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Tuesday, 22 January, 2002, 12:10 GMT
Alarm over US lab security
Anthrax inspectors on Capitol Hill get hosed down
The findings will add to US fears over anthrax
By the BBC's Michael Buchanan in Washington

An inquiry into allegations of lax security at the American army's main biological warfare research centre has found evidence that more than two dozen potentially dangerous samples went missing.

The lost specimens include the microbe that causes anthrax and the ebola virus.

The discoveries, which have only now come to light, were made by army investigators ten years ago.

The Hart Senate building which was closed for three months because of contamination
Some Senate offices were closed for decontamination

They come as US law enforcement agencies struggle to solve a series of anthrax attacks that killed five people last year.

As the inquiry into the anthrax killings appears to be making little headway, these revelations add weight to an increasingly popular theory - that last year's attacks were carried out by a current or former scientist at the army's bio-warfare research centre in Maryland.

'Unauthorised research'

Army investigators discovered that 27 potentially dangerous samples were missing from the lab, and that unauthorised anthrax research was taking place at weekends and evenings in February 1992.

A probe was launched to find the missing specimens.

One batch was found in a laboratory along with portions of others but the whereabouts of most is still unknown.

People who worked at the centre at the time said there was little or no organisation or accountability at the laboratory, and that it would have been easy for an employee to take away a few samples.

Congress has since imposed strict security measures on the research of dangerous microbes.

But with the authorities expected to raise the reward this week for information leading to the conviction of the anthrax attacker, these revelations could not have come at a worse time.

See also:

19 Dec 01 | Americas
US offers anthrax vaccine
01 Dec 01 | Americas
Anthrax clean-up in senator's office
15 Oct 01 | Health
Q&A: Anthrax infection
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