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Homeland Defense

Kwame Holman looks at bioterrorism and the activities of the Office of Homeland Defense and Security, including excerpts from Tom Ridge's first briefing earlier.

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    One new case of anthrax infection was in New York City at CBS News headquarters, another in New Jersey at a post office in Trenton. CBS news president Andrew Heyward spoke at a news conference.


    As you probably know by now, an employee of CBS News who works here in the broadcast center, has been diagnosed with cutaneous anthrax. We've learned a lot about this disease in the last two weeks. She is doing fine. She feels great. She's been on antibiotics for a couple of days now and her prognosis is excellent.


    CBS News doesn't know how the employee, anchorman Dan Rather's assistant, came in contact with the bacteria. Rather talked about overreaction to the latest cases.


    Our biggest problem is fear, and we understand and have talked among ourselves that those who are most afraid are in the most danger.


    This afternoon, a Trenton, New Jersey, postal worker became only the sixth confirmed case of anthrax infection. The post office where she worked processed the anthrax-containing letters addressed to NBC anchor Tom Brokaw and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. The Federal Centers for Disease Control also continues to investigate the anthrax incidents at the U.S. Capitol. Tests on people who might have been exposed in a Senate Office Building showed no new cases beyond the 31 confirmed yesterday. All are being treated. However, the Capitol complex was eerily quiet today as the six House and Senate Office Buildings were swept by health officials. No new anthrax has been found. Today, officials said no new tests are needed beyond the 3,000 people already identified. And the new director of homeland security held his first news conference today. Flanked by the Attorney General, the FBI Director, the Surgeon General and others, former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge said the Bush Administration is in control of the anthrax threat thus far.


    And I just want to tell you that we assembled this group today. Obviously, it's my first opportunity to spend a little time with you, but to show you that on a daily basis, on an hourly basis, every single day, there is communication and collaboration between all agencies of government.


    In New York City, officials had the same message. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani warned people not to overtax emergency rooms and testing facilities.


    We're asking people to just relax about it more because if you… Every unnecessary test delays a necessary test, so if all of a sudden we're doing 1,000 tests that we don't have to do, then the one that has to get done gets delayed and it becomes more of a needle in a haystack. And it's going to make their job that much more difficult.


    Meanwhile, the first case of an anthrax-tainted letter outside the United States showed up in Kenya. Health officials there said white powder in a letter to a Nairobi businessman tested positive for anthrax. But there have been hundreds of anthrax scares worldwide. Yesterday, the Israeli parliament was evacuated after an opposition leader received a letter containing a powder. In France, 600 people were evacuated from the French space agency, a school, a bank and other offices in four separate anthrax scares on Monday. And back in the U.S. today, officials advised Vermont-to-Detroit passengers on a Northwest Airlines Flight this week to take antibiotics because a powdery substance was found on the plane. In addition, 90 offices of Planned Parenthood have received envelopes containing unidentified powders and letters with threatening language. Yesterday at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, in Pennsylvania, officials said they received a "credible threat," prompting the shutdown of two nearby airports and the dispatching of military aircraft to protect the facility. Attorney General John Ashcroft pledged to prosecute anyone who deliberately raises a false alarm.


    This week, we have already charged four people in connection with false anthrax threats, and we are working with state and local officials to prosecute additional cases. Two individuals lied to federal authorities about their knowledge of or involvement with a hoax. Two others falsely threatened to use biological weapons of mass destruction. The message is clear: Anyone who participates in or perpetrates a false threat of anthrax, or a false threat of another kind, will be prosecuted by federal, state and local officials.


    The television program "America's Most Wanted" joined with the FBI to offer a $1 million reward for information leading to the conviction of anyone responsible for anthrax attacks. And Postmaster General John Potter announced a postcard mailing to every U.S. address next week of a message on proper handling of suspicious mail.


    The first thing they should do is isolate it. Don't let others touch it. Don't shake it. Don't taste it. Don't sniff it. Put it in a plastic bag and seal it, then thoroughly wash your hands and contact local law enforcement authorities. They'll put you in touch with the appropriate health officials.


    During the anthrax events, officials also are worried about smallpox, a deadly and incurable disease that was eradicated nearly two decades ago. Nonetheless, the new Director of Homeland Security said the government will purchase 300 million doses of smallpox vaccine.


    We have decided, as a matter of prevention and protection, to strengthen the stockpile of antibiotics and vaccines that we have. And we looked at potential challenges to this country– smallpox is one of them– and decided to prepare for that challenge. Again, it's a very appropriate response.


    But is the intention to vaccinate every American against smallpox?


    Well, we… It is the intention to determine, after we have sufficient supplies available to commence inoculation, to make the decision at that time.


    Federal officials also encouraged doctors to watch for possible cases of Ebola virus or food poisoning.

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