Today’s Los Angeles Times runs a scare story on the security holes in the nation’s food supply, focusing on milk production and delivery. In a report that the Department of Health and Human Services wanted to keep quiet, Stanford researchers determined that a third of an ounce of botulinum toxin poured into a milk tanker could kill hundreds of thousands of people and potentially destabilize the food industry:
About a third of an ounce of botulinum toxin poured into a milk truck en route from a dairy farm to a processing plant could cause hundreds of thousands of deaths and billions of dollars in economic losses, according to a scientific analysis published Tuesday despite efforts by federal officials to keep the details secret.
The study by Lawrence M. Wein and Yifan Liu of Stanford University discusses such questions as how terrorists could release the toxin and what effective amounts might be.
Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Sciences, said in an accompanying editorial that a terrorist would not learn anything useful from the article about the minimum amount of toxin to use. “And we can detect no other information in this article important for a terrorist that is not already immediately available to anyone who has access to information from the World Wide Web.”
In fact, he said, publication of the article by the academy could be valuable for biodefense.
The analysis, posted Tuesday on the website of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, seeks to quantify security weaknesses in the nation’s milk supply chain and makes recommendations for closing those gaps.
Only after those five sensational paragraphs does a reader learn that the federal government has already begun implementing tighter security on the food supply, including milk production. HHS opposed its release despite the report’s non-classified status because, obviously, it didn’t want to give terrorists any new ideas before the safeguards were completely in place. NAS decided that disclosure was a higher priority than security in this case. And the Los Angeles Times decided that writing this to hype the danger while de-emphasizing the fact that action had already begun to address this added to the comprehension of the issue instead of distracting the reader with fear.
Putting aside the NAS and LAT editorial decisions, this demonstrates that fighting terrorism by waiting around for something to happen and issuing indictments won’t suffice. We can’t afford to wait until terrorists commit a ‘crime’ and then call the FBI to perform an investigation — not unless we don’t mind if a few hundred thousand Americans die before we do anything to stop the Islamofascists. This was one of the lessons of 9/11 that groups like MoveOn didn’t understand in its aftermath. It shows the need to have a forward military strategy in fighting terrorists before they can gather enough strength and resources to pull off a milk run like this.