Terrorist Roadmaps, Courtesy of Uncle Sam

June 13, 2002  ·  Michael Fumento  ·  National Review Online  ·  Epa

What did the FBI know of possible terrorist attacks before September 11? The CIA? The White House? President Bush’s dog Spot? The media and Congress are demanding answers, and not without reason if the purpose is to try to ensure terrible mistakes aren’t repeated.

Four years after terrorism destroyed the federal building in Oklahoma City, Congress voted to make future terrorist attacks far more likely.

But what if you knew that for years now the same "J’accusers" have jammed their fingers in their ears to keep out the pleas from the FBI, the Justice Department, and other law enforcement-agencies that we must not provide what they’ve called "terrorist roadmaps" for the sabotage of chemical plants to any Tom, Timothy, or Osama who requests them?

Federal law currently requires 15,000 chemical facilities across the country to estimate their worst-case scenario accident and provide the EPA with a report describing in excruciating detail how the accident might happen and who might be harmed.

Known as "off-site consequence analyses" (OCA), these reports include the vulnerable chemical, the conditions under which a release would occur, the distance a toxic cloud would travel, the number of potential victims, and especially vulnerable downwind targets such as hospitals or schools.

According to the EPA, at least 123 plants keep amounts of chemicals that, if released, could harm more than a million people. For example, if a 90-ton railroad car filled with chlorine ruptured at the Atofina Chemicals Inc. plant outside Detroit it could endanger three million people.

For the mathematically challenged, that’s a thousand times the number of lives lost on September 11.

And absolutely anybody can get these reports with the flash of a photo ID—fake or otherwise—and by signing a piece of paper.

Why would we do something so outrageous as to give terrorists instruction manuals for mass murder? For the good of those same potential victims—or so we’re supposed to believe.

Environmentalist groups like Greenpeace convinced a gullible Congress that individuals living or working near the facilities would somehow be able to make use of the information to protect themselves. In reality, they knew all along that the real users would be the activist groups themselves.

Their aim: To scare the public into supporting their agenda of ultimately banning all potentially hazardous man-made chemicals, no matter how slight or remote that threat may be.

In fairness, the legislation leading to the production and publication of the information was enacted back in 1990, three years before the bombing of the World Trade Center and five years before Oklahoma City.

But the EPA didn’t start putting the material into public reading rooms until early 2001, giving Congress plenty of time to rescind the law.

Indeed more than two years ago the FBI raised hue and cry after the EPA announced that it planned to make the OCAs available over the Internet. Along with the Justice Department, the CIA, the ATF, the Secret Service, the Fraternal Order of Police, and the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the FBI warned during congressional hearings that making public the documents would provide "a blueprint for a potential terrorist attack."

Congress’s response? It voted unanimously to make them public anyway.

The primary affect of the new legislation was merely to force the EPA to allow only part of the documents to be made available online, while the most vital information would have to be accessed in-person at one of about 50 reading rooms across the country.

Bizarrely enough, the apparent belief was that a government reading room would keep out bad guys like garlic stops a vampire.

Indeed, even after September 11 congressional members and EPA bureaucrats whom I interviewed expressed a child-like credulity that terrorists who would present fake IDs at an airport, go through security, hijack a plane, and blow themselves up, would nevertheless blanch at the thought of entering an EPA facility. That included the administrator of the reading rooms, Jim Makris.

In any case, during the 1999 hearing, the FBI’s terrorism representative had warned Congress that, "Groups and individuals will acquire the information through lawful means and post it in its entirety on private Internet sites." Several advocacy groups had already announced they would do just that ? and at least one has made good on its promise.

Go the Greenpeace USA website and you’ll be horrified at what our enemies can now access with the click of a mouse. Greenpeace even provides handy maps for the linguistically challenged terrorist.

Since September, several antiterrorist experts have told congressional panels that the reading rooms must be shut down now. I wrote of the problem back in January, and others have sought desperately to publicize the danger.

Yet only now has somebody, Sen. Kit Bond (R., Mo.), finally introduced legislation that would lock the barn door with at least a few of the cows still inside.

Congress has finally decided to consider closing the barn doors with perhaps a few cows still inside.

"To put that [OCA] material out in a public venue is unconscionable," John Eversole, formerly in charge of hazardous materials and terrorism for the Chicago fire department told me. "It cannot be rationalized by any sane person." He told Congress and the EPA’s Makris the same thing back in 1999.

Yet rationalize it they did.

But if ever a U.S. chemical plant goes boom because of a terrorist attack, at least we won’t have to demand who knew what and when. Congress and the EPA knew everything, they knew it all along, and they let it happen.