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White House Officials Hold Briefing

Aired October 19, 2001 - 13:01   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: There's a White House briefing with Tom Ridge and others about to get under way.

As they come into the room, we expect Tom Ridge, who is the homeland defense point man, Tommy Thompson, Health and Human Services, others -- the administration trying to speak with one clear voice now after some days of struggling.

That's former Governor Ridge at the podium.

TOM RIDGE, DIRECTOR OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Well, good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's good to be with you again to give you another update on homeland security.

As I mentioned to you yesterday, the president wants us to continue to update the American people with as much factual information as we can, as often as we can. And so today the senior officials you see here will give you the latest updates from their various areas of responsibility. But before they brief, I want to update you on a few very specific items.

Later this afternoon, FEMA Director Joe Allbaugh and I will hold a conference call with our nation's governors to brief them on the latest federal efforts to protect our homeland. We are working closer than ever with our state and local governments.

And as I mentioned to a few yesterday, the president's assignment to me was to coordinate a national strategy, not a federal one; a national strategy meaning we've got to pull in our state and local counterparts as well to help us protect against threats and improve our ability to respond to them.

You can well appreciate that point of view, not only from the president of the United States, but the director of homeland security, having both seen in our own professional lives the importance of a strong state and local capacity to both prevent and respond.

We understand just how important it is that governors get the assistance they need, when they need it and how they need it.

This afternoon I plan to brief the governors with the latest information on our homeland security efforts. I also, and probably just as importantly, want to solicit their input on how we can strengthen our coordination at the federal, the state and the local level.

I will also let them know that we are announcing today that we have worked with Joe Allbaugh and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to establish a new homeland security support team that will serve as a central point of contact for governors and other state and local officials. This new team will complement the current and very successful public health network.

FEMA Director Joe Allbaugh is here with us today to give you more details on this new team. Director Allbaugh will also have some other announcements of new FEMA activities to help protect our homeland.

FEMA's new team is just one more example of how FEMA is doing a great job to meet their new and challenging mission.

FEMA will be called upon time and time again as we continue to improve our domestic security. FEMA had a 20th century role, very important role to respond to natural disasters and to prepare for the threat of natural disasters and to respond to them when they occurred.

The 21st century role of FEMA will be enhanced. And therefore, its abilities to both prevent and respond to manmade disasters will have to be enhanced as well. So we've got a new mission.

And frankly, one of my strong beliefs is that we will have to make FEMA an even bigger and stronger agency in the future to deal with its dual mission. FEMA has done a fantastic job of meeting their 20th century mission, and now we must help them prepare for their 21st century mission.

Let me update you on our efforts to support that mission. To date, we have released $2 billion to FEMA. Another nearly $5 million for FEMA is pending before Congress. We will also be providing -- and Director Allbaugh hopefully will spend a few moments explaining this to you -- but we're also going to provide over $500 million dollars -- $550 to be exact -- through FEMA in grants to state and local communities to help them identify and then strengthen their own needs back home.

We will also be giving an additional $296 million to Health and Human Services for that agency -- and Secretary Thompson is here, and ask him to share a few thoughts about that -- but for that agency to use for state and local grants for emergency preparedness. Again, not just training and equipment, we're trying to tie our local and state first responders and emergency management network to our federal system.

As I said, we are working hand in hand with local governments. The federal, state and local team is more coordinated than ever. Let me give you just one more example of that coordination.

During the past several days, have been in fairly frequent contact with Mayor Giuliani, Governor Bush, Governor Pataki.

My last conversation I had with Governor Pataki, he mentioned there was a Coast Guard cutter, the Tahoma, that was protecting the shores and some infrastructure. He asked if the Coast Guard cutter that was scheduled to leave on Friday -- its stay could be extended.

I want to thank Admiral Loy of the Coast Guard for responding so quickly to the request from the governor so the Coast Guard cutter will remain in New York longer.

That's just one example. And I suspect there will be many more that we can highlight over the days and weeks ahead.

I do think it highlights how closely we are working with state and local officials as we try to respond as quickly as possible to their needs. America's state and local officials are doing an extraordinary job of responding to their citizens' needs.

As the first to experience the anthrax situations, Florida's government and public health officials have responded well to difficult and extremely challenging circumstances. They responded immediately when a mysterious disease took the life of one of their citizens. They controlled the situation. They controlled the situation, and then they got immediate help to their citizens who needed treatment. They remained calm. They have been reassuring. Most importantly, they have been very, very effective.

Lately the American people are hearing a lot about potential anthrax threats, and our government is taking every step possible to protect them. Secretary Thompson and Surgeon General David Satcher are here today to give you the latest update with regard to our outstanding public health network, as well.

Every day the Office of Homeland Security is looking to enhance or improve our prevention capability and our response capability. Our borders and our ports of entry are tighter. Our airports and aircraft get progressively more secure. As reported today, Reagan National Airport is now expanding its flight operations to include more flights.

And our water supplies, power plants, dams and other critical infrastructures are being guarded and strengthened as well. Many of these new security measures are clearly visible, but many, many more are not.

Yesterday, EPA Administrator Whitman briefed the American people on the safety of their water systems. And today I've asked Linda Fisher, EPA's deputy administrator, to be here to answer any further questions you may have about our efforts to protect our nation's water supply.

Before I ask the individuals with me to step forward and give you a little more detail about what their respective agencies are doing to strengthen our homeland security, I want to bring you up to date with a conversation I had with the FBI Director Bob Mueller about the ongoing anthrax investigation.

The tests to date -- we finally have the anthrax strains from AMI in Florida, from the Brokaw letter in New York and the Daschle letter from here in Washington. The tests to date have concluded that the strains are indistinguishable. They are similar. The tests to date also have shown -- and it's a word that I put quotes around, term of art in our new language -- the tests have shown that these strains have not been, quote/unquote, "weaponized." That's what the latest report from FBI Director Robert Mueller.

So I want to ask FEMA Director Joe Allbaugh...

QUESTION: Can I ask you about that, Governor? You say they're indistinguishable; does that mean they are the same?

RIDGE: Similar. Yes. The tests to date -- perhaps, I'll let Dr. Satcher respond to that, but as Director Mueller said to me very precisely, the strains are indistinguishable.

QUESTION: All three?

RIDGE: All three -- AMI, New York, Brokaw letter, Daschle letter.

Why don't we get -- I'll be happy to get to the questions after I have these other three individuals spend a little time with you, OK. Thank you.



Good afternoon. At the governor's request, which was an outgrowth of a conversation he and I had on Tuesday afternoon, we have begun today operations of the Homeland Security Emergency Support Team at FEMA.

This will serve as the central coordination point for all consequence-management information. The Homeland Security Emergency Support Team will report to the governor's office with the latest information in a timely fashion, from all federal agencies, state and local governments.

As I said, we began operations at noon today at FEMA headquarters with representatives from the Departments of Defense, Justice, HHS, Veterans' Affairs, Energy, EPA, Corps of Engineers, United States Postal Service, United States Capitol Police, the D.C. Emergency Management Department.

This team will not be making public statements. Public announcements will continue to be made by Governor Ridge, his office, the White House and relevant agencies.

Additionally, we will be discussing with the nation's governors this afternoon better ways to coordinate state and local information with our information.

FEMA is currently working on a capability assessment plan for all 50 states. Starting next week, our teams will fan out to the 50 states to assess their ability to respond to an event and to assess where we think they should be and/or how they should get there.

We will be working shoulder to shoulder with you, Governor, and other federal agencies, Mr. Secretary, and the states to provide the best protection and response for the American people.

Thank you very much.

RIDGE: Always happy to work shoulder to shoulder, Joe, with you and FEMA. Always happy to do that.

Secretary Thompson? Tommy?

TOMMY THOMPSON, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Well, thank you so very much, Tom. I feel like I spent most of the evening with you last night. Ended up like 11:30, 11:45 last night talk to you.

And I certainly want to take this opportunity to congratulate my old friend Governor Ridge. I don't think President Bush could have picked a better person to head the Office of Homeland Security than Governor Ridge.

And I thank you very much for accepting it, Tom. It's important to note that the federal and the state and local governments are working extremely well together beginning September 11, including each of the cases of anthrax or anthrax exposure around the country.

Yesterday, Jeff Copeland, from CDC, and myself talked to the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association. The American Medical Association indicated to CDC and to Jeff Copeland that approximately 50,000 doctors and other medical personnel was on that teleconference.

The public health infrastructure, I want you to know full well, is responding extremely well to this threat.

Americans should rest assured in knowing that we are responding quickly and effectively both at the local and federal levels. Local health officials are doing an excellent job in some very difficult circumstances, and as I've reminded them during meetings in recent days, we will respond whenever they request, with personnel, with medication and expertise wherever and whenever it is needed.

As we have repeatedly said, we are prepared to respond to any case around the country. And we are responding, but we must do more, and we are doing more.

We have sent Congress a $1.5 billion package for my department's efforts to combat bioterrorism. Our proposal significantly enhances state and local preparedness while boosting our national pharmaceutical stock pile. The package also accelerates -- it increases production of the smallpox vaccine, strengthens the Health Alert Network and the early surveillance programs in coordination with state and local public health systems.

And I had a teleconference at 11 o'clock this morning with the nation's governors and their staff, and the state health departments. And they all complimented the president of the administration for supporting the improvement in the strengthening of the public health system.

We're also going to be strengthening the hospital preparedness across America -- more educational courses. And we're also, of course, going to be doing something about protecting and enhancing our inspections on food supply, strengthening state and federal laboratory capacity and technology. And we're going to add more epidemiologists who are trained by CDC and put them in state public health departments across America in order to be able to be the first-line defenders and those individuals that know more about infectious diseases. And improve our laboratory security.

Also today I would like to repeat a few key facts. Anthrax is not contagious. We have had thousands, and we have thousands of tests done, but so far, only six confirmed cases of the anthrax disease. We still have a couple of other cases that we are reviewing right now, but at the present time, there are only six confirmed cases of anthrax.

As a reminder there are two cases of inhalation anthrax of Florida at America Media, a 63-year-old man who passed away, and a 73- year-old man who is recovering and is being treated in antibiotics. In New York there are three cases at NBC, ABC and CBS. Each is being treated with antibiotics. And the sixth case confirmed by the CDC is a postal worker in Trenton, New Jersey, who also has been treated with antibiotics.

And finally today will the be the last day of congressional staff swab tests, and tests on all of the nasal swabs collected on Monday will be completed by the end of the day today. And testing also continues on the approximately 14,000 tests that have already been collected on Tuesday.

Preliminary results on about 600 have produced no new positives.

And I just spoke with the deputy surgeon general who I assigned to the Congress and has a got a full time office up there, who notified me that of the 31 people tested positive for exposure in Senator's Daschle's office, at least one has tested negative after further testing.

I also would like to introduce D.A. Henderson. He is the father of the eradication of smallpox and he is the head of my Science Advisory Committee and also is science adviser. And, of course, Surgeon General David Satcher is here.

I would also point out that of the two tests in Florida and New York which has been conducted by CDC, there are 30 items that are checked on the particular to make the comparison, and those 30 things have compared equally the same -- the 30 tests that are taken on the anthrax in Florida and New York. We have not finished our confirmation testing on the one from Fort Detrick.

RIDGE: It's my pleasure to introduce someone you already know -- one more guest, Surgeon General David Satcher. David? Doctor, excuse me.


I want to primarily support what Secretary Thompson has said. I want to just say just a word about tests, because I think there has been some confusion about the point in time in which we report on a test. For example, the initial nasal swabs that we report, and I think initially we reported 31 positive out of Senator Daschle's area, that number is probably going to end up to be less than that because the first test is a screening test, and as a rule screening tests are very sensitive. They are so sensitive until you do sometimes have false positives. And then follow-up tests may well turn out to be negative.

And that's what you want. You don't want the screening tests to miss anybody, so you want it to be exceptionally sensitive, and therefore you sometimes get false positives. You get people who appear to be positive who later on, with further testing after you've been able to grow the organism in culture, you will find that they are negative. And that's what we have here.

So each one of these tests as we go further reveals new information, and that will continue even -- I'm sure the tests at Fort Detrick are not complete, even though at this point, as you've heard, there is no evidence of differences in strain, certainly nothing that would imply any differences in responding to antibiotics. So we feel very comfortable with that.

But in terms of the specificity of the tests, as we move forward with DNA fingerprinting and things like that, there might be minor differences, but as the secretary said, to this point if you look at the Florida and New York strains, even after 31 tests they are identical.

But we are going to hear that maybe 31 were positive and then later on we found that some of those were, in fact, negative, because of the nature of the test.

The public health infrastructure takes very seriously the responsibility for early detection for investigation, for laboratory diagnosis and then for responding appropriately to the challenge. And that's what we've been trying to do.

And I think, so far, we should be very comfortable that the system has responded very well, in terms of getting epidemiologists on site to do those investigations, but also to deliver the antibiotics.

And the other thing that I think is worth repeating that we said yesterday: A negative nasal swab does not mean that people will not be put on antibiotics. What we are looking for is exposure. One can, in fact, be exposed to anthrax and be at risk if not put on antibiotics. And so, many of the people out of Senator Daschle's office who had negative nasal tests will, in fact, be continued for 60 days, because we have been able to demonstrate that there was, in fact, in that area, the anthrax bacteria. Thank you.

QUESTION: Can you explain to us what you mean when you say that it was not weaponized? Does that mean that the spores were not small enough to be inhaled? Does it mean that the anthrax wasn't produced in a factory-like setting? What does it mean?

RIDGE: The term as I think people have been using it relates to some kind of reduction in size and then coating with another substance that makes it easier to release with less energy.

And so far as they've been able to detect with all the tests they've run -- and they continue to run tests -- there's no results that would suggest that it has been, quote, "weaponized," unquote. I'm not -- that's not necessarily a scientific term or a medical term, but...

QUESTION: One follow-up, if I may. If that's the case and this is same or indistinguishable strain that appeared in Florida, in Florida you had two cases of inhaled anthrax. So somehow they managed to inhale it even though it's not...

RIDGE: Correct. And clearly you have -- and I'll let the surgeon general speak to that, if I might. As a matter of fact, I think that's exactly what I'll do.


SATCHER: Well, you can certainly have inhaled anthrax without having weaponized anthrax. And I think -- it just means that the -- when the agent is weaponized, as you're calling it, that means the likelihood of inhaling the exact sizes, and generally, ideally, somewhere around five microns. I mean, you think about the fact that a human hair is about 100 microns.

So a certain size of anthrax is much more efficient, in terms of infecting a person than clumps of spores, if you will. So it means that the risk of, in fact, getting infection would be greater, certainly if it's aerosolized and certainly if the sizes have been reduced that way.

QUESTION: So what is the size of the microns of the samples that you all have?

SATCHER: Well, there are various sizes. But I think what we're saying is that if they are, quote, "weaponized" they will be more of the optimal size for infection. But if they're not, then you're going to get clumps. That means, that depends on the number of spores in a clump, for example, in terms of the size and whether it easily gets into the alveoli of the lungs. Those are the issues, I think, that we are talking about.

QUESTION: The samples from New York and Florida were different sizes. And that's...

QUESTION: Are you any closer to knowing whether it came from a foreign source or domestic source?

RIDGE: Can't give you any information on that at all today.

QUESTION: Since they're all the same strain, does that mean they come from the same supply point?

And why are you so slow in finding the actual source? I mean, is it that difficult, really? Is it all New Jersey and so forth?

RIDGE: Well, I think, first of all, the process of...


RIDGE: Of course, we're moving as quickly as possible to identify, first of all, the strain to determine whether or not there's any characteristics that suggest it has been altered so that it would be easier to inhale and, therefore, to infect.

And if you've watched and seen what the Justice and FBI are doing, they've been able to trace back to try to find where the letters were mailed. So that investigation is ongoing. But I can't report anything to you on that.

But medically...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) think they all came from the same supply point? I mean, all these...

RIDGE: One could draw that conclusion. It does appear that it may have been from the same batch. But it may have been distributed to different individuals to infect and descend into different communities.


QUESTION: ... have these batches? Where would these be available?

RIDGE: Well, I can't answer that question. But I think that when the Justice and the FBI get done, they'll be able to do that. That's their goal.

QUESTION: Governor Ridge, question for you and a question for Secretary Thompson.

First of all, there's a lot of dispute of whether people at the airport in charge of security should be federalized or not. Big difference. A lot of people are saying they should be federalized, but there seems to be dispute between the White House and the Republicans in Congress with the Democrats.

How do you fall in this line? Are you for federalized or for keeping them the way they are with more training?

And for Secretary Thompson, there's a lot of talk out there about the Cipro and other antibiotics. A lot of people are saying Cipro -- one company has the patent. Should they be asked to allow generic drugs of Cipro so those will be available to the population?

RIDGE: My point of view, and I did express this yesterday, and hopefully it will be, perhaps, clear. I believe that the source of the paycheck isn't as important as the need for the federal government to set standards, so that, whomever the employer is, that the men and women who will take upon or given the assignment the task of providing security meet a standard of competency and training.

There's been a lot of discussions that, well, these people are barely paid above the minimum wage and they're not competent, they don't have adequate training.

My view about federalization, we'll let the Congress work it's will. Having been spent 12 years up there, I'm not surprised that one chamber has a different version than the other chamber; that's probably not news.

But I do think that the federal government has a role of saying from this day forward in the 21st century, if airline and airport security is critical to us, and it obviously is, then the federal government should set minimum guidelines and minimum standards.

QUESTION: How about the background check?

RIDGE: Well, that would be included. I mean, I do think there's a secure area, not just in terms of passengers but those who have access to the planes. There's an area around which the federal government should be able to set the standards, the regulations, require the background checks. And when I use the term "federalize," that's what I mean.

THOMPSON: First off, all of these strains are very sensitive to a lot of antibiotics -- Cipro, doxycycline and penicillin. And FDA just issued, and I announced it on Capitol Hill, that doxycycline and penicillin are as effective as ciprofloxacin is in order to treat anthrax poisoning. That's point number one.

Second point is that we have negotiated and are in the process of negotiating with all of these companies, generic companies as well, in regards to purchasing antibiotics, and to enhance the purchase going from two million individuals up to cover an additional 10 million or 12 million. And we're going to be purchasing generic drugs as well as some prescription drugs under ciprofloxacin.

Number three, some of the legal problems set out by our legal counsel and FDA under the law says that if we would go against the patent, we would still have to pay damages. And therefore, it may be more costly than going in and purchasing generics when you have other generic drugs that we can purchase, such as doxycycline, which are as effective as ciprofloxacin is in treating anthrax. And it is also put out by FDA that those are very effective, and CDC has confirmed that all of the anthrax are sensitive to these.

The fourth thing is we are negotiating a price, and I think you'll be very satisfied with that price once I get done. And the price may be very much in line with what the generics can. But those negotiations are going on.

QUESTION: Where did you get the 12 million figure? How did you arrive at that, beside that they're -- on what...


THOMPSON: We had a scientific review committee, composed of some scientists in CDC...

BROWN: Secretary Thompson continues this discussion. And we'll come back to it at some point.





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