BioWatch, a program under the Department of Homeland Security tasked with running bioterrorism drills and constructing reaction responses, came under fire on Tuesday after a CNN employee en route to a wedding found documents reading “For Official Use Only” and “important for national security” in their seat-back pocket on a commercial flight.
The documents contained accounts from December of last year detailing responses and criticism to drills run last July and November, as Huffington Post noted, that tested authority preparedness for the potential of an anthrax attack at the 2018 Super Bowl in Minneapolis. According to CNN, those with access to the information were under strict instruction to keep the documents private and shred them after use.
Along with the reports, a travel itinerary and boarding pass belonging to Michael V. Walter were also discovered on the plane. Walter, a microbiologist who has managed BioWatch since 2009, declined CNN’s request for a comment.
BioWatch, whose priority is to alert government officials of aerosol detection, has been a target of criticism since its induction in 2003, and this incident is no help. However, even amid a breach of confidentiality, agency spokesman Tyler Q. Houlton told CNN: "This exercise was a resounding success and was not conducted in response to any specific, credible threat of a bioterrorism attack."
CNN complied with the DHS’s plea to withhold publication of their article until after the game, and reportedly agreed to keep certain pieces of information to themselves out of an interest for security at yesterday's game. However, some say the most pressing issue coming from the discovery of the documents is the public’s trust in the government.
"The biggest consequence of this mistake may have less to do with terrorists knowing our vulnerabilities and more to do with confidence in the Department of Homeland Security," Juliette Kayyem, a former DHS employee who now contributes to CNN, said. "In the end, confidence in the federal government at a time of crisis is what the American public deserves."