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US 'feared India's weapon security'

US officials fear terrorists could take advantage of lax security at Indian laboratories to launch attacks with biological weapons, according to comments in a leaked diplomatic cable.

The cable was one of many documents sent from the US Embassy in New Delhi obtained by the website WikiLeaks and published on Friday.

The cables dealt with accusations of Indian torture in Kashmir and the concerns of Rahul Gandhi - seen as India's prime-minister-in-waiting - that Hindu extremists posed a greater danger to India than Islamist militants.

One of the cables from June 2006 raised concerns that terrorist groups could bypass weak security at Indian laboratories to steal "bacteria, parasites, viruses or toxins."

"Getting into a facility to obtain lethal bio-agents is not very difficult here," one expert, whose name was redacted from the cable, told US diplomats.

A second expert said that academic research facilities maintain only very loose security procedures. "The harsh reality is that you can bribe a guard with a pack of cigarettes to get inside," the expert was quoted as saying.

One source told the diplomats that India's thousands of biological scientists also might be recruited, either out of ideological sympathies or for money.

An Indian government official dismissed the concerns as "far-fetched and fanciful".

However, Suman Sahai, a biotechnology expert, said security remains very poor at biotech firms four years after the cable was written.

The regulatory system is porous, employees are easily influenced and those leaving public laboratories to work for private companies often steal seeds, genetic material and other sensitive property before they head out the door for their new jobs, she said.

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