Filed at 1:00 p.m. ET
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Investigators reviewing federal
safeguards against terrorism found lax oversight at hundreds
of Agriculture Department laboratories where dangerous viruses
are stored and say the Energy Department failed to closely
track nuclear material sent abroad decades ago.
Department officials acknowledged some problems and said
they have acted on recommendations by the agencies' inspectors
The Agriculture Department review found that even after the
anthrax attacks by mail last year, several agency labs did not
keep accurate records of potentially dangerous biological
agents, had no centralized inventory system and kept vials
In several cases, there were either more or fewer vials on
hand than in inventories, and one facility lost track of a
vial containing 3 billion doses of Vesicular stomatitis virus,
which can cause a flu-like illness in humans as well as fever
and lesions in animals that can lead to malnutrition.
Inspectors, in visits to 124 department labs, found
security at nearly half needed improvement. Labs often had no
alarm systems, security fences or surveillance cameras, and
though lab directors knew they needed upgrades, improvements
were slow due to budget constraints and ``pre-Sept. 11
For example, several high-risk labs did not install fences
even though they had been recommended, the review said.
Labs on college campuses often rely on campus security, and
in these cases, background checks are not always done on
people with access to the labs and their biological agents,
according to the review.
In one case, the report said, locks to a lab had not been
changed in five years, and a lab official said students who
had graduated may not always have turned in their keys.
In its formal response to the findings, the Agriculture
Department said it was working to improve security and
inventory its biological agents. It also said it would
relocate one lab that was in a strip mall; it will take as
long as five years for a permanent replacement, but the
department said ``all pathogens of consequence'' had been
In a separate report, inspectors said the Energy Department
could not account for small amounts of nuclear materials lent
to dozens of foreign countries for nonmilitary uses under a
Cold War-era program.
An effort to track the materials was abandoned in 1984
because of concerns over its usefulness. The report said the
Energy Department should revive that effort.
The department's Office of Security agreed, but its
National Nuclear Security Administration disagreed with the
recommendations, saying the department is not required to
monitor the shipments.
Under the ``Atoms for Peace'' program, 33 countries,
including Iran, Pakistan, Colombia and Malaysia, received
shipments of sealed plutonium for calibrating radiation
measurement and monitoring instruments and for nuclear
research and development.
Since Sept. 11, the International Atomic Energy Agency has
said small amounts of industrial or medical-grade radioactive
material could be mixed with conventional explosives to
fashion ``dirty bombs,'' which terrorists could use to
contaminate cities with radioactivity.
No such attacks have ever been reported.