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Blast at US Government facility uncovers suspected methamphetamine lab

03 August 2015

On July 29, a US Congressional committee launched an inquiry into possible meth production at a government facility in Maryland, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). An explosion in a secluded part of the facility, which injured a NIST security officer, led to the discovery of chemical precursors and a recipe for making the highly addictive street drug.

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The suspected meth lab was in an isolated part of the facility that had been used for combustion research in the past. The injured security officer resigned on July 19, the day after the incident, and is a suspect in the case being pursued by the Montgomery County Police Department, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the FBI.

NIST director Willie E. May told the US Congressional Committee on Science, Space and Technology that the security officer involved in the case had been on the Institute’s staff for 13 years and recently served a brief term as acting police chief of NIST’s Gaithersburg campus.

NIST, a branch of the Commerce Department, is involved in high-level scientific research and its scientists there have won several Nobel Prizes.

Republican congressman Lamar Smith said: “Last week, news broke that an explosion at a federal research facility was caused by a secret meth lab. Now we learn that these weren’t the actions of some low-ranking employee, but the former acting chief of police in charge of NIST security.

“Even Hollywood couldn’t have imagined this plot twist,” he said. “As the science committee expands its investigation, it is becoming clear we must better monitor those with access to our nation’s high-tech research facilities.”

According to a committee aide, two members of NIST’s police force were on duty on the night of July 18 when an explosion erupted inside a room in Building 236, which is reserved for special projects and sits on the southern edge of the 578-acre campus. The room was not being used for active NIST research.

The explosion set off a heat alarm and NIST firefighters and security staff responded. They found the officer, who initially said he was trying to fill a butane lighter, and took him to a local trauma centre where he was treated and released.

Smith, the committee chairman, wants to get data on the former officer’s movements at NIST, perhaps via electronic lock records, so that his committee’s staff can determine how much time the officer had spent in Building 236 in recent months. Smith also wants to know what kind of background checks NIST conducts before hiring security officers.

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