CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Ari Fleischer, Tom Ridge Hold Press Briefing
Aired October 25, 2001 - 12:45 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: We'll check in at the White House.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ... announcements, and then I'll introduce Governor Ridge.
The president this morning spoke with Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. The president called the crown prince to thank the kingdom for its support in the international war against terrorism. The president noted that he is very pleased with the kingdom's contributions to the efforts, and he said that press articles citing differences between the United States and Saudi Arabia are simply incorrect.
The president also reaffirmed his view that Islam is a religion of tolerance and that the struggle against terror is not a struggle with Islam. The two leaders also reviewed the situation in Afghanistan and the Arab-Israeli situation.
Following the phone call, the president had a briefing with the CIA, he had a briefing with the attorney general and the director of the FBI, as he does each morning. The president at 9:30 convened a meeting of the National Security Council to review the latest events in the war.
And then, as you know, he went to the Marshall Extended Elementary School in Washington to talk about a new program that he announced of sharing information between children in America and children in the Muslim world, exchange programs, exchanges of information, e-mail programs, to have a better understanding between American children and Muslim children about the lives children live in both nations -- in both regions.
The president at 3:40 this afternoon will meet with the crown prince of Bahrain to talk about the important bilateral relations between the United States and Bahrain, as well as cooperation in the war against terrorism. And even prior to that, I should have mentioned, the president will meet with members of Congress, along with Governor Ridge, to discuss homeland security.
The president will also this afternoon meet with Republican members of the Governors Association who are in town.
Two other announcements.
The president will welcome Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar for a working visit on November 28. And the president will also welcome to Washington Nigerian President Obasanjo for a meeting on November the 2nd.
One final update I want to give you concerning the trace of anthrax that was found at the remote mail facility for the White House. As of this morning, 294 individuals have been tested at the remote facility, as well as in the mail room here at the White House, and there have been no positive anthrax cultures found as a result of these 294 tests. Some of them remain preliminary, and so we will keep you informed as the tests develop.
Now I would like to introduce Governor Ridge, the director of the Office of Homeland Security. He is joined by Major General John Parker, the commanding general of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, as well as Admiral Kenneth Moritsugu, the deputy surgeon general.
TOM RIDGE, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Good afternoon. Today I'd like to share with you the latest information and actions we are taking to protect the American people from the anthrax here at home.
Our investigation continues. We are aggressively pursuing every conceivable lead to find and bring to justice those responsible for these terrorist acts.
Our health system nationwide is on full alert and is working around the clock -- and is working around the clock to identify and treat those potentially affected by anthrax.
Today we want to share with you the latest scientific analysis of the anthrax samples. Major General John Parker, commanding general of the United States Army Medical Research and Material Command, has joined me today to further explain and answer your questions concerning these latest findings.
As I outlined last week, Department of Defense DNA tests showed the anthrax samples from Florida, New York and Washington are indistinguishable, meaning that they all come from the same strain of anthrax or the same family of anthrax. That continues to be the case.
The DNA tests have also revealed that none of the anthrax samples have been genetically altered, which is very good news, obviously, because it means that the samples all respond to antibiotics, and therefore, people who are exposed can be treated.
This week we have received new information from additional laboratory tests. I convened a meeting at the White House last night to bring together the scientists, as well as representatives of the different agencies, to analyze and evaluate this information. It shows that the anthrax in the letter received in Senator Tom Daschle's office has some different characteristics. It is highly concentrated. It is pure, and the spores are smaller. Therefore, they're more dangerous, because they can be more easily absorbed in a person's respiratory system.
We've also received new preliminary analysis on the anthrax that was mailed to the New York Post. The preliminary analysis shows that it is more coarse and less concentrated than the anthrax in the Daschle letter. But I want to tell you, it's still highly concentrated. The New York Post anthrax is also sensitive to antibiotics.
Unfortunately, we have not been able to conduct similar tests on the anthrax from Florida or the Brokaw letter, because the limited amounts of substance retrievable from the scene -- just wasn't enough for us to retrieve from the scene to conduct the same tests.
Now, I know there has been a lot of both public and private discussion, some of it with me and much of it among yourselves and even within this country, about the term weaponize.
It seems to have different definition and meanings to different people.
Based on these latest lab reports, it is clear that the terrorists responsible for these attacks intended to use this anthrax as a weapon. We still don't know who is responsible. But we are marshaling every federal, state and local resource to find them and bring them to justice.
General Parker is here to give you more of the details. But before he briefs you, I would like to take a minute to share with the American people the steps we are taking to protect postal workers.
As of this morning, health officials have tested and treated more than 4,000 postal workers in the impacted areas. In addition, the Postal Service working with federal, state and local officials have begun environmental testing at 200 postal facilities along the eastern corridor.
The Postal Service will also conduct random environmental testing at major postal facilities nationwide. It will conduct random testing nationwide. It is strictly a precautionary measure. It is taken to protect the mail. I want to reiterate, there is no indication of any new exposure at this time at these sites. But the postmaster general felt it was appropriate to begin conducting random sample testing.
As the president announced on Tuesday, we are authorizing funds to implement immediate security measures to better protect our nation's mail. These funds will help purchase new technology to sanitize mail and protective gear to help protect postal workers.
Clearly, we are up against a shadow enemy, shadow soldiers, people who have no regard for human life. They are determined to murder innocent people.
President Bush is very proud of the federal, state and local health care officials whose quick actions have no doubt saved many lives in the face of a new and horrible threat. Our country has never experienced this type of terrorism. And, tragically, we have lost lives, starting with those in New York City in the towers, but also including those who wear the uniform overseas in this war and those who wear the uniform of the Postal Service here at home.
Our government will continue to do everything we can to make our nation safe, stronger and more prepared and will continue to provide the American people with as much accurate information as we can as soon as we can to protect them from future attacks.
Before I respond to some questions, I would like Major General Parker to brief you as well.
MAJOR GENERAL JOHN PARKER, COMMANDING GENERAL, U.S. ARMY MEDICAL RESEARCH AND MATERIEL COMMAND: Thank you, Governor Ridge.
I represent some great scientists and engineers at Fort Detrick who are currently working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, processing samples and helping to define the characteristics of the compounds that are given us to take a look at.
I can say to you without question this is anthrax and the samples from New York, Washington and Florida are all from the same family or strain. That's been documented by DNA testing.
When we look at these spores underneath a microscope, they are uniform in size and highly concentrated and high pure. And these individual spores are very light, and if given some energy from, say, wind or clapping or motion of air in a room, they will drift in the air and then fall to the ground.
The good news is that this strain is susceptible to all of the antibiotics that we have in the United States, from penicillin all the way to the most recent advanced quinolones that we have available.
The characteristics I already mentioned, When you look at it, it's like a very, very fine powder. And you can imagine in your bathroom if you take a fine talcum powder and you blow it, it drifts up into the air and then eventually drifts down to the ground and falls to the floor where it sticks.
We are continuing to try to characterize the products. When we looked at the New York Post sample and compared that to the Daschle sample, even in gross introspection, it appeared that the New York Post sample was clumpy and rugged and the Daschle sample was fine and floaty. One of my scientists actually described the New York post sample as looking like Purina dog chow. You know, clumpy like a pellet.
PARKER: No, that's in -- not under a microscope. That's (inaudible) Under the microscope, the spores are densely packed in both samples and highly concentrated in both samples.
I just want to mention one other thing is that, I know there's a lot of questions about some other things. We are trying very hard to characterize anything that would be associated with this sample and we're continuing to do that research and we're continuing to do that investigation. And I don't have the absolute answers until all of those investigations are in.
QUESTION: Can I ask you a question? Given the nature of the powder, especially that was sent in the letter to Senator Daschle, what can you and the others say about where this was produced, how it was produced and ultimately by whom, domestically or foreign?
RIDGE: Tests may give us answers to some or all of those questions, as well as investigations being conducted by the FBI and the Department of Justice.
The test now will give us very specific characteristics, but the test may or may not lead us to the source.
QUESTION: At this point are you able to say at any level, preliminarily or otherwise, that this is the kind of anthrax that could have been produced by an individual or several individuals here in the United States, or is this the kind of stuff that it could only be produced by a foreign nation?
RIDGE: I believe further testing will give us the range, will either expand it or contract it. But right now there are other, I believe, chemical tests and other tests in a series of tests that have to be conducted.
I mean, one of the challenges we have with -- we're trying to give you as much information as we have as quickly as we get it and give America this information -- is that they properties of this anthrax and our ability to describe it's characteristics really depend on ability for us to conduct several tests, some simultaneously, some in different parts of the world, some right after another.
I will tell you that, one set of tests often generates a recommendation that another set of tests. So we are just -- the testing is incomplete and we can't give you the answers to that question yet, if ever.
QUESTION: There was a report today that preliminary tests suggests that the anthrax could not have been produced in Russia or Iraq.
RIDGE: Could not have been?
QUESTION: Could not have been, implying that it was produced in the United States. Is that accurate or not? The preliminary tests suggest this. RIDGE: I don't think I've seen any preliminary tests that drew any conclusions as to where it could or could not have been produced.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) in other words, if these were mailed over a series of days and the Daschle is much more sort of concentrated, could it be that somebody is testing and getting more progressive with the anthrax, and will that continue, perhaps?
RIDGE: Well, I think, people are inclined to draw conclusions about the number of letters in the mail or the ability or the capacity of one letter to have contaminated multiple stations.
I mean, right now, as we continue to conduct the investigation, we alert you to the letters we have, the samples we have. And until we've thoroughly completed our investigation, we can't draw any conclusions as to number or source.
QUESTION: Governor Ridge, the apparent lethality of the anthrax sent to Senator Daschle was apparently understood more quickly in Congress than it was throughout other federal agencies. Are you and Major General Parker satisfied that the information flow about what was learned about the anthrax in the Daschle letter went to all the agencies as fast as possible and therefore everything was done to protect the postal workers who have since been exposed, whereas members of Congress were not?
RIDGE: Well, my sense was that -- I think it may have been General Parker and other people within the administration briefed Senator Daschle, and I think -- I'm not certain where the senator got his information, but I suspect it's from the information that we had.
And the recognition of the pureness of the spores, the concentration, the highly concentrated nature of these spores, the conclusion that it hasn't been genetically altered, a lot of these things have occurred since that initial briefing as we've had a series of tests to confirm it.
I will tell you what, I think because it was respirated, because we had several people who died because of inhalation anthrax, and because there's a body of scientific evidence out there that it is easier and certainly has much greater potential for infection if it's a smaller, purer form of anthrax, people legitimately, without doing the samples, could conclude that it had to be of higher concentration, it had to be a pure form based on information that we had at the time about anthrax.
We're now running through this series of tests. We're finding not only what might have been a good thing to conjecture from previous research on anthrax, but we have confirmed it. But there are other characteristics that we may or may not be able to confirm with future tests.
Yes? QUESTION: Doesn't the very fact that, as General Parker said, this is free and floating anthrax that was sent to Senator Daschle -- aerosolized -- show that it is a very sophisticated operation that produced this, not a grad student in a basement and that the knowledge of how to do that would be limited to a very narrow circle of people -- some state actors and some people with access to American secrets?
RIDGE: I'm not prepared to tell you what level of competency, accessibility to equipment and other training either an individual or an institution needs in order to develop this level of anthrax.
QUESTION: General Parker, can we ask you a question, sir? I take it that some of the -- if you wouldn't mind stepping up to the podium -- I take it that some of the tests that you were alluding to are on this chemical agent that's been mixed in with the anthrax did modify the electrostatic properties of the anthrax. Can you tell us what your preliminary investigation shows about that? And who has the ability to alter the electrostatic properties of anthrax for us?
PARKER: Well, first of all, your question is complex and I'd like to say that although we may see some things on the microscopic field that may look like foreign elements, we don't know that there are additives. We don't know what they are, and we're continuing to do research to find out what they possibly could be. They're unknowns to us at this present time.
QUESTION: Can you tell us who has the ability to alter the electrostatic properties of anthrax spores in order to allow them to become more easily aerosolized?
PARKER: Sir, that's beyond my knowledge. I don't know.
QUESTION: A very small number of countries?
PARKER: I don't know, sir.
RIDGE: What the general is trying to relate to you is that there's a series of tests that need to be conducted by these men who are far better equipped in electrons and by experience to draw some conclusions from those results.
And the fact of the matter is we don't have all the information available to us yet to draw any of the conclusions to answer some of the questions you're asking.
QUESTION: When you say they are from the same strain or family, how much does that really narrow this down? Can you tell us...
QUESTION: Not much?
RIDGE: My sense is, it doesn't narrow it much at all. My brother and I are from the same family. You know, so it means it's a very broad and general genetic classification. But apparently, there are several strains available for research around the world.
QUESTION: Can you tell us which strain it is, sir? And is it -- does the fact that these are a little bit...
RIDGE: The Ames strain.
QUESTION: The Ames strain. And can you tell us, if you could tell us, since these are a little bit different in their qualities, does that suggest that these letters came from different people?
RIDGE: Well, right now, first of all, you should know that even though the preliminary tests on the New York Post letter shows it to be of a different quality and I guess more readily in clumps than the other, it is still highly concentrated. And I don't think, to date, with the preliminary tests we can point to one source or multiple sources.
QUESTION: Two children, according to various media, including the New York Times (inaudible) have been checked into Children's Hospital, the girl age two, the boy age 11 with, apparently, anthrax- like symptoms. Do you know anything about it?
RIDGE: I do not. What hospital?
QUESTION: Children's Hospital here in Washington.
RIDGE: Children's Hospital in Washington, I do not know that. Obviously...
QUESTION: Governor, a non-scientific question. Chances are that the person or persons who did this would be inclined to follow every briefing, every statement. That said, what would your message be to the person or persons who sent this stuff?
RIDGE: We'll find you, and we'll bring you to justice.
You know, trying to think the way some individual who would use the United States mail service and take an envelop and turn it into a weapon of terror, it's pretty difficult for me to be able to, I suspect, to be able to communicate with that individual on any terms and within a value system that we share in this country.
So I'm not sure if we could to him in a democratic, American way how we feel about him and how we feel about this incident. But we'll get him. I hope.
QUESTION: Governor Ridge, there have been reports recently of tensions between the FBI, CDC and other federal agencies over the sharing of information or full disclosure of information on the quality of anthrax in the Daschle letter. Could you address that please? And also, can you tell us a little bit more about the meeting last night?
RIDGE: Yes. First of all, you know that as director of Homeland Security, I interact with agencies on a daily basis if not an hourly basis. And I will tell you from day one there has been collaboration and coordination, and every day it continues to accelerate as the circumstances of the threat bring people closer together. Everybody is intensely working this issue. There has been extraordinary collaboration. There has been new relationships that have developed.
And I thought that it was important to have the meeting last night not just with the principals, but with the scientists that we're all relying upon, in order to consolidate whatever information we have and to see if we can further accelerate the process of answering the questions that America seeks from the administration. And I thought it was a very productive meeting.
They have been working together side by side. They'll continue to work together. There is intense effort to collaborate.
We live in a virtual world, but we can't always come up with virtual answers. And so there's a process that goes along with trying to answer the questions you and the rest of America has, but their coordination is fine. Maybe last night accelerated it even further, but there's not a question. They share information, I assure you.
QUESTION: You said a few moments ago that this was intended as a weapon -- whoever sent this intended it to be used as a weapon. Does that meet your definition of weapons?
RIDGE: I don't use that word because I don't think "weaponize" has any medical or scientific value. I mean, we never thought a 747 could be turned into a missile, but someone who took an instrument that's part of who we are and what we do everyday -- an airplane -- turned it into a weapon. Somebody took an envelope and turned it into a weapon.
QUESTION: Based on what you know to this point, can you put into context how lethal this -- how concentrated, how pure, how dangerous this was?
RIDGE: Well, it was not contaminated, which meant that the mass -- and again, the General can answer this better, but as I understand it -- as explained to me as a layman, and I can relate to people who don't have a background in microbiology or chemistry -- but as I understand it, if you took a look at the spores under the microscope, there was not any extraneous material. It was very pure. Practically everything you saw was an anthrax spore and it was of such a size that it was respirable; that if it was given a little energy, it could get up into the air.
QUESTION: I just want to clarify something from an earlier question. The fact is much of what you've told us here today we've already heard from other sources in the debate over "weaponize," whether or not you want to use that word. It's been going on for some time. But I just want to be clear...
RIDGE: I don't want to use it, so there's no debate with me. It adds no scientific or -- I mean, you could put this on the head of a missile, you could put it an envelope, you can distribute it other ways. I mean, so it can -- anthrax itself is a weapon. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: My question is, if you standing in front of us are the definitive voices on anthrax and you cannot even tell us, based on what you've discovered so far, the countries that can produce this strain and whether or not we can rule any of these countries out, be it Iraq, Russia or the United States?
RIDGE: I do not know. It is an Ames strain. There are other characteristics that may be discovered in the course of this investigation that may lead this government and our scientists to further conclusions. Right now, I'm not prepared...
RIDGE: ... because we don't have the answers.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) characteristic of the strains developed by those countries...
RIDGE: I don't know.
QUESTION: Given all the things that are on your plate, Governor Ridge, is your day defined more by facts you know that expand what you know or is it defined more by questions that expand what you don't know?
RIDGE: It's a little bit of both. I mean, there are questions that I seek in my capacity as director of homeland security that I ask, just because of information that comes across my desk. There is also information that I receive that's unsolicited that expands my knowledge as well. So, I think it's a little bit a combination of both.
QUESTION: Do you have any preliminary idea -- forget which country or what the strain is -- do you have any preliminary idea about whether or not this is something that would have had to have been produced by a large organization such as a state, or if it's something that could possible have been cooked up in a laboratory somewhere in Trenton?
RIDGE: I'm not prepared to tell you today the range of potential actors who could have created as pure and as concentrated and as respirable an anthrax as we are working on and investigating now. I don't know whether it's a large range or a narrow range.
QUESTION: ...you in the government intentionally downplay the threat to the American public? And why over time have your statements changed about what the American public should be worried about?
RIDGE: The information in the literature on anthrax that existed before this threat suggested that the only way you can get inhalational anthrax -- that it would be much easier to get inhalational anthrax if the spores were smaller.
And we not only have cases, but we also had fatalities. So based on the literature that existed and even prior to the testing that confirmed our worse suspicions that this was a different kind and a different grade of anthrax. And so we shared that information with you. We shared it with the people on the Hill.
We've run through a series of tests. The test tells us very specifically that the anthrax spores are not only smaller and concentrated, they are very pure. There are still some additional tests to be run on these individual spores. And when we get additional information, I'll...
BROWN: Governor Tom Ridge, the homeland defense -- on homeland defense today -- a number of things that have been reported earlier, but now officially stated from the podium, that the anthrax received by Senator Tom Daschle or in Tom Daschle's office: highly concentrated, pure, the size smaller.
We have been talking about this now for the last couple of days, but this is an acknowledgement from the podium. And that matters in the context of this -- also, that the anthrax -- the analysis of the anthrax received at the "New York Post": more coarser.
The president's spokeman, Ari Fleischer, has taken the podium. So we will listen in for a while here, too.
QUESTION: What can you tell us about reports that there is a female reporter who is under treatment for potential anthrax? And kind of off the beaten path, are you still asking American children to send $1 for this Afghanistan program? And where does the money go, and is that mail being watched as well?
FLEISCHER: I'm aware of the reports about a reporter. I have made one phone call to try to investigate that. And I'm not able to confirm that. But there are additional inquiries that are outstanding by other people in the government beyond myself. So I'm aware of the reports and have to leave it at that.
The mail for the Afghan children, the mail for that program is received at the same facility, the remote facility. And I have no reason to think that any mail, just like mail that comes to the White House -- people are sending mail that will arrive. It is being held at that facility, and it is not being disseminated beyond that.
Prior to this, the mail that was sent there went through the same security precautions as the White House mail. Then it was sent to a vendor hired by the Red Cross, and that vendor also had some precautions put into place. And then it was provided, after that point, to the Red Cross, only after that point.
The vendor, as a result of having mail received as a result of coming through the remote facility, was environmentally tested. All the environmental tests came up negative.
QUESTION: But right now, anything that is coming now and anything that's come in since you had this incident is piling up at the remote facility.
FLEISCHER: That's correct. And to be precise, whether it's physically inside that remote facility or if it's moved to another remote facility, I don't have that literal bit of information. But there's no reason to think that people have stopped sending letters.
QUESTION: Do you know how much money has been raised by that project?
FLEISCHER: No. We did not get a dollar amount.
QUESTION: How many letters do you think...
FLEISCHER: The last count I had is the figure that the president announced when he visited the Red Cross, which I recall was something like a 160,000 or 180,000 pieces of correspondence.
QUESTION: On another subject, what is the president's response to Israel's partial pullout of Palestinian territory?
FLEISCHER: The president believes that Israel's partial pullout is a positive step. The president continues to urge Israel to lower tensions, withdraw its forces from all Palestinian-controlled areas and to exercise restraint. Also, the president continues to call on Chairman Arafat to make 100 percent effort to reduce the violence in the Middle East and to bring to justice those responsible for the assassination of Minister Zeevi.
QUESTION: Would the administration support a Security Council move to make a statement on the situation in the Middle East calling on Israel to pull out and also calling on Arafat to arrest the terrorists?
FLEISCHER: I have had no discussion on that point, so I'm not able to address that.
QUESTION: In terms of the president's conversation this morning with Crown Prince Abdullah, was it about the articles that the president said were inaccurate?
FLEISCHER: Well, there has been a suggestion that Saudi Arabia is not acting as a good partner with the United States, and the president could not more strongly disagree. The president is pleased with the cooperation that he is getting from Saudi officials, and that's why I conveyed what I conveyed on behalf of the president.
QUESTION: But isn't it true that they haven't fully stepped up to the plate and that's causing some frustration among the people who are trying to carry out this operation? It's not offering the United States all of the options it would have liked to have had?
FLEISCHER: Well, when you say "fully stepped up to the plate," I'm not sure how to interpret that. As has been said repeatedly by the president, different nations are going to cooperate in different ways. Some nations are going to cooperate militarily. Other nations are going to cooperate diplomatically. The president is pleased that everything that has been requested of Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia has worked with us productively on.
QUESTION: Let me ask you one other question on that front. Was the subject of bin Talal's $10 million brought up at all?
FLEISCHER: I can only share with you the information I have. That was my read-out from the National Security Council on the meeting.
QUESTION: What was the president's response to bin Talal's statements after giving the $10 million to Mayor Giuliani?
FLEISCHER: That's not a topic that I brought up with the president, so I couldn't share.
QUESTION: You don't know if he thought bin Talal was...
FLEISCHER: No, I think that was a matter between him and Mayor Giuliani, and I have not heard the president comment on it.
QUESTION: Does the president believe that Saudi Arabia is doing everything it can in Saudi Arabia to find members of the Al Qaeda cells or any other terrorists, not just what they're doing to help with the...
FLEISCHER: I'd just repeat to you what I said at the top of the briefing, that the president is satisfied with the actions Saudi Arabia is taking on all things we've asked.
QUESTION: Governor Ridge said information was shared with the Hill and with others about the potential lethality of the Daschle anthrax. Yet very different steps were taken: those on the Hill, swabbed and given Cipro very quickly; postal workers were not.
In reviewing this, is the president in any way displeased with even the sharing of information or the actions taken in these two episodes? And last night, was there a discussion about improving both the flow of information and speed of actions to protect people who might be threatened?
FLEISCHER: The president is satisfied with the cooperation, with the actions taken, with the collegial way the agencies are working together to fight this war, both on an international front and here at home.
The president always knows there's room for improvement. And that's one of the reasons he's brought Governor Ridge aboard is to work with all the various agencies, to make sure that they're coordinating, make sure that they're doing everything they can. Imagine, if you will, how many agencies are involved; there's a real need to have somebody to work closely with each of the agencies to make every effort to make sure that all information is shared. It was a topic discussed last night. People did talk about information sharing. And I think you'll see the government continue to make every effort possible to share information among agencies to continue the cooperation.
QUESTION: Did the lack of sharing...
FLEISCHER: I'm going to keep moving.
QUESTION: Given that, if all the agencies are sharing information with Governor Ridge and he is the one voice now, when he says he doesn't know what countries are capable of doing what with respect to this anthrax, are we to take that that he doesn't know or that the administration is saying no one in our government knows the answer?
FLEISCHER: No. I think he made it very plain that this information that everybody would like to know depends on subsequent tests, subsequent investigations. He's not saying he doesn't know and he's not going to tell anybody. I mean, he made it very plain: The ability to determine that information is determined...
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) a government.
FLEISCHER: He's speaking for everybody involved. He gets his information based on the scientists who review the tests, who review the analysis.
And the meeting last night, the purpose of it was to review the various analyses and tests that have been done, to bring the scientists and the federal officials together at the same table, so everybody could contribute to their knowledge to what the tests show, what the analysis shows and therefore Governor Ridge could then come out this morning and inform the American people.
QUESTION: I wonder if you could clarify something from the earlier part of the briefing. Is it true, in fact, that there was a difference in the electrostatic charge between the two samples of anthrax, the Daschle sample and the earlier samples? And if so, does that partially account for the fact that the Daschle sample is more easily airborne than the...
FLEISCHER: As you heard him say, there was not sufficient material left behind at NBC or at Boca Raton to conduct a test of that nature.
QUESTION: Well, with the Daschle sample, was there a difference in the electrostatic charge? Was it...
FLEISCHER: I'd have to ask some of the scientists that and try to get back to you on that. I'd be happy to.
QUESTION: Anthrax was discovered in post offices prior to the Brentwood postal workers getting sick. Someone had become -- at least one person had become sick with the skin form of anthrax before the Brentwood incident. Why then is the president satisfied with how that was handled with regard to that facility?
FLEISCHER: For the same reasons I've been saying for the last three days since everybody's been asking that question and as Governor Ridge just indicated. The decisions that were made were based on all the case science that were known up to this point. With each new case of case science, the government and everybody in our country will continue to learn more and react accordingly. That's why.
QUESTION: But people were infected. People were actually infected at other post offices before. So why weren't precautionary steps taken at a post office which is known to handle mail that goes to the Capitol?
FLEISCHER: Because they moved backward down the stream as quickly as they could developing where it came from. And as Secretary Thompson has said, if this were to happen again, they're going to move quicker to the post offices. Let's hope it never does happen again. But the reason was because that was the protocol as established by the previous cases of anthrax.
QUESTION: They didn't know right away then after the letter was received in Daschle's office? What you're saying is that people didn't know right away that that mail could have come from Brentwood? Is that what you're saying?
FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, what happened at Brentwood was not repeated at post offices across the country -- in the previous cases of Boca Raton and NBC.
QUESTION: Two on Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Does the White House agree with Secretary Rumsfeld's assessment that bin Laden might not be caught? And also, do you have any update on the stories that the Taliban might have been poisoning the food that was dropped from the United States?
FLEISCHER: The Defense Department has information that would lead them to that judgment, that it is possible -- for the United States. I'm sorry, I thought you said the Taliban for the food for the Afghan people. That's a separate issue, and the secretary -- the Defense Department has addressed that issue, suggesting it is possible that the Afghani people will be poisoned as a result of the Taliban seizure of food that's going to Afghanistan. I'm not aware of any information about that and the United States. That's different topic.
QUESTION: Not the food that was dropped, but the food that's come in through the trucks, you're saying...
FLEISCHER: It could be both. Any food that is American food that is sent to the people of Afghanistan, if it goes through the Taliban on its way to the people of Afghanistan, the Defense Department has indicated, there may be a risk to the people of Afghanistan.
FLEISCHER: And on the question there, how did you phrase it? How did you attribute what Secretary Rumsfeld said?
QUESTION: Only by the interview that he said it might be impossible to capture bin Laden.
FLEISCHER: Yes. Because there was a front-page news story today that had a headline that was totally unreflective of what the secretary said. The headline claimed the secretary said something that the secretary did not say.
What the secretary said, and let me read you his words, in an interview yesterday with USA Today:
"Question: The president said that one of his goals was to get bin Laden, dead or alive. Are you confident that you will achieve that goal?"
That was the question to Secretary Rumsfeld. Here's his answer. The secretary said, "Well, it is a very difficult thing to do. It's a big world. There are lots of countries. He's got a lot of money. He's got a lot of people who support him. And I just don't know whether we'll be successful. Clearly, it would be highly desirable to find him and stop him and his key people, and there are a lot of them. We're not looking for one person, we're looking for a whole crowd, and that's our intent and our intention. How can anyone know what the outcome is going to be until you get there?"
So I think the secretary is stating something that's fairly obvious. You don't know what the outcome is until you get there. But he's also stating it is the desire, the intention of the government -- and clearly, if you look at the actions the Department of Defense is taking, it is the desire of the government to do just what the president said, as executed by the Department of Defense.
So I don't see any difference.
QUESTION: Can you describe a little bit more about the meeting last night? And you said that it was brought up that there was a lack of communication or a lack of information flow. What are you guys going to do differently? How's the CDC going to get information from the FBI? What's going on in terms of what changes would be made?
FLEISCHER: I don't believe I said that there was a lack of. I think what I said it was discussed how to continue to share information. And that's an ongoing process for all the government.
But as I indicated, there is satisfaction at the highest levels about the manner in which it's being done. But there's always going to be room for agencies to continue to talk to each other. There are numerous conference calls, they're meetings like last night. One of the reasons the governor called the meeting is that he's on various calls, as he receives his information from individuals, it's a very productive thing to bring all these people together at one table. I wouldn't be surprised if the governor does that again.
So there's a series of actions in conference calls that are interagency where people get information and share information. And that'll continue to take place.
QUESTION: One of the reasons that the president and Governor Ridge had to have the meeting with lawmakers yesterday, and I assume that you're having a meeting today, is because there's concern that this office is not coordinating things or is not able to coordinate things as well as it should. So are you concerned about that, that you still have lawmakers...
FLEISCHER: No actually the concerns of the lawmakers were much more on paper concerns. They were concerned about -- and they all had various proposals that they offered on in legislation about creating a Cabinet-level office of homeland security, for example -- ideas that they've had even before the president announced Governor Ridge as a director.
I would simply refer you to the people who came for the meeting yesterday. And I think they'll be able to best address whether they still have those same concerns they had prior to the naming of Governor Ridge, now that they've heard the president speak directly about how the office is operating, how much authority Governor Ridge has. Also, the members expressed this clearly in the meeting yesterday, how much confidence they have, regardless of party, in Tom Ridge.
QUESTION: And that is, in fact, the purpose of today's meeting as well, right?
FLEISCHER: Same purpose today, because this meeting this afternoon was supposed to place yesterday, but it was canceled because of votes.
QUESTION: And are you confident now that you will not have to worry about somebody on the Hill trying to push through a bill over, say, the next couple of weeks?
FLEISCHER: I don't know that I'd say we're confident. The president will keep his eye on developments on the Hill. He's going to continue to talk to members. The members have various ideas. It's important to listen to the members. And I think we'll have to watch how it plays out.
We put out the list yesterday, the people who spoke with the president; who met with him. We'll do it again today. You might want to follow up with the people who came here. They're the best judges of whether or not they're going to seek to push any legislation. The president has clearly stated to them he does not think it's necessary.
QUESTION: Ari, I wonder if you could tell us if the president is at all frustrated that this investigation isn't moving more quickly -- the domestic investigation, and if there's any concern in the White House that if it drags on that peoples' concerns may outweigh their support for this whole operation.
FLEISCHER: Well, let me tell you exactly what the president thinks. The president places the blame full square on the terrorists who are sending anthrax to American citizens; whoever is behind this the president knows are the people who are to blame. And the president is satisfied that the United States government is dedicating every resource it has to finding these people, to bringing these murderers to justice and to stopping this from happening. And the president is satisfied with the actions the government is taking.
He will always continue to push the government to do more, to be vigilant and to remind the American people to be on alert. But the president places the blame full square on the terrorists responsible.
And the president has also said that he believes the actions taken by the federal government have saved lives. If you look at how quickly the federal government has moved in the cases of where the anthrax has been received to immediately get help to the people affected, whether it was at NBC, whether it was on the Hill, whether the other entities up in New York, the president regrets very much that anybody has lost a life, whether it as Mr. Stevens, who was the first person whose life was lost in Florida or whether it was the postal workers at Brentwood. He is very concerned and shares the grief with the families.
But the president has full faith and confidence that the government is doing everything it can, and he holds only one group to blame.
QUESTION: Ari, has the president been given any kind of time line about these additional tests, that is, that we'll know maybe in a week or 10 days where this came from?
FLEISCHER: No, the president has not said anything about that. The president understands that this needs to be done well and done right. And that's why you heard Governor Ridge say tests will be done and that's also the protocol you'll see from the government. As we have information to share, it will be shared. As things are inclusive, we will tell you it's inclusive and there's nothing to base anything on other than hypotheticals.
QUESTION: Can you tell us more about the tests at the mail facility; the mail splitter, the additional tests? How many of them came up negative? How many there were? Can you, kind of, broaden what you said this morning?
FLEISCHER: What happens typically on these type of tests is there's something called a fast ticket, which is a very fast way to measure for the presence of anthrax and it very often leads to false reports -- either false positives or false negatives. The most reliable tests are culture tests and culture tests take time. That's where they place a sample in what I believe is a Petri dish or put it under a microscope and then they analyze it to see what grows. That's a period of time to determine whether it grows. That is the most reliable test.
That test was taken by the Secret Service. That test came back conclusively positive. That is that it came back conclusively positive showing trace amounts of anthrax on the slitter. I've said that repeatedly. There's no change in that. It's trace amounts. QUESTION: Ari, there have been any number of reports today quoting the administration officials as saying, "We haven't handled this right."
FLEISCHER: That we have what? I can't hear you.
QUESTION: "We haven't handled this right, the domestic problems, the anthrax problems." Granted that the president is satisfied with what public health people are doing, does the White House feel it has handled this situation properly?
FLEISCHER: I really have nothing to say to people who don't use names. There are unnamed people who are saying things. Obviously, if they thought they were right, they'd put their name to it. The president has put his name to it. He is satisfied that the government is taking all actions.
Thank you. Thank you.
BROWN: White House spokesman Ari Fleischer in the second round of a White House briefing that began with Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge. And then Mr. Fleischer came back to the podium.
Just reviewing a couple of things here: One is, formally now, the government concedes that the letter -- the anthrax in the letter that was sent to Tom Daschle, Senator Daschle, was -- quote -- "concentrated, pure," and that the anthrax itself was smaller, making it easier to inhale. That has been written about, spoken about here in the last week. The government now acknowledges that.
On the anthrax received by the "New York Post," it was different, more coarse, less concentrated, therefore less dangerous, less likely to be inhaled -- still highly dangerous and highly concentrated, according to Governor Ridge. Governor Ridge says, on the question of whether it is weaponized or not weaponized -- which has been kicked around for two weeks -- he says it is clear it was intended to use it as a weapon. And beyond that, that term, "weaponize," doesn't have much meaning.
Governor Ridge also said we need to do better job of communicating. This has been a source of considerable concern at the White House. There was a meeting that extended well past 10:00 last night that Governor Ridge was involved in, trying -- according to our White House people -- trying to get a simple, confident, accurate message out every single day to try and speak with one voice. This has been a problem. And that's what took up a lot of the back end of the briefing with Ari Fleischer -- Mr. Fleischer saying the president places all the blame for what is going on now with the terrorists. He is satisfied the government is doing everything it can.
That's a paraphrase -- the president, at least, not willing to be drawn in, as you would expect, to this backbiting that has gone on in Washington for the last couple of days, some of it generated by reporters, certainly -- a lot of it being generated by postal workers, who feel they were treated less well than members of the congressional staff as the situation unfolded at Brentwood and other postal facilities in Washington -- and the White House saying on the record, publicly, that the president is satisfied.
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