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Richard Boucher Delivers Press Briefing from the State Department

Aired October 29, 2001 - 13:43   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We are going to go directly to the State Department. Spokesman Richard Boucher talking about the finding of anthrax in the mail room and more. Let's listen.


QUESTION: You covered a lot of ground. Could you kindly just spin back to the rewards program? I'm a little confused. Is that an office here in the building or is it across the street?

RICHARD BOUCHER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: It's in Columbia Plaza, I think. It's a diplomatic security office known as state annex 3. Is it Columbia Plaza?

(UNKNOWN): 24th Street.

BOUCHER: Oh, across the other street. Sorry.

QUESTION: Where is it?

BOUCHER: Next to the drugstore, I'm told.

QUESTION: Oh, oh, I see. Now, the contamination was found in the mail that went there?

BOUCHER: The contamination was found in a mail bundle that went there straight from the Brentwood Post Office. As you know, these other places receive mail from Brentwood to Sterling, Virginia, and then to the State Department.

QUESTION: That was the other one.

BOUCHER: This one gets it straight from Brentwood, and there was some contamination found there.

QUESTION: Two things: You say it was found in the bundles. Does that mean that it was found actually in an envelop or it might have been on the outside of an envelop or do you not know yet? And the second question is that you say that you tested 155 samples at 15 or so locations, and that three samples tested positive.

QUESTION: What does that mean? Is that an actual place in the building that's tested positive, or is that a desk or a... BOUCHER: Three samples from two locations in the building, two different mailrooms. One of the mailrooms, two of the samples tested positive, and one of the mailrooms, one of the samples tested positive.

QUESTION: What's a sample? Is that an envelope, or is that a piece of machine (inaudible)

BOUCHER: I don't know if it's a cotton swab or something on a desk or a piece of machinery, or an air sample that they test. We have not located a piece of mail. These are all contamination inside a bag, for example, in a diplomatic pouch or this other mail bag or inside a room without identifying any specific piece of mail or letter that might contain anthrax.

QUESTION: OK. So it'd be incorrect to say that a letter that was mailed to the Rewards for Justice program has...

BOUCHER: That would be incorrect. At least -- that's not -- no.

QUESTION: So the spores were just found in the bag generally, not necessarily attached to one specific...

BOUCHER: We've not identified any particular piece of mail. OK.

QUESTION: How many locations?

BOUCHER: It would be a large number of locations because we have six or -- well, no -- it's going to be -- it's about 10 locations outside this building in various annexes.

BOUCHER: There are six, seven or eight in this building that are mail rooms. There may be more than that as we get to anywhere where bulk mail is processed. And then we've got 240 embassies and consulates overseas and presumably we'll be proceeding to clean the mail rooms up in those places as well.

All our mail rooms have been closed off. Mail distribution has been shut down. So it's all locked off and it won't be opened up until it's cleaned up.

QUESTION: Can you say where in the building those mail rooms were that tested positive?

BOUCHER: No, I don't think I can.

QUESTION: OK. Was it related in any way to the incident where there was the suspicious substance found in congressional correspondence or any of the other quote/unquote "suspicious"...

BOUCHER: Not that I'm aware of, but I'd have to double-check on that correspondence between the locations.

QUESTION: As far as this protocol is concerned, are you going to have regular testing of the air filtration or ventilation systems? I mean, it hasn't reached the ventilation system at this point. BOUCHER: No. We've tested the ventilation system and found it was not spreading through the ventilation system, so there's no indication that it would have gotten beyond the mail rooms. The mail rooms are now closed off. They'll be cleaned up before they reopen again.

QUESTION: May I just follow up? Are you testing the offices surrounding, even if they're not mail rooms, obviously surrounding the mail rooms?

BOUCHER: The rooms themselves are closed off. OK? And we have not found it spreading to surrounding areas. Now obviously as we go through this with the Center for Disease Control and the Environmental Protection Agency, they will develop a protocol, a procedure for cleanup and they will decide how much, how deep, how wide you need to clean in order to be sure that it's safe.

QUESTION: Has the fact that you've actually found mail in an office led you to put any more employees on Cipro that aren't mail personnel?

BOUCHER: The mail in an office is a pretty wide expression. We haven't...

QUESTION: I'm sorry...

BOUCHER: ... any particular mail.

QUESTION: ... I'm talking about the rewards -- was the mail for the rewards office? It didn't actually make it to their office; it was just addressed to them?

BOUCHER: It was a bag of mail that was delivered to that facility.


BOUCHER: No, I don't know that it was in their office. It was at the mailroom at the SAP facility, as far as I know. I'll double- check that.

QUESTION: Well, then, I'll just make it a more general question. Have any other employees that aren't mail related personnel been put on Cipro, and what's the next step regarding protection of personnel inside this building?

BOUCHER: Well, I mean, there are several layers of this. First of all, all of these employees at the Sterling facility have been put on Cipro. All of the other employees that were handling bulk mail have been put on Cipro. Those other employees, their regimen is now being increased to 60 days to make absolutely sure they stay safe.


BOUCHER: Just slow down, OK. In addition, we are also now providing it, not just to people who work in those mailrooms, but people who pick up mail, who distribute mail around the building, anybody who works with bulk mail will get the antibiotics.

In addition to that, the medical facilities are available to all of our employees, and anyone who walks in and has concerns can sit down and talk to a medical professional and decide whether a course of antibiotics is appropriate for them.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) and some other agencies that special U.S. and Israeli forces are training jointly...


BOUCHER: OK, we'll finish with anthrax, and we'll come back to you.

QUESTION: You said three samples tested positive in two locations. Now, can we just go over this again. One of them was in the bag that went to the SA-3...

BOUCHER: No, this is an addition. Three samples at two locations in this building plus the bags tested positive at diplomatic security office plus a bag in Lima has tested positive.

QUESTION: OK. Right. Those locations, those were both mailrooms, those two places.

BOUCHER: Lima was...

QUESTION: No. No, the two places...

BOUCHER: Oh, the two places in this building...

QUESTION: ... tested...


BOUCHER: ... those were two mailrooms in this building.

QUESTION: This is a pretty massive shutdown. There's been a total shutdown of the mail from what you're describing. Could you address whether the State Department feels there's, you know, a risk that somewhere in that mountain of mail or something important that's not going to be dealt with, handled, addressed? Or is none of the mail...


BOUCHER: There may be a letter from you.

We answered this somewhat on Friday and tried to talk about it. We send, you know, maybe a million telegrams a year with a half a million to and from this building and an additional quantity between our embassies overseas. We sent many more e-mails than that. So one assumes that very important business gets handled -- daily business, urgent business -- gets handled that way.

In the pouch system, we have official correspondence -- packages, magazines, newsletters, official correspondence -- that might be packages. There may be things like visa stamps, although those would travel in the classified pouches. And then, in addition to that, there's a lot of personal mail for our employees, so I'm sure a lot of people are not getting their Mastercard bill on time. They'll have to work that out.

QUESTION: And classified traffic, paper traffic, is that not also being affected?

WOODRUFF: State Department spokesman Richard Boucher explaining that there are, as I understood it, now four different places or locations where they found positive tests or done positive tests for anthrax, two locations inside the State Department building itself, two different mail rooms.

Separately, a bag of mail that tested positive at what he called the Diplomatic Security Office, which I understood to be next door to the main State Department building. In addition, he said that a bag of mail destined for Lima, Peru, presumably for the U.S. embassy there, they did find traces of anthrax in that.

In all of this, though, Richard Boucher said they have not identified a particular piece of mail, an envelope, so they are talking about finding anthrax on, and he said, I don't know what, whether it was a desk or a piece of machinery in the case of the mail rooms but we do know that in the case of the mail on the way to Lima, it was on a bag.

And as you heard there at the very end they completely shut down the mail system at the State Department and are offering antibiotics to mail workers and anybody handling mail.




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