Text: Ashcroft on CBS's 'Face the Nation'
Following is the transcript of CBS's "Face the Nation," hosted by Bob Schieffer with U.S. News and World Report correspondent Gloria Borger. Guests: Attorney General John Ashcroft, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, Dr. Mohammed Akhter of the American Public Health Association, and Judith Miller, author of a book on bioterrorism.
SCHIEFFER: Today on an expanded edition of Face the Nation, is the nation prepared for bioterrorism, and how great is the threat? We'll talk with the attorney general, John Ashcroft.
With reports of anthrax incidents from Reno to New York, the nation is on alert. Is there a connection between these incidents and September 11? We'll ask the attorney general.
Is the country prepared for this kind of threat? We'll talk with Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, who is also a doctor, and Dr. Mohammed Akhter, the head of the American Public Health Association.
We'll talk about the ongoing threat of terrorism with the two leading members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Shelby of Alabama and Bob Graham of Florida, and the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joe Biden.
Then we'll round out this expanded addition with analysis from former defense secretary James Schlesinger, New York Times reporter Judy Miller, author of the new book ``Germs,'' and our own Gloria Borger.
I'll have a final word on America's big test. But first, the attorney general on Face the Nation.
Good morning again. And we thank the attorney general John Ashcroft for joining us here in the studio.
Mr. Attorney General, it's my understanding that you believe that some of those who may have been connected to the September attacks are still out there. Can you give us any idea of how many people you think are still at large?
ASHCOFT: Well, we have a couple hundred people, close to a couple hundred, that we have on a watch list that we are still seeking to find, to question, to be involved in one way or another, to interrogate.
I don't want to be more specific about whether they were--how they might have been involved. That's one of the things we're trying to ascertain.
As you probably know, we have arrested and/or detained close to 700 individuals. Now, all of those people that were detained are the subject of either material witness warrants, court-issued warrants indicating that they might have information that should be presented to a grand jury, or they're the subject of an adjudication of other kinds of violations, either state and local violations, immigration violations, violations of the law.
Frankly, we're very interested in preventing additional incidents. We're going to do everything we can to disrupt the networks, the individuals who are associated.
And we obviously, given the complexity and seriousness of the incidents on September 11, we believe there could well be other individuals that we're pursuing.
SCHIEFFER: Well, you said, I believe you used the number 200 that you have on a watch list.
ASHCROFT: We have a watch list of individuals that we want to apprehend and question and to ascertain with more specificity the extent to which they have knowledge of, or might be in some way related to, either the groups or the actual incidents.
SCHIEFFER: In other words, you think there may be as many as 200 people out there who may have some information or some connection to those September 11 attacks?
ASHCROFT: We maintain a watch list that's maybe in the 190-person range, if I have the numbers right there, that we have not yet contacted.
As I indicated, we have 700 people that we had detained subsequent to the events. Some of those were specifically associated with the hijackers. Others were individuals that in the process we encountered. Those individuals, of course, are all individuals that we are detaining based on violations or material witness warrants.
SCHIEFFER: Now, in addition to the 200--I take it those are people you think that are at large. You're saying that some of the people that you have under arrest may also have had something to do with this. You just haven't come to a determination on that as yet.
ASHCROFT: I think it's fair to say that some of the individuals that we have in custody that we've detained and arrested, we believe have knowledge of one kind that would be relevant to our investigation or could have been in some way associated with by way of helping or assisting or participating.
SCHIEFFER: Well, this is the largest--I've never heard this described as a group that large. You're describing a very large organization.
ASHCROFT: Well, we're being very careful. And we are seeking to disrupt, interrupt, to prevent, and we're being aggressive in doing it.
I would emphasize we are going sensitive to the Constitution, to the rights of individuals. And no one is being held without judicial supervision as in a material witness warrant, or no one is being held who has not been charged with a violation.
BORGER: Do you believe that you have been successful in disrupting potential terrorists attacks on this country? Do you have reason to believe that?
ASHCROFT: Well, you know, there's a sense in which the ones you prevent and delay, disrupt or avoid are the ones you don't hear about.
We felt that there was some pretty serious information--the president, I think, related this the other night--that there had been very significant interests expressed in crop-dusting experience and the dispersion of one kind of agent or another using crop-dusters. We took steps to alert the industry.
You know, in many agricultural areas, a crop-duster is like a tractor. People left them in the fields; the keys were either in them or they didn't need keys to start them. And our country needed to adjust its way of working in this setting, not to eliminate the use of crop-dusters, but to make sure that we provided a risk-reduction strategy.
This is going to be something we're going to be doing generally.
SCHIEFFER: So, in other words, you believe you actually stopped an incident.
ASHCROFT: We can't say with any certainty that we've stopped incidents. We simply think that there were risks that required us to notify people to adjust their behavior, and we haven't had an incident. We can't say that we caught someone red-handed getting into a crop-duster and shouldn't say that. I don't mean--but I'm saying that when we take specific action that helps us reduce the risks, we're doing the right things. And the ones you really disrupt and avoid, you'll probably, we may not even know.
BORGER: There are confirmed cases of anthrax in this country right now. Do you believe that there could be some connection between Osama bin Laden and these cases of anthrax?
ASHCROFT: We certainly cannot rule that out. And I think the vice president, in speaking recently, talked about a suspicion.
And the truth of the matter is we are approaching these things with sort of a dual philosophy. The first is the prosecution philosophy. We try to investigate these cases.
And there are two cases of anthrax: One's the cutaneous cut-on-the-finger-type anthrax that infects the flesh. The other was the case of the death in Florida.
But we, when we encounter information in that setting, we do everything we can to use that information to prevent additional, to try to inform the public--and this process of all of us learning something about how to be a little more careful with our mail, how to take the right steps.
The other effort we make is prosecutorial, and we want to ascertain to the extent we can who's responsible and prosecute them.
Both of these tracks are going forward. In a prosecutorial sense, we basically will not rule out and have not ruled out, but in the policy sense we've got to wonder and suspicion, as the vice president said, this could be related.
ASHCROFT: And we should, in that sense, and from a prevention point of view, think about the potential that it could be related.
BORGER: Well, don't you think there is some sort of pattern here? You talk about a major news outlet--two news outlets, NBC and the one in Florida, and--oh no, three, and the New York Times, and then a major corporation, a major American technology corporation, Microsoft. Do you see some sort of pattern here?
ASHCROFT: Well, I think it's undeniable that there are three attacks against prominent news organizations. And, frankly, they're not the only news organizations that have been the recipient of sort of threats or the recipients of--I don't want to say anthrax, because it's very difficult to confirm in some of the instances whether there was actually anthrax delivered in the envelope.
So I think, you know, the press may be the defining symbol of freedom in the United States. If people hate freedom, they ought to hate information that allows free people to make good decisions. And if there is a targeting, it may be based on that understanding. That would be a sophisticated understanding by an enemy.
But if I were a terrorist, I would want to engender fear that was irrational, and I would want to curtail the availability of information in a free press that was good information.
So, this is a serious problem. We take it seriously. We're concerned, though, that not all of the threatening letters, for instance, obviously are--I think some of them are just hoaxes.
SCHIEFFER: Let me just ask you about this, because, I mean, in fact, as you well know, we got a suspicious letter here at CBS News in our Washington bureau just yesterday. The FBI has now told us that they believe that there is no anthrax there, that it tested negative. At least that's the preliminary report.
The New York Times got one of these letters. It turns out that it proved negative for anthrax.
But do you now believe that these letters that are showing up where it proves negative for anthrax, is it because they were a hoax, or could it be that someone sent these letters and the germs, as it were, died?
ASHCROFT: Well, I don't believe it's the germs dying. They might have been unsuccessful.
SCHIEFFER: Well, that's what I'm driving at.
ASHCROFT: But I think in most of those settings, I think you can consider people decided to take advantage of an environment where several anthrax cases, two nationally, have been detected--one death, and the other with symptoms that appear to be totally remitting and very excellent prognosis.
And it's in that setting that I really want to make it clear that to send a threat of anthrax through the mail or to communicate a threat with anthrax is against the law, a threat regarding chemical or biological warfare; and that the authorities, the federal authorities, the Justice Department will prosecute vigorously and aggressively.
This is not a time for individuals to think they can get back at other individuals that they don't like. This is not a joking matter. This is a matter of seriousness. And our resources should not be disrupted and diverted because individuals think this is an opportunity to do something that is, well, very damaging and shouldn't be done.
SCHIEFFER: Has the FBI been strained beyond their capability? Because, frankly, I'm a little amazed at what I have read about and learned about what happened at NBC. Because apparently the FBI, after NBC reported the suspicious packages, the FBI just took it back to the office and sort of left it there. They really didn't take any action for a while. I don't understand how that could have happened.
ASHCROFT: Well, first of all, I think the FBI has been doing a great job, particularly in New York under very difficult circumstances.
There is a coordinator in each FBI office for this kind of terrorist weapons of mass destruction threat, and the biochemical weapons are seen as weapons of mass destruction.
ASHCROFT: That coordinator was at ground zero, doing things there, and when the original letter came in--this has all been explained thoroughly in New York. And there was about a two-to-three-day lapse before it was sent to the lab.
Now, this is a letter which was found not to contain anthrax very conclusively, but that's something we need to learn from. We need to learn that when you are diverted in one emergency, you can't allow things to not be taken care of.
Bob Mueller, the director of the FBI, instructed very clearly the explanation of this which was made by the FBI. I like that culture that Bob's developing at the FBI: When you find a mistake, tell people about it, and make it clear how we're going to use what we learn in settings to avoid additional problems.
Fortunately this is a mistake without a consequence, but you wouldn't want to have a mistake that had a consequence in this arena.
BORGER: General, Time magazine is reporting this morning that 25 to 35 Arab men in Denver may have received licenses to drive hazardous materials trucks without even speaking English. What can you tell us this?
ASHCROFT: Well, I'm not able to comment on that specific case. I can tell you that across the country we have been sensitive to individuals receiving HAZMAT licenses, if they, for any number of reasons, were suspicious individuals.
You'll remember the case about which now prosecutions, I think, and indictments have been rendered regarding a dozen or more, I guess it's close to two dozen cases, in Pennsylvania.
Trucks have played a big part in terrorist activity in a variety of settings, not only in the Middle East, but Timothy McVeigh used a truck as a bomb container, so to speak, in the bombing of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma. We are sensitive to those issues. We are alert to them.
And obviously we would take action appropriately when we have the right evidence to both contain and curtail the activity of individuals whose licensing is inappropriate, and to prosecute those who provide licenses inappropriately.
SCHIEFFER: Mr. Attorney General, you bring up an interesting point, when you bring up Timothy McVeigh, and that makes me wonder. When we see these cases, these anthrax things that are popping up from place to place, could this be the work of another organization that's trying to hook on to this situation now?
ASHCROFT: We're not able to rule out or rule in at this time. The investigation is ongoing. It could well be that there are lookalikes or opportunists who would seek to exploit the situation in the country. We will pursue each of these cases. And when we have the capacity and the information necessary for prosecutions, they will be vigorous and swift.
SCHIEFFER: Mr. Attorney General, thank you very much.
ASHCROFT: Thank you.
SCHIEFFER: Thank you so much.
When we return, we'll talk more about the bioterrorist threats with some experts in that area, in a minute.
SCHIEFFER: And joining us now, Senator Bill Frist. He is the ranking Republican on the public health subcommittee in the Senate. And Dr. Mohammed Akhter, who heads the American Public Health Association.
Dr. Akhter, you appeared before the Health Subcommittee today. So I will ask both of you the same question. Is this country prepared to handle a bioterrorist attack, Doctor?
AKHTER: I think we are fully prepared to handle a small attack like this anthrax-type things. We are on top of it.
But when it comes to a larger attack, then we are not prepared, we are short on many, many places, because we do not have an early-warning system in place that will let us know that attack has taken place and that we should take prompt action. We don't have the capacity at the local level to deal with this. The CDC, our central place where people go to help could be very much thinly stretched and so they will not have the resources.
And I'm very pleased that Senator Frist has shown the leadership in the Senate to move this forward before the Congress, to have adequate resources allocated so we could be prepared as quickly as possible to deal with the bigger threat.
SCHIEFFER: Well to kind of underline that, Senator Frist, what I was struck by--and I don't remember if it was Dr. Akhter or someone else, one of the other witnesses that was before your committee--but they said that 500 cases of anthrax, that if that happened, there is no hospital or contiguous group of hospitals that could handle 500 cases at once.
FRIST: No, I think the points that need to be made...
SCHIEFFER: Is that true? I mean, do you agree with that?
FRIST: There's no question, if you were to use anthrax as a weapon of mass destruction--which Osama bin Laden and the terrorists have the capability to do, to my mind. If were you to use it, our system is underprepared, not unprepared because we can respond. We've made huge progress in the last two years.
That's not what we're seeing now in New York or the threat you were talking about earlier here, or in Florida. The other response has been beautiful. It's been like a symphony. It's been the FBI working with the public health system the way they haven't had to in the past, with good surveillance, good communication, good laboratory response.
The problem would be is if that occurred all over the country or if an airplane flew over and exposed hundreds of thousands of people, you couldn't handle it in our public health infrastructure. You couldn't handle it at the local emergency room. I'm not sure we would have--we don't know, if it happened in several different spots, enough vaccine or antibiotics.
That's what we can do, is build that public health infrastructure, and we're doing that rapidly. We're much better prepared now than we were a year ago or two years ago. Five years ago we weren't prepared at all.
BORGER: But we're talking about anthrax right now which is something that, as you both have said, is sort of controllable. What about if there is some kind of bioterrorist attack that involves a plague, that involves smallpox?
Is that something, Dr. Ahkter that really worries you?
AHKTER: Absolutely. There are times that you can't go to sleep because you know the weaknesses in the system.
Unlike anthrax, these other diseases can spread from one person to another, and so--and we have large numbers of people. In fact, all of us in this country are not protected against smallpox. And we know from our intelligence reports that many of the terrorists could get this, have access to to through the Soviet Union through other places.
And so, the best thing we can do is to really prepare ourselves, build our capacity, educate our people, so that we could act as promptly as we can to really contain the very first case and then provide the treatment.
SCHIEFFER: If both of you would just hold it for a second, we have to take a commercial break here. We'll come back and continue this conversation in just a minute.
SCHIEFFER: Back again with Senator Frist and Dr. Akhter.
Senator Frist, we were just talking about the possibility of someone trying to infect the nation with smallpox. Is that possible or likely?
FRIST: You know, it is. And when we look at the various agents, you can say anthrax, smallpox, tularemia, pneumonic plague, you can go down a long list. And that's what's important for us in public health, in public policy to be addressing.
Smallpox has huge consequence, much more than an atomic bomb if it were released, to my mind, much more today. Why? Because unlike anthrax, it's contagious.
There was an exercise called Dark Winter planned for actually 2001 using preparedness today. And we know by introduction on that model in three different states that within three months it spread to 25 states, spread overseas. There are no boundaries there. About 2 million people would be dead, 5 million people sick at the end of three months. That makes it alarmist.
The good news is that smallpox has been eradicated from the face of the earth. The flip side of that is that we know there is some smallpox in this country, in Russia and possibly in other countries.
SCHIEFFER: Well, people my age, we still have our vaccination scar, because when we were little kids we got vaccinated. They don't do that anymore. Should we start doing that again, Doctor?
AKHTER: No, I don't think we're ready right now. But this is one area where we need to be working together with the intelligence community, the public health community to see the level of threat. If the level of threat ever rises, if there is one case of smallpox, I would be the first one sitting here advocating, saying let's prepare our nation and protect our people.
FRIST: Let me say to that that we are prepared with that first step. There is no treatment. Smallpox is a virus. It's contagious. It takes about 10 days. So, right now if I had smallpox, you would be infected and we'd all be going around the country infecting other people.
We have to identify those cases. We have to have better surveillance. We have insufficient surveillance. As a doctor, I've never seen a case. First responders don't even know how to recognize the rash. We have to have better communication so if it's picked up in New Orleans or down in Florida or in California, they can communicate. We have inadequate communication today. And we need better laboratories.
I say all that because anthrax we're doing a great job with. The FBI is, the public health infrastructure is. But if we have another agent that is a contagious agent, we are underprepared today.
BORGER: What do we do, though? Here we are talking about things like a possible smallpox, bubonic plague or whatever. What can we say to people, not to panic people, but to tell them, OK, there are ways you can prepare for this, there are ways you can recognize this, these are the prudent things to do?
AKHTER: I think what we need to tell people is not to worry. We are looking at all possible options. We are getting ready. We are getting prepared. There is very little that an individual can do until we find the first case.
And then we are setting up communications systems. We are working all together. We will let the public know. We are gathering the vaccines. We are putting our people together. We are educating the medical community. We are strengthening public health departments. That's what people need to know.
They shouldn't be worried about it. It's us, the folks in public health community and the government, who should be worrying and building and working hard to make sure that we are ready in case the unthinkable happens.
FRIST: And, Gloria, Secretary Thompson has said he has taken criticism being too optimistic. But he's exactly right. When we started addressing this issue two or three years ago, we were unprepared. Today, anywhere in the country we can get 10 million doses of smallpox vaccine, which is plenty sufficient, I believe, for right now. Within a year we'll be able to get 40 million doses. Now, we may need to go higher than that, but our government is working very, very quickly.
Same thing with anthrax today. It is treatable. And it is treatable with antibiotics today, and we can get 2 million doses anywhere in the United States of America within hours.
So people don't need to be stockpiling. They don't need to be buying gas masks today. Our federal government is fulfilling its responsibility. Now we need to fill these gaps that are in there at the level of public health infrastructure.
SCHIEFFER: Well, gentlemen, I want to thank you both of you very much. It's a very sobering message that you bring to us today, but I think it's one we all need to hear.
We'll be back in just a moment.
SCHIEFFER: And we're back now with this expanded edition of Face the Nation. We're going to talk to the heads of the Senate intelligence and foreign relations committees in just a minute.
Before we do that, though, we want to go to Pakistan and CBS News correspondent Allen Pizzey.
Allen, demonstrations there, anti-American demonstrations, and also another warning from Osama bin Laden. Bring us up to date on all that.
ALLEN PIZZEY, CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Bob, there's an airbase called Jacobabad, and that's where American forces have based themselves. The Pakistani government at first denied there was anyone there. Then they said, OK, without any spokesman being named, yes, indeed, American forces were using Jacobabad airbase.
It's quite isolated. It's right on the edge of the desert in Baluchistan, where we are. But nonetheless, the very idea of it has inflamed Islamic parties here. The JUI, which is the strongest pro-Taliban party in Pakistan, called yesterday for lots of demonstrators to go down there, and they even said they would try to take over the base, kill Americans, do whatever they could; they would not tolerate Americans on Pakistani soil.
Well, they went down there. The police, of course, were out in force. They fired tear gas, shots in the air. And at least one demonstrator, we're told, was killed. A lot of others were injured, and many, many were arrested. The police tried to seal the place off, but the demonstrators basically flooded in anyway.
The Americans that are there are not combat troops. As far as we're told, this is not an assault force to go in after bin Laden, although who those what's really there? But they're saying these are people that are engaged in logistical support, possibly for search and rescue.
It's a good place to have helicopters based, if you've got pilots flying over southern Afghanistan, because, if one goes down, obviously you want to go in and get him. That's the kind of place where those forces might be based.
No one is saying what's in there, but that doesn't matter as far as these demonstrators are concerned. They really don't want Americans here, and they're going to make it miserable for the government as long and as hard as they can.
Now ,that's not to say the government can't control it. I think it's fairly obvious that they can. Yesterday here, for example, police and riot police just flooded the streets. They're still out there. Demonstrations were allowed. They were told, you'll do it, you'll be peaceful, or you'll be in trouble. They were peaceful here. The airbase is a much more significant kind of thing.
Another significant development has been yet another warning from Osama bin Laden. One of his spokesmen issued another video through Al-Jazeera, the Arabic TV network that they like to give information to. And he said that, if Americans don't get out of the Arabian peninsula, the earth will burn beneath their feet.
Now, there could be a hidden message in there. You've got to remember that, after the U.S. guided-missile cruiser Vincennes shot down an Airbus from Iran, one of the ayatollahs said, the skies will rain blood. And sometime later we had Pan Am 103 blown up over Lockerbie.
So, I think when people like bin Laden's associates make that kind of a warning, you can't ignore it, and you have to think of, what could it mean? Well, the earth burning, maybe they'll try to set fire to oil fields, who knows?
But it's the kind of thing that they put out there for a good reason, not just to keep their image up, not just to inflame their supporters, but also because they mean it.
The U.S. government has been concerned, for example, that Al-Jazeera has been putting out warnings, messages in some of the stuff that bin Laden's people have been giving them. Well, I think maybe bin Laden is now giving a clear message they're not finished yet, Bob, they're going to keep right on coming at us.
SCHIEFFER: All right, Allen Pizzey. Thank you so much, Allen.
Well, now from Wilmington, Delaware, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joe Biden. From St. George Island, Florida, the Senate Select Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham. And here in our Washington studios, the ranking Republican on that Intelligence Committee, Senator Richard Shelby.
Senator Biden, let me talk to you first, because you just heard what Allen Pizzey said. Do you think that--obviously this is a propaganda message; these messages are always heavy with propaganda. But is there another message? Could this be a sort of signal to his people somewhere that Osama bin Laden wants another action?
BIDEN: Well, I'm sure he does want another action, but I think the real key to the message is, it proves what his fight is all about, wanting us out of the Arabian Peninsula. It doesn't have anything to do with Israel.
You know, he's playing this Israel card now, because he thinks he can inflame passions. But, if you notice, whenever he gets serious, he's always talking about the Arabian Peninsula. And I think that's the most significant message from what he had to say.
And, look, this is all the more reason, Bob, why we have to pursue this fellow. He is not going to stop. He is not going to end his attempts to do damage to Americans and American interests.
BORGER: Senator Shelby, you heard about the demonstrations also in Pakistan, which have turned violent. Are you worried about a destabilized Pakistan right now?
SHELBY: Well, we're all concerned about a destabilized Pakistan, because Pakistan's not the most stable place in the world to begin with, and you've got the undercurrents of forces that would destabilize the country.
I believe it is going to be all right. Of course, I'm hoping it's going to be all right. It's very important to the government, I believe, for them to stabilize the country as best they can. But there will be attempts to destabilize Pakistan big time in the next few weeks.
BORGER: Well, what can we do about that?
SHELBY: Well, the best thing we can do is support the government there, which we're doing in many ways. And if we do this--I think the president has already moved in a lot of directions, I believe, to stabilize his armed forces. And if he can do this, he can stabilize the country, whatever stabilization will mean in Pakistan.
SCHIEFFER: Senator Graham, I'm sure you heard Attorney General Ashcroft a little earlier on in the broadcast say there may be as many as 200 people out there on an FBI watch list who may have had something to do with the attacks on September 11.
SCHIEFFER: Were you surprised to hear him use numbers that large? Or does that coincide with your understanding of what's going on?
GRAHAM: Well, I can't comment on what we've heard, but I'm not surprised at that number.
I'm also not surprised that on your show you've talked about attacks that might come from crop-dusters, from mail with anthrax, from drivers of hazardous waste. The number of vulnerabilities in a free and open society such as the United States are infinite.
Therefore, the only real way you can deal with terrorism is at its source. We have got to do, as we have started in Afghanistan and will continue throughout the world, to identify and rip out the roots of global terrorism wherever it exists.
SCHIEFFER: In addition to being chairman of the Intelligence Committee, you're also a senator from Florida. Are you satisfied with federal efforts now on this business of tracking down and getting to the bottom of this anthrax thing? Because now I understand there are five more people in Florida who have shown up positive on tests for anthrax.
GRAHAM: Bob, I agree with what Senator Frist said. The work of the public health services, both in Florida and through the Centers for Disease Control, have been exemplary. The very best medical people in the world are working on this case.
They have isolated it to this one building in Delray Beach and are testing thus far over a thousand people who had some degree of exposure to that building beginning 60 days before September the 11th.
BORGER: Senator Shelby, do you worry that the intelligence monitoring in this country is stretched beyond its capacity? We've talked this morning about the FBI being stretched. What about the CIA?
SHELBY: Well, I think the CIA right now is very much on alert, is doing everything it can. But we will always be stretched to some extent. But I believe that now is the time to do everything we can, work the hours, do the analysis and work the people.
BORGER: Senator Biden, I'd like to ask you a little bit about Afghanistan. There's been a lot of talk about leaving a power vacuum in Afghanistan, and that is something we obviously do not want to do. What kind of government do we want to see there?
BIDEN: We want a stable government. We don't want to dictate the government. We don't want American forces there to maintain the government, because that would make it look like we came as an occupying power.
I and others have spoken at length to the president about this. I'm convinced he is committed to try to work out an agreement with some of the Pashtun--that's the population in the south from which most of the Taliban comes--and this Northern Alliance to form a coalition government.
I think the president is going about it the right way. That's why we haven't taken down some of the capability of the Taliban so the Northern Alliance can't move yet south before we're prepared to have some kind of multilateral arrangement in there.
And one other thing, Gloria, may I make a point about perspective here? Listening to the witnesses you had beforehand, you would think that it was easy to be able to put anthrax in a crop-duster. They can't do that. It's a very difficult process.
I want to point out--remember what happened about--you were talking about smallpox and anthrax and other things. You have to make this in sort of an aerosol form. The ability to do that is very difficult. In Japan when the cult tried to do that, they had scientists, highly educated research people. They spent several years and millions of dollars, and they still could not do this.
Is it a potential threat? Yes. Is smallpox a potential threat? Yes, but it's located in two spots. There is no indication that it's able to be handled easily and gotten hold of.
And all this does, as what my colleagues have been saying, it points out what we know we have to go do, and it's not rocket science to do it.
We should be spending the $8 billion to collect all the Soviet, all the Russian biological and chemical--excuse me, chemical weapons that they're asking for help on. We should be going and getting these scientists who in fact did produce this smallpox for the Russians in the past, hiring them, making sure they're not off on another place. There's a lot of things we can do.
But we should put this in perspective. The ability to put this in aerosol form is incredibly difficult.
And I'll read just from one study done by the AMA, the working group on biodefense. It says, ``Most experts concur that the manufacture of lethal anthrax aerosol is beyond the capacity of individuals or groups without access to very advanced biotechnical capability,'' which there is no evidence they have.
And, Gloria, if he had this capacity, do you think he would be sending it in envelopes? Or don't you think there would have been a coup de grace that would have been administered now by spreading this aerosol form all around? So we should calm down a little bit.
SCHIEFFER: Well, I take your point on that, Senator. But let me ask you this. I mean, how do you explain the fact that this anthrax is showing up in various places? It didn't just come over by magic.
BIDEN: Well, by the way--no, look, no, no, I'm not suggesting it did. Here's the point I'm making.
BIDEN: It is possible that this is Al Qaeda. It is possible that they're trying to spread it through envelopes and in powdered form. That's not the stuff that can kill tens of people, hundreds of people or tens of thousands of people.
You heard one of my colleagues point out the exercise in Dark Winter, where they talked about millions of people dying. Well, what most of your listeners hear is they make a giant (ph) connection between the capacity to send it in an envelope and to kill millions of people. They are fundamentally different capabilities.
It may very well be that you have Al Qaeda sending out these envelopes around the world, and it will--it has killed one person so far. But as Senator Graham has said, the public health structure's responded to this very well. There are antibiotics to cure it. There's a way in which to deal with it. I'm just saying we don't want to panic people. Is it a real threat? Yes.
SCHIEFFER: Well, that is--that is a question, and Senator Shelby's holding up his hand.
SHELBY: I just--I agree with Senator Biden, we don't want to panic people. We do want them to be alert and real alert. But we'll all feel better when we find out from the FBI and others that are investigating the anthrax scare, where it came from. Is it a bunch of kooks? Is it tailored to the news media? Is it tailored to someone else? We need to find that out, and the sooner the better. And the American people will feel maybe just a little bit better.
SCHIEFFER: Well, Senator Graham, as the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, do you feel or do you have any information to suggest we're close to finding out where it came from?
GRAHAM: The answer is, that is an answer that will be found. The CDC, Centers for Disease Control, has indicated that there was no possibility that the building in Delray Beach could have been infected other than by a human intervention. Now it's going to be up to law enforcement to find out what the source of that human intervention was.
I agree with the comments that have been made, particularly by Senator Frist, that we've taken significant strides in the last two or three years to begin to prepare ourselves to deal as best we can with the possibility of a bioterrorism attack against the people of the United States.
But I also feel that it at the end of the day the fundamental thing we're going to have to do is to attack the terrorists where they live and eliminate the source of terrorism.
SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, gentlemen, I want to thank all of you. This is some subject to be talking about.
FRIST: It certainly is.
SCHIEFFER: I'll tell you.
All right, we're going be back in a moment with our roundtable discussion: Former Secretary of Defense Jim Schlesinger and Judy Miller of the New York Times, who got one of those suspicious letters, in a minute.
SCHIEFFER: And with us now, the former secretary of defense, Jim Schlesinger. In New York, Judith Miller of the New York Times.
Mr. Secretary, normally protocol-wise, I would go to you, but Judy Miller got one of these letters, the New York Times got one.
We now understand, Judy, that thankfully it proved to be negative, the tests on it for anthrax. But this must have been quite a day for you to open this letter and get this powder on you.
MILLER: I don't hear.
SCHIEFFER: Well, Judy, I'm very sorry. For some reason I can't seem to hear you. But we'll go to Mr. Schlesinger.
Mr. Schlesinger, how do you think the administration is handling this so far?
Because, you know, the attorney general was here just a while ago, and before the broadcast he was saying, you know, he said, you know, we only get criticized for two things: for warning people that there's a threat or for not warning them there is a threat. This is a very serious and complicated issue as to how to keep the public informed and alert, but at the same time not set off general panic.
SCHLESINGER: I think that the administration, by and large, has hit about the right balance. For a while there it was issuing warnings that might have caused undue alarm on the part of the public without saying what the public response should be. But, by and large, it's hit the right balance of alerting the public and not causing panic.
SCHIEFFER: And, Judy, let me go back to you, because I'm told we can now hear you. What was this like for you?
MILLER: Well, as many facilities in Russia and the former Soviet Union as I visited, and as often as I've described this, it is different to be at the receiving end of one of these letters. But, you know, I'm here to tell you that there's nothing that's totally disabling about two days of Cipro. My colleagues and I are fine. We put out the paper. We are going to continue doing our work.
And I think, although we don't know if there's a connection between the events of September 11 and this new terror campaign, it's clear that there is a terror campaign. And what better way than to spread terror than to send such letters to people in the news media.
SCHIEFFER: Well, you, of course, are something of an authority on all of this because you've, among other things, written a book on bioterrorism and germ warfare.
The question I have for you and the attorney general--I'm not entirely clear on what to make of this. Is there a way to know if, for example, this letter that you got, whether it was a hoax? Is there any way to know, for example, if anthrax had been sent in that letter--and I don't know the terminology--that the germ could have died, or that the terrorist failed, or whoever sent this failed in that? Is there a way to know that?
MILLER: Well, there is once the material itself is analyzed, once you put it under a microscope. We knew pretty quickly from what they're calling preliminary tests that there didn't seem to be any signs of anthrax bacteria in the substance that was sampled. You know that quickly.
What you don't know once anthrax is detected is whether or not it's a vaccine strain which is would not harm someone, or it is a lethal strain which would. And the type of strain, whether or not that lethal strain is sensitive to antibiotics and vaccines. And that's the kind of long-term testing that is done and which, unfortunately, our country is rather short of in terms of facilities and people who can do that kind of work.
BORGER: Mr. Schlesinger, we now seem to be on a manhunt for Osama bin Laden and the key members of the Taliban. Can you talk to us a little bit about the success rate for such manhunts that we've had?
SCHLESINGER: Well, we didn't do as well as we hoped to do when we were chasing Noriega in Panama. It may take some time before we're able to run him to ground. It depends upon our success in moving into Afghanistan. It depends upon continued support, I believe, from Pakistan, which is in a delicate political position.
Over time we need to move U.S. forces into Afghanistan if we hope to pacify the country, remove the Taliban, and to catch bin Laden.
SCHIEFFER: Well, that was my next question, because we all knew the difficulty of putting ground troops into Vietnam and how difficult that proved to be.
SCHLESINGER: Well, as I indicated, it's a delicate situation in Pakistan. The more quickly we are able to resolve the problem; the more quickly we are able to remove the Taliban from power, the better will be the position of the government in controlling these demonstrations. If it's a lengthy thing, I think that the resentments will begin to build in Pakistan, and the situation will become more and more shaky.
SCHIEFFER: Well, thank you very much. We're going to have to end it there. I want to thank both of you.
And, Judy, we're very happy to know that everything worked out OK...
MILLER: Me, too.
SCHIEFFER: ... for the Times and for you. You helped us put it all in context.
MILLER: Thank you.
SCHIEFFER: We'll be back with a final word in just a minute.
SCHIEFFER: Finally today, we have heard it for years on the radio. First an electronic tone comes on, and then the announcement, ``This is a test. Had there been an actual emergency...''
Well, what we're realizing these days, that this is an actual emergency, and yes, it is a test--not a test of the radio transmitters, a test of us.
We are experiencing in a small way the anxiety of wartime London; how it was in Saigon during that war, when soldiers in the fields would go for days without seeing or hearing the enemy, and then come to safe Saigon on a three-day pass and see people killed by a hand grenade thrown into a cafe.
The president counsels calm and patience, but that means more than waiting for the government to track down these killers. It also means keeping our wits about us and being patient with the inconvenience of increased security and the occasional overreaction.
The other day, 98-year-old Strom Thurmond fainted on the Senate floor. And Capitol police were on such a hair trigger, they closed off the entire Capitol, even the parking lots.
Well, such things will happen, but we can't let them unnerve us or get to us. Better to laugh. It was sort of funny anyway, even to Thurmond.
After the attacks on the Twin Towers, road rage faded in this country, and we saw a return to civility, as we all remembered we are all in this together. It is from that bond that we draw our greatest strength.
We ask what can we do to help now. Well, one thing we can do is to remember that this is a test by those who would break our spirit. In a battle of wits, civility is a powerful weapon. After all, our brains just work better when we're in a good humor.
That's it for us. We'll see you next week, right here on Face the Nation.