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Government Gears Up To Fight Anthrax Threat

The anthrax threat is showing no signs of slowing. The latest victim is a State Department mail handler in Virginia who has contracted the deadliest form of the disease. CBS's Bill Plante reports.

The number of confirmed anthrax cases continues to increase as testing continues. The Bush administration is fighting the perception that it doesn't have a handle on the anthrax attack but concedes it doesn't have any idea where it's coming from. Today, the president signs new anti-terrorism legislation which gives law enforcement expanded powers to monitor communications and hold suspects.

"Let the terrorists among us be warned: If you overstay your visas even by 1 day, we will arrest you. If you violate a local law, we will hope that you will, and work to make sure that you are put in jail and be kept in custody as long as possible. We will use every available statute. We will seek every prosecutorial advantage," says US Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Even as the administration promised to take off the gloves, Washington was rattled by the news that an employee at the State Department's mail handling center in suburban Virginia has come down with inhalation anthrax. The Postal Service said it would begin testing more widely.

Deborah Willhite, vice president of the US Postal Service, says, "We are going to be doing environmental testing in all government mailrooms. We will expand our area of investigation and prevention as far as it needs to be expanded."

Meanwhile, the president's new Office of Homeland Security labors under the perception that its director, former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge, doesn't have the authority to force a reluctant federal bureaucracy to move quickly.

Senator Joseph Lieberman (Democrat, Connecticut) says, "I think it is critical that Governor Ridge be given statutory authority, given authority and control over the budgets of the people under him, and authority over personnel. Otherwise he will not be able to get the job of homeland security done."

Scientists say that even though all the anthrax discovered so far has the same DNA structure, the anthrax sent to Senator Daschle's office was finer-grained and easier to inhale.

Scientists can't tell by looking at this where it might have been made. Sources tell us this could have been cooked up in a small microbiology lab using instructions out of a textbook or off the Internet. That doesn't rule out state-sponsored terrorism, but means it doesn't have to be.

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