This is the 29th issue of the new feature called the IBC Threat Assessment (IBC-TA) which we initiated in November 2014. It is intended to inform our readers about ongoing and emerging CRBNe-threats that need the attention of policymakers, experts and ordinary citizens. If left unattended these threats may result in grave consequences for different sectors of our societies and/or the security of ordinary citizens. As the threat environment is constantly changing existing regulations, crisis plans or security protocols are often insufficient and in need of adaptation or review. Every TA will cover a threat for each CBRNe category. The TA’s are based on open sources.
End date of collection: September 3, 2017
Topics covered in this issue of the threat assessment
- Significant release of harmful chemical pollutants results in environmental threat in Texas
- As 22 EU countries are hit by Fipronil pesticide scandal in the poultry sector questions are raised about the effectiveness of food security systems
- Indonesian Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) terror cell dismantled that reportedly was involved in the development of a dirty bomb
- In new provocation at the anniversary of its founding North Korea executes its 6th nuclear test
- British Blockbuster bomb successfully dismantled outside city center of Frankfurt
Significant release of harmful chemical pollutants results in environmental threat in Texas
- Secondary consequences of hurricane Harvey that made landfall in Texas on August 25 include industrial accidents, environmental contamination and broad concerns about diseases.
- Delay in the introduction of a new safety rule for chemical plants has complicated the work of first responders as officials fly in the blind as to what substances and chemicals they are dealing with.
- Hurricane Harvey illustrates that coastal areas in the US with many industrial plants are not sufficiently prepared for the new era of extreme weather events
On August 25, Harvey made landfall into Texas as a Category 4 hurricane causing extensive flooding. The rain totaled nearly 52 inches (1.3 meters) in some spots. At least 185,000 homes were damaged excluding Beaumont and Houston. More than 440,000 Texans have registered for FEMA disaster assistance. Tens of thousands of people have taken refuge in shelters. Many more are staying with friends, family or strangers. Congress has been asked for a $7.9 down payment toward Harvey relief and recovery efforts. The cost of recovery could be as much as $180 billion according to one estimate.
The coastal Houston area is the site of a large concentration of chemical plants, refineries, superfund sites and fossil fuel operations. Many of these have suffered damage from Harvey releasing toxic compounds into the environment. Oil refineries and chemical plants across the Texas Gulf Coast already released more than one million pounds of air pollutants in the first week after Harvey struck. This was the result by flaring, leaks and chemical discharges at oil refineries, chemical plants and shale drilling sites. Emissions have already exceeded permitted levels. The chemicals released include benzene, 1,3 betadiene, hexane, hydrogen sulfide, silver dioxide, toluene and xylene. These toxic air pollutants are documented to cause harm to human health and several cause cancer. These relatively unseen environmental threats do not get sufficient recognition. Further damage and emissions across the region could be uncovered in the coming weeks as floodwaters recede. Chemical safety experts have warned that restarting plants could carry as many dangers as the shutdowns. The Chemical Safety Board has issued a safety alert urging special cautions when restarting industrial plants.
A more visible incident was the fire and explosions at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby. Company officials said they could do noting to stop 1.9 tons of volatile chemicals from igniting. Residents in the town had to be evacuated within a 1,5 mile radius around the plant. As an emergency measure the chemicals were moved into nine box trailers. Three trailers containing unstable chemical compounds (organic peroxides) had caught fire at the plant after backup generators were engulfed by the floodwater. This knocked out the refrigeration necessary to keep the chemicals from degrading and igniting. The refrigeration could not be restarted because the electrical infrastructure had been under water for a week. On September 3, authorities decided to set the six other trailers with organic peroxide deliberately on fire in a controlled burn. They called it a ‘pro-active measure’ to prevent additional risk to the local community.
The fire and explosions at the Arkema plant have made the secondary consequences of the flooding more visible. In the coming period more information will become available about these secondary cascading effects on the environment and the health situation. This information will play a role in a new debate about safety regulations for industrial plants in areas that are likely to be affected by severe weather events. A chemical safety plant rule will again be put on the agenda as its introduction was delayed earlier this year as President Trump took office. Such a rule would have ensured first responders knew what chemicals they may come in contact with and how to handle these chemicals in an emergency response situation.
As the month of September is peak hurricane season the next hurricane is already in the making in the Atlantic. Hurricane Irma is approaching the US and may make landfall in Florida and the South Carolinas on September 11. Although the exact path and strength is still debated it is likely that the US will be hit by another severe and costly weather incident. These severe weather incidents will again reinvigorate the debate about the effects of premature evacuation. The city of Houston didn’t order an early evacuation because officials were afraid of what would happen on the highways.
As 22 EU countries are hit by Fipronil pesticide scandal in the poultry sector questions are raised about the effectiveness of food security systems
- The illegal use of the pesticide Fipronil to fight blood lice has caused a European egg crisis as Dutch food security authority NVWA blocked farms and ordered the removal of millions of eggs from supermarkets
- As the Dutch poultry sector is a major egg producer in Europe the egg crisis cascaded to 22 other EU countries and also effected other food products based on eggs.
- The egg crisis resulted in a loss of consumer trust and caused serious questions about the functioning of national and European food security systems.
The Dutch poultry sector that produces 7 billion eggs annually was slowly recovering from the effects of avian influenza as it was hit by another blow this summer as the Dutch food security authority NVWA blocked hundreds of farms and ordered the removal of eggs from supermarkets as the illegal pesticide Fipronil was discovered in eggs above the official established norm.
The Fipronil was secretly added to ‘Dega16’ that was used by the Dutch cleaning company Chickfriend to clean chicken stables against blood lice. The Fipronil was acquired from the Belgian company Poultry Vision owned by Patrick R. The offices of Poultry Vision were raided on July 20 by the Belgian food security authority FAVV. The Belgians informed the Dutch NVWA after which the NVWA decided to do tests at Dutch farms that were clients of Chickfriend.
After it was found that Fipronil levels in eggs were above the official norm at some farms the crisis exploded quickly mainly due to a confusing information campaign. While the NVWA officially advised not to eat eggs from farms that showed that they had Fipronil levels above the norm, the deputy inspector-general of the NVWA announced at national television that it temporarily was better not to eat eggs at all.
The NVWA has acknowledged that it had received anonymous information about the use of Fipronil in November 2016. At that time it did not have knowledge of contamination of eggs. It waited for doing tests of eggs after it had received information of Belgium this summer. After receiving the results of the tests at suspected Dutch farms a total of 258 companies with 664 stables were blocked. As eggs from these companies had no value anymore a total of 1,5 million chickens were gassed. Some companies decided to put their chickens on a diet in the hope that Fipronil levels would sink below the official accepted norms. The egg crisis had cascading effects on other food products that are based on eggs. Late August, a total of 22 EU member states were affected by the egg crisis.
Criminal investigations have been initiated into the activities of persons related to Poulty Vision and Chickfriend. The administrations of the companies have been confiscated. Results of the investigation of these administrations also showed that possibly other prohibited pesticides were used by them, e.g. amitraz, that is used in the meat sector. The suspects are charged with endangering public health and possession of prohibited chemicals.
Several official investigations have been initiated in the Netherlands to find out how this crisis could have happened and how it evolved. They also have to find out the respective responsibilities of the parties involved and whether the current food security system functions as it should.
At EU level questions have been raised about the functioning of the existing food security system. Agricultural ministers will meet with the EU Commission in September to discuss the crisis and food security in general. A debate is expected about fundamental changes in agrarian and food policies to allow for more ecological and nature-friendly farming.
The egg crisis has enormous financial consequences for many poultry companies. Financial damage with some estimates totaling up to €150 million may cause bankruptcy for many farmers if they do not receive financial aid from existing or a newly established emergency fund or some form of continuity arrangements with the banks.
The egg crisis has resulted in a loss of consumer trust and has raised questions about the functioning of current national and EU food security systems. In the Netherlands several investigations have been initiated to find out what went wrong and which parties were responsible for the egg crisis. The outcome of these studies will determine who will pay the bill for the damage caused.
After slowly recovering from a crisis caused by avian influenza the Dutch poultry sector has been hit by another blow. The egg crisis will result in severe financial problems for a number of farms and some will go bankrupt if they do not get some form of financial help.
The main question the investigators will have to answer is whether the current food security system functions as it should. The Dutch food security authority NVWA has been severely criticized for handling the crisis as it has been blamed for causing unnecessary panic due to a failing and confusing public information campaign. It has also been criticized for not having the right toxicological expertise and insufficient means to do its work effectively due to reorganizations and budget cuts in the past.
Indonesian Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) terror cell dismantled that reportedly was involved in the development of a dirty bomb
- In mid-August Indonesian police dismantled a Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) terror cell in Bandung, West Java, that reportedly was involved in the development of a dirty bomb
- The cell operated on the basis of an Indonesian-language instruction manual written by Bahrun Naim, an Indonesian foreign fighter in Syria linked to Daesh.
- The case illustrates how Daesh tries to extend its reach by using foreign fighters to inspire and instruct militants in their own country of origin.
In mid-August the Indonesian police dismantled a Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) terror cell that reportedly was involved in the development of a dirty bomb to be used for an attack against a government target at the end of the month. Five suspects were arrested and chemical materials and equipment were confiscated. Information about the plot is still sketchy and incomplete. The terror cell reportedly operated on the basis of an Indonesian-language bomb-making instruction manual ‘Nuclear for dummy’ written by Bahrun Naim, an Indonesian foreign fighter currently in Syria who is linked to Daesh.
According to the information that is available the suspects were attempting to extract Thorium232 (Th-232) from a household chemical that has not been publicly named. They planned to transform the Th-232 into Uranium 233 (U-233) by irradiating it with an X-ray machine or micro-wave. The acquired U-233 would be combined with the conventional explosive triaceton triperoxide (TATP). The cell reportedly was one week into the process that would have taken about three weeks.
Two of the five arrested suspects are Indonesian migrant workers deported from Singapore and Hongkong earlier this year for posting radical Islamist material on social media. They spent a month or less in a deradicalization center before joining up with the other militants. According to government sources this year already a total of 177 Indonesian militants were deported from other countries.
On August 28, a Jakarta court sentenced Dian Yulia Novi (20), a female would-be suicide bomber, to seven and a half years in prison. She was arrested in 2016 on suspicion of plotting to blow up herself outside Jakarta’s presidential palace during the changing of the guard. Also her husband Muhamad Nur Solikin was arrested. Novi was believed to be radicalized through social media while employed as a domestic worker in Taiwan. The couple reportedly received instructions for the attack from Bahrun Naim in Syria.
Indonesia has experienced attacks with TATP bombs before and there has been an incident with a test run of a chemical device. The dismantling of the recent JAD cell illustrates that with the help of Daesh local militants want to organize more ambitious attacks. Experts who had access to information about the case doubt, however, that the cell could have been successful in transforming the Th-232 into U-233 due to their lack of expertise and insufficient powerful equipment.
Indonesia has experienced a series of mostly relatively small attacks in the past years and the police have disrupted many more. It is feared that local militants feel inspired by the recent developments in the Philippines where militants succeeded in capturing a local city. With the help of operatives in Syria Daesh may inspire local militants to chose new and more sophisticated tactics. The recent sentence of Dian Yulia Novi illustrates that the use of female suicide bombers now has proliferated to Asia.
Daesh has shown an interest in the past for dirty bombs. There have been reports about the theft of uranium in Iraq and the surveillance of a nuclear facility in Belgium. The instruction manual written by Bahrun Naim illustrates that it wants to inspire local militants in other regions to assemble more sophisticated explosives. As of now their plans have not been successful due to lack of expertise and insufficient equipment. The combination of TATP bombs with chemicals or radioactive materials will remain a concern for counterterrorism officials. And as the Indonesian case illustrates the threat will not be contained to the Middle East but is likely to proliferate to other theaters of the global jihad. As Daesh is losing territory and operational capabilities in Syria and Iraq the organization may be even more motivated to retaliate by inspiring militants in other countries.
In new provocation at the anniversary of its founding North Korea executes its 6th nuclear test
- As expected by experts North Korea executed its 6th nuclear test following the anniversary of its founding, showing that it continues unabated with the development of its nuclear program.
- The regime claimed that it tested a hydrogen bomb with an explosive power of 100 kt that could be fitted on an ICBM and could be used to cause an EMP over the US
- The latest test has been condemned internationally and has raised worries about rising chances of a military confrontation with the US
On September 3, North Korea executed its 6th and most powerful nuclear test and was timed to immediately follow the anniversary of the founding of the North Korean state. The blast was detected at the Punggye-ri underground test site and reportedly had a magnitude of 6.3 on the scale of Richter. The North Korean regime claimed that it had tested a hydrogen bomb that could be fitted on an ICBM. The seismic signal suggests a significantly higher explosive yield than the 5th test and may indicate thermonuclear material in the exploded device.
Hours before the test photographs of Kim Jung-un were released in which he examined what was claimed to be the new weapon. Experts doubted whether the shown device was real but indicated that North Korea was known for working on a hydrogen bomb. Besides the photographs, no other type of evidence was provided. The official press release said that Kim Jung-un visited the Nuclear Weapons Institute and had watched how the H-bomb was loaded into a new ICBM (Hwasung-14) that was flight-tested twice in July. The H-bomb had an explosive power adjustable from tens of kilotons to hundreds of kilotons.
The new weapon was described as a multifunctional and could be detonated at high-altitude to cause an Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP). Experts maintain that even if North Korea did not test a real H-bomb it could have increased the yield of a more traditional device by using tritium. One American expert recently assessed that North Korea could field a crude thermonuclear weapon with a yield approaching 100Kt soon after 2020, or possibly sooner. Other experts emphasized that North Korea’s determination to build a reliable nuclear force has long been underestimated. They do however, clarify that North Korea still has to overcome a number of key obstacles before it can field a nuclear-tipped ICBM capable of threatening the US mainland. These are related to a guidance and stability control system, the re-entry vehicle, and the size and stability of the nuclear weapon that has to survive the flight
The North Korean nuclear test triggered crisis meetings by major powers and the international organizations including the United Nations. The new test is likely to strengthen the faction in the US government that is a proponent of preventive military action. While government officials made statements indicating that they wanted to strengthen the sanctions against the North Korean regime, military spokesmen indicated that all options are now on the table. Military options have been revised for strikes against missile and nuclear sites. During the whole summer exercises have been executed to test attack plans. Generals are talking openly about preventive military action. The regime has already been subjected to more intense economic sanctions following previous ballistic missile tests. The new test may trigger China to do more in implementing existing sanctions regime as it considers a nuclear test as more serous.
President Trump’s tweets following the test indicated a less conciliatory stance. He appears to be convinced that more talks will be useless and that the regime will only understand military force. Until now Trump followed the same policy as his predecessors: increasing economic pressure and threatening military force. But unlike his predecessors Trump has used more provocative rhetoric about a potential military response. A new missile attack that would hit US military bases on the critical island of Guam could trigger a US military response that could set in motion a very dangerous escalation path.
The latest nuclear test was widely condemned and interpreted as a new provocation following a recent ballistic missile test this summer that flew over Japan. It is likely to make the US less conciliatory and raise the chances of a military confrontation. For the past months Western media have been preparing the public for military action against North Korea explaining the evil and danger of the regime and explaining the risks of doing nothing. Especially the threat of an EMP attack that could have disastrous effects on critical infrastructure is used to frighten the public in order to justify preventive military action.
The latest nuclear test and preparations for new missile tests will raise the pressure on the US to address the demonstrable advances North Korea is making in its missile and nuclear weapon development. It still has to overcome a number of key obstacles before it has the capability to strike the US mainland. US government officials have indicated on many occasions that they would not allow this from happening. The latest tests illustrate that North Korea is gradually making progress which reduces the time for negotiations. A direct hit on a US military asset in the region or on one of its allies is more and more likely to trigger a military response. While some experts hold that a limited military strike could teach Kim Jung-un a lesson, others maintain that this would be the beginning of a military conflict with disastrous effects and millions of casualties.
British Blockbuster bomb successfully dismantled outside city center of Frankfurt
- An unexploded 1,800 kg. British Blockbuster bomb dropped in WWII on the German city of Frankfurt was successfully dismantled on September 3.
- City authorities had to organize the largest ever evacuation operation in German history as an area with a radius of 1,5 kilometer around the location of the bomb had to be cleared.
- Due to material fatigue unexploded bombs dropped during WWII are becoming more dangerous and city authorities are under increasing pressure to identify their location and organize costly dismantling operations.
On September 3, 2017. German explosives experts led by Dieter Schwetzler and René Bennert, successfully dismantled an 1,800 kg British Blockbuster bomb (type HC4000) that was discovered during construction activities just outside the city center of Frankfurt. As there was a danger of explosion a large-scale evacuation operation had to be organized involving about 65,000 people in a radius of 1,5 kilometer around the location of the bomb. Police rang every doorbell in the area and made use of helicopters with heat-sensing cameras to make sure that nobody was left behind in the area before the dismantling operation started. Two hospitals and ten old people homes had to be evacuated. Special police protection had to be organized for a central bank and public transport lines were halted.
The dismantling operation involved the removal of three mechanical fuses. The first fuse was removed without problems but the other two took more time and effort. At 6:31 pm the job was done and the people were allowed to return to their homes.
The massive bombardment of Germany during the Second World War caused an extensive problem after the war as an estimated 10-15 percent of the bombs that were dropped did not explode. More than 70 years later about 2000 tonnes of live bombs and munitions are found each year in Germany. More than 100,000 unexploded bombs have not been identified yet. Every year somewhere in Germany spontaneous detonations are reported.
During the Second World War allied forces dropped 1,5 million tonnes of bombs on Germany killing more than 600,000 people. The bombardments were intended to cripple the Nazi war machine and to demoralize the German population. More than 1,000 bombs were dropped on Frankfurt in March 1944. At the end of the war the old city was completely destroyed, especially the districts with industrial companies.
It is estimated that in Germany more than 250,000 bombs did not explode due to technical faults. Thousands of these bombs are still hidden underground. When confronted with UXO bomb disposal experts have to decide whether to defuse it or to carry out a controlled explosion. It is a dangerous job. Since 2000 eleven bomb technicians have died during dismantling operations.
Due to material fatique the unexploded bombs are becoming more dangerous over time. That is a reason why German authorities are under increasing pressure to identify UXOs in populated areas and organize costly dismantling operations. Many UXOs are discovered during construction activities. It is estimated that it will take decades to clear all of the remaining unexploded ordnance.
As international coalitions are still involved in extensive bombing operations in populated areas and cities in the Middle East and North Africa it should be realized that this will cause an extensive UXO problem for years to come. It will take decades to identify and dismantle them as the German example illustrates.