- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 7, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Using a fake company, congressional investigators were able to buy off the Internet excess Pentagon lab equipment and protective gear that terrorists could use to make chemical and biological weapons, the investigators told a House hearing Tuesday.

Fellow shoppers on the Internet site also resold the items to buyers in the Philippines, Malaysia, Egypt, and other countries, the General Accounting Office said in a report to the House Government Reform’s national security subcommittee.

“Public sales of these Department of Defense excess items increase the risk that terrorists could obtain and use them to produce and deliver biological agents within the United States,” the report said.

Gregory Kutz, the GAO’s director for financial management and assurance, said that, using a fictitious company, they were able to buy $4,100 worth of items, including a biological safety cabinet, a bacteriological incubator, a centrifuge, an evaporator and chemical and biological protective suits and related gear.

He said the original acquisition value of the items purchased was $46,960.

“DOD should not be a discount outlet for bioterrorism equipment,” said Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican, chairman of the panel.

The Customs Bureau in the Homeland Security Department monitors sales and exports of certain biological equipment, including the items purchased by the GAO, but sales to the public are legal.

The Pentagon in January stopped sales of protective gear, but the GAO found that about 4,000 suits, and 26,000 other items such as gloves and hoods, were sold after that date.

Mr. Kutz said that in the past 3 years the Pentagon sold at least 18 safety cabinets, 199 incubators, 521 centrifuges, 65 evaporators and 286,000 protective suits.

“We were surprised at what we could buy,” said Keith Rhodes, the GAO’s chief technologist.

Mr. Shays noted that his panel last year heard GAO testimony that new protective gear was being sold cheaply on the Internet as surplus while military units were trying to purchase the same equipment at far higher prices, and some military units and first responders were receiving defective equipment.

The report acknowledged that some of the equipment is also available from other sources, such as medical industry suppliers, but that, coupled with lax inventory management of toxic materials at some federal labs, there is increased risk that a terrorist could use the equipment to produce a biological warfare agent such as crude anthrax.

It recommended an interagency risk assessment of the equipment sales and steps by the Pentagon to ensure that the protective suits are not available to the public.

Frederick Baille, executive director for distribution and reutilization policy for the Defense Logistics Agency, said the Pentagon concurs with the GAO recommendations and that the Internet contractor was returning all protective suits.

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