Agroterrorism : An Upcoming Threat for the FBI ?
Agroterrorism : An Upcoming Threat for the FBI ?
Statement of John E. Lewis,
Deputy Assistant Director, Counterterrorism Division Federal Bureau of
Investigation Before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and
Forestry July 20, 2005.
FBI, Washington D.C.
Good morning, Chairman Chambliss, Ranking
Member Harkin, and members of the Committee. It is a pleasure to be here today.
Since September 11th, we have necessarily sharpened our
focus on unconventional methods of future attacks, including the potential for
agroterrorism. Most people do not equate terrorist attacks with Agroterrorism.
But the threat is real, and the impact could be devastating.
We have been fortunate so far - we have not faced any direct
large scale attacks to our food supply. We have investigated possible
Agroterrorism attacks with our interagency partners, ultimately determining that
these were cases of product tampering, natural disease outbreaks, or accidental
The absence of any direct attack on our food supply does not
minimize the threat. We know that members of Al Qaeda have studied our
agricultural industry along with other potential targets. In addition, some
animal rights activists and environmental extremists have touted agroterrorism
as a potential means to end animal testing, animal consumption, and genetic
One thing is certain: given the nature of the threat, the
partnerships the FBI has developed, and that we are diligently working to expand
and strengthen will go a long way toward preventing potential agroterrorism
Today, we are sharing information, technology, and resources
with our federal, state, and local counterparts as well as industry.
One of the ways we are working together is through the
Agricultural Intelligence Working Group. Members of this group - including the
FBI, the CIA, the USDA, the FDA, the Department of Homeland Security, and the
military - meet regularly to exchange information and ideas about food security,
and to discuss ways in which we can best utilize our combined skills, technology,
and resources to prevent an attack on our food and agriculture sector.
Another way we are working together is through various
Scientific Working Groups. FBI scientists are working with their counterparts
around the country. Scientists from the CDC, key laboratories around the
country, the CIA, and the Department of Homeland Security, analyzes animal and
plant pathogens - down to the DNA level - to distinguish between pathogens that
occur in nature, and those that are intentionally spread. This distinction is
important. Recovery of the components of an improvised explosive device at the
scene of an explosion can clearly indicate an intentional act has occurred. In
contrast, if a cow contracts Foot and Mouth Disease or a soybean plant exhibits
rust, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to determine whether the attack
was intentional or occurred naturally.
We are not limiting our partnerships to the federal level.
We are reaching out to the people on the front lines - farmers, cattle
ranchers, food producers, and distributors.
FBI Headquarters is directing the formation of a program
called Ag-Guard, as well as the formation of Agroterrorism Working Groups
nationwide. The Ag-Guard program is modeled after our existing Infraguard
network. Through a secure web portal, members of the agricultural community are
sharing information with each other, and with scientists, state and local law
enforcement, and the FBI. Members can pose questions, and alert the FBI to any
suspicious or unusual activity. This program is a win-win for everyone involved.
We are continuing to expand this program and expect to have a nationwide network
developed in the near future.
Additionally, the FBI has formed a partnership with the DHS, USDA, FDA, and
private industry to conduct site surveys of specific private industries within
the agriculture industry. The intent of this Strategic Partnership Program is to
determine critical points in our agricultural system that may be the target of a
terrorist attack, identify early indicators and warnings that would signify
planning and/or preparation for an attack, develop a focus for intelligence
collection strategies around these indicators and warnings, and develop
mitigation strategies for early detection, deterrence, disruption, interdiction,
We are currently working with the Food and Agriculture Sector
Coordinating Council and the Government Coordinating Council (GCC) to identify
approximately 50 sites that we hope to visit over the next two years. The sites
will include the entire production cycle, from farm to fork.
Now, I want to move to the FBI's detection and investigative
methods. I will discuss the two together, because both rely upon the
partnerships that we have established with our interagency partners.
We currently lead 105 Joint Terrorism Task Forces. These
JTTFs are the focal point of our counterterrorism efforts. The JTTFs are aided
in these efforts by highly trained WMD Coordinators in each field office. WMD
threat related information is provided to the WMD Coordinator either via the
extensive liaison network that each has established locally, or through the JTTF.
The WMD Coordinator then contacts FBI Headquarters where we facilitate the
interagency threat assessment process.
This threat assessment process capitalizes upon the expertise
of scientists and subject matter experts both within the FBI and those of our
interagency partners. Our Hazardous Materials Response Unit and the 27 Hazardous
Materials Response Teams they oversee in our field offices possess significant
capabilities to collect and assess potential WMD materials, further enhancing
our capability to provide timely input into the interagency threat assessment
process. The same process is utilized in the event the threat involves a
potential chemical release or agroterrorism. It is a process we utilize almost
every day across the nation. We continue to expand our agroterrorism specific
In order to expand this information sharing, in July of 2004, I directed field
offices nationwide to identify and survey agriculture and food systems within
their jurisdiction. I tasked field offices to assess the level of interaction
and coordination between the FBI and key infrastructure officials in this sector
on preparedness and information sharing matters.
To further formalize the mechanism for communication of
threat information and to strengthen the FBI's relationship with the food and
agriculture sector, field offices were directed to establish formal
Agroterrorism Working Groups within their jurisdiction. This working group will
enhance the already established relationships between Federal partners by
bringing together representatives from all entities involved in the areas of
proactive prevention and awareness, intelligence, investigative response, and
The Select Agent Registration Program was established to
enhance the security of specific biological pathogens and toxins. Under the
Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 ,
the Attorney General has the responsibility to query criminal, immigration,
national security, and other electronic databases to determine if an individual
applying for select agent status is a restricted person.
Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and CDC Select
Agent Program personnel have the responsibility of determining if a facility and/or
an individual is properly trained and has the appropriate skills to handle the
listed select agents and toxins; has proper laboratory facilities to contain and
dispose of listed agents and toxins; including provisions to ensure that
facilities and individuals seeking to register have a legitimate purpose to
receive, possess, or transfer such agents and toxins. The FBI Criminal Justice
Information Services Division (CJIS) has been designated to conduct the Security
Risk Assessments (background checks) mandated under the Bioterrorism Act. CJIS
processes the background checks on the facility owner/operator, the Responsible
Official, and all facility employees requesting access to listed biological
agents and toxins.
In the event that the background check raises additional
concerns about an applicant a lead will be set to gather additional information
to clarify and determine if sufficient information is available to restrict the
individuals' access to listed select agents or toxins. FBIHQ will then
coordinate with USDA and CDC to determine whether an applicant is restricted or
These are just a few examples of what the FBI is doing to
prevent, detect, and investigate agroterrorism. But information sharing is a
two-way street. We cannot investigate if we are not aware of the problem.
Farmers, ranchers, food distributors, and producers are the
first line of defense. If a rancher sees unusual symptoms of illness in the herd,
he must notify his veterinarian or a representative from the USDA. If a food
distributor notes suspicious activity in one of her distribution centers, she
must notify the FDA or USDA FSIS, local law enforcement, or her FBI Field
Office. Likewise, we in the federal government and in the public health sector
must keep each other in the loop. This is why the establishment of Agroterrorism
Working Groups is important.
Our goal is to impress upon those in the food supply
industry, and those of us who work with them, of the need for education,
vigilance, and cooperation.
We are working with our partners in the federal government,
in state and local law enforcement, in scientific labs, on college campuses
across the country, and with members of the agricultural industry. We are
sharing our information, our resources, and our knowledge to ensure the safety
of our nation's food supply.