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Biotech Lab in Malaysia Raises Security Concerns, Despite U.S. Connection

4 years ago
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A ProPublica investigation published Tuesday raises concerns about a biotech laboratory being built in Malaysia that will handle deadly pathogens such as anthrax, plague, SARS and the Ebola virus.

The stated mission of lab, developed by the Malaysian government with the Maryland-based firm Emergent BioSolutions, is to produce vaccines against fatal and contagious agents that could be used in terrorist attacks.

But critics worry that the facility could be used for offensive, instead of defensive, purposes in a country that has been tied to several terrorist plots over the past decade. They question "the security, safety and wisdom of building such bio defense labs in areas where al-Qaida operates," ProPublica reported:
"The question for (U.S. officials) is, 'How can we ensure a 'responsible' biotech sector in places like Malaysia, which are Muslim and are cranking out capable and well-educated scientists and have the money to build state-of-the-art facilities?' " says Edward Hammond, who used to head the Sunshine Project, which monitors biosecurity efforts. Hammond has long criticized lax U.S. government oversight of facilities handling dangerous bio-agents. He said strategic imperatives have, by and large, trumped security concerns about new overseas labs.
Supporters note that Malaysia is making efforts to be vigilant against terrorism and that building such a lab with an American partner allows the U.S. government "to have some measure of influence and control on foreign 'biodefense efforts."

Reporters Bob Coen and Eric Nadler conclude that the risks and benefits of the lab are hard to weigh "until the (U.S) government lifts some of the limits imposed by trade laws and national security rules."

Read the full ProPublica report here.
Filed Under: Investigations, Terror
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