US Food Chain: Threats

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US Food Chain: Threats

Three prominent threat vectors that attacks on the US food supply chain might take are cyber attacks on US food infrastructure, agroterrorism, and intentional adulteration. There are no verifiable ties between either Russia or Iran and malicious threats to the US food supply.

Vector: Cyber Attacks


Vector: Agroterrorism

  • Agroterrorism is a category of attack whereby the supply chain of livestock or agriculture as disrupted by the introduction of invasive species harmful to the life cycle, commercial viability, or health of critical domesticated or cultivated species.
  • History is full of accidental disruptions such as the introduction of rabbits to Australia.
  • One noteworthy historical example of intentional Agroterrorism is the organized release of medflies in California by a never-identified group of bioterrorists that called themselves "The Breeders."

Vector: Intentional Adulteration

  • Intentional adulteration is the act of introducing a toxic, corrosive or otherwise foreign substance into food with the intention of harming those who consume the food or rendering the food unviable.
  • There are numerous incidents of intentional adulteration around the globe.
  • A few notable examples in the US include:
    • The attempted large scale contamination of salad bars in the area around Wasco county Oregon with botulinum toxin by members of the Rajneeshpuram cult community in 1984.
    • The poisoning of pastries with Shigella dysenteriae Type 2 by a lab worker in 1996.
    • The corruption of 200 pounds of hamburger with nicotine by a supermarket employee in 2003.

Russia, Iran and State-Sponsored Food Terrorism

  • There are no verified incidents of Russia, Iran or any other recognized modern state having directly participated in acts of food terrorism.
  • It has been noted by experts that reports of incidents of any type of state-directed food terrorism are rare.
  • However, several countries possess or have possessed plans or programs that developed strategies or technologies for food terrorism.
  • These countries include Canada, France, Germany, Iraq, Japan, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States, and the former USSR.
  • Although Russia denies having any bioterrorism programs, the country is the inheritor of the former USSR and possesses significant chemical and pharmaceutical infrastructure that could be treated as "dual-use" (legitimate infrastructure that could conceal or be turned to hostile ends.)
  • While Russia has not been implicated in any food-terrorism, the country has a history of using both biological and cyber-warfare.
  • While Iran does not share Russia's history with biological warfare, it has been implicated in cyber attacks.

Research Strategies

Your research team was unable to find any verified incidents of state-directed food terrorism, nor any evidence of existing food-terrorism programs in Russia or Iran.

After completing our research into prominent food supply chain threats in the US, we turned to trying to uncover ties between these threats and state actors such as Russia and Iran. Our first strategy for this was to engage in a deep dive into US government resources such as Homeland Security, FDA, and agriculture and interior department publications as well as CIA and FBI advisory resources, among others. In the wake of 9/11, the US government has committed significant resources toward raising awareness of and readiness for all forms of disruptive threats to the US, including food defense. While these resources were useful for understanding the current thinking on types and vectors of threats to food in the US, none provided direct links to state actors.

Next, we turned to academic and counter-terrorism industry sources such as RAND corporation publications, academic paper databases and the publications of cyber-security firms, etc. These sources proved invaluable in understanding the array of possible threats to food infrastructure in the US as well as the history of food terrorism, both recent and historical, both in the US and around the world. However, none of these sources offered clear evidence of modern acts or programs for food terrorism. In fact, more than one took pains to point out the rarity of state-directed food terrorism (while also pointing out that historical rarity is not future immunity.)

As a final strategy, we broadened the scope of our research, looking at food industry publications, as well as market research, business/financial publications, and similar sources that might target or include stakeholders in the US food industry. Because of the value of historical insights in understanding modern threats, we also expanded our research include older sources. (We usually try to limit research to sources published in the past 24 months.) A few additional insights emerged (included above) regarding the possible vulnerabilities of the US food industry, but nothing tied these threats to state actors, Russia, Iran, or otherwise.
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