EARLHAM, IOWA — The shelves of grocery, hardware and farm supply stores across Iowa are filled with items we need to clean and repair our homes and run our businesses. But those same products can be used to cause mass casualties when combined improperly by someone with bad intentions. On Wednesday, federal authorities were in small town Iowa to spread that message.
“There is no emerging threat to the state of Iowa,” says Chuck Leas with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), “But bomb-making is an enduring, persistent threat in the United States.” Leas says Americans may think of bombings as something that happens only in heavily populated areas, but that isn’t the case. That’s why they chose Earlham to help spread the message.
Leas displayed a table with dozens of household products including detergents, solvents and other chemicals. Any one of those items is innocent enough, but certain combinations can be deadly.
“We want to push the message: while all these products are safe for everyday use, when they are combined in certain ways by a nefarious actor they could be used to make a bomb,” Leas said.
Leas gives an example of the chemical acetone, which by itself is not a ‘nefarious’ item. It is usually purchased for cleaning up from painting projects. But Leas said there could be reason for concern if someone is buying it in large quantities without other paint supplies, or if someone is acting suspicious about a purchase of the chemical. He said there is no one right or wrong answer to identifying a possibly dangerous customer – and that’s why training is so important for law enforcement, businesses and the general public.
Phil Kirk with CISA says rural shops could be the ideal target for a potential bomb-maker, as history has proven. “You can go all the way back to the Oklahoma City bombing. The individual there purchased materials in Kansas and drove to Oklahoma City,” Kirk says, ” Sometimes they may think they would be less likely to be noticed if they purchased the materials somewhere else.”
The CISA officers held their event in Earlham in conjunction with Madison County authorities. Emergency Management Administrator Diogenes Ayala says after recent training on bomb-making threats, he wanted to share the news with all of Iowa. ” As Iowans we suspect these things can’t happen here and it can. We’ve already had a couple of incidents here in Iowa,” Ayala says.
Federal agents say protecting our communities begins with vigilance from the community and a willingness to report on neighbors, customers or others you think may be planning an attack. CISA is calling their education tour Operation Flashpoint. More information is available online about their training resources.