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FBI to Reenter AMI Building

Aired August 26, 2002 - 10:22   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: We are now going to go live down to Florida where we are going to hear from the FBI on the anthrax investigation.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

HECTOR PESQUERA, FBI: ... Chief Andrew Scott, Boca Raton Police Department, David Pecker, president and CEO of American Media, Inc., and Dr. Edwin Kilborn (ph) from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This morning, the FBI is reentering the AMI building to put in motion a comprehensive plan to collect additional evidence. The entry is being made in furtherance of the anthrax criminal investigation, and not to address any health issues.

The question I'm sure that is in everyone's mind is why. The reason is simple. The results of the evidence collection that was done last October were generally reported as either positive or negative for anthrax. Since then, we have developed techniques that will allow us to determine the quantity and the distribution of this force. At the FBI's request, the CDC will add their resources to insure that the operation's mission is achieved, and that it's done in a safe and timely manner.

The operation will take approximately two weeks. No one in South Florida has forgotten that Robert Stevens was the first victim of the anthrax attacks. We hope that the evidence collected during the course of this operation will help bring to justice the person or persons who committed this horrific act. I am going to allow my partners -- some of the partners at the table to make a brief presentation, and then I will try to take any and all questions that you all have. Dr. Rob (ph), help me please (ph).

DR. JOHN AGWUNOBI, FLORIDA SECRETARY OF HEALTH: Thank you, Hector. Good morning. My name is John Agwunobi, I am the secretary for the Florida Department of Health and state health officer. It is a pleasure to be here. I speak primarily to the people of Florida, as I say that I have had the good fortune of working very closely with the FBI, with the city of Boca Raton, and of course with the executive leadership of the AMI corporation.

The degree of communication and collaboration that has occurred is extremely gratifying and comforting. I have reviewed the plan, the protocol, and I believe that we can rest assured that this process, this investigation, as it proceeds, places no Floridian at risk. We don't believe that there is a public health threat posed by this ongoing investigation, and we are very pleased with the pains that have been taken to assure us and the people of Florida of that fact. I look forward to working closely with the FBI, with the AMI team, with the city of Boca Raton and of course, with the county, Palm Beach. And I thank you for this opportunity to participate.

STEVEN ABRAMS, MAYOR, BOCA RATON: Good morning everyone. Welcome back to Boca Raton. Thank you, Dr. Agwunobi. The city of Boca Raton appreciates the continued cooperation of the FBI in providing us with briefings and also meeting with the city to coordinate the reentry into the AMI building.

As mayor, let me say that the city welcomes the collection of additional evidence in the case, in the belief that this represents some measure of progress in the criminal investigation.

This episode has had a tremendous impact on AMI, on other businesses in the office park, and on our residents, and we look forward to a prompt conclusion of this entire matter. I have also had the opportunity to meet with the public health officials, and have been assured that the reentry into the building, has been planned so that it will be a safe and secure operation with no risk to the public. And again, I thank them for all of their efforts. The city's police department will be providing security during the operation, and on that point I will now turn the microphone over to our police chief, Andrew Scott.

ANDREW SCOTT, POLICE CHIEF, BOCA RATON: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.

I just want to emphasize the fact that this investigation is an ongoing criminal investigation conducted and overseen by the FBI. This particular entry into the building is nothing more than to augment and to enhance the ability to capture the individuals that were involved in this heinous crime. I want to insure the public, particularly the general public of Boca Raton and citizens, that in no way, shape or form is their safety in jeopardy, their health or anything of that nature simply because the reentry is occurring. That will be done proficiently, professionally, and without any further, perhaps, concern for the public.

I would also like to add that I can't thank the FBI special agent in charge Hector Pesquera for his unprecedented support, cooperation, and communication during this entire effort for the last ten months and in particular with the reentry of going into AMI again. We are greatly appreciative of that unprecedented communication and support. And lastly, I have to thank Mr. David Pecker. During the course of the last ten months, this building has been languishing and is pretty much a building that perhaps would be a scene from the twilight zone, and he has provided and cooperated with the Boca Raton Police Department to provide security for last ten months, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and to his cost, unfortunately, and I have to assure the public again that the totality of the building is secure, has been secure, and will continue to be secure for as long as the FBI needs to do its business.

DAVID PECKER, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN MEDIA: Thank you, Chief Scott. My name is David Pecker. I'm president of American Media. It has been a year -- a year of a nightmare for us and our employees, and specifically for the Stevens family. Maureen Stevens, it is almost a year that -- the anniversary of that horrific death and what has happened to us, and I want to thank Hector, all my colleagues here from the FBI. We will greatly cooperate in any matter formed for the criminal investigation to try to find out what has happened here -- thank you.

PESQUERA: OK. All understanding this is an ongoing criminal investigation, and we most certainly will not be able to entertain questions regarding the investigation. Nonetheless, any questions? Yes, sir.

QUESTION: What can you tell us about the new techniques? What do you mean by that? You never found the actual letters (UNINTELLIGIBLE) can you tell us about these new techniques?

PESQUERA: I will defer to Dr. Adams, that's some of his expertise here.

DR. DWIGHT ADAMS, FBI LAB SUPERVISOR: We have four main goals in reentering the AMI building. Number one, we hope to do a very comprehensive, detailed assessment of the spore contamination throughout the entire building. Number two, a very detailed assessment with regard to the mail room in particular. Both of these efforts are to generate new leads in the criminal investigation. Number three, we're looking for a dissemination device, such as a letter or letters. Again, to generate new leads for the investigation.

And finally, we are looking for large quantities of spores in order to chemically characterize those spores and compare them against the spores found in the Senator Leahy and Daschle letters.

The techniques and tools that were developed over the last few weeks have been developed in cooperation with our partners at CDC and the postal inspectors. Those tools and techniques will allow for thousands and thousands of samples to be taken that back in October, would have overwhelmed any public health laboratory in the state or the nation. But these new techniques will allow for not only qualitative sampling, but also quantitative sampling.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) is any of this related to any information that has been gathered in relation to Steven Hatfill?

PESQUERA: This has nothing to do with Mr. Hatfill. This is an ongoing criminal investigation, and this -- the entry is being made in furtherance of that criminal investigation.

QUESTION: Elliot Cohen of Channel 25 (ph) in West Palm. Can you tell us more about the dissemination device. Are looking to see if someone carried a letter through certain areas of the building. I mean, tell us what a dissemination device is.

PESQUERA: Back to the technical. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you will recall back during the letter that was sent to Senator Daschle, the Capitol Hill shut down its mail service, mail delivery, collected all that mail, and took it to an off site location.

We used techniques to allow us to find the letter to Senator Leahy, an intact letter with almost a gram of spores from anthrax. We're going to be utilizing those same techniques and technologies here in this building again to hope we pinpoint high concentrations of spores to lead us to a dissemination device presumed to be a letter or letters.

PESQUERA: You should remember last year when the entry was made, it was made for a different purpose. We had a person who had been exposed to anthrax, and at that point, it could have been potentially a public health issue, and that was addressed at that time, with the urgency that was addressed. So that and fact that that technique that Dr. Adams refers to was not available up this recent week is what prompts this reentry into the AMI building. Ma'am.

QUESTION: Rebecca Sharp with "USA Today." So, is this the only one of the sites where a letter has not been found thus far?

PESQUERA: This is the site where no letter has been found, no delivery vehicle has been found. Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: And you think there might still be a letter (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

PESQUERA: The possibility is there because at that time where we went in last October, we went under the auspices of what I told you before, and therefore -- although we tried to locate the letter, it was not as comprehensive. Neither did we have the technique that is now available. Now, of course, if we find a letter, the investigation will then kick on inasmuch as it will be compressed (ph), and et cetera. (ph). So far we cannot do. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Mr. Pesquera, Mark Potter with CNN. Can you tell us what the FBI believes it knows now about how the anthrax got into the AMI building, and also what you might know about the links to the letters in the Northeast. Can you review for us where you stand on those two questions right now?

PESQUERA: I can't go into the investigation, but suffice to say that there was no letter or no anthrax in that building prior to a particular date. All of a sudden, there is anthrax in the building. So there must be a vehicle that introduced the anthrax in that place. Other than that, I cannot comment any more.

QUESTION: Any reason to believe it is anything other than a letter?

PESQUERA: No, no. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), Miami. What is it like being inside that building? (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ten months (UNINTELLIGIBLE)? PECKER: For the last, I think Chief Scott said it was like a twilight zone. For the last ten months, when everybody left, there is coffee cups all over. The October 4 issues of the magazines are still pasted on the walls. If you go to the computers, on computer screen, you will still see the October 4 date. It is just like frozen in time. And, a matter of fact, a lot of people had their old photos of their families. All of that is still there, because when we all left -- when I left that building on Sunday night, which -- it was quarantined that following day, everything -- everybody thought that they would go back to work on Monday, so everything is still there. As a matter of fact, a few people had fish tanks, which obviously, if you peer through the window, the water is out, fish died, and things like that.

PESQUERA: Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). My question is, how many feds (ph) will be actually going inside the building, and how long (UNINTELLIGIBLE)? Or are we talking about hours? How many hours will it take?

PESQUERA: I don't think that there is a set amount of hours. They will be into that building as much time as they have to. It is all a matter of what the scientists on site determine that it is a cutoff day, and that is what it will be, but there is not a set timing to say that at some particular day or some particular time, they will come out of the building. It is a scientifically-driven operation, it is a law enforcement matter, but the scientists are in charge of the in and outs, and the protocol inside the building.

QUESTION: Exactly when will it start?

PESQUERA: It will start sometime this week. We cannot come up with a precise date. I would surmise -- doctor, correct me -- that by Wednesday, we should see some activity in the building. There is -- the protocol calls for a lot of steps to be taken prior to the entry, so that is how it is going to be done -- yes, sir.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Miami. Can you tell us if the FBI had ever linked the Boca Raton anthrax attack to the ones in the Capitol, the other ones that happened?

PESQUERA: Going back into an investigation which at this point I cannot comment, sorry -- yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that the level of questioning that he was put through reflected not only an expertise on anthrax, but also a lack of basic knowledge (UNINTELLIGIBLE). By doing this now, it seems, to a certain extent -- backs up what he was saying that perhaps knowledge of anthrax now that you lacked a few months ago, so that can be readily obtained by an expert.

PESQUERA: And?

QUESTION: Do you -- do you know more about anthrax now than you knew six months ago? PESQUERA: Oh, definitely we know more of anthrax now than what we knew last month.

QUESTION: Now, I am not going to make any assumption to Mr. Hatfill's comments. This has got nothing to do -- please understand, this has nothing to do with Mr. Hatfill and his case. This is something to do with the criminal investigation, and the entry is being made in furtherance of that. That means that I will not take any more Hatfill questions.

QUESTION: Can you -- OK, let's say you find an envelope -- a letter (UNINTELLIGIBLE) what are you going to do with it? (UNINTELLIGIBLE) fingerprints on the envelope, return address, walk us through -- what value is an envelope?

PESQUERA: I can't walk you through it because it will be walking you through the investigation. But I am confident that if a letter is found and the investigation and the scientists will be able to do what they need to do, and then link it or not link or do whatever they have to do.

QUESTION: But generally speaking -- generally speaking when you have an envelope -- I know there is DNA testing for the saliva. Can you speak generally, not this specific investigation, but what can be done with an envelope?

PESQUERA: It will be obvious that if we find a letter or a delivery mechanism to the building, a package, a letter, whatever it is, that it will be compared to the known sample. That is a no- brainer. Now, how and how will that method be accomplished, I'm not going to go into that -- yes, sir.

LIN: All right. That is the latest from the FBI investigation in Boca Raton, the FBI confirming that agents will reenter the American Media building where anthrax spores were detected last year after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States and what they are saying is the reason why agents are going back in for about a two week investigation is that they have developed scientific methods that will better enable them to detect spores as well as to analyze their size and their quality. They are looking specifically, though, for what they are calling a delivery mechanism, say a letter sent.

We teased it earlier about the Jennifer Lopez connection. Several media reports were indicating that a letter sent to Jennifer Lopez at the American Media building contained some sort of white powdery substance, and some other toys in the envelope. That is what some employees remembered at American Media. And so that is the J-Lo connection that we were waiting to hear from, but none of the reporters at the scene asked about that. But they are specifically looking for a letter that may have delivered the spores, and they believe they now have the technology to find large clusters of spores, so they feel a little more confident they may be able to find out what was the source of the anthrax spores, and how it dispersed from there. Honoring, obviously, the memory of Robert Stevens, one of the American Media photo editor -- employee at American Media who died from anthrax exposure in that building -- Leon. LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And you mentioned that Jennifer Lopez connection -- I have got a copy of that news report from the "Palm Beach Post," and they actually said there were two letters, the letter that they are looking for that had the white powder, and also had a Star of David on it as well.

Go figure. But that is what the newspaper is saying, that is not what the FBI had to say this morning. They would not get into specifics like that, but we do have with us right now, joining us -- rejoining us this morning, former FBI investigator Don Clark standing by in Houston -- what do you think about what you just heard right now?

What does this tell you about the state of the investigation, if they have to go back into the building right now?

DON CLARK, FORMER FBI INVESTIGATOR: Leon, I think what you just witnessed is a real good investigative progress on the part of the FBI and all those people involved. Keep in mind, this is totally unchartered waters for all of us in America and especially for law enforcement to have to deal with this type of an investigation. We viewed just this morning two complete diverse ways of collecting evidence. We've seen highly educated FBI agents out there digging with picks, and now we're going to see them dressed up in other types of gear trying to find little particles. So they obviously have developed some new techniques which has meant progress in the investigation, and now they are going to try to go back in there. The whole bottom line, though, is trying to find some evidence.

HARRIS: Yes, but if they have to use this new technique, does this tell you, then, this investigation pretty much is still at the same square one it was at ten months ago?

CLARK: Well, I suspect that they were not able to look at exactly what they have determined at this point. Whatever they may have collected months ago, having examined that, and again, working with scientists and other people to try and develop new techniques and to see if they can find anything else that can help them identify other types of elements involved in this crime is really what they are going back in there for at this point.

HARRIS: All right. The word is that if there was any J-Lo letter, those letters were incinerated. I mean, is there any way they could possibly be going back to look through that process, or the incineration as well?

CLARK: Leon -- and not being a scientist here, but I really think that they are going to look at every potential aspect, because who knows what takes place if something is incinerated. Maybe there is some residue of something that is left in that, and that is what you are going to see them with a very fine tooth comb trying to develop anything that could have possibly been left.

HARRIS: It just makes me wonder if they have been going through this building, and they have had ten months to do it with a fine tooth comb and all that, if they still haven't found a letter, why they think they can find a letter if they go back in this time?

CLARK: Again, I think it is maybe techniques. I think somebody may have come up with something that can give them an idea that if they look in a particular direction, and use a particular type of technique, that they may be able to bridge that gap to what they haven't come up with.

I always said, and you have heard me say it before, is that when you don't get what are you looking for in terms of evidence, you keep going back to the scene, because you can bet there is something there, it is just a matter of trying to find it.

HARRIS: Well, that is what your colleagues and your buddies are doing right now. We'll have to stand by and wait a few days to see what they find out.

CLARK: You bet.

HARRIS: Don Clark, thanks much. Appreciate it again.

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