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23 October 2001

Anthrax Found at Off-Site White House Mail Facility

(Officials suspect international terrorism, but have no hard evidence)
(910)
By Wendy S. Ross
Washington File White House Correspondent
Washington -- Tests have confirmed traces of anthrax at an off-site
White House mail screening facility, White House Press Secretary Ari
Fleischer told reporters October 23.
A small concentration of anthrax was found on a slitter -- a
mechanical device that opens the mail, but no anthrax was found on any
of the mail itself, he said.
An investigation has begun to find the source of the anthrax, he said.
The mail screening facility is located at a military installation some
miles from the White House and "has been closed for further testing
and decontamination," Fleischer said. All employees at the site are
being tested for exposure to the disease, as are mail workers in the
White House complex itself.
All environmental tests at the White House itself have come back
negative, Fleischer said.
Asked how he can be sure that persons in the White House have not been
exposed to anthrax, Fleischer said: "Suffice it to say, as a result of
many of the security precautions that have been put in place since
September 11th, we have high confidence that is not the case."
Later, President Bush acknowledged the new development.
"There's no question that the evildoers are continuing to try to harm
America and Americans," he said. "Today, at a remote facility, we
detected some anthrax. And just like at the Congress, our government
is responding very quickly.
"We're working hard to find out who's doing this and bring them to
justice. We're also working to develop measures necessary to protect
American citizens and postal workers. All of us around this table
grieve when we hear the fact that a citizen has lost a life. Two
postal workers passed away, and our hearts are with their families,
our prayers are with their loved ones."
Officials confirmed October 23 that the two postal workers who died
October 21 and 22 were suffering from inhalational anthrax, as
suspected.
Asked if he thinks there is a connection with the September 11
terrorist attacks on the United States and the current anthrax threat,
Bush said:
"Well, we don't have any hard evidence, but there's no question that
anybody who would mail anthrax with the attempt to harm American
citizens is a terrorist. And there's no question that al Qaeda is a
terrorist organization. ... So it wouldn't surprise me that they're
involved with this. But I have no direct evidence.
"I do know that this country is strong enough to endure, to endure the
evil ones. And we're making great progress on the ground in
Afghanistan, and we'll bring the al Qaeda to justice, and we're doing
everything we can to find out who mailed these letters," he said.
"The object of terrorism is to try to force us to change our way of
life, is to force us to retreat, is to force us to be what we're not,"
Bush said, adding that "they're going to fail. They're simply going to
fail."
Earlier in the day, House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt told
reporters that he believes there is a link between the anthrax cases
in the United States and the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Gephardt spoke as he left the White House following a meeting between
leaders of Congress and the president.
"I don't think there's a way to prove that, but I think we all suspect
that. I think it's clear that these are people that are both up to no
good and people who know what they're doing. Now, given all of that,
it is a very crude way of trying to injure people, but it has been
effective now in a number of cases, and it's not to be taken lightly,"
Gephardt said.
And at a press briefing on Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Tom
Daschle said that many of the Senate office buildings that were closed
following the discovery of an anthrax-laced letter addressed to him
will be opened in the "not-too-distant future." However, he said, "we
may have to quarantine and keep sealed my office and the mail room,"
where the anthrax-laced letter was discovered.
Daschle also said members of Congress are "deeply saddened with the
loss of life" of the two postal workers.
White House Press Secretary Fleischer, at his noon briefing, said
"just as you're seeing in the military, a mobilization in Afghanistan,
you're also seeing a nation at home mobilize.
"Our nation is under attack as a result of these mailings and these
cases," he said. "We have a war going on overseas, and we have a need
to defend at home as well. ... We have not had to deal with these
issues before; we are rapidly adjusting to deal with all of them," he
said.
Fleischer said "there is a suspicion that this is connected to
international terrorists," but he said "investigators also do not rule
out that it could be something domestic, that it could be a lone
person operating, doing this; or it could be terrorism. The suspicion
is that it's terrorism, but there is no hard evidence yet at this
point to lead anybody who's investigating these matters to reach a
conclusion on any of those sources."
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:
http://usinfo.state.gov)



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