BG NBACC - DG (copy)

The National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center at Fort Detrick.

A Fort Detrick laboratory slated for closure has processed about 14,000 pieces of evidence in criminal investigations involving biological threats such as ricin and anthrax, the FBI confirmed this week.

And it’s the only laboratory in the country that can do this special brand of investigation and analysis.

“The capabilities offered at the NBFAC [National Bioforensic Analysis Center] are unique and unparalleled,” FBI spokesman Matthew Bertron said in a written response to questions from The Frederick News-Post. “No alternative facility is available to support the FBI with this mission.”

Bertron said the FBI relies exclusively on the NBFAC to provide 24-hour forensic analysis on biological threat investigations.

The NBFAC is one of two parts of the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center, a Department of Homeland Security laboratory at Fort Detrick. The other component is the National Biological Threat Characterization Center (NBTCC), which aims to understand the science of biological threats.

Last week, NBACC was notified that the Department of Homeland Security intends to shutter the facility by September 2018; all scientific research should end by March 2018, NBACC communications director Brian Gaudet confirmed.

Bertron did not address whether the FBI was consulted about the lab’s pending closure.

The 14,000 items of evidence have been processed at NBFAC since 2004, Bertron said. (For the first few years of its existence, the NBACC program conducted research without a dedicated Department of Homeland Security-owned facility through partnerships with other federal and private institutions.)

Bertron said the FBI has established a team of examiners at NBFAC, which is uniquely suited to do forensic analysis — including of fingerprints and DNA — on potentially contaminated evidence.

The laboratory generally doesn’t confirm investigations, but their analyses become clear in federal court filings from time to time. At a time when the television show “Breaking Bad” inspired homemade ricin recipes, NBFAC was involved in testing suspected ricin in cases from Texas, Wisconsin and, closer to home, D.C., where a Georgetown University student prepared the biological toxin in his dorm room, according to court filings.

The laboratory does not have a separate line item in the federal budget. It is funded by the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate, and a portion of its funding comes from the FBI.

The Battelle National Biodefense Institute, or BNBI, manages NBACC for the Department of Homeland Security.

The 160,000-square-foot facility holds a BSL-4 high-security research laboratory, where scientists handle some of the world’s most dangerous agents, including Ebola and anthrax, and conduct research on pathogens for which no vaccine or treatment exists, according to its website.

NBACC has about 51,927 square feet of total lab space, including BSL-2, BSL-3 and BSL-4 work areas.

About 180 people work there.

BNBI will reverse-engineer a shutdown timeline based on the projected closing date, if the cuts remain in the federal budget, Gaudet said previously.

Maryland’s senators and Congressman John Delaney, D-6th, have said they will push back against the proposed closure during the federal budget process.

The cut to NBACC could reflect shifting homeland security priorities under the Trump administration — in particular, the president’s call for a barrier along the border with Mexico increased border security. Overall, the Homeland Security budget increased 6.8 percent in President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget request.

John S. Verrico, the chief of media relations at the Science and Technology Directorate within the Department of Homeland Security, said the president’s proposed budget “provides funding to sustain and strengthen the most critical programs and capabilities in each of DHS’s mission areas — securing and managing our borders, enforcing and administering our immigration laws, preventing terrorism and enhancing security, safeguarding and securing cyberspace, and strengthening national preparedness and resilience.”

To maximize limited research and development funding, he said, the department has prioritized its work to focus on the department’s “highest priority needs.”

“Instead of taking reductions across S&T, we have proposed cutting certain S&T programs, projects and activities in their entirety to better support the Department’s and Administration’s priorities,” Verrico said.

Follow Danielle E. Gaines on Twitter: @danielleegaines.

Danielle E. Gaines covers politics and government in Frederick County, splitting her time between Winchester Hall and The State House. Having grown up in Illinois, she lived in New York and California before settling in Maryland.

(20) comments

Karen Howard

Trump is motivated by revenge. The FBI is investigating him, so he is going to make it difficult for the FBI to do their job.


"BNBI will reverse-engineer a shutdown timeline based on the projected closing date..." I'm currently reverse-engineering my weekend schedule based on having to go to work on Monday. I never knew I did so much reverse-engineering.


Make America Great Again, Impeach Trump!


Make no mistake about it, this is bad, only a nitwit would do this to our country. Just how many of you working there voted for this nitwit?


Republicans want to build a walls, coal mines and prisons while our adversaries are building an army of bio chemist, physicists, engineers and mathematics to overtake us as global power. And why do taxpayers have to continually fund NCI for decades instead of a
RFP to develop an effective treatment or cure for cancer.


Protecting our borders.....a wall will block airborne agents - which is where terrorism is really heading. The top three reasons the U.S.A. will see the end of days is 1) nuclear attack from Russia - and who knows how this teenage on again/off again relationship will end 2) biological terrorist attack - we are giving up our defense on this front and
3) global warming - but the whole planet will suffer, not just us. But being in the same futuristic box with Syria and Nicaragua certainly comes as a relief.


Thank the local politicians who supported Trump. The county must prepare now for Ft. Detericks closing because the base has no real essential mission.


Hello, Fort Detrick is in no danger of closing. Half of it is The National Cancer Institute, and the army, navy, USDA, and NIH facilities are state of the art and not in any danger of closing. This is just one building of over 100 that we are talking about.


This is not just one building at all. State of the art NIH research labs and National Cancer Institutes also receive massive cuts in the Trump budget. Per the May 23 Washington Post: "Trump budget seeks huge cuts to science and medical research, disease prevention" The National Cancer Institute would be hit with a $1 billion cut compared to its 2017 budget. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute would see a $575 million cut, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases would see a reduction of $838 million. The administration would cut the overall National Institutes of Health budget from $31.8 billion to $26 billion.


And people will die all because we elected a nitwit as POTUS.


Change the channel Dick, Joe Scarborough might think he's engaged to you instead of Mika. And people die all the time some just sooner than others.


Yes, they may get cuts, but they are in no danger of closing.


Tea, I did change channels, I no longer watch Faux News, you should try the same.


A Trump supporter! :(


What are they going to do with that building, which cost something like $200 million dollars?


My guess is it will get transferred to USAMRIID, along with the mission. There are only a handful of BSL4 labs in the country, I don't think it will stay vacant.


The problem with that scenario is there will be a multi-year procurement process to identify and secure a contractor to run the lab under any new federal agency. The globally-drafted scientific dream team that has been painstakingly assembled at NBACC is already being recruited by other labs around the world and resumes are flying. The brains behind the science are even more important than the lab itself.


Another problem with that scenario is that USAMRIID is almost finished building an even bigger and fancier building and has its own financial issues and growing pains.


Maybe Trump can make it a Hotel and Golf Resort and MAGA.


this is a big mistake

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