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Low-level Alert: Airborne Documents

Several hundred pages of “sensitive” government documents were strewn about outside the Rayburn House Office Building on Independence Avenue Monday evening, slipping under taxis and fluttering in the exhaust of commuter buses. 

The papers appeared to be part of a report detailing the government’s response to a “dirty bomb” attack. Each page was labeled at the top and bottom: “For official use only. This is sensitive government information and distribution is restricted.” 

A printed e-mail found among the documents suggested they originated with the Department of Health and Human Services and may have been part of a large-scale terrorism response exercise known as Top Officials, or TOPOFF, being conducted this week. HHS headquarters is located just a couple of blocks down the street. 

The e-mail detailed discussions among employees at HHS’s general counsel’s office.
“You should be receiving shortly an agenda and materials for the 2 p.m. meeting in preparation for TOPOFF,” one employee wrote to others. 

At HHS, spokesman Bill Hall confirmed that the papers were most likely a government playbook for handling radiological dispersal devices, or dirty bombs. He denied they were sensitive.
“F.O.U.O. — for official use only. 

That’s not classified,” he said. “We put that on a lot of internal documents. It means don’t send it out to anybody who shouldn’t have it, but it’s not classified or sensitive.” 

Hall said the department planned to make the dirty bomb playbook public later on its website.
“I couldn’t tell you who had them or what they were doing with them, whether it was someone catching a cab or walking to Union Station to catch the Metro,” he said.