- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 24, 2001

The Bush administration yesterday confirmed that anthrax was found in an offsite facility that processes mail for the White House, while suggesting in the strongest terms yet a possible link between the Sept. 11 assault on America and an attack of anthrax-laced letters.
President Bush declared the White House safe and said security precautions had been undertaken to guarantee the safety of those who work there.
"We're making sure the West Wing and the White House is safe," Mr. Bush said, although he did not elaborate on what precautions had been ordered. "I'm confident when I come to work tomorrow that I'll be safe. We're working hard at finding out who's doing this."
Asked whether he had been tested for anthrax or been given antibiotics, the president said: "I don't have anthrax."
At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, Congress also had to deal with the aftermath of anthrax contamination, as House members set up temporary offices in a General Accounting Office building yesterday, and senators crammed in four to an office in the Capitol itself.
Presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer said the anthrax was located at a mail screening facility used by the White House. He said the facility, which processes more than 40,000 letters a week, was "closed for further testing and decontamination."
Mail delivery to the White House was halted several days ago when an anthrax-laced letter to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle was discovered to have been processed at the Brentwood Road mail facility in the District. Mail for the White House also goes through Brentwood, where two U.S. Postal Service workers have died from exposure to anthrax and two others have been hospitalized with the disease.
The mail then goes to a U.S. Secret Service-controlled site on property shared by the Anacostia Naval Station and Bolling Air Force Base.
Mr. Fleischer said tests for the bacteria at the White House itself came back negative. All employees at the Secret Service site, the mailrooms in the White House complex and at the Old Executive Office Building were being tested for anthrax exposure.
A law-enforcement official said the Secret Service found from 20 to 500 anthrax spores when it tested a machine used at the facility to cut open the mail, known as a slitter. The source would not say exactly when the test was done, but noted that the White House, the mail depot and the Old Executive Office Building had been tested.
"It was a very low level," the source said, adding that no Secret Service or postal employees have shown symptoms that would correspond with a possible anthrax exposure or infection.
Federal law-enforcement authorities said it has not yet been determined how the anthrax found its way to the White House processing center. The only obvious connection, they said, was the fact that the mail is routed through the Brentwood facility, the same site that processed the Daschle letter.
"We're going to be in there quickly and will be issuing the necessary antibiotics to the people who need it," he said.
Earlier, Mr. Fleischer voiced concerns that the anthrax scare nationwide was linked to the Sept. 11 attacks by terrorists associated with Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network. Those suicide missions against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon killed about 5,000 people.
"There is a suspicion that this is connected to international terrorists," he said. "Our nation is under attack as a result of these mailings."
Mr. Fleischer also said the president believes the spread of anthrax is "another example of how this is a two-front war: that there are people who would seek to do evil to this country; that there are people who mean harm to us. And they have mailed letters, obviously, to high-impact places the news media, to Majority Leader Daschle, perhaps, in this case, to the White House."
Attorney General John Ashcroft said yesterday that the FBI investigation so far had not established any firm link between the hijackers who attacked New York and Washington, but that possibility had not been ruled out.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said federal authorities reacted immediately to the threat of anthrax at the White House. He said the government was "not going to tarry" in getting health investigators to test the White House mail facility.
Mr. Thompson also told a House subcommittee that all postal facilities that handle letters containing anthrax will be tested for contamination and workers immediately treated.
"We're going to err on the side of caution in making sure people are protected," Mr. Thompson told the House Government Reform subcommittee on national security, veterans affairs and international relations.
"Postal workers have a tough job and it's a job that becomes even tougher in some parts of the country, but we're going to ease their burden by going to the greatest lengths to make sure that their health is protected," Mr. Thompson said. "Never has our nation's public health surveillance been more important."
So far, three persons have died from inhalation anthrax and four who have been diagnosed with the disease are hospitalized including the two postal workers in the District and one man in Florida. Three others all postal workers are hospitalized and believed to be sick with inhalation anthrax, though their diagnoses are not confirmed.
In addition, six others have contracted the less-lethal cutaneous or skin anthrax, against which antibiotics have a much higher cure rate.
Also yesterday, senators criticized the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for its lack of response to determine if the Brentwood facility had been contaminated.
Staffers in Mr. Daschle's office were tested and treated immediately after a letter containing anthrax was opened in his personal office in the Hart Senate Office Building. All staff members, reporters, and visitors to the building where the spores were detected were tested the following day and all tests were negative.
However, no testing was done at the Brentwood facility for five days and workers were told not to take antibiotics.
"It seems to me something broke down here or is broken down," said Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat and chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on labor, health and human services, and education. "Obviously people are getting sick and dying, and we can't afford to continue to let this happen. Whatever happened at Brentwood, we can't let happen anywhere else."
Dr. Jeffrey P. Koplan, director of the CDC, said expectations are being met in spite of a public health system "severely challenged," "run ragged," and "communications strained." He said his agency has "performed admirably" but said lacks funding to meet current demands.
"That's the oldest story in the world. The fact is we are generous in our resources," said House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican.
Dr. Koplan said health officials acted under the assumption the bacteria was spread by opening the letters, not just handling mail. He said antibiotics were not immediately prescribed to employees because of side effects and possible immunity.
"We did not want to rush to a decision that might be the wrong one, the key goal is who needs it."
Dave Boyer, Joseph Curl, Daniel F. Drummond and Audrey Hudson contributed to this article.


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