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Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The U.S. program responsible for detecting and responding to threats of bioterrorism lacks detection equipment in more than half the country and was unable to spot multiple biological agents known as possible threats, the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general said in a report released Thursday.

Why it matters: If the country does not improve the program, called BioWatch, the "United States’ ability to prepare, detect, and respond to a potential bioterrorism attack is impeded, which could result in significant loss of human life," the IG said.

Context: The BioWatch Program was formed under the George W. Bush administration in 2003 after numerous anthrax attacks against news media offices and members of Congress killed five people and infected several others in 2001.

  • BioWatch claims to operate a nationwide aerosol detection system, but the IG said it "does not operate a nationwide early warning system."

The big picture: The IG's audit of the program found it had equipment to detect bioterrorism agents in 22 of 50 states, leaving 56% of the U.S. without coverage.

  • The IG also said BioWatch only monitors 6 of 14 biological agents known to be threats because it has not updated its detection capabilities.
  • BioWatch left equipment exposed and unguarded at 34 of 35 detection sites across the country, meaning the tools could be disarmed in a security breach.

What they're saying: "Until [Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office] addresses these information sharing weaknesses, the Nation’s readiness to respond to a potential bioterrorism attack that may result in significant loss of life is at risk," the IG office said.

  • "BioWatch’s limited footprint puts the Nation at a disadvantage to timely identify and respond to potential biological attacks."

Go deeper

Inspector general: Ethics questions prompted criminal referral involving Elaine Chao

Photo: Melissa Lyttle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Transportation Department's deputy inspector general said a "formal investigation into potential misuses of [former Secretary Elaine Chao's] position was warranted," after finding evidence of possible ethics violations, according to a report made public on Wednesday.

Why it matters: The report reveals that the IG last December asked the Justice Department and U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to consider a criminal investigation into Chao's actions, citing possible ethical or administrative concerns. Both declined to investigate.

CCP releases two jailed Canadians after Huawei CFO deal with DOJ

Photo: Sheldon Cooper/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Two Canadians imprisoned by the Chinese government for over 1,000 days have been released and are expected to arrive in Canada on Saturday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday.

Why it matters: Their release comes hours after Huawei Technologies CFO Meng Wanzhou reached a deal with the U.S. Department of Justice that resolves the criminal charges against her and could pave the way for her to return to China.

Updated 9 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Arizona GOP's private recount of 2020 election confirms Biden's win

Contractors working on behalf of the GOP examine and recount 2020 ballots at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix in May. Photo: Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images

In an odd coda to the 2020 election, private contractors conducting a GOP-commissioned recount in Arizona confirmed President Biden’s win in Maricopa County.

Why it matters: The unofficial, party-driven recount has been heavily covered on cable news as part of former President Trump's continued effort to sow doubt about the election result.