In Washington, they discussed what to do if 100 or more members of Congress were killed. In London, there was a “specific threat” to the House of Commons. From The Telegraph, :
MI5 discovered a “specific threat” that terrorists were planning to use anthrax or ricin to launch a deadly attack in the Commons chamber, MPs were told yesterday.
This helped to persuade them to vote in favour of spending Â£1.3 million on a permanent glass security barrier between the public gallery and rest of the chamber.
But the move was approved by a majority of only seven votes and many MPs complained about the initiative before it was put to a free vote.
Some argued that the screen would not work. Others claimed it would undermine the principle that, in a democracy, elected MPs should be accessible to their voters.
A temporary glass screen was erected during the Easter recess and yesterday Peter Hain, the Leader of the Commons, explained that it had been put up “in the light of clear security advice at the highest level”.
He said he needed to explain to MPs “in plainest terms” what the consequences of ignoring the advice would be.
“If an al-Qa’eda group managed to throw a phial of anthrax or ricin into the chamber – or maybe even worse, a suicide agent released it, without anybody noticing, which we have been advised is quite feasible – the particles would immediately begin spreading.
“Because of the way air flows work, within minutes total contamination could occur.
“Decontamination procedures would then be activated. Everyone – not just members – would be locked in and decontaminated before being allowed to leave.”
Mr Hain disclosed that the warning had come from Eliza Manningham-Buller, the head of MI5. She briefed the Commons Commission, the body in charge of administration, earlier this year.
Although Mr Hain did not disclose further details, Sir Patrick Cormack, a Tory member of the commission, told MPs that a “specific threat” had been identified.
He said the security services had called for a screen to be erected 15 months ago, but on that occasion the commission vetoed the idea.
The temporary screen, which cost Â£600,000, means people in the public gallery can see what is happening in the chamber and hear debates via loudspeakers. But they are separated by an airtight screen running from floor to ceiling, and the chamber and the gallery no longer share a ventilation system.
Yesterday MPs voted to replace the temporary screen with a permanent one next summer. It will be more effective and more aesthetic.
Mr Hain also said a comprehensive review of security at Westminster, including the issuing of passes to the 12,900 people who work in the building, had begun.
Sion Simon, a Labour MP, said he did not think the screen would be effective because it did not cover the front three rows of the public gallery. Some of these seats will be allocated to members of the public personally invited by an MP.
“If I was a fully-fledged infiltrator dedicated to annihilating our democracy and who had the wherewithall to get his hands on a phial of poison, I think I would probably have got enough initiative to write to my MP and ask him for a ticket in front of the screen.”