Saturday, October 20, 2007

IED’s and Chemical Facilities

Yesterday while giving a speech on Improvised Explosive Devices (IED’s) to the Center for Strategic International Studies in Washington, DC, Secretary Chertoff briefly talked about the chemical facility security program. He made the point that most IED’s outside of active war zones like Iraq or Afghanistan were made from chemicals rather than military or commercial explosives. This is the reason that 64 of the more than 300 chemicals on the DHS Chemicals of Interest list (Appendix A, 6 CFR part 27) are theft risk items according to the current Top Screen questionnaire; these chemicals can be used to manufacture IED’s.


Once again, Secretary Chertoff said that; “…we are very close to issuing our Appendix A…” He also reiterated that, while the department certainly considered “a high concentration of a chemical like propane or chlorine in outside tanks right next to a school” something worth regulating, DHS had no intention of trying to outlaw or regulate small propane tanks people used in barbeque grills. While these tanks could be used to make IED’s, a risk-balanced approach would rely on giving “guidance to people, including merchants, about what to look for if they see something suspicious, or people seem to be buying lots of propane” to protect against that kind of threat. That would allow DHS to concentrate on preventing attacks on larger targets.


DHS does seem to be spending a lot of effort lately in addressing the propane issue. Of course, propane distributors have been part of an organized campaign to get end users of propane exempted from the CFATS regulation. That coupled with agricultural users of propane using senatorial pressure to achieve the same end, may explain why the final version of Appendix A has been so long in coming. Political pressure by special interest groups has a long history of gutting the effects of important legislation.


The big problem with the delay in the issuing of the final version of Appendix A is that most of the chemical industry has taken the wait and see approach on implementing the requirements of 6 CFR part 27. The way they look at it, if DHS is not going to require them to take a more active role in their facility security, why should they bother to spend any more money on security than they already have? After all, no one has attacked a chemical facility yet … in the United States (ignore that terrorist attacks against gas and oil pipelines in Mexico)… maybe (the Spokane DA has refused to charge the 19 year old blamed for starting the Whitley Fuel Depot Fire because of insufficient evidence).


When the first attack does take place, DHS will be the first one to be blamed. Congress, which has failed miserably in every attempt to address the issue except for a single paragraph in the 2007 authorization bill for DHS, will point the finger again at DHS. The chemical industry, citing the lack of guidance, will point the finger at DHS. DHS will be the scapegoat for the politicians and special interest groups that have done their best to make sure that DHS does not have the authority or money to do anything about the problem.

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