Nowa Paye, 9, is taken to an ambulance after showing signs of the Ebola infection in the village of Freeman Reserve, Liberia, Sept. 30, 2014. (AP/Jerome Delay)

Marc Thiessen's Ebola terror fantasy: WaPo's very serious columnist is worried about Ebola attacks

Former Bush speechwriter is concerned that Ebola terrorists will hop the red-eye to Philly and lick your doorknob


Simon Maloy
October 22, 2014 8:20PM (UTC)

The Ebola crisis in America continues to spiral out of control as each day passes and the number of infected persons remains unchanged at two. Americans are freaked out: They’re pulling their kids out of school, imposing quarantines on people who’ve been anywhere in Africa recently, and buying up all the safety equipment they can to make their own makeshift hazmat suits. No one does panic like media-gorged suburbanites who don’t know where Rwanda is but are pretty sure it’s full of Ebola.

In response to the rising public hysteria, we’ve seen the reemergence of a singular breed of public figure: the Serious Person. The Serious Person knows exactly how to solve the Ebola problem even if he doesn’t actually have any idea. A person of true Seriousness understands that just because some egghead science nerd tells you that Ebola is extremely difficult to contract, that doesn’t mean it isn’t on the rim of your martini glass. And most important, the Serious Person understands that crippling, all-consuming fear is the only rational response: fear of Ebola; fear of immigrants infected with Ebola; and the most Serious of all, fear of terrorists who can and will use Ebola in biological attacks on the United States of America.

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And the Serious Person knows that the people who dismiss those fears are, by default, unserious.

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The most Serious of the Serious People is Marc Thiessen, the former speechwriter for George W. Bush and current columnist for the Washington Post. Reading the first two sentences of Thiessen’s latest column is like being strapped to a board and having a bucket of Seriousness poured over your face:

The world is experiencing virulent outbreaks of Ebola and Islamist radicalism.

What if the two threats converge into one?

What if? WHAT IF??? They are two scary things that are happening at the same time – what’s to prevent them from happening together? Thiessen writes that in 2001, a group of “leading Democratic national security experts” gathered for an exercise called “Dark Winter,” which simulated a “biological attack on the United States in which terrorists release smallpox virus in three shopping malls,” and concluded that the ensuing fake smallpox pandemic could have killed 1 million people. “So what about Ebola?” Thiessen asks, with grave Seriousness.

Smallpox is far more contagious than Ebola and much easier to transmit from person to person, so a simulated smallpox outbreak doesn’t seem like a good point of comparison for an Ebola attack – but that’s the sort of observation an unserious person makes. The Serious Person understands that they’re both diseases, and god dammit that’s good enough.

Ebola is in Africa, Thiessen observes, sagely, and the terrorists know this. So all they have to do is go to Africa, get infected, get on a plane to America, and blow themselves up. It’s just that simple:

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Ebola has up to a 21-day incubation period — more than enough time for terrorists to infect themselves and then come here with the virus. In a nightmare scenario, suicide bombers infected with Ebola could blow themselves up in a crowded place — say, shopping malls in Oklahoma City, Philadelphia and Atlanta — spreading infected tissue and bodily fluids.

And it probably didn’t even occur to you that the Ebola terrorist doesn’t even need to get infected or blow himself up. But Marc Thiessen knows better:

Or, the virus could also be released more subtly. Terrorists could collect samples of infected body fluids, and then place them on doorknobs, handrails or airplane tray tables, allowing Ebola to spread quietly before officials even realize that a biological attack has taken place.

It’s so simple … instead of giving himself the disease, the terrorist just has to go to an Ebola clinic in West Africa, fill up a few Zip-Loc bags with infected body waste, get them onto an airplane, and then wander the vast expanse of America like Johnny Ebolaseed, contaminating every doorknob and handrail he sees.

By this point you might be asking yourself: If terrorists can just hop on a plane and come to America and blow himself up that easily, why would they go through the added trouble of going to Africa and contracting a dangerous illness and exposing themselves to added layers of security and inspection? Why don’t they just come to America and blow stuff up? And aren’t there multiple layers of security on top of the anti-Ebola screening that already prevent terrorists from catching a flight to Philadelphia? Didn’t the administration Thiessen worked for set up a whole counterterrorism security apparatus with precisely that goal in mind? Does he have no faith in the war on terror? How is any of this plausible by any stretch of the imagination?

Those aren’t Serious questions, though, and you just embarrassed yourself by asking them.

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And Marc Thiessen knows they’re not Serious. He knows that a terrorist can catch a plane to the U.S. just as easily as anyone else: “Think it can’t happen? If an Ebola-infected Liberian, Thomas Eric Duncan, was able to fly to Dallas, what is to stop an Ebola-infected terrorist from doing the same?” Nothing, Mr. Thiessen. Absolutely nothing.

Having scared the unserious pants off everyone in the immediate vicinity with his lurid fantasies of death and misery, Thiessen ends with a premonition of impending doom:

The nation is woefully unprepared for an Ebola outbreak, much less an Ebola attack. If terrorists were to turn Ebola into a crude terror weapon, we could be in for a Dark Winter indeed.

“Indeed,” indeed. This is how you can tell that Thiessen is, indeed, Serious. He understands that we don’t have to wait for terrorists to commit an act of terrorism to be terrified. If we spend every waking moment panicked and scared over what they could do to us, no matter how implausible, then we’ve beaten them at their own game.

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Simon Maloy

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