News » Current Events

Plant germlab below (please)

Greg Harman

Reminded of what a friend and fellow critic of Homeland's Plum Island bioterror lab relocation project told me a year ago: "If it is built, it needs to be built underground."

He - and I - support the need for this research (that of it we are allowed to know about) but worry about the explosion of biological agents in labs and campuses across the country. I have deep reservations about the lack of debate or intellectual curiosity shown by Texas' political leaders in our quest to land this germ lab as if it were an assembly line employer with a golden-egg-shaped pucker.

If and when Plum is converted to the N-BAF, a likely $600-million above-ground bunker handling some of the most dangerous diseases known â?? including a handful with no known cure that freely pass between both human and non-human animals (yes, you're one too!) â?? it needs to be buried.

A reminder of just why this work needs be subterranean comes from the Hartford Courant's editors this week.

The arrest of a U.S.-educated Pakistani woman underscores why concern for security â?? not politics â?? should be key in choosing the site of a proposed $451 million National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility.

Aafia Siddiqui, who holds a biology degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is suspected of being an al-Qaida associate and of helping potential terrorists enter the United States. Authorities say she vanished in Pakistan in 2003, then resurfaced in Afghanistan, where she was detained in July.

Ms. Siddiqui is accused of grabbing a soldier's rifle and trying to kill Army officers and FBI agents during an interrogation. She is charged with attempted murder.

A criminal complaint says that Ms. Siddiqui was carrying a "wish list" when she was apprehended. The handwritten document refers to a "mass casualty attack" and names several American landmarks for destruction, including Plum Island, the federal government's 24-acre biological research complex off Long Island in the Sound. Other alleged targets include the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street and the Brooklyn Bridge.

Ms. Siddiqui has not been charged with terrorism. Homeland security officials apparently found no evidence of a credible plot.

Still, Plum Island's appearance on the list is unnerving. Tens of millions of Connecticut and New York residents live within an easy drive of Long Island Sound.

The new biodefense facility will be conducting research on some of the most virulent threats facing mankind â?? including some that are incurable. Public safety should be a paramount concern.

So far, homeland security officials seem inclined to let political concerns intrude as well. This summer, officials announced the selection of a site in Flora, Miss.

The decision went against the recommendations of the agency's own staff. Flora was ranked near the bottom of a list of 17 locations around the country. But Mississippi happens to be the home state of Rep. Bernie Thompson, a powerful Democratic chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Sen. Thad Cochran, a top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The proposed National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility will house leading research on bioterrorism for the next half-century. Ms. Siddiqui's case is a powerful reminder that the decision-making about this facility should inspire Americans' highest confidence.

Support Local Journalism.
Join the San Antonio Current Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the San Antonio Press Club for as little as $5 a month.