DHS issues warning to better protect US food supply

WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security has issued a warning raising concern about the vulnerability of the U.S. food and beverage supply chains.

“While we have not seen any specific, credible terrorist threats against Homeland food production and distribution infrastructure, we cannot rule out the possibility of inspired violent extremists or disgruntled insiders attempting to adulterate or poison food and beverages,” DHS said, according to a roll call bulletin for police, fire/EMS and security personnel issued on May 27.

The document said those seeking to do so could achieve it, “with commonly available toxic industrial chemicals or crude biological toxins due to the relative ease of product manipulation, especially at the last point of sale, which criminal actors have demonstrated consistently in the past.”

Citing a stark example of a deliberate attempted mass-poisoning in South Africa, DHS urged authorities to double down on food security in the U.S.

According to the alert, “a South African farmworker in early 2017 added 20 liters of gramoxone — a dipyridinium-based herbicide — to a milk storage tank. While the contamination was detected prior to distribution, the level of gramoxone was likely sufficient to have killed or sickened at least hundreds of people.”

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In another case, a Nigerian man allegedly introduced an unknown poison into the food at a restaurant in Ogoja, Nigeria, in late March 2017, killing two and sickening 40 others.

Closer to home, an offshoot of Greek environmental terrorist groups, Combative Anarchy/Informal Anarchist Federation, “threatened to poison food and beverages made by Nestle, Unilever, Delta Foods, and a named U.S. business in late 2016, leading to mass recalls,” said the bulletin.

The DHS bulletin said the group likely never intended to poison or adulterate the products, but realized it could impact economic, safety and political considerations by making the threats.

The dispatch included possible indicators of suspicious activity that could impact food supplies such as:

  • Loitering or strange behaviors near buffets, salad bars, refrigerated cases, food production lines or raw material/bulk food containers with no reasonable explanation;
  • Damaged product seals, wrappers or packaging of products on shelves or in transport that would indicate tampering;
  • Photography or videography focused on food storage facilities, security cameras, gates, barriers or entry points;
  • People consuming and sharing of media glorifying violent extremist acts in attempting to mobilize others to violence;
  • Attempts to purchase restricted chemicals without proper credentials;
  • Purchase(s) of large quantities of hazardous, commercially available chemicals without reasonable explanation;
  • Parked, standing or unattended vehicles in the same area over multiple days with no reasonable explanation, particularly in concealed locations with optimal visibility of potential targets or in conjunction with multiple visits;
  • Unusual or prolonged interest in or attempts to gain sensitive information about security measures of personnel, peak days and hours of operation, and access controls, such as alarms or locks.

The communiqué urged non-law enforcement who see something suspicious to contact authorities such as local police.

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J.J. Green

JJ Green is WTOP's National Security Correspondent. He reports daily on security, intelligence, foreign policy, terrorism and cyber developments, and provides regular on-air and online analysis. He is also the host of two podcasts: Target USA and Colors: A Dialogue on Race in America.

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