Updated: 20-Mar-2003 NATO Speeches

Round Table

20 March 2003

“Paper on Eco-Terrorism, Environmental Crime, and International Environmental Security”

Michael Penders,
President, Environmental Security International, USA

Among the evidence to emerge after September 11 concerning international terrorists intent to commit acts of Eco-Terrorism, is that of a car dealer in Tennessee. According to him, a man calling himself “Mo” landed his small plane at an airport in March 2001 and began asking questions about a nearby chemical plant. As recounted to the FBI and the press, the stranger wanted to know “What kind of chemicals are in those massive storage tanks?” He informed the pilot he thought the tanks were empty but he was in fact wrong. The tanks actually contained as much as 250 tons of sulfur dioxide, an amount that if released would be sufficient to harm as many as 60,000 people, according to worst-case estimates developed by the plant. Two other witnesses identified the stranger as Mohamed Atta, a key suspect in the strike that felled the World Trade Center.

Recent terrorist attacks and the plans of terrorist groups to use chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons has altered the calculus of risk that underpins much of environmental law and brought international mandates for greater security. Risks that seemed too remote to be addressed in serious and comprehensive ways by many governments, corporations, or individuals are being focused upon with new urgency. The priorities of environmental security efforts have shifted accordingly to reflect this on national, international, and local levels. National and State anti-terrorism legislation was introduced placing new restrictions on hazardous materials transportation. Facilities with large amounts of hazardous chemicals stepped up security efforts and minimized the amounts of the most hazardous substances kept on site. For example, a Waste Water Treatment Plant, just a few miles from the Capitol removed 900 tons of liquid chlorine and sulfur dioxide. Within days they accelerated a program to use less toxic chemicals like bleach instead of chlorine gas for wastewater treatment.

International efforts at environmental security have sharpened to include a focus on immediate risks from biological, chemical, and nuclear materials, and those individuals and groups who would use them as weapons of mass destruction and terror. Addressing these risks in an era of global commerce and freer and faster trade, requires better international frameworks for systematic integration of information among law enforcement agencies, customs services, environmental regulatory agencies, trade agencies, and intelligence sources. Nations must improve their capabilities to share and analyze such data across borders, using new information technologies, to detect shipments of chemical, biological, or nuclear agents that may be precursor to acts of terrorism or environmental crime.

Around the world, the environmental laws themselves were designed to address risks to human health and the environment posed by complex industrial societies. Many environmental laws, and the capacity to enforce them, were developed in response to industrial risks that became tragically manifest with the death of thousands in Bhopal, India and other serious incidents around the world. Environmental laws reflect a calculus of risk and construct compliance requirements designed to reduce those risks. Recent events have changed those terms, imposing security as a paramount value in environmental law, regulation, and environmental management. New legislation has superimposed new security measures on existing environmental laws. The imperative to implement environmental security measures for critical infrastructure will provide a new lens in considering implementation of international agreements with greater emphasis on facilitating the deployment of more strategic and efficient approaches to minimizing environmental risks.

Even with advances in environmental management over the last decade, few facilities have integrated security monitoring and defenses, or adequately addressed risks of sabotage from outside or inside the facility. Conversely, despite advances in technologies for security systems, often a very separate operation from environmental management at facilities, very few adequately address threats from chemical or biological agents. In recent years, certain sensitive facilities have begun to deploy environmental management systems with integrated approaches to information management and security monitoring, using new technologies. The search for safety from a newly apparent array of threats, has created new incentives for sustainable and secure environmental management practices, as well as a new urgency in defining and implementing environmental security.

Towards an International Environmental Security Policy With an Integrated Law Enforcement Response

Over the last decade, as the concept of environmental security evolved from a minor point to a significant element of national security policy in many nations, the capacity of the various agencies required to work together to implement these policies lagged behind. It was widely recognized that environmental threats do not heed national borders and pose long-term dangers to security. Natural resource scarcities can trigger and exacerbate conflict. Environmental threats such as climate change, ozone depletion, and the transnational movement of hazardous chemicals and waste directly threaten the health of citizens.

Internationally, while the late 1990s witnessed a proliferation of environmental policy initiatives, rarely was there a mechanism for implementing these policies across the different agencies with overlapping jurisdiction for international traffic in hazardous substances, much less resources to follow through in a serious way. Many of the environmental initiatives themselves consisted largely of urging ratification of the various conventions and calling for increased cooperation in fighting trans-boundary environmental crime. This latter point reflected a growing recognition that the treaties themselves had little or no impact on actual environmental security unless the Multi-lateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) were adequately implemented in law, and unless there was a capacity to enforce these laws across national borders. As the United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for the Environment John Gummer put it: “ These Conventions are worthless words on paper, unless their provisions are enforced in practice.”

At about the same time, several multi-agency, multi-national enforcement initiatives emerged to bring together the data from environmental agencies with law enforcement agencies charged with international investigations in order to detect violations of international environmental agreements. These operations provide a model for the broader and more systematic approaches of information and law enforcement integration required for security from chemical, biological and other threats that cross national borders. These multi-agency initiatives involved bringing together Customs agents with their automated customs and trade data, environmental and regulatory data regarding the notification and controls of lawful shipments of chemicals, tax authorities and their tax information on such shipments and receiving facilities law enforcement agencies and prosecutors. Some involved foreign international organizations such as the World Bank, and private companies around the world with their data on the lawful production of controlled chemicals by facilities around the world.

These initiatives illustrated the type of compliance information, trade data, and various law enforcement information that needs to be brought together in a systematic way to detect illegal shipments of chemical, explosives, hazardous and nuclear wastes and other goods in international commerce that may be precursor to acts of terrorism, or forms of international environmental crimes that threaten environmental and national security. It also demonstrated the type of public and private partnerships necessary to detect illegal traffic that can be easily disguised as lawful commerce in chemicals or biological substances.

By the late 1990s, senior policy makers around the world recognized the need for better mechanisms for sharing data within and among nations as a prerequisite for meaningful enforcement of laws governing international commerce in regulated substances. For example, at the G8 Summit Meetings, those nations committed to greater cooperation among them and the developing world to address threats to national security posed by international environmental crime, estimated at that time to exceed 20 billion dollars a year in illegal trafficking in chemicals, hazardous wastes, and other regulated substances.

The G8 Nations’ Lyon Group of Senior Experts in Transnational Organized Crime initiated a law enforcement project on international environmental crime, including acts that constituted ecological terrorism. This project was launched to improve information exchange, data analysis, and cooperation among law enforcement agencies, international organizations such as INTERPOL, the World Customs Organization, and the Secretariats of the MEAs, as well as environmental and trade regulators. The G8 Project was asked to develop collaborative mechanisms to detect violations of international environmental laws, and the organized crime and terrorist groups associated with them.

The challenges of coordinating different law enforcement agencies and integrating information among them have long been recognized, but difficult to surmount absent a task force approach in a high priority case or initiative, or a galvanizing event such as September 11. In May 2000, the United States President’s Interagency Commission on Crime and Security in U.S. Seaports published its report, urging throughout greater coordination of all federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies with significant regulatory and enforcement missions. Just on the federal level, for detecting illegal imports that threaten security, these agencies include Customs, Immigration, the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, the Coast Guard, and the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor, and aspects of the intelligence community. The report’s first recommendation was to strengthen interagency, intergovernmental, and public/private sector efforts to address the threats of seaport crime (including terrorism), and to enhance control of imports and exports.

While this report focused on crime and security at the 361 public seaports themselves, these ports are among the most vulnerable components of the international and inter-modal trade system. With the billions of tons of cargo coming through these ports every year, and the smuggling of contraband and illegal aliens that may be connected to terrorism, the report’s finding that the state of security in U.S. seaports generally ranges from poor to fair is not comforting.

Among the reasons for vulnerabilities at ports is the exponential growth of trade over the last twenty years, the nature of modern container shipments, and the failure of inspection and control resources and technologies to keep pace. Economic globalization has compressed reaction time for law enforcement and has blurred national borders. Most import crimes go undetected at ports because less than two percent of cargo is inspected. This includes illegal transport of pre-cursor chemicals, hazardous materials, drugs, munitions, and potential weapons of mass destruction. Less than one per cent of export cargo is inspected.

Complicating efforts at homeland security from illegal imports further, the ‘stove-piping’ of traditional law enforcement agencies presents obstacles to working together and sharing data to combat newer crimes that cut across law enforcement jurisdictions and involve regulatory agencies. With different law enforcement agencies, regulatory agencies, all with their disparate data collection and dissemination systems designed for their administrative functions, there is too little integration across these functions to allow for a central assessment of illegal imports that may pose threats to national security. Meanwhile, international criminal and terrorist threats change constantly and adapt to law enforcement capabilities. In an era when organized crime and terrorists use advanced communications around the world, national law enforcement agencies can no longer afford “not to know what we know”.

While reports like the Seaport Crime and Security study have identified these issues in recent years, little has been done to implement recommendations from these reports in a serious and comprehensive way across the government agencies. Indeed, agencies spread thin to cover their core functions are often reluctant to devote their resources to an inter-agency process. They are particularly reluctant where other agencies have overlapping jurisdiction and when an investment in new information technologies may be required. Even with the current mandate, resources that are likely to be appropriated, and a new focus on asymmetrical threats to national security from terrorists, it presents many challenges to existing institutional structures to bring the right information together in the right way and in time to detect threats before it is too late.

It is clear, however, that technology that is widely used in the private sector and for military purposes is available to bring together relevant information across agencies and nations through link analysis and other measures to enable law enforcement authorities to better determine threats as they cross national borders. It is imperative that agencies and international organizations that have designed and are administering regulatory processes, or are developing new ones, structure them in such a way to take full advantage of these technologies, particularly electronic reporting, and design them to be compatible with other agencies information systems, particularly Customs automated data systems.

Government agencies should move forward aggressively with electronic reporting and record keeping, which is the only way to facilitate comparison with Customs data, and other agencies law enforcement information in a timeframe consistent with detecting illegal imports before it is too late. Efforts to move forward with bar coded electronic manifests and with rendering as much compliance data in secure and harmonized electronic form as soon as possible can only improve the ability of law enforcement to detect and track illegal shipments and other violation of international agreements. If trucking and shipping lines can track their cargo using Global Information Systems, and grocery stores can track their inventory using bar codes and electronic systems, shouldn’t governments be in a position to use these same technologies to detect and track shipments that pose threats to national security?

Structuring International Environmental and Trade Agreements to Take Advantage of Integrated Communications and Deliver More of the Security They Promise.

Unless law enforcement agencies at the border have systematic real time access to regulatory information to determine whether a shipment complies with regulatory requirements, nations cannot realistically expect to achieve widespread compliance with international agreements designed to control the trade in hazardous substances, including those that may be used as weapons of mass destruction. Yet, many international agreements, such as the Basel Convention on the Control of Trans-boundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, still rely on the environmental agency from the exporting nation faxing notification and consent forms to the environmental agency of the importing nation, with no direct connection to customs agencies and their largely automated data systems for tracking trade. Moreover, the regulatory classification systems for hazardous wastes bore little resemblance to the tariff codes and other nomenclature used by customs services to track goods in international commerce. These are among the obstacles that have made certain international agreements notoriously difficult to enforce.

New environmental agreements, and revisions to existing ones, must facilitate the exchange of compatible data between regulatory agencies and customs services, using electronic reporting harmonized with the automated data processes governing international trade and customs’ clearance processes. Negotiators of recent agreements have considered the problems of detecting illegal traffic, but whether nations implement measures enabling them to detect violations in the real world of international trade remains to be seen.

For example, leading up to the agreements last year on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) and Prior Informed Consent (PIC), parties at preparatory meetings considered recommendations for detecting and preventing illegal traffic in these chemicals, based upon the experience of those with experience in enforcing the import and export laws governing hazardous wastes and ozone depleting substances. While these agreements adopted language on compliance and enforcement, unless nations implement administrative notification and consent regimes using electronic reporting with real time connection to customs trade data and inspection and control functions, an opportunity will be lost to use the best available technologies to provide a greater measure of international environmental security.

Other avenues for pursuing the type of data integration required to better assure compliance with international environmental agreements include the trade agreements, and the Customs agreements that implement technical exchange of information between nations. While trade agreements have become increasingly sophisticated in their use of technologies, and Customs electronic data systems have facilitated faster trade with expedited clearance processes, they do not have adequate interface with environmental regulatory information under the statutes that implement most environmental agreements. With increased international trade and relatively fewer opportunities for meaningful inspection, it is all the more important that the framework for data exchange imbedded in trade agreements, such as free trade agreements, facilitate a link with the environmental compliance data necessary to determine whether a shipment is legal, or may pose a threat.

The World Customs Organization and governments have supported such measures as a matter of policy. When it comes time to negotiate the actual trade and technical agreements themselves, however, integration with environmental agencies’ compliance data has not been a priority or received much in the way of resources from Customs or from the environmental agencies themselves. While harmonizing waste, chemical, and pesticide definitions and codes under environmental laws with corresponding Customs’ nomenclature for categories of goods in commerce may require additional attention and resources, without such harmonization, there is no effective way to detect suspect shipments on a broad enough scale to minimize the risks illegal shipments currently pose, with trade predicted to triple by 2020.

New Urgency for Industry and Facilities to Adopt Environmentally Sound and Secure Management Practices

Just as better integration and management of data from different sources is a key to improving national and international efforts to enhance security, these same fundamentals apply to achieving greater environmental security for industry, critical infrastructure, and specific facilities. The potential infiltration or sabotage of a large chemical facility or a petroleum refinery raises a host of other scenarios. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, more than 123 plants each maintain amounts of toxic chemicals that if, if released, could endanger more than 1 million people. The submittals of firms under the Clean Air Act Risk Management Program Rule describe a host of evils that could occur in the event of an explosion or significant toxic chemical release.

Since September 11, many facilities have reviewed both their security and environmental management practices to create greater defenses. Measures to enhance security have included the following: centralizing receiving operations; increasing surveillance and the number of security guards; enhancing access control measures; moving rail tank cars within the fence-line; permitting employee vehicles only on facility premises.

While many facilities are just now reassessing crisis management, response, and evacuation plans and reviewing their environmental management approaches, other companies have been minimizing the risks and liabilities of their operations by implementing strategic approaches to environmental management over the last decade. The elements of these environmental management systems designed to assure compliance with law, minimize or eliminate the use of the most hazardous substances and wastes, reduce emissions and releases, and improve process efficiencies are important from a security perspective as well.

In recent years, as part of their environmental and information management systems, some facilities have deployed innovative technologies, electronic commerce techniques, remote sensing, and integrated monitoring for compliance and security over secure internet based systems. In addition to achieving new levels of environmental security, such facilities in the public and private sectors have realized efficiencies that have saved costs and natural resources. These facilities have come to rely on Environmental Management Information Systems that allow for real-time monitoring and integration of many different systems over the internet.

Certain NATO Nations’ military bases have also moved to sophisticated environmental management information systems. In addition to monitoring for environmental compliance, these systems also monitor for minute amounts of biological and chemical agents upstream of the facility, monitor for meteorological conditions, releases from off the site, and other parameters that are important from a security perspective, using remote and wireless devices, accessible from the secure web based control center. In the last year, one of these facilities saved 400,000 gallons of water a day due to the efficiencies realized by moving to this system. Another facility, by moving to electronic commerce and just in time delivery of the most toxic chemicals, was able to eliminate an on-site warehouse where these chemicals were stored, and avoid having to submit a hazardous waste permit at all because they remained under the regulatory threshold.

Some of the same techniques that leading companies have come to deploy for sound environmental management purposes may be brought to bear at facilities to achieve new levels of security and efficiency. Accordingly, facilities looking to minimize their risks from acts of terrorism and other threats need to evaluate both their traditional security operations and their environmental management practices. A security audit, terrorism threat assessment, and environmental management gap analysis may reveal vulnerabilities that may be addressed through various commonsense measures. Advances in communication technologies and remote sensing over the last decade offer new ways to monitor and integrate information relevant to detecting a greater array of risks than ever before. These tools put managers in position to know what is happening, respond quicker, and minimize consequences from risks that materialize.


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