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Anthrax Scare Closes US Supreme Court - 2001-10-30


The threat of anthrax forced the U.S. Supreme Court today to abandon its ornate chambers, and more anthrax has been found in other government buildings. Small amounts of anthrax were found in the Supreme Court mailroom, prompting authorities to seal off the white-columned, structure home to the nation's highest court - at least through Tuesday.

The nine justices spent Monday hearing cases at a federal appeals court building a few blocks away the first time they have worked outside their chambers since the Court opened its ornate marble building in 1935.

Across town, the State Department was also hit, with traces of anthrax being discovered in several mailrooms within the headquarters of American diplomacy. Small amounts of anthrax were also discovered in a bundle of mail that contained responses to U.S. calls for help from the public in tracking down terrorists - including those on September 11th.

State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher says at least one employee who handled mail at a processing site in Virginia remains seriously ill. "All our mailrooms have been closed off. Mail distribution has been shut down.," said Mr. Boucher. And all department employees who handle mail around the world are now being given antibiotics. Spokesman Boucher says there's no reason to believe Secretary of State Colin Powell has been exposed but would not say whether he as well is taking antibiotics.

And, at this point, there's no indication that the traces of anthrax pose a threat to the several thousand people who work and visit the State Department every day. In fact, White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters the Secret Service was aware of anthrax traces at the State Department before President Bush decided to deliver an address there Monday to visiting African officials. "The Secret Service knew about that prior to the president going over there. It did not pose any problem for the president or the traveling party," said Mr. Fleischer.

But with more than a dozen cases of anthrax exposure now reported in the United States, U-S officials remain at a loss to explain the source of what seems to be a spreading anthrax scare that has now touched all three branches of government. Traces of the bacteria have been found as well in a room that handles mail for the Voice of America. Three people have died since the bacteria was first discovered at a Florida newspaper last month.