Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Under Attack?

On September 24, 2005, a deadly biological agent was detected in Washington D.C. Have you heard anything about it?

On Sept. 24, 2005, tens of thousands of protesters marched past the White House and flooded the National Mall near 17th Street and Constitution Avenue. They had arrived from all over the country for a day of speeches and concerts to protest the war in Iraq. It may have been the biggest antiwar rally since Vietnam. A light rain fell early in the day and most of the afternoon was cool and overcast.

Unknown to the crowd, biological-weapons sensors, scattered for miles across Washington by the Department of Homeland Security, were quietly doing their work. The machines are designed to detect killer pathogens. Sometime between 10 a.m. on Sept. 24 and 10 a.m. on Sept. 25, six of those machines sucked in trace amounts of deadly bacteria called Francisella tularensis. The government fears it is one of six biological weapons most likely to be used against the United States.

It was an alarming reading. The biological-weapons detection system in Washington had never set off any alarms before. There are more than 150 sensors spread across 30 of the most populated cities in America. But this was the first time that six sensors in any one place had detected a toxin at the same time. The sensors are also located miles from one another, suggesting that the pathogen was airborne and probably not limited to a local environmental source.

"It is alarming that health officials ... were only notified six days after the bacteria was first detected," House Government Reform chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., wrote in an Oct. 3 letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. "Have DHS and CDC analysts been able to determine if the pathogen detected was naturally occurring or the result of a terrorist attack?"

Government officials say the sensors detected a natural event. "There is no known nexus to terror or criminal behavior," Russ Knocke, spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, told the Washington Post. "We believe this to be environmental." "It is not unreasonable that this is a natural occurrence," says Von Roebuck, spokesman for the CDC. "There are still no cases of tularemia."

However, Salon has spoken to numerous people who were at the Washington Mall on Sept. 24. Four say they got sick days later with symptoms that mirror tularemia.

A World Health Organization Committee in 1969 estimated that dispersal of 110 pounds of F. tularensis over a city of 5 million would incapacitate 250,000 people and 19,000 of them would die.
Hey, I’m not trying to freak you out or anything. We’ve got two branches of government and a number of lackeys who can do that. I’m just saying if this was a trial run that failed, maybe next time we won’t be so lucky. And it’s curious that in a culture of irresponsible news agencies who thrive on scare stories, we didn’t read about this a number of times already.

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