CDC's near miss another case of shoddy security

July 15, 2014 

There are times when the familiar tongue-in-cheek expression "close enough for government work" really isn't all that funny.

It wasn't particularly funny in the context of jaw-dropping security lapses at Air Force installations that handle thermonuclear weapons. And it isn't any funnier in the context of basic safety and sanitation breakdowns at a Georgia-based federal medical research installation that has the words "Disease Control and Prevention" in its very name.

As you no doubt know, a congressional committee is looking into procedures at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, where the handling of deadly bioterrorism agents like anthrax has been exposed as so shoddy and careless as to boggle the mind.

Now a new probe, this one by the Department of Agriculture, has found evidence that not only were dozens of CDC workers potentially exposed to anthrax, but that some of them weren't even examined for five full days. Though anthrax is not communicable through casual contact, the delay in checking the health status of workers who might have been directly exposed to anthrax bacteria is inexcusable.

CDC guidelines require that anthrax and other such biohazards be destroyed before they are sent to other labs for other tests. In this case, disinfectants and sterilizing agents for containers used to store and transport the materials were expired. Among those containers, according to the report, were two Ziploc bags -- dependable enough for keeping a sandwich fresh for a few hours, but hardly an appropriate medium for transferring potentially deadly biotoxins.

And even in some instances when basic safety procedures were followed, common-sense security precautions weren't. Case in point: Anthax was stored in refrigerators -- unlocked ones, in an unrestricted hall. In one case, the report noted, a refrigerator had a lock with the key in it.

It was funny when, years after the successful conclusion of his harrowing flight, John Glenn joked that he had ridden into space and back in a machine built by low bidders on government contracts. No CDC workers have gotten sick, so maybe someday this scary lapse will be funny, too. Right now, nobody's laughing.

Testing the pool

Many lawyers now routinely scan social media and other Internet sites for information about potential jurors. The American Bar Association says it's perfectly ethical, and it's hard to argue otherwise.

There is no more "public" record than the information we voluntarily provide about ourselves online. As one Georgia attorney told the Associated Press, many people named in jury pools have used social media to share feelings or opinions about issues relevant to a case, or even about the case itself.

If it's there for everybody else in the world to see …

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