updated 4:57 p.m. PT, Wed., Dec . 30, 2009
WASHINGTON - If the nation ever faces a large-scale attack by a biological weapon like anthrax, the U.S. Postal Service will be in charge of delivering whatever drugs and other medical aid Americans would need to survive.
In an executive order released Wednesday, President Barack Obama put the Postal Service in charge of dispensing "medical countermeasures" to biological weapons because of its "capacity for rapid residential delivery."
While most likely unrelated, the release of the executive order comes less than a week after a man with alleged ties to al-Qaida tried to bring down a Detroit-bound U.S. airliner. In recent days, Obama has sought to assure the public that his administration is doing what it can to protect the nation from terrorist attacks.
Under the new order, federal agencies must develop a response plan that includes possible law enforcement escorts for Postal Service workers and gives anthrax "primary threat consideration."
Anthrax made headlines in the weeks following the 2001 terrorist attacks when letters containing the substance were sent to lawmakers and news organizations.
The spores killed five people: Two Washington, D.C., postal workers, a New York City hospital worker, a Florida photo editor and a 94-year-old Connecticut woman who had no known contact with any of the poisoned letters. Seventeen other people were sickened.
Obama says his decision to give the Postal Service a role in responding to a widespread biological attack won't supersede the authorities of other agencies.