Return to Transcripts main page
CNN Live Event/Special
Homeland Security Press Conference
Aired October 18, 2001 - 10:00 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.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Daryn, as we mentioned, Tom Ridge will be -- brief reporters in a matter of minutes and certainly there will be a number of questions given away there. he first time he has met with reporters Washington since signing on about ten days ago.
Kelly Wallace at the White House. Kelly Wallace, this morning, quick preview. Hey Kelly, good morning.
KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Bill, good morning to you.
We are told, Bill, this will be the first of what are likely to be periodic briefings by former Governor Ridge to talk to reporters about what this administration is doing when it comes to homeland security.
As you noted, Governor Ridge on the job, I think you noted, just about ten days, and obviously dealing with growing and mounting concerns about anthrax in the United States.
Now, we understand joining Governor Ridge today will be -- wide variety administration officials when it comes to counterterrorism efforts -- including FBI Director Robert Mueller, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Dr. David Satcher from the Surgeon General and his deputy surgeon general, as well as representatives from the Centers for Disease Control, and possibly the Department of Defense.
Again, the message really coming from this is, number one, introducing Governor Ridge to reporters, to the American people. He will be the administration's point man for, again, domestic counterterrorism efforts. Also, though, Bill, to sort of have the administration all sort of focused on the administration's message when it comes to dealing with issues such as anthrax.
I am told we're likely to get news from this event. My source would not reveal what that news would be, but we are expecting some new announcement, but again, Bill, this really an opportunity for Governor Ridge to go before reporters, take a series of questions. We're told it is something he will do on somewhat of a regular basis -- not a daily basis, though. Bill.
HEMMER: Alright, Kelly, thanks. Tom Ridge now.
TOM RIDGE, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Good morning. This briefing will be the first of many opportunities that we'll have to discuss homeland security and our government's response efforts.
The president has made it very clear that he wants to provide the American people as much accurate information as we can, as soon as we can. I intend to hold regular briefings with government experts and relevant officials.
Since September 11, our government has worked so well together, both the federal, state and local, public and private sectors. The American people can have confidence that their government is working around the clock to protect them. Our government is more coordinated than ever.
We want to use today's briefing to update Americans on the current anthrax situation. Attorney General Ashcroft and FBI Director Mueller will update you on their investigations and new additional efforts on the law enforcement front.
Also present is the surgeon general of the United States, Dr. David Satcher, and Dr. Mitch Cohen from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who will update you on their ongoing testing.
The deputy surgeon general is also with us today. He is working directly with the FBI and other key officials on the anthrax detection at the U.S. Capitol.
The postmaster general is here today as well when we brief the American people on ways to ensure the safety of their mail.
And finally, Major General Gerry Parker (ph) from the U.S. Army's Surgeon General's office is here to discuss the U.S. Army's medical research institute for infectious disease efforts to support the anthrax situation at the U.S. Capitol.
While the federal government is more coordinated than ever, we are also working hand in hand with state and local governments. We're in constant contact with doctors and healthcare professionals, law enforcement officials, governors, mayors, city council leaders and many others to determine ways to protect our homeland and respond to potential threats.
Later today, administration officials including myself will be briefing representatives from state, local and county governments. I will report their feedback to the president to ensure that we are serving their needs as effectively and as efficiently as possible.
Later today, Secretary Thompson, CDC and the surgeon general will also conduct a conference call with leading representatives of organizations that represent doctors and other healthcare professionals. We want to make absolutely certain we are getting important information on anthrax prevention and detection as quickly as possible to our healthcare experts all across this country.
Now, if I can, I'd like to take just a few moments to bring you up to date on the latest information on the anthrax situation. There's a great deal of speculation out there. There's obvious concern to most Americans -- all Americans. But instead of speculating, we'd like to focus on the facts.
RIDGE: First, thousands and thousands and thousands of people have been tested for anthrax exposure, and thousands of environmental samples have been taken as well. Yet, only five people have tested positive at this time for anthrax. I would tell you, we're in the process of confirming a sixth. We'll get back to you with details on that later. But today, as of now, we have only five out of those thousands that have been tested. For exposure, only five have actually had the disease.
Two of these cases have treated positive for inhalation anthrax. But one gentleman, unfortunately, passed away; the other is expected to make full recovery.
Doctors and medical professionals are receiving regular health alerts and have timely access to the information they need, again, to respond as quickly and as effectively as possible in order to take some time to review the latest facts from the different anthrax situations.
The only death at this point, as we all know, sadly, has happened in Florida, continue to say prayers for that family and everyone who's been involved in this situation there and around the country as well.
In Palm Beach County, one man has also been diagnosed with inhalational anthrax disease, but he's on antibiotics, and he is expected to recover. There's also been one confirmed case of exposure in Palm Beach County, however, she has recovered, and she has returned to work.
An NBC employee -- now we're going to New York -- an NBC employee has tested positive for cutaneous anthrax, but because of the quick diagnosis by her physician, she was placed on antibiotics and is expected to make a full recovery. No other cases at the NBC building have been reported. In fact, an intern who likely handled the suspicious letter has tested negative for anthrax.
After we learned of the NBC exposure, the federal government and the New York state and local officials immediately took preventive action to investigate other media outlets in New York. As you well know, regrettably, at ABC, a 7-month-old infant has test positive for cutaneous anthrax diseases. Our coordinated teams continue to investigate exactly how the child came into contact with the anthrax bacteria. But the child is also taking antibiotics, and the child is doing well. The ABC building is the focus of a rigorous investigation, and the New York City Health Department has reported no other individuals with symptoms of anthrax at the ABC building.
RIDGE: At CBS, an employee has tested positive for cutaneous anthrax. The assistant has been placed on antibiotics and is expected, again, to make a full recovery. I suspect you're familiar with the details of this individual, but she had, on October 1, noticed some swelling in her face, went to visit with her physician. , I think, on October 4, gave her penicillin. With all the activity with regard to anthrax, she checked himself in with the city's health department. Mayor Guiliani reports to me that she got cipro at that time, and she is doing very well. And they expect her to make a full recovery .
At Governor Pataki's office, out of prudence, the employees who work near a suspicious letter that may have been opened, has been placed on the antibiotics as precautionary measure until testing is completed. In all of these cases in New York, the federal government, CDC and the FBI continue to investigate to test and to treat those who may have been exposed.
And finally, Washington, D.C., currently over 3,000 nasal swabs have been taken -- over 3,000. And to be prudent, those tested have been offered antibiotics until the nasal samples are analyzed. A total of 31 individuals have tested preliminarily positive for possible exposure and will be evaluated further. Apparently, these 31 individuals, most of the time were confined or had their office or did their work on the 5th or 6th floor of the Hart Building.
As was announced yesterday, relevant federal agencies are working hand in hand with Congress to further examine areas in the Capitol complex to ensure the safety of the legislative branch and those who work in it.
Finally, in Nevada the final test results for Nevada are in from the CDC, and they are negative. However, additional samples are going to be taken to ensure there is no threat.
Now, before my colleagues brief you further, I want to remind all Americans that they can get the latest information in government web sites: The Center for Disease Control at www.cdc.gov, it's accessible. It's called Health Alert. There are questions and answers that really give every citizen an opportunity to learn for his or herself all they need to know about anthrax and about the work that's been going on with the CDC. The Department of Health and Human Services has anthrax tips, as well. And that site is www.hhs.gov, and, of course, the FBI, www.fbi.gov.
All of us, beginning with the president, appreciate the extraordinary patience of the American people during these extremely challenging times.
RIDGE: We will continue to hold regular briefings to ensure that the American people have as much information as possible, as soon as possible.
Now I'd like to turn the next segment of this briefing over to Attorney General John Ashcroft.
JOHN ASHCROFT, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Thank you, Governor.
The Justice Department and the FBI are working closely with Health and Human Services, CDC, the postal inspectors and Capitol Hill Police to investigate the anthrax cases around the country, in Florida, New York and in Washington, D.C.
We have two priorities: First, to use the information we have about these cases to do what we can to prevent further harm. Second, we are aggressively searching for the source of the bacteria and for the person or people responsible for the criminal acts of dispersing and sending these bacteria in the mail.
Unfortunately, this week, in addition to the continuing investigation into the September 11 attacks and the anthrax cases, the FBI and the United States attorneys have also been investigating numerous hoaxes. People who use this time in our country as an opportunity to compound the concern of Americans through hoaxes will pay a serious price because we intend to prosecute these offenses to the fullest extent of the law.
These acts are serious violations of the law and grotesque transgressions of the public trust. False terrorist threats tax the resources of an already overburdened enforcement system, and they also tax the public health system. They create illegitimate alarm in a time of legitimate concern. Terrorism hoaxes are not victimless crimes, but are the destructive acts of cowards.
Making a threat is a federal offense, even if the person making the threat doesn't have the intention or the ability to carry out the threat.
ASHCROFT: The law clearly prohibits the mailing of communications which, and I quote, "contain any threat to injure the person of the addressee or of another." This offense carries a penalty of up to five years in prison. The law also prohibits the threatened use of a biological toxin. This offense carries a penalty of up to life in prison and a potential for very serious fines. Individuals may also receive up to five years in prison for lying to law enforcement officials.
This week, we have already charged four people in connection with false anthrax threats and we are working with state and local officials to prosecute additional cases. Two individuals lied to federal authorities about their knowledge of or involvement with a hoax. Two others falsely threatened to use biological weapons of mass destruction.
Just yesterday, the United States attorney in Rhode Island charged William Sylvia (ph) of Portsmouth of mailing a threatening communication. According to an affidavit supporting the complaint, Sylvia (ph) last week mailed a letter to a person in Lincoln that purported to contain anthrax. It actually contained talcum powder, but the threat caused the recipient to call 911, triggering an emergency response and investigations by state and federal law enforcement.
The message is clear, anyone who participates in or perpetrates a false threat of anthrax or a false threat of another kind, will be prosecuted by federal, state, and local officials. We are working carefully with state and local officials in this respect. Many of our states have very serious and substantial legal frameworks to prosecute such individuals as well.
I want to thank the American people for their patience, their vigilance and their cooperation in all of these respects.
I'm pleased now to introduce the Director of the FBI Bob Mueller, and also the Postmaster General of the United States Jack Potter. Together, they are working very well to help Americans develop a sense of confidence in a system of mail and mail delivery which merits our confidence. And I'm grateful for the opportunity to introduce them at this time. ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: Thank you, General.
Good morning. Last week, I had the opportunity to attend Governor Ridge's swearing in and at that time, and later, to pledge the FBI's full support and cooperation with the work of his office. The task at hand is larger than any one agency. And the new office, headed by Governor Ridge, we believe can only help us at the FBI to better meet our critical counterterrorism mission.
MUELLER: And the bureau, the FBI will provide whatever resources, information and assistance the governor needs to fulfill his mission. Now, our participation in that mission will be a critical component in the information-sharing process not only at the federal level, but also with state and local authorities.
Now, in an average year the FBI handles approximately 250 assessments and responses involving chemical or biological agents or other weapons of mass destruction. Over the past 18 days alone, we've handled more than 3,300, including 2,500 involving suspected anthrax threats alone. As we've heard, one person has died from anthrax bacteria and a limited number of individuals have been exposed. But our nation is quite clearly and concerned.
I want you to know our investigators are hard at work, are hard at work in New York, in Florida, in New Jersey, in D.C. and throughout the country responding swiftly and fully to each and every request for assistance, but most particularly following up on each and every lead that could disclose the identity and provide the proof against those who are responsible for these anthrax attacks. We are treating every instance around the country as a serious crime.
We will not relent. We will pursue and bring to justice those who are responsible for these harmful acts. It is quite obvious and clear, however, that this is a collective effort with many agencies, not just those standing here today, but others, both in the federal government as well as with the state and locals. And the process must be seamless and comprehensive.
And also as the attorney general has previously mentioned, we are addressing anthrax hoaxes. And when we find such hoax, we will pursue the investigation and prosecute to the full extent of the law.
I want to finish this segment by saying, the FBI and all of its federal, state and local colleagues look forward to working with Governor Ridge and his office and to continue the close cooperation that we've seen, certainly since September 11 and most particularly with regard to these anthrax attacks.
MUELLER: Now let me discuss for a moment, if I might, another matter. We, in the FBI, are pleased this morning to join with Postmaster General Jack Potter to announce a reward of up to $1 million for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for terrorist acts of mailing anthrax. Now this reward continues the strong partnership between the FBI and the postal authorities in tracking down criminals who use our mail system to further their illegal deeds. And we are very pleased to contribute to this endeavor and once again call upon the public to assist us in this fight against terrorism.
Now let me, if I might, turn this over to Postmaster General Jack Potter. Thank you.
U.S. POSTMASTER GENERAL JACK POTTER: Good morning.
First of all, I would like to thank Governor Ridge for having me here today to represent the Postal Service, and I'd like to thank the FBI, the health officials from the federal government, and I'd also like to thank law enforcement officials and health officials throughout America for their support of the Postal Service throughout this effort and for their quick action to respond.
We are very happy to participate with our inspection service and the FBI in the effort to apprehend those who are responsible for these heinous acts. We are also very anxious and thank the attorney general for his efforts to go after those who would use the mail to make a hoax.
We have to be vigilant, and that's our message to the American public. When it comes to the use of mail, we're asking that people use common sense, and we are going to mail, within the next week, a postcard to everyone in America. This postcard outlines what they should be suspicious of in the mail, mail that does not have a return address and other things that are likely to occur in the mail.
The best defense that we have right now is an educated American public and educated worke force, both the employees of the Postal Service and those who work in mailrooms. And our message has been consistent, it's been very clear. If you receive something that's suspicious, we want you to isolate it, put it in a plastic bag, don't let other people touch it, don't shake it, don't taste it, don't sniff it.
POTTER: I mean, these are very common sense things that we're asking the American public to do, and then we're asking them to call law enforcement. And law enforcement agencies and local health officials, state and national health officials are all ready to get involved and respond to their needs.
In addition to that, the postal service is putting out a poster that will be issued to mailrooms throughout America, so that the folks in the mailrooms will know what to be on the lookout for. We also have information on our web site, www.usps.com.
My message to the American public is: Remain calm. Be vigilant. Be aware of what you get in the mail. And as the president has said, heightened awareness right now is what we're asking all of America to do. Yes, we believe the mail is safe. It's very safe if you're prudent and if you follow the simple directions that we're asking you to follow. Again, let me close by thanking Governor Ridge for having me here today and for allowing the Postal Service to participate in this effort. We're committed to homeland security.
And again, I want to thank local law enforcement officials and federal law enforcement and health officials for their support of the postal service.
RIDGE: Jack, I just want to publicly recognize the extraordinary work that you and the post office have done. The card that you're sending out to every single home, and just some good common sense practical suggestions that we want all Americans to be aware of and to take.
I've asked our Surgeon General, Dr. David Satcher to spend a little time with us this morning. Doctor?
DR. DAVID SATCHER, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Thank you very much, Governor Ridge.
We, too, are very pleased to join with you and with Attorney General Ashcroft and people from the Justice Department and the Postal Service in responding to this ongoing threat. I think you know that Secretary Thompson has pledged the full support of our department, including the Public Health Service, to you in defending the homeland security.
I want to make as few points about the Public Health Service. We believe that from a health perspective, the best defense against bioterrorism is a very strong public health infrastructure. And we believe that the public health infrastructure is responding very well to this threat. Americans should be reassured in knowing that we are responding quickly and effectively to cases of anthrax exposure and presumed exposure throughout the country.
SATCHER: We are delivering the appropriate medications to those who need it. And we're erring on the side of caution in making health care available to those who may have been exposed to anthrax spores. Let me say that the federal, state and local governments are working well together in terms of public health. The CDC is our lead agency in responding to this kind of threat. And the CDC in addition to providing epidemiologists to be involved in detecting and investigating and diagnosing cases is also supporting state and local health departments. The CDC help alert network now includes more than 80 state and local health departments and laboratories, and more are being developed.
I think we're doing well as a nation, and we need to stay the course. We need to continue to do those things that we know are effective. We have a very strong public health infrastructure, and it is getting stronger as it should. We need to make sure that people are informed as to what can be done to minimize risks. It is important to continue to point out that as serious as anthrax is as a disease, it is not contagious. And from a public health perspective, that is very good news. It's also important to point out that we have the ability, when we know that someone has been exposed to this bacteria, we have the ability to treat them with antibiotics and to prevent the development of the disease. And so what we are treating in many cases now, we're treating exposures. And by treating exposures, we are preventing the development of the disease.
The American people should know that we have plenty of antibiotics to get to those who need them. And we have the ability to deliver those antibiotics rapidly. Over the last three years, we have developed the stockpile at CDC. There are sites distributed throughout the country. There are agreements with vendors, manufacturers that can aid in getting antibiotics anywhere they are needed in a very short period of time, in a matter of hours. And we have demonstrated that in Florida, in New York and certainly in Washington, D.C.
The administration took steps this week to expand the antibiotic stockpile even further. We now have enough to serve 2 million people for up to 60 days, which is what is recommended when one has been exposed to anthrax. We have now taken steps to expand that so that we could in fact serve at least 12 million people with ciprofloxacin up to 60 days.
There is another very important point that needs to be made here. There's been so much attention given to the drug cipro. It's very important that everyone understands that cipro is not the only drug that we have in our (inaudible) to deal with this problem.
SATCHER: Several varieties of penicillin and tetracycline can also be used. FDA has, in fact, now taken the steps to label those drugs so that physicians will be very clear about the use of them.
But, in most cases, we try to start people who have an exposure on ciprofloxacin, and after a period of time, when we've been able to determine the sensitivities, we are able to move to other drugs.
Let me just say, I think despite all of the discussion and perhaps sometimes confusion about the nature of different organisms, for example, the discussion of Capitol Hill, I think what's really important to understand is that so far all of the strains that have been identified are sensitive to the antibiotics that we have. They're sensitive to ciprofloxacin and, in most cases, sensitive to penicillin and to tetracycline. So have not only the antibiotics that we've been describing in terms of ciprofloxacin, but we also have penicillin and various forms of tetracycline that can also be used, and we can deliver them.
We certainly do not recommend -- and I want to state this again -- we do not recommend that physicians prescribe ciprofloxacin and other antibiotics for anthrax when they are not needed. We do not believe that the treatment for anxiety in patients is to give them prescriptions. We believe the treatment is to really discuss this issue with them and to try to make them understand that we are able to respond, but to also understand that the harm that can be done if people hoard antibiotics, use them inappropriately so that we develop more resistant strains.
I just have to remind you that over the years the powerful drug penicillin has been severely weakened by inappropriate use, and so we don't want this to happen in this case. We need your cooperation. The public is a very important part of this public health approach, and so we hope that that will happen.
Today, between 4:00 o'clock and 6:00, the CDC, as Governor Ridge mentioned, will be holding a special conference for physicians and others on the front line. It's entitled, "What Clinicians Need To Know." That conference can be accessed on www.cdc.gov/phtn, and information will be provided for physicians and others on the front line.
But also, as Governor Ridge mentioned, it should be pointed out that on a very regular basis, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention makes information available for the general public. Health alert announcements that are provided, they can be accessed at www.cdc.gov.
But to keep all of this in perspective, we've had a lot of concern over the last few weeks, and I think it's appropriate, we've said that we think it's appropriate not only that the public health system be on high alert during this time in our history, but also that the public be on high alert. Now, what is the role of the public -- and it's not a new role.
SATCHER: There are certain things that we have said all along that people should do in the interest of the public health. We've talked about the importance of handwashing. We talked about the importance of carefully handled foreign objects or substances. And you've heard the postmaster general describe what we need to happen relative to the mail and CDC-issued guidelines in terms of handling envelopes, especially those that are not familiar and those that are unusual, in terms of their bulkiness or their odor or their stain or what have you.
But these are public health precautions, just like the thorough cooking of food, or if people are worried about the danger of anthrax in the food, then the best defense against that is to thoroughly cook foods. So the general public health guidelines apply as they have before.
We have announced before -- and I think the MMWR that is coming out today will still say that there have been four cases of anthrax disease, the two in Florida and the two in New York. However, CDC will be announcing today that we have confirmed a fifth case and that we're in the process of confirming a sixth case of anthrax disease.
Dr. Mitch Cohen who is here and who's head of the division of narcotic and bacteria diseases at the CDC will be here to discuss that.
Also, as you've heard, with us today is the deputy surgeon general, Dr. Ken Moritsugu, who has been detailed, assigned to Capitol Hill to work very closely with Congress. And he has certainly been very active in the last two days in dealing with the situation there, and will discuss that with you.
Again, I want to thank Governor Ridge for his leadership at this very important time in our history. And we look forward to working very closely with you.
DEPUTY SURGEON GENERAL KEN MORITSUGU: Good morning.
As Dr. Satcher mentioned, on Tuesday, Secretary Tommy Thompson assigned me to work together with the Senate leadership on Capitol Hill in coordinating both the assessment and the response to the anthrax incident that occurred on Monday morning.
CDC epidemiologists have been on site since Monday afternoon and have been evaluating the situation within the Senate. And based upon their evaluation of greater than 3,000 nasal swabs, there were only 31 nasal swabs that indicated an exposure to anthrax.
MORITSUGU: And for that reason, yesterday afternoon, the CDC epidemiologists recommended that there was no need for further nasal swab evaluation. That CDC had identified the area of exposure, and that area was on the fifth and the sixth floor, on the southeast wing of the Senate Hart building. And it was confined to individuals who either worked in or traveled through that area on Monday.
Furthermore, those individuals who had worked in or traveled through that area on Monday should be on 60 days of medication. There is continuing analysis and evaluation of that area as well as other areas of the Senate and the Capitol. And we will be recording as we get additional information.
RIDGE: Two quick observations, if I might, before I ask Dr. Cohen. First of all, Dr. Satcher referred to the fifth case, and that's the third case in New York. We've got two in Florida, three in New York, and I told you there is going to be a sixth that we're in the process of confirming right now.
And secondly, I thought it was very important for you to know that every morning I meet with or talk to the attorney general and the FBI director. And every morning, among many things that we discuss, we discuss the need to commit FBI and Justice resources and public health resources to follow up as aggressively and as quickly as possible on every single potential threat. And we just want to assure America that when the threats turn out to be a hoax, that the Department of Justice and the FBI will move as aggressively against those as they do to investigate to make sure that a threat exists in the first place.
It's inconceivable to me that under this extraordinary set of circumstances that this country is dealing with today, that the Department of Justice and the FBI and the CDC and Public Health officials have to respond and will respond as aggressively as possible and as quickly as possible, and when we find out that it is fraudulent, that it's a hoax.
RIDGE: Let there be no mistake about it and let it be a strong message and a very clear message, the federal government, and I might add, the attorney general pointed out that we have state and local officials who will assist us in prosecuting these individuals to the fullest extent of the law.
During the past couple of days several people have asked the administration and have asked different officials, queried about the delay from getting the swabs and getting the samples, as to getting public information. Obviously, we like immediate gratification. We like to know as quickly as possible.
But there's some science that's involved in making this determination and drawing the appropriate medical conclusion and I've asked Dr. Mitch Cohen from the CDC to join us today to talk to you a little bit about the science of identifying the bacteria and confirming the bacteria. DR. MITCH COHEN, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: Thank you, Governor. Good morning.
As you've heard, there have been several additional cases that are being evaluated. As those people are notified about their diseases, we will be able to provide you more information about those.
We have a series of investigations that are going on in several places. These are jointly conducted with state and local public health officials and with law enforcement officials as well. These are very good collaborations, and we're making tremendous progress in all those areas.
I'll be happy, during the question and answer period, to answer any specific questions that you have concerning some of the laboratory tests, some of the investigation issues. I know the laboratory test work is often very confusing, and that's in part because this is an unusual disease and there are many different types of tests that have to be used to determine its presence on people, in people, in the environment, in letters. And all of those can be very complex and confusing, and I'll be happy to provide any additional information that anyone would like to know on that.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR HEALTH AFFAIRS DR. WILLIAM WINKENWERDER, JR.: My name is Dr. Bill Winkenwerder, and I am the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs just confirmed two days ago, so very new to the situation here. I'm joined by General John Parker, who is with the Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases, who has been involved in performing some laboratory testing and other support to the CDC and to the FBI.
I just want to say that our role, thus far, has been to be a support to the CDC and to the FBI and to other agencies that have called us in because of the expertise and skill and special resources that we are sometimes able to bring to the table, and so we are more than glad to play that role. We do have some things that we can offer, and we look forward to playing a supportive role in the fight against these acts. So I will be glad to answer any questions in the question and answer period.
Thank you. RIDGE: Yes?
QUESTION: Governor Ridge, clearly the administration is putting out a message today: be calm, we're engaged, and we're doing what we can to help. Yesterday, we got a confusing message from Capitol Hill, a troubling message: The House went out, the Senate stayed in. Were you consulted? Do you agree with what they did?
RIDGE: Well, I think both branches, in consultation with their members, did what they thought was reasonable and prudent based on the information they had at the time, and certainly, we talked about it with them.
RIDGE: And again, I think, an excess of caution, given the situation, particularly on the Senate side, lead to the speaker and Minority Leader Gephardt in consultation with their caucuses to make those decisions. And I think, again, caution was the word. And they'll be back to business, ready to go on Tuesday.
The Senate did remain in session today, I believe, for a vote or two. They had some committee work to do -- some conference committee work to do, perhaps. They are going to continue to conduct their business. But I think, again, everybody is trying to respond properly based on information they have available to them. And the individual leaders, in consultation with their caucuses, made independent -- you know, it's not the first time the House and the Senate disagreed on certain things. You go talk to Nick Callo (ph) -- it happens more than once, yes.
QUESTION: The federal government is asking for money to buy 300 million smallpox vaccines, that's enough to treat every American. Why are we buying all of these vaccines, and when does the inoculation program begin?
RIDGE: First of all, answering the second part of the question, we can't start inoculating until we have the vaccine. But again, we have decided as a matter of prevention and protection to strengthen the stockpile of the antibiotics and vaccines that we have. And we look at potential challenges to this country. Smallpox is one of them, and we decided to prepare for that challenge. Again, it's a very appropriate response.
QUESTION: It is the intention to vaccinate every American against smallpox?
RIDGE: It is the intention to determine, after we have sufficient supplies available to commence inoculation, to make the decision at that time.
QUESTION: One of the things that is noticeable on the public is this fear, and in case they get exposed, will they get the antibiotic, cipro (inaudible) time? There seems to be some doubt out there what the period of incubation will be, what the symptoms would be, to make sure that if they have it to go to a doctor and get the medicine, because we keep hearing there's plenty and there's going to be 600 percent more in stock. But how do people know to (inaudible) a medicine that when they go to a doctor or, you know, be tested?
RIDGE: I'll let Dr. Satcher and Dr. Cohen respond. Let me just say, that one of the things that the FDA has done, because there's been so much public discussion about cipro and everybody thinks that's the only antibiotic that can be used to treat exposure and to use as preventive measure, and that's just not fact. There are a wide range of antibiotics available in every drugstore in the country. But let me ask Dr. Satcher to elaborate on that.
SATCHER: A couple of things. I think we have demonstrated that we have the ability to deliver the antibiotics in a very short period of time and in much larger numbers than we've had to do to date. So we feel that we have demonstrated the ability to perform in that sense. CDC has been developing the stockpile, now since 1999.
SATCHER: And that stockpile, as you know, contains cipro and other antibiotics that can be used to treat people who are -- and we're using it to treat in an interesting way here -- to treat people who have been exposed or who are presumed to be exposed to anthrax.
I do want to make the point, there will be people who have negative nasal swabs, who will still be treated, because a negative nasal swab test does not rule out exposure to anthrax. And so if we have a reason to believe that there is a high probability that someone has been exposed, they will in fact be treated. We can deliver the drugs in a very short period of time. That system of stockpiling and venom management agreements are in place, and the transportation modes are in place. So we can deliver on that.
And I do want to say a word about smallpox. That is, I think the issue here of course is, when you don't -- we haven't seen a single case of smallpox in the world since the late 1970s, except those that may have been related to vaccines (inaudible) particular time. But smallpox has been eradicated since 1977. And so you're always hesitant to immunize people against the disease unless you're fairly certain that there is going to be a risk. And that's what has to be assessed as Governor Ridge said, ongoing, will there be the risks to indicate immunization against smallpox?
SATCHER: The incubation period for anthrax is usually between one and seven days. It's a very short incubation period. It probably average two to three days.
And as you know, the symptoms can be very difficult because they include things like fever and fatigue and muscle soreness. So in a sense, they can be very similar to the flu.
And the other thing, of course, it can be rapidly progressive. So that's why we focus so much on exposure. We try not to wait for symptoms. We try to really respond any time we know that there is an exposure. If we find symptoms in any given person, then we're concerned about who else around that person has been exposed? And we move aggressively to put those people on antibiotics also. QUESTION: Governor Ridge, this press conference is a demonstration of how much the U.S. government is putting in to investigating these anthrax cases. And I'm curious as to whether you feel that the devotion of this amount of personnel and resources to anthrax heightens the risks that the U.S. government could be blindsided from another direction by any terrorists?
RIDGE: Well no, I would say even though this press conference suggests that it's really about anthrax, generally, we are more vigilant today and continue to get more vigilant every day as we assess different risks that might present themselves in this country.
I mean, if you take a look at everybody in the FBI, the Border Patrol, the Coast Guard, CDC, everybody is working 24-7. We've engaged the state and the federal communities. So no, I think our antenna are up for all conceivable risks and you ought to be reassured of that.
QUESTION: One for the attorney general, if I might?
QUESTION: Are there any promising leads in terms of tracking down the sources of the anthrax letters, particularly those sent to Senator Daschle and to NBC?
ASHCROFT: We are devoting every resource and pursuing every lead. I don't think it's appropriate for me to announce that we have any promising leads, but we are investigating very thoroughly. And that includes -- I'll have to defer on that. I'm not in a position to say that there are. And I don't know whether the director wants to make a comment or not.
Obviously, the FBI is a very important part of this investigation, but the Postal Service authorities are also involved, and our desire to make this investigation a successful one is indicated by the fact that, today, we are offering a reward of up to $1 million to individuals who provide the information that will lead to the successful arrest, detention, prosecution and conviction of the individuals involved.
MUELLER: I'll go and perhaps respond to the question about leads. I can't get into whether lead A is better than lead B. I can tell you that, from each of the incident areas where there has been anthrax exposure, Florida, New York and D.C., the samples relating to the spores of the anthrax exposure are being analyzed by a variety of laboratories to determine likeness and determine whether or not there is a sole or single source of each of those attacks.
Likewise, we put out yesterday, I believe, the envelopes, the two envelopes, of the letter that was sent to NBC in New York as well as the envelope of the letter sent to Senator Daschle. And that, you can look at it yourself and compare it. And by putting out those two envelopes, we are getting a number of leads. We put those envelopes out there for two reasons: One, for leads, but also so persons would look at those envelopes, and if they saw an envelope with similar writing or a similar return address, they would let us know.
So I think we're over 300,000 leads since September 11 until now. Many of those in the last few days have been related to anthrax, and every one of them is being pursued.
QUESTION: There have been a number of public statements by officials saying that there is some belief, without hard evidence, that Al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden may be behind these anthrax attacks, letters.
QUESTION: Is there any hard evidence that, perhaps, another rogue nation or a domestic terrorist, an American terrorist could be behind this?
MUELLER: Let me start by saying that the mailing of anthrax is a terrorist act. It is a terrorist act. And we are pursuing it as a terrorist act. We're not in a position, at this point, those who are responsible to the extent that they could be put into an indictment or an arrest be made. Let me just leave it there.
RIDGE: ... every single day the organizations represented by these individuals with me today, along with others that are not represented here, every singe day they work to improve our ability to identify and prevent a threat. And they work every single day to approve our ability and strengthen our ability to respond to it. So please know that every organization of the federal government right now is focused on the widest possible range of the antiterrorism activity.
QUESTION: Governor Ridge, there has been -- and Dr. Cohen talked about other places being investigated. Have there been any other places anthrax found in government buildings or field offices, and would you tell us if they were?
RIDGE: To date, there have been none, and secondly, we will. But my experience has been, at least it seems to me, that sometimes you find out before we do.
I mean, you know, the local response to the effort, I mean, frankly, generates a great deal of interest. All of a sudden the public health department and a couple of sirens, perhaps, and it draws your attention to it.
But obviously, the president and everyone in the administration understands that it is very important to get information to you, validated information to you as quickly as we possibly can.
QUESTION: There's all this talk about mail is being handled at the White House. Is it being screened with extra care? Have any threats been received here, with regard to the mail supply? A lot of...
RIDGE: The mail has been handled like it's been handled for a long time. We're following the post office regiment very carefully.
QUESTION: If there's a large-scale bioterrorist act in the future, who is in charge of the response? Who has authority to make decisions related to the response? What I'm trying to find out, basically, are you the boss here or are you a coordinate?
RIDGE: Well, I guess, you know, the coordinator is like a conductor with an orchestra. The music doesn't start playing until he taps the baton. Coordinate -- or you got a response to a bioterrorism activity, you've got several agencies that spring into action immediately, simultaneously. And my role would be to participate in that effort to make sure that the response, agency-wide, cross government-wide is coordinated so that it is quick and is aggressive and as complete as possible.
QUESTION: But nobody believes that this -- do people have to listen to you if -- do you -- do they...
RIDGE: Well, first of all...
QUESTION: ... decision about how people are going to respond or who's going to respond. Do they have to listen to you or not?
RIDGE: Well, there are some areas that they're certainly going to have to listen to me. But your question was around what happens in the event of some form of attack, and everybody has preassigned responsibilities. Everybody knows the job that they need to do, and in that eventuality, they immediately proceed to do that work, and I oversee that work.
If there's a gap, if there's something I think that needs to be done differently, if there's additional preventive measures I think needs to be taken, if I think we've overlooked something, I make the call.
QUESTION: To the scientist of the anthrax, please. Do we now yet whether the three cases are all of the same strain? And secondly, could someone speak to the D.C. anthrax? We've heard weapon's grade, not weapon's grade, you know. You need a special machine to make it. You don't -- could somebody talk about that?
COHEN: Well, in our laboratories, we have done preliminary tests on the strains from Florida and from New York. These preliminary tests do not show any differences between those two strains. Now, they have been sent to further laboratories for more detailed tests to see whether or not we can sort out any differences from them.
QUESTION: And you don't know about D.C. yet, whether it matches those other...
COHEN: No, those studies probably will be done today. We haven't received the islet yet, enough to do them.
QUESTION: OK. And on the quality or the type of the D.C. anthrax, whether it's -- you know, how sophisticated it is? COHEN: Well, from a public health perspective, anthrax is a dangerous organism, and so I think the important public health message is that people have to be careful and alert with their mail so that if you have anthrax in an envelop, you have to, you know, be alert and take care as prescribed by the post office. QUESTION: How many of these other cases are outside of Washington, New York and Florida?
COHEN: Well, as soon as the sixth case is notified, then we'll be able to, you know, provide that information to you.
QUESTION: Is it fair to say that of those several that you said you're looking at; first, can you put a little bit more specific number than several? Several could be anywhere from five to 15. And are they outside of the Washington, New York, Florida access you've seen? So are a lot of people elsewhere have reason to be even more worried?
COHEN: Well, the cases that we're working with are in the general areas of where we have been conducting investigations. There are a number of people who have specimens sent. They are several that are evaluated, cultures from their nose or skin biopsy specimens. Some of these may or may not turn out to be anthrax. So this is a very small number that we're evaluating in the laboratory in addition to the six that we will have identified.
QUESTION: But the question I think about the grade of the anthrax here in D.C. up on the Hill is there was some confusion. We were initially told it was very high quality raising fears that there was, you know, state sponsorship behind it, that this was, you know, a very serious act of terrorism.
QUESTION: Then we were told, well no, not necessarily so. So I think that's where the confusion is. Could you or someone else maybe address that?
COHEN: Well, I think those studies are actually being done to answer the questions that you're asking about. But certainly, you know, the folks from the Department of Defense might want to comment.
WINKENWERDER: This is just based on the conversations that I've had with General Parker and others that are involved in the technical aspects of this. And first, obviously, the sample was confirmed as anthrax by the USAMRAD (ph) -- acronym that we use here -- lab. It looked to be run of the mill, sensitive to all antibiotics. There was no evidence based on what we know thus far that it was any different from other samples at this time. Now, more comparative work may need to be done to confirm that. There was some suggestion that there was less debris in the specimen, which could suggests that it may have been processed in some way. But again, I would even put that forward as not confirmed at this point.
WINKENWERDER: I don't believe that there was anything unusual about the particle size.
WINKENWERDER: I don't know that that's a term that we would use. That's an inference as to how something may have been altered in some way. And I don't think we're prepared to make that inference at this time.
QUESTION: Is the outer look the same in all three instances? And what does it look like?
WINKENWERDER: My point was, I don't think we've compared this one sample from Washington with the others to be certain about that.
QUESTION: The characteristics, the color of it, and what people might be looking for.
WINKENWERDER: Again, I think that's work that needs to be done.
QUESTION: Is it correct that it had an aerosol-like quality that a plume (ph) popped up in the air. That had been suggested at one point. Is that incorrect as far as you know? WINKENWERDER: I can't comment on that.
QUESTION: Can you speak to (inaudible) weapons grade anthrax? Whether or not...
WINKENWERDER: No, I can't. I'm not sure how that term even came out, but no.
QUESTION: (inaudible) to let it stay in the air as Dr. Lillibridge talked about special ones that have coating that allows part of it to stay in the air longer. Did this have that coating?.
WINKENWERDER: Again, i think that analysis still needs to be done.
RIDGE: Thank you, thank you.
QUESTION: Governor Ridge, particularly widespread there have been waves of anxiety in the public over flying, over anthrax, is that a separate problem that needs to be treated separately form the medical attention, the law enforcement that's given to (OFF-MIKE)
RIDGE: On a daily basis, individuals associated with our effort, within the administration, assess different kinds of threats. And obviously, one of the reasons that we worry about the crop dusters, it could potentially be a vehicle to deliver these substances. That is why, every single day we do an assessment, and why we have acted as we've done in the past to ground them, to check licensing, to check ownership. And so, someone asked a little bit earlier today about this assembly of people and what it really means.
And I just want to tell you that we assembled this group today -- obviously, it's my first opportunity to spend a little time with you. But to show you that on a daily basis, on an hourly basis, every single day, there is communication and collaboration between all agencies of government. And we're not just focusing exclusively on anthrax, I assure you. But since that is the public challenge at the moment, it is appropriate to bring these individuals here today to address some of the issues that you and America have been asking for the past several days.
It's also my first opportunity to explain to you that I do not have, in response to your question, I do not have technical or operational authority. These men and women throughout this government for years have had experience in the areas for which they presently work for the United States government and for the American people.
What President Bush asked me to do was come to Washington to work to create a comprehensive national plan to deal with homeland security, to deal with a 21st century environment that says, the challenges to Americans sovereignty and our security which historically have been offshore, but because of the 21st century environment, we find that the challenges are here, and to do whatever I could in conjunction, in consultation -- and yes, I have the authority. I certainly have access. I have the president's ear.
But my job is really long term, and when I say to you that if I find some gaps or if I find some areas that need to be filled and basically, I find strength that could be strengthened. I find areas where there may be more collaboration.
But the bottom line is, I don't have technical operational authority. These men and women are doing an extraordinary job. You don't get a chance to see it like I do. You don't have a chance to interact every single day like I do.
Every single one of these agencies -- the president has tasked me to take a look at the 46-plus agencies, to take a look at everything that everybody considers to be homeland security and over the next several months, put together a comprehensive, national strategy to deal with this heretofore threat that perhaps we thought about but really didn't think too long or hard about.
There have been plenty of things written, there have been plenty of things said, there are experts all over this country, inside and outside the government. The president says, pull in the best and help design a plan that these individuals and their organizations would be able to implement over the years.
But I assure you it is an extraordinarily strong foundation in this country. See how quickly CDC responded, FBI, the CIA, and the Department of Justice, everybody collaborating in their efforts. It is strong. The president said to me, make it stronger. That's my task, but I don't have operational authority.
QUESTION: I was just wondering how you plan to work with NSC, it seems to be an overlap between your office...
RIDGE: One of the great relationships I have is with Dr. Condi Rice. There is some overlap, and as you -- I don't know if you were here the other day when General Downing (ph) and Dick Clark (ph) were introduced. And again, the president's goal is to provide the resources and the access, and I have it, the resources of the federal government, and access to every area of the federal government to develop a national strategy to deal with the threat that up until September 11 -- maybe we thought about it, we might have anticipated, people have written about it, but maybe we were hopeful in our own mind that it ever really wouldn't happen.
RIDGE: Remember, this magnificent country, bordered by two great oceans, neighbors with whom we collaborate and cooperate all the time, we're open. We're accessible. We're free. We trust. But unfortunately, the 21st century world suggests that we want to remain open and accessible, but friendly borders and large oceans no longer immunize us to 21st century threats, particularly from non-state terrorists.
So the president's says -- he's assembled an extraordinary team. I couldn't possibly do the job that General Ashcroft is doing, Dr. Satcher is doing or Bob Mueller is doing, the postmaster general is doing. They're doing extraordinarily fine work. But take a look at it, I'm the one person in government that can stand back from the different agencies, stand back from their missions and stand back from their history, and say, "Well, Mr. President, I recommend that we strengthen our national ability to respond to these threats with this strategy." That, I have been asked to do, and that's what I'll do.
QUESTION: Will you also be sort of the spokesman, the main person who will interface with the public?
RIDGE: Yes. We're going to try to have more regular briefings of this type. Obviously, many occasions, it's not going to be with the array of agency and department heads. But going to try to be and want to be briefing you on a more regular basis, and I intend to.
QUESTION: In the context of your oversight responsibilities, do you think you should have the national security and intelligence briefings everyday that the NSC or the president and his aides have to be privy to?
RIDGE: I have been cleared by the president to have as much information as I want.
QUESTION: What does that mean, in terms of...
RIDGE: That I am cleared by the president to have as much information that I want or need, which means that I have access to that kind of information.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We've been listening to a news conference with the first Director of The White House Office of Homeland Security, former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge. With him, as you saw, a number officials including the Attorney General, the head of the FBI, the head of the Postal Service, the Surgeon General -- obviously, since we've been listening in for the last hour there is a lot of information to go through from that and we will.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com