The biodefender that cries wolf

Discussion in 'Aviation Passenger Security in the USA' started by Monica47, Jul 8, 2012.

  1. Monica47

    Monica47 Original Member,0,5093512.story

    President George W. Bush announced the system's deployment in his 2003 State of the Union address, saying it would "protect our people and our homeland." Since then, BioWatch air samplers have been installed inconspicuously at street level and atop buildings in cities across the country — ready, in theory, to detect pathogens that cause anthrax, tularemia, smallpox, plague and other deadly diseases.

    But the system has not lived up to its billing. It has repeatedly cried wolf, producing dozens of false alarms in Los Angeles, Detroit, St. Louis, Phoenix, San Diego, the San Francisco Bay Area and elsewhere, a Los Angeles Times investigation found.

    Worse, BioWatch cannot be counted on to detect a real attack, according to confidential government test results and computer modeling.

    Federal agencies documented 56 BioWatch false alarms — most of them never disclosed to the public — through 2008. More followed.

    The ultimate verdict on BioWatch is that state and local health officials have shown no confidence in it. Not once have they ordered evacuations or distributed emergency medicines in response to a positive reading.
  2. Mike

    Mike Founding Member Coach

    Beat me to it!

    The L.A. Times article is a good read. Basically this is a biological version of the nitrates swabbing (ETD, puffer machines, etc.). Lots & lots of false alarms.

    So far we know they are falling flat on their faces & mostly just annoying innocent people in three areas: explosives detection, radiological detections, and biological pathogens detections.

    Not that falling flat on their faces isn't par for the course just about everywhere that DHS extends its tentacles.
  3. nachtnebel

    nachtnebel Original Member

    If you happen to see one of those black box sensing stations, consider it your civic duty to load up on some foods containing nitrates and fart next to the box.
    FetePerfection likes this.
  4. Rugape

    Rugape Original Member

    Anyone else remember the NBC sensors from their military days (remember the ones we used to determine if a rallying area was "all clear"?)? Those things were hunks too, one good breeze with dust in it and the machine was either down or alarmed the next 12 hours. If I recall correctly, there were some smaller handheld devices that worked fairly well, but only sensed an immediate area that it was swept around in (say like within 2-3 feet of the sensor nodule on the front of it), it seems that the larger the scale of this type of detector, the more problems they have with them.
  5. FliesWay2Much

    FliesWay2Much Original Member

    The fact is that chemical and biological weapons are generally useless as military weapons or as WMD. It was a brilliant move by Reagan to group chemical and biological weapons in with nukes to coin the "WMD" phrase, because it essentially negated then-Soviet/Warsaw Pact grand strategy for a war in Western Europe.

    But, the thought of death by violently convulsing on the ground after breathing nerve gas or an agonizing death be disease are great terror tools -- used quite effectively by terrorist organizations and governments such as ours. These weapons must be dispersed in an inclosed concentrated area in a large enough concentration that can spread rapidly. When I was in the Pentagon in the early days of the War on Terror, everyone knew that the easiest way to escape from a chemical attack on the Pentagon was to jump in the river, because virtually all chemical weapons are water-soluable. Any wind pattern in a large downtown area would disperse the chemicals and make them ineffective.

    The domestic anthrax attacks were great examples. Everyone affected was in a closed area and came in direct contact with the spores. It's easy for me to say, but, only a handful of people died or were make ill and later recovered. Given the expense to manufacture weapons-grade anthrax, and the risk in handling it, that's a terrible return on investment. A highly-placed friend in a medically-related government agency (must protect my source) told me in 2002 that nobody was concerned about the contrived threat of the smallpox spray bottle on a TransAtlantic flight because the individuals could be easily quarantined (if necessary) and treated -- even those who made connecting flights. I completely trusted his judgment when he said that there would be no wide-spread outbreak of smallpox as a result. A non-communicable disease like anthrax was a no-brainer.

    I see these devices all the time in DC Metro stations. I'm surprised that DHS doesn't have big signs on them taking credit for "keeping us safe."
  6. Caradoc

    Caradoc Original Member

    Here in Arizona, we've had a former governor detained by the Border Patrol because he triggered the radiation sensors after a medical procedure.

    I can think of half-a-dozen ways just off the top of my head to utterly clog one of those checkpoints, knowing that they'll alarm on such minor readings.

    The problem with alarm systems is that when they go off, you MUST respond or they're of no value...
  7. FliesWay2Much

    FliesWay2Much Original Member

    I've visited one of those "undisclosed locations" on numerous occasions. They have huge radiation detectors at the entrance. The security people warn you to let them know if you've had some sort of recent radiation-related medical treatment before you arrive because you will set off the bells & whistles even inside your car. Radiation detectors (they actually detect the isotopes and subatomic particles) are quite good and have been around since the early days of the Geiger Counters.
  8. jtodd

    jtodd Original Member

    I would agree with your friend.

    Depending on the chemical in question, either direct contact or inhalation will be required. In a building, a chemical with a large vapor hazard would be much more effective than one that requires contact. But quite a bit would be needed to have any large affect on a large number of people in the facility. So an attack with sarin would be not be effective enough and would be isolated. That's why there were only 13 people killed in the Tokyo subway attack when there were 5 separate attacks. Although many were affected by the vapors, it was insufficient in volume/dose to cause death, and treatment is readily available.

    A biological agent on the other hand would be easy to get into an airport or other facility, and could spread easily and quickly with vectors. The problem is that it would not give the immediate effects, so no chaos or mayhem, just sick people hours or days afterwards getting treated at the hospital.

    So neither of these would provide any real bang for their buck to a rascally terrorist wanting to instill fear.
  9. Caradoc

    Caradoc Original Member

    This was a Border Patrol checkpoint well away from the border in Arizona.

    Here's what they normally look like:


    There are rarely any signs at all beyond "DIM HEADLIGHTS" when I've encountered them (3-4 times a year, depending on where I'm going.)
  10. saulblum

    saulblum Original Member

    Kind of the same way that AIT finding drugs proves AIT's effectiveness.

    The culture of DHS is rotten to the core.
    Doober, jtodd and FetePerfection like this.

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