The Defense Department had a couple of anthrax scares this week in two of its mail rooms. Luckily, they turned out to be false alarms. The actual danger exposed, however, was how the Department of Defense mishandled the situation.
The Pentagon kept crucial branches of the government completely in the dark. The Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, were left out of the loop for hours. Local police weren’t told about the possible first incident until after the second incident was discovered.
Instead, the Pentagon decided to use an outside private contractor. The company they picked neglected to shut the mail system down, letting letters circulate before establishing things were safe. It also messed up the tests and came up with a false positive.
Fighting terrorism is no place for go-it-alone cowboys. The 9/11 Commission’s Report placed a large share of the blame for not stopping the attacks squarely on the lack of coordination between government agencies. On page 353 of the report, the commissioners stated: “Information was not shared … analysis was not pooled. Effective operations were not launched…. However the specific problems are labeled, we believe they are symptoms of the government’s broader inability to adapt how it manages problems.”
The key lesson: protecting America against terrorism takes coordination. The Department of Defense can’t go it alone.