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Anthrax Investigation: Investigators Open Leahy Letter

Aired December 6, 2001 - 14:57   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.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Some news now on that letter mailed back in October to Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, a letter supposedly containing enormously lethal amounts of anthrax.

Our Susan Candiotti is with us with some information. Susan, investigators finally today getting a closer look at its contents.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have been waiting for this word for the longest time and finally we got it from the FBI. They tell us that they have now finally were able to remove the letter from the envelope sent to Senator Patrick Leahy that contains that enormous amount of suspected anthrax.

This is the envelope that they have been spending more than two weeks on, trying to get ready to actually open up at a military lab at Fort Detrick, Maryland. A team of scientists working on this from the FBI, from the military and outsiders as well. They have removed the letter from inside this envelope. We got the word just a short time ago. And, as expected, the letter inside is an exact -- is a replica of the letter sent to Senator Tom Daschle, the Senate majority leader. Both envelopes looked exactly the same. And now we learn, as expected, that the letter inside both envelopes is also the same. That would mean that the message, which included, "We have anthrax, you die now. Are you afraid? Death to America. Death to Israel. Allah is great." The message inside both exactly the same.

Now, in terms of the results of the tests, we have nothing on that as yet. The scientists, as you know, just began yesterday to extract the suspected powder inside, which they believe to be anthrax. They are conducting a battery of tests on this substance and we don't have the results of what that is yet. But as soon as we get that, we will let you know about it.

Now, if you have access to a computer, the FBI is going to be posting shortly, if they haven't already, photographs not only of the Leahy envelope, which has already been on the site, but the letter as well. You will be able to get a look at it for yourself as well as photographs of the scientists actually removing the letter from the envelope. So, this is something we have not seen before and should provide some interesting insight into the procedure they have been working on, this letter they have had since November the 16th. And they have been spending a lot of time just to trying to work up the procedures for removing it from the envelope. This is the only one of the known letters that was received in its original state, that is to say unopened. And so this is the most amount of anthrax that they have had, Judy, to look at and to experiment with, to find out precisely what is inside. The idea, of course, of this is to be able to get to the source of anthrax. That's the hope.

WOODRUFF: Which explains all this care and elaborate detailed procedure they are going through, all explained by the fact that this is the first completely unopened letter and then the amount of it that they...

CANDIOTTI: That's right and they know from the past...

WOODRUFF: We just showed a picture. I really didn't get a look at it. Did you see it?

CANDIOTTI: I didn't get to either, but -- and I know in trying to remove the powder from the other envelopes, they have been very careful to hold on to as much of this as they can because the anthrax...

(CROSSTALK)

WOODRUFF: There you go...

CANDIOTTI: ... and they are seeing it for the first time. We know -- this was a setup, again, at Fort Detrick and they brought in new, sophisticated equipment.

WOODRUFF: What are they wearing?

CANDIOTTI: They are wearing, of course, protective gear because these are deadly spores that they are handling, and also, very easily able to escape into the air. So they are trying to preserve as much of this sample as possible. And, very intriguing, that's the first chance we have had to look at exactly what they are doing at this laboratory.

WOODRUFF: OK. I am told, Susan, I want to make a correction for our audience. I have just been told that that is actually an older picture from the Web site of the work done at Fort Detrick -- investigators. This is not from today. So, we don't want to mislead anybody about what we have seen. I don't know whether this is new or old, so again, I don't want to mislead our audience. This is another older picture. These are scenes of investigators working presumably with anthrax or some other dangerous substance.

CANDIOTTI: Well, we'll get back to them. At some point today, they did tell us they would show us photographs of the work they are doing, so perhaps that will come later on, or maybe this is all we're getting. We don't know yet.

WOODRUFF: Well, we will share -- if we do get anything, we will share it as soon as we can. Susan, thanks very much.

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