The FBI has produced a video, aimed partly at the pool industry, to help educate retailers and others about those who would purchase chemicals for use in terrorist activities.
Titled “Suspicious Sales,” the video is aimed at pool supply retailers, agricultural stores and beauty supply outlets. All three of those categories of stores sell chemicals that can be used to make homemade explosives.
To spread the word throughout the targeted industries, the bureau has had booths at trade shows this winter. The International Pool | Spa | Patio Expo in New Orleans, the PoolCorp exhibition in Dallas, and the Western Pool & Spa Show in Long Beach, Calif., were among the venues at which the FBI promoted the video and handed out copies to interested attendees.
“Our target audience is the point-of-sale employees of businesses that sell products that contain chemicals which could be used for making homemade explosives or other improvised chemical devices,” FBI Supervisory Special Agent William DelBagno said.
Vigilance by companies that handle chemicals has helped stop at least one potential terrorist. In 2011, a shipping firm in Lubbock, Texas, received a package containing the chemical phenol addressed to a residence. Private homes don’t often receive chemicals such as phenol, so the shipper contacted the chemical company. They agreed to halt the delivery. The FBI was contacted and found that the purchaser, Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, a Saudi in the United States on a student visa, had already obtained two chemicals needed to make a bomb, along with timers and other equipment. The phenol was the last piece of the puzzle. Aldawasari was subsequently sentenced to life in prison.
“Pool retailers should trust their instincts,” DelBagno said. “Anyone working in the pool business for some time knows how their typical customer acts, what questions they ask, concerns they express and how they answer your questions. So the first thing is probably something you’re doing already — talk with your customers and ask questions. Get to know your customers.”
Retailers should make a note of unknown customers who have an unusual preoccupation with products containing hydrogen peroxide, potassium permanganate and calcium hypochlorite. “Pay particular attention to a customer who is interested in products that have the highest concentration of hydrogen peroxide and who cannot reasonably explain why they want it,” DelBagno said.
So far, the FBI has concentrated on getting its message out to retailers because that’s more easily done. The bureau would like to reach out to pool service technicians as well. In addition to keeping an eye out for unfamiliar people at distribution centers, techs should report if they’re missing chemicals, particularly those containing ingredients that can be used in explosives, from their trucks. “Something we’re interested in is not only point-of-sale, but users,” DelBagno said. “There’s some difficulty in identifying them.”
Reaction from those who’ve seen the video has been positive. “Many viewers immediately see the value in the video and how their businesses could benefit from its message,” DelBagno said. In addition to distributing the DVD to interested parties, the bureau might soon post the video on its website.