African swine fever appears unstoppable as it continues its deadly trek across Asia. The U.S. industry is preparing for the worst, but prays the virus won’t reach this country’s shores. Natural or unintended spread is the most likely method of transmission, but there is also the fear that a person could intentionally try to infect the U.S. hog herd, and producers need to be aware of the potential threat. That’s the message two members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Biological Countermeasures Unit shared with attendees of the U.S. Animal Health Association Annual Meeting last fall. Stephen Goldsmith, DVM, and Kathleen Giles, both with the FBI Directorate, shared their experiences regarding biosecurity and gave tips on how producers can help protect their herds.
“At this day and time, with all the disease threats, we have to look at who would want to disrupt U.S. agriculture,” Goldsmith said. “We have to add that to the list whenever we add a new disease to the list, and we have to consider state-sponsored espionage and state-sponsored biological warfare.”
The effects of espionage operations are varied but all have the potential for disastrous consequences. They include losses of revenue, employment or return on research and development investments; or disrupted production. On a larger scale, the outcome could mean the loss of international export market share in the case of an intentional introduction of a high-consequence disease like ASF, foot and mouth disease or classical swine fever.
Due to current world threats, the U.S. must differentiate unusual, unexplained disease incidents between:
- Expected (normal) background levels or variations of endemic production diseases
- Accidental introductions
- Natural introductions
- Intentional disease introductions: criminal, terrorism, espionage or sabotage should be considered as possibilities
“Although accidental or natural sources are more likely, we still have to rule in or rule out all possibilities,” Goldsmith said. He is a management program analyst in the FBI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate (WMDD), working directly with veterinary, animal, plant and public health programs.
Giles, who has been with the FBI for over 20 years, is a supervisory special agent within the FBI’s WMDD) Biological Countermeasures Unit (BCU). She said 9-11 “changed my career path 100%.
“Agriculture is not a fixed place, but it’s a complex of farms… designed for economic efficiency,” she added. “Agro-terrorism is essentially economic warfare. This is one person gaining access to a pathogen and moving it around the world.”
Perpetrators are varied
An attack is possible from any number of perpetrators, say Goldsmith and Giles, including the following categories:
- International: Non-state sponsored, such as radicalized political/religious/nationalist group; criminal elements/cartels; state-sponsored espionage and bio-warfare programs; and international corporate competitors
- Domestic: Militant animal- or environmental-rights groups; anarchist and anti-government extremist groups
- From 2006 to present, an OIE report states the Animal Liberation Front is responsible for 700 criminal acts worldwide, causing $112 million in damages
- Home-grown violent extremists: Self-radicalized U.S. residents recruited or directed by foreign entities
- Lone offenders: Individual actors with various personal motivations
- Hate crimes: Radical/religious/political extremists
- Mass casualty shootings: Individual motivations/copycats
“For the last 5 years, FBI investigations indicate increased economic espionage and trade-secret theft against agricultural targets, including information, technology and infrastructure; emerging biotech and genomic research; and ‘big data,’” Goldsmith said.
Do your homework
Biosecurity is more important than ever, and producers need to be cautious and careful when hiring new employees.
Goldsmith and Giles recommend following a personnel pre-access suitability assessment when considering new employees, including this information:
- Criminal history
- Home address history
- Work history
- Contact information for 3 professional and 3 peer references
- Visa/residency status (for foreign applicants)
- Social media access
The following information should be obtained from records requests:
- Criminal records
- Civil orders (restraining orders/protective orders)
- Driving records
- Education records
- Professional licenses/certification
Do a thorough job of interviewing every applicant and check out their references carefully, too, Giles said.
“You need to know your employees – you need to know who you’re working with,” she added. “The information makes us more efficient but also more vulnerable. Be aware. Know who’s coming into your facility and who’s asking for information.”
Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series. Look for part two next week. If you’re interested in topics like this, as well as important animal health updates, attend the 2019 USAHA-AAVLD Annual Meeting, Oct. 24-30, at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence, RI. For more information, go to: