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Security Problems Found at Two Biodefense Labs


A potential terrorist would face few obstacles to infiltrating two high-security U.S. laboratories cleared to work with lethal biological agents, congressional investigators said in a report released today (see GSN, Aug. 22).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed the Biosafety Level 4 sites, which are not named in the Government Accountability Office report but were identified today in an Associated Press article.

The Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research in San Antonio, Texas, was considered the most vulnerable site. Personnel at the privately operated site work with disease materials in a room that has a window directly to the outside of the building.

Investigators also described the deployment of surveillance cameras, intruder detectors and armed guards at visible entrances as inadequate. Depending on an outside contractor to watch the detection systems and notify police of security breaches could slow response times, the report says.

"We already have an initiative under way to look at perimeter security," said laboratory head Kenneth Trevett. "We're waiting for additional input but we're not waiting long. The GAO would like us to do some fairly significant things. They would like us to do it sooner rather than later."

The other vulnerable facility, an Atlanta laboratory managed by Georgia State University, was not fully walled off and had other security vulnerabilities. Congressional auditors said they watched an unknown person enter the building through its unmonitored shipping gate.

"Georgia State clearly wants its BSL-4 to be as safe as possible," university Assistant Vice President DeAnna Hines said, without acknowledging that the Georgia State site was singled out in the GAO report. "We are already taking steps that will enhance the lab's safety and security standards."

The report notes that robust security measures are in place at the three other U.S. laboratories cleared to work with the deadliest pathogens: CDC headquarters in Atlanta (see GSN, May 16); the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md.; and the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (Larry Margasak, Associated Press/Google News, Oct. 16).