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GAO: Pentagon sold biolab gear

From Chris Plante
CNN Washington Bureau

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Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service
General Accounting Office
Biological Warfare

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Defense Department sold equipment to the public that can be used for making biological warfare agents, according to a draft report by the General Accounting Office.

The Defense Department agency responsible for the sale of excess property to the public, the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service, halted the sale of such items September 19 while the practice is reviewed.

"Many items needed to establish a laboratory for making biological warfare agents were being sold on the Internet to the public from DoD's excess property inventory for pennies on the dollar, making them both easy and economical to obtain," the GAO draft report said.

"As requested, GAO established a fictitious company and purchased over the Internet key excess DoD biological equipment items and related protective clothing necessary to produce and disseminate biological warfare agents."

The GAO is the investigative arm of Congress.

A congressional source said the GAO front corporation was able to buy evaporator, incubator and centrifuge equipment that can be used to produce biological warfare agents.

It also bought 300 to 400 protective suits required for the production of biological agents, the source said.

The fictitious GAO company spent "a little over $4,000" for equipment that the Defense Department originally bought for some $46,000, according to the source and the report.

"That's less than 10 cents on the dollar," the source said.

Much if not all of the equipment sold to GAO investigators is available to the public at full price on the open market, the source said, but "we certainly don't need DoD to be a discount shop for potential bioterrorists."

He conceded that "only nominal controls" are now in place to prevent the sale of such items to the public, but at least those sales are "not with the U.S. government seal of approval [and] for pennies on the dollar."

The GAO investigation was requested by the House Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations, which is a unit of the Government Reform Committee.

"According to the GAO, due to poor controls, there is little assurance excess [chemical-biological] equipment has not already fallen into the wrong hands," a subcommittee statement said.

The statement said some of the protective suits "had previously been identified by DoD as defective," but they "were still circulating in the surplus supply chain."

An unknown number of defective suits were issued to state and local law enforcement agencies before being returned to the Defense Department to be disposed of, according to the statement.

The congressional source said those suits should not have been resold under any circumstances.

The subcommittee will hold a hearing on the matter Tuesday with testimony from Pentagon officials, GAO investigators and a chemical-biological weapons expert.

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