||Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings
For Immediate Release Office of the Press Secretary October 25, 2001
Director Ridge, Medical Authorities Discuss Anthrax Press Briefing by The Director of the Office of Homeland Security, Governor Tom Ridge; and the Commanding General of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, Major General John Parker; and Deputy Surgeon General Admiral Kenneth Moritsugu on Homeland Security The James S. Brady Briefing Room
Listen to the President's Remarks
12:55 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Now I would like to introduce Governor Ridge, the Director of the Office of Homeland Security. He is joined by Major General John Parker, the Commanding General of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command; as well as Admiral Kenneth Moritsugu, the Deputy Surgeon General.
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Good afternoon. Today I'd like to share with you the latest information and actions we are taking to protect the American people from the anthrax threats here at home.
Our investigation continues. We are aggressively pursuing every conceivable lead to find and bring to justice those responsible for these terrorist acts. Our health system nationwide is on full alert, and is working around the clock -- and is working around the clock -- to identify and treat those potentially affected by anthrax.
Today we want to share with you the latest scientific analysis of the anthrax samples. Major General John Parker, Commanding General of the United States Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, has joined me today to further explain and answer your questions concerning these latest findings.
As I outlined last week, Department of Defense DNA tests showed the anthrax samples from Florida, New York and Washington are indistinguishable, meaning that they all come from the same strain of anthrax or the same family of anthrax. That continues to be the case. The DNA tests have also revealed that none of the anthrax samples have been genetically altered, which is very good news, obviously, because it means that the samples all respond to antibiotics. And, therefore, people who are exposed can be treated.
This week, we have received new information from additional laboratory tests. I convened a meeting at the White House last night to bring together the scientists, as well as representatives of the different agencies, to analyze and evaluate this information. It shows that the anthrax in the letter received in Senator Tom Daschle's office had some different characteristics. It is highly concentrated. It is pure. And the spores are smaller. Therefore, they're more dangerous because they can be more easily absorbed in a person's respiratory system.
We've also received a new preliminary analysis on the anthrax that was mailed to The New York Post. The preliminary analysis shows that it is more coarse and less concentrated than the anthrax in the Daschle letter. But I want to tell you, it's still highly concentrated. The New York Post anthrax is also sensitive to antibiotics.
Unfortunately, we have not been able to conduct similar tests on the anthrax from Florida or the Brokaw letter because of limited amounts of substance retrievable from the scene. Just wasn't enough for us to retrieve from the scene to conduct the same tests.
Now, I know there has been a lot of both public and private discussion, some of it with me and much of it among yourselves and even within this country, about the term "weaponize." It seems to have different meanings, different definition and meanings to different people. Based on these latest lab reports, it is clear that the terrorists responsible for these attacks intended to use this anthrax as a weapon. We still don't know who is responsible, but we are marshaling every federal, state and local resource to find them and bring them to justice.
And General Parker is here to give you more of the details. But before he briefs you, I would like to take a minute to share with the American people the steps we are taking to protect postal workers.
As of this morning, health officials have tested and treated more than 4,000 postal workers in the impacted areas. In addition, the Postal Service, working with federal, state and local officials, have begun environmental testing at the 200 postal facilities along the Eastern corridor. The Postal Service will also conduct random environmental testing at major postal facilities nationwide. It will conduct random testing nationwide. It is strictly a precautionary measure. It is taken to protect the mail.
I want to reiterate: There is no indication of any new exposure at this time at these sites, but the Postmaster General felt that it was appropriate to begin conducting random sample testing.
As the President announced on Tuesday, we are authorizing funds to implement immediate security measures to better protect our nation's mail. These funds will help purchase new technology to sanitize mail, and protective gear to help protect postal workers.
Clearly we are up against a shadow enemy, shadow solders, people who have no regard for human life. They are determined to murder innocent people. President Bush is very proud of the federal, state and local health care officials whose quick actions have no doubt saved many lives in the face of a new and horrible threat. Our country has never experienced this type of terrorism. Tragically, we have lost lives, starting with those in New York City in the Towers, but also including those who wear the uniform overseas in this war, and those who wear the uniform of the Postal Service here at home.
Our government will continue to do everything we can to make our nation safe, stronger and more prepared. We will continue to provide the American people with as much accurate information as we can, as soon as we can, to protect them from future attacks.
Before I respond to some questions, I would like Major General Parker to brief you, as well.
MAJOR GENERAL PARKER: Thank you, Governor Ridge. I represent some great scientists and engineers at Fort Detrick who are currently working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, processing samples and helping to define the characteristics of the compounds that are given us to take a look at.
I can say to you without question, this is anthrax, and the samples from New York, Washington and Florida are all from the same family or strain. That's been documented by DNA testing. When we look at these spores underneath the microscope, they are uniform in size and highly concentrated, and highly pure. And these individual spores are very light, and if given some energy from, say, wind or clapping or motion of air in a room, they will drift in the air and fall to the ground.
The good news is that this strain is susceptible to all of the antibiotics that we have in the United States, from penicillin all the way to the most recent advanced quinolines that we have available.
The characteristics I already mentioned. When you look at it, it's like a very, very fine powder. And you can imagine, in your bathroom, if you take a fine talcum powder and you blow it, it drifts up into the air and then eventually drifts down to the ground and falls to the floor, where it sticks.
We are continuing to try to characterize the products. When we looked at the New York Post sample and compared that to the Daschle sample, even in gross introspection, it appeared that the New York Post sample was clumpy and rugged, and the Daschle sample was fine and floaty.
Now, one of my scientists actually described the New York Post sample as looking like Purina Dog Chow, clumpy like a pellet.
Q Under the microscope?
MAJOR GENERAL PARKER: No, that's not under a microscope, that's grossly. Under the microscope, the spores are densely packed in both samples, and highly concentrated in both samples.
I just want to mention one other thing, is that I know there's a lot of questions about some other things. We are trying very hard to characterize anything that would be associated with the sample, and we continue to do that research and we're continuing to do that investigation. And I don't have the absolute answers until all of those investigations are in.
Q Can I ask you a question about, given the nature of the powder, especially that was sent in the letter to Senator Daschle, what can you and the others say about where this was produced, how it was produced, and ultimately by whom -- domestically or foreign?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Tests may give us answers to some or all of those questions, as well as investigations being conducted by the FBI and the Department of Justice. The tests now give us very specific characteristics, but the tests may or may not lead us to the source.
Q Can I follow and say, at this point, are you able to say at any level, preliminarily or otherwise, that this is the kind of anthrax that could have been produced by an individual or several individuals here in the United States? Or is this the kind of stuff that could only be produced by a foreign nation?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I believe further testing will give us the range. It will either expand it or contract it. But right now there are other, I believe chemical tests and other tests in a series of tests that have to be conducted.
I mean, one of the challenges we have with trying to give you as much information as we have as quickly as we get it, and give America this information, is that the properties of this anthrax and our ability to describe its characteristics really depend on ability for us to conduct several tests -- some simultaneously, some in different parts of the world, some one after another.
I will tell you that one set of tests often generates a recommendation that another set of tests, so we just -- the testing is incomplete, and we can't give you the answers to that question yet, if ever.
Q There was a report today that preliminary tests suggest that the anthrax could not have been produced in Russia or Iraq.
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Could not have been?
Q Could not have been, implying that it was produced in the United States. Is that accurate or not? Preliminary tests suggest this.
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I don't think I've seen any preliminary tests that drew any conclusions as to where it could or could not have been produced.
Q -- is aggressive? In other words, if these were mailed over a series of days and the Daschle is much more sort of concentrated, could it be that somebody is testing and getting more aggressive with the anthrax, and will that continue, perhaps?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I think people are inclined to draw conclusions about the number of letters in the mail, or the ability, the capacity of one letter to have contaminated multiple stations. I mean, right now, as we continue to conduct the investigation, we alert you to the letters we have and to the samples we have, and until we have thoroughly completed our investigation, we can't draw any conclusions as to number or source.
Q Governor Ridge, the apparent lethality of the anthrax sent to Senator Daschle was apparently understood more quickly in Congress than it was throughout other federal agencies. Are you and Major General Parker satisfied that the information flow about what was learned about the anthrax in the Daschle letter went to all of the agencies as fast as possible, and therefore, everything was done to protect the postal workers who have since been exposed, whereas, members of Congress were not?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: My sense was that -- I think it may have been General Parker and other people within the administration gave -- briefed Senator Daschle. And I think -- I'm not certain where the Senator got his information, but I suspect it's from the information that we had. And the recognition of the pureness of the spores, the concentration -- the highly concentrated nature of these spores, it's the conclusion that it hasn't been genetically altered, a lot of these things have occurred since that initial briefing, as we've had a series of tests to confirm it.
I will tell you what, I think because it was respirated, because we had several people who died because of inhalation anthrax, and because there's a body of scientific evidence out there that it is easier and certainly has much greater potential for infection if it's a smaller, purer form of anthrax, people legitimately, without doing the samples, could conclude that it had to be of higher concentration, it had to be a purer form, based on the information that we had at the time about anthrax.
We're now running through the series of tests. We're finding not only what might have been a good thing to conjecture from previous research on anthrax, but we have confirmed it. But there are other characteristics that we may or may not be able to confirm in future tests.
Q Doesn't the very fact that, as General Parker said, this is free and floaty anthrax that was sent to Senator Daschle, aerosolized, show that it is a very sophisticated operation that produced it, not a grad student in a basement, and that the knowledge of how to do that would be limited to a very narrow circle of people, some state actors and some people with access to American secrets?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I'm not prepared to tell you what level of competency, accessibility to equipment, and other training either an individual or an institution needs in order to develop this level of anthrax.
Q General Parker, can we ask you a question, sir? If you wouldn't mind stepping up to the podium. I take it that some of the tests that you were alluding to are on this chemical agent that's been mixed in with the anthrax to modify the electro-static properties of the anthrax. Can you tell us what your preliminary investigation shows about that? And who has the ability to alter the electro-static properties of anthrax spores?
MAJOR GENERAL PARKER: Well, first of all, your question is complex, and I'd like to say that, although we may see some things on the microscopic field that may look like foreign elements, we don't know that they're additives, we don't know what they are, and we're continuing to do research to find out what they possible could be. They're unknowns to us at this present time.
Q Can you tell us who has the ability to alter the electro-static properties of anthrax spores in order to allow them to become more easily aerosolized?
MAJOR GENERAL PARKER: Sir, that's beyond my knowledge. I don't know.
Q Isn't it limited to a very small number of countries?
MAJOR GENERAL PARKER: Sir, that's beyond my knowledge. I don't know.
Q Isn't it limited to a very small number of countries?
MAJOR GENERAL PARKER: I don't know, sir.
Q -- sophisticated product? Are you looking at a sophisticated product, essentially?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: What the General is trying to relate to you is that this still has -- there's a series of tests that need to be conducted by these men, who are far better equipped intellectually and by experience, to draw some conclusions from those results. And the fact of the matter is, we don't have all the information available to us yet to draw any of the conclusions to answer some of the questions you're asking.
Q When you say they're from the same -- all letters are from the same strain or family, how much does that really narrow this down?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Not much.
Q Not much?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I don't think. I mean, I've got -- my sense is, it doesn't narrow it much at all. My brother and I are from the same family. So it means, it's a very broad and genetic classification. But, apparently, there are several strains available for research around the world.
Q Can you tell us which strain it is, sir? And does the fact that these are a little bit --
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Ames strain.
Q And can you tell us -- let me just finish my question. If you could tell us, since these are a little bit different in their qualities, does that suggest that these letters came from different people?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Well, right now, first of all, you should know that, even though preliminary tests on The New York Post letter shows it to be of a different quality and, I guess, more readily in clumps than the other, it is still highly concentrated. And I don't think, to date, with the preliminary tests, we can point to one source or multiple sources.
Q Yes, sir. Two children, according to various -- including The New York Times, Agence France Presse, have been checked into Children's Hospital -- a girl age 2, a boy age 11, with, apparently, anthrax-like symptoms. Do you know anything about it?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I do not. And what hospital?
Q Children's Hospital in Washington.
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Children's in Washington? I do not know that.
Q Governor, a non-scientific question. Chances are that the person or persons who did this would be inclined to follow every briefing, every statement. That said, what would your message be to the person or persons who have sent this stuff?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: We'll find you. We'll bring you to justice.
You know, trying to think the way some individual who would use the United States mail service and take an envelope and turn it into a weapon of terror, it's pretty difficult for me to be able to, I suspect, to be able to communicate with that individual on any terms and within a value system that we share in this country. So I'm not sure we could communicate to him in a democratic, American way, how we feel about him and how we feel about this incident. But we'll get him.
Q Governor Ridge, there have been reports recently of tensions between the FBI, CDC and other federal agencies over the sharing of information or full disclosure of information on the quality of anthrax in the Daschle letter. Could you address that, please? And also, could you tell us a little more about the meeting last night at the White House?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Yes. First of all, you know that as Director of Homeland Security, I interact with these agencies on a daily basis, if not an hourly basis. And I would tell you from day one, there has been collaboration and coordination, and every day it continues to accelerate as the circumstances of the threat bring people and people closer together.
There has -- everybody is intensely working on this issue. There has been extraordinary collaboration. There has been new relationships that have developed. And I thought it was important to have the meeting last night not just with the principals, but with the scientists that we're all relying upon, in order to consolidate whatever information we have, and to see if we can further accelerate the process of answering the questions that America seeks from the administration.
And I thought it was a very productive meeting. They have been working together, side by side. They will continue to work together. There's intense effort to collaborate. We live in a virtual world, but we can't always come up with virtual answers. And so, there's a process that goes along with trying to answer the questions that you and the rest of America has. But their coordination is fine. Maybe last night accelerated it even further. But it's not a question -- they share information; I assure you.
Q You said a few moments ago that this was intended as a weapon, whoever sent this intended it to be used as a weapon. Does that meet your definition of weapons?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I don't use that word, because I don't think "weaponize" has any medical or scientific value. I mean, we never thought a 747 could be turned into a missile. But someone who took an instrument that's part of who we are and what we do every day, an airplane, turned it into a weapon. Somebody took an envelope and turned it into a weapon.
Q What I'm getting at is, based on what you know to this point, can you put into context how lethal this -- how concentrated, how pure, how dangerous this was --
GOVERNOR RIDGE: It is -- it was not contaminated, which meant that the mass -- again, the General could answer this better -- but as I understand it, explained to me as a layman, and relate to people who don't have a background in microbiology or chemistry -- but as I understand it, if you took a look at the spores under the microscope, there was not any extraneous material. It was very pure. Practically everything you saw, every -- was an anthrax spore, and it was of such a size that with -- it was respirable; that if it was given a little energy, it could get up into the air.
Q I just want to clarify something from an earlier question. The fact is much of what you've told us here today we've already heard from other sources, and the debate over "weaponized," whether or not you want to use that word, has been going on for some time. But I just want to be clear --
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I don't want to use it, so there's no debate with me. It adds no scientific -- you could put this on the head of a missile, you could put it in an envelope, you could distribute it other ways. So it can -- anthrax, itself, is a weapon. I'm sorry.
Q My question is, if you, standing in front of us, are the definitive voices on anthrax, and you cannot even tell us, based on what you've discovered so far, the countries that can produce this strain and whether or not we can rule any of these countries out, be it Iraq, Russia, or the United States?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: We know it's -- I do not know. It is a an Ames strain -- look, there are other characteristics that may be discovered in the course of this investigation that may lead this government and our scientists to further conclusions. Right now, I'm not prepared because we don't have the answers.
Q -- characteristics to the strain developed by those countries, military --
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I don't know.
Q Governor, given all the things that are on your plate, Governor Ridge, given all the things that are on your plate, is your day defined more by facts you know, that expand what you know, or is it defined more by questions that expand what you don't know?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: It's a little bit of both. I mean, there are questions that I seek in my capacity as Director of Homeland Security that I ask, just because of information that comes across my desk. There's also information that I receive that's unsolicited that expands my knowledge as well. So, I mean, I think it's a little bit of a combination of both.
Q Do you have any preliminary idea -- forget which country or what the strain is -- do you have any preliminary idea about whether or not this is something that would have had to have been produced by a large organization such as a state, or if it's something that could possibly have been cooked up in a laboratory somewhere in Trenton?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I'm not prepared to tell you today the range of potential actors who could have -- the range of potential actors who could have created as pure and as concentrated and as respirable an anthrax as we are working on and investigating now. I don't know whether it's a large range or a narrow range.
Q But do you know and you won't tell us, or -- I mean, isn't this information that the government has?
Q -- you and the government intentionally downplay the threat to the American public? And why, over time, have your statements changed about what the American public should be worried about?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: The information in the literature on anthrax that existed before this threat suggested the only way you can get inhalational anthrax -- that it would be much easier to get inhalational anthrax if the spores were smaller. And we not only have cases of anthrax, but we also have fatalities. So, based on the literature that existed, and even prior to the testing, that confirmed our worst suspicions that this was a different kind and a different grade of anthrax. It had to be -and so we shared that information with you. We shared it with the people on the Hill.
We run through a series of tests. The test tells us very specifically, the anthrax spores are not only smaller and concentrated, they are very pure. There are still some additional tests to be run on these individual spores. When we get additional information, I'll --
Q What about --
Q Governor, is there --
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Thank you.
END 1:15 P.M. EDT