Trust is shaken after anthrax case

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Trust is shaken after anthrax case

While the MERS outbreak stole the media spotlight, the accidental delivery of live anthrax to a U.S. military base in Korea has remained a mystery in many ways.

It was discovered that a U.S. military laboratory accidentally shipped live anthrax samples to 70 research centers and military bases over 10 years. No one noticed the mistake until a laboratory reported it, and more sites were found to have received deliveries by accident, pointing to lax management.

The U.S. Department of Defense claimed that the problems in the sterilization process were not a human error and that the concentration of anthrax was too low to infect a healthy person.

But this is mere wordplay - relief in what could have been a catastrophe. But it does not deny the dangerous nature of the mistake.

Anthrax reminds us of the nightmarish incident in the United States. Right after the Sept. 11 attack in 2001, letters containing anthrax spores were delivered to well-known figures in media and politics, killing five people and infecting 17 others. The suspected perpetrator was a researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.

It is scary that anthrax samples have been delivered by commercial shipping companies with little precaution for 10 years. I can’t help but ask whether other biological weapons are managed safely.

Personally, the case reminded me of the U.S. military nuclear weapons system review last year. The Department of Defense’s expensive inspection resulted in more than 10 commanders being discharged. Seventeen officers at a North Dakota unit were stripped of their authority as they did not know the launch code. A general was removed for a drinking-related incident and gambling. It was also confirmed that there had been cheating in the regular nuclear weapons test. Some officers allegedly possessed illegal drugs. American media pointed out that as the Cold War ended and the possibility of using nuclear weapons lessened, discipline in the military forces was undermined. The slack management of anthrax samples could be one of the results.

The United States is an undisputable military super power. As the “police of the world” it is deeply involved in various security issues around the globe. It was the United States that set a red line against Syria’s use of chemical weapons. America’s nuclear and biochemical weapons capacity is the best in the world. But we were not worried because we believed that the weapons were for defense, not attack, and were managed safely and systematically. When trust is shaken it could lead to another tragedy.

*The author is a Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo. JoongAng Ilbo, June 13, Page 26

by LEE SANG-BOK

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