Feds warn of suspicious activity at hospitals

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently issued a special bulletin that warns of an increase in suspicious activity at hospitals.

DHS warns the impostors may be terrorists and "U.S. hospitals offer easy public access and would be recognized by terrorist planners as easy, accessible targets. Known targeting of such facilities would instill great panic and fear in the general public."

The DHS bulletin outlines these recent incidents:

  • In October 2004, two hospitals in the Phoenix metropolitan area reported suspicious activity, including photography, requests of building layout, inquiries regarding the location of the pharmacy, and computer fraud.
  • Three men inquired as to the location of the pharmacy at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix. These men previously had visited hospitals in Texas and Indiana. All three hospitals are distribution points for the antidote medicines for biological attacks.
  • On Feb. 7, 2005, at approximately 10 a.m., two individuals who identified themselves as special agents representing the Department of Defense and the CIA entered the emergency department at Middletown Regional Hospital, NY. The subjects requested to see the charge nurse and presented identification badges. They asked the nurse a series of questions concerning capacity for cardiac care, trauma care, heliport, and private rooms. As the hospital staff’s suspicion of the subjects increased, they left the building. The hospital staff did collect a business card from one of the subjects, and it appears to be fraudulent.

Repeated visits at one hospital

The DHS bulletin notes that on March 27, 2005, a New Jersey hospital experienced its fourth separate incident in a six-week period. "Three male subjects in their 30s and 40s, possibly of Middle Eastern descent, spoke fluent, unaccented English and presented themselves as physicians from" the Joint Commission, the DHS bulletin explains.

In addition, an advisory prepared by the New Jersey Office of Counter-Terrorism and disseminated to law enforcement agencies and select health care providers by the Office of Counter-Terrorism, Office of the Attorney General, Department of Law and Public Safety, states, "counterterrorism analysts remain concerned that terrorist organizations may attempt to target U.S. medical infrastructure in order to cause immediate casualties and disrupt health care and emergency medical services."

This is an excerpt from the advisory:

Feb. 26, 2005, at approximately 3 a.m., a Caucasian man and Caucasian woman posing as JCAHO surveyors arrived at a Los Angeles hospital.

The man is described as mid-30s, dark hair, approximately 6-feet tall, and dressed professionally. The woman, also in her mid-30s, has dark reddish hair. A security guard at the hospital believed he saw the two individuals wearing badges similar to those used by genuine JCAHO surveyors. The impostors exited after they were stopped by hospital security.

In the second incident, on March 3, 2005, at 3 a.m., a man described as 35-40 years old, of South Asian descent, 6-feet tall, and with a short black beard and mustache, demanded to inspect a medical facility in Boston. The man left the premises after being questioned by hospital staff.

In the third incident, in the morning of March 10, 2005, a Caucasian woman described as mid-40s, 5-feet 7-inches tall, 160 pounds, with blonde hair, entered a Detroit hospital through the maternity ward and began wandering around the facility. When hospital staff questioned her, she stated that she was a JCAHO surveyor. After further questioning, she fled the premises.

Suspicious events have occurred in the past year at New Jersey medical facilities that appear unrelated to the three incidents described in this advisory.

These suspicious events have included irregular inquiries, incidents of surveillance, and suspicious employees and patients. In particular, on March 11, 2004, an adult male of Middle Eastern appearance entered the emergency department of Warren Hospital in Phillipsburg Township at approximately 4 a.m. and directed several atypical and evidently prepared questions to the duty nurse relating to the hospital’s bed capacity and the means by which care is delivered to patients.