FBI Told To Track Research Labs

Wednesday, October 3rd 2007, 3:57 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) The government can't identify all the research laboratories across the United States that handle dangerous organisms, creating problems for preventing bioterrorism plots, congressional investigators found.

The government monitors activities inside 409 laboratories approved to work with 72 of the world's deadliest organisms and poisons, including anthrax, bird flu virus, monkeypox and plague-causing bacteria. But less is known about other labs that work with organisms that cause whooping cough, tuberculosis, gonorrhea, meningitis, typhoid fever, hepatitis, herpes, several strains of flu, rabies, HIV and SARS.

In a new report prepared for Congress, the Government Accountability Office said U.S. intelligence agencies, including the FBI, told its investigators they need to track all labs that could be vulnerable to terrorism. The GAO said it could not identify any federal agency responsible for tracking or monitoring all labs.

The GAO's report was expected to be made public during a congressional hearing Thursday.

U.S. intelligence agencies said they already are handicapped by the failure of some foreign countries to regulate the shipment or possession of biological agents.

The Associated Press reported this week that American laboratories handling the world's deadliest germs and toxins have experienced more than 100 accidents and missing shipments since 2003, and the number is increasing as more labs do the work.

No one died, and regulators said the public was never at risk during these incidents. But the documented cases reflect poorly on procedures and oversight at high-security labs. In some cases, labs have failed to report accidents as required by law.

The GAO report disclosed that inspectors for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention visited a high-security lab at Texas A&M University in February 2006, just 13 days after one worker was exposed to Brucella bacteria. Inspectors were not told about the exposure. The worker eventually became seriously ill but recovered.

The CDC has ordered Texas A&M to stop working with any of the most dangerous toxins.