Source: New York Times Editorial

Porous Defenses

Congressional investigators have found alarming weaknesses in security procedures at two top laboratories that work with the world’s most dangerous biological agents and diseases. As the country races to open more labs to develop vaccines and treatments for exotic diseases and potential biological weapons, the government clearly has a lot more work to do to ensure that dangerous materials cannot fall into terrorists’ hands. 
The Government Accountability Office evaluated perimeter security at all five of the country’s so-called Biosafety Level 4 facilities. These are the only labs allowed to work with pathogens for which there is no cure or treatment, such as the Ebola virus and smallpox. 
Three of the labs had all or nearly all of the 15 security controls that the G.A.O. deemed important. The other two — one reportedly operated by the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research in San Antonio, the other by Georgia State Universityin Atlanta — lacked the vast majority of the recommended controls.
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which regulates the facilities, contends that security differences stem from the different level of risk at each site, the defects identified are hard to defend. 
Neither lab had a command and control center to monitor alarms and cameras and coordinate a response if security is breached. Also missing were barriers to keep vehicles from approaching, buffer zones, camera coverage of exterior entrances, intrusion detectors, closed-circuit television monitors and magnetometers and X-ray machines to screen visitors and packages. One had an exterior window that could provide direct access to the lab. At the other, investigators saw a pedestrian enter through an unguarded loading dock. 
This also makes us wonder how well the laboratories are carrying out internal security measures, such as limiting access to sensitive rooms and equipment, maintaining accurate inventory records, and screening and training personnel. Even the Army’s own bioterrorism lab at Fort Detrick, Md., has suffered a shocking internal security failure, if the Federal Bureau of Investigation is right that a bioterrorism scientist there perpetrated the deadly anthrax attacks in 2001. 
Leaders of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce are pressing the C.D.C. to identify all security shortcomings at the Level 4 laboratories, rectify the problems and establish minimum standards before any more of the labs are opened around the country. There is certainly no time to waste. Seven years after 9/11 and the anthrax attacks, we find such lax security impossible to justify and deeply disturbing.

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