FBI Holds 2006 Agroterrorism Summit
Protecting Against Terror
FBI Convenes Agroterrorism Summit
Protecting Against Terror
The unfolding story of how tainted spinach grown in California has killed at least one and sickened dozens in 25 states is a stark reminder of how important it is to protect the nation's food supply.
Though there are no indications that suspicious activity led to the recent E.coli outbreak, the subject is likely to emerge this week during the second annual International Symposium on Agroterrorism in Kansas City, a week-long summit of law enforcement and agriculture officials on the front lines of preventing, detecting, and investigating intentional attacks on the U.S. food supply. The symposium, which is expected to draw about 1,000 attendees from 21 countries, is sponsored by our Kansas City division and the Joint Terrorism Task Force-first responders, along with FDA and USDA officials, in the event of an attack.
"Our goal is to protect and prevent," says FBI Special Agent Craig Watz, one of the event's organizers. "If agroterrorism is to occur, how do we best contain it? How do we best respond to it?"
In the event of an attack, the FBI would focus on the criminal investigation while the FDA and USDA center their attention on containing the public health risks. The FBI would collect the suspected hazardous material and send it to a network of labs with standardized procedures for identifying biological or chemical pathogens—a process that 10 years ago took days today takes hours. If the samples were positive, the FBI would establish a Joint Operations Center with representatives from Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, HHS, EPA, FDA, and FEMA, along with local law enforcement, public health officials, and scientists.
"Working together, sharing leads and information, we have the best chance of identifying and containing any potential threat and finding the guilty party," FBI Director Robert S. Mueller said last year in his keynote remarks at the inaugural agroterrorism summit.
Agent Watz said last year's event yielded two strong initiatives that build on the strength of partnerships:
The Agriculture Special Interest Group: this evolved out of Agrigard, a venture that links the farming community with law enforcement. It's modeled on Infragard, law enforcement's partnership with the business community.
The Criminal Epidemiological Rapid Response Team: this will include expert representatives from different first-response agencies who will be cross-trained in each other's disciplines. Watz's team developed a week-long certified curriculum; they hope to get agencies on board at this year's event.
Watz said his goal is to build on last year's foundation. He hopes that by convening key influential people, the message will trickle down to farmers, producers, and distributors, who will think more about how to "harden their own potential targets."
Mueller last year called the group our "first line of defense" and said it's their responsibility to report suspicions to their governing agencies, local law enforcement, or the FBI. Time is critical.
"We cannot wait for a calling card from a terrorist to announce a pending or future attack," Muller said. "Our suspicion may turn out to be nothing, but if it is something significant, we cannot afford to lose that critical response time."