Feds: Science paper a terrorist’s road map

I am a huge proponent of free speech so stories like this always raise my hackles. But the reality is that we need to carefully consider what could happen if we publish such information.

That does not mean that it cannot or should not be published, but that we take the time to evaluate and understand the potential problems it could cause. It is not an easy decision to say yea or nay.

“WASHINGTON (CNN) — The federal government has asked the National Academy of Sciences not to publish a research paper that feds describe as a “road map for terrorists” on how to contaminate the nation’s milk supply.

The research paper on biological terrorism, by Stanford University professor Lawrence M. Wein and graduate student Yifan Liu, provides details on how terrorists might attack the milk supply and offers suggestions on how to safeguard it.

The paper appeared briefly May 30 on a password-protected area of the National Academy of Science’s Web site.

Journalists use that area of the Web site to get advance copies of articles slated for publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

People who downloaded the Wein-Liu paper called the Food and Drug Administration for comment, and the FDA notified the Department of Health and Human Services, which asked the academy to stop the article’s publication.

The paper “is a road map for terrorists and publication is not in the interests of the United States,” HHS Assistant Secretary Stewart Simonson wrote in a letter to the science academy chief Dr. Bruce Alberts.

The paper gives “very detailed information on vulnerability nodes” in the milk supply chain and “includes … very precise information on the dosage of botulinum toxin needed to contaminate the milk supply to kill or injure large numbers of people,” Simonson wrote.

“It seems clear on its face that publication of this manuscript could have very serious public health and national security consequences.”

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  1. Jack's Shack June 8, 2005 at 3:03 pm

    I haven’t any real complaint or disagreement with anything you said.

  2. mquest June 8, 2005 at 2:51 am

    Two separate thoughts: The public has every right to know about threats. This is the only way the people can demand that actions are taken to protect us. Every time I have read the details of one of these story’s the government is trying to suppress I find that the information is widely available and nothing new. (That is only the few cases we know about) If it is really a threat the government must make changes quickly. The information being public will help the process move quickly.

    The other thought: Post 9/11 saw many good programs where a student like this would have been rewarded heavily for a story/paper like this. The government was hireling screenwriters and students to come up with worse case senneros like this. There were rewards. It was a civic duty to think of stuff like this. The government would hand out big cash prizes for stuff like this. So they should give the women enough cash to shut her up.

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