The sting was revealed on Feb. 13, when police showed a videotape of the operation to industry security experts.
(HSToday covered the dangers of chlorine and its use as a terrorist weapon in Iraq in its August 2007 cover story, “The Perils of Chlorine,” by Adam Fosson.)
“Operation Green Cloud,” as it was called by the New York Police Department (NYPD), was intended “to assess the ease or difficulty with which a terrorist in the United States could acquire large quantities of chlorine without being detected by law enforcement or intelligence agencies,” according to the narrator of the videotape.
New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told the media that, while there were no places to obtain chlorine in New York City, there are several locations in neighboring New Jersey.
“It’s something we have to be concerned about,” he said of the potential of an attack using chlorine. “We think the whole area needs a lot of regulation.”
The operation was revealed at a time when the states of New York and New Jersey were lobbying the Department of Homeland Security to draft stricter regulations requiring chlorine vendors to verify the legitimacy of their customers. (For coverage of the debate over chemical safety, see “The Chemical Conundrum” in the February 2008 edition of HSToday.)
New York police sent federal officials a copy of the videotape and “asked them to include strict ‘know-your-customer’ rules,” Kelly said.
Police stressed that the chlorine deal was within current regulations, which have no requirement that vendors verify identification of their customers or report transactions.
In the video, an intelligence detective described how in June 2007 NYPD fabricated a water purification company, which included a mailing address, website and a phony contract with the city to clean up a polluted creek in Brooklyn. After searching out local chlorine sellers on the Internet, the police investigators used a credit card to place an order for three 100-pound cylinders of chlorine. The firm from which they ordered was not named.
According to the police, no one ever asked them for identification and the purchase required little human interaction.
The video showed a truck delivering the chlorine canisters on a rainy Brooklyn street lined with warehouses. According to the police, at the time, HAZMAT teams were ready to respond to any mishaps.
The Iraqi front
In Iraq on Jan. 29, 26 US soldiers and their interpreters were exposed to chlorine gas while destroying an Al Qaeda explosives cache 1 mile north of the town of Himbus in Diyala province, according to the newspaper The Washington Times.
The victims were rushed to a military hospital at Balad. There were no fatalities.
The chlorine was in one of 19 cylinders that usually hold propane and are used by terrorists for improvised explosive devices.
Lt. Col. Patrick Mackin, intelligence officer for the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, told the newspaper that the cylinderswere found in a previously bombed Al Qaeda camp in a palm grove, and they had been buried there for months.
“I’d bet a paycheck that it had been there since summer,” he said. “I don’t think it indicates a renewed trend by them to use the stuff.” Use of chlorine by the terrorists in Iraq has been declining. “I think it wasn’t as effective as they wanted,” Mackin speculated.