June 27, 2007, - 5:10 pm

Terrorism Investigation: Fumes Released at Spokane Mall

By Debbie Schlussel
Who released noxious fumes into a Spokane, Washington mall in January, injuring at least 36 people?
That’s what authorities are investigating. But I’m sure the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force–which is looking into it–will tell us there’s no reason to think it’s terrorism (even though internally, they believe that it is). Right–maybe someone just farts more powerfully than the rest of us.
Sending poisonous chemicals through the HVAC systems of a shopping mall has been a plot point in both FOX’s “24” and Showtime’s “Sleeper Cell,” among other shows focusing on Islamic terrorism in America.

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More details from Associated Press and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

SPOKANE, Wash. — A February incident in which noxious fumes were released in the region’s largest shopping mall is being investigated by the FBI as a possible incident of domestic terrorism.
The fumes prompted the evacuation of NorthTown Mall in February, and at least 36 people sought medical care.
The case was forwarded to the FBI’s Inland Northwest Joint Terrorism Task Force by Spokane police, police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer DeRuwe said. Officials wouldn’t say specifically why they believe terrorism might have been involved.
Shoppers were evacuated Feb. 11 after some suffered symptoms consistent with being exposed to pepper spray or Mace, DeRuwe said. Reactions included coughing, watery eyes and noses, and scratchy throats.
No one suffered long term health damage, DeRuwe said.
Norman C. Brown, the FBI task force supervisor, said the incident “could be anything from a prank to an intentional act against a targeted store.”
Another possible objective may have been to test the emergency-response system, Brown said.
“If these individuals were sophisticated, it would give them an idea of the type of response and a time frame in which they can operate safely.”
NorthTown Mall marketing director Leslea Warnick declined to comment.
A surveillance video showed a man running from JC Penney inside the mall, where the incident was centered, DeRuwe said. However, they do not know who the man is or if he was involved, she said.
“We have no suspects at this time,” Brown said.
The Inland Northwest Joint Terrorism Task Force investigates cases in Eastern Washington and northern Idaho, including domestic and international terrorism. The task force is made up of federal, state and local law enforcement, and is funded through the FBI’s budget.
Domestic terrorists are U.S. residents “who commit acts of terrorism on our own soil,” Brown said.
When two Hummers were damaged in 2005 at the George Gee Auto Dealership in Liberty Lake, the joint terrorism task force determined it was domestic terrorism. The case is different from the NorthTown Mall incident because “an individual claiming to be affiliated with the Environmental Liberation Front claimed responsibility,” Brown said.

So what has the FBI done to prevent this from happening again? Have they or DHS put out mandated safety and security precautions for shopping malls and other places attracting large populations? Have they mandated what kind of security locks and safeguards there must be to prevent terrorists from infiltrating HVAC systems?
Not exactly.

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4 Responses

Under what possible authority could the FBI mandate the kind of security locks that a mall places on their HVAC system? That seems like a real stretch to me.
THERE ARE PLENTY OF LAWS, PURSUANT TO WHICH FEDERAL REGULATIONS COULD BE ISSUED. NOT A STRETCH AT ALL. I’M AGAINST INCREASED FEDERAL REGULATION, EXCEPT WHERE IT’S NECESSARY TO DEFEND AMERICA’S CITIZENS. THIS IS CERTAINLY SUCH A CASE. IF WE CAN REGULATE THE THICKNESS OF THE PICKLE SLICES ON A BURGER AT MCDONALD’S (WHICH THE FED GOVT DOES), THEN WE CAN MANDATE SAFETY FOR AMERICANS AT MALLS, PROTECTING THEM FROM TERRORIST ATTACKS. THERE ARE SIMILAR LAWS (WHICH AREN’T FOLLOWED, UNFORTUNATELY, OR MUCH ENFORCED) REGARDING SECURITY AT PRIVATE PORTS AND UTILITIES. IF THIS IS A “STRETCH,” THEN WE MIGHT AS WELL NOT HAVE A GOVERNMENT.
DEBBIE SCHLUSSEL

Spanky on June 27, 2007 at 7:34 pm

I’ll be very disappointed if anyone expresses any surprise at this turn of events. It follows the current script precisely: everything for war in Iraq, nothing for domestic protection.
Atlas Pam has even decried the “canard of pork for first responders,” while others in the Right blogosphere make the argument again and again that it’s absolutely impossible to use troops for port inspections and airport security. (There is, therefore, no need to have any troops here at all.) Righties have even called the very idea of using federal resources to beef up domestic security a transparent dodge aimed at trumping up some reason for ending the war.
Again and again, the “we’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here” meme is debunked, but it never seems to die.
On the other hand, it could simply be some homegrown non-Muslim dumbass causing trouble (people have always been dumbasses, remember, even before terrorism), and instead of receiving some appropriate sentence, he’ll be tried as a terrorist (like those environmentalists recently) and receive some absurd 125-year sentence or get disappeared in Guantanamo.
However you look at it, things are out of balance here, folks.

Doc Washboard on June 27, 2007 at 8:42 pm

Question:
Could it be that the movie theater at the mall was playing “A Mighty phfHeart” & that was the source of the malodorous assault ???

billybob on June 28, 2007 at 11:33 am

Yes Debbie, the federal government could mandate this. But, specifically, could the FBI? That’s what you said. The federal government can issue postage stamps. The FBI can not. I just believe you’ve selected the wrong target. I suppose the FBI could distribute recommended security precautions for privately-owned malls. But I still can’t imagine how they would have the authority to “mandate” that certain kinds of locks be used, etc.

Spanky on June 28, 2007 at 10:19 pm

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