Joint FBI – USDA training offers farmers and ranchers guidance on how to protect against accidental and deliberate threats.

Landing at Atlanta’s Hartsfield International, an airline traveler from Ecuador was relieved of part of the family’s celebratory reunion meal after “Hardy”, part of  the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Beagle Brigade, sniffed out a roasted pig’s head in baggage at the world’s busiest airport.

On its face, the seizing of a pig head (or in another case, a whole cooked pig) seems amusing. In fact, the danger posed by smuggling in agricultural materials, potentially carrying foreign microbes or insects, is very real.

It is likely that similar smuggled meat scrapes were the cause the British Foot & Mouth Disease (FMD) outbreak in 2001. That incident resulted in the depopulation of some 10 million animals from 2,000 farms at a cost of $13 billion. Modeling by the University of California estimates that now costs to the State and industry would be $565 million for every hour FMD went undetected after introduction.

Joint FBI/USDA Training – Knowing how to differentiate between accidental contamination (like the British FMD outbreak) and a deliberate attack is the focus of a joint FBI/USDA training currently being offered across the country. Called the Animal Plant Health Joint Criminal Epidemiological Investigations Course (Crime Epi Course for short), the award-winning training is in its third revision. With assistance from CDQAP, the course was delivered on March 7 & 8 at the Robert Cabral Ag Center in Stockton, with participants from all ag regulatory and industry sectors.

The presentations and discussions during the two-day workshop covered a wide variety of topics. Here are some of the non-classified, open-source highlights:

Foreign Threats to Ag – While no malice was involved in Officer Hardy’s pig head case, there is evidence that “threat actors” continue to consider contamination of the food supply against U.S. citizens and livestock. Perhaps the most glaring example of this were hundreds of documents found at an al Qaeda terrorist training camp in Afghanistan, documenting planned terrorist attacks against the Western food supplies. Foreign attacks don’t have to involve contamination or disease. Recently ransomware cyberattacks have been exponentially increasing in the financial, health care and agricultural sectors.

Domestic Extremists – By far, however, the most common cause of terrorism in the U.S. are environmental and animal rights extremists. The FBI estimates that these extremists collectively committed some 1,100 criminal acts from 1976 to 2004 alone, with damages conservatively estimated at $110 million. In 2012 animal rights activists took credit for a series of truck fire arsons at the Harris Ranch in Coalinga, causing $2.5 million damage. That same year eco-terrorists attempted to blow up a natural gas pipeline in Plano Texas.

Animal rights activists are becoming increasingly aggressive and dangerous. In recent years they have impersonated job applicants, teachers, census takers and USDA inspectors to gain access to farms. They have installed clandestine cameras at processing facilities, released animals and committed cyber-attacks. In the U.S. and abroad extremists have engaged in blackmail, vandalism, death threats and assault.

Even the mere presence of activists during a “open-rescue” activity represents a biosecurity threat to production facilities. In 2016 a North Coast egg laying facility was forced to destroy 45,000 chickens for fear of contamination by activists. The court ordered the two activists involved to pay the owners $331,991 to compensate them for their losses.

Deliberate contamination – While uncommon, deliberate contamination of the U.S. food supply chain has occurred. In 2002 some 850,00 gallons of fluid milk was recalled from some 6,000 California retail outlets resulting from deliberate contamination of a processor storage silo. The FBI case is still open, but may have been financially motivated. Bulk tank contamination by disgruntled former employees has also occurred on the farm.

Farms Visitors – Pathogens can be accidentally introduced to a farm in a variety of ways, including wildlife, foreign visitors and feed imported from other countries. Visitors or feed from countries where FMD is endemic are of particular concern. Biosecurity recommendations for foreign visitors are available from CDFA and Iowa State.

Economic Espionage – The FBI estimates billions of dollars are lost every year due to theft of intellectual property. Methods employed for economic espionage range from seemingly harmless elicitation and dumpster diving, to bribery and computer hacking. There is increasing concern that Precision Agriculture may provide previously unrecognized vulnerability to theft of confidential data. A series of case histories from the FBI shows that insider espionage can be particularly challenging. Visitors to processing plants also present significant risks. Espionage is increasingly being directed at agricultural companies, biotechnology firms and universities. Two FBI case histories describe the theft of proprietary corn and rice seed by Chinese nationals.