Editor's note: The following column originally appeared in The Washington Times.
Indulge me for a moment with an imaginary scenario: A friend asks you to store his anthrax for a little while. You don’t need several letters after your name to know you’re being asked to do something very, very dangerous. Let’s say you don’t have a real choice and agree to hold onto it.
First things first, you determine what kind of container you need to keep the bacteria truly encased and isolated. It’s either that or use your Ziploc baggies to move it around, but even we regular people know that’s insane. I mean, when a sandwich is in the Ziploc, you can still smell the PB&J. If the smell of PB&J can escape the Ziploc baggie, so can anthrax. So Ziplocs are out; a serious, official container for the horribly lethal bacteria is in.
It also needs to be refrigerated, so you’d get a small fridge and put a lock on it. No-brainer. Who knows, maybe your landlord lets a plumber in — and the last thing you want is an innocent stranger, scouting for a snack, to encounter anthrax in a Ziploc next to the Jell-O pudding and muffins.
Bottom line: The last thing you’d do is put the deadly stuff in an unsecured fridge in a hallway, where anyone could access it. That would be dangerous with a big helping of crazy sauce, right? Right.
Most thoughtful, regular people would painstakingly go through the details of what would be required to safely handle and store one of the world’s most lethal forms of bacteria. It requires common sense, and perhaps a little Internet searching, but you would certainly be careful.
But that’s you. The Centers for Disease Control? They’ve taken the baffling “crazy sauce” approach when it comes to handling these lethal germs. We learned last week that scientists and lab workers at high-security labs at the CDC did every single thing a normal human would not do when dealing with deadly bacteria.
From a very informative congressional hearing, Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported the revelation that the CDC had been warned for years about the “sloppy handling of pathogens.”
The institute’s problem of carelessness apparently isn’t limited to the one unfortunate incident of 80 CDC workers becoming exposed to anthrax after an incautious lab-to-lab transfer.
In fact, New York magazine reported results of a separate audit of the CDC, which found the lab had been “transferring dangerous materials in Ziploc bags, storing anthrax in unlocked refrigerators in an unrestricted hallway, and misplacing anthrax containers.”
How bad is it when “sloppy” is used as a description for CDC labs? Bloomberg asked Richard Ebright, a Rutgers University molecular biologist, who noted, “In the event of a similar incident with one of those biological-weapons agent pathogens, now not only are workers at risk, but the community is at risk as well,” Mr. Ebright said. “And by community, I’m not talking about a neighborhood in Atlanta — I’m talking about a state, a country, a planet.”
Fabulous. Really, who needs ISIS when you’ve got big, careless, incompetent government agencies?
On the same day as the CDC congressional hearing, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had a little announcement of its own.
Remember the six vials of smallpox discovered, after decades sitting in an unused National Institutes of Health cold-storage room? Well, it wasn’t just six vials — it was 12 boxes containing 327 vials, all filled with some of the world’s deadliest germs. The FDA issued a statement describing the discovery of ” carefully packaged vials labeled with names of various biological agents, such as dengue, influenza, Q fever, and rickettsia .”
What worries me are the words “such as,” in that statement, which means the complete list of biological agents found is not being shared with the public. Considering the secrecy and incompetence of the entire Obama administration, I doubt the truth will be forthcoming.
As the Veterans Affairs (VA) crisis became apparent, and with the Internal Revenue Service careening toward criminal recklessness, I told my radio audience that we were seeing the natural and ugly result of big government. The corruption, criminality and incompetence spreading throughout one agency of the federal government was very likely embedded in all of them.
The horrific abuse and corruption at the VA, I warned, would prove to be emblematic of a governmental system-wide failure. No matter how frightening, we must demand answers, confront the problems, and force change on a body that has grown comfortable (and deadly) with its own growing, craven nature.