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Anti-terror lab on Homeland hit list

WASHINGTON - The Homeland Security Department drew up a

detailed strategy for closure of a key national security laboratory in lower

Manhattan in 2005, even as it insisted that no decision had been taken on the

laboratory's future.

A House subcommittee obtained the closure plan for the Environmental

Measurements Laboratory when it requested information on the facility.

The laboratory has worked with the New York Police and Fire departments and

the Port Authority to develop devices that can detect traces of radioactive

material, including those from a so-called "dirty bomb."

Jay Cohen, who has been undersecretary of Homeland Security for science and

technology since August, has said he wants to maintain and support the

laboratory.

But Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a letter yesterday to Homeland

Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, "I have reason to be skeptical of this

pledge." He said he would "watch closely" to see that the lab received the

support it required.

A New York police spokesman, Paul Browne, said the laboratory was "very

valuable." He said it has "the kind of expertise we don't already have

in-house."

The lab was "severely crippled" by Homeland Security's science and

technology directorate, said Rep. Brad Miller (D-North Carolina) after a

hearing yesterday by the subcommittee that he chairs.

Anthony Fainberg, who worked at the directorate, testified that by 2005

management appeared to be "trying to squeeze EML out of existence by turning

off projects one by one, so it could finally be asserted that the lab had no

function."

A communications plan dated November 2005 opens with the statement: "The

EML's historic mission has been successfully accomplished. This will be the

keynote message related to the reason for its retirement."

Schumer was told in January 2006 that "no decisions have been made" about

the lab's future. He said yesterday that it was "troubling" that Homeland

Security "would give Congress misleading or incomplete information."

Christopher Kelly, a Homeland Security spokesman, confirmed that the

department had recommended closure in 2005 and requested that the science and

technology directorate create a closure plan, but he said that recommendation

was later dropped.

A look at laboratory

The Environmental Measurements Laboratory is situated just blocks from Ground

Zero.

It has carried out nuclear and radioactivity research for 60 years.

It is currently involved in testing for the Domestic Nuclear Detection

Office, looking at "next-generation radiation monitors."

The highly sensitive monitors can be carried by police or firefighters to

detect radioactive traces. They can also be installed at ports.

The EML also responds to alerts when radiation is detected.

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