Pentagon and congressional officials who toured a Kenyan medical
laboratory are concerned that terrorist groups could get their hands
on disease samples stored there.
On one side of the 7-foot brick wall, topped with rusting barbed
wire and a four-strand electric fence, lies Africa's largest slum -
a barely policed square mile of tin-roofed shacks that is home to
On the other is Kenya's premier medical research laboratory,
where samples of diseases considered among the biggest threats to
humanity - including plague, anthrax, and Ebola - are studied and
But not stored safely enough, according to a team of senior
Pentagon and congressional officials who visited the facility Friday
during an East Africa tour focused on the increasing threat of
Defense analysts are concerned that security in the region's
laboratories is too weak to withstand the threat from regional
terror groups, including Al Qaeda, which are hunting for ingredients
for biological weapons.
It's a "potentially disastrous predicament," said Sen. Richard
Lugar (R) of Indiana, the ranking minority leader of the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee, who led the delegation.
He should know. Senator Lugar, along with former Sen. Sam Nunn
(D) of Georgia, spearheaded US-funded efforts to find and destroy or
decommission nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons in the former
Soviet Union after its collapse in 1991.
There, he said in an interview with the Monitor, "We saw the
production of biological weapons, we saw how pathogens were
developed into ways that could kill tens of millions of people."
Why East Africa has become a focus
East Africa was high on the list for the post-Soviet focus of the
Nunn-Lugar Program "because of the nexus between active terrorist
groups, ungoverned spaces, and human and animal health laboratories
working on endemic diseases, some of which are rare and exotic,"
said Andy Weber, assistant to Defense Secretary Robert Gates for
nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs, who was part of
the US delegation that visited Uganda and Burundi en route to Kenya.
"We want to make sure that the pathogens that could be used by
used terrorists are better secured and that there's an enhanced
capability to monitor infectious disease outbreaks," added Mr.
But scientists caution that medical laboratories aren't the only
sources of raw material for potential bioterrorists.
These diseases are already prevalent in the region - that's why
they are being studied, points out Gigi Kwik Gronvall, senior
associate at the UPMC Centre for Biosecurity in Pittsburgh, Pa.
"You shouldn't make it easy to find this stuff, but if you really
want it, there are plenty of places to get it," she says, cautioning
that it also takes some expertise to use disease samples as a tool
to harm others. …