Four Facebook postal warehouses were evacuated yesterday after an incoming package tested positive for the lethal nerve agent Sarin.
Two employees of the California-based warehouses, located near Facebook’s headquarters, were examined by paramedics and found to have not been exposed to any hazardous substances. The buildings have since been declared safe by the local fire service.
Although a second test on the package came back negative, Facebook security staff in tandem with investigators and FBI agents continued to examine the incident wearing protective suits.
According to a spokesman for the Menlo Park Fire District, one of Facebook’s general mail facility machines, which scans packages for deadly substances, triggered the alarm. This is not the first time such an incident has occurred on Facebook’s campus – on the previous occasion it turned out to be a false positive.
Dan Kaszeta, a former member of the US Secret Service and chemical weapons expert, said such false positives are “ruinously common” with civilian testing equipment. They can be easily triggered by phosphorus, antifreeze and some pesticides, he said.
Last year, YouTube’s nearby facility was targeted by a disgruntled woman reportedly wanting revenge on the company for what she felt was censorship of her videos. Facebook operates a strict security at its third-party moderator centres, in case Facebook users or former employees try to harm the company’s contractors.
A spokesman for Facebook said: “A package delivered to one of our mail rooms was deemed suspicious. We evacuated four buildings and are conducting a through investigation in coordination with local authorities.
“Authorities have not yet identified the substance found. As of now, three of the evacuated buildings have been declared for repopulation. The safety of our employees is our top priority and we will share additional information when it is available.”
A colourless and odourless liquid, Sarin in gas form is a deadly substance that has been used as a chemical weapon by both terrorists and governments. Those exposed to Sarin will experience nausea, paralysis and convulsions, which can lead to death.
Japanese doomsday cult leader, Aum Shinrikyo, used it in the 1995 Tokyo subway attack, which killed 12 people directly and one person indirectly after 14 years of hospitalisation.