Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Real White Powder Attack?

Since the end of the anthrax attacks in 2001 we have seen a huge number of bogus WMD attacks on various public and private institutions by people sending a ‘white powder’ in an envelope to someone, frequently with various warnings about the pretend danger associated with the powder. It has become a great show in the media to make subtle fun of the over reaction of the security and hazmat folks to the danger that turns out to be powdered sugar or flour or something equally innocuous. According to news reports out of Sweden we have a confirmed report of a ‘highly toxic and corrosive’ white powder being delivered in an envelope to the US Embassy in Stockholm last week. There were no reports of any injuries associated with this apparent attack.
Sweden’s Security Service (S├Ąpo) is now investigating the incident and has not released the identification of the material, so we really don’t know how serious the problem really was. It does appear that it was serious enough to make the hazmat response to similar letters seem much more reasonable. That’s the problem with terror attacks (assuming that this was one and not just a person with a personal grudge with a person at the Embassy); a near miss attack will be successful in changing the official behavior of people not directly affected.
Assuming that this was a chemical, as opposed to a biological, attack it just goes to show that it doesn’t take a Screening Threshold Quantity (STQ) of a DHS Chemical of Interest (COI) to execute a chemical attack. I’m not saying that CFATS needs extension (were having enough problems implementing this at a limited number of truly high-risk facilities), but people at all chemical facilities have to have some sense of security awareness.

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