NEWS

FBI: Agroterror Could Devastate Broader U.S. Economy

By Matthew Harwood

A terrorist attack on U.S. agriculture has the potential to hobble the broader U.S. economy, a top intelligence official told stakeholders Tuesday at the Third International Symposium on Agroterrorism in Kansas City, Missouri.

FBI Special Agent Jenifer Smith, chief of the agency's intelligence analysis section, called agriculture "a key pillar of the U.S. economy ... generating $241 billion in 2004 cash receipts."

If a terrorist organization contaminated one or more agricultural commodities, it could cause a drop in U.S. agricultural exports as the volume of exports is "directly tied to the absence of a disease in the affected commodities," she said.

According to the FBI, agroterrorism is "the deliberate introduction, use, or threatened use of a CBRNE [chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or explosive] agent against one or more components of the food/agricultural sector with the goal of causing mortality or morbidity, generating fear, precipitating economic loss or undermining sector stability or confidence in government."

The main threat to the U.S. agriculture comes from domestic terrorists in the militant wing of the environmental movement.

The Earth Liberation Front (ELF) is the most infamous, using vandalism, destruction of property, and acts of intimidation to stop or interrupt research and development of genetically modified organisms. Last month, the ELF claimed responsibility for burning down five luxury homes, marketed as "built green," in a Seattle suburb, leaving a sign that claimed, "McMansions + R.C.D.'s r not green." (R.C.D.s refer to rural cluster developments.)

ELF's sister organization, the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), also has emerged as an agroterrorism threat. ALF focuses much of their actions against fast-food restaurants and companies, such as KFC and McDonald's. The group has also targeted scientific facilities, such as Huntington Life Sciences, that performed experiments on primates. Smith said that ALF's new focus is stopping the use of mice in disease research.

"In 2007 and 2008, scientists have been stalked, harassed, and been victims of burglary, property destruction, and other illicit acts because of their use of mice for research purposes," Smith said.

The international agroterrorism threat from al Qaeda and like-minded jihadists remains, Smith said.She cited information gathered during the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan that al Qaeda considered agroterrorism as one form of potential sabotage to inflict on the United States.

Because of the high economic costs of a successful agroterrorism attack, the FBI has made threats to the agricultural sector an investigative priority as evidenced by the recent influx of ecoterrorist arrests and prosecution, Smith said.

In the latest legal development, the FBI indicted four alleged members of the ELF in mid-March for the 1999 fire at Michigan State University that incinerated a genetic-engineering facility.

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