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Security clearance for terror

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment  September 18, 2013 09:30 AM

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In the aftermath of Monday’s mass shooting at the Washington D.C. Naval Yard, many weighty questions abound surrounding the circumstances of the crime and the man believed to be responsible for the carnage. Perhaps the most disconcerting pertains to how Aaron Alexis, given his troubled past and troubled mind, could have security clearance that allowed him access to the military facility.

For us here in Boston, we might then wonder if another Aaron Alexis armed with security credentials and a cache of weapons would have access to one of our sensitive facilities. Sure, the Charlestown Naval Base was long ago closed and transformed into luxury condominiums. But across town on Albany Street stands a biological research laboratory that invites trouble and troubled people.

Are you now convinced that permitting Level 4 research involving such deadly agents at Ebola and SARS is just not a wise move in a densely populated area? The City of Cambridge, even with its deep commitment to scientific research, has banned work with Level 4 pathogens. And three-quarters of the candidates for Mayor of Boston indicated a similar disinclination toward this type of research activity within in the city limits.

The likelihood of a security breech at the BU Biolab resulting in the release of deadly viruses into the atmosphere is undoubtedly quite low. But should the unlikely occur, the death and devastation that would result from such a incident would be far, far more expansive than anything that some deranged gunman could accomplish. Risk = Loss X Probability is a formula for disaster when it comes to Level 4 biological research at the BU Biolab.

Author's note: You can follow me on twitter at @jamesalanfox or Facebook at Professor James Alan Fox for notifications of new blog postings. Also, you can find me on the Web at or contact me by e-mail at

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

James Alan Fox is the Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law, and Public Policy at Northeastern University. He has written 18 books, including his newest, "Violence and Security on Campus: From Preschool through College." More »

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