Facebook evacuates buildings following nerve agent scare

It was the thought to be the same toxin used on the citizens of Douma

Facebook icon displayed on a smartphone before a screen with the full logo

Facebook evacuated four nearby buildings on Monday after its mail room detected the deadly nerve agent sarin on a package delivered to the company.

Two Facebook staffers were inspected by fire marshalls who attended the scene for possible exposure to the nerve agent but after an examination, they weren't showing symptoms of exposure.

"The [Facebook] facility tests all of the packages that come in and they had a positive test, so they just initiated their standard protocol. Now we're just waiting to verify whether that's true or not," said Jon Johnston, fire marshal for the city of Menlo Park, California.

The package was detected at around 11 am PDT (6 pm BST) and fire marshalls prepared to enter the building shortly after. Due to the dangerous nature of the scare, agents from the San Francisco branch of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) were called to the scene also.

In the moments following the scare, officials were waiting on the results of formal identification of the substance from authorities but Facebook spokesperson Anthony Harrison confirmed to IT Pro that the results came back negative for any dangerous substances.

"At approximately 11:00 AM PDT on July 1, 2019, mail delivered to one of our mail rooms in Menlo Park was deemed suspicious," said Harrison. "As part of Facebook's routine mail security screening process, we identified a potentially dangerous substance. Out of an abundance of caution, we evacuated four nearby buildings and began a thorough investigation in coordination with local authorities.

"Authorities have confirmed test results were negative for any potentially dangerous substance and the buildings have been cleared for repopulation," he added. "Our rigorous security and safety procedures worked as intended to limit exposure and keep our people safe."

Sarin gas is a highly dangerous nerve agent, estimated to be 26 times deadlier than cyanide, that's been outlawed for more than twenty years by the Chemical Weapons Convention but cases of its alleged use still crop up from time-to-time.

Most recently, Syrian tyrant Bashar al-Assad was accused of ordering a helicopter to drop a barrel of the toxin on the Syrian town of Douma last year which killed 70 people and injured hundreds more.

The mail room scare is Facebook's second physical attack threat in the space of a year; back in December 2018 Menlo Park police department was called to a company building after a bomb threat was phoned in. After a bomb unit inspected, it also turned out to be harmless.

Other tech companies haven't got off so lightly in recent history, though. In April 2018, a woman who had previously complained to YouTube after the company suppressed her videos stormed the company's headquarters with a pistol, injuring three staffers.

The recent spate of attacks calls into question attitudes towards tech companies and why, after years of existence, they are becoming some of the most prominent targets for physical attacks.

We don't know the minutiae of the Facebook attacks and to what extent the threats were legitimate, but people could plan these attacks for any number of reasons. From the relatively harmless pranks aimed at the simple disruption to outright terrorism with chemical attacks, as tech companies gain a firmer hold on the society they become bigger targets for attacks.

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