Thursday, January 21, 2010

Reader Comment – 01-20-10 Fertilizer

Red Team used a comment on a continuing gasoline blog conversation to bring up another explosive issue; fertilizer. Red Team wrote: “I think one potential problem with DHS CFATS is that it really does not consider certain fertilizers, I'm not going into details, as a significant issue. It appears that DHS has not looked at the history of various fertilizers and their destructive nature and relative safe handling characteristics. Terrorist groups within the US and outside the US have used this substance on many occasions.” I’m sorry, but I don’t think that that description is quite fair. I’m assuming that Red Team is talking about ammonium nitrate; a very common fertilizer that is certainly useable as an explosive ala Timothy McVay. Ammonium nitrate (AN) is actually two separate chemicals of interest in Appendix A (one as an release-explosive and one as a theft/diversion IED precursor) so this fertilizer is included in CFATS. Now, to be fair to Red Team, DHS has had some problems with their regulation of AN. First off, AN used on actual agricultural facilities is not currently captured in the CFATS process because of the ‘temporary’ Top Screen exception for such facilities. That exception was partially in response to farm interest lobbying efforts (one of the most powerful lobbies in the US) and partially a recognition that most ag-facilities were a little too remote to be much of a terrorist target. The more important AN related problem that DHS has been experiencing has nothing to do with CFATS (other than the same people will be responsible), the Congressionally mandated regulation of the sale of AN. The FY 2008 budget bill mandated that DHS regulate the sale and transfer of AN and required the registration of both sellers and buyers. The regulation was supposed to be in place by the June 2008 and we have only seen an ANPRM to date. Now part of the problem is that the same people who are supposed to write this regulation are the same people who are developing all of the supporting stuff (CSAT Tools, CSAT Instruction, RBPS Guidance Document, etc) for CFATS so there is something of a time constraint. Another big part of the problem is the unexpected complexity of the issue. It sounds simple to say that you just have to require sellers and buyers of AN to register with DHS and sellers can’t sell to someone who isn’t registered. All of that is straightforward until you get to the user end of the supply chain. Most ammonium nitrate is sold at the retail level at distribution centers to farmers. Now the distribution center had to be registered to buy it from their supplier, so there is no problem there. The problem is with the end user. The big farmer in the mid-west buys multiple truck loads of AN at a time to prep his fields for planting. Registering the farmer is not a problem, he’s been there for ever, everyone knows him and he’s never been to jihadist training camp. The problem is that he is not the one driving the truck that is picking up the AN. That is a hired hand, maybe even a seasonal worker, maybe on an ag-visa. Registering that hand might be a tad bit harder, especially if he isn’t hired until the week before he’s needed. Another requirement of the legislation is that anyone with AN must report the lost/theft of any AN; makes sense, you want the FBI checking out the theft of nasty stuff like AN. Just one problem; AN is frequently handled in large bulk shipments and inventory ‘losses’ are common. Wind blows loose AN into the Mississippi River from barges every day. How much loss do you have to report? It was only a couple thousand pounds that crashed the Federal Building in OKC. That much is just inventory slippage. Just look at the problem that the RCMP is currently having in Vancouver (Winter Olympic site; maybe a terrorist target). A major AN supplier reported a 6,000 lb loss of AN in transit. Then they recanted, its not missing, some one miscounted. Maybe. The RCMP is still investigating; not to find out who stole it, just to see whether or not it is missing. If it is missing, then they start looking for the thief. Just hope it hasn’t been packed into a rail car heading for the chlorine plant just outside of Vancouver. I keep asking my contacts at DHS how the AN regulation is coming. The answer is always the same, just a couple of months away (this Spring, we’re sure). Of course, I’m not the only one bothering DHS about this issue, so is Chairman Thompson who pushed the AN requirement into the budget bill. So anyway, Red Team is right and wrong. DHS does consider ammonium nitrate in CFATS, but it probably isn’t as proactive in the area as is it probably should be. But then again, they have lots of stuff to do.


Red Team said...

Ammonium nitrate was used in the Oklahoma City bombing as the main charge. It was also used as a component in the 1st WTC bombing, with the main charge being Urea nitrate - Hydrogen gas cylinders.

In 2003 a jihadist group purchased just over 1,000 lbs. of bagged AN in Europe. Luckily, some rental storage clerk tipped off local law enforcement about the activity.

Even today, NATO forces realize the threat and potential danger in Afghanistan. They currently have a program where they attempt to purchase AN from farmers who have large stock piles. Insurgent fighters have been using it in VBIEDS; NATO is just trying to reduce the availability.

Many of these farm facilities that have AN in the US are coops and their site security is dismal to say the least. Procedures to reduce the possibility of diversion is just one measure. However, during certain seasons these facilities have an extensive quantity on hand. The AN is usually stored in large open bins so that scooping by heavy equipment is easy. Breaking into one of these "mom and pop" sites usually means breaching a lock and fence.

There is more deadly potential in AN than there is in many other COIs within Appendix A. History has proven that.

Security theater is a very real problem, giving DHS a pass because they are busy is not the answer.

PJCoyle said...

My response to Red Team's comment can be found at

Sessfertilizer Man said...

You know,people are truly retarded blaming a substance that can't do terror attacks on it's own.How are you going to use the small percentage of bad things(compared to the good) to out weight the sensible practices (fertilizing plants etc..) that has feed many generations? If you want to root out the main problem,kill all human beings and you will get rid of the problem.Better yet,why not just get rid of pens and pencils? we can stick each other eyes out,so it should be removed from society because the evil use out weights the good.What complete retards man.fertilizers increase crop production 30 to 80% every time through out history .WE FEED THE GOD DAMN HUNGRY and that's why we use fertilizers.nice post,and visit by profile and see what i have to say about fertilizers.

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