THE MAGAZINE

Left of the Boom

By Matthew Harwood


Substance controls.
In Afghanistan, ammonium nitrate-based bombs account for 83 percent of IEDs and 90 percent of casualties. A common component in fertilizer, it was also used by right-wing terrorist Anders Behring Breivik in the first leg of his two-prong attack in July 2011 when he detonated a car bomb in Oslo’s city center, murdering eight people and wounding hundreds.

Ammonium nitrate-based IEDs have been used in various terrorist attacks inside the United States, including the failed Times Square bomb plot, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the first World Trade Center attack by Islamic militants.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has started regulating ammonium nitrate to prevent its use in IEDs, joining the likes of Australia, Canada, the European Union, and the United Kingdom.

“We must continually reinforce the security of substances, such as ammonium nitrate, which can be used for legitimate purposes or exploited by terrorists,” DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement announcing the program’s notice of proposed rulemaking in August 2011. “Creating the Ammonium Nitrate Security Program [ANSP] is a critical step forward in our continued efforts to ensure the security of potentially dangerous amounts of ammonium nitrate, while still facilitating legitimate everyday use.”

Under the ANSP, for which DHS is currently writing the final rule, ammonium nitrate purchasers and owners of ammonium nitrate facilities must register with DHS, be vetted against the Terrorist Screening Database, and obtain registration numbers from DHS. Registration would occur through a Web-based portal.

Once registered, ammonium nitrate-sellers will have to record each sale or transfer and keep an electronic or paper record for two years. Sellers also must report theft or unexplained loss within 24 hours to the ATF. DHS will have the authority to conduct periodic inspections, generally giving 24-hours’ notice to sellers, unless “exigent” circumstances arise.

Yara, the world’s largest fertilizer company, hopes the ANSP will be an important tool for preventing malefactors from repurposing its product for malevolent ends, but company officials remain cautious about the regulation. “The challenge here,” says Bart Pescio, president of Yara North America, is to find a “balance between increased safety and manageable regulations” so as not to put an intolerable burden on farmers or restrict their access to the most efficient types of fertilizers.
The DHS Office of Infrastructure Protection (IP) estimates that there are about 86,000 purchasers and about 4,300 selling establishments. In its notice of proposed rulemaking, released in the summer of 2011, DHS estimated that the program will cost American taxpayers between $300 million and $1 billion over 10 years.

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