Following on the news that broke earlier this year that U.S. military labs both improperly stored and shipped deadly anthrax specimens, a senior defense official told NBC News on Thursday that active samples of plague bacteria and two strains of encephalitis may also have been shipped from military labs to locations all over the world.
The defense official said that there is no new threat to the public and that the Army and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continue to investigate.
At a briefing on Thursday, press Secretary Peter Cook acknowledged that a CDC spot inspection on August 17th at the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center in Maryland uncovered that a sample of potentially infectious plague was mislabeled in a freezer.
More than two weeks later, on September 2nd, the Army secretary ordered a safety review and moratorium on the production, work with, and shipment of biological agents and toxins at army labs.
But Pentagon officials insisted at the time that the review and moratorium were just prudent measures, never admitting that deadly plague and equine encephalitis samples were also mishandled.
Cook said so far they are only looking at whether the plague and encephalitis samples were mislabeled — and he is not aware whether any were shipped around the world, unlike the anthrax samples.
But a senior defense official told NBC News they don’t know whether any was shipped out and that they cannot rule it out yet.
So far, no one has been fired or reprimanded for the perceived lapse.
There is an ongoing Pentagon accountability review and the results are due to Secretary Ash Carter in October.