- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Radiation alarm

A former U.S. ambassador discovered a really inconvenient truth when he searched futilely in the Washington area for treatment for potential exposure to the same radioactive poison that killed a Russian defector in London last year.

Patrick Nikolas Theros, a retired Foreign Service officer, tried for three days to get medical advice after he learned that he was on a British Airways flight that had been contaminated with polonium-210, the poison that killed Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian spy who died in a London hospital on Nov. 23.

The airline finally contacted him to let him know that the plane on which he traveled was examined and that investigators concluded it was “highly unlikely” that any passenger was contaminated.

That was after Mr. Theros tried to get help from the airline’s emergency telephone number, the British National Health Service, the British Embassy, the State Department, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the D.C. and Maryland health departments.

What he found scared him almost as much as the possibility that he had been exposed to the radioactive material.

Mr. Theros, a former ambassador to the Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar, also served as the State Department’s deputy coordinator for counterterrorism and was responsible for counterterrorism programs outside the United States. So he was surprised by the lack of preparedness for radiation exposure inside the country, especially in the nation’s capital, five years after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

“The story indicates … that [after] the five years of hype about organizing to cope with the consequences of ‘dirty bombs’ and their ilk, the capital of the U.S. cannot manage one person,” Mr. Theros wrote in an e-mail describing his ordeal.

He first learned that his plane had been exposed on Nov. 30 and found an emergency telephone number on the British Airways Web site.

“The number, a British toll-free number cannot be called from the U.S.,” Mr. Theros wrote. “The Web site instructed [non-British] residents to go to a local doctor for tests without providing much technical information.”

He called his doctor, who tried to find a local medical lab that provided radiation testing but could find none.

Mr. Theros called his daughter in Britain, who tried to call the British Airways number but hung up after being on hold for 45 minutes. He then called the British Embassy in Washington and left a message on voice mail.

The next morning, Mr. Theros phoned the medical bureau at the State Department, where an official told him that the CDC had alerted Washington to expect such calls from American passengers on the British plane. The CDC had an e-mail and emergency phone number.

Later in the day, the embassy called back but had “no instructions on what to do,” he said.

“I gave them the CDC information,” Mr. Theros added.

His doctor called the CDC, where an official advised him to contact local health departments. The D.C. department never called back, while Maryland suggested he find a local lab.

Paralyzing’ Darfur

The U.S. special envoy to Sudan yesterday criticized the African government for “paralyzing” relief efforts to stop the genocide in Darfur with “onerous” bureaucratic red tape.

Andrew Natsios told reporters in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, that the government takes too much time to process visas and travel permits for humanitarian workers and restricts the distribution of relief supplies with high customs duties and delays in the shipment of equipment.

“The government has constructed a very onerous set of bureaucratic requirements which are essentially paralyzing the relief effort,” he said.

Mr. Natsios yesterday also met with Sudanese President Omar Bashir, who, he said, still refuses to allow the United Nations to send in peacekeepers to help understaffed troops sent by the African Union.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@ washingtontimes.com.


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