Friday, December 19, 2008

Military: Repeat of anthrax attacks harder today/AP

From the Annapolis Capital, Maryland

"Lennox said military safety reviews in recent months endorsed many of the security changes already made, from improved cameras and lights to satellite surveillance. But other changes were deemed not workable or too expensive, including limits on scientists' hours or a system that would prohibit workers from being alone with a toxin... As for transporting toxins, there are now requirements that two workers be present at all times during transit and that there be satellite coverage of the shipment."

Terrific. Satellite coverage every time the courier or FedEx carrier goes inside a building or gets on an airplane. How is that going to prevent unauthorized transfers of microorganisms and toxins? Do two workers share a bathroom stall?

The army's PR people will have to do better than this to convince the public the next bioattack won't be originating from a government lab.


Anonymous said...

All these assurances that "something is being done" to make a future attack less likely amount to smoke. The first thing the government does when installing "protections" is to make sure that they themselves have a back door so they can operate under the illusion of security. No matter how many hoops they make the regular employees jump through, there will always be people deeper in government immune to those same hoops. Who watches them? Never mind -- mind your own business and ignore that person passing through all the safeguards. I am amazed that smart people continue to work for this government under these conditions. Perhaps we are all getting what we are really asking for: A paycheck and security as long as we keep our heads down. Thanks Dr. Nass for not being one of the sheep.

Anonymous said...

I suspect the satellite monitoring would involve a small transmitter attached to the material being transported. Periodic digital signals sent by the transmitter would allow a record to be kept of where the sample was at any given time. This sort of tracking is used in some industries.

But there's an implicit issue here that is quite intriguing; namely, why is "lost (or perhaps partially lost) in transit" suddenly a major issue? If indeed this is a major concern, why did the FBI's reports on it's "exhaustive", "seven year", investigation of the anthrax attacks never even mention whether they investigated whether every transmitted sample of RMR-1029 reached its final destination? And whether the quantity of sample received was the same as that sent?

Possibly some RMR-1029 was recorded as sent but not received; possibly the amounts didn't match; possibly the records kept were so poor that no reliable conclusions can be reached at all.

At any rate, since these improved procedures are intended to address issues that could have allowed the anthrax attacks to originate from our own government, one would suspect that there's a related problem, as yet unrevealed, that cropped up during the FBI's investigation.

Another hole in the FBI's case safely hidden away in the bowels of the FBI bureaucracy; but whatever it is, the unknown breakdown in security is sufficiently important that we need to take significant measures to prevent it from ever happening again.

Meryl Nass, M.D. said...

Thanks for making a much more profound and important observation than I had. Shipments of agents have had breakages in the past, and special postal rules were put into effect nearly 20 years ago to prevent this.

Promulgating a new policy on increasing security for shipments of agents strongly suggests that past shipments have disappeared or been diverted. Thanks for making this pointso cogently.