W A S H I N G T O N, Oct. 16, 2001 -- Senior law enforcement sources tell ABCNEWS a powdery anthrax-contaminated substance discovered on Capitol Hill is extremely fine, highly concentrated and "definitely not the work of an amateur."
MORE ANTHRAX-RELATED NEWS:
• Daschle, Brokaw Letters Believed Linked • Feds: 'No Direct Link' to Bin Laden • ABC Involved in Anthrax Case • Crackdown on Bioterror Hoaxes • Anthrax Scares Around the World • Anthrax Q & A
Authorities confirmed publicly today that the white powder contained in a letter received a day earlier by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office on Capitol Hill tested positive for anthrax spores.
Senior law enforcement officials tell ABCNEWS the substance appears to have been designed and milled specifically to stay in the air, requiring special machinery, and leading to a greater chance infecting people with the more deadly inhalation form of anthrax. The sources also said the powder was highly concentrated with anthrax spores.
Both of those qualities are characteristic of military-grade material, suggesting the substance was produced by a well-funded, highly sophisticated and possibly state-funded operation.
"These are no amateurs," said one official.
And lawmakers say they have been advised that the anthrax-laden powder appears to have been "produced by a sophisticated organization."
Authorities say there is a long list of countries that have produced such weapons-grade anthrax, ranging from Iraq and Russia to Britain and the United States.
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The substance tested positive for anthrax in two preliminary field tests and Capitol Police were notified Monday night that a more exhaustive test at the Fort Detrick Army research facility in Maryland had confirmed the presence of anthrax spores.
"Now we know that we're dealing with an actual anthrax situation," Capitol Police spokesman Lt. Dan Nichols said this morning.
The section of the Hart building where Daschle's personal office is located was temporarily shut down as a precaution and the ventilation system was being checked for spores.
Mail delivery to Capitol Hill also was being suspended for a second straight day as authorities put new, more rigorous screening procedures in place. Public tours of the Capitol have also been suspended.
No one on Capitol Hill has been diagnosed with the disease or with anthrax exposure, but some 40 to 50 people — including members of Daschle's staff and others who may have come in contact with the letter — were being tested and treated with antibiotics. Daschle himself never had contact with the letter.
"We simply know that we have a positive substance," said Dr. John Eisold, the attending physician for the Capitol.
• Daschle, Brokaw Letters Believed Linked
Federal authorities said today they are investigating similarities between a letter containing anthrax that was delivered to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's office on Capitol Hill and another sent to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw's office in New York.
FBI Director Robert Mueller told reporters at the Justice Department today that the similarities were in handwriting on the two letters.
A federal official who has seen both letters said they were both dated "09-11-01," the date of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, and contained the same message: "This is next. Take your medicine. Death to America."
The letter to Daschle also added: "Death to Israel. Allah is great."
Both envelopes were postmarked in Trenton, N.J., and the block handwriting on the outside of each envelope was similar.
Despite the similarities, federal authorities say the anthrax sent to NBC is very crude compared to the weapons-grade bacteria mailed to Daschle's office.
• Feds: 'No Direct Link' to Bin Laden
Senior law enforcement officials tell ABCNEWS investigators now believe that the Daschle and Brokaw letters are linked, but were still looking for connections to the Sept. 11 attacks.
"While we have not ruled out linkage to the terrorist attack of Sept. 11 or the perpetrators of that attack, we do not have conclusive evidence … that it is part of that endeavor," Attorney General John Ashcroft told reporters at the Justice Department.
FBI Director Robert Mueller said investigators had so far found "no direct link" between the anthrax cases and "organized terrorism."
President Bush said a day earlier "there may be some possible link" between the cases and terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.
• ABC Involved in Anthrax Case
A 7-month-old infant, who was in ABCNEWS headquarters for several hours on Sept. 28, was diagnosed with anthrax late Monday — one of four cases of infection involving a major American media outlet this month.
The child, the son of a news producer, developed a rash a day after the visit and has tested positive for cutaneous or "skin" anthrax, the least harmful form of the disease. Cutaneous anthrax is highly treatable.
"The baby showed symptoms within about a day — they were unusual symptoms that appeared to be related to an infection," ABCNEWS President David Westin said today on the network's Good Morning America. "The hospital … had some difficulty diagnosing this, thought at first it was a spider bite."
Westin reported the child was responding well to treatment and his prognosis was excellent.
New York police investigators today completed taking environmental samples from the areas of ABCNEWS building they believe the child was on Sept. 28, Westin said in an e-mail to employees. A helicopter flew the samples to Albany where they are being tested at a New York State lab.
So far, more 200 ABCNEWS employees have been questioned by health and law enforcement officers, the Westin e-mail said. Health officials also began the nasal swab testing of approximately 100 ABCNEWS employees who reported either having contact with the child or being in the suspected affected areas of building.
The ABCNEWS case was revealed Monday, the same day a worker at American Media Inc. in Boca Raton, Fla., was diagnosed with the usually fatal inhalant form of anthrax. Another employee at AMI, which publishes The Sun and other tabloids, died of the same disease on Oct. 5.
And an assistant to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw at the network's New York headquarters was diagnosed Friday with cutaneous anthrax. A granular brown substance contained in a letter opened by the woman has tested positive for anthrax spores.
Environmental surveys were conducted Monday night at the New York offices of CNN, CBS, The Associated Press, The Daily News, Fox News and The New York Post as a precautionary measure.
"So far we haven't come up with anything," New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said on Good Morning America.
"The thing to emphasize is we're talking about a very, very small number of cases," the mayor added. "All of this is treatable and very successfully treatable."
• Crackdown on Bioterror Hoaxes
The nation's top law enforcement official also announced a new government crackdown on phony bioterrorism hoaxes.
Amid a rash of phony anthrax scares, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the Justice Department has launched a new effort to find, prosecute and punish people who make false bioterrorism threats.
"A few isolated individuals … have seen fit to compound the concerns of America and of Americans by perpetrating false threats of anthrax attacks," Ashcroft said at a news conference in Washington this afternoon.
"The Department of Justice will prosecute and punish with the full force of our laws those who issue false anthrax threats or any other form of terrorist threat."
FBI Director Robert Mueller said authorities have responded to more than 2,300 incidents or suspected incidents involving anthrax or other dangerous agents since Oct. 1, the overwhelming majority of which turned out to be "false alarms or practical jokes."
"They are squandering millions of dollars in public health and law enforcement resources," Mueller said of those responsible for such incidents. "More importantly, they are taking manpower and time away from individuals who could be ensuring that there are no future terrorist acts."
Ashcroft announced a Connecticut man, Joseph Faryniarz, was charged a day earlier with making false statements to the FBI in connection with a phony anthrax hoax at the state Department of Environmental Protection last Thursday. The incident prompted officials to hose down a dozen employees with a decontamination solution and evacuate the entire facility for two days.
"Terrorism hoaxes are not victimless crimes, but are the destructive acts of cowards," said the attorney general.
• Anthrax Scares Around the World
Although there hasn't been a single recent case of anthrax confirmed outside the United States, anthrax scares have been reported around the world, particularly in Western nations that could be potential targets for terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists.
There have been recent false alarms in Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, Israel, Egypt, Canada, Britain and Australia. In some cases, suspicious powder was found and rushed to laboratories for analysis. In all cases, no harmful bacteria was found.
The incidents highlight the sense of vigilance and apprehension felt by people overseas in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks and the recent spate of anthrax cases in the United States.
Authorities in Britain are stockpiling antibiotics used to treat anthrax as similar precautions are taken in the United States.
The Bush administration has said that part of the $1.5 billion in new funding it has requested for the Department of Health and Human Services would pay for a dramatic increase in the stockpile of antibiotics used to treat anthrax.
The current government supply could treat 2 million people over 60 days. The White House wants to boost the capacity to be able to treat 12 million people over the same period.