Supreme Court closes for anthrax tests

Saturday, October 27, 2001

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court building was ordered shut down for anthrax testing Friday, the latest symbol of American majesty and might to fall victim to a bioterrorism threat that sent fresh shudders through the nation's 227-year-old mail service.

"This is two-front war, and we're going to win on both fronts," vowed President Bush.

Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg announced the court was closing, following the discovery of anthrax on a filter removed from a remote mail facility.

But Arberg said while no bacteria had been found in the court itself, the entire building would be closed and employees sent home and that it would be "tested thoroughly." An estimated 400 employees work in the building, and John Eisold, the Capitol physician, said medical personnel were conducting testing and dispensing precautionary antibiotics, much as was done last week for House and Senate employees.

Arberg declined to say whether the court's nine justices had been tested or treated. She said the court would convene on Monday in a federal appeals courtroom if their customary chambers weren't cleared for reopening. If so, she indicated that would be the first time that had happened since the court building was completed in 1935.

Apart from the Supreme Court, officials reported a small amount of anthrax was discovered at a CIA mail facility, located on the agency's sprawling complex in Langley, Va., outside Washington. Bill Harlow, a CIA spokesman, said the amount found was "medically insignificant," but the mail-handling building at the headquarters was closed for additional tests. He declined to elaborate, but experts believe it takes at least 8,000 spores to cause the deadly inhalation form of the disease.

After three weeks of pointing to potential foreign sources for the dangerous substance, officials emphasized that at least one batch of spores could easily have been produced in the United States, by a doctorate-level microbiologist in a small well-equipped lab, said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

"That does not rule out that it could come from a foreign location," he said, "But it certainly does expand it beyond state sponsorship or foreign locations."

Fleischer's comments about the anthrax found in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle marked a new emphasis, although he declined to say what clues had been uncovered that warranted the shift.

Three weeks into the nation's age of anthrax, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was all but certain that at least one piece of tainted mail in the nation's capital remained undiscovered.

It would be "highly unlikely to virtually impossible" for the letter to Daschle to be responsible for the known spread of the spores to mail handling facilities in Washington, Maryland and Virginia, said Dr. Jeffrey Koplan.

"There just wouldn't be enough infectious material from cross-contamination to do that," he said.

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