Transcript: Anthrax on the Hill

Following is a transcript from Fox News Sunday, Oct. 21, 2001. 

TONY SNOW, HOST, FOX NEWS SUNDAY: Here's the latest on the anthrax scare. A positive anthrax sample was found in a mail-bundling machine in an office annex for the House of Representatives. 

On the medical front, more than 4,400 people have been tested for anthrax exposure. Thirty-seven have tested positive. Of those, eight have been infected, and one man in Florida died. In addition, authorities report at least 2,300 false alarms and hoaxes. 

Joining us to discuss this problem and more are Senator Bob Graham, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Senator Bill Frist, the only physician in the Senate. 

Also here Brit Hume, Washington managing editor of Fox News. 

Senator Frist, a lot of people are afraid of anthrax. Should they be? 

U.S. SENATOR BILL FRIST (R-TENN.): They should be vigilant. It is potentially a deadly organism, a bacteria, this protective spore around it. 

The beautiful thing is, the system's working. We've seen these other exposures. We've seen these other little outbreaks. The public health system has identified these early exposure incidents early on, has responded in an appropriate way. And as long as we do that, as long as the American people, all 300 million, are vigilant, we're going to be OK. 

SNOW: What have more people died of in the last two weeks, anthrax or flu? 

FRIST: Oh, they've died of flu. We've only had one anthrax death, and I predict we'll see no more deaths from anthrax, but it will take everybody pulling together. 

The scary thing about it is that it does instill fear and insecurity in every single American. But there is an appropriate response by our public health system and by individuals, and that is to get educated, to learn a little bit about what that rash looks like, to recognize it early on, and then we can all be all right. 

SNOW: Senator Graham, there is a lot of speculation about where this strain of anthrax came from. Tom Ridge, the new head of homeland security, says that all of the anthrax incidents so far come from a single strain. 

Do you know if that's a domestic or a foreign strain? 

U.S. SENATOR BOB GRAHAM (D-FLA.): No, and I don't believe that we've answered that question yet. There is a great deal of effort from the CDC, as well as from law enforcement, intelligence sources, trying to trace back what might be the origin of this particular seed of anthrax. But that's a question, like many others, for which we do not now have an answer. 

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS: If the serious illness of one person, the man who regrettably died, can cause a level of alarm and enable hundreds and hundreds of hoaxes and false alarms, what does that tell you about our nation's psychological readiness for this war on terrorism, Senator? 

GRAHAM: The difference between biogerm warfare and — in terms of terrorism — and conventional type terrorism is that, from the bio standpoint, the objective is to really scare and to frighten all 300 million people. It really personalizes terror. 

It's not watching a building come down, something done to other people. It's fear that you will get infected, that you'll infect your children. And that level of insecurity and fear can be used against us, and that's what the terrorists want. They want to take that infrastructure and turn it on in. 

So what we need to do, and our challenge, is to translate that potential for paralysis and for panic into resolve, resolve for understanding, because there probably will be more events, in terms of anthrax. 

HUME: Well, but, Senator, wouldn't a somewhat less, I don't want to say hysterical, but excited response by officials in Washington, including members of Congress, have been in order here? 

I mean, you think of the royal family during the blitz, when England and London were being bombed every night, they stayed in Buckingham Palace. Parliament didn't miss a day. 

Now you have the U.S. Congress, or at least part of it, shutting down and going home a day earlier than scheduled and so forth, all because of — well, nobody's sick. 

GRAHAM: Well, first of all... 

HUME: Is that a — sends the right signal? 

GRAHAM: First of all, Brit, our leaders of the United States of America right now have 27,000 people working on the Hill, right now. And, first and foremost, yes, leadership of the country, but they need to be caring and express that care for those 27,000 people. 

This is evolving. The event that we saw in the Hart Building was identified, contained. Everybody's going to be OK there. There won't be any deaths from that event. 

What we are obligated to do is determine whether there are other events. The discovery yesterday of at least some contamination, potential contamination by anthrax, in the Ford Building, that is on the House side. 

We know that outside, earlier in that mail delivery system, there's also contamination. Is that one letter, or five, or 10? 

Yes, there's only been one death — and that's called the index case, but there is likely to be other cases of inhalation anthrax that will come forth. 

FRIST: And we have a responsibility to identify them early, to spread that news broadly and to treat aggressively, and if so, everybody's going to be OK. 

HUME: Senator Graham, there's a whole school of thought that's developed with some strong advocates that says this has got to be Iraq, that this — that not only might Iraq have had some hand in what happened on September 11 atrocities, but that this anthrax scare has the fingerprints of Iraq. 

What is your assessment as intelligence chairman of the potential role of Iraq in any of this? 

GRAHAM: First, I'd like to say something about my friend and colleague, Bill Frist. As the only medical doctor in the Senate, he has played a very significant role in helping to explain, to educate and to keep down the level of anxiety of both on Capitol Hill and, through his web site, to the whole nation. And I think he deserves a great commendation for his personal service during this time. 

As it relates to Iraq, yes, there's been a great deal of speculation about what has Iraq's role been both in the attacks of September 11 and subsequent events. While we are putting a great deal of intelligence effort on trying to make a determination, not only for this immediate instance but because this is not just a war against bin Laden, this is a war against global terrorism, and we know that Iraq has played a role in the past in supporting other groups of global terrorists, Iraq will continue to be in our crosshairs. But at this point we don't have the basis upon which to pull the trigger. 

SNOW: You say in the crosshairs and that you don't think we have the basis to pull the trigger. You mean over anthrax or period? 

GRAHAM: Period. That we — there is not yet a... 

SNOW: We don't think Iraq is involved in the international terror network? 

GRAHAM: Oh, yes, we think Iraq is involved in the international terror network. Whether they were involved in the acts of terrorism from September 11 forward, we don't have the kind of compelling evidence that we've had against bin Laden and the Taliban. 

SNOW: A lot of people argue that in a time of war you don't need precise legal standards. If somebody's hostile to you, that ought to be enough. 

GRAHAM: Well, the standard that we're really using now is the standard of what it's going to take to hold this coalition together. It's very important that we keep all of the nations, particularly the Muslim nations that are now supporting us, engaged. And one of the keys to doing that is convincing evidence that we're going after a target that clearly is the culprit. 

HUME: Well, Senator, doesn't that raise the prospect, or at least the concern, that the coalition becomes the objective, not the war on terrorism? 

GRAHAM: They are very closely intertwined, because a successful pursuit of this peculiar type of war, which is not going to involve sending in 100,000 ground troops or thousands of tanks, but rather a very delicate combination of economic, political, diplomatic, covert action as well as military operations in order to achieve this goal, will require the sustained cooperation of a number of nations and particularly Muslim nations. 

HUME: Senator Frist, people seem now to be getting it, that anthrax is a bacterial infection, that it can be successfully combated, at least in the forms we've seen, with not only ciprofloxacin, but ordinary penicillin, doxycycline. 

The next thing you hear people talking about is smallpox. What about smallpox? What kind of — who's got it, in your estimation, which nations, I mean? And how prepared are we to counter it if it crops up? 

FRIST: Well, first of all, of the anthrax, there will be other cases come forward, so we can't drop our vigilance there. And it's very important that America realizes that. 

HUME: But it is imminently treatable, correct? 

FRIST: It's imminently treatable. The inhalation part has to be identified early. Most physicians have not seen it. Because of the, not fear, but the public information, we can recognize it early. But there will be more cases, it's important for America to understand that. 

Smallpox, jumping to it, really it's not just smallpox, it's tularemia, it is the pneumonic plague, which killed millions, 30 million people, a third of Europe at the time. There are 20 organisms out there. 

What we need to do is establish a public health infrastructure that can address each one of these, not just one, not just concentrate on a vaccine for this one, because the terrorists will move to the next element, to the next element, to the next element. 

Smallpox, smallpox itself, right now, eradicated 1979. People were vaccinated 1972 last time. None of our vaccines apply today. All of us are susceptible. There are two sources of smallpox that out there today, one in United States, one in Russia, maybe several in Russia, maybe in several other countries. We don't know. Our intelligence doesn't know. 

HUME: Do we have any reason to believe that it is in several other countries apart from Russia? 

FRIST: There is some reason to believe. It has not been documented yet, and I'm just uncomfortable naming those other countries at this juncture. 

In terms of preparedness, we do have 10 million doses of vaccine. We'll have 40 million within about eight months. We will work up to about 300 million. Smallpox is contagious; anthrax is not. We will be able to address it if it appears in this country. 

SNOW: Senator Graham, are we expecting the Russians to help us on this? 

GRAHAM: Yes, and they have been very helpful throughout, particularly in the provision of intelligence and their influence over those former parts of the Soviet Union that have a direct boundary with Afghanistan. 

GRAHAM: If I could just extend what Dr. Frist has just said, and that is that we cannot get into a mentality of just responding to the last aspect of this crisis, whether it's the way in which airplanes are used as weapons of mass destruction or anthrax. We've got to build up our total systems to be able to defend us against what could be almost an infinite number of attacks. 

For instance, if you'd asked people five years ago who were knowledgeable, which do they think are the more vulnerable, airports or seaports, overwhelmingly they would have said seaports would be the more likely place in which we would see a terrorist attack. 

So we've got to focus on the system being strong, not just responding to the last vulnerability of the system. 

SNOW: All right. Senators Graham and Frist, thanks for joining us. 

GRAHAM: Good to be with you.