Hitting America's Soft Underbelly

The Potential Threat of Deliberate Biological Attacks Against the U.S. Agricultural and Food Industry

by Peter Chalk

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Abstract

Over the past decade, the United States has endeavored to increase its ability to detect, prevent, and respond to terrorist threats and incidents. The agriculture sector and the food industry in general, however, have received comparatively little attention with respect to protection against terrorist incidents. This study aims to expand the current debate on domestic homeland security by assessing the vulnerabilities of the agricultural sector and the food chain to a deliberate act of biological terrorism. The author presents the current state of research on threats to agricultural livestock and produce, outlines the sector's importance to the U.S. economy, examines the capabilities that are needed to exploit the vulnerabilities in the food industry, and explores the likely outcomes of a successful attack. The author addresses the question of why terrorists have yet to employ agricultural assaults as a method of operation and offers proposed recommendations for the U.S. policymaking community.

The research described in this report was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). The research was conducted in the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center supported by the OSD, the Joint Staff, the unified commands, and the defense agencies.

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