Department Spokesman Richard Boucher
October 31, 2001
1:00 P.M. EST
MR. BOUCHER: All right, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon, for those who
care. It's a pleasure to see you. Glad to answer your questions. Let's just
do it that way.
QUESTION: Anthrax update. First, on the victim in Sterling, and also, I understand
that there are traces of something that you think is anthrax found in the embassy
in a mail pouch in Vilnius, Lithuania.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything particular about Vilnius. We have had various
reports of white powders at embassies all over the world. I don't know, 40,
50 of them, maybe more by now. And we have checked all those out. None at this
point have proved positive. All have tested negative, except there are some
that are still being tested, and therefore results are pending.
So at this point, we don't have anything specific about Vilnius. I'll have to
check on that one. But we have not have had any of these substances at our overseas
posts that have tested positive at this point.
QUESTION: Except for Peru?
MR. BOUCHER: Except for the pouch in Peru, yes.
QUESTION: So this Lithuania is --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't -- I just heard it. I didn't have a chance to check it
specifically, but we have checked out a lot of white powders. So far they have
all tested negative. There are a few that still -- we are still awaiting results
QUESTION: Wait a minute. The guy in Sterling?
MR. BOUCHER: Our contractor in Sterling. He remains in stable condition, and
he is being closely watched in intensive care.
QUESTION: There is a story in The Post today that 15 of the 19 hijackers obtained
visas from Saudi Arabia. And there is some criticism that maybe there should
have been some detection or way to sort it out before they got here. Do you
have anything to say about that?
MR. BOUCHER: I think there is still a lot of confusion about visa programs and
how they work, so if you can give me a moment, let me go through and talk about
Around the world at various locations, we do visa interviews in different ways,
depending on the history of people from that country, depending on the history
of applicants and overstays once they get to the United States, things like
that. We have an active program where INS reports back to us people who change
status and things like that. So we do have some data on the habits of people
that we issue visas to.
And in many countries, we do interview by exception, it's called, where we will
look at paper applications, where people answer all the same questions that
they have to answer in an interview, including "Are you a terrorist"
and "Are you otherwise ineligible for travel to the United States".
And it's a standard form. It's the same questions that get asked at the interview.
And we look at all the information available, and decide then whether or not
to interview the person.
In many posts, they will interview third country nationals. In many posts, they
will interview first-time applicants, people who haven't had visas before, or
people that don't clearly and automatically -- clearly qualify for a US visa.
This kind of process is done at our posts in Saudi Arabia. It's called "Visa
Express." Visa applications are reviewed without interviews, unless the
consular officer decides that an interview is necessary. It's not an uncommon
practice in countries with generally favorable visa histories, and a low rate
In either case, whether the person is interviewed or not interviewed, we do
a name check through the best available information that is in our Lookout System.
The name check is done again when the person enters into the United States.
And that is the area where we are now concentrating on.
The President has directed that agencies cooperate to better identify potential
terrorists, to better identify applicants coming to the United States, to better
track them, to better know whether they show up at the places they were supposed
to show up in terms of schooling. And we are part of that interagency effort,
and indeed we have improved the information sharing and gotten some legislation
to help us do that from Congress. So we are in a position to have better information.
The better the information, the better the name check. And every applicant,
once again, gets checked, whether they apply in person or not.
As far as the current process, these processes of interview by exception are
being maintained, but consular officers around the world have been instructed
to be more careful, so they will likely call more people in for interviews than
they might have before. They might investigate or look a little more closely
at some of the applications and try, with a little more care, to differentiate
people who need to be interviewed from those who don't.
But I think the essence of the system is based on the information we can make
available, and a lot of that comes from law enforcement agencies.
Now, on those specific applications, there were, I think, 19 people identified
as suspects, terrorists, in these hijackings. We know that 15 of them applied
for visas in Saudi Arabia. I'm not sure about the other four at this point.
We know that at least six of those people were interviewed. But, again, I would
stress that all the names were checked against our best available information
at the time, and the effort underway is to try to make sure we have better,
more detailed, better and more improved information to check names against.
QUESTION: So it's safe to assume that the six that were interviewed, or the
15, nothing came up?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, yes.
QUESTION: I know that one aspect of the Lookout System checks the countries'
criminal records and information on the individuals. Could you comment on whether
or not you think that Saudi Arabia was cooperative in this respect in providing
all of the information that they should have provided in this process?
MR. BOUCHER: I'm sorry, the Government of Saudi Arabia doesn't do visas.
QUESTION: I know, you guys do visas. But part of the information that you check
against, as I understand it -- and I could be wrong -- is information provided
by the host government for these individuals. It's another trap that you run
MR. BOUCHER: No, I think you're wrong.
QUESTION: That's not right?
MR. BOUCHER: That's not the usual process. There is, obviously, counterterrorism
cooperation with foreign governments, to the extent that our law enforcement
or intelligence people are working with a foreign government and collective,
together with them, exchange information, identify potential terrorists. Then
our law enforcement or intelligence people would put the names in the database.
QUESTION: Mr. Boucher, you are required, if you are applying for a visa from
a foreign country, like a student visa or a long-term visa, to bring a note
from the chief of police in the district where you live, asserting that you
are not wanted or have not been convicted of any crime --
MR. BOUCHER: No, when you get -- that is part of the immigrant visa process.
I am not sure which non-immigrant categories it applies to. But it is not tourist
visas or business visas, and I think that's what all these people had.
QUESTION: Were you being serious, is the question on the application -- is there
really a question that says, "Are you a terrorist?"
MR. BOUCHER: I forget exactly how it's worded but it lists a number of ineligibilities
and it says, do any of these --
QUESTION: And you actually expect people who have bad intention to honestly
answer these questions?
MR. BOUCHER: No.
QUESTION: So, in other words, it doesn't --
MR. BOUCHER: I mean, some people might, in some places, obviously. There are
two reasons to do it. One is, some people are honest, to a surprising degree.
QUESTION: You mean, there have actually been visa applications where someone
has checked "yes"?
MR. BOUCHER: Nobody is going to write, "I am a terrorist," but there
are all sorts of ineligibilities --
QUESTION: Is this on there so you can get them for lying, perjury --
MR. BOUCHER: Can I finish my answer?
MR. BOUCHER: And the other reason is so we can get them for lying. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: On the 15 of 19 who applied for visas in Saudi Arabia, that doesn't
necessarily imply, does it, that all 15 were Saudi citizens? They just applied
there; is that correct?
MR. BOUCHER: That's right. I'd have to double check and make sure that -- I
would have to double check and see if they are all -- if all 15 of those are
QUESTION: Could you, please? Because there has been -- I have done some checking
and nobody, at least so far, has been able to tell me conclusively --
MR. BOUCHER: The other question is that I think the FBI has not yet resolved
the issue of whether these are actually actual names of people. So if there
were assumed identities, the assumed identity might have checked out better
than the real. But that's another issue with these. So it is not definitive
by any means. It is not definitive information on the whole process at this
QUESTION: Is that for some of them or all of them? I mean, has Saudi Arabia
been willing to hand over the files of those that they have determined are actual
people and not potential aliases?
MR. BOUCHER: Are you asking the same question? They are not involved in the
visa process, Saudi Arabia.
QUESTION: No, I'm talking about the hijackers. I'm talking --
MR. BOUCHER: That is a law enforcement question. That is a question of law enforcement
cooperation. I don't know what files the Saudi Arabian Government might have
QUESTION: Richard, so where did things fall through the cracks? Did they fall
through because law enforcement in this country was not sharing with the State
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that things fell through the cracks. The issue is
always, how do you know, how do you find out. If somebody has a track record
or a history, then hopefully your law enforcement, intelligence agencies, in
cooperation with foreign governments, can give you some indication of who the
people are that you need to keep out of the United States. But if people don't
have a history, if you don't have intelligence information on them, it is very
hard to find them.
The second issue is the one of assumed identity. We do fraud investigations
around the world and we often find out things about people when they apply for
visas by holding up the application, sending out investigators and things like
that. But you can't always find out those things.
QUESTION: Richard, do you know anything about the rejection rate in Saudi Arabia
for visa applicants?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't have anything. I don't have a specific number. It's very
low. All I can say is it's very low, and that is one of the reasons why they
don't interview everybody, is because most Saudis qualify for visas; they're
traveling for pleasure, they're traveling for business, they have substantial
assets or reasons to return to Saudi Arabia, they have no particular history;
they may have good jobs, businesses, family situations, and therefore many,
many Saudis qualify easily for visas.
QUESTION: Richard, speaking of people like that, did you see the piece that
Prince Alwaleed wrote in today's New York Times talking about how he understands
why his donation was rejected and calling for an improvement of Saudi-US --
for this to be an event -- the tragedy to be an event to bring the Saudis and
the US together?
MR. BOUCHER: Did I see the piece?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: And if you did, what do you make of it?
MR. BOUCHER: I leave that to you guys. I think we left that whole matter between
him and the City of New York.
QUESTION: On Saudi Arabia, can you say that Saudi Arabia is abiding by UN Resolution
1373 concerning the area of suppressing financing of terrorist activities?
MR. BOUCHER: There is a UN committee that was established to track compliance
and cooperation with UN resolutions. What I would say is what we've said before:
We have very good cooperation with Saudi Arabia against terrorism; we're cooperating
with Saudi Arabia in any number of areas -- law enforcement, finance, as well
as other areas. I leave it to them to describe the specifics, but our cooperation
with Saudi Arabia remains very, very good, and they have continued to agree
to everything we've needed from them.
QUESTION: On this issue, can you get -- I asked the question a few days ago
about a joint Treasury-State Department team that I understand was supposed
to go over or is planning to go over to Saudi Arabia. Do you have anything on
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we -- I'll double check again. They weren't immediately
QUESTION: Didn't the United States seek to interview the people who were accused
of bombing the Khobar Towers, and didn't the Saudis behead them, without allowing
the US to interview them?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know.
QUESTION: You don't know?
MR. BOUCHER: But that's not a question about current cooperation, is it?
QUESTION: Well, it's about -- you said that they have given us everything that
we needed from them.
MR. BOUCHER: In this current situation. I haven't gone through every bit of
history in the past of the US-Saudi relationship. We have been asked repeatedly,
are we cooperating, are the Saudis cooperating with us, are we working well
with them; and the answer is, yes, absolutely.
QUESTION: Richard, how will the visa check (inaudible) applications, or whatever
be changed? Obviously, it's kind of a sieve. And if it's because you have family
in the country and you have plenty of money behind you and you might go home,
bin Laden certainly qualifies under those kinds of characteristics. So what
will change so that you know who you're giving them to?
MR. BOUCHER: I think there are several things that change. First of all, our
consular officers on the ground who talk to people or look at these applications,
are exercising already more scrutiny to make sure that anything that is unusual
or suspect gets looked at before people get visas.
So they are being more careful and following up on things that may have seemed
incidental in the past. But you can't rely on that sort of indication. You can't
rely on talking to somebody to know whether they are a terrorist or not. I mean,
most terrorists are not likely to say, Hi, I'm a terrorist, I want to go to
the United States.
So you have to use your other resources, and the other resources are the information
that we can generate, together with out foreign colleagues and with our domestic
colleagues in intelligence and law enforcement. And so the goal is to further
improve the system that we have for getting information on terrorists, what
they might be up to, who might be traveling, and to use that to deny people
entry into the United States, so that either we, when people apply for visas,
or the INS, when they apply for entry, can identify people, can know who they
are really, and can find out if they have any history or any indications of
QUESTION: And so how did that change, besides being more careful? I mean, what
are you doing?
MR. BOUCHER: It means -- better than -- what is more important than "be
more careful" is "get better information." And that is where
the resources of the US Government will be applied especially.
QUESTION: When you reject somebody because you suspect that they are a terrorist,
do you tell them that?
MR. BOUCHER: Not always.
QUESTION: Is there an appeal process?
MR. BOUCHER: No, not really.
MR. BOUCHER: Okay, one more on Saudi, and then he gets to change the subject.
QUESTION: Did the Saudi Government send this government a letter suggesting
that both governments might want to part ways on certain areas of cooperation?
MR. BOUCHER: I haven't heard of anything like that. You would have to ask the
QUESTION: Your Ambassador to Greece --
MR. BOUCHER: Our esteemed Ambassador to Greece.
QUESTION: Yes, still. Still, I don't know. But he's still ambassador anyway
-- opened the front with the Greek Government regarding November 17 terrorist
organization saying, who in the US arrested terrorists for September 11 attacks,
and wondered why not you for November 17. The Simitis government, in the meantime,
answered promptly today, we are not going to arrest anyone without evidence
or hard indication. Could you please comment?
MR. BOUCHER: My first comment is that I want to check out exactly what our Ambassador
said, because I have had things quoted to me in the past which were not entirely
accurate. I would be glad to look into it.
QUESTION: And do you know if they are going to proceed with a list of suspects,
the process which was started by the Clinton Administration, and characterized
by the entire Greek press, totally fabricated?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I will have to look into it.
QUESTION: And the last one. I'm wondering why you do not criticize the effectiveness
of various very advanced US federal intelligence agencies like CIA and FBI,
which already are functioning free in Greece with full cooperation with the
government to arrest the criminals November 17, but so far succeed in nothing
to this effect.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think our people have arrest authority in Greece.
QUESTION: Did you instead ask Turkey to send any troops or military special
MR. BOUCHER: I'm afraid that's the kind of question we haven't been answering
about any country -- what we have asked or what they have offered. We have left
it to individual countries to describe what they are willing to do. Turkey is
obviously a partner in NATO, as well as a good ally. We have been cooperating
with Turkey in many, many ways, as well as through NATO, but on specifics of
military matters, I think I'll leave that to the Turkish Government.
QUESTION: The Government of Pakistan today said that they believe that the demonstrations
against the US presence and against the war in Afghanistan are decreasing. Is
it your view that the Government of Pakistan has sort of weathered the worst
of this crisis?
MR. BOUCHER: I haven't gotten reports on the exact numbers. I suppose they would
know a lot better than we do, so I would take their word for it.
QUESTION: Do you have more details about a Colombian citizen who were revoking
their visas, and what kind -- what are their names or --
MR. BOUCHER: No, we put up an answer yesterday, I think, that we are not in
a position to describe those people or to give their names.
QUESTION: Do you know what kind of visa they -- if they are in the United States
or some more information about who they are?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I'm not able to do that. We are prevented, I think, by law
from doing that.
QUESTION: Were you able to check on what's going on in terms of people applying
for passports from the US Government?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes. Our passport offices have generally stopped taking in mail.
Some of them, I think, are still --
QUESTION: All of them?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, stopped taking in mail. Some of them may still be doing a
few things under controlled circumstances. They are, I think, open generally
to the public, to people who come in to present their applications in person.
And we are working with the Postal Service and others to try to get this back
up and running as soon as possible because most passport applications are handed
in at the Post Office, and so once you see it there you can put it in an envelope
and know it's safe. So we are going to try to work to get that back up and running
very, very quickly.
QUESTION: Do you know specifically whether that is true of the Kentucky center
that handles the millions of visa applicants?
MR. BOUCHER: The diversity lottery program, none of that mail comes through
the State Department or through the Sterling, Virginia, facility, so that mail
has been going in by the millions. Today, actually I think about an hour or
two ago, was the last moment to get in one's application for the 2003 diversity
visa lottery, and the letters are being opened carefully.
QUESTION: So when you say the agencies have stopped taking mail, you mean the
passport agencies that are in other cities, that are in San Francisco and Houston?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes. They have generally stopped taking mail and so they have not
been able to process applications submitted through the mail.
QUESTION: Isn't that a problem, wouldn't you think? I mean, people need to travel.
MR. BOUCHER: It is a problem, but travelers who need to travel urgently can
go down to the local office and do it. It is obviously inconvenient. It's not
as convenient as going to your Post Office.
QUESTION: Well, there are only 16 of them.
MR. BOUCHER: But we are trying to get it up and running again as soon as we
QUESTION: Do you have any numbers on the number of people who have applied for
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we have numbers yet. Some years, it is as many as
10 or 12 million. But I don't think we have numbers yet this year, no. An incredible
volume of mail.
QUESTION: Can I ask something on a different subject?
QUESTION: Can we stay on the lottery for one second? Are people undergoing more
stringent background checks before the lottery? Or do they -- do you do background
checks if they win the lottery for the visa? How does that work?
MR. BOUCHER: It works with -- anybody can send in a request, an application.
And then if you are chosen, then you have to meet all the requirements of an
immigrant visa, and that means health checks, that means police records, it
means a lot of careful scrutiny for anybody who intends to immigrate to the
QUESTION: Can I ask just quickly on Ukraine, do you have any comments from the
meeting yesterday with the Prime Minister, anything to say?
MR. BOUCHER: Outcomes. It was a very good discussion with the Ukrainian Prime
Minister yesterday that the Secretary had. They talked clearly about the campaign
against terrorism, and the Prime Minister expressed full solidarity and support.
They talked about areas where Ukraine can cooperate with the United States or
cooperate with other NATO governments. They also talked about the economic progress
of Ukraine and the progress of Ukraine in terms of becoming a more open, transparent
society. The Secretary, once again, emphasizing the need for openness and transparency
as well as the rule of law and especially anti-corruption efforts as they go
QUESTION: Did you get anywhere in terms of getting an FBI team in there to help
with the Gongadze investigation?
MR. BOUCHER: That wasn't discussed -- the FBI team kind of idea wasn't discussed
in specifics. I would have to check on where we are on that. The Secretary did
raise the issue of the Gongadze investigation, as well as the missile shoot
down, the airplane shoot down as examples where it was important to be open,
to be transparent, to issue as much information as possible so that the public
could understand exactly what had gone on in these situations.
QUESTION: Is that -- relating to the shoot down of the plane, is that the only
thing that was discussed?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, that was --
QUESTION: Just tell the truth and tell it quickly? Is that basically it?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes.
QUESTION: China? (Inaudible) to Taiwan on Tuesday, 288 million. Can you comment
MR. BOUCHER: No, I wasn't aware of that going up. I will have to check on it.
QUESTION: One more. A congressman has invited the Taiwanese President to come
to Washington, DC. Do you know about that?
MR. BOUCHER: I wasn't aware of that particular invitation. I am not aware of
any visa applications, though.
QUESTION: The Taliban education minister said today, "Afghans do not want
to fight with America." That's the message to Americans. "We do not
want to fight; we will negotiate, but talk to us like a sovereign country. We
are not a province of the United States to be issued orders to. We have asked
for proof of Usama's involvement, but they have refused." Why?
MR. BOUCHER: Does he want to come and ask me himself? I think this is the kind
of stuff we've heard before. Everybody knows the United States is not the only
one that has a problem with their harboring foreign terrorists. They say they
don't want to fight with the American people, and yet they harbor and support
people who killed 5,000 Americans and people from 80 other countries. It is
ridiculous to say things like that. They have been under UN order for years
to turn over Usama bin Laden, his leadership and dismantle the networks. There
is abundant information on the network's responsibility for the attacks on the
embassies in Africa, and all one has to do is watch television to find Usama
bin Laden claiming responsibility for the September 11th bombings.
There is no question of responsibility. There is no question of the responsibility
of the Taliban. And there is no question of what they should do.
QUESTION: Richard, is there something -- I mean, yesterday you said he "virtually"
claimed responsibility. Is that what you meant to say just now?
MR. BOUCHER: That is what I said just now. I would have to go back over the
exact language. It was "virtually." It was about as certain as I could
make out. I'll say "virtually."
QUESTION: There was some new -- I just wanted to know if there was some new
appearance of him on television.
MR. BOUCHER: No, there is not a new piece of information. I am describing the
same interview that we saw before, where he virtually, or I would say in fact
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Russians prepared to send their troops as a part of the
NATO operation in Macedonia. This came out after the visit of Macedonian President
to Moscow this week. What is your comment and position?
MR. BOUCHER: I wasn't aware of the news. I don't think I'm going to comment
on any particular offer from Russia. But certainly we have tried to work with
Russia, as well as others, in Macedonia. What happens in Macedonia is very important
to us, and we continue to look to the Macedonian parliament, actually, to continue
moving forward with the constitutional changes. That seems to be the operative
question right now.
QUESTION: Richard, on Russia for a second. Is it too early to have anything
back yet from Mr. Armitage? I don't even know if these meetings have begun.
It's too early for that?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, he is meeting today and tomorrow.
QUESTION: Okay, can you give us just a very brief preview of what you expect
the Secretary and Foreign Minister Ivanov to talk about tomorrow?
MR. BOUCHER: The Secretary and Foreign Minister Ivanov will meet tomorrow. I
don't have exact times yet, or length of meetings. But I expect they will have
extensive discussions of all the issues in the US-Russia relationship, especially
the strategic framework issues of offensive missiles, nonproliferation, defensive
systems, and continue their work on the strategic framework.
There is any number of areas of cooperation against terrorism that the US and
Russia will want to discuss. But the whole meeting should be seen in the context
of expanding cooperation, working together in all these areas, as well as economically,
and looking to feed that process into the meetings the President will have with
President Putin next week in Washington and Crawford. So it is really working
on all these issues and trying to move them forward towards the President's
meeting next week.
QUESTION: I know this isn't your bailiwick, but does Secretary Rumsfeld's trip
to Moscow also play into this?
MR. BOUCHER: That is certainly part of preparing for the President's meeting
with President Putin next week, but I will leave it to Defense to describe it.
Two weeks. Thank you. Two weeks from now.
QUESTION: Following up on this? You said "economic issues." Are they
discussing -- have they discussed and are they going to be discussing pipeline
issues or oil issues? The United States has long tried to block pipelines --
MR. BOUCHER: No, we have long supported the diversity of routes, a number of
different routes, to bring oil out of Siberia and the Far East, Kazakhstan,
Caspian areas. We have always supported multiple routes, and that has been part
Generally, when the Secretary has talked -- he always talks with the Russians,
with Foreign Minister Ivanov through their eight or nine meetings about economics,
about economic relationships -- generally have been on two sides. One is the
issue of sort of the investment climate in Russia and how to improve the investment
climate, including issues like rule of law and anti-corruption policies, as
well as more information and openness. Media information is part of it.
And then the second part has been to look at sometimes specific opportunities
where there might be American companies involved, or where there are sectors
that are undergoing privatization or such things.
QUESTION: On the question of oil pipelines, has something changed since September
11th regarding the US views towards the diversity?
MR. BOUCHER: No, we have always supported multiple pipelines. That remains the
QUESTION: Will the Secretary and Foreign Minister Ivanov discuss an arms arrangement
-- I guess it was completed about a month ago -- between Russia and Iran?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know they'll discuss a specific arrangement. Clearly, the
issue of nonproliferation and Russian arms sales to Iran has been on our agenda.
It is something we have discussed, I think, just about every time they have
gotten together, so I would expect they would have an opportunity to talk about
it tomorrow as well.
QUESTION: Has the State Department been given -- has the Secretary been given
assurances from the Russians that the latest, I guess, manifestation of this
arms deal does not involve any new contracts, which has been the Russian line
since they sort of backed out of the Gore-Chernomyrdin agreement, that it's
only completing old contracts and that no new agreements have been made?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't remember the exact nature of the announcements that Russia
and Iran made at the time, but I would leave it to them to announce what is
involved. Clearly, our concerns about the kind of weaponry that might be sold
and our concerns about nuclear cooperation and things like that have not diminished,
and we will continue to raise those.
QUESTION: Well, if I could just have one more on US concerns about these kinds
of issues. Is the US concerned about Russia simply making good on old contracts
that it had with Iran or --
MR. BOUCHER: For us, it's not so much a matter of contracts; it's a matter of
what is sold. We think we have always said that nuclear cooperation with Iran
is inadvisable because we think it leads to other potential nuclear developments,
and that we have always said that the sale of advanced weaponry is not in Russia's
security interests, nor is it in ours.
QUESTION: So nuclear power technology is just as bad as nuclear --
MR. BOUCHER: We think nuclear cooperation with Iran is ill-advised.
QUESTION: Any nuclear cooperation. Okay.
QUESTION: Nuclear cooperation is what?
MR. BOUCHER: Ill-advised.
QUESTION: On Iraq, I suppose you expect that to come up as well.
MR. BOUCHER: I don't want to -- I mean, I could do a list of 25 likely topics,
including the UN resolution on Iraq. That has been something they have discussed,
they discussed a bit in Shanghai, they'll want to discuss more and more as the
time approaches for the renewal of the UN resolution, yes.
QUESTION: Earlier this morning, apparently, Under Secretary Bolton talked to
a group of writers in town. According to an AP story, he says that he said that
if the terrorists had had nuclear weapons, they would have used them on September
11th. Is that the official Administration view?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. It sounds speculative to me. I would have to check
and see if we want to do that, but I don't have any way of saying yes or no
QUESTION: Can we go back to anthrax for a minute? Have you received the results
of the remaining --
MR. BOUCHER: I've got Vilnius, by the way.
QUESTION: Pardon me?
MR. BOUCHER: I'll talk about Vilnius, but answer your question first.
QUESTION: Oh, I'm --
MR. BOUCHER: Of which test?
QUESTION: Of the remaining samples in this building.
MR. BOUCHER: Let me see if we've got them all in. I'm not sure we have them
all yet, but none of them have -- nothing has shown up positive. Nothing more
has shown up positive.
QUESTION: In regards to some of the concerns expressed yesterday in the town
hall meeting by a number of employees who asked that the whole building offices,
including offices that receive mail from all of the mail rooms, be tested and
perhaps that the entire building be shut down for cleaning, have there been
any new decisions made on that?
MR. BOUCHER: I think there have been a number of things that come out of listening
to our employees yesterday. The first one is that we will be sampling more broadly
in the building, that we will be looking not only in mail facilities but we'll
be looking in other offices as well, other offices that might get small amounts
of mail or otherwise randomly be sampled. So there will be random sampling in
And also, we're looking to make this a continuous program to monitor our mail
system especially, so that we do have a good idea at any given moment if there
is any exposure.
In addition to that, listening to the questions yesterday, it was clear that
our employees have a lot of concerns and a lot of questions that needed to be
answered, and there wasn't time to answer them all yesterday. So I think there
are six question-and-answer sessions being scheduled for today and a few more
tomorrow, where the medical staff will be out trying to take care of everybody
and answer all the questions they might have.
QUESTION: So that is a change in policy. The doctor said yesterday and you had
told us that there would be no further environmental sampling done. So that
is something you are completely changing?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes. The decision originally was not to do further sampling of
mail rooms and facilities, just put everybody that might be exposed on antibiotics.
And that certainly is going ahead for all the employees, even the ones who aren't
specifically in those mail rooms, but all the employees who handle any large
amount of mail.
But we have decided in addition to that to do random sampling around the building,
and then to do it --
QUESTION: Is that a scientific decision or a decision just based on public opinion
in this building, because the doctor said that they had already gone beyond
CDC standards, the CDC said no further sampling needs to be done --
MR. BOUCHER: I think we have probably gone even farther beyond the specific
recommendations. It is both. As the doctor said, very low levels of spores may
be in this building outside the mail room, not in a hazardous way, very small
amounts that wouldn't be a hazard for inhalational anthrax. But people want
to know and we want to test to make sure. And so a random sampling program is
one way of finding out, just making sure that it is not spreading anywhere else.
QUESTION: But this is only being done because of the concerns expressed yesterday,
and not because you suspect that there is -- there are deposits of anthrax elsewhere
in the building that could get people sick, right?
MR. BOUCHER: That's right. It is being done because of the scientific assumption
that few spores, minor quantities, can spread farther. But also because of the
concerns of the employees that we have listened to, that we do testing to make
QUESTION: Can you do Vilnius now?
MR. BOUCHER: Let me add on Vilnius -- here is the deal in Vilnius. We were informed
by the microbiology laboratory of the Vilnius Public Health Center that preliminary
results showed trace amounts of what appears to be anthrax present in two of
five mail bags that were sent to the laboratory for examination. Because other
bacilli resemble anthrax, a final determination can only be made when the samples
are cultured, and that will require 48 to 72 hours.
So they have sealed the embassy mail room, and embassy employees have been informed,
and antibiotics are being provided to any of their employees who think -- who
will want to take them.
QUESTION: Was there any suspicious mail found there?
MR. BOUCHER: I think they tested the mail bags. I'm not sure if they have gone
through the mail at this point. So not that I'm aware of.
QUESTION: So the antibiotics will be taken by people who --
MR. BOUCHER: Who wish to take them.
QUESTION: Who wish to take it?
MR. BOUCHER: So presumably already, as at all embassies, employees who work
handling mail were already being given those antibiotics.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) section this week that I'm sure you have seen. The only
remaining smallpox risks are in laboratories in Russia and the United States.
Do you know whether Secretary Powell and Foreign Minister Ivanov will be discussing
protection of that, since it's no longer unthinkable? And according to The Post
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know if they will be discussing that. I really -- I just
don't know if it will come up or not. We'll see. Ask me tomorrow.
MR. BOUCHER: Ask him tomorrow.
QUESTION: I had one before we switched over to Vilnius I just wanted to clear
up. Can you say that there is no consideration being given to cleaning up the
MR. BOUCHER: The decision at this point is to clean all those areas which handle
bulk mail. That is not the entire building, but that's all the areas where it's
possible that there would be any significant concentration, any concentration
beyond a few spores or a very small amount.
QUESTION: Can you say (inaudible) for example air vents in all those rooms been
MR. BOUCHER: Those rooms, the mail rooms, have been completely closed off.
QUESTION: Are you at all concerned that by increasing the scope of the environmental
sampling, you could be adding to a kind of anthrax hysteria, given what Dr.
Dumont said yesterday, which was that there could be anthrax, but it's in such
a low level that it wouldn't have an effect. There is anthrax in the soil in
Texas, after all.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, we work here, you work here, our people in the building want
to know. If it's found in small quantities, we will tell them it's found in
small quantities; it can't hurt you. If it's found in larger quantities, we
want to know that, too. What they want to know is what -- as much as the facts
as we can get for all of us, and that's what we are going to try to do.
QUESTION: But didn't the CDC -- I mean, I know this isn't really your bailiwick,
but isn't the CDC now saying that it's not clear how many spores you would need
to get infected, and they're learning new things every day. So, I mean --
MR. BOUCHER: So we are going to learn new things every day, too. We are going
to find what concentrations there are. We're going to track this.
As you all know, most -- almost all the cases -- I think the CDC has said this
-- of inhalational anthrax have occurred in people who worked directly with
bulk mail and mail sorting equipment, places where there would be higher concentrations,
not somewhere three or four steps down the chain of distribution.
Nonetheless, we do want to go beyond specific recommendations and make sure
we test widely so that we know as much of the facts as we can.
QUESTION: Is there any thought being given to putting all the employees on the
floor where the mail rooms were found to have anthrax on antibiotics? I mean,
this woman that died at a Manhattan hospital, everybody, even patients that
visited the hospital for an hour now are on antibiotics.
MR. BOUCHER: I mean, right now, we are standing on the floor -- on the same
floor as a mail room that had found traces of anthrax. But it's a quarter mile
away -- maybe not that far -- 300 yards. And so it is going to vary from building
to building. It is going to vary, depending on the building, depending on the
ventilation system, depending on how things move around in the building.
And I think doing random sampling throughout our building and making the antibiotics
available to employees, every employee in this building who has any concern
can go into the medical units and talk to people and see if a regimen of antibiotics
QUESTION: Richard, was the decision to expand the testing made yesterday or
was it made today? Do you know?
MR. BOUCHER: I believe it was made yesterday afternoon.
QUESTION: Can I ask, the amount that was found in the mail rooms, is the assumption
that that particular amount is not dangerous?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't think we have any specific assumption about that at this
point. I'm not sure that -- I don't think they actually know concentrations
at this point. They just know existence of spores at those two locations. So
they are not able to make a judgment.
QUESTION: The Secretary said yesterday that the State Department operations
would be moved elsewhere if the building is found not to be safe. Is a search
going on for an alternate site if worse comes to worst?
MR. BOUCHER: We have contingency plans for being able to operate in alternate
locations, should we not be able to operate here. We have always had those for
any variety of contingencies, and we would use them if we had to.
QUESTION: Can I ask one Middle East question? Has there been any contact between
the Secretary and anyone else lately? And do you have any reaction to the apparent
rumblings that there are now that Sharon has said that he is willing to talk
with the Palestinians, and the Palestinians replying somewhat favorably to that?
MR. BOUCHER: I haven't seen the apparent rumblings. I saw actually quite different
rumblings, so maybe I'm not up to speed. But I would say that the --
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) Very early this morning. I mean, overnight.
MR. BOUCHER: Well, we may be reading the same things differently. But in any
case, no, I don't have comments on rumblings.
I can tell you the Secretary spoke with Prime Minister Sharon this morning,
and they had a good discussion. They will continue to talk as he continues to
stay in touch with the parties. Ambassador Kurtzer and Consul General Schlicher,
of course, are working with the parties in the field and reporting regularly
back to Washington.
So we're working very closely with people out there to see if we can't find
a way for both sides to take steps against the violence. Clearly, we want to
see the Israelis withdraw completely and we want to see Chairman Arafat and
the Palestinian Authority to take immediate steps to identify and to bring to
justice those responsible for the violence.
QUESTION: Was part of the message to encourage him to take part in a peace process
that Norway is offering again to host?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know. I don't know if that came up or not. I don't have
any particular comment at this point.