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Anthrax: Capitol Hill Strain Identical to Army Stocks; Ridge Acknowledges Problems in Homeland Security

Aired December 17, 2001 - 13:27   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 CORRESPONDENT: At the White House today -- sorry about that. At the White House today, the Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters that it is increasingly looking as if the source of the anthrax that was mailed to Senators Daschle and -- and Leahy is a domestic source.

And for more on -- on that story, and other -- the rest of conversation she had with the chief of homeland security, our own Jeanne Meserve joins us now. And you talked to Tom Ridge this morning?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I did, and -- and he said that initially, because of the timing, he thought this anthrax was of foreign derivation. But he now has come to believe that probably is of domestic manufacture.

The anthrax contamination, believe or not, closed the Hart Senate Office Building two months ago to the day. It is still shut. Today, a fumigation using chlorine dioxide gas was completed in an effort to clear the ventilation, heating and air conditioning systems of anthrax spores. Test results that will gauge the success of that fumigation won't be back for a week.

Meanwhile, "The Washington Post" is reporting that DNA fingerprinting has shown that the anthrax mailed to Capitol Hill is identical to stocks maintained by the U.S. Army Ft. Deitrick, Maryland. I asked Governor Ridge about the significance of those genetic findings. He said they may be of some value, but not as much as some people may believe. Officials at Ft. Deitrick concur, pointing out that they got the strain from the Agriculture Department, which gave it to a number of research labs.

The FBI is also examining whether the anthrax is linked to some used by the CIA. The CIA says it is not. That all of their stocks are accounted for. But the FBI only found out in recent weeks about the CIA's work with anthrax, according to "The Washington Post."

I asked Governor Ridge if the FBI should have known earlier?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. TOM RIDGE, OFFICE OF HOMELAND SECURITY: One of the things that the president has commissioned me to do with this executive order, is make sure that the -- the gap, or delay in information sharing no longer exists as we combat this war on terror.

MESERVE: But does this indicate that the gap still exist?

RIDGE: Well, I think it indicates that I've got some work to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: One of the other topics Governor Ridge discussed, the security of chemical facilities in the United States. Ridge said there is risk that terrorists, instead of developing and importing chemical weapons, could sabotage one of the country's thousands of chemical facilities. And he said there is a real need to harden those targets, to reduce their vulnerability.

But there are no federal safety standards for chemical facilities. I asked Ridge if they were needed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RIDGE: What has happened is that because of the terrorist attacks, the companies themselves and the private security community has obviously upgraded, but, to date, we don't have any standard. But in 21st Century America, we're going to have to have a standard.

MESERVE: Any idea what that standard will look like?

RIDGE: Not at this point.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: Ridge also commented on reports that ammunitions and gun sales have skyrocketed since September 11th. He said the acquisition of a firearm might give an individual or a family a greater a greater sense of comfort. But, he said, that is not the antidote to 21st century terrorist attacks.

What is needed, Ridge says, is better intelligence, more intelligence sharing. Those things are the things that will deter and prevent future attacks. Judy.

WOODRUFF: Jeanne, did he identify what they believe to be the main threat? Or are they even willing to do that?

MESERVE: Well, you know, other people have done some speculating on this. We've heard Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson say that what he fears is that terrorists will do something to the food supply. Others have said they're worried about nuclear power plants. Some others have said that they're worried about a smallpox outbreak.

I asked Governor Ridge, pointedly, "What is the greatest threat?" And he said the threat "is all around." The threat is the uncertainty. The fear that there's going to be another attack. But he wouldn't be pinned down in any specific area.

WOODRUFF: Well, I suppose you could say that's reassuring, but then it's maybe not so reassuring.

MESERVE: Perhaps it means threats are all around.

WOODRUFF: Which is what he said. All right. Jeanne Meserve. Thanks very much. Appreciate it.

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