BROOKE GLADSTONE: Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported on information found in a couple of Al Qaeda computers purchased, as luck would have it, by one of its reporters in Afghanistan. The computers, apparently used by Al Qaeda to coordinate its operations, contained hundreds of documents and files including correspondence with militant Muslims around the world and plans for producing chemical and biological weapons. Referring to those weapons, one memo read: "We only became aware of them when the enemy drew our attention to them by repeatedly expressing concern that they can be produced simply." "That enemy," says 60 Minutes producer Peter Klein, "is Peter Klein and all the other reporters who cover bio-terrorism." And he joins us now. Mr. Klein, welcome to the show.
PETER KLEIN: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So when you read that in the Wall Street Journal, what was your immediate reaction?
PETER KLEIN: Well I really had chills, specifically because of the reference of "enemy." I never imagined myself as the, as the enemy.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well I mean the fact that Al Qaeda refers to you as an enemy is, is not really the-- the most nightmarish aspect of all of this I would imagine.
PETER KLEIN: Right. No. We've had conversations in the newsroom many, many times covering bioterrorism. How much should we reveal. You know, is saying that anthrax is easy to produce -- is that a bad thing to say? Is that going to inspire someone to go produce anthrax? I guess it, what it made me realize is how much power the press has. It's something I don't think about regularly on a daily basis.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now you and Mike Wallace not long ago won an Emmy for a report you did on how easy it would be to create a smallpox epidemic.
PETER KLEIN: Right.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Did you think about that when you read this memo from the Al Qaeda computer?
PETER KLEIN:I did. I did. You know that story aired in--October of 2000, and strangely enough just 2 weeks before the September 11th attack as well we re-aired it. But in that report we have a, a Russian biologist who, who worked on the Russian bio-weapons program explain how simple it was to produce 20 tons of smallpox using nothing but chicken eggs and an incubator. We have an American scientist who explains how simple it would be to fill a building because it's communicable. We had a--another doctor who explained how difficult it would be for an American doctor to notice smallpox -- that it would spread throughout the country before anyone would notice it, because we're not on high alert. Our agenda there, our purpose there of course was not to tell people go out and spread smallpox because it's easy to do -- it was to alert the public and to alert officials that doctors need to be trained to notice smallpox, that we need to realize that this is a threat out there, but we did discuss at the time, you know, how much of this should we be revealing.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:But this is information we all already know. One thing you didn't outline in your piece is where you can obtain smallpox. Is it easy to obtain. Actually that has come out in some recent Nightline report I think. Do you think there's enough information in the general media about these weapons to enable somebody to actually build one or to simply sound the clarion call of the threat of them?
PETER KLEIN: I think virtually every journalist worth their salt in this country has been -- certainly since September 11th -- but I think even before September 11th very, very conscious of the fact that we do not want to give a recipe out there, whether it's to build a nuclear dirty bomb or biological weapons bomb. And in fact in conversations with experts --I, I was in the office of a epidemiologist a couple of years ago. He opened his drawer and he said this small credit card size mechanism which you can buy in so and so type of store could do this or that. You know, my first inclination was to, you know, ask him to bring that to the interview -to show that to Mike Wallace, to, you know, to talk about that. Certainly now that wouldn't even be a first thought, but I mean I guess I'm proud that when I thought it through I didn't want to do it and, and frankly he didn't want to do it either. You know I think that goes on all the time when we're covering biological terrorism. So the answer to your question is: no, I don't think that if you read every single newspaper and magazine and, and television story done about biological weapons you would not be able to cobble one together with just that information.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But it still gave you chills when you read that Al Qaeda had gotten the idea from the "enemy" -- that is, the Western press.
PETER KLEIN:The idea that they were sitting around and had never thought of biological weapons until the Western press started saying how simple it was to do -- yeah. That gave me chills.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Will it lead you to change your behavior in any way?
PETER KLEIN:I think the-- the end product, the piece that gets on the air, will be exactly the same. What's changed is the process that goes on in my mind. I mentioned earlier the, the example of the scientist showing me and telling me how one can fill a building with a biological weapon with readily available materials. At this point I would never even consider asking him to put that on, whereas before I would consider it and then reject it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Peter Klein, thank you very much.
PETER KLEIN: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Peter Klein is a producer for 60 Minutes on CBS.