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Water infrastructure security against Al Qaeda`s revenge for the death of Bin Laden


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On May 2, 2011, the United States (U.S.) President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. forces killed Osama Bin Laden, the world's most dangerous terrorist leader that killed approximately 3000 Americans on September 11, 2011 (9/11) terror attacks. Currently, the U.S. intelligence is in possession of valuable materials of Al Qaeda operations (Thomas, 2011). Terrorist attack plots include water supply, transportation systems, and mining dams (Thomas, 2011). They are analyzing data from the materials obtained by the Navy SEALs to determine future terrorist plots and hideouts. Recently, Al Qaeda vows for retaliation over the killing of Bin Laden, while the U.S. government informed the public that Al Qaeda has been plotting for the 10th year anniversary of 9/11. There are four major questions arise among general public, media, government officials and intelligence communities. The first is, 'How can the revenge attacks against U.S. be very possible when the leader is already dead?' the second is, 'What are the potential terror strategies and plots that most damaging to U.S. economy?' the third is, 'What are the weapons of mass destruction that the enemy is capable to use for water poisoning and explosions of infrastructures?' and the fourth is, 'What are the specific security measures against the potential attacks?' These questions are difficult to provide immediate answers when grave threats and specific targets are not clearly defined in details.

The book entitled, 'Risk Assessment for Water Infrastructure Safety and Security' analyzes and uncovers the prospective terrorist strategies and plots against U.S. water system involving other infrastructures. Examples incorporated terror attacks on transportation systems to create roadblocks for mitigating U.S. Emergency Responders from protecting human lives. It also provides full evaluation of potential weapons of mass destruction, offers various risk and vulnerability assessment, emergency preparedness, preventive measures, and intelligence analysis. Al Qaeda has an obvious interest in revenge attacks on largest and most travelled cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C. Detailed examples of equivalent to 9/11 attacks against Los Angeles and New York's water infrastructure are presented in Figures 1 and 2. Now, it is race against time to detect the potential targets and perceive the risks posed by future attacks.

Water Infrastructure Terrorism

Most literature presented by Homeland Security professionals and experts related to water supply system terrorism shows treatment plant attacks, cyber-terrorism, or bioterrorism (e.g., terrorists attack on electronic systems controlling water operations, bombing of water pipelines, and injection of biological threats into hydrants and water pipes) (Doro-on, 2011). For Al Qaeda, these events are not the most damaging to U.S. economy and insufficient punishment to U.S. over Bin Laden’s murder. Bin Laden’s slaying shows that Al Qaeda is not up to cyber-terrorism but rather would inflict disaster to major infrastructures with unsophisticated amount of effort. U.S. government should concentrate on terrorism activity scenarios for major infrastructures where the economy heavily relies on, such as the water supply system (e.g., aqueducts, dams, and aquifer) and petroleum refineries/plants (see Figure 2). Also, the government should disseminate supports equally for security and should not only prioritize cyber-terrorism. A number of Al Qaeda masterminds and intelligence members are engineers and their main point is to destroy the foundation of an asset (e.g., destroying the structural integrity of a dam similar to Figure 3). Attacking transportation systems does not create economic aftershocks based on Al Qaeda’s principle. However, they are planning to attack transportation systems to use them as improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and obstructions, so no chance for escape from catastrophe and no intrusion of Emergency Responders to save and protect lives when revenge attacks happen (see Figure 4), while increasing death toll at the center point of target.

Poisoning of Water Supply

Al Qaeda is designing their mission to attack U.S. drinking water supply on the anniversary of 9/11 through the calculation of chemicals needed to yield mass casualties and acute injuries based on LD50 of a chemical weapon. The LD stands for lethal dose, and LD50 is the amount of a chemical(s), given all at once, which causes the death of 50% of a group of test animals (Doro-on, 2011). The enemies knew that the lower the LD50, the more deadly the chemical weapon is.

After 9/11, Al Qaeda leaders had confidently threatened U.S. and other European countries (U.S. Allies) to contaminate their drinking water supply. However, some intelligence groups are still not fully convinced that this could be feasible particularly attacking the reservoirs, aqueducts, or an aquifer. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) focused on protecting water and wastewater treatment plants including hydrants, cyberspace for water facilities, and water tanks but less security for the original water sources. Cyanide- and Arsenic-based pesticides (e.g., Fire Ant Controls) can be used as water poisoning because they are difficult to be destroyed by municipal water treatment system and their LD50 is considerably low in the range of 2 to 10 mg/Kg. In fact, the denial-to-water-service will happen quickly, once the raw water is contaminated with chemicals that are difficult to treat. Similar scenario happened in Barstow, California, that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency over water contamination on November 20, 2010, where the water for the city of Barstow was found to be contaminated with perchlorate, a toxic chemical used to make explosives and rocket fuel (Vives and Weikel, 2010). Thus, it is recommended to install or construct emergency advanced treatment system such as reverse osmosis for the community and household to treat water when higher concentration and lower LD50 of the chemical threat are being detected.

Improvised Explosive Devices Used against Water Infrastructure

The Federal government has no exact information what kinds of IEDs the Al Qaeda successors are currently plotting against U.S. after the killing of Bin Laden. Warnings against terrorism and appropriate preventive measures can be determined by having an idea of materials and their specifications used in explosives preparation (Doro-on, 2011). One of the common explosives that Al Qaeda likes to carry is acetone peroxide, which was used as the explosive in the July 2005 London bombings. This bomb can be applied to destroy water infrastructure like the Hoover dam see Figure 3). Moreover, an IED can be done everywhere and when prepared wisely, it can overpower even the greatly protected infrastructure. Al Qaeda’s most terrifying IEDs that can be used as weapons of mass destruction (WMD) are commercial airlines particularly from underdeveloped foreign countries. The enemy knows that U.S. airports are secured and there are international airports in foreign countries, which do not have advanced security procedures equivalent to U.S. and other developed countries. Therefore, terrorists do no need to use aerial or nuclear bombs to attack major infrastructures. Airlines can be utilized as bombs to attack infrastructure such as petroleum refineries near water bodies and urban area (see Figure 2). The result can be devastating to the economy, public health, and the environment, comparable to Deepwater Horizon Accident that occurred on April 22, 2010 and to Tsunami attack in Japan that occurred on March 11, 2011.

A Need of Risk Acceptability Analysis

Most of the standard risk and vulnerability assessment models recommended by experts, prominent authors, DHS, EPA, and other governmental agencies absolutely concluded that the terror risk against U.S. is unacceptable to the society. In addition, these models and methods do not reflect the overall causative risk events surrounding the specific risk conditions and do not entirely prescribe consequence values (Doro-on, 2011). As presented in the book entitled, “Risk Assessment for Water Infrastructure Safety and Security,” risk acceptability analysis can be an important tool in the policy formulation process for the critical infrastructure protection.

Risk acceptability is involved with the determination of what level of safety is required or what degree of risk can be permitted by society for specific risk situations. The problems of risk acceptability can be summarized in three questions: The first is “How safe is safe enough?” the second question is “Which risks are acceptable?” and the third question is “Acceptable to whom?” (Doro-on, 2011). It is very crucial to acknowledge that perceived risk levels may have far more to do with the acceptability of a protection policy and preventive measures than the actual risk levels themselves (Doro-on, 2011). While developing policy formulation and counterterrorism, viewpoint of those who are exposed (or feel they are exposed) to risks need to be considered (Doro-on, 2011). It is important to unequivocally involve those who are affected by the policy and program choices in the policy formulation and to effectively convey the information on actual risks to which they are exposed (Doro-on, 2011). Therefore, many considerations for policy improvements and security measures against terrorism should be incorporated to achieve acceptable level of risks.

Strategic Intelligence Analysis for Water Infrastructure Security

Bin Laden previously directed Al Qaeda for plotting the proposed 9/11 anniversary attacks and now he is dead, while the remaining Al Qaeda leaders are holding grudge against U.S. for Bin Laden’s blood. They are now plotting for higher–scale revenge attacks. The terrorist masterminds carry out their own intelligence method to identify the best target and the appropriate timing for the retaliation. Consequently, a higher threshold of destruction that can equal or exceed the level of 9/11 attacks require a degree of planning; the terrorist leaders are using engineers who do the planning for the proposed retaliation. Therefore, there is an emergency need for systematic information-sharing strategies and identification of terrorism scenarios that can be used for collection of information. Intelligence is a key element of combating terrorism effectively, and it helps to identify targets deemed important to the adversary for mission accomplishment (Doro-on, 2011).

Strategic intelligence development in the U.S. now situates an increasing emphasis on consideration of risk and its consequences (Doro-on, 2011). Incorporating risk considerations into a strategic intelligence analysis is not as simple as it seems at the very start. In the public sector, there are several concepts of risk. The first step in intelligence formulation involving risk is to establish the various factors that will be affected and determine the potential effects if these processes do not proceed as desired (Doro-on, 2011). The probabilities of occurrence can then be estimated using stochastic model describing the events and the perceived risk. The book entitled, 'Risk Assessment for Water Infrastructure Safety and Security' presented detailed examples of a concise and brief Intelligence Analysis incorporating probabilistic risk estimation model and cumulative prospect theory. Nonetheless, Al Qaeda announced worldwide that the Americans’ happiness will soon turn to sadness (Lawrence, 2011). Right now, there is a pressing requirement to determine the potential revenge attacks in details and provide immediate security measures. Improving the strategy relating to the intelligence enterprise can be a guide toward improving safety and security against water infrastructure terrorism as illustrated in Figure 5.

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