What do you remember most about the initial response to the anthrax attacks, both nationally and from your office?
I vividly remember the first report provided to me by my Chief of Staff, Pete Rouse, and my grave concern for each of the affected staff. I remember the agony of calling parents, spouses and families of the exposed staff to inform them of what had happened and to share what little I knew about how we would address the situation.
I also recall the somewhat chaotic environment involving the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other agencies of government who had limited capacity to respond to the attack and little information about next steps.
Finally, I remember the media frenzy when President Bush made reference to the incident shortly after I informed him of the circumstances.
Fully detailing this experience is hard. I did write a book, Like No Other Time, that includes more information.
You and your staff were among those most affected by the attacks. Talk about your own experience. As it unfolded, what do you remember thinking, and feeling?
As noted in my book, my greatest concern was the health and safety of my staff and the others who were exposed.
We knew so little about treatment for exposure to anthrax and there were differing points of view on the appropriate antidote.
As the Democratic Leader in the Senate, I was also concerned that a plan of action be developed quickly that would include an investigation to find those responsible, a plan for evacuation of the Senate office building, cleanup and an ongoing means to share information and progress with all interested parties.
What do you think of the investigation into the attacks? In your mind, what questions remain unanswered?
Unfortunately, the investigation has been a very arduous, frustrating and controversial experience. With both early and ongoing fits and starts, it is accurate to acknowledge that the confidence level relating to assertions by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that the case has now been successfully closed is much lower than it should be.
I am reasonably satisfied that the FBI’s conclusion is the correct one, but I must also recognize the legitimate concerns and questions posed by many skeptics since the case was officially closed. Was this attack the work of a lone scientist? If so, what was his motivation? Have we done everything within our means to prevent another attack in the future?
What role should Congress play in preparing for bioterrorist attacks? What role should it play in investigating such attacks?
Congress must be a full partner with the Executive branch in every aspect of preparing for bioterrorist attacks including policy, funding, information and coordination. Its primary role in the investigations of such attacks should be aggressive oversight.
What are the most crucial factors to ensure that our country is prepared for a biological emergency?
It is imperative that Congress do four things in the aftermath of this experience. First, it must ensure that the policies of the United States reflect a high priority in both the prevention of and defense from bioterrorism threats. Second, it is essential that the Congress provide all of the necessary funding for research and development of appropriate counter-bioterrorism measures. Third, Congress should readily acknowledge that cooperation in developing appropriate strategies with other governments both within the United States and internationally is critically important. Finally, far more work on public information and education is critically important.
In the 10 years since the attacks, how has America’s ability to respond changed? Are we more prepared to face a similar attack? How do we remain vulnerable?
America deserves mixed reviews in the aftermath of the attacks. We have spent trillions of dollars in two wars and the creation of new infrastructures in national intelligence, defense and the Department of Homeland Security. We have alienated a large percentage of the Muslim population and we have committed inexcusable acts in violation of even the most basic respect for human rights.
That said, over the past decade, we have improved our safety and security because of the new infrastructure and certain, established policies. We have successfully prevented a number of potential attacks and saved thousands of lives.
What bioterrorism threats are you most concerned about today? Is this threat being properly addressed on a national and state level?
While I don’t have one particular threat that concerns me more than others, I am concerned about the ubiquity of the threat and our lack of ability to anticipate where and when an attack may occur.
Water and transportation systems are particularly vulnerable to catastrophic levels of harm. Our capacity to anticipate, prevent and respond to these potential threats is still not adequate.
Senator Tom Daschle, Former U.S. Senator from South Dakota and Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader