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The politics of chemical security
March 1, 2007 1:43 PM   Subscribe

The Next Attack. "Terrorists in Iraq are becoming proficient at blowing up oil refineries. Similar plants in a handful of American cities represent our greatest vulnerability. We could easily be making them less dangerous. But we’re not." And one of the key players in keeping things that way happens to be Dick Cheney’s son-in-law.
posted by homunculus (38 comments total)

 
Well, slap my ass and call me Sally.
posted by psmealey at 1:46 PM on March 1, 2007


Washington Monthly is a fiction magazine? Sure it's scary, but so was The Day After.
posted by GuyZero at 2:03 PM on March 1, 2007


what really counts, Cheney's son in law has a ridiculously low power bill
posted by matteo at 2:08 PM on March 1, 2007 [9 favorites]


This article could be the basis for a template for future articles. Switch "oil refinery" with any number of establishments that are currently the target of bombers in Iraq:

"Terrorists in Iraq are becoming proficient at blowing up falafel stands. Similar stands in American cities represent our greatest vulnerability." And so on and so forth just to fear monger.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:10 PM on March 1, 2007


Oh, also - gas refineries go "kapow" just fine on their own. Nanticoke had a normal non-terrorism-related fire and gas prices in Ontario jumped 25% in a matter of days. People should be scared of the fact that almost every major North American refinery is dozens of years old and that they're more likely to explode of their own accord.
posted by GuyZero at 2:10 PM on March 1, 2007


Jesus. I don't think I could handle another gas attack.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:15 PM on March 1, 2007


matteo - what really counts, Cheney's son in law has a ridiculously low power bill

that's because they've been siphoning power from the President.
posted by pruner at 2:21 PM on March 1, 2007 [4 favorites]


This is the stuff Gary Sheffield's dreams are made of.
posted by phaedon at 2:24 PM on March 1, 2007


Jesus. I don't think I could handle another gas attack.

Too late. You hit the space bar several times.
posted by srboisvert at 2:26 PM on March 1, 2007


I was trying to use the left arrow for some sneaky petes, but I can only do that a limited amount of time.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:27 PM on March 1, 2007


Washington Monthly is a fiction magazine? Sure it's scary, but so was The Day After.

So no news here. Just move along folks and check out the latest on Gore's electrical bill.
posted by birdhaus at 2:35 PM on March 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


I guess your personal threat level may vary depending on your location but Sunoco and CSX in Philadelphia have long made a practice of parking multi-car shipments of caustic chemicals on a stretch of rail track that snakes along the border of Center City, directly through a highly trafficked stretch of recently developed waterfront and abutting a densely populated neighborhood.
posted by The Straightener at 2:57 PM on March 1, 2007 [3 favorites]


The Next Attack: "Gore's electrical bill blew my mind. Terrorists in Washington are becoming proficient at blowing my mind. Similar minds in a handful of American cities represent our greatest vulnerability. We could easily be making them less dangerous. But we’re not." And one of the key players in keeping things that way happens to be Dick Cheney’s thought police at FOXNews.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:03 PM on March 1, 2007


Bill Maher: Philip Perry, Treasonous Fucker.
posted by ericb at 3:11 PM on March 1, 2007


Salon.com (Feb. 16, 2007): The Press's Warped Priorities -- "It cares more about Mary Cheney's gayness than it does about the dangerous actions of Dick Cheney's son-in-law, Philip Perry."
posted by ericb at 3:13 PM on March 1, 2007


The great thing about the threat of "terrorism" is that there is not actually any way to measure how much of a risk any particular target is, so people of any particular political persuasion can rail about people "not doing enough" to secure any particular target.

Meanwhile, once security is actually implemented people bitch about how much of a hassle it is.

Really the whole thing is idiotic. So what if terrorists are good at blowing up gas plants in Iraq, there are no terrorists over here dumbass! Until we get some, I wish people would just fucking chill.

Frankly I just get disgusted by leftists who adopt the fear mongering insanity of the right whenever they get a tiny opportunity. Just look at the Dubai ports deal. I mean, there was no risk, and the same people doing security would continue to do security, and yet democrats were creaming their pants at the chance to act like an idiotic amalgam of Bill O'Riley and Lou Dobbs.
posted by delmoi at 3:14 PM on March 1, 2007


Wouldn't all the cars on the interstate explode in a massive chain reaction?
posted by metaplectic at 3:16 PM on March 1, 2007


How about exploding a nuke in the tar sands of northern Alberta? Such an action would probably destroy Canada's economy, and cause severe economic hardship to the United States. Doubt it would happen, though. The terrorists or whatever are always aiming for symbolic victories - they can leverage more air time that way. So future attacks are going to be on places that resonate with the public at large: NYC, Washington, London.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:17 PM on March 1, 2007


You'd think we'd hear about the fact that Chertoff worked at a law firm who's biggest clients were Big Chemical. You'd think any responsible journalist would see a big story there when he was nominated to take over for DHS. Anyone remember hearing anything about this back then? Me neither.

Jack Welch knew what he was doing when he bought a network didn't he? And the only one who noticed was David Letterman...
posted by any major dude at 3:33 PM on March 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


delmoi : there are no terrorists over here dumbass! Until we get some, I wish people would just fucking chill.

I certainly hope you are right, but the cynic in me suggests that there is a very good chance that there are people on our shores that would love to do us serious harm.

Personally, I would love to see them take some steps are securing some of the more obvious targets, if for no other reason, the additional security and preparedness could be useful in the event of any emergency. Even the non-terrorist related kind.

Also, I would like to see some energy directed at honestly making us safer instead of this pointless security theater that they offer to us in airports. Really? Take off my shoes? And my nail-file, you need to confiscate that? How does that make anyone safer?

I have no fear of terrorists, but I can see some changes to security that could be good for any number of disaster scenarios.
posted by quin at 3:37 PM on March 1, 2007


I certainly hope you are right, but the cynic in me suggests that there is a very good chance that there are people on our shores that would love to do us serious harm.

I'm sure lots of people would love it, but that doesn't mean they're capable of doing it.
posted by delmoi at 3:40 PM on March 1, 2007


"I certainly hope you are right, but the cynic in me suggests that there is a very good chance that there are people on our shores that would love to do us serious harm."

Yup. They're kickin' it at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. as we speak...
posted by stenseng at 3:40 PM on March 1, 2007


Don't worry about Iraq it's those damn Iranians that are going to blow up New York according to an anonymous policeman who dug up a 2 and 1/2 year old story.
posted by meech at 3:47 PM on March 1, 2007


Bill Maher: "People ask why we haven't been hit again since 9/11. The answer is luck."

Bzzzz. Wrong, Bill. The answer is "they don't need to". We are terrorizing ourselves quite enough.
posted by wendell at 4:04 PM on March 1, 2007 [1 favorite]


Becoming?

“So what if terrorists are good at blowing up gas plants in Iraq...”

The thing of it is, this isn’t necessarily harm, it’s control. Blowed somethin’ up real good enough and you can control it. Not sure it’s proper to call them “terrorists.” In a sense they’re venture capitalists. Your angel investors here would be the folks backing the guys doing the blowing up. Risky but can be profitable.
The U.S. has done a great number of similar things.
That aside for a moment - blowing up stuff doesn’t make one a terrorist anyway. Terrorism is a fear based political tool which strikes at innocents (thus causing ‘terror’) to get a given entity to do something or other.
What’s lacking in Flynn’s scenario is the objective. Terrorists don’t just blow people up for no reason. Madmen do that.
Which brings us back to control. Most of the groups which pose a threat to us are fueled by drug money or oil money. With the high power groups being the latter (criminals are not big on “the cause” or martyring themselves). And guess which OBL has?
And that’s a fairly complex and intricate web - oil is. Lotsa interrelated interests which is why Bush likes to hold hands and kiss some of the folks from the same country that sent most of the 9/11 hijackers but hey - “Even if oil companies decided to pass on the cost to drivers at the gas pump, consumers could handle this extra burden.” Perhaps the good people at Houghton

But terrorists (particularly The Base) wouldn’t do this, in this way, for the same reasons loansharks don’t just kill you if you miss a payment.
Terror is about power and ideology, not just ‘blowed up good’.

And his conclusions aren’t necessarially forgone - the U.S. really need not be attacked again. I think it likely, but y’know, we could take steps....*cough*
Not sure that any given attacker sees an attack as “unnecessary loss of life and destruction of property.” Seems to underlie his whole premise of the “mad sheik” terrorist without any agenda or strategy.
And of course, since there was little “seismic political fallout” after the first attack, I’m not sure Americans will go so far as to say hold someone accountable when they discover how little was done to address our most serious domestic vulnerabilities. Of course, lawmakers will have to do a great number of things for our own good... after the fact of course.
Insofar as a good defense and taking punches, well, the best fighters tend not to be there to be hit and counterpunch. They also tend to, y’know, study their opponents and learn how they fight. But that would require some more manpower (perhaps in the state department) and *gasp* communicating with ‘terrorists.’ Yeah. Much better to create a mighty Maginot line and dare those terrorists to figure out how to get around our static defenses.

Doesn’t invalidate his general conception of the attacks. It certainly could happen that way. Taliban gets a lot of bucks from drugs, they might want to just kick over the tea stand for no reason. Although since they couldn’t nail our Veep in their own back yard I can only be so antsy. And of course, you could die in a car crash on the way home today too. Guess which is more likely.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:18 PM on March 1, 2007


I guess your personal threat level may vary depending on your location but Sunoco and CSX in Philadelphia have long made a practice of parking multi-car shipments of caustic chemicals on a stretch of rail track that snakes along the border of Center City, directly through a highly trafficked stretch of recently developed waterfront and abutting a densely populated neighborhood.

It's worse than that.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:23 PM on March 1, 2007


People ask why we haven't been hit again since 9/11

Uh, we were hit again, in what President Bush described as "a second wave of terrorist attacks."
posted by kirkaracha at 4:48 PM on March 1, 2007


Fear-mongering is annoying, but it's pretty unrealistic to assume America won't eventually suffer another major attack. It could be Al Qaeda again, it could be Hezbollah if we attack Iran, or it could just be some locals. But who it might be is besides the point.

The consequences of hitting a chemical plant would be more severe than most other possible targets, and securing them should be a top priority. It's ridiculous that the chemical industry has been able to play games on this issue, and it's especially ridiculous that Dick Cheney's son-in-law has done so much to help them get by with it.
posted by homunculus at 5:22 PM on March 1, 2007


Lizzie Cheney - The Pride of Lockheed Martin - Speaketh
posted by homunculus at 5:47 PM on March 1, 2007


You Too Can Break Into a Chemical Plant
posted by homunculus at 5:52 PM on March 1, 2007


As recently as this summer, I stood at the main entrance to one of the nation’s major oil refineries and watched pick-up trucks only slow down as guards waved them through. Sitting in the back of the trucks were several closed-topped buckets. When I asked the employee standing with me who they were, he said they were temporary workers employed by contractors. When I asked him what was in the buckets, he said, “I have no idea.” I wanted to know why the guards had not screened the trucks’ occupants and examined its contents. He said there was so much traffic it would be impossible to check them all. Following the September 11 attacks, this volume of unsecured traffic in and out the gates of our facilities is astounding.

This same facility had a storage tank containing 800,000 pounds of hydrofluoric acid. A release of this much hydrofluoric acid would create an enormous catastrophe. A lethal vapor cloud of hydrofluoric acid would extend for miles downwind and reach into one of the most heavily populated metropolitan areas in the country. As we drove past the tank, I watched approximately 50 people working in the area using heavy equipment less than 50 feet from the exposed liquid line leading to the hydrofluoric acid tank. My tour guide explained that the site was engaged in a “turn-around” and that these people were temporary contract workers. A “turn-around” is the term that describes the periodic shutdown of processing units for major maintenance. I asked if he knew any of these people. He replied, “No, they are just here for three to four weeks.” As we drove, we discussed what the result would be if by accident, or on purpose, the bulldozer was driven into the liquid line of this tank. His reply was that thousands maybe tens of thousands would be killed.
Testimony by Glenn Erwin before the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Chemical Security.

Note that he is describing the
BP Refinery in Texas City where a few months earlier fifteen people had been killed and over 100 injured by an explosion due to poor management. According to the RMP filed for the plant by BP, 800,000 people live close enough to be injured or killed if the hydrofluoric acid was released into the atmosphere. But the company has still not switch to the much safe sulfuric acid process.
posted by alms at 6:05 PM on March 1, 2007


When I was a kid in Tulsa the Sinclair Refinery had an accidental release of hydrofluoric acid. Luckily, it wasn't enough to hurt anyone outside of the plant, but it did scare people.

Of course, in order to have enough of an HF release to really cause harm, you'd have to know exactly where to detonate the bomb. AQ may know that, but even then you'd need to do it just right and not have it consumed in the immense inferno that is a refinery explosion.

If AQ hit the Sinclair refinery and the wind were out of the west or northwest, they could easily kill or injure 20,000 people with HF in Tulsa. Which, BTW, is Jim Inhofe's hometown. The guy who doesn't want all these security measures.
posted by dw at 7:18 PM on March 1, 2007


Look at me, Allah! I'M ON TOP OF THE WORLD!
posted by breezeway at 8:24 PM on March 1, 2007


Homeland Security Boondoggle: A Congressional Investigation Calls Into Question How Federal Money Is Being Spent
posted by homunculus at 9:22 PM on March 1, 2007


dw : Of course, in order to have enough of an HF release to really cause harm, you'd have to know exactly where to detonate the bomb. AQ may know that, but even then you'd need to do it just right and not have it consumed in the immense inferno that is a refinery explosion.

And yeah, as AQ has proved, they can strike precisely and skillfully where we least expect. But you know what my real fear is? That lightning, or a deer, or a car crash of some patriot in a half ton truck will accomplish the same thing our enemies' desire, not through luck or skill, but through blind chance.

Adding security should be a non-issue to these sites.

On a map, the idea that 'Dragons Here Be' should be carved into us all by now.

There are places that need watching. End of discussion.
posted by quin at 11:18 PM on March 1, 2007


I ain't skeered.

Those refineries and chemical plants could get blowed up real good but securing them might take a few dollars off a CEO's multimilliion dollar bonus so that's a no-go.

Making people take off the shoes and consficating nail files before boarding a plane makes people FEEL safe, except when they have to fly with a brown skinned person, then they piss themselves.

The distinction between securing the country and creating the feeling of security are two very different things.
posted by nofundy at 6:06 AM on March 2, 2007


When for God sakes stupid america will stop with it's paranoia and hypocrisy?

Stop killing people all over the world and they'll stop wanting to kill you
posted by zouhair at 2:46 AM on March 3, 2007


Sounds good to me. Unfortunately, Dick Cheney and his family have different ideas.
posted by homunculus at 5:30 PM on March 3, 2007


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