Authorities in New Jersey have pinpointed the mail sorting box from which anthrax-laced letters were sent to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
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"The FBI has been able to identify the site where the letters were mailed," Tom Ridge, director of the White House Office of Homeland Security, told reporters.
Sources said tests of the mail sorting box were under way and there has been some suggestion that mail boxes on the street in at least one route in New Jersey may be removed. Determining which sorting box the letters were in may give authorities hints as to where the letters were sent from. Investigators were scouring a postal route of one New Jersey letter carrier diagnosed with anthrax in an effort to pinpoint where and when two anthrax-laced letters postmarked in Trenton were mailed.
President Bush in his weekly radio address today said investigators have no evidence linking the anthrax-laced envelopes to the al Qaeda network, whom the U.S. has blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks.
"We do know that anyone who deliberately delivers anthrax is engaged in a crime and an act of terror, a hateful attempt to harm innocent people and frighten citizens," said Bush, who was in China attending the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. "These attacks once again reveal the evil at the heart of terrorism, the evil we must fight."
Third Postal Worker Tests Positive
A third postal worker in Trenton, N.J. tested positive for anthrax, pushing the number of known cases in the country to nine, including a New York Post employee.
Investigators believe the strains found in New York, Florida and Washington appear to have come from the same batch.
"[O]ne of our employees has tested positive for cutaneous anthrax," the Post said in a statement, referring to the highly treatable skin form of the disease.
"The source of the infection is unknown."
The employee, a woman who works for the newspaper's editorial page editor, is taking antibiotics and is expected to make a full recovery.
The Post is now the fourth major news organization to become involved in a case of anthrax infection in New York, along with the child of an ABCNEWS producer and assistants to CBS anchor Dan Rather and NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, who also contracted cutaneous anthrax.
The NBC employee was infected by an anthrax-laced letter addressed to Brokaw, but the sources of infection in the other three cases have not been determined. As with the CBS staffer, the Post employee opened and read mail as part of her daily responsibilities, but does not recall receiving a suspicious letter.
Col Allen, editor-in-chief of the Post, said the news last Friday that the NBC worker had tested positive prompted the newspaper to have many of its employees tested for the disease.
"It was the publicity surrounding the NBC case that caused not only our newsroom but I think other newsrooms to be concerned," Allen said, adding that the woman had developed a lesion on her finger.
One of the New Jersey postal workers with anthrax is a female letter carrier who was not working on the day the letters were mailed, suggesting there may be traces of anthrax on one of the mailboxes on her route, which runs through a largely residential neighborhood.
Investigators could be seen canvassing every house, apartment and business on the route. And officials at the College of New Jersey in neighboring Ewing said FBI agents had been on the campus asking questions about the school's biology department.
Both letters were postmarked at a central mail-sorting facility in Trenton, where the two other infected postal employees worked and may have handled the letters. Authorities also used the postal bar codes printed on the envelopes in their effort to track the letters' routes.
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• N.Y., D.C., Fla. Strains 'Indistinguishable'
Federal authorities disclosed today that testing has revealed that anthrax found in New York, Washington and Florida likely came from the same strain.
"The strains are indistinguishable," said Tom Ridge, director of the Office of Homeland Security, referring to anthrax recovered from a letter sent to NBC News headquarters in Manhattan, a second letter mailed to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office on Capitol Hill, and at American Media Inc., a tabloid publishing company in Boca Raton, Fla.
The development strongly suggests the three incidents may have been linked.
"It does appear that it may have been from … the same batch," added Ridge. "It may have been distributed to different individuals to infect and descend into different communities."
Officials also said the strains do not appear to have been "weaponized," noting that they are not resistant to antibiotics commonly used to treat anthrax.
Senior law enforcement officials, however, have said the anthrax-laden powder in the letter sent to Daschle was professionally manufactured — highly concentrated and finely milled, making it easy for the spores to become airborne and infect its victims with the often fatal inhalation form of anthrax.
Those qualities require elaborate machinery, suggesting the powder was produced by a well-funded and possibly state-funded operation
Authorities were also probing similarities in the letters sent to Daschle, D-S.D., and NBC anchor Tom Brokaw. They were both postmarked in Trenton, N.J. and mailed in envelopes that had prepaid postage and similar block handwriting on them.
The handwritten letters inside the envelopes were both dated "09-11-01," the date of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, and contained within their messages: "Death to America. Death to Israel. Allah is great."
An NBC staffer who opened the anthrax-laced letter mailed to Brokaw contracted cutaneous or skin anthrax and is expected to fully recover.
On Capitol Hill today, officials announced the number of people confirmed to have been exposed to anthrax has dropped from 31 to 28 and that no one there has tested positive for the disease. Those exposed include 20 members of Daschle's staff, six Capitol Police officers and two staffers for Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., whose office is next to Daschle's in the Hart building.
In Florida, an AMI employee who inhaled anthrax spores is continuing to recover after being placed on antibiotic treatment. A fellow employee died of inhalant anthrax earlier this month and six other employees there have tested positive for exposure to the bacteria.