General John Ashcroft
FBI Director Robert Mueller
Department of Justice Conference Room
October 16, 2001
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: In the weeks since the September 11th attacks, the American
people have been asked to balance a difficult set of realities. We've asked
Americans to go about their lives with a new sense of awareness of the danger
that terrorism brings to us, a danger which continues to darken America. We
have encouraged Americans to be active, but vigilant; calm, but alert. We're
extremely gratified with the response that we've seen from the people. Overwhelmingly,
Americans have responded to the reality of terrorism with both understanding
A few isolated individuals, however, have seen fit to compound the concerns
of America and of Americans by perpetrating false threats of anthrax attacks.
These acts are serious violations of the law and grotesque transgressions of
the public trust. False terrorist threats tax the resources of an already overburdened
enforcement system and the public health system. They create illegitimate alarm
in a time of legitimate concern. Terrorism hoaxes are not victimless crimes,
but are the destructive acts of cowards.
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.
Yesterday, the United States attorney for the District of Connecticut charged
Joseph Faryniarz, of Coventry, Connecticut, with intentionally making false
statements to a federal agent in connect with an anthrax hoax.
On October the 11th, an employee of the Connecticut Department of Environmental
Protection found a powdery substance on a sheet of paper with the misspelled
word anthrax next to his work station. The complaint charges that Faryniarz
knew the incident was a hoax, but reportedly stood by silent as 800 employees
were evacuated and 12 employees were forced to disrobe and be washed down with
a decontamination solution. The complaint further charges that Faryniarz lied
to FBI agents repeatedly, and attempted falsely to implicate two of his coworkers
before confessing to knowledge of the hoax.
As this case demonstrates, false threats of anthrax and other terrorist attacks
carry high costs for consumers and taxpayers. Officials of the Connecticut Department
of Environmental Protection report that the two-day evacuation of their facilities
necessitated by this hoax may cost taxpayers up to a million and a half dollars.
The government has not yet calculated the expense involved in the response by
state, local and law enforcement officers.
Now, if Faryniarz is convicted for the crimes for which and with which he has
been charged, he could face a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison
and fine of up to twice the gross loss to the victims, in this case potentially
up to $3 million. We are currently working with state and local officials in
other parts of the country to prosecute additional anthrax hoax cases.
It should be painfully obvious to every American today that the threat of bioterrorism
is no joking matter. For the victims and emergency personnel who are called
on to respond, every threat of terrorism is real. The perpetrators of terrorist
hoaxes should know that the penalties for their crimes are real as well.
Like the American people, the Department of Justice takes these offenses seriously.
We will find the perpetrators of anthrax hoaxes. We will prosecute the offenders,
and we will punish the guilty for their crimes.
MR. MUELLER: Good afternoon. This afternoon I want to spend a few moments at
the outset talking about the anthrax issue. As most of you know, the FBI is
investigating anthrax exposures and suspected anthrax exposures in Florida,
in New York, here in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere around the country where
such exposures have been reported.
Every threat is taken seriously. Every threat receives a full response. We have
no choice but to assume that each reported instance is an actual biothreat.
And while organized terrorism has not been ruled out, so far we have found no
direct link to organized terrorism.
There are, however, certain similarities between letters sent to NBC in New
York and to Senator Daschle's office here in Washington. And we are now testing,
analyzing and comparing powders from these letters to each other and to what
we know from Florida. And I should point out that the tests are being done under
the auspices of the Center for Disease Control, CDC.
Since October 1, the FBI has received more than 2,300 incidents or suspected
incidents involving anthrax or other dangerous agents; and as all of you know,
an overwhelming majority of these incidents have been false alarms or practical
jokes. Nonetheless, the FBI will devote whatever resources are necessary to
investigate each of these situations. However, I want to reiterate the comments
of the attorney general: Hoaxes, pranks and threats involving chemical or biological
agents are serious crimes and warrant a serious response. They will be investigated
thoroughly and vigorously by special agents of the FBI, by the postal authorities,
by local authorities and by other law enforcement.
As the indictment discussed today makes clear, individuals who attempt to prey
on people's or persons' fears, or even to pull a prank, will pay a price. In
addition to the price that they are paying, they should know that they are squandering
millions of dollars in public health and law enforcement resources, resources
that could be better spent in responding to actual terrorist acts. And more
importantly, they are taking manpower and time away from individuals who could
be ensuring that there are no future terrorist acts.
As incidents arise, we are working closely with the Centers for Disease Control,
with city and state public health officials and with a host of federal, state
and local law enforcement authorities. And we greatly appreciate the help and
expertise. FBI investigators and specially trained scientists, public safety
officers and hazardous materials response experts are being called upon as needed,
whether they be at the federal government level or the state or the local level.
We are making a concerted and coordinated effort to keep state and local law
enforcement authorities informed and involved. And quite obviously, their skills
and expertise are top-notch and we need their help.
Thank you. And I believe the attorney general and I would be happy to take some
QUESTION: Can you give us some idea of what are the similarities that were found in
the two letters, please?
MR. MUELLER: There are similarities of handwriting at this point, but the letters
are being analyzed still, and to draw a final conclusion would be -- it would
be premature to draw a final conclusion. (Inaudible) -- a similar postmark of
QUESTION: Director or the AG, when you say so far we haven't found any link to organized
terror, what you're saying is so far you haven't found any link to the believed
perpetrators of the September 11th attacks.
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: I think -- let me see if I can clarify at least my understanding
here. Any time someone sends anthrax through the mail, it's an act of terror.
It's terrorism. And we treat it as an act of terror and terrorism. But while
we have not ruled out linkage to the terrorist attack of September 11th or the
perpetrators of that attack, we do not have conclusive evidence that would provide
a basis for a conclusion that it is a part of that terrorist endeavor. But make
no mistake about it: When people send anthrax through the mail to hurt people
and to invoke terror, it's a terrorist act. Q Have you identified any of the
strains of anthrax in any of these cases? And are there any similarities, or
are they the same or different?
MR. MUELLER: The CDC is in the process of evaluating the samples that were taken
from New York and from D.C., Senator Daschle's office as well as from Florida.
And to discuss at this point any similarities would be premature because those
tests have not been concluded.
QUESTION: Director Mueller?
MR. MUELLER: Yes?
QUESTION: We've been hearing signs of tension in New York between the city officials
and the FBI. Are you confident that the FBI's response in New York has been
all it could be?
MR. MUELLER: I think there were missteps at the outset. I do not think that
in any way that affected the investigation. We did not as quickly as we would
have liked analyze an initial specimen from a letter that turned out to be negative,
not positive for anthrax.
In the wake of that, we have given direction to each office that regardless
of what we may think the threat should be or may be, to move quickly to make
certain that some authority, whether it be state, local or federal authority,
analyze it. I do not believe that that initial misstep in any way adversely
affected the investigation. Other than that, I can think of no other area where
there is tension between ourselves and the state and local authorities in New
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: May I just add a comment there. I want to commend the director
for the constructive way in which he has addressed this situation. There was
this situation where an early letter with an early suspicious substance wasn't
communicated to the lab as quickly as it might have been, in part because the
person responsible was at ground zero of the terrorist situation. And when this
information was developed, the director indicated to the New York office they
should share this information with the media, share it openly and indicate that
we're learning as we go forward. Great organizations are organizations that
know how to learn in the process of their activities to improve. And I commend
the bureau and the director. And I am in contact regularly with individuals
in the New York community, and I believe our working relationship is very strong.
And I appreciate that fact, and am grateful for the kind of communication that
QUESTION: Mr. Director --
MR. MUELLER: Let me just finish up with one thing on that. It was reported that
it sat for a period of time, that it sat for -- it was not tested for three
days, three days was too long. And this occurred before we had the incident
in Florida. So it was treated as an ordinary -- what prior to the incident occurring
in Florida, where we found positive anthrax, it had been, unfortunately, treated
as yet another one that we've had over a number of years. So that's just to
put that in context.
Somebody else had a question?
QUESTION: Related. Has the threat diminished at all since your warning from last week?
MR. MUELLER: The threat has -- since the warning of last week the threats have
not diminished. However, when we issued the warning last week, it was with a
specific time parameter. We're still within that time parameter, although, as
I think you all know now, it was without any specificity as to target or mechanism
whereby the terrorist attack would be carried out.
But because it was specific with regard to time, it was our belief that federal,
state, and local law enforcement should be on a higher state of alert, and we
remain on a higher state of alert.
Quite obviously, the incidents of anthrax exposures in the last couple of days
warrant such a continued state of alert. Q Some people have said that because
of the public health implications here, that this is not like other investigations
-- criminal investigations; there's such an important preventive aspect to this
that this government's information flow needs to be faster, to give more assurance
to the public. Are you satisfied with the way that the government has provided
information? And could it, on an investigative front, be a little swifter and
more complete in order to give more assurance to the public?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Well, let me first confirm the fact that prevention sometimes
requires a different conduct on the part of an agency than prosecution does.
And we've had to reorient ourselves in the context of terrorism to understand
that prevention is our top priority. And I believe we're doing that well. We
have -- as the director mentioned, we've been doing a couple hundred cases a
year on anthrax for quite some time.
But in this context, we are sharing information, but it is very important that
we share accurate information and that we don't misinterpret sometimes preliminary
indications or leap to conclusions that are inappropriate.
But for prevention purposes, we have to get information to law enforcement agencies
and to prevention-responsible institutions at the earliest possible time. And
in that event, we err on the side of sharing information.
For prosecution purposes, there are different standards that are used. But --
and this is an important understanding that we have had to bring into our culture,
which we really previously hadn't felt, and that's the necessity for the priority
of prevention, which requires sharing information aggressively. We make sure
the information is good.
There is nothing that would destabilize or otherwise erode our capacity to serve
well like information that was unreliable. So we try to make sure we develop
the highest possible reliability.
QUESTION: Director Mueller, two questions for you. Can you bring us up to speed on the
investigation, the number of people currently under arrest? And can you tell
us whether anyone currently under arrest has any -- there's any evidence directly
linking them to bin Laden or to al Qaeda?
MR. MUELLER: Well, I can't tell you the exact number of individuals under detention
for a variety of reasons. As we have said before, in the course of the investigation,
individuals have been detained, and where they have been interviewed and found
to be out of status with their -- out of status with the Immigration Service,
which warrants detention, they are here out of status and deportation procedures
will have been started.
There are a handful of individuals who have been detained on material witness
warrants. And I'll make the point again that where an individual is detained
on a material witness warrant, that material witness warrant has been issued
by a judge, and the proceedings go forward under the authority of the judge,
and the individual is accorded counsel.
The last category where there have been arrests within the United States are
where an individual who we sought in the investigation has found to have been
in violation of either local, state or federal laws and has been arrested on
those outstanding charges.
Now, around the country -- not the country. Around the world there have also
been detentions and arrests by a number of countries with whom we are working.
And, of course, I'm not -- I don't have the exact numbers there.
QUESTION: My second question was on any links with the people arrested in this country
or detained, links to al Qaeda or to bin Laden?
MR. MUELLER: I tell you, it is not appropriate at this point to discuss what
we have come across in the investigation with regard to that which may be considered
STAFF: One more question, please.
QUESTION: General Ashcroft, you're meeting later today with Arab- American leaders.
Can you tell us along those lines how you plan to address and answer concerns
about treatment of some of the 700 who are in custody, about access to lawyers,
about adequate facilities, and time for prayer, concerns that have now come
up in the last few days?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Well, we have, first of all, detained only individuals who
are in violation of the law, are illegally in the country, or are being detained
as a result of a court-ordered material witness warrant.
Secondly, each person detained has been accorded a right to counsel, so that
those who have been detained are being given rights, and those rights are accorded.
Thirdly, I would be happy to hear from individuals if there are any alleged
abuses of individuals, because that is not the way we do business. We are aggressive
in detaining those who have violated the law and those who are illegally in
this country and are associated with or have been involved with terrorist groups,
or are sympathetic to terrorist groups. But we will respect the constitutional
rights and we will respect the dignity of individuals.
I might just add that I am pleased to meet with the group of both Sikh Americans
and Arab Americans and Muslim Americans, and to assure them that it is the policy
of the Justice Department to enforce laws that would guarantee that Americans,
regardless of their national origin, are to be respected and their rights are
to be safeguarded.
Together with the FBI -- and I'm pleased always to work with the director --
we are in the process of working on about 170 cases where there has been discrimination
alleged, in one way or another, that relates to members of these communities.
We are pursuing these cases aggressively, as we have indicated in other opportunities
we've had to speak with you and discuss these cases. And I will be pleased to
have their suggestions for other ways in which we can help provide a basis for
the public's understanding that all Americans are to be respected and accorded
the kind of dignity and integrity of their persons, and that any who infringe
that undermine and erode a clear policy of this administration.
Last, I would -- and not least, of course -- I would commend the president of
the United States for his strong encouragement of these values being reflected
in what we do, and thank the director for his clear statements and his aggressive
prioritizing of the rights of Americans in this respect. And I'm pleased to
have joined them in that regard.