Criminology, Law and Society
College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Greenfield Chairs Committee at National Academies on Access to Explosive Precursor Chemicals

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In the Fall of 2016, The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, appointed Victoria Greenfield, Visiting Scholar in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society, as chair of the committee on “Reducing the Threat of Improvised Explosive Device Attacks by Reducing Access to Chemical Explosive Precursors” and, one year later, the committee has released its report with findings and recommendations for policymakers.

"The bombings of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and the World Trade Center in New York City in the 1990s and those over the past few years in Paris, Brussels, and Manchester, in New York and New Jersey, and in many other communities around the world starkly demonstrate the long lived and persistent threat posed by IEDs,” said Greenfield, of the need for a policy response. “The report stresses the importance of engaging in an ongoing deliberative process to reduce this threat.”

Of particular note, the report, which was requested by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, calls for greater oversight of precursor chemicals sold at retail to reduce threats from improvised explosive devices. Although retail sales present a substantial vulnerability, they have not been a major focus of policymaking.

Conscious of the need to address this vulnerability yet minimize the burden on legitimate commerce, the committee assessed four general types of control strategies, by weighing security, economic, and other trade-offs. The report calls on DHS to use the committee’s assessment as a starting point for engaging in a more comprehensive, detailed, and rigorous analysis of specific provisions for mandatory and voluntary policy mechanisms.

The report suggests taking a multi-chemical approach rather than building a strategy around a single chemical, as has been proposed previously, and identifies a set of chemicals that pose the greatest current threat.

In addition, federal, state, local, and private-sector entities should explore strategies for harmonizing oversight of the sale and use of commercially available exploding target kits that contain precursor chemicals and are designed to produce homemade explosives, the report says. Some states have implemented rules independently, but no federal agency has explicit authority from Congress to oversee the sale of these kits.

The report also identifies opportunities to bolster voluntary programs.

Regardless of the path chosen, the report calls for re-evaluating priorities among chemicals and re-visiting policy responses regularly, in light of changing threats.

Greenfield will brief stakeholders in a public session on November 29th 2017 on findings and recommendations from the year-long research effort. For more information about the study, including the public session, or for access to a downloadable, free copy of the report, please click on the links above on the right.

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