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Mailroom is new battlefield

Amid anthrax scare, vigilance and protective steps

By Last Update: 1:52 PM ET Oct. 13, 2001

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS.MW) -- With anthrax cases in Florida and New York City apparently having ties to mail, companies are taking steps to prevent exposure. As they screen suspicious letters or packages, mail workers are checking for return addresses after the Postal Service warned that lack of an address should raise a red flag.

At CBS, a spokesman in New York said its mailroom was closed. Other news organizations followed suit as the Associated Press reported it shut its mailroom in New York and the ABC network said it halted office mail delivery in its New York and Washington offices. The Los Angeles Times quarantined its home building for two hours Friday during a search after discovery of a powder that was later found to be harmless.

The caution extends to America's warships, where the captain of the USS Enterprise stationed in the Arabian Sea instructed his crew to be cautious when opening mail.

In the skies over Afghanistan, U.S. warplanes resumed attacks Saturday after a lull Friday to honor the Muslim day of worship. Heavy explosions were reported near Kabul, where the rebel Northern Alliance was said to be poised for an attack on the Afghanistan capital. Alliance foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah told reporters Saturday said an operation could begin in a few days if there is U.S. backing.

The Northern Alliance holds about 10 percent of northern Afghanistan, driven there by years of conflict with the ruling Taliban.

Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press reported that four civilians were killed and eight wounded Saturday in a hamlet near Kabul. CNN aired footage of damaged buildings where U.S. air attacks purportedly killed the civilians. The Pentagon admitted a stray bomb hit a civilian area while targeting a helicopter, CNN said.

British officials said Friday they believe Afghanistan's Taliban government has exaggerated the number of civilian casualties in U.S.-led raids.

"It's widely understood among Afghanistan refugees that there have not been so many civilian casualties," International Development Secretary Clare Short told a news conference.

The Taliban claimed Friday that at least 200 people had been killed two days earlier in an airstrike on a village outside the eastern city of Jalalabad.

AIP said U.S. cruise missiles hit radar installations Saturday at the Taliban's stronghold near Kandahar. CNN also reported heavy explosions near Kandahar.

The U.S. is attacking the Taliban after demanding that it surrender terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida lieutenants, accused of carrying out the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

In the U.S., after last week's reported outbreaks in Florida and Friday's reported infection of an aide to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, any sort of powder related to mail was prompting action.

Late Friday, reports surfaced that the FBI is investigating a letter sent from Malaysia to a Microsoft office in Reno to determine whether it contained anthrax, officials said. Gov. Kenny Guinn confirmed the letter had been sent to the Microsoft Licensing Inc. office.

A letter to a New York Times reporter was also being examined for possible contamination. The paper said Saturday that early tests found nothing toxic on the letter.

And scratchy-throated New Yorkers were visiting medical facilities in search of tests that could detect anthrax and wanting to know if their sore throats and runny noses were symptoms of the disease that killed a Florida man last week.

And, according to a report on CNN, a mysterious white powder has been discovered in a piece of mail at the State Department in Washington.

Friday's disclosure

A form of the anthrax disease was found on the skin of Erin O'Connor, an aide to Brokaw at General Electric's NBC News offices in Rockefeller Center, GE said Friday. She is being treated and is said to be making a recovery, authorities said.

The FBI and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control are investigating the New York incident. The U.S. government has opened a criminal probe, but officials have said there is no known link to either the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks or the anthrax incidents in Florida.

O'Connor has been taking antibiotics for the past 10 days or so, CNN reported. The FBI has no information, as yet, to tie the incident in New York to the anthrax discovery in Florida.

Although there is no tangible link to the Sept. 11 attacks, Vice President Richard Cheney said Friday night that "the only responsible thing for us to do is proceed on the basis that it could be linked."

O'Connor contracted the disease by handling a package mailed to NBC News and containing a white powder.

Attorney General John Ashcroft said Friday that the government seeks to "promote caution, not incite alarm" among the U.S. public.


The anthrax disease can enter the body in more than one way. The cases are different in terms of severity. For instance, the exposure through the skin -- which apparently was the case of the person in New York -- is regarded as being not as serious as inhaled anthrax. This example brings bacteria spores directly into the lungs.

Andy Lack, the head of NBC News, said, "she is in good health with good care." He declined to identify her. Initially, the woman and the package tested negative for anthrax. Additional tests were taken when she developed skin lesions, CNBC said. watch news conference

"It is likely that this issue began on Sept. 25," said Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, joining Lack, at a hastily called press conference in NBC headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Center.

In a related story, the New York Times (NYT: news, chart, profile) said reporter Judith Miller, one of its Middle East specialists, also received an envelope containing a white powdery substance. The Times Co. called the New York Police Department, which is investigating the incident.

Times employees were moved from the newsroom during the testing and authorities are now examining the substance. Tests for radioactive and chemical substances in the air in the newsroom proved negative. The company expects to have results in 12 hours.

Giuliani said the patient "appears to be recovering completely, so people should not over-react to this."

Other employees in Rockefeller Center are being tested for anthrax as well, the mayor said.

NBC said in a news release that the anthrax isn't the same form of anthrax that recently killed a Florida man.

It's not known if the NBC (GE: news, chart, profile) employee had anthrax symptoms. Parts of Rockefeller Center have been sealed off as a precaution and are being examined

Targeting terrorists

In another development, the U.S. Treasury Department on Friday added 39 people and organizations suspected of financing terrorists to its list of accounts that should be blocked.

In addition, the U.S. government is trying to freeze the assets of 18 of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's list of "Most Wanted" terrorists. See full story.

"U.S. assets of all 22 of the FBI's most wanted terrorists are now subject to the blocking order," Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill said. All U.S. citizens and businesses are "prohibited" from conducting business with the people and organizations on the list, O'Neill said, citing President George W. Bush's executive order of Sept. 24.

The list adds six more organizations and 33 individuals, and Treasury officials told reporters that 66 countries are cooperating in the effort to block funds for terror groups.

Some $24 million in assets have been frozen since the attacks on the U.S. on Sept. 11, and officials Friday said millions more are under review and may be blocked.

The additional names would follow up on a Sept. 24 order by President Bush authorizing a freeze on the assets of 27 people and organizations.

FBI warning

The FBI issued a warning on Thursday afternoon that additional terrorist attacks could occur within U.S. borders and abroad over the next few days.

President Bush said Thursday night that after a five-day aerial bombardment aimed at the al-Qaida network, "we've got them on the run.'' He said he doesn't know whether Osama bin Laden "is dead or alive. I want him brought to justice.''

At a prime-time news conference at the White House, Bush said the war on terrorism "may take a year or two, but we will prevail."

The president said that an FBI warning issued earlier in the day was the result of a "general threat" of possible future terrorist acts the government had received. "I hope it's the last, but given the attitude of the evildoers it may not be,'' he added.

At the same time, Bush sought to reassure Americans the government was doing all it could to make them safe. "If we receive specific intelligence that targets a specific building or city or facility I can assure you our government will do everything possible to protect the citizens,'' he said.

The bureau said its information doesn't specify specific targets, but it asked local police units to be on alert and for Americans to be wary of suspicious activity.

Bush also said that Syria, a nation often linked with terrorist groups, had expressed a desire to help with the anti-terror coalition, "and we'll give them an opportunity to do so.'' He did not give specifics on the type of assistance Syria offered, but said he takes it seriously.

Bush suggested that once the U.S. military involvement is complete, and the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan routed, that the United Nations become involved in creating a stable new government.

The FBI alert came as government officials mourned the people who died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a fifth day of air strikes again hit both the seat of the Taliban regime in Kandahar and the Afghan capital of Kabul.

Thursday marked one month to the day since terrorist attacks leveled the World Trade Center in New York and wrecked part of the Pentagon in Washington, resulting in the deaths of more than 5,000 people.{26864F30-8C0A-4CD1-854F-B53328713EF9}&siteid=mktw

-- Martin Thompson (, October 13, 2001

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