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Are terrorists looking in?

Could a terrorist be reading this article? The question, at first, seems absurd. This publication has a controlled circulation and is read primarily by farmers, input and service providers, farm organizations and market analysts. We know politicians read the publication and perhaps their lack of movement on a farm bill in any given year foments terror among U.S. farmers.

But all kidding aside, would a terrorist find opportunities to spread destruction and fear in the pages of this publication? And if he could, where the heck could he pick up a copy?

To answer these questions, let's first define terrorism. According to a speaker at the recent Mid-America Security Task Force seminar, held in Memphis, terrorism today is much broader than the events of Sept. 11, when 19 fanatics flew jets loaded with people into buildings and the countryside.

Disturbingly, terrorism has many agricultural ties.

For farmers and the general public, terrorism could involve the destruction or tainting of crops, or as in the case of the Oklahoma City bombing, the use of an agricultural input (fertilizer) to make bombs.

For aerial applicators, terrorism could involve the use of their planes to spread toxins on crops or humans. Did you know that one of the aforementioned 19 terrorists applied for a loan to purchase a crop duster?

And terrorists themselves are not limited to disaffected U.S. citizens like Timothy McVeigh or religious fanatics, like Osama bin Laden. For example, seed technology providers are terrorized by environmental extremists who destroy property and experimental crops, while livestock operations and meat processors have to deal with often violent protests by animal rights groups.

Interestingly, in light of the recent World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, many of these extremist groups have sought to distance themselves from the terrorist label for obvious reasons.

Whatever ax a terrorist has to grind, they all are bound by one commonality, according to Gerald Kinard, a Texas law enforcement officer and president of Law Enforcement Academic Research Network (LEARN), which helps businesses prevent and investigate terrorist attacks.

“Terrorists are criminals and criminals are terrorists,” Kinard said. Their intent is to hurt, cause fear and even kill other people to advance their cause. How ruthless are they? We all know what the terrorist group al Qaeda is capable of. But consider this matter-of-fact comment from Michael W. Fox, vice president of the Inhumane Society, an animal rights group, and no relation to Michael J. Fox, the actor: “The life of an ant and that of my child should be granted equal consideration.”

Given this perspective on human life, is there really much difference between Fox and bin Laden? How about this classy retort by Tom Regan, author of The Case for Animal Rights, when asked which he would save, a dog or a baby, if a boat capsized in the ocean: “If it were a retarded baby and a bright dog, I'd save the dog.”

While we may easily conclude that Tom's and Michael's elevators aren't quite capable of reaching the top floor, we shouldn't underestimate either's ingenuity in matters of terror.

We shouldn't put it past them, or Osama bin Laden's cohorts, to search cyberspace for articles such as this one, to see what companies are doing to deal with terrorism. Or, to the consternation of many, search for articles that expose weaknesses in our fight against terrorism.

The fact is, in today's world, any terrorist with a computer and phone line can retrieve news articles from any publication from anywhere in the world — whether he's propped up in a cave in the middle of Afghanistan or sitting by a pool in Hollywood, Calif.

A terrorist could have read a recent nationally distributed article which exposed weaknesses at our airport security facilities. We in the media had a sure-fire dilemma in that case.

On one hand, the illumination of that weakness helped authorities refocus on safeguards that will allow us to stay a step ahead of terrorists. Knowledge and understanding are rudimentary principles of a democratic society.

On the other hand, what was written also ran the risk of inadvertently tipping off the terrorist. What to do?

The media and those responsible for security in the airline and agriculture industries “have a fine line to walk,” said Kinard. “We have to prevail upon the media to ask itself, ‘If I print this, will it cause some problems somewhere down the road?’”

For the media, it could be as simple as asking, or in other cases, abiding a request. Kinard pointed out that indeed over the last eight months many news services have withheld sensitive information, per requests of law enforcement.

There are four important things to remember in the aftermath of Sept. 11, according to speakers at the seminar, which was attended by federal, state and local law enforcement authorities as well as representatives from the agricultural industry:

First, the media can't keep the public in the dark about what is being done to deal with terrorism, especially if our first line of defense against it is the vigilance of individual citizens. Our power lies in our knowledge.

Second, safeguards now in place against the threat of terrorism are working well. “There's no need to panic,” a federal officer speaking at the meeting noted. “We need to look at what we are doing and focus on improving it.”

Third, if you see any suspicious behavior or persons, and this is defined as anything or anyone who seems out of place, “Call the local sheriff,” Kinard said, “not the media or the federal government. That's the mentality we need at the farm level.”

And fourth, remember that the Internet works both ways. Just recently, counter-terrorism agents were able to track down al Qaeda's third-in-command through a trail of electronic e-mails.

The Mid-America Security Task Force describes itself as “an informal group of agricultural leaders, businessmen and concerned citizens who are interested in protecting lives, property and freedom from terrorist threats.”

For more information from David Kinard, call 901-685-7413 or e-mail [email protected]

e-mail: [email protected].

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