Potential Effects of Electronic Dissemination of Chemical "Worst Case Senarios" Data

Statement for the Record of
Robert M. Burnham
Chief, Domestic Terrorism Section

before the
United States House of Representatives
Committee on Commerce

February 10, 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. 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.

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 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 attack. The FBI has recommended that certain data from the RMP, the "Worst Case Scenario" information, be distributed via a secure electronic system to state and local government agencies, and that the affected community be the final arbiter of how to further disseminate this information, in a manner consistent with existing legislation.

On December 14, 1997, representatives of the FBI's Weapon of Mass Destruction Operations Unit (WMDOU) 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" - also known as the Offsite Consequence Analysis (OCA) - on the Internet, in a searchable format. It was the FBI's understanding that EPA believed this was the easiest and most cost effective method by which to comply with federal regulation, which requires that the RMPs be submitted to the EPA, and be made available to the public. The WMDOU representatives were at first unfamiliar with the underlying legislation relating to the RMPs. The WMDOU contacted other federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies, as well as the Environmental Crimes and Terrorism and Violent Crimes Sections of the Department of Justice, to discuss issues raised by the EPA's Internet distribution plans.

The FBI believes there are legitimate law enforcement concerns about the potential misuse of OCA data. Specifically, of great concern to the WMDOU at the time, was a recent 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.

This real life incident highlights better than any scenario we could create, how worldwide unfettered 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 and chemical safety over recent years and encourages the cooperation between industry and the communities that has brought about this success. We believe that providing this information to communities in the appropriate manner contributes to an increase in safety in those neighborhoods. Through our discussions over the past year with the EPA, others federal agencies and affected parties, we have arrived at 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 the committee in a report submitted by the FBI in October of last year. However, as the EPA will discuss today they have made no decisions on those recommendations. The FBI continues to work with the EPA to assist in evaluating in these recommendations and will continue to participate in discussions within the Administration on an appropriate course of action that balances the need to prevent criminal action with the public's right to information.

Mr. Chairmen, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today. I would be happy to attempt to answer any questions that you may have.