of Homeland Security Director Governor Tom Ridge
Director of Emer. Environmental Health Service, CDC, Dr. Pat Meehan
Deputy Postmaster General John Nolan
National Institution of Health, Dr. Anthony Fauci
Homeland Security Press Briefing on Anthrax
White House Briefing Room
October 30, 2001
10:40 A.M. EST
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Good morning again. Welcome to what I think is becoming a daily
briefing of the Office of Homeland Security. It's good to be with you again
this morning. Obviously, there are a few items on the radar that we'll be discussing
this morning, some you're already aware of, others you might not be. First,
I'd like to talk a little bit about the alert the FBI announced last evening.
We all are very much aware that on September 11th, our war against terrorism
began. And since September 11th there has been an extraordinary amount of coordination
and collaboration among federal agencies in response to the horrific events
of that day, in addition to the anthrax challenge that this country has experienced
subsequent, as well.
There's also been unprecedented collaboration and coordination among intelligence-gathering
agencies around the world, as the President has, working with Secretary of State
Powell, forged an international coalition to help us combat terrorism, worldwide.
As a result of this collaboration, we are receiving more intelligence than we
received, perhaps, in the past, and from time to time, we have, in response
to credible information received from a variety of sources, asked the Attorney
General to step forward and give a public alert. That's exactly what occasioned
yesterday when Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Bob Mueller basically,
and again, for the second time, put America on alert that, on the basis of credible
information we have received from multiple sources, we believe the United States
could very well be targeted this week -- this next week or so -- with a terrorist
attack or attacks.
One of the great challenges that you have in reporting, and one of the great
challenges I have as the Director of Homeland Security, in giving you timely
and accurate and complete information with regard to this threat assessment
and the threat alert. If we had specific information about the type of weapon
or a specific location, this would have certainly been shared with the local
or state officials. Unfortunately, we view the information as credible, but
And the question has been raised, well, then you issued an alert a couple of
weeks ago; why issue a second alert? And I will say to you that we think it
is very important, since September 11th, for America to remain on the highest
possible alert, when we get this kind of information, put it in the public view
so they understand that, again, we're getting some intelligence that suggests
we again may be the focus of an attack or attacks. It's a difficult and fine
line that we walk, but I think America understands, and hopefully, appreciates
that when there's that kind of information available to us, we just share it
with America, as incomplete as it might be.
And if as a result of the alert yesterday, we have security guards at shopping
malls paying more attention, personnel at airports paying more attention, the
policeman on the street from the 11-7 beat who are driving that patrol car around
that neighborhood -- if everybody has a heightened sense of alert, we send a
signal not only to America, but those who would terrorize us, those who are
trying to disrupt our way of life, that we are on guard as a country.
One of the unfortunate consequences of this one war-two battlefields scenario
is that, whether you're in Afghanistan or in the battlefield of the United States
-- as the President has said, one war, two battlefields -- you do get intelligence,
some of it turns out to be accurate. Some people have questioned, well, you
put us on a general alert a couple of weeks ago and nothing happened. Well,
we will never know if the country, going on alert, heightening security, thwarted
or frustrated an attempt by somebody or some individuals within this country
to bring harm or terror to a community or to a region.
Again, the environment has changed since September 11th. This war on terrorism
is going to continue for an indefinite period of time. And until such time --
and who knows whether there will be that time in the foreseeable future that
we can pull back from the kind of alerts that we sent out, we want America to
be on the highest alert. And from time to time, we may issue the same general
So I just think it's very important to try to put it in context to you. People
have asked, what should we do, and I say, go to work, take your child to school.
If you've got a softball game or a soccer game this afternoon, go to the game.
The President is going to the baseball game tonight. America has to continue
to be America. And what terrorists try to do is instill such uncertainty, such
fear, such hesitation that you don't do things that you normally do. And all
we're saying with the general alert is, continue to live your lives, continue
to be America, but be aware, be alert, be on guard.
As you know, the Homeland Security Council met yesterday. It was a very productive
meeting and I think it was pretty clear in the President's comments afterward,
we are engaged in a two-front war against terrorism. Our new foreign terrorists
tracking task force will help us in our efforts to protect American citizens
from these shadow warriors, these shadow enemies we're up against. People who
use America's welcoming tradition of hospitality and generosity to hide their
real motives, to hide their real intent, committing atrocities against innocent
The Homeland Security Council and the meeting focused on this terrorist tracking
task force. We talked a little bit about the effort that is going to be undertaken
with the task force, with the Attorney General, with the Secretary of State
and the other relevant Cabinet agencies to tighten up -- to take a constructive
and perhaps critical look at how we issue visas, and our immigration policy
across the country -- not just student visas, but just immigration, generally.
We want to coordinate with our friends to the north and the south a visa and
immigration policy, as well.
I've met previously with my counterpart in Canada, John Manley. We'll be meeting
in the near future with Mexican officials to talk about some kind of comparability,
some commonality between the visa and immigration policies in this hemisphere.
So I think it was a very productive meeting.
Obviously, and one other comment I might make is that one of the tasks assigned
to the task force and the respective Cabinet agencies was to move quickly to
upgrade the technology so that information can be shared within departments
of government. So that is moving forward very aggressively at the direction
of the President.
Let me now give you an update on the anthrax situation. To date, we now have
14 confirmed cases of anthrax; 5 suspected cases; 18 cases that are under investigation;
and 3 cases that appear suspicious and are being looked at further. As has been
reported, teams of medical personnel have been working double shifts at D.C.
General Hospital to provide counseling and antibiotics prophylactics to postal
workers and mail handlers.
As of Sunday night, 10,916 postal workers had received counseling and preventive
I talked with New York Mayor Giuliani last night; he advised me about the first
confirmed case of inhalation anthrax in New York. I think you were probably
aware of that. The New York State Department of Public Health and the CDC are
investigating to try and determine the possible course of this woman's exposure.
In New Jersey, a 51-year-old woman who works as an accountant in a company that
receives mail from the Hamilton postal facility has a confirmed case of skin
anthrax. On October 17th, she noticed a blemish on her forehead, went to her
doctor. He put her on cipro. The lesion was biopsied and tests came back --
those original tests came back negative. However, the lesions worsened, and
she was admitted to the hospital to be put on intravenous antibiotics. Subsequent
tests turned up positive for anthrax. The woman's condition has improved with
antibiotics. She has been released from the hospital and is recuperating at
The New Jersey State Health Department and the CDC are investigating, and included
in their investigation are places that send or receive mail from the Hamilton
As you well know, I think, trace amounts of anthrax have been found in the mailroom
of the USDA Economic Research Service at 1800 M Street. That, too, is under
investigation. Each one of these incidents precipitates a very thorough investigation,
so obviously, we've got several of these investigations going on simultaneously.
I know you may have some questions for me and I certainly look forward to answering
them. I have Dr. Anthony Fauci with me from the National Institute of Health.
He'll be available for questions. We have our Deputy Postmaster General John
Nolan here, available for questions, as well. And I'm going to ask Dr. Pat Meehan,
however, from the Centers for Disease Control, to give us an update on the situation
DR. MEEHAN: Thank you, Governor. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Although
there, unfortunately, have been new cases reported from the New York and New
Jersey area, the good news is that in the Washington, D.C. area, there are no
new reported suspect or confirmed cases.
And as the Governor reported, we have put on antibiotic prophylactics several
thousand postal workers who work in the Brentwood facility and post offices
that receive mail directly from Brentwood. And we are in the process of working
with the Postal Service to complete our evaluation of those post offices in
the D.C. area that receive mail directly from the Brentwood facility.
QUESTION: If I could ask you just a little bit more about this alert, and let
me see if I can get you to slice off a fine little part of this. Without giving
away sources, methods, or whatever else, can you tell us what kind of information
is out there, sort of the sphere that it came from? And what's different than
the daily noise that comes across your desk in this particular threat?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: You correctly point out that there is quite a bit of intelligence
information that comes across the desk every morning. Yesterday's announcement
was occasioned by a -- the decibel level was louder and there were more sources.
Again, it was just a convergence of credible sources that occasioned the alert
-- more than usual is all I can tell you.
QUESTION: -- characterize the type of information? It's been characterized in
some places as more violent language. Could you just give us some kind of idea
of what you're working with here?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: The intelligence analysts, both in this country and elsewhere,
because there's so much collaboration, are in a much better position to tell
you why they came to that conclusion. Suffice it for me to say that the experts
viewed the -- assessed the credibility of multiple sources as very high, and
that is what occasioned the general alert.
Again, the challenge has been, and may continue to be, absent more specific
information with regard to the weapon of terror or the particular location or
locations, that's about all we can go on.
QUESTION: Governor, if I can follow on that question more specifically. Is what
makes the information credible that it came from Osama bin Laden or his operatives?
And secondly, before you answer that, with the alert, if, as everyone hopes,
nothing happens, don't you then do something for a second time that alarms people
unnecessarily, and B, may, in effect, create an atmosphere where people think,
God, they keep telling us to be ready, and we're ready, and nothing happens
-- who knows what's real and what's not -- and, therefore, the level of preparedness
is not as high as you'd like?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Well, it's certainly -- the story that a lot of people allude
to is the one you tell your children from time to time, the little boy who cried
wolf. And it's one I've told my kids over the years. And I can appreciate the
concern. But I do think that right now, given the war that we're confronting
against terrorism on two fronts, that when, on occasion, when we have credible
multiple sources suggesting that America will be a target, it is still better
to perhaps reiterate the previous alert. I'm not too sure too many groups or
agencies or individuals were able to stand down in the intervening two weeks,
but to reiterate it.
Look, you get that kind of convergence of information from credible sources,
and you have two options. You have an option to remain silent, or you have an
option to have General Ashcroft and Director Mueller put out the alert. And
we chose as little -- we would like to have been able to divulge more information,
but there really wasn't any more to divulge. We decided the second option, and
that's just tell the American public.
And what I have to say is, this is a condition of alert, to your point, that
we're going to have to maintain. We have to be on guard for the foreseeable
future. But I don't think that we should be discouraged when the information
suggests that it may occur at a particular -- this was at a particular time
frame, within the next week or so -- that we just get everybody thinking about
QUESTION: How about the first one point, Governor? I'm sorry, can I just follow
on the first point, whether is what makes this credible that it's coming from
Osama bin Laden or his operatives? The President said yesterday in response
to the question I asked him that indeed -- he suggested bin Laden is still active.
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Well, I think the analysts would conclude that the sources were
credible because of their connections with the terrorists that we're trying
to fight. Where they're located right now remains to be seen. But again, you've
got people gathering information from around the world, from a variety of sources.
And its credibility we leave to the experts. But I think you can fairly assume
that the experts view this tied in -- this information somehow related to al
Qaeda or bin Laden, else we wouldn't have ramped it up.
QUESTION: Governor, a specific question, then a general question. Is there any
new information this morning about other postal facilities in the D.C. area
being contaminated in any way, large or small, with anthrax? There are some
trace reports that Friendship Heights, a station in Northwest Washington, D.C.,
having some level of exposure. Can you confirm that first of all? Then I have
a broader question.
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Do you have any information on that? I know they're doing quite
a bit of testing around. I'll let Mr. Nolan respond.
MR. NOLAN: Governor, that's right. We are continuing to do testing of a number
of facilities throughout the D.C. area, as well as other parts of the country.
Last night we did receive information about a Friendship station, as well as
the Dulles station, Dulles facility -- the retail facility, not the main Dulles
airport facility. And those were extremely localized. One sample came back positive
from all the samples that were taken in each of those facilities. The cleanup
began last night with the Corps of Engineers, and is expected to be completed
early today. Again, extremely localized.
QUESTION: So both facilities had extremely small, localized amounts, and are
being decontaminated as we speak?
MR. NOLAN: Yes.
QUESTION: Governor Ridge, a general question to you, sir. If you listen to talk
radio, if you look at some of the editorial pages, there is a sense the Americans
feel that there is a disconnect in what you're telling them: be on a high level
of alert, but live your lives as normal. And when I talk to people, they say,
that's not possible. Normal doesn't exist anymore, if every day I wake up and
I'm on a high level of alert, and I'm looking for something that I don't even
know what to recognize. How can you address what many people tell me is a disconnect
coming from their own government?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Well, first of all, I think that since September 11th, the images
of that day have affected how Americans view this war on terrorism in a very
personal and emotional way. So I'm not sure -- I'm not sure that our national
psychology ever gets back to a September 10th feeling of comfort and security
because of what we saw. And so I don't think -- I don't think raising, from
time to time when we receive credible information, or reminding people to stay
at that particular level of alert is anything but productive.
We all -- the fear of the unknown is the greatest challenge that we face as
individuals, as parents, as employers, employees, as Americans. And this is
an unconventional war, because we're dealing with shadow enemies, shadow soldiers.
They're unknown to us. They're not necessarily wearing uniforms. They're not
in this country. It's unconventional in so many different ways, including the
means with which they choose to terrorize and to undermine our way of life and
to murder innocent victims. So the sense is, is that we have to still keep,
in spite of these reservations, in spite of our uncertainty, we have to continue
to function as a country that values the qualities that make us unique and that
make us vulnerable.
We are open, we are trusting, we are a welcoming country. For that very reason,
we are vulnerable. And every day since September 11th, the federal government
and the people in the private sector have been working harder and harder to
make sure that we improve our ability to prevent and detect terrorists, and
then improve our capacity to respond to the attacks. And it's a goal -- it's
a challenge that the country had confronted before September 11th, but they
ramped it up since September 11th. So I still think it's a productive announcement,
just to remind people.
QUESTION: Given these new anthrax cases in New Jersey and New York, are you
revising at all the working theory you seem to have that it was cross-contamination
from individual letters that had already been discovered that was causing the
positive results, environmentally, in the new cases? Do you think that this
is evidence that there is more anthrax in the mail?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Well, there are plenty of theories. We have not been operating
on one theory. There is a very thorough investigation. A very detailed, very
intense investigation is going on to determine whether it's one letter that
cross-contaminated, or whether there was more than one letter.
As I think I mentioned to you yesterday, we've sequestered the mail that was
backed up because of the discovery of the Daschle letter. That will be reviewed
on a letter-by-letter basis. The post office is really intensely, very aggressively
looking at all the details associated with how the facility was operated, who
was exposed to what machine, how people in different parts of the post office
could have become infected one way or the other. So this is a very ongoing --
it's an ongoing, very intense investigation, because we'd like to go from theory
QUESTION: Do you have any idea where the source of the anthrax came from to
the woman who was infected with it in Manhattan? Because it appears she wasn't
in contact with any mail.
GOVERNOR RIDGE: You raise a very important question that has again resulted
in immediate and intense effort with the CDC, the local public health authorities
and law enforcement authorities to go back and basically re-trace her steps.
It doesn't appear -- clearly, she was not a postal employee. How she became
contaminated or how she became infected is something we need to try to find
QUESTION: Have you seen any evidence amongst her coworkers or neighbors or --
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Not to date. As we speak, not to date.
QUESTION: Yesterday we were told that the risks to the general public in their
mail was very minimal. And then we have these new cases in New Jersey and New
York. Have we revised our thinking on that?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: We have not. I've asked the Assistant Postmaster General to
calculate letters that have been distributed through the United States Postal
Service since our first case of anthrax. And we estimate somewhere around 25
billion letters have gone around this country through our Postal Service. And
we do have one case that appears the woman has been infected by anthrax. Whether
the source was a letter or not still a theory that we have to be engaging in.
To tell you that it is absolutely, positively for all times, for all purposes,
forever risk-free, I don't think anybody has ever said that. But when you've
got 25-plus billion pieces of mail out there and one possible contamination,
and you couple that along with some very common sense advice that the Postal
Service has given, media has given, people around the country have given to
each other about being alert, being careful -- put aside suspicious mail, if
you have any questions, wash your hands, the symptoms that people now associate
with anthrax -- we still think you ought to open your mail and you ought to
use the postal system.
QUESTION: Governor Ridge, what is the credibility or strength of this threat
compared to the threat that led to the last warning?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I would say of comparable credibility. I mean, what you -- the
capacity of this country to gather intelligence information and then to assess
it is fairly substantial. And it's been augmented since September 11th with
friends, our coalition around the country. This particular threat notice occurred
primarily because there were multiple sources that the community concluded was
very credible. And it gave a time frame around which we thought a terrorist
attack or attacks could occur, and we ought to alert America to it, be on the
QUESTION: Sir, in terms of the alert, again, did the law enforcement agencies,
the 18,000 entities around the country get any more information than what we
have been told? And, if so, can we have that, if that was sent out in writing?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: The law enforcement agencies received a general alert from the
Attorney General's Office. There is an electronic system where they can convey
immediately the alert to 18,000 law enforcement agencies. It didn't give them
any specific information, it just said basically that because of information
received from credible sources, that they need to heighten security. That's
basically it. Clearly, if it is community-specific, region-specific, weapon-specific,
we would communicate that immediately, as well.
QUESTION: Why are you testing only federal mailrooms downstream of Brentwood,
and not private residences? Is that along the lines of saying, well, only --
it seems sort of like what happened earlier in the week, saying that the Senate
people are more important than the postal workers. Why, if you're finding contamination
in federal mailrooms downstream, are you not even checking for contaminations
at private homes that are downstream from Brentwood. Is this a double standard,
and are you going to re-think the whole idea of testing private homes?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I believe the decision to test locations where there has been
the highest probability or possibility of contamination is based on consultation
with the Postal Service and with the CDC. The ultimate test is that there have
been about 25 billion pieces of mail have been delivered around the country
and there is one potential case of anthrax exposure. And until there is more
credible evidence or suggestion that there needs to be testing elsewhere --
look, we're trying with the resources that we have -- and there are many and
they're investigating furiously every possible location and source of contamination.
And I'm going to let Mr. Nolan respond.
MR. NOLAN: The only thing I would add is it's not just government mailrooms
that are being checked. We're forming a baseline that consists of all of those
mailrooms that come in contact -- where employees come in contact with the postal
service in Brentwood on a daily basis, and where there's a large-scale movement.
We're also testing facilities downstream, and so we keep pulling the strings,
so to speak, to see if there's any possible contamination.
We also know what machines in our facilities process what kinds of mail. And
the reason why there's such tremendous emphasis on government mail is because,
in fact, that's where the greatest amount of incidents of the bacteria was found
in our facilities. And we know, given the routing through our facilities, that's
where the clearest possibilities existed.
QUESTION: Does this now mean that the Morgan facility in New York, the large
facility in New York, is going to be closed? And are there any further details
ont 61-year-old hospital worker who is hospitalized with anthrax?
MR. NOLAN: Well, regarding the hospital worker, again, we don't have any information
whatsoever about what's involved there -- whether it was mail-related, non-mail-related.
Morgan Station, the main processing center is 1.8 million square feet. I was
postmaster in New York for four years in the mid-to-late '80s; I spent last
Monday night with the -- or Monday day, between midnight and 8:00 a.m., with
the employees of that facility, talking to about 1,000 employees. The reason
why Morgan is handled differently than other facilities is because we know specifically
from the 170-odd tests that we took the five locations that we found traces
of anthrax are extremely localized, in the sorting machines on one small portion
of the third floor -- about 12,500 square feet.
We've cordoned off a lot more than we were told to, about half that floor, about
150,000 square feet. The cleanup is going on; the employees are receiving antibiotics,
and there is no evidence in any of the downstream facilities there -- the stations
that even handle the mail for the News or the Post, that there was any incidents
of that. And no postal employees in New York have turned up ill.
QUESTION: It will remain open?
MR. NOLAN: It will remain open.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about the Cohen Building, which is one of the
biggest buildings in Washington. Many governmental offices there. The post office
is in the basement. Are you going to test just the post office, or are you going
to test the whole building and the employees there?
MR. NOLAN: Your question is, are we testing the whole building?
QUESTION: Or are you just concentrating on the post office?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I believe I'm going to refer to our friends from CDC to give
you the latest on that.
DR. MEEHAN: We're currently working with the mailroom supervisor and the folks
who run that building to evaluate where those positive tests occurred, and whether
it suggests that any further testing is needed.
I can tell you that chances are pretty good that this represents a localized
low level of contamination that at this point does not seem to appear to warrant
further testing of the building. But again, that evaluation is ongoing.
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Final question, for Dr. Fauci.
QUESTION: Dr. Fauci, I just wonder, based on your expertise, whether you think
the government, despite the number of cases outstanding, but bearing in mind
the measures that have been taken so far -- based on your expertise, do you
think the government is getting close to containing what in your estimation
would be an anthrax "outbreak"?
DR. FAUCI: When you talk about an anthrax outbreak, you have to talk about what
we know now has been, as we say, indexed case or cases -- things centering around
the Daschle letter, and is there cross-contamination from one facility to another.
The one thing that we don't know right now is that we don't know whether something
else will come up, and then you will, all of a sudden, confuse it with what's
going on right now.
So there's no absolute answer to your question, is one doing enough to contain
it. The present situation that we have right now has been based on the reasonable
scientific assumptions that if you do not have a case in a certain setting,
that the risk of that, and the level of concern of that, must await what actually
And I think if you march through the chain of events that occurred, with the
Daschle letter, the people in the office, then the first Brentwood Post Office
situation, that there was contamination there, and then the lack of knowledge
that there could be cross-contamination in perhaps a secondary site -- and what
you have to do with regard to where you test and who you preemptively or not
give antibiotics to has to be based on some semblance of the science.
Up to yesterday, there was no evidence at all that there could be, or is, an
individual in which there might be the reasonable question, did they get infected
from a piece of mail that went to their home. That is being intensively investigated
right now. Prior to yesterday, when that was not known, the idea that people
ask us all, should we then just treat everybody who had any exposure at all
to mail, that clearly is not something that should have been done, based on
the information that we had. As the days go by, and you get more information,
you make your rational decision based on the information, and balancing the
risk to the benefit of what you might want to do, for example, from a treatment-or-not
So you really have to take the solid information that you have, and make a reasonable
projection of what your response to it would be.