A CNN employee looking through the seat-back pocket on a commercial airline found Department of Homeland Security documents detailing how the U.S. would respond to a potential anthrax attack on the Super Bowl.
The CNN employee found the documents ahead of this year’s Super Bowl, but the network chose to not release any information until after the game because government officials voiced security concerns.
The documents the CNN employee discovered included a report evaluating findings from exercise drills that tested the response capabilities of a range of local and national agencies during a theoretical biological attack. The documents were marked “For Official Use Only” and “important for national security.”
That these sorts of drills would be conducted is no surprise. The Super Bowl is carried out every year under intense security, with at least 27 DHS agencies involved in the planning for 2018's game. (It’s also a chance for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to conduct an annual propaganda blitz.)
CNN said that it was unable to confirm who exactly left the documents, but that they were found along with a boarding pass for Michael V. Walter. Walter is the government scientist in charge of BioWatch, the DHS program that conducted the anthrax drills in preparation for the Super Bowl in Minneapolis.
The report “identified several areas for improvement,” according to CNN:
Among the findings was that there were “differences of opinion” over how many people had been exposed, “which led to differences of opinion on courses of action.”
The reports also noted there was confusion among local health agencies about the meaning of alerts issued during the exercise and with whom information could safely be shared during an emergency.
The documents that were left behind add to the continuing concerns over the cost and effectiveness of the BioWatch program.
The BioWatch Program costs about $85 million a year to operate and has cost over $1 billion since 2003, according to transcripts from a 2013 Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing.
“After ten years of operation, we still don’t know if the current BioWatch technology can detect an aerosolized bioterrorism agent in a real-world environment,” former Republican Pennsylvania Rep. Tim Murphy said at the 2013 hearing.
A 2015 audit of the program by the U.S. Government Accountability Office also found that there was “considerable uncertainty” whether the program could detect biological threats.