Oct. 22, 2009 -- Almost two years after the passage of a law designed to make it harder for terrorists to build homemade bombs, the Department of Homeland Security has yet to implement it.
"This delay in implementing the rules for ammonium nitrate regulation is unacceptable. We are talking about matters of life and death," says Rep. Pete King (R-NY), the Republican ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security. "The Department of Homeland Security must move quickly."
Congressman Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Chairman of House Committee on Homeland Security, agrees that the delays have been frustrating and worrisome. "Congress addressed the threat of ammonium nitrate through legislation over two years ago. Regulating the sale of this chemical is vital to the security of the nation."
The Department of Homeland Security issued a statement saying that the "Notice of Proposed Rulemaking" is complete and that they are in the final stages of internal vetting.
The release of surveillance videos and other evidence from the "Toronto 18" terror case this week showing members of an alleged Canadian terror cell unloading bags labeled ammonium nitrate into a storage locker, as well as the recent case of an Afghan in Denver, Najibullah Zazi, who is accused of plotting to make homemade bombs, is a reminder that ammonium nitrate is still a highly sought after bomb ingredient by potential terrorists.
"Northern Exposure," a joint FBI and Canadian sting operation in 2006, brought attention to the ease with which would-be terrorists could get their hands on sizeable amounts of potential bomb making materials, not only in Canada, but in the US as well, where there were few restrictions on purchases of the commonly used fertilizer.
Ammonium nitrate fertilizer, when mixed with fuels like diesel to make the explosive ANFO (ammonium nitrate/fuel oil), was the key bomb-making ingredient used in several notorious terrorist attacks: the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa.
Ammonium Nitrate Easily Purchased
After languishing in Congress for years on its own, the Secure Handling of Ammonium Nitrate bill was rolled into the massive FY08 Consolidated Appropriations Act that passed on December 26, 2007. Objections for tight regulation from the powerful U.S. farm lobby led to a watered-down version of the original bill with much weaker controls than similar laws in Britain, Israel, Australia and most nations in Europe, according to congressional staffers who worked on the legislation.
Section 563, Secure Handling of Ammonium Nitrate, grants DHS the authority to "regulate the sale and transfer of ammonium nitrate (AN) by an AN facility... to prevent the misappropriation or use of AN in an act of terrorism."
ABC News has followed the debate on this law for over three years. CLICK HERE TO SEE THE REPORT.
A 2006 ABC News special report demonstrated how easily strangers without identification could buy sufficient quantities of the chemical at rural farm supply stores without any question. SEE THAT REPORT BY CLICKING HERE.
The Canadian video released this week shows two suspects unloading a delivery truck filled with 120 25kg bags that were clearly marked with ammonium nitrate labels on June 2, 2006, when police busted the so-called "Toronto 18" group. (Undercover police had filled the bags with an inert substance as part of the sting operation.)
The Department of Homeland Security issued a statement to ABC News: "DHS has been actively working to implement the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) regulations, which currently cover certain Ammonium Nitrate (AN) manufacturers and distributors. For the required AN transaction regulations, DHS issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in late 2008, and received and reviewed a number of comments regarding certain aspects of the new program, such as method of submission of registration applications, and defining how sellers will verify that a purchaser is registered with DHS. In January 2009, DHS convened an AN Task Force, which included the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, to draft the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for the new program. The NPRM is complete and in internal DHS vetting."