Friday, February 19, 2010

Fort Jackson "plot": "never any threat, nothing credible"

By Donald Sensing

More on the report that five Muslim soldiers were arrested in December for plotting to poison the food supply at Fort Jackson, D.C., which I posted about earlier.

The State newspaper of Columbia, S.C. published released late last night this statement by Fort Jackson's public affairs office.

In December 2009, five Soldiers were investigated for potential verbal threats against fellow Soldiers. While the investigation continues there is currently no credible evidence to substantiate the allegations. At no time was there any danger to the Fort Jackson community.
The paper goes on to report,
A local law enforcement official familiar with the reports who insisted on anonymity said Thursday that there was no attempt made to poison any soldiers, adding that a rumor started when several disgruntled soldiers shot their mouths off late last year. There was never any threat, nothing credible, he insisted.
It's not CID's job to assess a referral as someone shooting off at the mouth or not. That's what an investigation may reveal, and CID agents quickly develop a very good sense of what is credible and what seems not, but the procedures still get followed and the allegations run to ground. That's what CID did here and the result is that the allegation is unfounded.

FoxNews' report that "soldiers were attempting to poison the food supply at Fort Jackson" almost rebuts itself. The post's 13 mess halls (okay, "dining facilities") serve tens of thousands of meal per day. Poisoning the food supply would mean that the presumed plotters, enrolled in a training regimen and under control of their chain of command practically every moment, would somehow be able to gain access to centralized, secured warehouses where food stocks are delivered and inspected before being picked up by the units running the mess halls. The likelihood of that is effectively zero.

Furthermore, it would mean that those five soldiers would be able to acquire a massive amount of toxic substances, conceal them from their superiors and other troops, and then transport them innocuously to the food stocks. But how would they get poisons in the first place, to say nothing of getting them in the quantity necessary to poison the whole food supply? They don't have cars, which are not allowed for soldiers undergoing basic combat training or military occupation training at the post. The logistics requirements for such a plot by themselves make the report extremely dubious.

Then there is the problem of contaminating massive amounts of food stocks into containers and packages in a way that leaves no sign. So that takes canned food out of the equation. Just like a grocery store, the post's Troop Issue Subsistence Activity receives food stocks in boxes or tough bags, and from the same suppliers. If any of these are opened or punctured it will be noticed by the dining facility managers or TISA inspectors and rejected for use at minimum.

But let us assume that the presumed plot was to poison just the meals served in a mess hall rather than the entire food supply for the whole post. I know in detail how dining faclities operate because I was the officer in charge of the mess hall for 2d battalion, 3d Field Artillery Regt. when I was a battery commander in Germany. This was one of a half-dozen or so "additional duties" laid atop my main job of commanding the battery. I didn't manage the day-to-day operations of the mess hall, that was the job of a sergeant first class. But I did daily inspections and ongoing oversight, for which I attended a two-week course to learn.

Mess halls are busy places, staffed from about 5 a.m. (or even before) to an hour or two after the serving line closes after supper. For a garrison facility that's about 8 p.m., maybe later. An experienced noncommissioned officer is always present. Food safety is of primary importance. The idea that a trainee could just wander into the kitchen and start dumping poison into raw or prepared food without near-immediate detection is ludicrous in the extreme. And again, the only stocks he would be able to contaminate are the dry goods. Canned ands frozen goods can't be poisoned covertly. Meats and some vegetables (like salads) are refrigerated rather than frozen or canned but introducing toxins into raw meat would puncture the packaging and change the meat's appearance. As for poisoning lettuce, tomatoes, onions and the like, it might be possible but not much.

Not only would the poison have to be unaffected by the heat of preparation, it would also have to be tasteless. All prepared food is taste tested by the cooks who prepared it, the mess sergeant and (if he's smart and likes to eat well for free) the mess officer. Sampling is authorized (nay, required) by Army regulation. Food that does not meet the taste test is regarded with deep suspicion by the cooks and supervisors; there is no chance it would be served to the troops.

As I posted before, "nothing to see here, move along."