FBI and agricultural retailers

A Partnership to Raise Awareness

Published in the June 2013 Issue Published online: Jun 30, 2013 William J. DelBagno
Viewed 1207 time(s)

Texas BlastWe've heard the questions asked: "Why is the FBI presenting at our agricultural conference? What do weapons of mass destruction have to do with my farming business?" Or perhaps it's the question you're asking yourself right now, "Why is there an article about the FBI in Sugar Producer?"

The answer to these and similar questions comes down to one word: prevention.

The bottom line is that the FBI strives to stay ahead of terrorism by detecting and thwarting terrorist plots before they occur.

To be successful in this mission, the FBI benefits greatly from partnerships with industries whose products can be used in making weapons or who could be a potential target of an attack. Know it or not, the agricultural business is one such industry.

Three phases of attack

The FBI stands poised to investigate attacks against the United States and has significantly enhanced its efforts toward improving the nation's capability to prevent a terrorist attack. Historically, terrorists have used agricultural products in developing deadly weapons. Fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and castor beans are just some of the products of concern. The FBI identified three phases of a terrorist attack where there are opportunities for prevention-the acquisition phase, the development phase and the execution phase.

The acquisition phase occurs when the terrorist buys, steals or otherwise obtains the chemicals necessary for an attack. This phase also includes the acquisition of information, such as researching recipes for their weapons and finding vulnerabilities in potential targets. The development phase is when the terrorist has acquired the necessary materials and is building a harmful device, such as a bomb. The execution phase is when a terrorist becomes operational and uses a weapon to conduct the planned attack.

The acquisition phase is crucial. First, the FBI has an obvious interest in detecting terrorist plots as early as possible. Second, the gathering of materials for an attack results in indicators that may be less noticeable in later states of plotting. This phase requires the plotting terrorist to interface with a source of precursor chemicals, such as a store or a distributor.

Additionally, the terrorist may take physical actions to gather information about a target through surveillance or by probing site security. With the help of an agricultural workforce that is security savvy, law enforcement can capitalize on these times when the terrorist is susceptible to detection.

The FBI has developed a countermeasures program that leads the effort to detect and disrupt the use of chemicals by terrorists and prevent attacks upon our nation's infrastructure. The FBI has specialized teams at its headquarters who complement a nationwide network of investigators who focus solely on chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive investigations. These special agents are called Weapons of Mass Destruction Coordinators.

Together the specialized teams and WMD Coordinators seek to build a partnership with the agricultural industry to create a culture of awareness and communication. This effort is rooted in such well-known slogans as, "See Something, Say Something" and "Know Your Customer."

While these catchphrases are familiar, they can prompt the questions, "What should I look for?" and "Who do I tell?"

What to look for

What should an agricultural employee consider suspicious?

Based on previous acts of terrorism, the FBI has identified a number of activities or behaviors that should trigger agricultural businesses to contact law enforcement.

A person could be considered suspicious if they exhibit an unusual preoccupation with products containing ammonium nitrate, urea, sodium nitrate, potassium nitrate, sulfuric acid, calcium polysulfide, hydrogen peroxide, phosphine or anhydrous ammonia. Some of these listed items are inherently dangerous without the need for mixing or additional preparation, while others must be combined with additional explosive precursor chemicals to become dangerous.

Suspicious persons are unwilling to answer basic questions on the use or application of the products they seek to purchase. This is why it is important to ask questions of your customers, especially if they are new or unknown. Asking questions may clarify the situation or further expose the suspicious behavior. Most businesses have established guidance in customer service and their employees will naturally engage in a dialogue to help the customer make the right product choices. A customer's interest in a specific product or chemical could be considered suspicious if they are evasive, vague or possesses little knowledge of agricultural operations.

Some other suspicious behaviors include using cash for large purchases or using a credit card in someone else's name. If it is your company's policy to ask for identification for new customers or when using a credit card, a suspicious person may be reluctant or unable to show valid identification. They may also be reluctant to join rewards programs because they require providing identifying information, even though these programs often have customer incentives.

Employees such as cashiers, store managers and customer service representatives are experts in understanding typical customer behaviors. When an interaction is strange, the employee should take note. If a sale doesn't feel right, consider alerting law enforcement even if you are unsure.

Terrorists could target facilities with agricultural products to generate toxic release or to steal chemicals to build a weapon. Employees should be wary of surveillance of their sites, unexpected visitors, probes of security and persons with an unusual preoccupation with the site's physical security or its vulnerabilities.

Although the activities outlined above are by no means all-inclusive, they have been compiled by the review of terrorist events over several years. Some of the described actions, taken individually, could be innocent and a person's speech, beliefs, appearance or different way of life are not qualifying reasons to identify someone as suspicious. The focus should be on the customer's actions. Law enforcement professionals can put the reported information into a larger context to determine whether there is a basis for further investigation.

Who to tell

Who should an agricultural employee tell if they encounter a suspicious incident?

An employee's supervisor or security manager is an appropriate conduit to law enforcement. Since these situations usually do not require an emergency response, local FBI field offices are available to accept notification of suspicious incidents. WMD Coordinators work closely with local and state law enforcement agencies through the Joint Terrorism Task Force. The phone numbers for any FBI Field Office can be easily found at fbi.gov/contact-us.

Preventing terrorism is a community effort. By learning what to look for, you can make an important contribution in the fight against terrorism. The partnership between the agricultural community and law enforcement is essential to the success of counter-terrorism efforts.