Homeland Security to Launch Anthrax Review

Published March 27, 2005

| FoxNews.com

The Department of Homeland Security on Friday will launch a review of the anthrax (search) scare at the Defense Department's mail facilities earlier this month.

The review is expected to take several weeks to complete. Federal, state and District of Columbia authorities will look at the procedures and protocols in the case to decide if timely notification was given.

Meanwhile, a presidential commission is expected to release its report on weapons of mass destruction (search) next week. According to officials familiar with the report, none of the 15 U.S. agencies that collected or assessed intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is likely to be commended for doing an exemplary job. The commission also is highly critical of the agencies' performance on Iran, North Korea and Libya, individuals familiar with its findings said.

The nine-member panel is led by Laurence Silberman, a retired federal appeals court judge, and Charles Robb, a former Democratic senator from Virginia. It's unclear how much of the report, which may run into the hundreds of pages, will be available to the public.

Click here to check out FOXNews.com's weapons of mass destruction handbook.

The report comes at a critical time for the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and others charged with collecting, protecting and analyzing secrets.

All face the prospect of sweeping changes from the intelligence reform bill passed in December, including the appointment of a national intelligence director. President Bush's nominee, John Negroponte (search), has a Senate confirmation hearing next month.

On the anthrax issue, an apparent mix-up at a military laboratory was blamed for the anthrax scare that closed three area mail facilities that handle Pentagon-bound mail, and prompted nearly 900 workers to receive antibiotics earlier this month.

The two-day scare turned out to be a false alarm after definitive tests at two facilities came back negative for the deadly spores.

Officials believe the confusion stemmed from a mistake at a Defense Department laboratory at Fort Detrick (search), Md. Officials there apparently mixed up a sample of actual anthrax that is kept on hand for comparison purposes with the sample taken from a Pentagon mailroom.

There was and continues to be criticism that the Pentagon did not provide timely notification of the positive hits for anthrax, which were later found to be false positives.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff (search) told FOX News in an interview last week that his agency would do an internal review because the incident "was not flawless." DHS launches these reviews after significant incidents.

"There are many things about process that are encouraging. We did get federal, state and local agencies working together, not flawlessly," Chertoff said. "One thing we'll do is go back and see what lessons learned so each time there is opportunity to learn and make improvements."

DHS has been working for a year on a plan separate from the anthrax review to be launched Friday that outlines a number of plausible attacks — including those by nerve gas, anthrax, pneumonic plague and truck bomb.

WTOP radio's Web site reported that D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams and other local leaders critical of the Pentagon say the Defense Department and federal officials didn't notify them quickly enough of the possible anthrax problem.

"We worked very hard to develop a homeland security strategy and principles and procedures for the department — and they weren't followed in this case by the Defense Department," said Williams, a Democrat.

Williams, Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich and Virginia Gov. Mark Warner will be briefed on its findings, FOX News has confirmed. U.S. Sen. John Warner, R-Va., also wants more information but he says he's confident the Defense Department will be forthcoming with needed information.

"You must anticipate that there be total sharing of information and cooperation, between state and local governments," Sen. Warner said, according to WTOP.

The anthrax review comes as Environmental Protection Agency's internal watchdog said cities are not getting all the protections President Bush ordered last year to detect a biological terrorism attack.

A report from EPA Inspector General Nikki L. Tinsley's office released Thursday said the agency hasn't ensured the reliability, timeliness and efficiency of air sampling that Bush directed be part of a $129 million early warning system.

The Homeland Security Department, which pays for and oversees "BioWatch," (search) relies on the help and expertise of EPA and other agencies to run it.

"The failure of EPA to completely fulfill its responsibilities raises uncertainty about the ability of the BioWatch program to detect a biological attack," Tinsley's report said.

Specifically, the report said EPA sometimes placed sensors too far apart, failed to make sure they were all in secure locations and didn't always factor in topography and seasonal wind pattern changes in some cities.

Bush signed an order last April directing agencies to help protect the country from an attack with biological agents. A classified version had 59 instructions for agencies to improve the nation's defenses, including improving the Biowatch system of sensors that continuously monitor and analyze the air in 31 cities.

FOX News' Catherine Herridge and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

URL

http://www.foxnews.com/story/2005/03/27/homeland-security-to-launch-anthrax-review