Aberdeen general named in anthrax investigation

Army investigators on Friday blamed a one-star general who now works at Aberdeen Proving Ground and 11 other people for management failures they say contributed to the accidental shipment of live anthrax to labs around the globe over several years.

Army investigators who reviewed Dugway Proving Ground in Utah wrote that Brig. Gen. William E. King IV perpetuated a "complacent atmosphere" when he commanded the lab at the installation. Workers at Dugway mistakenly shipped live anthrax to 194 other labs in the United States and overseas, including to Aberdeen Proving Ground and other sites in Maryland.


The Department of Defense acknowledged the problem in May. The Army report was made public Friday.

Army officials stressed Friday that no single individual was directly responsible for the shipments. But they cited a management culture that was unresponsive to concerns raised internally about safety procedures.

King "should be held accountable" for failure to take action to address those concerns, investigators wrote.

King, a colonel at Dugway between 2009 and 2011, now commands the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

"While I cannot comment on the ongoing investigation, the safety of our soldiers, families and local community remains of utmost importance," he said in a statement.

"I have been and remain deeply concerned about the seriousness of the circumstances surrounding the [Dugway] anthrax incident and will continue to fully cooperate with and assist the Army in its ongoing investigation," he added.

Maj. Gen. Paul A. Ostrowski, who led the investigation, said Friday it was beyond the scope of the review to determine what consequences King might face. That decision, he said, will be made by Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh.

"When we say 'held accountable,' it doesn't necessarily mean remove and replace," Ostrowski said. "If we have a situation where we have an individual [who] needs to be retrained, I will say he needs to be held accountable for retraining. … It runs the full gamut."

The errant shipments were revealed when a commercial lab in Maryland tested samples from Dugway and found live bacteria. Officials have not identified the private lab.

Infection with the anthrax bacterium can be fatal if not treated. The bacterium can be inhaled, ingested or transmitted through direct contact on the skin.

The disease is not contagious. Someone who is infected might not show symptoms for weeks.

About two dozen people in Delaware, Texas, Wisconsin and South Korea were treated with antibiotics or vaccinations after the shipments were revealed. There were no reports of infection from the incident.

Investigators called the inadvertent shipment of live anthrax "a serious breach of regulations," but said it did not pose a risk to public health.

Dugway was the military facility that produced the largest amount of anthrax shipped to other labs for research. Army officials said Friday its anthrax would no longer be shipped to other labs.


Dr. Amesh Adalja is a senior associate at the UPMC Center for Health Security in Baltimore and a member of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. He said biosafety has to be part of the culture of a lab.

"When you see failures like what happened at Dugway, it reflects a culture of biosafety that did not permeate among the lab members," he said.

But he agreed with military officials that the incident posed little danger to the public. And he said it is important for the public not to lose sight of the value of the research conducted on anthrax and other deadly agents when incidents like this take place.

The names of 11 other individuals cited by the Army were redacted in the public report. Investigators described them as a combination of military officers and others, including laboratory technicians who "failed to exercise due care."

Together, they wrote, King and the 11 others "created conditions allowing a culture of complacency to flourish."

When King was commander at Dugway, investigators wrote, he had a duty to "think strategically" about how a series of flaws and mistakes at the lab during his tenure were related, to notice that they had widespread implications throughout the installation, and to investigate and remedy problems.

Maryland has several labs, including at Aberdeen and at Fort Detrick in Frederick, working on anthrax.

The nation's worst biological attack involved anthrax created in an Army facility in Maryland.

Less than a month after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, five envelopes containing anthrax spores were sent to members of Congress and the media, sparking widespread fear of a terrorist attack.

At least 22 people were infected, and five died. The attack disrupted mail and other services as experts struggled to decontaminate 35 post offices and mail rooms and several buildings on Capitol Hill.

The FBI concluded in 2008 that Dr. Bruce Ivins, a researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, was responsible. He committed suicide before he was charged.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.