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

Statement for the Record of
Robert M. Burnham
Chief, Domestic Terrorism Section
before the
United States House of Representative
Subcommittee on Health and Environment
Committee on Commerce

May 19, 1999

Good afternoon Mr. Chairmen and Members of the Subcommittee, 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 for the FBI. I am pleased to have this opportunity to address the committee today with respect to whether HR-1790, the Chemical Safety Information and Site Security Act of 1999, satisfies concerns the FBI has previously expressed regarding electronic dissemination over the Internet of Worst Case Scenario data.

The Clean Air Act (CAA) mandates that chemical facilities provide to EPA a Risk Management Plan (RMP), detailing their risk prevention mitigation plans. It includes the worst case scenario data and alternative release data for both toxic and flammable materials. The data require calculations regarding distances to end points, as well as the populations that would be affected, which would provide information about the size of a plume from release and the potential casualties from the plume.

The FBI supports the CAA and the spirit of community right- to-know legislation. We understand the benefits of providing the necessary information to the community, which allows them to make informed decisions on local planning and preparedness issues, and we acknowledge that right-to-know laws create incentives for facilities to reduce risks relating to chemical manufacturing and storage processes. At the same time, we are concerned about the need to limit 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 could be directly utilized as a targeting mechanism in a terrorist or criminal incident.

I have earlier testified before this committee and provided a threat analysis regarding the affect of unfettered release of the Worst Case Scenario data over the Internet. I have also provided written answers to questions submitted by the committee and have also testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Clean Air and Wetland, Private property and Nuclear Safety on the same issue. In our discussions with EPA over the last eighteen months the FBI has repeatedly asserted, from a threat analysis view point, that the FBI opposed the unrestricted release of Worst Case Scenario information in electronic format to anyone other than federal, state, and local government agencies who are responsible for emergency management and planning. These agencies are the primary end users for this type of information, and the availability of this information to these agencies is expected to produce positive results in the future. In our discussions with the EPA, other federal agencies and affected parties, we have tried to balance our security concerns and give communities and state and local agencies the appropriate access to this information. The FBI has consistently maintained that the potential release of this Worst Case Scenario data in an uncontrolled manner would provide targeting tools and new ideas for criminals and terrorists. Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), this information would have to be released in the form maintained by EPA, including electronic format.

The bill being considered prevents disclosure of the Worst Case" Scenario information under the FOIA, but allows disclosure under certain circumstances. The Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) has reviewed the disclosure limitations contained in this legislation and has concluded that they are consistent with the First Amendment. The FBI believes the proposed legislation addresses the concerns that we have consistently raised. We therefore strongly support its prompt consideration by the Congress and its speedy enactment.

Thank you for this opportunity to appear before you today. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.