We are bombarded daily with statements from administration officials regarding our capacity to control the spread of the Ebola virus. We are told that this is not West Africa. We are told that we have medical resources undreamed of on the African continent. We are told that we know precisely how to control the spread of this deadly disease.
I agree wholeheartedly. I also think every single one of those statements is irrelevant. The question is not whether we know how to control the disease. The question is whether we will.
We know how to lock doors.
Yet, apparently, until a madman jumped the fence at the White House and ran amok inside the residence no one in the gigantic security apparatus called the Secret Service had ever thought of doing so. There is a big difference between knowing how to do something and seeing that it is done. To date we have bungled virtually every single step of the way in attempting to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus to the United States.
First, we decided to impose no travel bans or even any travel restrictions on individuals coming out of West Africa. We relied exclusively on screening on the ground in affected countries. Then we discovered, shockingly enough, that an individual fleeing an area with a raging epidemic might, in fact, lie regarding his potential exposure to the disease. One would have thought that five seconds of commonsense analysis would have told us that in advance but apparently not.
Then we bungled the screening process in the emergency room when this individual arrived at the hospital in Texas. Everyone who studies the spread of disease knows that the most deadly contagions on the earth all begin with flu-like symptoms. Detection of exactly what disease the individual is infected with is key to getting ahead of the spread of any epidemic.
Yet, apparently the Centers For Disease Control had done nothing during the all of the time that Ebola had been raging in West Africa to sensitize emergency rooms across the country and make sure that this kind of occurrence would not happen.
Patient Zero was given standard antibiotics and sent home for bed rest, as if he had a common cold. Next, when we discovered that this individual actually had Ebola we continued to fumble at every step of the way in the quarantine process and in the collection and disposal of contaminated items.
We sent five sheriffs deputies with no protective gear into an apartment filled with infected items. We provided them with no protective equipment whatsoever. Only after the fact did we consider the possibility that we had now exposed five more individuals needlessly to a deadly virus.
We have quarantined all five.
At least one of these individuals is now in the hospital himself and may in fact be infected. Then we spent days fumbling around trying to determine who would collect the items soaked in the Ebola virus inside the apartment where Patient Zero had been staying. Only then did we realize, despite a decade of alleged preparation for the prospect of biological terrorism, that there was no government agency standing by to do so nor any contractor identified to carry out the task.
When we finally did identify a contractor to go into the apartment and collect the infected items we discovered that the Department of Transportation and the CDC could not get on the same page and manage to issue permits that would allow the transportation of this infected waste material out of the apartment to a secure location.
Only after additional days of delay did we finally resolve this issue, collect the items, place them in the storage bins and transport them out of the apartment. As of this writing, however, none of those items have actually been destroyed. They remain in storage, because we have made no arrangements to incinerate these items and ensure that the virus is destroyed.
Feel reassured? I don’t.
I am not worried about our theoretical capacity to control this epidemic. I am deeply troubled by the bureaucratic inefficiency, the complacency, the sloth and the refusal to do even basic homework in preparation for this epidemic. I hope that we are rapidly gaining ground and getting our act together.
If we are not we are going to see a lot more deaths before this thing is over.
That’s why I worry.
Charles S. Faddis, President of Orion Strategic Services, LLC, is a former CIA operations officer with 20 years of experience in the conduct of intelligence operations in the Middle East, South Asia, and Europe. He is the senior intelligence editor for AND Magazine and a contributor to a wide variety of counterterrorism and homeland security journals. His nonfiction works include "Operation Hotel California," a history of the actions of his team inside Iraq from 2002 to 2003, "Willful Neglect," an examination of homeland security, and "Beyond Repair," an argument for intelligence reform. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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