Two years ago, a troubling incident occurred at Dublin Spa Center.
“I had a customer who wanted to buy muriatic acid along with small, individual pieces of galvanized plumbing,” said David Seim, general manager of the store in Dublin, Calif. “We sell both products, but I had a feeling he wasn’t using them for a pool or spa. After I told him the products were only for [that] purpose, he walked out.”
Unfortunately, Seim didn’t know that he could have told a local coordinator at the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate.
The FBI established the WMDD in 2006 to raise awareness of the use of certain chemicals — such as hydrogen peroxide, acetone and strong acids — to develop improvised explosives. Since then, the bureau has worked in conjunction with the pool and spa industry to disseminate information about this viable threat.
Despite these efforts, however, many retailers say they are unaware of the program. So the FBI recently stepped up its outreach.
The initiatives include supplying retailers with cards and handouts, an increased presence at industry events, and WMD coordinator visits to retail locations.
“They know their customers better than anyone,” said Justin Kita, an intelligence analyst at the bureau’s WMD Chemical Countermeasures Unit. “We want them to ask very simple questions, like what chemicals are [the customers] looking for, provide suggestions for chemicals, and ask [the customers] what they are intending to do with their chemicals.”
To deliver this message to a larger audience and strengthen the FBI’s relationship with the industry, Kita and a colleague attended the International Pool | Spa | Patio Expo in November as guests of the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals, with whom they gave a joint presentation. They also spoke at the APSP Retailers Council meeting.
As another component of these countermeasures, local WMD coordinators are inviting professionals who deal with chemicals in all industries to attend a day of briefings. The session includes a look at the types of products that can be used to create weapons. To date, the FBI has hosted roughly 15 Chemical Industry Outreach workshops.
Howard Weiss, president of Contemporary Watercrafters in Gaithersburg, Md., attended an outreach day in September, which included a demonstration at the Marine Corps Base Quantico bomb range in Virginia, where he witnessed the explosive power of calcium hypochlorite, in addition to several other bombs.
“It surprised me that the products we sell over the counter, purchased in the right quantities and concentrations, could be fairly easily made into weapons of mass destruction,” said Weiss, who originally learned of the FBI’s warnings after receiving a mailer from one of his suppliers. A WMD coordinator also visited his store and introduced him to the FBI’s Bulk Pool Supply Tripwire program, which teaches the private sector what to look for and how to handle suspicious activity.
Additionally, some companies, including chemical manufacturer BioLab and distributor PoolCorp, have worked with the FBI to educate dealers about the awareness programs.
“In August, we were asked by the FBI to assist them in distributing an informational sheet to our pro dealer customers about indicators of peroxide-based explosives,” said Scott Newton, BioGuard brand manager. “In an effort to help the FBI and our dealers, we are continuing this awareness campaign by including the information in our H2Know education training sessions throughout the country.”
To report suspicious activity, visit https://tips.fbi.gov, or call 202.324.3777.