Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Monday, January 31, 2005

Not Good Enough

According to the Friday, January 28, 2005, Coeur d'Alene Press article Railroad apologizes for leak, Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway (BNSF) representatives apologized to northern Idaho legislators in Boise for the Hauser fuel depot spill over the Spokane Valley - Rathdrum Prairie aquifer. The article also reported that the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality has prepared a consent decree which will correct the existing leak and punish the BNSF for the damage it has already done.

That is not enough.

As noted in the January 3, 2005, weblog post Upwardly Mobile on the Terrorist Target List, the BNSF's carelessness or negligence attracted national news attention to the aquifer's importance to the region and to its vulnerability.

The lead in the Saturday, January 29, 2005, Washington Post article Accidents Spur New Focus on Securing U.S. Rail System, reads, "Two deadly railroad accidents in the last month have sparked new debate about the government's efforts to secure the nation's rail system and ensure that such accidents do not provide new opportunities for terrorists who might seek to use railroad cars as weapons."

Finally. Someone is finally beginning to get it.

The minimal attention given to rail cars as terrorist devices has focused on surface damage caused by combustion and explosion of flammable materials and on dispersion of noxious chemicals into the air. Less, if any, attention has been paid to the disastrous long-term effects of regional aquifer contamination by toxic chemical seepage after the emergency containment methods have been damaged by ground-penetrating attacks.

Everyone served by the Spokane Valley - Rathdrum Prairie aquifer is entitled to know if the Kootenai County Board of Commissioners demanded and the BNSF employed suitable risk management assessment and mitigation techniques to protect the Hauser refueling facility and the aquifer under it from terrorist attack. The Idaho State Police, the agency responsible for managing Idaho's counterterrorism program, said it had not been consulted about the facility's placement.

On Tuesday, March 24, 2004, the United States General Accounting Office (GAO) released experts' statements entitled Rail Security - Some Actions to Enhance Passenger and Freight Rail Security, But Significant Challenges Remain. That 25-page document recommends a risk management approach that would be suitably applied to the BNSF's Hauser refueling facility.

It is likely that the BNSF's containment measures were designed to manage an event that leaves the emergency containment structures undamaged. Since the BNSF apparently failed to anticipate the type of leakage that has alread occurred, it is much less likely the BNSF designed those structures to mitigate the effects a destructive terrorist attack on its facility's infrastructure. It should have. The Kootenai County Board of Commissioners should have insisted on it.

Some people will say, "I can't imagine that terrorists would contaminate our aquifer by attacking rail cars carrying contaminants." Lack of imagination, the unwillingness to consider that someone could use hijacked commercial aircraft loaded with fuel and passengers to destroy public buildings, was identified as a troubling contributor to the 9/11 disasters. I refer the unimaginative to page 344 of the 9/11 Commission Report. Under the heading "Institutionalizing Imagination", with the subheading "The Case of Aircraft as Weapons", the Commission notes "Imagination is not a gift usually associated with bureaucracies." Our failure to imagine attack possibilities and address them increases their probability of success when tried.

Any remediation proposed as part of a consent decree must, not should, must contain suitable assessments and containments to protect the aquifer from intentional contamination by a catastrophic terrorist attack on the Hauser refueling facility. Anything less is eyewash.


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