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10 years after 9/11: Terrorism in rural communities and remote areas

We always look for guns and drugs, but do we know the myriad other things which might be right under our noses and could be used to injure huge numbers of people?

We are closing in on the 10-year anniversary of the largest terrorist attack in United States history — an event that affected all of us. Obviously our major cities have done far more training and discussion for the “what if / when if” situations that can be created by our foreign and domestic terrorists. This article is for the small town cops out there — what have you been doing differently? What steps have you or your agency taken to increase our vigilance when it comes to taking down the foreign and domestic terrorists that are working right now to create another terrorist attack? Hopefully you have a long list of things that are being done differently or more diligently.

Interestingly enough, many of the largest terrorist events are planned and organized in remote or rural areas. Consider domestic terrorists Ted Kaczynski (Unabomber), Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols (Oklahoma City), Eric Robert Rudolph (Olympic Park and others), as well as numerous “factions” likely to be out there someplace today. Consider also the fact that there is more and more information indicating rural domestic links to foreign-born terrorists infiltrating our communities. What this means is that it is entirely likely that your country cop will rub shoulders with some of these folks at some point, and if you work in these rural areas you are already well aware that we have our share of home grown anti government people that are capable of this type of activity.

In order for us to be good investigators as well as tactically sound officers, we need to minimize the amount of times in our career that we say to ourselves, “Hmm I wonder what is going on here?” The more knowledge we put into our brains the less time we spend looking at something and have no idea what we are seeing. We are in and out of homes on a regular basis for noise complaints, barking dogs, and other seemingly-minor problems. If we have our eyes open, and know what we are looking at we might be able to prevent a major tragedy from happening someplace else, that’s our job.

Look for the Warning Signs
We always look for guns and drugs, but do we know the myriad other things which might be right under our noses and could be used to injure huge numbers of people?

The use of explosives has been going on for years, yet how many small agencies have provided any training on these issues? Another big city problem, right boss? I’m not sure we’d want to know how many of these domestic terrorists have driven into some small town waving hello to the local police right before they stop at the local hardware store to purchase supplies for a bomb meant to kill large numbers of people in a major metropolitan area. It is happening right now somewhere.

Plain and simple, there have been more than enough incidents over the years that should make some sort of explosives training mandatory for all law enforcement. A cop standing in a basement bomb factory should know exactly what they are looking at and which expert to call to deal with it. Every cop should know the significance of seeing some of the more common ingredients of explosive laboratories such as concentrated hydrogen peroxide, ammonium nitrate, brake cleaner, hexamine tablets (Esbyt), or camp stove fuel, fuel oil, methyl-ethyl-ketone, acetone, ammonium nitrate, large amounts of first aid cold packs, and aluminum powder to name a few.

What about walking into that garage to find a table filled with coffee grinders, maybe a blender, or hot plates and some excessive venting? Maybe even a dust mask and safety glasses hanging close by? At the very least, we should have some red flags going off. At best you can tell yourself that you might be standing in a bomb factory. Of course in rural America, where you are dealing with some major agricultural operations, there could be shelves full of different chemicals, many of which have totally legitimate uses—which really is even more reason to have a general idea of what we are looking at.

With all the information out there about biological terrorism and weapons, how many of us are trained to know what we would be looking at if we were standing in the middle of an amateur biology lab? These labs are on the rise and many are being utilized for legitimate experiments and research; however they could easily be used, or recruited to be used to produce biological weapons. Do we know the red flags that should go up if you see some chemistry equipment? What about a home that has laboratory safety equipment lying around that seems out of place or homemade science equipment?

Do you know the Anarchists Cookbook, Uncle Fester’s Silent Death, and other related publications? What about the significance of the precursors for biological toxins, such as Castor Beans or other related materials? Many of these people communicate via the web for advice and troubleshooting information is it time for your investigators to go online and see how many of these people are operating in your jurisdiction? They are out there among us right now; do you know where they are? What about the rangers and fish and game officers that could encounter dead animals from an unwanted chemical release or dump site from an experiment that didn’t work out as planned? We should have this on our brain as we know that our public lands tend to be the dumping grounds for most illegal chemicals and substances or possibly as a test site for one of these weapons. We live in a far different world these days and need eyes wide open.

We should be far more diligent in getting positive identification from people, paying attention to those addresses that seem to have new faces every week or many visitors from out of state. With the use of computer records being what it is today there is no excuse to have suspicious acting “unknowns” roaming our communities.

Do Your Own Homework
This article is not even close to a training session on explosives and terrorism, it is a very complicated subject and I’m not the guy to teach it. This article is meant to get road officers, supervisors, and training officers thinking about how they are going to get the training on these very important topics to their troops because it seems we might be failing in that regard. I don’t think there is any expectation to make every cop a bomb or biological warfare expert; however there should be no excuse for your average officer to be standing in a laboratory that could very well be designing weapons that could kill hundreds or thousands of people and just not know what they were looking at.

As cops I think we would love to hear about some small town officer on a barking dog call that took down a terrorist plot. The barking dog is really an alarm system used by a basement chemist with plans to kill several people in a city far away, and simply because that officer had their eyes open, good training, and said to themselves,“I know exactly what’s going on here,” made good well and sure “it ain’t going on anymore!”

Patrick (Pat) Novesky has spent most of his life working in a rural environment not only in law enforcement, but also has been employed as a wildland firefighter working several states and as a guide for a hunting outfitter. Pat’s law enforcement background consists of a 20 year career ranging from positions as a sheriff’s deputy, ranger, and police officer holding assignments as intelligence officer and investigator. Pat has also been assigned to two narcotics task forces. Pat has served as a police firearms and Verbal Judo instructor and has been involved with various training for all types of law enforcement & other users of the outdoors and remote areas. The past several years of Pat’s career have been spent working as a conservation officer in Northern Wisconsin. Pat’s goal is to bring a common sense approach to issues that pertain to the rural law enforcement officer. Contact Patrick Novesky