Bush: White House bio-war alarm went off in 2002
A White House alarm to detect biological weapons in the air went off in in 2002, setting off fears that the building was under a silent terrorist attack, former president George W. Bush writes in his new book, "Decision Points."
The incident happened while Bush was on a state visit to China in February 2002, he told the Today Show’s Matt Lauer in an interview to be broadcast Monday.
During a videoconference with officials back at the White House, Vice President Cheney came on the line and said, "Mr. President, we have a problem. One of the bio hazard detectors at The White House has gone off."
National Security Adviser “Condi [Rice], [Chief of Staff] Andy Card, [Secretary of State] Colin Powell, and I are sitting in a cramped tent in a Chinese hotel. The reason we're in the tent is because Chinese listeners cannot penetrate the tent,” Bush recalled.
“Steve Hadley [then deputy national security adviser] and Dick Cheney are on the video in front of us. Dick is getting ready to give a speech to the Alfred E. Smith dinner in New York. And he says, ‘The bio detectors have gone off. We think there's been a botulism toxin -- a potential botulism toxin attack.’
“And we had all been exposed to it. And it -- BT is a very lethal poison. And had we inhaled it we could easily be dead.”
Hadley, a “very formal, really good man,” Bush said, tried to calm everybody down. Help was on the way.
Mice, he said, were being mobilized to test the air.
“And we kind of chuckled, and said, ‘Well, if the mice are feet up, we're goners. And if they're feet down, we're fine,’” Bush said.
Lauer: "So some of the most powerful people in the country are waiting to see if a bunch of lab mice die.”
“Up or down,” Bush said.
Lauer: “And if they die, you're dead.”
“Yeah. That's what it was,” Bush continued.
“And the reason I tell the story is because it's hard for people to remember that right after 9/11 we were inundated with threats. A lot of threats. And I put that one in there, one, because I think it's an interesting anecdote, and two, because it shows how serious -- and how often these threats were coming into The White House.”
New Yorker writer Jane Mayer described a similar incident in her 2008 book, "Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals." On Oct. 18, 2001, at the height of the anthrax scares, she reported, a bio alarm went off in the White House.
"They thought Cheney was already lethally infected," a former administration officer said, according to Mayer.
False alarm. Likewise, in the February 2002 incident, the mice presumably lived to test another day, but neither Cheney nor other officials could be immediately reached to elaborate on it.
| November 5, 2010; 6:00 PM ET
Categories: Homeland Security, Intelligence, Media | Tags: Matt Lauer, NBC Today Show
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