Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Monday, April 03, 2006

"Plagued By Fear" - The Plain Dealer Series

(NOTE: Access to The Plain Dealer links requires free registration.)

On Sunday, April 2, 2006, Cleveland's newspaper, The Plain Dealer, concluded its seven-part special report Plagued By Fear. In it The Plain Dealer science writer John Mangels recounts the disappearance of 30 vials of material from Texas Tech University research scientist Dr. Thomas Butler's laboratory.

The material in the vials was Yersinia pestis. Plague.

In the series' Day 1: Plagued by Fear: The Black Death goes missing, Mangels outlines how Dr. Butler noticed 30 of 180 vials of material were missing and how he reacted. Mangels provides a brief history of plague and a contemporary perspective on the US government's perception of the seriousness of the incident. Dr. Butler's concern was public health. The government's concern was bioterrorism.

In Day 2: Vials reported missing and feds swarm in. How and why law enforcement began to quickly focus on Dr. Butler.

Day 3: Polygraph expert zeroes in on Texas Tech scientist. Dr. Thomas Butler becomes a suspect.

Day 4: Polygraph doesn't lie - or does it? The tactics of interrogation and the instrumental detection of deception are discussed. Dr. Thomas Butler is arrested.

Day 5: Prosecution lays waste to 'Dr. Plague'. The plague trial begins, and the prosecution adds charges about his mishandling of grant money.

Day 6: Butler tells his story, and jury responds. Not guilty on most of the plague-related charges; guilty on charges involving his mishandling of grant money.

Day 7: Butler learns his fate. The effect of the Butler decision on science and scientists.

The case of Dr. Thomas Butler and other scientists whose research included biological hazards has been discussed by the American Civil Liberties Union in its June 2005 paper Science Under Seige: The Bush Administration's Assault on Academic Freedom and Scientific Inquiry.

These reports emphasize the challenges when agencies responsible for the public's safety interact with the scientific research community. When the challenges are met cooperatively rather than combatively or criminally, the public will be safer.


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