Conspiracy

The Strange Case of Brian Brannman

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Or—"That's no drunk! That's a rear admiral!"

Recall that big smallpox scare last week. A flight from New Orleans to Charlotte briefly riveted world attention after a man on board a US Airways plane claimed to have smallpox.

Homeland Security went on scramble, the FBI was called in, 113 passengers were kept on the plane for hours, and the mysterious smallpox man was whisked to a hospital isolation room by a moon-suited hazmat team.

Smallpox is such a threat as a terror weapon that in 2002 President Bush announced a targeted vaccination program for first-responders and government leaders. Of course. This reversed about 25 years of public health policy, which held the deadly disease to be eradicated .

Meanwhile in Charlotte, the story next morphed into a drunken man who had made the smallpox claim as a hoax of some sort. Drunk Man did not have smallpox, nor did he expose others on the plane to smallpox. Still very odd, but not downright scary.

Yesterday the story got weird. Turns out the man who made the smallpox claim is Rear Adm. Brian Brannman of the U.S. Navy.

Brannman was returning from some sort of medical conference in New Orleans on the flight. Brannman has been the director of the Director of the Navy Medical Service Corps since 2004. Until January Brannman was double-hatted as also the head of the Navy's massive medical center in San Diego.

His military bio cites "the Legion of Merit (two awards), the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal (four awards), the Navy Commendation Medal (two awards), the Navy Achievement Medal, the Armed Forces Service Medal, and various service and unit awards."

In short, nothing in Brannman's 28-year military career marks him as someone who would shout "Smallpox!" in a crowded airplane.

Now things get spooky. The investigation into Brannman's conduct on the plane is over.

The U.S. Attorney in Charlotte will not file charges against Brannman for disrupting the flight, let alone bring any kind of terroristic threat charge. The case is, officially, closed.

WBTV, so far the only media outlet reporting on Brannman's role in the incident, cites unnamed sources as saying Brannman suffered from "real mental problems" which contributed to the smallpox scare.

Perhaps. But mental issues or confusion or jokes have not been an effective shield against a federal prosecutor bringing charges in these kinds of incidents, especially since 9/11. If hoaxers or mental patients even make it to a courtroom, that is.

Rigo Alpizar was shot dead in December 2005 by air marshals after he had a panic attack and tried to bolt from a plane in Miami. Federal agents said he shouted something about a bomb. So they shot him.

Among the outstanding questions still to be answered regarding Brannman is the not small matter of access to smallpox. Does or did, Adm. Brannman have any access to the deadly disease in the course of his duties? Is there any kind of official policy on what kind of threats are ipso facto credible or does it completely turn on who you are? Was the incident some sort of first-responder test? Will Brannman continue in his current role with the Navy?

Or should we just go put our heads on our desks?

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  1. So this exposes the DHS as a bunch of Milhouses? “No way, Bart. If I lean over, I leave myself open to wedgies, wet willies, or even the dreaded rear-admiral!”

    I hope air marshals never planned to shoot a claimer of a biological disease in their body. Claiming “I have a bomb/ I have a weapon” is a different kind of visceral threat; shooting someone who claims to be suffering from smallpox, SARS, ebola, anthrax, polonium poisoning, or whatever else seems like a patently stupid idea: the impact would aerosolize their blood in the enclosed space of an airliner. Best case, confine the guy to a lavatory for the flight and see if the cabin air supply can be set on “replace” instead of “circulate”.

  2. Or should we just go put our heads on our desks?

    45 more minutes to go!!!.

  3. I’m more scared if the guy next to me in the plane says “I ate three hard-boiled eggs washed down with a half-rack a couple hours ago”

    I’ll be tearing that plane a new hatch.

  4. What have I been telling you people about Navy officers? First the astronaut, now the Admiral. What’s it going to take? I expect we’ll see John McCain in a Tuxedo, tap-dancing to Top Hat in a vat of oatmeal. (Just after the primaries)

  5. Has anyone checked to see if he’s an alien?

  6. Or should we just go put our heads on our desks?

    Just like you did after it turned out that the anthrax in 2001 had come from the US military, and Cheney’s staff had taken the CIPRO, on 9/11, days before anybody got any powder through the mail (with accompanying note saying “DEATH TO ISRAEL”), and a couple years before the investigation was quietly dropped?

    Yeah, sure, Mr. Taylor. Why not? This seems a lot less suspicious than that did, at any rate.

  7. Dave W.,

    Are you saying we should check to see if Cheney is an alien?

  8. Who can I sue? I still have a scar from a smallpox vaccine nearly forty years later, and people are telling me that maybe I’m not immune. It’s not the fear of disease that bothers me; rather, I’m robbed of the opportunity to give smug looks to people who weren’t vaccinated.

  9. “I still have a scar from a smallpox vaccine nearly forty years later, and people are telling me that maybe I’m not immune.”

    Somebody should check and see. …Pro Liberate might be an alien.

  10. Are you saying we should check to see if Cheney is an alien?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Jersey_in_the_21st_century

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2001_anthrax_attacks

    no, but some BAC testing on a certain day was certainly called for. You know which day I mean.

  11. A couple of things here: Smallpox has been eradicated in the wild. But the virus still exists. Both Russia and the U.S. have stocks of the virus in biosafety level 4 facilities: the CDC in the U.S. and at a biopreparat facility in the Soviet days. (I don’t know what the agency is called now.)
    Smallpox is indeed scary stuff. The R number for smallpox* is about 9. In other words, outbreaks will tend to grow by something close to a factor of 10 in each generation. It is very, very good at through-the-air transmission, and is contagious before symptoms show.

    That doesn’t have much to do with the question of why this guy claimed to have smallpox, but it might provide some useful info on what we’re discussion. Smallpox outbreaks, especially if the bug is somehow weaponized, are scary.

    *The R number of a pathogen is a shorthand way of saying “The average number of people each infected person will pass the disease to.”

  12. Ken,

    That would explain a few things. My mom always said that my brother just missed the smallpox cut-off, but maybe that was a damned lie. He can’t levitate, either.

  13. This story is another example of the axiom that if you have to live in a prison, you might as well be a guard.

  14. Well at least he had the common decency not to say anything really dangerous like homo’s are immoral.

  15. Well at least he had the common decency not to say anything really dangerous like homo’s are immoral.

    Are you saying that “homo’s ” are aliens?

  16. You guys talking about homo illegal aliens again?

    Why does Jeff Taylor hate them?

  17. Pro, I have two smallpox vaccine scars, one per arm.

    Or should we just go put our heads on our desks?

    Or maybe under the desk.

  18. This makes me think that the military is lucky GWB is president, otherwise we’d be asking more questions about who the hell is running the military (whoever it is I’m pretty sure we might be better if they were replaced by gay aliens with smallpox).

  19. thats “…better off if…” for the gramatical gay aliens out there.

  20. For the record, if I am an alien, then I can say authoritatively that aliens are not gay. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    Two scars? Huh. Must be a double-headed alien.

  21. And now, I’d like to introduce my running mate, Admiral Pinky.

    Er, ‘Oo am I? Why am I ‘ere? Narf!

  22. I think as libertarians we can all agree that we’d better off if most government officials were replaced by gay aliens with smallpox – call it gaylienpoxarchism. (Except for the urban planning types of course; no worries, joe.)

  23. Because the smallpox DNA has been sequenced and openly published (thanks, science!), we’ll never, ever be rid of it. It’s just a matter of time before any disgruntled PhD can synthesize smallpox from scratch.

  24. peachy,

    Go ahead and replace my last government boss with a gay alien with smallpox. I promise I won’t make any trouble.

  25. It is very, very good at through-the-air transmission, and is contagious before symptoms show.

    http://www.bt.cdc.gov/agent/smallpox/overview/disease-facts.asp
    Transmission
    Generally, direct and fairly prolonged face-to-face contact is required to spread smallpox from one person to another. Smallpox also can be spread through direct contact with infected bodily fluids or contaminated objects such as bedding or clothing. Rarely, smallpox has been spread by virus carried in the air in enclosed settings such as buildings, buses, and trains. Humans are the only natural hosts of variola. Smallpox is not known to be transmitted by insects or animals.
    +++
    Of course, based on the fact that the the CDC bullshits about flu, obesity, AIDS, smoking, etc., maybe not.

  26. [mistakenly left off last comment]
    And there’s new genetic research showing that brown-skinned people are dumber and more prone to violence than people of European heritage.

  27. Now there’s an interesting idea for a bio weapon conspiracy theory–forget smallpox. We’ll tell the world we’re using some kind of airborne virus to transmit “the gay gene”.

    So, you know, when we corner a bunch of Al Qaeda in a cave somewhere, rather than waiting them out, we’ll tell ’em we’re gonna release some of this gay virus into their cave and that before they know it, they won’t be calling for jihad–they’ll be callin’ to redecorate.

  28. If you want to kill Bin Laden, give his donkey a fatal STD.

    When in doubt, go with the simplest explanation: The man has cracked due to alcohol or stress or mental illness (insert all Szaz-related disclaimers here) or whatever, and he has friends in high places who can spare him the consequences that might fall on somebody else who created a similar situation.

    Which is not to say we shouldn’t be upset over double standards (or the fact that a crazy man has been entrusted with a position of authority). Just that we should probably be upset over the most plausible problem rather than the less plausible problems.

  29. I, for one, welcome our new gay alien smallpox ridden overlords and would like to point out that as a writer, I could be useful in convincing people to toil in their underground Ecstasy drug labs.

    But this story does nothing for me. I was already convinced that the men in charge of the weapons and toxins that could destroy humanity a thousand-fold over were gibbering lunatics.

  30. Two things: First, joe, I predict that if you ever become a full-fledged libertarian, it will be because you re-entered the civil service and had a crazy, evil boss. It’s like getting mugged for the Democrat-GOP transformation (or getting indicted for the reverse).

    Second, once we can tailor make viruses and really get a handle on the human genome, look for viruses that affect the way we think. Whoa.

  31. One more thing for our older crowd: Is it just me, or does the X-Files theme sound like it was derived from the Green Acres theme?

  32. I was going to make a witty post about how this story is probably going to drive the tinfoil hat crowd up the wall.

    Then I skimmed the thread, and upon seeing that Dave W. and F. Le Mur had already posted, which would render my need to comment moot.

  33. Pro Libertate | March 29, 2007, 9:06am | #
    One more thing for our older crowd: Is it just me, or does the X-Files theme sound like it was derived from the Green Acres theme?

    I think you should lay off the drugs for a bit… I don’t see any resemblance.

  34. No drugs–I’m not that kind of libertarian.

    It’s the very beginning of Green Acres of which I speak.

  35. Just listed to them both…individually and then overlapped…

    the 1st two notes might be similar…but way off on everything else lol…

    i have a slack job 🙂

  36. Yes, it’s just the beginning. If you keep listening, you’ll soon hear Eva Gabor saying, “Daaaahhling.”

  37. The man has cracked due to alcohol or stress or mental illness (insert all Szaz-related disclaimers here) or whatever

    I would guess hypochondria. I was on a long car interstate trip with a hypochondriac who broke down quite suddenly. Thankfully, I suppose, it was MS allegations and not smallpox. It is really tough to deal with. the worst part is that you cannot guarantee the sufferer that he is not sick.

  38. Regarding the Alpizar incident-

    A guy claims to have a bomb, is wearing a backpack turned around onto the front of his chest, says he’s going to blow himself and everyone else up, then reaches into his backpack against orders of people pointing guns on him and you insinuate that the Air Marshals should NOT have shot him?

    Colored me amazed….

  39. I have worked for this guy before and I can say he is such a genuinely nice guy. So out of character. I would only gues stress and a mental illness. This story hardly broke out of Charlotte news I have heard only rumors until now. However the Navy has done its job to keep this story hush hush. I never heard this story nationally so I predict this will go away in a about a week. No one will remember.

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