How Law Enforcement Working With Regulatory Agencies To Thwart Terrorist Use Of IEDs It's relatively simple for criminals to buy pressure cookers and turn them into deadly devices. William Flynn, formerly of the Department of Homeland Security, talks to NPR's Scott Simon.
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How Law Enforcement Working With Regulatory Agencies To Thwart Terrorist Use Of IEDs

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How Law Enforcement Working With Regulatory Agencies To Thwart Terrorist Use Of IEDs

How Law Enforcement Working With Regulatory Agencies To Thwart Terrorist Use Of IEDs

How Law Enforcement Working With Regulatory Agencies To Thwart Terrorist Use Of IEDs

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/495295158/495295159" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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It's relatively simple for criminals to buy pressure cookers and turn them into deadly devices. William Flynn, formerly of the Department of Homeland Security, talks to NPR's Scott Simon.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The bomb that went off in Chelsea last Saturday night was an IED - improvised explosive device - that was housed in a pressure cooker. So was the bomb that exploded at the Boston Marathon in 2013. Federal officials and agencies are constantly trying to get ahead of potential bombers by regulating the materials they could use.

William Flynn is a senior fellow at the George Washington Center for Cyber and Homeland Security. Before that, he served as the principal deputy assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. He says there are two categories of chemicals that are subject to regulatory scrutiny.

WILLIAM FLYNN: The first are chemicals that, in and of themselves, present a hazard. And these are things like chlorine, hydrogen fluoride that are highly regulated, toxic and can cause severe consequences. And the other category is chemicals that can be used to make bombs. And many of these, unfortunately, are common in our economy - things like hydrogen peroxide and ammonium nitrate.

And when you couple the accessibility of these chemical ingredients with the threat environment that we now have that has shifted from a more-controlled, centrally planned, coordinated attack, now we're seeing more of a lone-wolf attacks by individuals that are inspired over the Internet, that are trained over the Internet. And that's exactly what we saw this past weekend in New York and New Jersey.

SIMON: Is there any way of preventing someone from getting hold of enough hydrogen peroxide to use it in an explosive device?

FLYNN: When it comes to things like hydrogen peroxide and other kind of over-the-counter materials, it is a challenge because they're readily available. But I do think that the administration and Congress should be looking at re-examining regulations on the bulk sale of some of those types of chemicals.

They were not used in New York and New Jersey. They are extremely volatile, very sophisticated. They require, you know, expert training and handling. So if you compare Paris and Brussels - those attacks - those improvised explosive devices - to what we saw here in New York and New Jersey, there's a big difference.

In Paris and Brussels, they were using liquid-based explosives. They do require a sophisticated amount of training and handling. The ones that we saw here more recently in the United States are much more crude and - you know, indicative of the fact that three out of several of them did not go off as planned. It doesn't mean that they can't, you know, cause havoc and death and mayhem.

SIMON: Is it just a matter of time before some of the bombs that you described that went off in Paris and Brussels are used in the United States?

FLYNN: I don't think we can regulate ourselves to 100 percent security, certainly. So what we need to be doing is looking at smart regulations. But do that in concert with an aggressive outreach program.

There were many programs we had at DHS where we put point of sale, whether it's wholesale, beauty-supply facilities or, you know, big-box stores that were selling cell phone components and other things, we had training programs where we'd put those individuals in touch with local law enforcement, so that if they saw anomalous, suspicious-type purchasing behavior, whether people were paying by cash, you know, buying large quantities, unwilling to substitute certain chemicals, had maybe burns or other indications on their hands that they were using some chemicals, then how do they go about reporting that to local law enforcement?

It was a very successful program. But, you know, I think it's a small amount of money that's been devoted to those. And as we look at this threat, we've got a couple smart regulations with a more aggressive outreach to our state and local and our private sector partners.

SIMON: But again, to borrow your phrase, you don't think we can regulate ourselves out of this threat?

FLYNN: No, I don't think so. I think that there's no 100 percent perfect security plan. I mean, the adversary looks at what we do. And then they come up with alternatives. And it's a cat and mouse game to some degree. We've made some significant progress.

We've got to look at where the risk is the greatest and focus our efforts there. We've done that with the major chemical components. It's time now to be taking a look at some of these precursor chemicals and seeing if we can tighten that up and prevent some of these precursors from falling into the wrong hands.

SIMON: William Flynn, who's president of GARDA Risk Management, thanks so much for being with us, Bill.

FLYNN: Thanks, Scott. Thank you very much.

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