Signs of Anthrax at Two Pentagon Mailrooms

The Associated Press reports that signs of anthrax were found on two pieces of previously irradiated mail at two different military mailrooms in the Washington area. One of them was in the Skyline complex, in the building next to where I work.

Signs of Anthrax at Two Pentagon Mailrooms (ABC News)

Sensors at two military mail facilities in the Washington area detected signs of anthrax on two pieces of mail Monday, but Pentagon officials said the mail had already been irradiated, rendering any anthrax inert. Officials weren’t sure if this was an attack. Additional tests and other sensors at the two facilities, one of them at the Pentagon and the other nearby, found no presence of the bacteria, which can be used as a biological weapon. There were no initial reports of illness.

The Pentagon’s mail delivery site, which is separate from the main Pentagon building, was evacuated and shut down Monday after sensors triggered an alarm around 10:30 a.m. EST, spokesman Glenn Flood said. It was expected to remain closed until at least Tuesday while the investigation continued. Hours later, sensors at the second Defense Department mailroom were triggered. Firefighters in the nearby Bailey’s Crossroads section of Fairfax County, Va., reported that a military mailroom had been shut down after a hazardous-material alert. No one was allowed to leave a high-rise complex that houses the facility until mid-evening Monday.

Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Jane Campbell said mail at both facilities were irradiated before arriving at either one. The radiation treatment would kill any anthrax bacteria, but sensors would still be able to detect it.

Quite odd. I’d guess this was a false alarm if there was only one finding but two on the same day at different DoD facilities seems suspicious. Given that government mail in the DC area gets irradiated, and that this has been well publicized, it also seems unlikely that professional terrorists are involved.

Update: Reuters reports “Anthrax Tests at Pentagon Prove Negative”

Two Defense Department mail handling facilities were shut down on Monday after sensitive detection devices indicated the presence of anthrax but mail at the facilities had already been irradiated to kill any bacteria, Pentagon officials said. Initial tests at a delivery security facility on the grounds of the Pentagon and at a satellite facility in an office complex several miles away returned preliminary positive results, the Pentagon said. But further tests were negative.

“During routine mail operations, the Pentagon had a positive detection for the presence of anthrax bacteria at the Remote Delivery Facility,” the Pentagon said in a statement. “Subsequent tests have proven negative.” “These testing machines are very sensitive and we have had false alarms before. But we take these matters very seriously and are investigating,” Defense Department spokesman Glenn Flood told Reuters.

One wonders why these particular false alarms were reported and others not.

Update (1410): The adjacent building to where I work in the Skyline Complex remains closed, despite the Reuters report. Perhaps it’s because the Reuters report is mistaken?

Initial Pentagon Test Is Positive for Anthrax (WaPo)

Samples taken at a Pentagon mail facility were positive for anthrax in preliminary overnight tests, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services reported today. But officials do not yet know definitively if anthrax bacteria are present or, if they are, whether they could have transmitted disease. The spokesman, Bill Hall, said that further tests are being conducted at Fort Detrick to determine if the anthrax was present, if it was live, or if the test just picked up a component of anthrax. Such testing normally takes 24 to 48 hours, but initial results may be available by this afternoon.

[…]

The Pentagon and Fairfax facilities remained closed today as officials continued investigating. “People do not need to report to work,” Dan Schmidt, a spokesman for the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department told Channel 4 news.

Given that they were held hostage until 10 last night by the investigation, my guess is they weren’t coming, anyway.

Michelle Malkin and Andrew Cochran point to other investigations going on today, including one at an IRS office and another at a DC post office. Goodie.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. DC Loser says:

    They only got reported because about 3000 people were locked down in the Skyline complex until late last night. That’s a lot of people with families wondering what’s going on with all the rumors of anthrax swirling around. Watching that on the news last night, the strange feelings I had on 9/11 and during the anthrax attacks and the sniper ordeal all were coming back.

  2. James Joyner says:

    True. Thankfully, I’m in a standalone building and didn’t get caught up in that. Indeed, I was unaware of it until this morning.

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