One anthrax case in NYC; tests in Nevada inconclusive
Cheney: Terrorism 'reasonable' assumption
NEW YORK (CNN) -- As a woman who works at NBC is being treated for skin-based anthrax, health officials in New York and Reno, Nevada, are awaiting Saturday test results in two other cases of suspicious envelopes that may have been exposed to the disease.
In Reno, the second test of an envelope was negative after an initial test came back positive, officials said Friday night.
"It's now probably not anthrax. We will not know for certain until tomorrow morning," said Washoe County, Nevada, District Health Officer Barbara Hunt.
She also said false positives are possible, but that Saturday's results "will give us our final answer."
New York authorities are testing a white powder that sprinkled on a reporter for The New York Times Friday morning when she opened an envelope containing the substance. It smelled like talcum powder, the newspaper said.
New York Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis told CNN that "authorities have begun a series of tests on the substance, which to date have come back negative."
The reporter, Judith Miller, who has written books on biological weapons and the Middle East, where she was posted for several years, showed no ill effects from the incident, another spokeswoman said. Nobody is known to have been infected at the paper.
Anthrax linked to 'threatening letter'
A female staffer for NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw developed a skin infection diagnosed as anthrax after she who opened a "threatening letter" addressed to the newsman, authorities said Friday.
A source close to the investigation said the letter threatened attacks against several American cities. The nature of the attacks threatened could not be learned.
NBC said the 38-year-old woman -- described by Brokaw in his broadcast Friday night as "a rock" of the operation, is in good condition and is expected to recover. Brokaw could barely contain his outrage at the incident while on the air. "But this is so unfair and so outrageous and so maddening it's beyond my ability to express it in socially acceptable terms. So, we'll just reserve out throughts and our prayers for our friend and her family."
Brokaw and 200 newsroom employees will be tested for anthrax exposure and be put on a regimen of antibiotics as a precaution, a network spokeswoman said. Mayor Rudy Giuliani said at least 25 people at The New York Times also were being tested and given the antibiotic as a precaution.
CBS News and ABC in New York closed down their mailrooms as a precaution, as did CNN in Atlanta, Georgia. CBS also said all buildings of Viacom, which owns CBS, closed their mailrooms. The substance in the NBC envelope was tested twice by the FBI and once by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It tested negative each time, officials said.
The infection "may have occurred when an envelope was opened on September 25, 2001, that may have contained material contaminated with the spore-form of anthrax," the CDCP said in a statement. "The employee developed a skin infection and was seen by an infectious disease specialist who suspected cutaneous anthrax."
U.S. House gets closed-door briefing
The FBI said that envelope and a similar one containing a powdery substance received by the New York Times both were postmarked from St. Petersburg, Florida, and had similar handwriting. Earlier, the bureau said there was no evidence linking these cases to another case in Florida in which three people were exposed and one died.
"The Federal Bureau of Investigation has launched a separate criminal investigation ... in the New York City case," said Attorney General John Ashcroft. "The bureau is working closely with the CDC the New York City Health Department and with postal inspectors. The source of the anthrax is being investigated but has not has not been located." Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said "we have no proof whatsoever" that this latest case is connected to terrorist activity.
But Vice President Dick Cheney, in an interview on the PBS "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, noted that the terrorist manuals associated with fugitive Osama bin Laden instruct his followers on "how to deploy these kinds of substances."
Members of the U.S. House of Representatives received a closed-door briefing Friday to address concerns about bioterrorism. The briefing was requested after members heard reports about the additional anthrax cases in New York, according tocongressional aides.
Reno case's Malaysia link
The Nevada Division of Emergency Management said Microsoft Licensing Inc., which handles licensing of Microsoft software, received a letter that had originally been sent from the company in Reno to Malaysia -- a country where there are known cells of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network -- and then was returned to the Reno office.
Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn told CNN the letter included a check. When it was returned, it contained the check and pornographic materials, Guinn said. He said there was no powder in the letter when it was returned, but that it looked like it had been damp and then dried out.
Hunt said there was no powder or residue on the letter.
"We believe that the person who handled the envelope is at a low risk for infection even if it turns out to be anthrax," she said.
State health officials are testing the employee who handled the envelope and "a very few" others who came in proximity to it.
Other reports spark concern
Other incidents prompted fears of other anthrax cases around the country Friday:
--- In Washington, the State Department told employees there appeared to be no cause for concern after a white powder was found in an office that deals with congressional correspondence. A State Department official told CNN the area had been secured and no evacuations were considered necessary.
--- FBI and hazardous materials squads were also dispatched to the State Department's Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, Virginia, on Friday to investigate another suspicious substance, a State Department official told CNN. This official said that State Department security, the FBI counter-terrorism team and the Arlington Fire Department were called after a white powdery substance was found.
--- In Colorado, a suburban Denver hospital reopened Friday afternoon when officials determined four postal workers who were exposed to a powder posed no threat to others.
--- In an apparently unrelated case, a senior state department official told CNN that Defense Department teams found evidence of anthrax on a routine search of Soviet-era scientific research facilities in Kazakhstan. The search was part of an ongoing program to help reduce the threat of weapons of mass destruction in regions of the former Soviet Union.
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