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Investigators Check Different Types, Locations of Anthrax

Aired October 17, 2001 - 12:11   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: If you add ABC, NBC, the Daschle office along with the Florida office, and now the office of Governor Pataki, we are heading up to maybe five, half a dozen places -- perhaps I am leaving something out -- so investigators are looking at an anthrax in a number of different places, and they are looking at apparently different types of anthrax.

Our Susan Candiotti has been talking with these investigators. Susan, it seems to me that one of the important things that is emerging, that we are learning now, is the different quality of the anthrax that they are finding.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is it. And that is why they are most intrigued by what they found in Senator Daschle's office. Of all of the anthrax cases that have turned up so far, the anthrax found in the letter to Senator Daschle is currently the most intriguing. Investigative sources call it very potent, very virulent, and say because it is so sophisticated, it may have come from an overseas source.

There are very few countries who have the capability to do this kind of research, the capacity to do it. A government source says Russia has the experience, so does Iraq. But it remains unconfirmed at this time where the strain originated. Sources say it may even have been acquired here in the U.S. and copycated.

Today on Capitol Hill Tommy Thompson discussed the use of anthrax as biological weapon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOMMY THOMSON, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: There are other countries that have used anthrax and tried to use it as a weapon and they are the ones that have manufactured and milled it into a weapon's grade. And that, of course, is the most dangerous part. But this anthrax that we have right now, We are still doing research on it. We do not know the exact strains or where it comes from.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CANDIOTTI: No clear link as been established between the anthrax found in Senator Daschle's letter and the one sent to NBC's Tom Brokaw. The secretary who opened it is being treated for exposure. However, the Justice Department says the two letters are similar because of handwriting found on both. Both postmarked in Trenton, New Jersey, both contained threatening messages and included references to Allah.

The strain involved in Florida, that was discovered on a computer keyboard as well as in the mail room of America Media. According to FBI chemists that appears to be different. That is being called a natural strain that been around for years. It is being tested at the CDC. And sources say it does not appear to have been weaponized.

Also today in Florida, as scheduled, 300 employees at AMI are being tested a second time. That is part of the protocol to make sure they have not been exposed to anthrax. Only three cases there, Robert Stephens, the photo editor who died, Earnesto Blanco, who was hospitalized and recovering from inhalation anthrax, and a female employee who is being treated with antibiotics for exposure.

And so nailing down the strains, where they came from, who is disbursing then, that is the main question as well as, Judy, trying to figure out who might be behind some of these hoaxes that the FBI has been investigating and admittedly it is taxing their resources.

WOODRUFF: And we want to mention, and before I do I want to say we are still waiting for a news conference with Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. And also, we are told, George Pataki about to talk to reporters.

While we are waiting for that, Susan, two things, I want to throw in, there have been reports, and we know now that people at Planned Parenthood, that a number of abortion clinics around the country have received threatening letters and suspicious material in the letters being tested. There is a question about whether any of that may be anthrax.

But what I want to come back to is this more refined, concentrated form of anthrax. How many people in the United States are authorities telling you are capable of making something...

CANDIOTTI: Not very many. That is one of the main things, naturally, they are focusing on to figure out. There aren't that many people who have that capacity and who have done that research. Certainly the military has worked on it but the question is, if in fact it turns out that it originated here, could it have been stolen from here?

Could someone have picked it up somewhere from a commercial laboratory, let's say, when it was available at that time, and then duplicated it in sort of a homemade laboratory? All unanswered questions.

But I do want to answer about the Planned Parenthood. We did get information not long ago that they have tested -- at least one of those suspicious packages or letters, and it turned out to be negative. So far we have no confirmed cases of exposure as far as we know.

WOODRUFF: And Susan, on the form that has showed up at Senator Daschle's office -- are the officials you are talking to, are they surprised that this form is showing up? It seemed to me we were hearing the anthrax in Florida, the anthrax at NBC, we were hearing authorities telling us, both on camera and off, that this was a somewhat cruder form, that it could be done in multiple different ways and places, but it is the Daschle form, if we want to call it that, that is worrying...

CANDIOTTI: Well, let me put it to you this way. I know when I was discussing this recently with one government official, one government source, this gave them pause. It is making them sit up and take notice. And, in fact, they described it this way, one of them called it, "This is really good stuff."

WOODRUFF: Susan, I am going to interrupt you because House Speaker Dennis Hastert talking to reporters. Let's listen -- I am sorry, it is not Dennis Hastert. It is Dick Armey. Let's listen -- and he just finished.

We know that the house had said earlier that it would be going out of session and closing up shop very shortly. We also know that the Senate has said that it will stay in business and that they are trying to confine this investigation to the Hart Senate office building that is across Constitution Avenue, which is across the street from the Capitol building.

Susan, are the people you are talking to, the folks that have been dealing with these issues, are they having to get up to speed themselves? How many of these people have been dealing on a regular basis with some of these questions about bioterrorism?

CANDIOTTI: Certainly not everyone who is involved in the investigation, but at least the FBI certainly has all kinds of experts they can turn to, their own biochemists who have worked on this and so they do have their own in-house experts as well as going to others they could turn to in other locations including overseas.

WOODRUFF: All right, Susan Candiotti who has been following the investigative trail for us. We will continue to wait for Senator Daschle, for Governor Pataki.

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