Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Daily Press Briefing







Threatening Letter Received on 7th Floor of State Department



DPB # 17
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 9, 1999 1:00 P.M.




QUESTION: Can you deal with that letter - the anthrax or whatever, please?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, on that subject. At about 11:00 a.m. on the seventh floor of the State Department in the 500 corridor, a letter was received in which pellets fell out of the letter and there was a note saying that by opening this letter the participants or the openers were hit now by anthrax.

The Emergency Response System worked reasonably well - very well in this case. The DC Police were involved; the Joint Terrorism Task Force was involved, including the FBI. The area was cordoned off. The medical folks were in. Field tests were done on the pellets and determined that they were not harmful. Three employees who were exposed were brought for observation and have been cleared to return to their work.

So we basically see this as a hoax, but given the nature of it we are going to continue to investigate.

QUESTION: Was the letter addressed to anybody?

MR. RUBIN: I don't know the answer to that.

QUESTION: And when you say these other - these various groups were involved, I mean, did they have people on the scene?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, this was all done by 12:00 p.m. They were able to confirm that all was clear. So it was a very quick response. Within one hour, this Joint Terrorism Task Force was able to operate and make these determinations.

QUESTION: Where were these three people checked out?

MR. RUBIN: I don't know what --

QUESTION: On the scene or they didn't go to a hospital, did they?

MR. RUBIN: No, right, in the Department. They were checked out by medical personnel who concluded that they were cleared to return to work.


MR. RUBIN: Today, yes.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) - the pellets were?

MR. RUBIN: They determined that they were not harmful. What exactly they were, I don't have that information.

QUESTION: What office received the letter?

MR. RUBIN: On the seventh floor. I don't have the name of the office. I can try to get - if you have a series of very detailed questions about this, we'll try to get it for you after the briefing. This just happened; it's 1:30 p.m. now. I worked very hard in the last few minutes to get you as much information as I could. I think I've exhausted my knowledge of this.

QUESTION: It wasn't the Secretary's office, though?

MR. RUBIN: No, it was on the 500 corridor.

QUESTION: Oh, I see, okay.

MR. RUBIN: It's a very different location.

QUESTION: In light of the fact that this has just happened, how worrisome is this to the State Department, and do you think that this is something that might cause a re-evaluation of the way that mail is received here?

MR. RUBIN: Given that it just happened an hour ago, I think drawing any long-term conclusions about changes in policy and practice would be inappropriate.

QUESTION: Jamie, sort of the same question. Isn't it surprising that, given such a high state of alert in all federal buildings now toward that kind of attack, that an envelope like that would be able to get through the system?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I'm sure all of you are familiar with your own mail. If what we're talking about here is an envelope with a piece of paper in it and a few pellets, I think to be able to scan every envelope to ensure that a piece of paper and a few pellets of undetermined size or significance could not be delivered to a government office building would require an enormous amount of resources.

That doesn't mean we're not going to take what precautions we think are appropriate. But in reporting and thinking and analyzing these, I hope people will not immediately jump to drastic, unrealistic proposals.

QUESTION: It was a letter - mailed letter?

MR. RUBIN: Yes, a mailed letter.

QUESTION: A letter.

MR. RUBIN: Yes, a letter; a very normal sized letter with a piece of paper and some pellets in it.

QUESTION: Can you find out where the postmark was?

MR. RUBIN: I assume that's the subject of the investigation. That wouldn't necessarily be provided publicly.


(The briefing concluded at 1:55 P.M.)

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