September 11, 2001 : Attack on America
State Dept. Daily Briefing; November 13, 2001

Richard Boucher, Spokesman
Washington, DC
November 13, 2001


11:05 A.M. EST

MR. BOUCHER: Good morning. I'm on the record. Richard Boucher, on the record. Two things I wanted to tell you about today. The first is the situation with anthrax. As you know, we have been testing our Sterling, Virginia mail facility. We were getting results late last week and over the weekend. We have put out an update, a notice to all our employees. Eight samples out of 55 that were collected from that facility are positive for anthrax. Two of those came from two separate mail sorters, and then there are six other positive from a third mail sorter.

QUESTION: Wait a second. Two of those from two separate --

MR. BOUCHER: These are automated mail sorting machines. So each of two had one sample positive, and then the third machine had six samples that were positive.

QUESTION: Six plus two.

QUESTION: Or as Barry says, "eight." (Laughter.)

MR. BOUCHER: Now, the results are therefore important because they support the theory that there is a letter like the one sent to Senator Daschle that has moved through our mail system, because of the amount that was found on that one machine.

So we are now proceeding to look at all the mail that we have held up, frozen, sealed off in mail rooms in this building, in annexes and around the world. Mail goes from that Sterling -- mail went, when it was moving -- from that Sterling, Virginia facility to various locations in this building to various annexes, and to posts around the world in pouches. So we are proceeding to examine all that mail, examine the mail at the facility that was sealed and stopped there, examine the mail at the mail rooms that was sealed and stopped there, and examine the mail in the pouches that was sealed and stopped there. Remember --

QUESTION: So this is piece by piece?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, I don't know exactly how they do it. But that is what they are going to have to do.

As you know, we shut down the mail system on October 24th. We notified our posts on October 25th to seal and shut down all their pouch mail. So the mail is stopped. If there had been a letter that had gone beyond that into our system or delivered to a desk, we assume that by now we would have seen it, it would have turned up. So therefore we have to assume that, one, there is a contaminated letter of some kind in our system, and second of all, that we will eventually find it in one of these mail rooms or pouch bags.

We have continued our environmental testing in this building and elsewhere at our facilities in the Washington area, and we are instituting a longer-term environmental sampling program, both domestically and overseas.

QUESTION: Has anything come out of the environmental sampling?

MR. BOUCHER: No, nothing new at this point. And as a matter of fact, CDC is now telling us that of the samples done in mail rooms, we originally had thought that two mail rooms had found positive cultures; I guess in the final results only one mail room in this building was found to have a positive culture.

QUESTION: Which one?

MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that.

QUESTION: Do you know who they serve?


QUESTION: I mean, was it a bureau, was it a --

MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't. I don't know.

QUESTION: That's one in addition to the DS and the -- next to the CVS then? One in this building, and then one --

MR. BOUCHER: Yes. And then the SA-3 had a positive mail sample that they found I think when they opened a bag outside. So the facility is negative, but they found something in a pouch.

QUESTION: SA-3 being the DS location across the --

MR. BOUCHER: The DS next to the drugstore location. Yes.

QUESTION: The existing contaminated mail bags that you found in other embassies, it's clear that none of them contain -- could have contained the letter that would have caused this contamination at Sterling?

MR. BOUCHER: Yes, so far that is the situation. Yes, we have not identified what piece of mail it might have come from, because we found things on bags.

Now, some of our places are able to sterilize and test. So, for example, our embassy in Pretoria is going to take pouches and pouch bags from other places in the region, irradiate them and sterilize them, and then start doing testing like that. So that is what we are doing in a number of cases.

QUESTION: Well, wouldn't that potentially destroy the chances of finding out where the letter is?

MR. BOUCHER: The scientists can deal with that. CDC is the one that we are working with on this, and I think the answer is that if you irradiate it, then you can find dead anthraxes -- anthrax corpses on your --

QUESTION: No one else, though, in terms of people?

MR. BOUCHER: No one else in terms of people. And I think you know that the individual who was sick, who was in the hospital in Winchester got out on Friday. The Secretary spoke with him, I think before he left the hospital. But that was good news for us on Friday.

The other thing I wanted to mention, if I can very briefly, is there have been verdicts in the La Belle Disco bombing in Germany. Four people were convicted. We see this as positive news, good news. We will have to study the text of the decision when we get the details. All we have heard now, I think, is the announcement of the summary. But I think it is a strong indication that however long it takes, whatever we have to do, we do and we will continue to bring terrorists to justice. You have recently had an indictment, I think, of a person wanted in the hijacking of Pan Am 73. And we had verdict in terms of the La Belle Disco bombing. And I think that shows the determination that the United States and others exhibit in terms of getting justice for the people who were harmed in these actions.

QUESTION: Well, what was the date of the La Belle bombing?

QUESTION: April 6th, 1986.

MR. BOUCHER: April 6th, I think.

QUESTION: While we're on that subject, can I ask, does the Administration have a view of the call that Justice Goldstone made last week for an ad hoc tribunal to be set up for the people who did September 11th attacks?

MR. BOUCHER: I didn't see it. I don't think I have any news on that at this point.

QUESTION: I want to go back to the anthrax and the -- well, your findings, and what you now assume they mean. You said -- if I wrote it down right -- they support the theory that there was a letter like the one sent to Senator Daschle in the State Department mail system?

MR. BOUCHER: It moved into our mail system, yes.

QUESTION: And you are now proceeding to look at all the mail you had frozen at all the facilities, looking at them in each facility, letter by letter?

MR. BOUCHER: It may not be in each facility. Some of it will be triple-bagged -- you know washed on the outside, triple-bagged, moved to the places where we can test, things like that. But we are going to have to check -- we are going to check the mail -- the first is that there is a good possibility that we may have a letter containing spores in our system in one of these sealed mail rooms, or sealed mail bags or mail rooms.

Second of all, we are now proceeding to test the mail in our facilities, that has been in our closed and sealed facilities, starting with the mail that is out at SA-32, out at the Sterling, Virginia facility.

QUESTION: How are you so certain that it was stopped? That whatever, that this (inaudible) get out?

MR. BOUCHER: Well, there are two things. One is that we know we stopped all our mail on the 24th of October, so that's three weeks ago. We, first of all, stopped great quantities of mail. That's when somebody -- that's before that time period when somebody got sick at our Sterling facility was presumably the time when the letter passed through.

Many pouches -- you know, Lima's pouch goes out once a week, so often the mail is held in a slot or a pouch bag for some time. So first of all, in terms of the timing of deliveries, the likelihood is that mail was stopped in this distribution system.

But second of all, I think more important than that is that we presume that the letter -- if the letter had been -- had reached its intended recipient, that it would have been reported by now, either as a white powder letter or somebody getting sick. So because it has been three weeks, we have to assume that we stopped it, we stuck it in our system where all the mail is sealed, and that we have to presume that we will be able to find whatever it is as we go through the mail in our system.

QUESTION: Now, the mail that is being checked right now is at Sterling and here? And --

MR. BOUCHER: We are going to check -- we are going to start checking at Sterling, here in the mail rooms in this building, in the other annexes that received mail from Sterling that are in this area, and then at our posts overseas that have pouches.

QUESTION: But now hasn't that been -- haven't you been doing that already, though?

MR. BOUCHER: We have been stopping those. We have been checking mail rooms at those places; now we're going to have to start checking mail.

QUESTION: Do you have any way to quantify how much mail is out there to be checked?




QUESTION: Well, but you can't say --

MR. BOUCHER: No, I tried to get some idea, and they -- I got kind of the capacity of the mail sorting machinery. I don't have tonnage numbers or anything like that.

QUESTION: Tonnage? Is it that much?

MR. BOUCHER: It's a lot of mail bags. It's a lot of mail in the rooms. But I don't know what procedure they do to take this, whether they have to -- whether they sample it by lot and then get it down. I mean, they'll -- CDC, we're working with CDC and the FBI because of the possibility that there is something in our system, we're working with CDC and FBI to go through this and test it.

QUESTION: Richard, would it be possible for someone from that mail facility to come and explain to us what they do and they're going to have to do with this? Is that possible?

MR. BOUCHER: I'm not sure the mail facility people will know. It's possible that I can get somebody from medical to do further.

Do you guys -- do you have copies of the latest Department Notice? Did that come out on the unclassified system? Whose job is it? Who is going to take on this task? Adam. Make sure you get copies down here to these people, because this is intended for everybody who works in the building.

Okay, good. Thank you, let's go.

QUESTION: Now, Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Dancing in the streets of Kabul.

MR. BOUCHER: I don't think there's --

QUESTION: If I can catch up on that paper while you're talking about the -- or is that not going to come out?

MR. BOUCHER: That paper?

QUESTION: Yes, can I just look at that?

QUESTION: None of us have seen it.

MR. BOUCHER: Nobody has seen it yet. But we're going to get copies right away.

On Kabul, I really don't think I have much more to say than what Ari Fleischer has already said. Obviously we are very pleased by the developments there. Why don't I just go through Ari's points.

As we all know, we should remember that the campaign is intended to get al-Qaida organization and destroy the Taliban's hold on Afghanistan, which permits them to operate there. The fact that the Taliban is pulling back is good news, because I think especially for the people of Kabul they see this as very good news. And the kind of oppression that the Taliban has imposed on its people is pulling back as well.

Second of all, as the situation stabilizes, particularly in the north, we will be more and more able to deliver humanitarian goods, in order to meet the humanitarian needs of the Afghan people. That is important. We always have said that we think Afghanistan needs a broad-based government, and those efforts continue to be under way to try to help that take place. We don't control the Northern Alliance, but we, I think, communicated quite clearly to them that we look forward to a government that is administered in a way that involves all Afghans, shows that Afghans of all groups will have a future in their country, and that is what we are communicating to them.

QUESTION: What about the entry into Kabul of the Northern Alliance forces?

MR. BOUCHER: Events moved very quickly on the ground. I think what is important to us at this point is that the administration of Kabul and the security situation in Kabul be maintained and stabilized first, so that we can help with humanitarian needs throughout as much of Afghanistan as possible; and second of all, in order to demonstrate to all Afghans that they will be respected and that all Afghans have a role in the future government.

QUESTION: And no reaction to the New York Times pictures?

MR. BOUCHER: I haven't seen them yet.

QUESTION: Richard, if they didn't heed the United States asking them to not enter Kabul at this time, what makes you think that they are going to listen when you say it has to be broad-based, or simply a piece of advice?

MR. BOUCHER: I think we are quite confident we have communicated that quite clearly. And I think I'm watching the news reports, and I see some reflection of that.

QUESTION: Richard, though, what about reports that there has been the widespread looting and there have been so many executions and things like that?

MR. BOUCHER: We have seen those reports, we have heard those reports. We are not able to confirm any particular ones.

QUESTION: Yes, but would you --

MR. BOUCHER: But we have made our view very clearly that any administration, any party in Afghanistan needs to show respect for human life, and needs to conduct themselves in such a way that all Afghans will want to join and participate. That is a view that we have made quite clear.

QUESTION: Right, but do you have any specific message to the Northern Alliance soldiers, who may --

MR. BOUCHER: That's a view we have made quite clear, and I think Ari -- I'm just really saying what Ari has already said as well.

QUESTION: How about some other aspects, like the current diplomacy, Dobbins' whereabouts?

MR. BOUCHER: Dobbins is in Rome. He has met with the Italian Foreign Ministry. He will be meeting with King Zahir Shah, and he will be going on to the region.

QUESTION: Has he met -- will be meet with the King today?

11:35 A.M. EST


Released on November 13, 2001

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