US chemical plants still targets of interest for terrorists

29 June 2009 19:57  [Source: ICIS news]

Chemical plants still targetsBALTIMORE, Maryland (ICIS news)--US chemical plants remain targets of interest to foreign and domestic terrorists seeking a dramatic attack that could cause mass casualties and major economic impact, a top US government analyst said on Monday.

Dan Cooler, a senior analyst in the office of intelligence and analysis at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), told a chemical sector audience that the nation’s process industry “remains vulnerable to terrorist attacks, and that is an unacceptable level of risk”.

Speaking at the 2009 Chemical Security Summit (CSS), Cooler said that while the department and other US intelligence agencies know of no specific terrorist threat to chemical facilities, “we know that the chemical sector is of interest to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups because we have seen those interests expressed in documents we have seized overseas”.

“Terrorists are interested in any potential target that could, if attacked, produce visually dramatic results, broad economic impact and mass casualties,” Cooler said.

“An attack on a major US chemical facility, especially one in a high-density population area, would meet all of those terrorist goals,” Cooler said.

He said his department is concerned that the type of attacks successfully conducted by Al Qaeda and others in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Ethiopia, Libya and Morocco might be employed by home-grown terrorist cells in the US and that foreign terrorists might successfully infiltrate the US.

The trend seen in terrorist attacks overseas would likely be repeated in any attempt on a US chemical facility, he said. Those recent overseas attacks typically have involved an initial blast created by a truck-borne bomb that has penetrated an outer perimeter, followed by an infantry attack by terrorists armed with assault rifles, hand grenades and other explosives.

Cooler lauded the US chemicals sector for the level of cooperation it has shown in working with his department to improve security at what are considered plants or facilities at high risk for terrorist attack.

However, he said more work remains to be done to further protect US chemical facilities from terrorist attack.

“While we have no known threat to the US chemicals sector, the potential consequences of such an attack are unacceptable,” Cooler said.

“There remains a level of vulnerability that represents an unacceptable level of risk,” he said.

He said the department also remains concerned about possible theft or diversion of bulk chemicals that could be weaponised by terrorists for an attack.

“We remain concerned about diversion threats,” Cooler said. “It has not happened yet, but it is something that keeps us up at night.”

The Department of Homeland Security is responsible for enforcing the existing Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS), which give the department authority over security measures at some 7,000 US chemical sites deemed to be at high risk for terrorist attack. Congress is considering tougher site security legislation for 2010.

Cooler spoke at the opening session of the three-day Chemical Security Summit, which is co-sponsored by the department and the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA).

To discuss issues facing the chemical industry go to ICIS connect

By: Joe Kamalick
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