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September 14, 2012 | By David Willman, Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - Democrats on the House Homeland Security Committee and a senior Republican colleague voiced grave doubts Thursday about the viability of BioWatch, the nation's system for detecting biological attacks that has been plagued by false alarms. Committee members endorsed a new report from the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, that bluntly faulted the Department of Homeland Security's management of BioWatch and recommended that contracting for a multibillion-dollar overhaul be halted while plans are reevaluated.
September 12, 2012 | By David Willman, Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has rushed to acquire a new, multibillion-dollar version of the BioWatch system for detecting biological attacks without establishing whether it was needed or would work, according to a new report by a nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress. The report by the Government Accountability Office says Homeland Security should reevaluate the need for the overhaul while determining whether it makes financial sense. The department has spent more than $150 million developing the new generation of biological sensors.
September 8, 2012 | By David Willman
WASHINGTON - Amid concerns about cost and reliability, the federal Department of Homeland Security has quietly postponed plans to buy technology that officials have long claimed could provide a life-saving upgrade of BioWatch, the nation's system for detecting biological attacks. One year ago, the department had said a contract for the new, automated system would be awarded by mid-May 2012, at an estimated cost of $3.1 billion during its initial five years of operation. But in a three-sentence posting to a government website late last month, Homeland Security said it had shifted the time frame for soliciting final proposals to the final quarter of the year.
August 26, 2012
Re "Early warnings," Aug. 23 Detection of biological attacks on the United States is rapidly evolving and improving. The controversy regarding the high frequency of false alarms by BioWatch, the government's system for detecting such attacks, should be balanced by the fact that there are no or a very low frequency of false negative results (failure to detect the disease-causing agent). If there was a bioterrorism attack on my city, I would feel more comfortable having a system with BioWatch's false-negative rate keeping watch.
August 23, 2012 | By David Willman, Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON - Scientists who helped pioneer BioWatch, the government's system for detecting a biological attack on the U.S., knew from the start that it was prone to false alarms, records show. Between 2003, when the nationwide network of air samplers was first deployed, and 2006, officials at the federally funded Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory filed five patent applications aimed at improving BioWatch's reliability. "The existing methods for detecting" a release of disease-causing organisms into the environment were "inadequate," according to a patent application filed on behalf of Livermore scientists in December 2006.
August 20, 2012 | By Christi Parsons and Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON - Conceding that a peaceful resolution in Syria now appears remote, President Obama warned Monday for the first time that use or movement of chemical or biological weapons by forces loyal to President Bashar Assad would constitute a "red line" for U.S. military intervention. Obama acknowledged his frustration that diplomacy has done little to protect civilians or stem the growing bloodshed in the 17-month conflict. International efforts to persuade Assad to step down, to negotiate an effective cease-fire or to facilitate a political transition have been unsuccessful.
August 16, 2012 | By David P. Barash
I have been teaching and doing research at the university level for more than 40 years, which means that for more than four decades, I have been participating in a deception - benevolent and well intentioned, to be sure, but a deception nonetheless. As a scientist, I do science, and as a teacher and writer, I communicate it. That's where the deception comes in. When scientists speak to the public or to students, we talk about what we know, what science has discovered. Nothing wrong with this.
July 19, 2012 | By David Willman, Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - Congressional leaders from both parties are pressing Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to address newly raised questions about BioWatch, the nation's system for detecting deadly biological attacks. In letters issued Thursday and last week, the leaders said their questions were prompted by a July 8 Los Angeles Times article that identified repeated shortcomings in BioWatch's performance, including dozens of false alarms that signaled apparent terrorist attacks when none had occurred.
July 9, 2012
In his 2003 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush announced deployment of “the nation's first early-warning network of sensors to detect a biological attack.” Known as BioWatch, the system consists of air samplers installed in more than 30 cities across the United States. Every day, filters are removed from the devices and taken to public health laboratories for analysis. BioWatch is supposed to detect traces of the pathogens that cause anthrax, smallpox, plague and other infectious diseases.
July 8, 2012 | By David Willman, Los Angeles Times
DENVER - As Chris Lindley drove to work that morning in August 2008, a call set his heart pounding. The Democratic National Convention was being held in Denver, and Barack Obama was to accept his party's presidential nomination before a crowd of 80,000 people that night. The phone call was from one of Lindley's colleagues at Colorado's emergency preparedness agency. The deadly bacterium that causes tularemia - long feared as a possible biological weapon - had been detected at the convention site.
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