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A counter-terrorism lab in Little Rock, Arkansas, is helping law enforcement officials identify the synthetic drug “Spice.” Jeffery H. Moran, Chief of the Counter-Terrorism Laboratory at the Arkansas Department of Health, says Spice is an unknown chemical. “That’s exactly what we would have to deal with in a terrorist attack,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

Such work keeps counter-terrorism labs busy, says Stewart Baker, former head of policy at the Department of Homeland Security. “Otherwise they would be like the Maytag repairman, just sitting there waiting for the phone to ring,” he told the newspaper.

Arkansas is not the only state putting its counter-terrorism resources to other uses. Oregon has used federal bioterrorism funds to build a $35 million public health lab, which tests foods for E. coli and salmonella. California has used bioterrorism funds to buy a DNA-sequencing machine.

Congress, which has given more than $5 billion to states and territories since 2001 to prepare for a chemical or biological attack, still issues about $600 million in grants each year.

Ali S. Khan, an Assistant Surgeon General at the Centers for Disease Control  and Prevention, says it’s a good idea to keep the counter-terrorism labs busy. “What we’ve learned over time is that if you respond to routine threats, then you can respond to a really large threat,” he said.

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