Motivational Aspects of Agro-Terrorism
Although U.S. agriculture is potentially vulnerable to terrorism, the extent to which terrorists are motivated to carry out such attacks is unclear. Because it is hard to anticipate what an intelligent adversary will do, no good methodologies exist for assessing the risk of an agro-terrorist attack. Al-Qaeda documents captured in late 2001 in Afghanistan mentioned plans by terrorists to contaminate food supplies, but current intelligence does not suggest an imminent threat.
Some terrorism analysts doubt that attacks on agricultural targets would appeal to terrorists, who generally seek to produce high-profile events that will attract media attention. Killing crops, cows, and pigs would not have the same terrorizing effect as lethal attacks against human beings. If, however, the aim of a terrorist group is to inflict major economic damage on a company or country, then agro-terrorism is a plausible threat. According to analyst Peter Chalk of the RAND Corporation, “Given its ease of execution and potential to elicit a highly ‘favorable’ cost-benefit ratio, agro-terrorism may be perfectly suited to the type of low-cost but highly disruptive attacks that al-Qaeda has necessarily been forced to adopt in the 9/11 era.”12
Indeed, the goals of some terrorist organizations focus on destroying property and disrupting commerce. Cyber-terrorists, for example, have caused serious economic damage without causing physical harm to anyone. Another factor is that the psychological barrier for carrying out mass-casualty attacks against animals or plants is much lower than that for large-scale attacks against humans.