Security Concerns Grow With Manipulation of Nitrate Fertilizers
Although reducing the recordkeeping burden is important, neither Mathers nor Guffain downplay the importance of the overall effort or its evolving nature. "We used to worry about detonability or the explosive potential of a product, but almost any product with nitrogen can be manipulated if someone has the time, money and ingenuity," said Guffain.
Guffain cited calcium ammonium nitrate, once thought to be a lesser detonable product. Although it’s produced in Pakistan for use as a fertilizer with careful controls and the best of intentions, once out the door, it is untrackable and easily smuggled into Afghanistan. There, manipulation is as easy as running it through a coffee grinder or putting it in solution to remove the calcium. Urea has a similar potential, though nitric acid is needed to manipulate it into a detonable product. Unlike the U.S., nitric acid isn't widely available in Afghanistan.
That a domestic terrorist attack hasn't already happened is largely the result of successful security measures, terrorist ineptitude as seen with the Times Square car bomb attempt and a lot of luck. It is not for want of trying. The Institute for Homeland Security Solutions (IHSS) reported 20 al Qaeda-inspired plots, 20 initiated by white supremacists and 16 by anti-government militants between 1999 and 2009. The Southern Poverty Law Center documented 97 plots from July 1995 through November 2011, discovered at various stages and prosecuted by law enforcement. Many included assembled bombs or components, several of which were ammonium nitrate and fuel oil based and one urea based.
NEW SECURITY TACTICS
JIEDDO wants the industry to do more. It is working with TFI and others on a broad range of security related issues that include:
• Creating new fertilizer formulations with reduced explosive potential and ways of making current formulations more difficult to reprocess or manipulate;
• Introducing additives to simplify the detection of nitrogen fertilizers associated with precursors and HME manufacturing sites that would enable rapid identification, detection and traceability;
• Developing industry-wide standards, regulations and safeguards related to production and distribution of nitrogen fertilizers and identifying methods to increase the accountability of fertilizer purchase and distribution;
• Encouraging a global education and awareness campaign to make manufacturers and consumers aware of the threat posed by misuse and highlight ways to mitigate the risk through security plans, communicating with customers, recording sales, identifying suspicious activities and notifying law enforcement if problems arise.