Friday, October 13, 2006

A SNIPER CRAWLS INTO POSITION: Hey, who's that man on the lawn in a shaggy suit? Is that a member of the SWAT team?

Preparation for terrorist attack at the local level in the US is sometimes so ludicrous, if you don't laugh at it, you'll have to cry. Conducted in exercises, one can reliably count on instances in which citizens are put through run-throughs or tabletop scenarios built upon really bad information about terrorist capability.

So with GlobalSecurity.Org Senior Fellow T-shirt on, DD claims a picture's worth 1,000 words.

And from the Pocono Record, a small newspaper in eastern Pennsylvania near DD's old haunts, comes this doozy.

While one can applaud the desire to conduct readiness drills for the purposes of education and training on terror threats and response, DD has no idea why anyone would believe an exercise that outwardly looks so terrible would be particularly valuable in training -- other than for the determination that phones work and that people can follow orders.

But in "Emergency Workers Stage Casualty Drill," a reporter for the Record writes, "Monroe County's first-ever Mass Casualty Drill, dubbed 'Monroe Vigilance,' was staged . . . including police, fire, EMS, and coroner operations, along with Monroe County's Dispatch Center and Pocono Medical Center . . . Under the watchful eye of Cocciardi and Associates, a group that plans and administers exercises such as these, scenarios were set up and acted from start to finish."

In this case, domestic miscreants, angered over the destruction of their methamphetamine operation by the feds, retaliate by attacking a local school, hence the "camouflaged" sniper ("camouflaged" here meaning "something that sticks out, like a giant gopher") from a SWAT team. Citizens are apparently doused with -- guess what -- ricin.

"Students from Keystone College were the victims; some were 'killed' in the chemical attack," wrote the newspaper. "Jay Selwood, 20, a freshman, said their role in the exercise was part of the first-year seminar that helps freshmen adjust to campus life."

"It was an easy 'A' . . . And we don't have to get wet like in some other drills." The student said his character "smelled funny" because of the chemical attack.

Ricin, a toxic plant protein found in small amounts in castor seeds, has never been used in a mass chemical attack. And chemical and biological warfare experts -- the ones who are good and actually know some science on the matter -- usually will tell you it's only application is as a weapon of assassination.

It was used in the 1978 slaying of dissident Georgi Markov in London and has been involved in domestic incidents in which Americans have either tried to poison a family member or have plotted the same.

And American crazies from the neo-Nazi right are regularly arrested with castor seeds and castor powder in their possession. But none have ever staged an attack or shown a slight capability to cause mass death with the poison. Indeed, there is simply not enough of it in the castor seed to make it practical or easy to use in such a way.

In any case, ricin does not kill immediately, which is the situation described in the Monroe County anti-terror readiness exercise. And it wouldn't cause someone to smell funny, unless -- of course -- they'd failed to wash or been hosed down with something else as part of a decontamination exercise.

Cocciardi and Associates, the agency which planned the drill, looks to be an industrial safety training firm that moved into homeland security preparedness in the wake of 9/11. It trains municipalities in eastern Pennsylvania. Good luck with that, folks.

"The public [was] banned from watching the exercise 'due to the classified nature of some of the actions that will occur," said an official from Northeastern Pennsylvania's Emergency Response Group to the Record, in a story that preceded the dog-and-pony show. But "News media will be escorted into the simulated hazardous areas to cover the event."

DD and readers understand why this would have to be the case. You wouldn't want to destroy the confidence of the citizenry, now, by allowing them to see the threadbare quality of the circus. Or the man on the lawn in the shaggy suit. Definitely classified stuff, except for the students and the newspaper.

"All it took to get two hostages released was a pizza," writes the Pocono Record of the simulated terror attack. Discounting the the "ricin" deaths, it sort of ended well.

Read the story here.


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