[ RadSafe ] Looks like whole-body scanners aren't needed at salad bars after all.

Clayton J Bradt CJB01 at health.state.ny.us
Wed Dec 22 14:57:13 CST 2010

U.S. Officials Play Down Food Tainting Threat
Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010 
There does not appear to be an imminent threat that terrorists would taint 
U.S. food with poisons, officials told CNN yesterday (see GSN, Dec. 21).
CBS News reported this week that the Homeland Security Department earlier 
this year had identified a plot by extremists tied to the group al-Qaeda 
in the Arabian Peninsula to contaminate salad bars and buffets at U.S. 
establishments with cyanide and ricin. An anonymous characterized the 
danger as "credible."
That does not mean it is looming, according to sources who described the 
threat as more of an idea than an formal plan.
"We're talking months, not weeks (ago), that this came into the threat 
stream," one official said.
"We're aware that terrorists have been interested in doing this kind of 
thing for a long time," an official said. "They've said as much and, as a 
result, we take all of this very seriously. But we don't know of any 
current plotting along these lines."
While Homeland Security in a statement noted that extremists pursue attack 
ideas that go beyond their capabilities, one expert said the food 
poisoning threat should not be dismissed.
It is "easier to do this than get a bomb on a plane or make a 
sophisticated biological weapon that you would spray in the air," said 
Randall Larsen, chief executive officer of the WMD Center. "This is very 
crude, it's very simple, and with knowledge you get in a high school 
biology class, you could produce something that would cause a problem."
"It's good that the word is out there, because people in public health 
departments really need to know about this, so if they start seeing 
something coming into emergency rooms, they're kind of ready to look for 
it and to watch for it," he added. "And ... restaurant owners and people 
like that (need) to know about this if there's a potential threat."
Ricin, a lethal toxin derived from castor beans, was used in 1978 to kill 
Bulgarian exile Georgi Markov and was mailed to then-U.S. Senator Bill 
Frist in 2004 (see GSN, Sept. 11, 2008).
In 1984, followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh tainted a number of salad 
bars in one area of Oregon with salmonella, causing hundreds of people to 
become ill.
While food contamination might be doable, it does not appear to be the 
current focus of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, according to CNN. The 
organization "seems very focused on (creating) an improvised explosive 
device, preferably involving aviation," said former U.S. Homeland Security 
Adviser Frances Townsend.
The group has been linked to the failed Christmas Day 2009 bombing of a 
passenger aircraft landing in Detroit and to efforts to ship disguised 
explosives via cargo aircraft to the United States (Ahlers/Todd, CNN, Dec. 
Phew!  DHS says exploding planes are the real danger not food poisoning. 
So their focus on airport security, while ignoring salad bar security is 
entirely appropriate - even if they do say so themselves.  Perhaps their 
conclusions are informed by the knowledge that there are a lot more 
restaurants than airports and that passengers anxious to make their 
flights are much more likely to be compliant  with intrusive searches than 
customers at the Olive Garden. 

Clayton J. Bradt
dutchbradt at hughes.net
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