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Tom Ridge, Robert Mueller Hold Press Conference

Aired November 2, 2001 - 10:59   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.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Now to the White House and Tom Ridge.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY DIRECTOR: ... ongoing anthrax investigations, and to provide an update on our investigative and public health efforts.

Director Mueller will specifically discuss with you the status of the investigations that have been undertaken since September 11. Once again, I think it's very, very important to thank the thousands of Americans, both at the federal, state and local level who continue to work around the clock to meet the extraordinary challenges that have confronted this country since September 11.

Our law enforcement professionals and public and private health care providers have done an extraordinary job and they've made us all very proud with their efforts.

I would also like to give you a brief glimpse into my week as director of homeland security to help illustrate how we have begun our work to respond to the president's directive that we create a blueprint for a safer America.

As you know, the president led our week by establishing a foreign terrorist tracking task force, a recommendation from the Homeland Security Office, where we will fuse information from the INS and FBI and State Department, and it'll be housed in the Attorney General's Office.

And we are consolidating our intelligence databases, strengthening our immigration policies to keep terrorists and their supporters out of this country, tightening restrictions on student visas and also working with our friends in Canada and Mexico to improve border security, enhance and facilitate commerce and to try to bring a greater harmony to some of our immigration and customs policies.

As the president regularly meets with the National Security Council, he now regularly meets with the Homeland Security Council. On Tuesday, I met with Democrat and Republican congressional leaders at their policy luncheons, and I appeared before the House Democratic Caucus on Wednesday. My daily discussions with members of Congress have focused on both the war at home today. Obviously, a great concern is to where we devote some resources in short term, but also talking with them both individually and collectively about long-term plans as we work with them to create that blueprint for a safer America.

I've had private discussions with the leaders of our airlines industry to discuss mutual safety and economic concerns.

I was certainly encouraged by the discussions we've had and I had earlier this week with leaders of the pharmaceutical industry, who pledged to share, if needed, to share their facilities, their products and their scientific genius to help meet America's needs.

I had a very productive meeting with the Washington mayor, Tony Williams. We discussed the resource challenges he is facing with the anthrax attack. We also discussed several public safety planning initiatives, which we look forward to working with the mayor and his staff on.

I met with the Australian foreign minister this week, as I have met with Canadian, German officials in recent weeks, as well. We obviously share mutual interests. And I'm very, very encouraged, both personally and professionally, by the international attention to our homeland protection initiatives.

Yesterday I met with leaders of local law enforcement at the state, the county and the local level. Obviously they're part of the front line of public safety. They're very much, today and for all time, a significant part of the homeland security structure that we are developing.

And I'm certainly pleased to report that their spirit of partisanship, their desire to be engaged, desire to work with federal officials, as we go about combating the terrorist threats that confront us today and may appear in the future, is sincere, it's intense. They're on the job 24/7. I mean, you can well imagine, as someone charged with developing a national plan for homeland security, the one group of people we have 365/24/7 in our neighborhoods, on our streets, in our communities, are local law enforcement community.

And obviously, their integration into what we do and the information we receive at the national level is very critical to them to being able to effectively be that first line of defense.

I'm certainly most grateful to Secretary Rumsfeld and Secretary of the Army White for their decision. We work with them to keep National Guard troops stationed on our northern border up there to help the good men and women of Customs.

As you can well imagine, there are five or six major points of ingress and egress from Canada to the United States. We're going to continue to beef up the men and women there charged with security. And it's critical that we devote the attention and the resources, given the extraordinary level of commerce that flows between these two allies and friends and neighbors. I'd ask Director Mueller to share a few thoughts with you. Then the four of us will be available for questioning.

ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: Thank you, Governor. And good morning.

I want to update you on the FBI's growing efforts to track down those responsible for the biological attacks on America, and also to ask for your help in generating new leads from the citizens of our country.

In concert with many state, local and federal partners, we are moving aggressively to investigate the 16 confirmed cases of anthrax, as well as to investigate every contaminated site. We are pursuing more than 1,000 leads, including more than a 100 that have taken us overseas. We have conducted more than 2,000 interviews to date in that investigation. We are deploying every available resource in that investigation.

I will tell you that our combined anthrax and hijacking investigation -- the hijackings relating to September 11 -- are being worked by in excess of 7,000 FBI agents and support personnel around the country and indeed around the world.

With regard to the anthrax investigation, we have heavy concentrations of agents and support personnel working in Miami, New York, Newark and in the Washington field offices.

Despite speculation about the possible source of the anthrax and the motive for the attacks, nothing yet has been ruled out, and investigators continue to follow the evidence wherever it may lead.

We are currently looking closely at the recent fatality in New York of Ms. Nguyen to see what that might tell us, but it is still too early to draw any conclusions.

Since September 11, the American people have been an important set of eyes and ears in our investigations -- both our investigation of the terrorist hijackings and our investigation into the anthrax attacks.

Through our Internet site and our toll-free hotline, we have contributed -- they have contributed more than 170,000 potential leads and tips, which our agents and support personnel are pursuing.

That 170,000 is but 40 percent of the 420,000 total leads that have been generated in our investigations since September 11.

Over the past month, a number of private citizens and businesses have provided us with information, support and expertise. And that is helping to move the anthrax investigation forward, and we greatly appreciate all of those contributions.

I will say that we had hoped that the $1 million reward announced by the FBI and the U.S. Postal Service on October 18 would encourage many more of our fellow citizens to step forward with important information. And so far, we have not received as many tips or leads under that program as we would like.

And so, today, I'm calling on all of you in the news organizations to basically speak for us, to ask our fellow citizens to join us in trying to bring leads to the front that will help us solve both the anthrax investigation but also solve the September 11 hijacking investigations.

I want to reiterated that we -- there is a $1 million reward, and I also want to reiterate our toll-free telephone number and our Internet address for any of you or others out there who have leads that we should be following. The hotline number is 1-800-CRIMETV. That is 1-800-C-R-I-M-E-T-V. I see some of you smiling; it's easy to remember. 1-800-CRIMETV. And the Internet Web site is www.ifccfbi.gov.

QUESTION: Director Mueller?

MUELLER: I'm not done yet.

(LAUGHTER)

MUELLER: If I might just have a second, sorry.

I want to follow up by urging, in the strongest terms possible, every America to join us in tracking down those responsible for using anthrax to murder Americans.

We ask you throughout the country to report any suspicious behavior that involves the United States mails or individuals knowledgeable about anthrax. I also ask you to study closely the images of the anthrax envelopes which we released last month that many of your publications had in them, and we also put that on our Web site -- to look at those images and determine if you know who was the writer of those envelopes. And by that, I mean comparing the handwriting on it to any handwriting that you may be able to recognize.

Finally, I want to say a few words about law enforcement cooperation. I was at the International Association of Chiefs of Police last Sunday and Monday and had an opportunity to talk to a number of my fellow brothers and sisters in law enforcement. I want to say to them and to you that the FBI is taking concrete steps to improve the level of cooperation and information-sharing with state and local law enforcement. We are dedicating a senior FBI official to address concerns that were raised in the course of my discussions at the IACP, and we are going to establish an advisory group made up of state and local authorities, as well as FBI representatives, to identify issues and resolutions to those issues. I have urged state and local leaders to contact me and other FBI officials if there appears to be any gap in that coordination.

Finally, we in the FBI realize that the general threat warning that was issued last Monday was frustrating to many law enforcement officials. However, as we work to prevent future acts of terrorism, we believe in the FBI, and I believe in the Homeland Defense Office, that we have a responsibility to keep everybody informed, even when the level of information may not be as specific as any of us would like. By issuing the warnings, we are sending a strong signal to terrorists that we are focused, prepared and united in our determination to keep them from attacking our freedom.

And finally, I want to thank all our partners throughout law enforcement, the intelligence community and the public health communities for their unwavering commitment and support since September 11, whether it be with regard to the attacks of September 11 or the more recent anthrax attacks.

QUESTION: Given the fact, Director Mueller, that the threat advisory on the Western suspension bridges apparently contained the suggestion that it not be shared with the media, could Governor Davis' release of it have jeopardized investigations?

MUELLER: We put out that warning as a -- to law enforcement with the expectation that it would go to the senior officials in any particular state. And with regard to what that senior official does, that is up to that senior official in the state.

QUESTION: Even though you were advised not to share it?

QUESTION: Director, on the -- a couple of points on the Nguyen case in New York. Are you investigating or tracking other cases that may overlap her infection and therefore provide more guidance to investigators?

And secondly, you talked about all the leads, all the interviews. Are you in any better position to tell the American people who's behind this anthrax, specifically the letter to Senator Daschle?

MUELLER: Well, let me address the -- with regard to Mrs. Nguyen, we, along cooperatively with the New York authorities, with Mayor Giuliani, with the New York police operating out of our joint task force that has been operating for a number of years, are investigating every lead.

We are exploring all those who knew Mrs. Nguyen. We have jointly been in to -- as I think the mayor has already indicated to you -- have been in to explore whether or not there were any anthrax spores found in her apartment or found at work. And to date, that has been negative.

So we are trying to reconstruct her life to determine whether there are any leads that would help us determine how she contracted the anthrax.

With regard to the status of the investigations, the investigations into September 11 is moving along, it's moving apace, both here and internationally. As I have indicated before, one of the initial responsibilities of that investigation was to determine who the hijackers were.

We, at this point, definitely know the 19 hijackers who were responsible for that catastrophe. We have spread the investigation in the United States -- spread out in the United States, as well as overseas, in following up leads. And we have been successful in working with our foreign counterparts in identifying places where the conspiracy, we believe, was hatched, as well as others who may have been involved in the conspiracy.

QUESTION: But I was asking specifically about the anthrax letter, sir. I was trying to get you to talk specifically about who would be capable of producing the kind of anthrax that has been sent through the mail, and where you believe this is happening. Is this someone doing it domestically...

MUELLER: I'll tell you that the three letters at issue -- the letter to NBC, the letter to the New York Post and the Daschle letter -- all were mailed from Trenton, which you all know. And we are pursuing every conceivable lead to determine who was responsible, who would be capable of developing that anthrax strain, as well as who would be responsible for utilizing that type of envelope and mailing those envelopes in Trenton.

QUESTION: Would you give us your perspective on what happened yesterday with this threat warning on suspension bridges in California, what might have been learned from what happened, and whether or not you're considering at all some kind of perhaps more regularized threat warning, sort of like the military does at some Threatcon level that would clue people in as to what level of alert they ought to be on?

RIDGE: One of the challenges for this office and for the country in creation of a national homeland security force is it's a federal government, and we have to deal with different levels of and different political jurisdictions. And so the integration of the federal data collection and information gathering, the state intelligence and information-sharing and the local is something that we have done in the past, but it's pretty clear that, given the events of September 11, how we go about approaching the new normalcy, how we go about dealing with this new environment has created some real challenges for us.

The information was sent out, and it noted that it was uncorroborated information.

I think we can safely assume that once we send out from the federal level to the state level and suggest that it remain within law enforcement, there's not too much that's kept secret once that kind of information is made available to somebody in the country. And the governor exercised his discretion, and made a judgment.

QUESTION: But you had made a judgment a couple of days earlier that if you sent it to law enforcement, it would get out anyway, so you released that.

RIDGE: Remember one of the criticisms of the alert -- and everybody's trying to be constructive about this. I understand. I mean -- was that the alert that went out Monday, with the exception of a time frame, did not offer any additional information as to the location, the type of weapon and the like. This, although uncorroborated, targeted a time frame and a place. It was based on that information that, again, it was sent out to the law enforcement community.

Look, governors of all 50 states, since September 11 -- and I think it's very important to note this -- and their state police and their local police and their emergency responders have really upgraded dramatically the security enhancements at potentially vulnerable targets. Again, given the federal nature -- and each governor and each county executive in each region makes different assessments as to the best way they can harden those targets and the best way they can interdict or prevent a terrorist attack.

Obviously, Governor Davis though that one thing that he could do to enhance the security of people using those bridges was to make a public announcement. We did not encourage him to do so.

QUESTION: In light of that, though, Governor, are you going to have conversations, maybe, with other governors, lessons learned here, in terms of for future, but the best guidance? So what will your advice be?

RIDGE: Great question. We are learning every day. We're in constant conversation. Wednesday, I had four conversations with four governors. Yesterday, I think, I talked to two or three.

As we work our way through better coordination, better communication, we view every response to every single incident in the light of, what can we do differently, what can we do better?

America, post-September 11, is dramatically -- unfortunately, dramatically different that September 10. So we look at every one.

QUESTION: Governor, is it possible -- well, one, was this information that Governor Davis released to the public part of the unspecified information you alluded to earlier in the week?

And also, and a question for Director Mueller, could you give us a few more details about the overseas -- clues that have taken you overseas, like how much of this involving, maybe anthrax, like -- could you also speak to the anthrax letter that showed up at a paper in Pakistan?

RIDGE: That information came in on Thursday morning, and the appropriate agencies were going back to corroborate it. Remember, the statement went out that it was uncorroborated. And the FBI moved forward to go back, visit the source and make a further determination.

Bob?

MUELLER: Let me just say a little bit before I respond to your question, if I might, in terms of the contacts with governors and the distribution of information.

This is not the first time that we have had occasion to call a governor or pass information to a governor. It's happened on numerous occasions since September 11. In fact, before Governor Ridge was here -- down here, I had occasion to talk to the governor about a similar matter. And given the information -- the threat information, and what a governor can do to address a particular threat, different steps have been taken. So this is not unusual, what happened yesterday, in any way, shape or form.

Turning to your question in terms of the overseas investigation, with regard to September 11 hijackings, that is taking us well overseas. With regard to the anthrax investigation, that has been more localized -- more localized than the investigation into September 11. But that is not to say that there have not been leads that have taken us overseas.

QUESTION: A question for you, sir, and a question for the deputy postmaster general.

Yesterday there seems to have been, on September 11, from then on, we've had a lot of bipartisanship in Congress. But the vote yesterday was very partisan, on airport security, 218-214, while the Senate had voted 100 to nothing on their bill.

Now, this seems to bode that we will be having a fight and it will take longer time to get airport security. There was a major incident in New York last night, I believe, where a flight was delayed because security was missing.

RIDGE: There have been other occasions, not just in New York, where people on the ground have decided to delay flights or to divert flights because of the situations that occurred.

There might have been a bipartisan disagreement on to the extent -- on the House bill, but there's absolute bipartisan agreement that we need to upgrade the standards, we need higher competency, more training, better pay, to get men and women better equipped, along with the added technology, to get the job done at the airports. And we're convinced that it will be done.

QUESTION: I'd like to ask the FBI director, does this mean you're tilting more toward a domestic source?

RIDGE: I wouldn't say we're tilting -- on the anthrax, we're not tilting more to a domestic source. What we are doing is, the investigation expands from where we've got the current evidence. The current evidence puts us at mailboxes in Trenton where the three critical letters were mailed, and it expands beyond there.

And some of the leads may well take us overseas, but the thrust of the investigation is where those letters were mailed and trying to track back from those mailboxes to the individual who is responsible for putting those letters with the anthrax into those mailboxes in Trenton.

QUESTION: What are you asking the American people to do? Do you want us to alert them? They could do something. What are they supposed to do? RIDGE: There're two things. One if there are -- if you have persons around you that are suspicious in terms of -- if you see something out of the ordinary in terms of mail, the mail, or if you see -- look at the writing, the handwriting that was disposed both on the envelopes of the letters as well as the pages inside, and either the statements or the handwriting may be somehow familiar to you, somebody you may have seen -- you may have seen a letter like that, then we'd like to know that.

On the other hand, it may well be that there is somebody in the United States who is manufacturing the anthrax. We have not -- as I've said, we have not precluded any possibility. We have said it's domestic, we have not said it's international. We have not precluded any possibility. If you know that somebody is doing different things with anthrax than they should be -- and anthrax is studied in places in -- if you believe that persons are doing something with anthrax -- you may be in the medical profession, you may be in some other profession that has something to do with anthrax -- and is somewhat suspicious, we're asking you to let us know.

(CROSSTALK)

HEMMER: As we continue to monitor the White House, want to show you a very interesting picture, a live picture, from near the site of the former World Trade Center. The people you see on the ground there are firefighters, and apparently police officers as well. it was about two days ago when the mayor ordered a number of firefighters reduced to their number for those who had work around the site. At any given time there could have been 2,500 working through rubble there, but it's been reduced now to just a couple of dozen, both on the firefighter side and the police side.

And the concern here from a number of firefighters and police officers is that perhaps the cleanup would be expedited in a way that they would not give fair deference to the continued search for body parts and human remains. Firefighters lost 343 of their own, and the police department lost 23.

Of those numbers, it is said that only 21 -- or rather two police officers have been located thus far, indicating that 21 others are still missing. That is the -- that is the brunt of the argument here in Manhattan. And apparently they have taken to the streets to express their concerns about the cleanup project.

We'll watch that for you, but for now back to the White House and the homeland security briefing that continues there.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

JOHN NOLAN, DEPUTY POSTMASTER GENERAL: ... and again, they were searching for anything that related to first-day covers that had come back from Washington.

Nothing to do with mail, nothing to do with the receipt of mail by anybody, completely isolated and no further problem. RIDGE: Let me just add two other comments. One, you should know that the Center for Disease Control and the post office is developing an internal group within the post office to help detect and decontaminate. They just began -- CDC working with the Postal Service.

The other bit of information that I think is important, and maybe you can remind people who read or people who listen or people who watch, that the penalty for using the mail to perpetrate a hoax is 20 years. And we've had several thousand hoaxes that have had -- again, you put in the cluster of responsibilities the law enforcement community has following up on and responding to potential threats. A hoax can be punishable for up to 20 years in jail. We hope everybody knows that.

QUESTION: Given that the Kathy Nguyen case can't be linked to any other previous cases, in terms of how she contracted the anthrax, are public health officials worried that this may be the start of a new cluster of cases?

MITCH COHEN, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL: Well, I think it's very important to conduct as thorough an investigation, both epidemiologically, as well as criminal, to try to determine how that transmission occurred. There may be an explanation that could help us to understand.

But again, I think it just emphasizes the needs for people to be alert, as has been emphasized by some of the other speakers.

QUESTION: A number of states have beefed-up their security around nuclear power plants in the last few days, in part on your advice. Does the government have specific information that these plant may be targeted?

And also there's been a lot of speculation about the possibility of suitcase bombs, nuclear -- miniature nuclear bombs in the hands of terrorists. Is this a concern of the government?

RIDGE: I think one of the -- obviously, when we looked at targets nationally that are potentially vulnerable, one of the first places you would be looking would be to your nuclear facilities owned by both the Defense Department and the public in general. So it's understandable then, at a heightened alert, we'd certainly beef-up the security there.

Remember, the charge of the Homeland Security Office is to create a blueprint for safety that would include preventing and responding to a variety of attacks.

And unfortunately, all the literature and all the concern is chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear. I mean, there is a universe of potentials that we have to deal with. Unfortunately, in the business we're in, we have to deal with the "what if?"

But there's no -- don't read anything into the nuclear protection other than in a general heightened state of alert, looking at the vulnerability of these locations, we decided to heighten the security there.

QUESTION: Is the threat level today the same as the threat level you announced on Monday? Should Americans go into this weekend...

HEMMER: All right, again from the White House, the homeland security director Tom Ridge continues to talk; so does the FBI Director Robert Mueller. We'll pick out some of the highlights there in a moment.

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