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Quickly Noted: The Las Vegas Ricin Episode

March 1, 2008

Las Vegas at NightSo, yesterday morning, police were notified that after a search of an extended stay hotel room in Las Vegas small quantities of ricin, a poison that can be weaponized and used in a bioterrorist attack, were found. Literally every story made sure to mention that terrorism was not suspected – which seemed a bit strange to me.

Absolutely no time had passed since the ricin was found when those statements were made. And, well, it certainly seemed plausible at the time. And extended stay hotel (read: temporary pay by month or week housing), in Las Vegas (as they say in the movies, America’s playland), ricin and castor beans (which ricin is derived from) were found just sitting around. And we don’t suspect terrorism – at all?

Well, CNN is reporting today that it wasn’t just some ricin lying around after a party or a package delivered to the wrong address:

Officers who found the deadly poison ricin in a Las Vegas, Nevada, extended-stay hotel room also discovered firearms and an “anarchist-type textbook” with an entry about ricin bookmarked, police said Friday.

And still they maintain that this is not a terrorism investigation.  And while I understand the need to stress the relative normality of the investigation, what if they were wrong?  What if two other guys who were staying there already took the bulk of the ricin and intend to release it on the Las Vegas Strip next week?  Well, won’t the FBI look stupid in that case.

I don’t understand why an FBI spokesperson didn’t come on TV and say something to the effect of, “We found ricin in an extended stay hotel in Las Vegas.  At this point it is unclear if this was a possible terrorist plot, but we’re investigating all possibilities and taking all precautions.  Las Vegas residents are advised to keep an eye out for anything that seems unusual and are encouraged to contact local police in the event they see anything unusual.  We’ll be sure to keep you all up to date with the latest developments as they happen.”  Where’s the harm in letting folks know that you’re taking this seriously and are prepared for anything, oh, and if you could help us out a bit, we’d be most appreciative.  Nope, we get this traditional homeland security/police blow-off of “don’t worry your pretty little head, let mommy and daddy talk about the ricin in Las Vegas.”

It’s just these types of bone-headed communication mistakes that continue to erode the public’s trust in government police and response agencies.  One day, some FBI agent will be saying that there’s nothing to worry about, there’s no terrorism here, as the chemical is released in the background of the interview he’s giving.

The public isn’t stupid, treat them like they’ve got something invested in the outcome – because they do.

Here’s some info on ricin – not from Sanjay Gupta:

CDC Health Alert on ricin

CDC facts about ricin

Photo credit: Old Shoe Woman

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Ron permalink
    March 1, 2008 6:02 pm


    The best thing I can say about your blog on the
    ricin find in Las Vegas is “Amen! Amen! Amen!
    This attitude of officials is similar I think to the
    incompetence that may have contributed to 9-11.
    Besides, there are plenty of terriorists around
    (some home grown) who are not Islamic jihadists.

  2. john the baptist permalink
    March 2, 2008 2:43 am

    Why would this person leave an Anarchist book around? Vials of lethal poison? its too easy. too simple. stop lying to yourself. they are making this up to make McCain look like the only guy who could handle this.

    You must be joking. You buy this crap. During the election. At this point. This is game.

  3. March 2, 2008 7:11 am

    First of all, thanks for stopping by, guys.

    Ron: the homeland security field is still very young. I hope that as it grows up, they begin to incorporate more lessons learned from communication.

    John: Between you and me, I’m an Obama guy. And I certainly appreciate your cynicism. I work in public health preparedness, so every exercise and training I attend, I hear some fellow from DHS telling me how the US is crawling with terrorists and how afraid we all should be. Your, and most folks cynicism, especially after the constant monkeying around with “threat level” changes during the 2004 election, is well placed. I think, though, that this is probably a real thing because it’s not being touted all over the news about being a major terrorist catch. I was trying to get across the idea that they seem to be unnecessarily minimizing the situation, not blowing it out of proportion as is their modus operandi.

  4. March 3, 2008 11:26 am

    To john the baptist:

    I had to laugh when I read your comment – leave it to a liberal to connect dots that aren’t real. To answer your questions:

    Why would this person leave an Anarchist book around? – because he probably didn’t expect to get sick. Like all armatures he reads a book and thinks he’s an expert.

    If there are any pretend dots to connect it should be “why is the FBI saying it’s not a terrorist incident”. Maybe the FBI is downplaying this because it is an election year and they don’t want a negative impact on Democraps.

    I mean really – everyone knows both Democrap candidates pretend there is no such thing as terrorists. Heck – neither candidate has even uttered the words “Islamofascist”.

    That’s why the Muslim community will be voting Democrap – ’cause they know liberals will cave to their demands.

  5. Bob Stirling permalink
    March 15, 2008 4:02 pm

    On ricin episode in vegas. What Extended Stay place was it. I got hope yesterday from my vegas trip and stayed at “Extended Stay”. Clerk could not tell me which one of 3 it was found at. We stayed at one on Boulder Hwy. I’d like to know. bob

  6. March 28, 2008 1:59 pm

    In your story above, you quote CNN as saying *Officers* found the ricin, they did not. Bergendorff’s cousin found the Ricin TWO DAYS after Police had searched the room.

    PT 1

    PT 2

    PT 3

  7. March 28, 2008 3:47 pm

    Thanks Cheri. I hadn’t really paid attention to the timeline, but I’m glad other people are. Keep up the good work.


  8. March 28, 2008 3:55 pm

    Thanks Jimmy. They depend on people not paying attention so please pass this around. I truly believe this is all about hr 1955 and the pending s 1959 vote.

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