they solved their problems.

HEYWARD: All right. Sorry about the false start.

I'm Andrew Heyward, president of CBS News. With me is Dan Rather, anchor and managing editor of the "CBS Evening News." With us today also -- where's that cell phone here. With us today, and I'm very grateful for his presence, is dr. Stephen Ostroff. That's O-S-T- R-O-F-F. He is the chief epidemiologist at the national center for infectious diseases, which is part of the CDC, and he's lead CDC official in this New York investigation. So if there are medical questions that we can't answer, and even though Dan and I are deeply trained in all medical knowledge, but if there are medical questions that we can't answer, we are going refer them to Steve Ostroff.

As you probably know by buy now, an employee of CBS News who works here in broadcast center has been diagnosed with cutaneous anthrax. We have learned a lot about this disease in the last few weeks. She is doing fine. She feels great. She's been on antibiotics for a couple of days now, and her prognosis is excellent. Her symptoms showed up actually right at the beginning of the month, and that's giving health officials some encouragement, because we're already well past the incubation period with which you'd expect other people to she symptoms if they were going to, and we have no awareness of anybody else being sick or showing symptoms.

She had a little irritation on her skin which was already getting treated, and then given the scare last week, we were taking every precaution, had her tested, and the test had come back positive. There is a team in the building, there's an investigative team in the building. There's already been, as you know, some experience with this NBC and ABC. I've spoken to the mayor and police commissioner they're morning. They've been terrific in offering us whatever help we need. There's a task force here, city health department, police department, CDC, FBI, other investigators, who will be investigating whether anyone else needs to be tested, and how the anthrax might have been contracted.

We have no knowledge of any letter or any other suspicious material coming into the building. So part of the investigation figure out how this person got it in the first place. Before we answer your questions, Dan wanted to say a few words, and then we'd be happy to answer any questions you have -- Dan.

DAN RATHER, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: Thank you, Andrew. Good mooning, everyone. Thanks for being here. I have nothing original or profound to say, here primarily to answer your questions, and will stay as long as is necessary to answer all of your questions.

Sort of as an opener, I would like to underscore what we believe very strongly -- and I say we, I can't speak for every man and woman at CBS News, but I think in this we are as one. That is, our biggest problem today is not anthrax. Our biggest problem is fear. And we understand and have talked about it among that those who are most afraid are in the most danger.

We are very much concerned about the person who works on my staff, who has been terrific through this whole process, and I think the word heroic is apt in her case. She has not missed a day of work. She's working today. She's been terrific through all of this, and she knows that we are very much concerned about her, that we love her, and that we stand ready to help her in any possible way.

Beyond that, we pride ourselves on being professionals. I'm sure that you do. And we also pride ourselves on being classy, and class never runs scare. We are resolute, we will not flinch, we will not bend, we will not swerve, we will get our a first class "Evening News" broadcast this evening. We will listen very carefully too what the medical authorities and the law enforcement people tell us. We will take that into deep consideration, and we will make our own decisions about where we go from here.

Again, thank you for being here.

HEYWARD: Questions -- sir.

QUESTION: ... penicillin initially. Did it not lo initially like it was anthrax, and does that impact on anyway on the current medication she's taking, the Cipro?

HEYWARD: I can't speak to that.

RATHER: I think I can speak to that. The question is, if you didn't hear in the back room, why when she first noticed something wrong, why was she given antibiotic?

QUESTION: Penicillin.

RATHER: Here's the situation, keep in mind that we did not know when this slight outbreak on her cheek appeared we were not aware there were anthrax concerns at another news organization, nor were we aware that the FBI had been alerted to those concerns.

HEYWARD: This was around October 1st or so, wasn't it?

RATHER: Right. We simply were not aware of it. I know that there people at least other places aware of it, but we were not aware of it. Over a weekend, she noticed this place on her cheek, and when the weekend ended, it was swelling ever so slightly, as she would put it. She came into work, and tell you the truth, I didn't notice it. She felt a little bit lethargic, and so she called her primary care physician, and the primary care physician said, well, you know, take penicillin, that was what would formally be prescribed is my understanding under those circumstances. The important point here is anthrax, was not on anybody's mind, it was not -- of course now, we are all now very much aware of it.

So she took the penicillin. When it didn't seem to respond to the first penicillin, another antibiotic, my understanding, was prescribed, but at this point, anthrax is not on anybody's mind and not in the picture. So that's the reason it was prescribed in the beginning.

Now, when the first case at another place became confirmed, came into the news, she and I spoke, she got in touch immediately with the CDC, with the city public health officials, and -- who asked her too she had symptoms. She did not. That is to say, was this a symptom? but there were other symptoms. Did she have a rash? No. Did she have the sniffles? No. Did show have a sore throat? No. Did she have any aches? Well, she said she did for one day.

But their recommendation was that she be examined. She was examined by private physician, but with a member of the CDC and the public health present. That's one person, a combination person, and they took blood tests and a swab test. The swab test came back negative. The results of the blood test were not yet known.

When the ABC second news organization case, when that happened, we talked and it was decided to take a biopsy, after the case at ABC had happened. I left out one step. When the NBC case became public, when they and the city deemed it a appropriate to make it public, her private physician suggested at that point because she's taking Cipro, and she began taking Cipro that point. That is the same day NBC announcement as made.

HEYWARD: One footnote: Apparently, she thought it was a bug bite to which she might be allergic, which is why antibiotics were indicated in the first place.

RATHER: She had signs before. You know, things happened with her complexion, and she thought it was a bug bite, and I would say that one way we got this morning, once they took the biopsy, you can understand it was sort of delicate, because it is on her cheek, and doesn't want to leave a scar, but they took the biopsy, this was sent to CDC, and CDC the reported back in the early hours of this morning it come back positive.

HEYWARD: Let's take one question at a time. In the back, yes, sir?

QUESTION: Have you been tested for exposure?

RATHER: I have not been tested.

QUESTION: Are they any plans to be tested?

RATHER: I have no plans to, but I will be guided by what the health authorities think is responsible. I want to be responsible, but the answer is I have not been tested. I have no plans The answer I have not been tested no plans this point the tested.

QUESTION: Do her daily responsibilities including opening mail for Dan Rather?

RATHER: I beg your pardon.

QUESTION: Do her daily responsibilities, part of her job,,,

RATRHER: That is part of her job; it's not her only job. And there are other people in the office who shared that responsibility, but she had primary responsibility of dealing with the mail.

HEYWARD: So that will obviously be one focus of the investigation,

But, again, I want to reiterate, we don't have any memory of a suspicious letter of any kind, she doesn't.

Hold on, let's wait for microphone, because a lot of people are taking this to broadcast.

RATHER: But as you do that, we'll get to your question in a second. But let me just tack on one thing I think is important. Forgive us if you must, but we are in the news business, and I'm trying to report this as straight up as I would any other story, and we know in news that assumption is the mother of a fouled-up story. We make no assumptions about how she contracted this. The police have indicated, at least a few days ago indicated, well, there's their assumption, they're working on the theory that it probably came through the mail, these cases in general.

We're underscoring with you, we have no idea how she's contracted it. She's got no memory. She's thought about it. We asked her to go back and think about it again. She has no memory of any mail, anything in the mail that raised any suspicion whatsoever.

I think this gentleman here had the next question.

HEWYARD: Hold on a second, sir, I'm sorry. Ten seconds, just bear with me. Thank you very much. And then you will be next.

QUESTION: Do you have a practice of setting aside mail that is considered suspicious so that it can be looked at by security? Is that something that routinely occurs?

RATHER: I think you'll understand a reluctance here to go into details of how we handle mail. But just simply let me say, we had, and had had for a very long time a procedure of handling the mail as safely as possible. I think clear it's we reviewed those procedures and additional steps taken in the wake of this, and that's about as much as you can say.

HEYWARD: Yes, although, as you know, I think we've been public about this, leaving aside on what happens in Dan's office, obviously since the first anthrax incident at NBC, the entire mail procedure has been completely revised. We're not going to get into details.

QUESTION: Previously at NBC, they had a practice where if they got suspicious letter, there was a file where they would maintain and then they would turn it over to authorities at a certain point.

HEYWARD: Right, we're not getting into details of what we did previously.

That gentlemen become there. Thank you, I appreciate it.

QUESTION: First of all, two questions, is anyone else in the office taking antibiotics? And also -- obviously we are here in the building -- are any portions of the building closed right now.

RATHER: Well, as to the first, no one else in the office is taking antibiotics or has been taking them. Again, I want to underscore, we will be guided by what medical authorities and the health authorities and the CDC think is prudent now, but the answer to your question is no.

HEYWARD: I can answer that, Dan. The second part of the question is, was any part of the building closed? And answer to that is no as well. In fact, the health commissioner of the city told us this morning it is safe for us to continue working to the extent that investigators have to look at certain areas and possibly seal them off while they do epidemiological tests. We will obviously be cooperative, but it our intention to keep working, and nothing is closed right now.

QUESTION: ... a little early on. If you didn't know where the anthrax came from, why open the building up to employees.

HEYWARD: I'm sorry.

QUESTION: Obviously you still don't know where the anthrax came. There is absolutely no danger in the building at all in this point?

HEYWARD: Our belief, certainly in consultation with health authorities, is that there is no danger to people continuing going to work in the building, that's correct.

RATHER: If that changes, then we will assess and we will adjust.

HEYWARD: Yes, I mean, our paramount concern is the safety of the employees, and we would never do anything to endanger them. We have been in consultation with the city and also with the Dr. Ostroff, who I think would agree that it is safe for us to continue working here.

You want to add anything to that, Dr. Ostroff? Stand up. This is your moment in the sun. Dr. Ostroff of the CDC.

I've had many moments in the sun this week.

DR. STEPHEN OSTROFF, CDC: I would agree with that statement. And that's basically the statement that we gave this morning at the mayor's press conference as well, which is that -- and I think it was stated very well by both Andy and Dan, which is that investigations need to be done to assure ourselves that the circumstances here are similar to the circumstances in the other two news organizations.

By all appearances, the circumstances appear to be very similar. The timeframe -- and again, I'm an epidemiologist. So what I'm trained to do is look at patterns of disease. Certainly the pattern appears to be identical to the pattern in the other two news organization, and by all intents and purposes, happened sometime in late September. There seems to be little question about that. Based on our fundamental understanding of the epidemiology of cutaneous anthrax, the risk currently in this building is essentially negligible, and we feel quite comfortable that employees can continue do to the things they need to do.

It's very important to also point out we will continue to perform epidemiologic investigations. We don't have all the information that we need. There are also is a criminal investigation. I don't want to comment on that, because I don't deal with the law enforcement side of things. But there are samples that need to be taken, and we will continue to evaluate the situation overtime.

BROWN: Press briefing at CBS News. The essential news out of it -- there was a fair amount of detail -- the essential news, one woman, an assistant to Dan Rather, who does deal with the mail at CBS is being treated for anthrax, cutaneous anthrax, through the skin. She's expected to recover. The building is still open. People are still working, and so far, no other cases of exposure have shown up at CBS News, and in fact, they don't precisely know how this one woman contracted it, though the epidemiologist from the CDC made it pretty clear in his mind, the pattern, he said, is identical to the others. So that's the news out of CBS.




Back to the top