The Ranking Member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee warned on a tour of East Africa that security in labs dealing with biological agents there was lax, increasing the risk that the pathogens could fall into the hands of terrorists.
Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) was in Africa this week with a team of Pentagon arms control experts to study security efforts in containing deadly diseases such as ebola and anthrax.
On Friday, Lugar's team inspected three labs in Nairobi, Kenya, that harbored the dangerous viruses and bacteria for diagnostic and research purposes.
“These pathogens can be made into horrible weapons more simply than any dealing with chemical or nuclear devices," Lugar said. "Just one of the deadly viruses I witnessed today could, if in the wrong hands, cause death and economic chaos.”
The team noted virus samples stored in boxes stacked in hallways of the lab. Lugar also noted security lapses such as broken windows and a short wall with a couple of strings of barbed wire attached as all that separated a lab from a slum known as a recruiting ground for al-Qaeda affiliated groups. He posted this and other trip photos on Flickr.
“The threat is very geographically focused because in one instance the population of the slum is literally against the security wall of the laboratory," Lugar said in a statement.
“Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups are active in Africa, and it is imperative that deadly pathogens stored in labs there are secure.”
Lugar's trip has also taken him to Uganda, where he also conducted lab visits, and Burundi, where he visited facilities that destroy conventional weapons.
Nairobi was the site of one of the coordinated 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies, a crime that resulted in Osama bin Laden landing on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list, where he remains today.
Kenya shares a porous border with Somalia, where al-Shabaab militants with ties to al-Qaeda constantly threaten the Kenyan government.