by Peter Urban
Connecticut Post (Bridgeport, CT)
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon came under fire last week from two Connecticut lawmakers who worry that the military’s top brass has learned nothing from anthrax attacks that killed five people in 2001, including Ottilie Lundgren of Oxford, Conn.
At issue is the Pentagon’s response to a mid-March anthrax scare in the Department of Defense mail facilities, which proved to be a false alarm. Sensors mistakenly detected anthrax contamination in a military mailroom at the Pentagon and a separate alarm was issued at a nearby satellite facility in Fairfax County, Va.
Maryland, Virginia and District of Columbia officials were confused and frustrated by the response, according to a report they commissioned.
The report highlighted a conference call between 80 participants, who were allowed to speak at will, often sharing outdated information, with only vague guidance from the Department of Defense over whether the scare was legitimate.
“The state and local governments were not sure if they were getting the latest information from DoD, or whether DoD itself was having problems getting clear test information, or both, at various times,” according to a summary of the report.
“The response to this kind of incident should be well-coordinated and effective. I want to know exactly where the missteps occurred so we can fix them,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn.
Lieberman and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Susan Collins, R-Maine, have asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate.
Collins said reliable safeguards must be in place to protect public and private mail delivery systems and government agencies must have the systems and resources in place to react properly.
“We have asked GAO to determine what has been done since the anthrax attacks, and where we must improve,” she said.
Meanwhile, Rep. Christopher Shays, R-4, held a hearing of his Government Reform subcommittee to assess anthrax detection methods.
“More than three years after the anthrax mail attacks, the lack of standardized detection and testing procedures poses a risk to national security, ” Shays said. “Every false positive brings multiple federal agencies stumbling to the scene with no real plan, and every false negative risks complacency in the face of a lethal threat.”
At the hearing, Arlington County Fire Chief James H. Schwartz, disputed critics of the Pentagon’s response to the anthrax scare in mid-March.
“This incident was in many ways a model of effective inter-governmental cooperation,” he said. “Arlington County was notified of a possible positive test result at the Pentagon’s remote delivery facility. Upon arrival at the delivery facility, responders from Arlington learned that a swab taken from a filter three days earlier had tested positive for [anthrax bacteria] at a contract laboratory. Arlington committed its fire, police, public health and emergency management departments to support the Pentagon.”
American Postal Workers Union President William Burrus said that the five-day delay at the Pentagon between sampling and confirmation was intolerable.
“If it had been a true positive, postal workers would have been in grave danger,” he said.
Investigators have made no arrests and have named no suspects in the 3-year-old probe into who sent the anthrax letters to senate offices on Capitol Hill and media outlets in Florida and New York.
Americans for Informed Democracy are holding a forum Monday at Yale Law School to take an in-depth look at the Sept. 11 Commission and the landmark recommendations made for national security.
Shays and Lieberman, who were key sponsors of legislation to codify the panel ‘s recommendations, will participate. Other participants include Mary Fetchet of New Canaan, whose son was killed in the World Trade Center attacks, and Michael Hurley, senior director of policy for the 9-11 Public Discourse Project.
Lieberman’s remarks will be followed by a question-and-answer discussion with panelists from 1:30 until 2 p.m. Ladies Home Journal editor-in-chief Diane Salvatore last week turned over 12,000 petitions calling on Congress to increase oversight of the nation’s food supply to Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3.
DeLauro has reintroduced legislation calling for development of a single food safety agency to oversee the nation’s food supply. Currently, the responsibility is spread over 12 agencies.
“Our government has a moral obligation to ensure the integrity of our food supply,” DeLauro said. “For too long there has been uneven and unpredictable oversight of our food system — leading in many cases to unexpected food-borne illness outbreaks, significant public health problems and, in certain instances, significant economic losses. Congress can, and should, do more.”
The May 2004 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal featured an expose on food safety and a petition asking readers to sign if they agreed increased oversight of the food supply was needed. About 12,000 readers responded.
“This powerful response from our readers today, from all across the country, demonstrates their continuing commitment to being active, educated and vocal participants in efforts that protect their families,” Salvatore said.
Under DeLauro’s bill, a Food Safety Administration would be created and given responsibilities to inspect all food processing plants on a regular but random basis, increase oversight of imported foods, and establish requirements for tracing foods to point of origin.
Jack McGregor, a Bridgeport lawyer and owner of the Bluefish, was recently named chairman of the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation’s advisory board.
The five-member board meets quarterly to advise the Seaway Corporation administrator on general policies. Members receive a $50 plus travel expenses for attending meetings.
The wholly owned government corporation, which has a $12 million operating budget, was created in 1954 to construct, operate and maintain the St. Lawrence Seaway between the port of Montreal and Lake Erie. About 192 million tons of cargo is transported along the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River each year.
McGregor, who lives in Easton, was appointed to the board last year.
Peter Urban, who covers Washington, can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.