Tuesday, June 4, 2019

DHS Publishes Redacted Ammonium Nitrate Report

Yesterday DHS published a notice in the Federal Register (84 FR 25495-25496) announcing the availability of a redacted copy of a report [.PDF download link, 28 mega bites] by Sandia Laboratories on their technical research, testing, and findings related to the feasibility of weaponizing commercially available products containing ammonium nitrate. This report is being made available as part of the DHS rulemaking on ‘Secure Handling of Ammonium Nitrate Program’.

Public Comments

The Department is seeking two types of comments from the public in regards to this publication as part of the ammonium nitrate security program rulemaking. First it is seeking information about the processes that Sandia Labs used to evaluate the explosive nature of compounds made with ammonium nitrate. Specifically, DHS is looking for evaluative comments on:

The scientific methodology and test plans SNL employed;
The technical data generated by SNL; and
The test results, and factors affecting detonability thresholds.

Next the Department is seeking comments on the applicability of the information provided in the report to the definition of ammonium nitrate in the notice of proposed rulemaking. Specifically, DHS is looking for comments on:

Whether the report supports changes to the proposed mixture and weight thresholds, and
The potential economic impacts of any changes to the proposed definition

Public comments should be submitted to DHS by September 3rd, 2019. Comments may be submitted via the Federal eRulemaking Portal (www.Regulations.gov; Docket # DHS-2008-0076).


It is always fun reading redacted documents. The inquisitive mind tried to figure out what data was beneath the black bars. DHS has further engaged the inquisitive mind by adding hints as to what data has been occluded.

The report is interesting in that it would seem to indicate that a much smaller quantity of ammonium nitrate is needed to make an explosive device than was considered by the NPRM. The NPRM definition limit was 25-lbs, but Sandia was able to successfully detonate devices using as little as 3-lbs and the report suggests that DHS might need to consider using a 1-lb limit.

A change of this sort (even the 3-lb limit) would greatly increase the cost of the ANSP as more AN containing-products were brought into the regulatory schema, perhaps even pharmacies and medical supply stores that sold AN based cold-packs.

It would seem that DHS is making this document public with the intent to get itself taken out of the business of regulating ammonium nitrate. The proposed regulation is already more expensive than could be justified by the cost avoidance of a Murrah Building type attack (see my discussion here). Unfortunately, this document will be used to excoriate DHS if a successful AN-based improvised explosive is used to kill a large number of people; and I am sure that the folks at DHS understood that. With that in mind, I want to congratulate DHS on the political fortitude exemplified in publishing this document. It is a valuable set of information in the debate on regulating improvised explosive precursors that could have nasty political consequences down the road.

No comments:

/* Use this with templates/template-twocol.html */