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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 2, 2001
Friday's Homeland Security Briefing
Press Briefing by Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, FBI Director Bob Mueller, Deputy Postmaster General John Nolan and Director of Bacterial and Mycotic Disease for the CDC Mitch Cohen
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
11:00 A.M. EST
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Good morning, again. Joining me this morning is our FBI Director Bob Mueller; Dr. Mitch Cohen, from the Center for Disease Control; and United States Postal Service Assistant Postmaster John Nolan.
We will all be available to answer your questions regarding the ongoing anthrax investigations and to provide an update on our investigative and public health efforts.
Director Mueller will specifically discuss with you the status of the investigations that have been undertaken since September 11th.
Once again, I think it's very, very important to thank the thousands of Americans, both at the federal, state and local level, who continue to work around the clock to meet the extraordinary challenges that have confronted this country since September 11th.
Our law enforcement professionals and public and private health care providers have done an extraordinary job and they've made us all very proud with their efforts.
I would also like to give you a brief glimpse into my week as Director of Homeland Security, to help illustrate how we have begun our work to respond to the President's directive that we create a blueprint for a safer America.
As you know, the President led our week by establishing a foreign terrorist tracking task force, a recommendation from the Homeland Security Office -- where we will fuse information from the INS and FBI and State Department. And it will be housed in the Attorney General's Office.
We are consolidating our intelligence data bases, strengthening our immigration policies to keep terrorists and their supporters out of this country; tightening restrictions on student visas; and also working with our friends in Canada and Mexico to improve border security, enhance, facilitate commerce, and to try to bring a greater harmony to some of our immigration and customs policies.
As the President regularly meets with the National Security Council, he now regularly meets with the Homeland Security Council.
On Tuesday I met with Democrat and Republican congressional leaders at their policy luncheons, and I appeared before the House Democratic Caucus on Wednesday. My daily discussions with members of Congress have focused on both the war at home today -- obviously a great concern is to where we devote some resources in the short-term -- but also talking with them, both individually and collectively, about long-term plans, as we work with them to create that blueprint for a safer America.
I've had private discussions with the leaders of our airlines industry, to discuss mutual safety and economic concerns. I was certainly encouraged by the discussions we've had; and I had earlier this week with leaders of the pharmaceutical industry, who pledged to share, if needed, to share their facilities, their products and their scientific genius, to help meet America's needs.
I had a very productive meeting with Washington Mayor Tony Williams. We discussed the resource challenges he is facing with the anthrax attack. We also discussed several public safety planning initiatives, which we look forward to working with the Mayor and his staff on.
I met with the Australian Foreign Minister this week, as I have met with Canadian, German officials in recent weeks, as well. We obviously share mutual interests. And I'm very, very encouraged, both personally and professionally, by the international attention to our homeland protection initiatives.
Yesterday, I met with leaders of local law enforcement at the state, the county and the local level. Obviously, they're part of the front line of public safety. They're very much, today and for all time, a significant part of the homeland security structure that we are developing.
I am certainly pleased to report that their spirit of partisanship, their desire to be engaged, a desire to work with federal officials, as we go about combatting the terrorist threats that confront us today, and may appear in the future, is sincere, it's intense, they're on the job 24-7. And you can well imagine, as someone charged with a national -- developing a national plan for homeland security, the one group of people we have, the 365-24-7 in our neighborhoods, on our streets, in our communities, our local law enforcement community. And obviously their integration into what we do and the information we receive at the national level is very critical to them, to being able to effectively be that first line of defense.
I'm certainly most grateful to Secretary Rumsfeld and Secretary of the Army White, for their decision. We work with them to keep national guard troops stationed on our northern border up there, to help the good men and women of Customs. As you can well imagine, there are five or six major points of ingress and egress from Canada to the United States. We're going to continue to beef up the men and women there charged with security. And it's critical that we devote the attention and the resources, given the extraordinary commerce -- level of commerce that flows between these two allies and friends and neighbors.
I would ask Director Mueller to share a few thoughts with you, and then the four of us will be available for questioning.
DIRECTOR MUELLER: Thank you, Governor, and good morning. I want to update you on the FBI's growing efforts to track down those responsible for the biological attacks on America and also to ask for your help in generating new leads from the citizens of our country.
In concert with many state, local and federal partners, we are moving aggressively to investigate the 16 confirmed cases of anthrax, as well as to investigate every contaminated site. We are pursuing more than a thousand leads, including more than 100 that have taken us overseas. We have conducted more than 2,000 interviews to date in that investigation. We are deploying every available resource in that investigation.
I will tell you that our combined anthrax and hijacking investigation -- the hijackings relating to September 11th -- are being worked by in excess of 7,000 FBI agents and support personnel around the country and, indeed, around the world. With regard to the anthrax investigation, we have heavy concentrations of agents and support personnel working in Miami, New York, Newark and in the Washington field offices.
Despite speculation about the possible source of the anthrax and the motive for the attacks, nothing yet has been ruled out, and investigators continue to follow the evidence wherever it may lead. We are currently looking closely at the recent fatality in New York of Ms. Nguyen to see what that might tell us; but it's still too early to draw any conclusions.
Since September 11th, the American people have been an important set of eyes and ears in our investigations -- both our investigation of the terrorist hijackings and our investigation into the anthrax attacks.
Through our Internet site and our toll-free hot line, they have contributed more than 170,000 potential leads and tips which our agents and support personnel are pursuing. That 170,000 is but 40 percent of the 420,000 total leads that have been generated in our investigations since September 11th.
Over the past month, a number of private citizens and businesses have provided us with information, support and expertise. And that is helping to move the anthrax investigation forward; and we greatly appreciate all of those contributions.
I will say that we had hoped that the $1 million reward announced by the FBI and the U.S. Postal Service on October 18th would encourage many more of our fellow citizens to step forward with important information. And so far, we have not received as many tips or leads under that program as we would like.
And so today, I'm calling upon all of you and the news organizations to basically speak for us, to ask our fellow citizens to join us in trying to bring leads to the front that will help us, both the anthrax investigation, but also solve the September 11th hijacking investigations.
I want to reiterate that there is a $1 million reward, and I also want to reiterate our toll-free telephone number and our Internet address for any of you or others out there who have leads that we should be following.
The hot line number is 1-800-CRIME-TV; that is, 1-800-CRIME-TV. I see some of you smiling, it's easy to remember. 1-800-CRIME-TV. And the Internet web site is www.ifccfbi.gov.
Q Director Mueller?
DIRECTOR MUELLER: I'm not through yet. (Laughter.) If I might just have a second, sorry.
I want to follow-up by urging in the strongest terms possible every American to join us in tracking down those responsible for using anthrax to murder Americans. We ask you throughout the country to report any suspicious behavior that involves the United States mails or individuals -- or individuals knowledgeable about anthrax.
I also ask you to study closely the images of the anthrax envelopes which we released last month, that many of your publications had in them -- and we also put that on our web site -- to look at those images and determine if you know who was the writer of those envelopes. And by that I mean comparing the handwriting on it to any handwriting that you may be able to recognize.
Finally, I want to say a few words about law enforcement cooperation. I was at the International Association of Chiefs of Police last Sunday and Monday and had an opportunity to talk to a number of my fellow brothers and sisters in law enforcement. I want to say to them and to you that the FBI is making concrete steps -- taking concrete steps to improve the level of cooperation and information sharing with state and local law enforcement.
We are dedicating a senior FBI official to address concerns that were raised in the course of my discussions at the IACP. And we are going to establish an advisory group made up of state and local authorities, as well as FBI representatives, to identify issues and resolutions to those issues. I have urged state and local leaders to contact me and other FBI officials if there appears to be any gap in that coordination.
And, finally, we in the FBI realize that the general threat warning that was issued last Monday was frustrating to many law enforcement officials. However, as we work to prevent future acts of terrorism, we believe in the FBI and I believe in the Homeland Defense Office that we have a responsibility to keep everybody informed, even when the level of information may not be as specific as any of us would like.
By issuing the warnings, we are sending a strong signal to terrorists that we are focused, prepared and united in our determination to keep them from attacking our freedom.
And, finally, I want to thank all our partners throughout law enforcement, the intelligence community, the public health communities for their unwavering commitment and support since September 11th, whether it be with regard to the attacks of September 11th or the more recent anthrax attacks.
Q Given the fact, Director Mueller, that the threat advisory on the western suspension bridges apparently contained the suggestion that it not be shared with the media, could Governor Davis' release of it have jeopardized ongoing investigations?
DIRECTOR MUELLER: We put out that warning to law enforcement with the expectation that it would go to the senior officials in any particular state. And with regard to what that senior official does, that is up to that senior official in the state.
Q Even though you advised not to share it?
DIRECTOR MUELLER: Yes, sir?
Q A couple of points on the Nguyen case in New York. Are you investigating or tracking other cases that may overlap her infection and, therefore, provide more guidance to investigators? And, secondly, you've talked about all the leads, all of the interviews. Are you in any better position to tell the American people who is behind this anthrax, specifically, the letter to Senator Daschle?
DIRECTOR MUELLER: Let me address that. With regard to Ms. Nguyen, we, along cooperatively with the New York authorities, with Mayor Giuliani, with the New York police, operating out of out joint task force that has been operating for a number of years, are investigating every lead, and we are exploring all those who knew Ms. Nguyen. We have jointly been into, as I think the Governor -- or, the Mayor has already indicated to you -- have been in to explore whether or not there were any anthrax spores found in her apartment or found at work, and to date that has been negative.
So we are trying to reconstruct her life to determine whether there are any leads that would help us determine how she contracted the anthrax.
With regard to the status of the investigations, the investigations to September 11th is moving along. It's moving at apace both here and internationally. As I have indicated before, one of the initial responsibilities of that investigation was to determine who the hijackers were. We at this point definitely know the 19 hijackers who were responsible for that catastrophe. We have spread the investigation in the United States -- it has been spread out in the United States, as well as overseas, and following up leads.
And we have been successful in working with our foreign counterparts in identifying places where the conspiracy we believe was hashed, as well as others who may have been involved in the conspiracy.
Q I'm sorry, but I was asking specifically about the anthrax letter, sir.
DIRECTOR MUELLER: I'm sorry, go ahead.
Q I was trying to get you to talk specifically about who would be capable of producing the kind of anthrax that has been sent through the mail, and where you believe this is happening? Is this somebody doing it domestically or overseas?
DIRECTOR MUELLER: I will tell you that the three letters at issue, the letter to NBC, the letter to the New York Post and the Daschle letter all were mailed from Trenton, which you all know. And we are pursuing every conceivable lead to determine who was responsible, who would be capable of developing that anthrax strain, as well as who would be responsible for utilizing that type of envelope, and mailing those envelopes in Trenton.
Q Governor, could you give us your perspective on what happened yesterday with this threat warning on suspension bridges in California, what might have been learned from what happened; and whether or not you're considering at all some kind of perhaps more regularized threat warning -- sort of like the military does, with some threat-con level that would clue people in as to what level of alert they ought to be on?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: One of the challenges for this office and for the country, in creation of a national homeland security force, is that it's a federal government, and that we have to deal with different levels of -- different political jurisdictions. And so the integration of federal data collection and information gathering, the state intelligence and information sharing on the local is something that we have done in the past, but it's pretty clear that given the events of September 11th, how we go about approaching the new normalcy, how we go about dealing with this new environment has created some real challenges for us.
The information was sent out and it noted that it was uncorroborated test information. I think we can safely assume that once we send out from the federal level to the state level and suggest that it remain within law enforcement, there's not too much that's kept secret once that kind of information is made available to somebody in the country.
And the Governor exercised his discretion and made a judgment.
Q But you admitted just a couple days earlier that if you sent it to law enforcement, it would get out anyway, so you released it. Why didn't you release this?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Remember one of the criticisms of the alert -- and everybody is trying to be constructive about this, I understand -- was that the alert that went out Monday, with the exception of a time frame, did not offer any additional information as to the location, the type of weapon and the like.
This, although uncorroborated, targeted a time frame and a place. It was based on that information that again it was sent out to the law enforcement community. Governors of all 50 states, since September 11th -- and I think it's very important to note this, and their state police and their local police and their emergency responders -- have really upgraded dramatically the security enhancements at potentially vulnerable targets.
Again, given the federal nature -- and each governor and each county executive and each region makes different assessments as to the best way they can harden those targets and the best way they can interdict or prevent a terrorist attack.
Obviously, Governor Davis thought that one thing that he could do to enhance the security of people using those bridges was to make a public announcement. We did not encourage him to do so.
Q In light of that, though, Governor, following up on Terry's questions, are you going to have conversations maybe with other governors, lessons learned here, in terms of for future, that the best guidance --
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Yes.
Q So what will your advice be to governors?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Great question. We are learning every day. We're in constant conversation. I had -- Wednesday I had four conversations with four governors. Yesterday, I think I talked to two or three. As we work our way through better coordination, better communication, we view every response to every single incident in the light of what can we do differently, what can we do better.
You know, America post-September 11th is dramatically -- unfortunately, dramatically different than September 10th. So we look at every one.
Q Governor, is it possible -- well, one, was this information that Governor Davis released to the public part of the unspecified information you alluded to earlier in the week? And also, a question for Director Mueller, could you give us a few more details about the overseas clues -- clues that have taken you overseas, like how much of this is involving maybe anthrax, or -- could you also speak to the anthrax letter that showed up at a paper in Pakistan?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: That information came in on Thursday morning, and the appropriate agencies -- we're going back to corroborate it. Remember, the statement went out that it was uncorroborated. And the FBI moved forward to go back, visit the source, and make a further determination.
DIRECTOR MUELLER: Let me just say a little bit before I respond to your question, if I might. In terms of the contacts with governors and the distribution of information -- this is not the first time that we have had occasion to call a governor or pass information to a governor. It's happened on numerous occasions since September 11th.
In fact, before Governor Ridge was here, down here, I had occasion to talk to the Governor about a similar matter. And, given the information, the threat information and what a governor can do to address a particular threat, different steps have been taken. So this is not unusual, what happened yesterday, in any way, shape or form.
Turning to your question, in terms of the overseas investigation. With regard to September 11th hijackings, that is taking us well overseas. With regard to the anthrax investigation, that has been more localized, more localized than the investigation into September 11th, but that is not to say that there have not been leads that have taken us overseas.
Q A question for you, sir, and a question for the Deputy Postmaster General. For you, sir, yesterday, it seems that on September 11th, from then on, we've had a lot of bipartisanship in Congress. While the vote yesterday was very partisan on airport security -- 218 to 214, while the Senate had voted 100-0 on their bill.
Now, this seems to bode that we will be having -- we'll be having a fight, and it will take a longer time to get airport security. There was a major incident in New York last night. I believe a flight was delayed because security was missing?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: There have been other occasions, not just in New York, where people on the ground have decided to delay flights or to divert flights because of the situations that occurred. There may have been a bipartisan disagreement on to the extent that -- on the House bill, but there is absolute bipartisan agreement that we need to upgrade the standards, we need higher competency, more training, better pay to get men and women better equipped, along with the added technology, to get the job done at the airports. And we're convinced that it will be done.
Q I'd like to ask the FBI Director, does this mean you're tilting more toward a domestic source?
DIRECTOR MUELLER: I wouldn't say we're tilting -- on the anthrax, we're not tilting more to a domestic source. What we're doing is the investigation expands from where we've got the current evidence. The current evidence puts us at mail boxes in Trenton, where the critical -- three critical letters were mailed. And it expands beyond there. And some of the leads may well take us overseas. But the thrust of the investigation is where those letters were mailed, and trying to track back from those mailboxes to the individual who is responsible for putting those letters, with the anthrax, into those mailboxes in Trenton.
Q Well, what are you asking the American people to do? You want us to alert them, they can do something -- what are they supposed to do?
DIRECTOR MUELLER: Two things. One, if there are -- if you have persons around you, that are suspicious in terms of -- if you see something out of the ordinary, in terms of mail -- the mail, or if you see -- look at the writing, the handwriting that was disclosed both on the envelopes of the letters, as well as the pages inside, and either the statements or the handwriting may be somehow familiar to you, somebody you may have seen, you may have seen a letter like that, then we'd like to know that.
On the other hand, it may well be that there is somebody in the United States who is manufacturing the anthrax. We have not, as I said, we have not precluded any possibility. We have not said it's domestic, we have not said it is international. We have not precluded any possibility. If you know that somebody is doing different things with anthrax than they should be, and anthrax is studied in places, if you believe that persons are doing something with anthrax -- you may be in the medical profession, you may be in some other profession that has something to do with anthrax, and it's somewhat suspicious, we're asking you to let us know.
Q A question on the post office, please. I understand that four offices in Rockville, the FDA, that are being tested for anthrax. Do you have any results on those yet?
MR. NOLAN: No, those would not -- results would not come to us; that's being done by those government offices, themselves.
Q How about the rest of the post offices around the country? I know you had -- I think outbreaks in Indianapolis and Kansas City. Is that correct?
MR. NOLAN: Well, the Indianapolis and Kansas City things are very specific, have nothing whatsoever to do with mail. Nothing whatsoever to do with mail. We have a spare parts depot in Indianapolis. Spare parts of a technical nature are sent there for repair. Once we learned of the contamination of the Brentwood facility, one of the things we did was examine everything that we did in Brentwood, and who we sent anything to.
So we began testing that Indianapolis facility, because we know we had sent spare parts there; we knew the part numbers, so we knew exactly where to look and, in fact, we found contamination. That has been cleaned up and should be opened up shortly.
In Kansas City, we had a similar kind of situation where we have first-day covers for philatelic, stamp collecting. And those that were left over after the event were sent to a specified place. Has nothing to do with our stamp distribution center where we're sending stamps everywhere. It was a completely isolated place, it was found in the trash can. And, again, they were searching for anything that related to first-day covers that had come back from Washington. Nothing to do with mail; nothing to do with the receipt of mail by anybody, completely isolated, and no further problem.
Q Governor Ridge --
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Let me just add two other comments. One, you should know that the Centers for Disease Control and the Post Office is developing an internal group within the post office to help detect and decontaminate. They just began, CDC working with the Postal Service.
The other bit of information that I think is important -- maybe you could remind people who read, or people who listen, or people who watch -- that the penalty for using the mail to perpetrate a hoax is 20 years. And we've had several thousands hoaxes that have had -- again, you put in the cluster of responsibilities that the law enforcement community has, following up on and responding to potential threats. A hoax can be punishable for up to 20 years in jail. We hope everybody knows that.
Q A question for the gentleman from the CDC.
DR. COHEN: Thank you. (Laughter.)
Q Given that the Ms. Nguyen case can't be linked to any other previous cases in terms of how she contracted the anthrax, are public health officials worried that this may be the start of a new cluster of cases?
DR. COHEN: Well, I think it's very important to conduct this thorough investigation, both epidemiologically, as well as criminal, to try to determine how that transmission occurred. There may be an explanation that could help us to understand. But, again, I think it just emphasizes the needs for people to be alert, as has been emphasized by some of the other speakers.
Q Governor Ridge, a number of states have beefed up their security around nuclear power plants in the last few days, in part on your advice. Does the government have specific information that these plants may be targeted? And, also, there's been a lot of speculation about the possibility of suitcase bombs, nuclear -- miniature nuclear bombs in the hands of terrorists. Is this is a concern of the government's?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I think one of the -- obviously, when we looked at targets nationally, that are potentially vulnerable, one of the first places you would be looking would be to your nuclear facilities owned by both the Defense Department and the public in general. So it's understandable then, at a heightened alert, we certainly beef up the security there.
Remember, the charge of the Homeland Security Office is to create a blueprint for safety that would include preventing and responding to a variety of attacks. And, unfortunately, all the literature and all the concern is chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear. I mean, there is a universe of potentials that we have to deal with. Unfortunately, in the business we're in, we have to deal with the what-if.
But there's no -- don't read anything in to the nuclear protection other than in a general heightened state of alert. Looking at the vulnerability of these locations, we decided to heighten the security there.
Q Is the threat level today the same as the threat level you announced on Monday? Should Americans go into this weekend believing that the threat level is the same as you announced for a heightened state of alert last Monday? And are you doing anything to try to rank these levels, so that there are different levels of warning?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: For the time being, Bill, we want people -- whether they're involved professionally in security and law enforcement, or the public generally -- to be on the highest possible state of alert. I know that seems -- some people suggest that that is a contradictory message. But the bottom line is, is that what the terrorists want us to do is to be so preoccupied with the threat that we forget what it is about being America and going about our business of being America.
Director Mueller I believe said it very appropriately. We have the eyes and ears of citizens who can help us in this effort. We didn't think we'd have to enlist them, given the security concerns that the country had on September 10th. But as of September 11th, the need, and one of the reasons that the alert goes out, was just to remind all Americans, regardless of whether their daily responsibilities have anything to do with domestic security, that your eyes, your ears, your being alert, your being on call to respond to the inquiries that the FBI has made, to -- if nothing else, that an employee in the airlines now, that they're just a little more suspicious, a little more attentive; that individual providing security on the street corner; the local police officer at a high school athletic event -- just everybody keep their eyes and ears -- be attentive, be on guard, but go about the business of being America.
Q What is the nature of the threat now? I mean, you must be getting new information all the time. Is it worse than it was on Monday? Does it still expire in a week? As far as I know, the first treat that you issued never expired, either.
GOVERNOR RIDGE: We know that bin Laden and al Qaeda have set up terrorist cells around the world. And we know that both internally and externally there are people who would murder innocent Americans. And we know that it may be a long time -- perhaps we'll never be able to identify and detain every single human being, whether they're located in this country or elsewhere, that would do us harm. The world has changed since September 11th, everybody has said it, and everybody probably gets tired of reading it and saying it. But it is a fact, and a reality that we deal with.
That simply means that as we go about building on what I found to be a rather extraordinary infrastructure of homeland security when I first walked into the office, while we go about building out on that -- on those organizations and those people, we enlist America, citizens, to help us in that effort. So be alert and go about the business of being Americans.
Q Are we still -- until Monday, or does it still end on Monday, it's still a week-long threat?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: We're going to keep everybody on the Monday alert, that attentiveness indefinitely.
END 11:32 A.M. EST
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