Potential Effects of Electronic Dissemination of Chemical "Worst Case Scenarios" Data
Statement for the Record of
Robert M. Burnham
Chief, Domestic Terrorism Section
United States Senate
Subcommittee on Clean Air, Wetlands,
Private Property and Nuclear Safety
March 16, 1999
Good morning Mr. Chairmen and members of the Committee my name is Robert M. Burnham, and I am the current Chief of the Domestic Terrorism Section at FBI Headquarters. My current responsibilities include national oversight and management of the Domestic Terrorism Operations, Weapons of Mass Destruction and Special Events Management Programs. I previously served as the Assistance Special Agent in Charge (ASAC) of the Memphis Field Office of the FBI. I am pleased to have this opportunity to discuss the potential effects of electronic dissemination of chemical "worst case" scenarios" data as detailed in Section 112(r) of the Clean Air Act of 1990 (CAA).
The CAA mandates that chemical facilities provide to EPA a Risk Management Plan (RMP), detailing their risk prevention mitigation plans. It encompasses the Off Site Consequence Analysis data which includes the Worst Case Scenario data for both toxic and flammable materials. The data requires distance to end point and population affected calculations which detail the size of a plume from a release and the potential population affected by the plume.
The FBI is aware of the need to aggressively pursue environmental crimes, and fully supports the Clean Air Act (CAA) and the spirit of the Community Right to Know legislation. We understand the competing issues at stake here, between providing the necessary information to the community, which allows them to make informed decisions on local planning and preparedness issues, and limiting the risk associated with the distribution of information that can be used against those same communities in a criminal manner. The FBI has worked with the EPA to identify those sections of the Risk Management Plans (RMP) that we believe can be directly utilized as a targeting mechanism in a terrorist or criminal incident.
By way of background, on December 14, 1997, representatives of the FBI were invited to a meeting at the EPA. It was at this time that the FBI first became aware of a plan by EPA to post the RMP, including the "Worst Case Scenarios", on the Internet. The FBI contacted other federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies, as well as the Environmental Crimes and Terrorism Violent Crimes Sections of the Department of Justice, to discuss issues raised by the EPA's Internet distribution plans.
Of great concern to the FBI at the time, was a case in 1997 case that highlighted the potential danger associated with a criminal attack on a chemical facility. The FBI case, code named SOURGAS, involved four KKK members who plotted to place an improvised explosive devise on a hydrogen sulfide tank at a refinery near Dallas, Texas. The FBI was able to infiltrate the group prior to the attack. A surveillance tape shows two of the subjects discussing the potential death of hundreds of area residents. At one point when the discussion turned to the children who may have become victims, one subject turned to her husband and said "if it has to be... it has to be." This cold-blooded killing was to take place merely as a diversion for an armored car robbery the group intended to commit on the other side of town.
Although these individuals did not use the Internet to attack this facility, it illustrates a growing concern that individuals and groups are willing to utilize unconventional methods to achieve their goals and in the process, cause large numbers of casualties. This real life incident highlights better than any scenario we could create, how worldwide unfettered electronic access to this information could be used to facilitate a criminal or terrorist attack in the U.S.
The FBI applauds the gains made in accident prevention since the inception of the CAA and encourages the cooperation between industry and the communities that has brought about this reduction. We believe that providing this information to the communities in the appropriate manner contributes to an increase in safety in those neighborhoods. Through our discussions over the past year with the EPA, other federal agencies and affected parties, the FBI has arrived at initial recommendations which we believe balance these concerns and give the communities, state and local agencies and the academic and research communities, appropriate access to this information. Those recommendations were provided to Congress in a report submitted by the FBI in October of last year.
However, the FBI continues to work with EPA and other interested federal agencies as part of an interagency group on how to achieve the appropriate balance between protecting the public from terrorist attacks and making RMP information available to the public. For example, representatives from the National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC) have met with EPA representatives and discussed options for secure transmission of the RMPs to state and local government agencies.
There is concern that certain groups and individuals will acquire the information through lawful means and post it in its entirety on private Internet sites. The FBI as part of the interagency group has met to discuss this issue. Although this issue is currently under discussion by the interagency group, the FBI is concerned that under FOIA laws the RMP information, to include the Worst Case Scenario information, would have to be provided in electronic format if available . If that is the case, groups or individuals could acquire the information in this manner and reproduce it on the Internet. The net effect would be that these groups would undermine all of the efforts of the many agencies who have worked to bring a responsible approach to the dissemination of this information.
The Internet provides fast and inexpensive methods for disseminating educational information and has the potential to be a tremendously positive force in the future. However from a terrorist threat analysis, providing unfettered electronic access to this type of information on the Internet could have disastrous consequences. The worst case scenario data alone, does not contain all the information necessary to carry out a terrorist attack, however in conjunction with the numerous sites already available on the Internet containing "how to" literature on bomb making, surveillance/counter surveillance and terrorist tactics and devices , it adds to the arsenal of potential criminals.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today.
I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.