House lawmakers want answers on anthrax shipments

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Senior members of the House Armed Services Committee are vowing to hold the Defense Department accountable for shipping live anthrax to nearly 70 labs in the U.S. and around the globe.

“We need to take this where the facts lead us. Obviously there’s a significant problem here and we all need to know why,” panel chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said Wednesday during a press conference before the Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittee received a closed-door breifing on the Pentagon’s investigation.

“This is something you’ve got to take really seriously. Something did not go right here. And we all have to find out what did not go right,” he added.

Rep. Jim Langevin (R.I.), the subpanel’s top Democrat, said it’s important to figure out where the breakdown occurred.

“Was this a human failure? Was it some type of systems failure, or some kind of mechanical failure? These are all the tough questions we are asking right now,” Langevin said.

Potentially live samples of anthrax from a military lab in Utah may have shipped live anthrax to 68 facilities in 19 states, plus Washington D.C., and four countries, including the United Kingdom. 

More than 30 civilian and military personnel are taking medical precautions to prevent an infection. 

Thornberry said he hoped it’s “still the case” that no one has fallen ill from exposure to the bacteria.

He also hoped that DOD would release more information about its investigation because it could be “reassuring to the public.” 

Emerging Threats chairman Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) said the Pentagon has briefed several Armed Services members individually about the anthrax distribution but Wednesday’s classified session would be the first time in a formal setting.

He said he planned to ask why such potentially hazardous research couldn’t be done at a central location.

Thornberry said that, as far as he is aware, DOD has taken no disciplinary action yet because the agency is focused on “preventative action to keep any further mishandlings from happening.”

“You don’t mess around with this,” he added. “This is serious business.”

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