Terrorism by Snail Mail

by Shannen W. Coffin

The president issued an Executive Order last week detailing how the government will distribute “countermeasures” (such as antibiotics) to affected citizens in the event of a wide-scale biological attack. His answer to the difficult problem of broadly disbursing these countermeasures seems to be: “The check is in the mail.” That’s right — your U.S. postal service, the very model of quasi-government efficiency, will be tasked with distributing medical countermeasures to the public. “The U.S. Postal Service has the capacity for rapid residential delivery of medical countermeasures for self administration across all communities in the United States. The Federal Government shall pursue a national U.S. Postal Service medical countermeasures dispensing model to respond to a large-scale biological attack.” It may be true that the post office has the “capacity,” but are we really all that comfortable with conscripting our local mailman to assist in the performance of a critical national-security function? As Stewart Baker asks, “When was the last time you gave the US Postal Service responsibility for delivering a package that absolutely had to get to the recipient as fast as possible?” Baker’s solution to the problem is to keep an emergency supply of antibiotics in your home while you’re waiting for the mailman to show up at your door.

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