- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 18, 2003

The recent controversy over the Defense Department selling gear on line to literally any takers including possible terrorists that could use the DOD gear to produce biological weapons is a shocking reminder that a historically free and open society has a lot of vulnerabilities to terrorist exploitation and that it will take years and years to fix them all or even to plug the most serious holes.

The Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office (DRMO) out of the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) exists to resell surplus and outdated DOD equipment and indirectly to prevent hoarding and unnecessary warehousing of unneeded materials and equipment. In fact, all military commands are under a DOD edict to give their old and unused material and equipment to DRMO. Military inspectors general (IG) regularly check whether commands are complying with this edict. I have direct experience with DRMO — and the serious IG follow-up — having turned in many old military vehicles, scrap metal and spare parts to the DRMOs in Guam and Mississippi and elsewhere.

Without such an edict and IG follow-up, military units would be like pack rats hoarding piles and piles of unneeded and obsolete gear “just in case” and as a hedge against a procurement system that often takes too long to get new products.

DRMO tries to repair, or recycle and sell what it receives. In the information age that means selling “on line.” There are several hundred military hospitals, health clinics and medical research facilities, not to mention the military facilities engaged in biological weapons research that must follow these edicts to use DRMO with regard to their older and unused gear, which in the case of these type of facilities includes glass beakers, centrifuges, autoclaves and items that in theory could be used to manufacture biological weapons.

None of the items DRMO sells is classified, and all the items it sells can be also had on the commercial market. DRMO’s attractiveness to the general public and industry is that its prices are typically low and they sell in bulk. So would-be terrorists are not getting from DRMO items they could not buy elsewhere, but yes they could be getting it there cheaper and in significant volume. Terrorists getting or potentially getting their materiel from their avowed enemy to use against America is ironic and shocking.

This dilemma is very easily fixed. DRMO could simply prohibit such sales outright or hold such items in a special category and only permit sales to U.S. medical institutions and the like, with all the appropriate vetting. Or they could give the material away to U.S. medical institutions under the same equipment grants program that allows DOD to give its excess desktop computers to public schools.

This is a no-brainer for DOD and though embarrassing to be sure, it is just another reminder we are still reinventing American society in the face of terrorist danger and that the fixes to so numerous and varied vulnerabilities come slowly.

Hank Chase, a retired U.S. Navy commander, is director of homeland security programs for ITS Corp.

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