A Department of Defense study identified insider threats as one of the most grave concerns for military biolabs.
The assessment, which came from a study by the military's Defense Science Board, did not target the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.
But the finding indirectly supported the FBI case identifying USAMRIID researcher Bruce Ivins as the suspect in the 2001 anthrax mailings that killed five and injured 17.
In the year since the FBI laid out its case, the Department of Defense has completed two major reviews of government lab safety, security and operations.
In August 2008, the Secretary of the Army formed a task force on biosurety. The task force requested the study by the Defense Science Board, an advisory committee to the secretary of defense, to examine lab safety and security policies.
The Defense Health Board, another advisory board to the Pentagon, performed the other study requested by the task force. It looked at the need for biodefense labs and whether they were contributing a return on investment.
The study found military biodefense facilities such as USAMRIID were necessary, especially for response to bioterrorist events. But the report found challenges in transferring research into products people could use and no real system to measure a return on the government's investment in research programs.
Neither study focused on any one government lab. They also stayed clear of directly addressing the evidence the Department of Justice has used to establish Ivins as the sole suspect in the anthrax attacks.
Despite increased focus this past year, research at USAMRIID was suspended in February while employees recovered more than 9,200 samples of unrecorded disease samples. Inventory at the institute is now at 100 percent, but officials could not guarantee any of the samples were not improperly removed.
Caree Vander Linden, spokeswoman for USAMRIID, said the recommendations from the Defense Science Board report for biolab safety and security are being acted upon.
The top recommendation was guarding against a security breach of computers that control access to the lab's environmental systems' computers, which keep pathogens contained.
"USAMRIID's cybersecurity has been assessed and the results of that assessment are being acted on," Vander Linden said in an e-mail.
The 93-page report also recommends monitoring of personnel through video cameras and a two-person rule in the lab.
The report recommends managers review video footage of each lab worker at least once a month and keep all video footage for a year.
"USAMRIID uses an extensive video monitoring system and a two-person rule during specifically defined procedures," Vander Linden wrote. "USAMRIID, through various means, meets routinely with laboratory personnel to discuss standards and obligations."
Cameras were installed in USAMRIID laboratories between 2002 and 2008, Vander Linden said.
The report encourages the continued use of the Biological Personnel Reliability Program, which certifies people to work with dangerous diseases known as biological select agents.
The program includes background checks, drug testing and frequent interviews. Increased video monitoring and interviews were recommended to bolster the program.
Less than 0.1 percent of people screened under the program fail, according to the report.
The report acknowledges the lack of any reliable psychological tests measuring mental and emotional health.
Ivins shared through e-mails to friends that he suffered from depression. A counselor said Ivins revealed violent thoughts during a session. He also admitted to some bizarre behavior such as driving long distances to anonymously mail packages.
The defense report states that emotional monitoring increases intrusion, which could lead to the best researchers leaving the Department of Defense for jobs in the private sector.
Last December, Fort Detrick scientists who work with dangerous pathogens were given additional training on securing their labs and the samples they work with.
Vander Linden said the institute undergoes an annual security assessment.
In September 2008, the Government Accountability Office released a 10-month study on perimeter security for the nation's five biosafety level 4 labs, where the most dangerous pathogens are handled. USAMRIID contains a BSL-4 lab.
The GAO study report did not match its assessments with specific lab names.
2008 GOVERNMENT LAB SAFETY AND SECURITY REVIEWS
- Defense Health Board report on lab necessity and performance: http://www.health.mil/dhb/recommendations/2009/2009-01.pdf
- Defense Science Board report on lab safety and operations: http://www.acq.osd.mil/dsb/reports/2009-05-Bio_Safety.pdf
- Government Accountability report on perimeter security: http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-08-1092