Lieberman Queries DHS on Insecurity of Plum Island

WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Wednesday requested that the Department of Homeland Security explain its plans for resolving severe bio-security problems at Plum Island Animal Disease Center.

In a letter to Under Secretary Charles E. McQueary, Lieberman said the laboratory – which studies highly contagious animal diseases, some of which, like West Nile Virus, can also affect humans – “represents a potential target for terrorists seeking to obtain these pathogens.” Plum Island – located in Long Island Sound, 12 miles south of New London, Conn. – is designated a bio-safety level 3 agricultural lab.

A recent General Accounting Office report found the lab still had “fundamental problems that leave the facility vulnerable to security breaches.” For example, it did not have adequate equipment in place to detect intruders and had too few security guards to be effective. The Department of Homeland Security agreed with GAO’s assessment and concluded that the “next steps are to develop a step-by-step corrective action report with timelines and actionable items.”

“This dangerous source of potential bio-weapons, located so close to major population centers, must be properly secured from terrorists,” Lieberman said. “Citizens living in the vicinity of the Long Island Sound need to know exactly when and how security problems are going to be fixed.”

“I recognize that DHS has had administrative responsibility over the facility for only a short period of time. Nonetheless, I hope you would agree that it is imperative that the risk associated with this facility be defined and addressed as soon as possible.”

Click below to view a copy of Lieberman’s letter to Dr. Charles E. McQueary, Under Secretary for Science and Technology at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the GAO report on Plumb Island