WASHINGTON -- Congressional investigators mildly chastised two military labs in Maryland recently after investigators found that corners had been cut in security procedures.
The investigators are currently weighing whether to delve further into how closely the Department of Defense guards its chemical and biological defense technology, said Donna Heivilin, who conducted the investigation for the General Accounting Office.
The GAO, which acts as Congress' investigative wing, discovered that a chemical weapons lab at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County and a biological defense research center at Fort Detrick in Frederick had ignored some requirements that protect sensitive military data.
The study focused on how labs had skirted security requirements.
The 30-day advanced approval process for foreign visitors had been shortened in some instances at the Army's Medical Research and Development Command at Fort Detrick, according to the GAO.
And at the Chemical Research, Development and Engineering Center at Aberdeen, the GAO examined how classified records were logged, and found some in disarray, the report said.
Congressional sources criticized the study, describing it as a superficial treatment of an increasingly volatile defense issue.
But the GAO stands by its Aug. 7 report.
"We didn't find anything of tremendous importance," Heivilin said. But she added that the GAO was nearing a decision about whether to investigate further.
The findings describe two 1990 instances when a Belgian researcher and a team of six Israeli scientists were allowed access to the Fort Detrick lab without proper approval. The lab helps develop vaccines and protective devices to counter biological warfare.
The Defense Department has downplayed the visits as unforeseeable last-minute trips by visiting specialists from countries who do not pose a threat to national security.
Critics have charged that the department uses an outdated list of countries that pose security risks. The list reflects cold war arms-race threats rather than the new diplomatic focus on proliferation of mass-destruction armaments, defense watchdogs say.
The glitch discovered at Aberdeen involved a lab contractor, in whose safe the GAO found classified files that had not been properly logged.