Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Reader Comments 12-16-08

In a comment posted yesterday, ThomKay took exception to the use of the term ‘eco-terrorist’ in my blog about the power plant incursion (see: “Major Security Breach”). When I was writing that piece I thought that there might be some objection to that comment, but I was in a hurry to get back to another project I was working on, so I did not explain the use of the term. First off, to date there has been a significant difference between the operations of ‘eco-terrorists’ and terrorists such as al-Qaeda (to site an extreme example). Eco-terrorists have generally been pretty careful to restrict their actions to property and not people. The few times that people have been hurt seem almost accidental or negligent rather than acts of malice or intent. While I vehemently disagree with their attacks on property, I do agree that I would much rather see them attack property than people. That is why I am careful to use the term ‘eco-terrorist’ rather than the more general term ‘terrorist’. A Continuum of Political Activity Now, looking at ThomKay’s specific complaint, he writes “Activists are not terrorists. Loosely using this term is unfair to non-violent activists who participate in civil disobedience in order to effect change.” He is correct; an activist is not necessarily an eco-terrorist and is certainly different from a terrorist. Unfortunately these are all part of the continuum of political activity and the lines between them are not easily defined. And reasonable people will disagree where those lines are drawn. Protestors that picket power plants are certainly not ‘eco-terrorists’. Protestors that lie down in the roads to those power plants to stop workers or supplies from entering the plants are activists practicing civil disobedience. They will be arrested for various misdemeanors and I have a certain amount of admiration for their convictions and perseverance. Protestors that slash tires of workers or delivery people to stop them from entering a those power plants have, in my opinion, stepped over the line to ‘eco-terrorist’ activities. Drawing the Line on the Turbine Incident The first thing that comes to mind when examining the shut down of the turbine at Kingsnorth is that there is nothing in the reports that indicates that there was any property damage involved. This would tend to move the line towards activism. Unfortunately, the unscheduled shut down of a high-speed turbine is a complex operation. The slightest error in that operation will result in locally catastrophic consequences. The slightest mistake could have resulted in the effective destruction of that turbine with the potential for damage to surrounding equipment and personnel. Even if the perpetrator of this shutdown was an experienced power plant operator (and that seems very likely to me) the stress of situation would greatly increase the possibility of making errors in the shut down operation. Furthermore, the sudden removal of 500 MW from the electrical grid certainly has the potential for knocking out significant portions of the grid. That loss of power has the potential for a number of potentially serious consequences. Because of the high potential for on-site damage and off-site consequences, I believe that this incident stepped over the line to eco-terrorism. If he had simply entered the facility and tagged the equipment or room with appropriate green slogans, and exited with photographic evidence of his exploits I would certainly have called him an activist while I castigated the facility for its inexcusably inept security. But no, the potential for property damage moved it too far out the line of political action for my taste. No Such Thing as Absolute Security ThomKay does make one final point in his comment posted to yesterday’s blog that is very important. He writes that this “further demonstrates that guards, gates, and gadgets do not result in enough security to prevent real terrorists from releasing chemicals into communities”. While there was a seriously poorly executed security program at place in this instance, Tom’s general point is absolutely correct. There is no security plan that will provide absolute protection against a determined attacker. Any security planner that fails to take that into account needs to look for another job. Security plans cannot stop at fences, guards and gadgets. It has to include an active counter-surveillance operation and personal surety plans because a well planned attack requires extensive knowledge of the facility. Mitigation plans have to be made to deal with the potential successful attack. Plans have to be made to deal with off-site consequences. And yes, facilities must take a serious look at Tom’s unstated, but not forgotten desire, alternative chemicals and processes that would make a successful attack much less dangerous.

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