- The Washington Times - Monday, December 24, 2001

FREDERICK, Md. Accounting for deadly microbes in the Army's germ-warfare defense laboratory at Fort Detrick was lax during much of the 1990s, said some former scientists at the post.
Supervisors often did not check whether researchers were keeping track of lab materials as required. When they did, some researchers gave them photocopies of old reports, said Richard Crosland, who was laid off in 1997 from the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick.
Others said that while it would have been nearly impossible for an unauthorized person to enter a restricted area, nothing would have prevented approved workers from removing deadly germs from the labs.
"As far as carrying anything out, microorganisms are small," said Luann Battersby, a biologist who left the research institute voluntarily in 1998 after eight years. "The problem would be getting in, not getting out."
Fort Detrick spokesman Charles Dasey said inventory control had been re-emphasized since the recent anthrax mailings, which focused attention on the institute as a potential source of the bacteria.
Mr. Dasey also said Fort Detrick's security staff conducts random exit searches and has video cameras trained on important laboratory areas. Miss Battersby said those measures did not exist when she worked there.
The Army said it had accounted for all the Ames anthrax the strain found in letters mailed to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat that the research institute produced.
Yet the scientists, none of whom worked with anthrax, said it would have been easy to walk out with a few cells in a petri dish or smeared on their clothing that then could be grown and processed.
"No matter what you do, there is not any way you can prevent a determined, skillful microbiologist from stealing traces of a microbial culture that he is working with, because it takes so few microbes to start a culture," said Mark Wheelis, a microbiologist at the University of California in Davis who serves on a biological-weapons committee of the Federation of American Scientists.
Mr. Wheelis said labs that work with toxic microbes historically have limited access to those with security clearance, but have paid scant attention to what goes out the door.
"Bioterrorism wasn't a major issue until a few years ago," Mr. Wheelis said. "Nobody was thinking that one of these respected, trusted scientists might actually steal one of the cultures with malevolent intent."
Mr. Crosland, 55, who was suing the Army for age discrimination stemming from his 1997 layoff, said the Army's disinterest in tracking the botulinum toxin with which he worked was typical of what he observed during more than a decade at the research institute.
"There was never an audit in the 11 years I was there as to what was in my laboratory and what was supposed to be there," Mr. Crosland said. "They never tried to balance what was brought into the institution against what was actually in the institution."

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