There are two systems and agencies working with ag retailer operations to assure materials that could be made into explosives or other types of mass destruction devices are being properly stored, inventoried and not allowed into the hands of unknown persons. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have different roles but cooperate to accomplish the same thing.

The Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) regulations classifies facilities in tiers of risk based upon the quantities and types of 325 chemicals that might be used in terrorism—mainly mass destruction for causing large numbers of deaths.

Greg Handke, chemical security inspector with the DHS, in talking about CFATS last summer, said that since it is a self-identification program, the first thing a retailer takes a look at is these 325 chemicals and then looks at whether any of the companies’ facility has any of the chemicals at the volumes, including mixtures or concentrations, outlined by the program.

Handke provided rough numbers of between 40,000 and 50,000 companies that have filed Top-Screen, Security Vulnerability Assessments. Of those original numbers, approximately 4,400 facilities were found to be handling the chemicals of concern (COI) in volumes to rank them as high risk and having to meet applicable risk-based performance standards (RBPS). As companies’ volumes of COI being handled and sold go up or down for the future, new Top-Screens are expected to be filed to either take a company out of the high-risk tier or put them into that tier.


As one of the COI, ammonium nitrate is receiving its own special attention as one of the easiest products to use for bomb making. Special regulations on handling this fertilizer are separate. The “Secure Handling of Ammonium Nitrate” statutory authority is to counter the use of ammonium nitrate for an act of terrorism:

“Those regulations really look, for lack of a word, like a know-your-customer kind of activity. When I read the registry of ammonium nitrate handler requirements it is a Top-Screen similar to CFATS,” Handke said.

“Inventory control and know-your-customer work together for unregulated or regulated (high-risk) facilities,” Handke said. Facilities maintaining records for two or three years are typical today. “It is typical for companies from the perspective of even small companies having inventory control measures and repeat customer records.”

Ag retailers and supply channel companies are being focused on with the expectation that any company maintain properly secure facilities, have procedures for security, vet employees and offer employee training—even if their operations haven’t landed them into a high-risk ranking by CFATS. That focus on retailers is both from DHS and the FBI.


There is a lot of counter terrorism focus by the FBI related to industrial chemicals and explosives, noted Bill DelBagno, FBI supervisory special agent, in speaking to the same group as Handke last summer—the National Agronomic Health & Safety School attendees.

DelBagno explained the place that ag retailers and distributors fit into when a threat occurs to the U.S. from terrorists. There are three opportunities for counter-terrorist measures to stop a threat—acquisition phase of precursor chemicals, the equipment and the knowledge; development phase when a device is being built and chemicals prepared for packaging; and the execution phase when the terrorist is ready to take action.

“The acquisition phase is really where our interaction with industry comes into play. This is where we have our earliest and greatest opportunity to identify terrorists. During this phase, they have to obtain the materials that they are going to use for their attack,” DelBagno said.

In general, precursors to explosives and other methods of mass destruction have to be purchased somewhere, rather than smuggled into the country. The focus on explosives is natural.

Mitigating the Chemical Threat“Typically these are the chemicals sold over the counter at many different stores and retailers, and they can be used to create explosives. A lot of our focus is here because it is so easy to obtain these materials; in most cases, it doesn’t require identification or a large amount of money, and the knowledge of how to use these is very easy to obtain,” DelBagno explained.

Continuing he said, “We also look at the toxic industrial chemicals, and these are typically where the chemicals are manufactured, stored or transported, and a simple release of these chemicals would cause harm. There also can be some modification used once these chemicals are obtained to modify them into an improvised device that could be used in a confined space.”


Handke provided examples of just what DelBagno talked about. The DHS focus is on theft and diversion. He noted the theft of 10 propane tanks should raise a red flag because the Times Square bomber tried to use similar tanks to improvise a car bomb.

Unrecognized customers showing up to buy chemicals, with little explanation of why, shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand as OK. Unreasonably large amounts of chemicals being purchased when much smaller amounts are the common amount purchased has caused the seller to contact law enforcement. He noted the reason behind a purchase might just be like the fans of a television show thinking they could manufacture exploding targets for target shooting, copying a person on TV, but the goal could be much worse.

Diversion can come in the form of an inside job when a company without a good employee hiring program has someone in a place that allows access to chemicals, Handke said. Straight theft can occur or a forged purchase order can result in shipping goods to an accomplice. There might be extra items shipped to a legitimate customer, and a telephone caller apologizes for the extra items being shipped; there is a promise that those extra items will be picked up, which happens by the accomplice of the crook/terrorist.

As shown in his examples, Handke said security of chemicals can often have nothing to do with whether COI is protected behind three layers of security—locked in a closet inside a locked building and inside a fenced area.


“Our mitigation of a chemical use threat is a top-down and bottom-up approach,” DelBagno said. From the top there is enforcement and education of large groups and associations to push information out on a national scale, and they do that in partnership with DHS and the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies.

“From the bottom up, we have our WMD (weapons of mass destruction) coordinators in each one of the 56 FBI field offices,” he explained.

“This is the person who you contact. Everything that we do at headquarters is conducted through them. They do the assessments and investigations and respond to WMD-related incidents,” DelBagno said. “They also do outreach to companies and associations that are regional based to provide awareness and training. The WMD coordinator is a conduit to the joint terrorism task force.

“If you don’t know him in your region, I strongly encourage you to reach out to him before an incident happens. You can find the contact information for your regional office on the FBI home page.”

DelBagno suggested making a cold call to the office and telling them that you want to talk to the WMD coordinator to make sure he has your name. “Start building that relationship ahead of time,” he said.

Handke said contacting local law enforcement and the FBI is the right first step in theft or diversion situations.

The FBI wants its outreach program to be an aspect of a company’s safety program. “What we are looking to do with our outreach is build that culture of thinking security when you are looking at the safety aspects of an operation,” DelBagno said.

Handke said almost exactly the same thing in suggesting it “is really important that when we talk to facility managers, we see a lot of what they do on a safety basis as good from a security basis.”