11 May 2005
The use of threats to release foot-and mouth disease in an attempt
to extort money and policy changes from the Government is terrorism,
says Agriculture Minister Jim Sutton.
This is a case of terrorism," he told NZPA after a letter
written to Prime Minister Helen Clark demanded a huge sum of money
and changes in taxation policy, with the threat of releasing foot-and-mouth
virus in a mainland farming area.
The letter, received yesterday, said the virus had already been
released on Waiheke Island within the previous 24 hours, apparently
to prove the extortionist's capability.
"Probably it's somebody with an unbalanced mind and they're
just crazy, but possibly it is being done from a basis of sanity
in which case: it is an act of terrorism," Mr Sutton said.
"It is trying to extort money and particular responses from
the Government by threatening an economic catastrophe on the people
of New Zealand."
A senior Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry official, its group
director of compliance and enforcement, Jockey Jensen, last week
attended the United States' first international conference on "agroterrorism" in
At the conference, the director of the FBI, Robert Mueller warned
that all Americans needed to be alert to the potential for the
farm sector and food supply to be attacked. "It's very important
that if we do encounter an exotic pathogen in the United States,
we be instantly alert to the possibility of agroterrorism".
According to an American scientist, Professor James Cook at Washington
State University, agroterrorism is considered to be "low-tech,
And the chairman of the United States Senate's intelligence committee,
Sentator Pat Roberts, dismissed criticism at the conference that
discussing the threat of agricultural attacks would give terrorists
ideas. Six of the 19 al Quaeda hijackers on September 11, 2001
had agricultural training. Some had taken an interest in aerial
spraying of crops: "those crop dusters were not intended to
be used on people," he said.
He specifically described concerns over the ease with which foot-and-mouth
disease could be brought to American livestock from countries where
it was endemic, such as Afghanistan, with minimal cost or difficulty.
But MAF's group director of Biosecurity New Zealand, Barry O'Neill,
said today that he did not want to canvass ways in which foot-and-mouth
disease could be deliberately introduced to New Zealand.
"I don't believe getting viable foot-and-mouth disease through
our border biosecurity systems into New Zealand and infecting animals
is an easy undertaking," he said.
But a noted epidemiologist, Professor Roger Morris of Massey University,
told Radio New Zealand that it would be easier to smuggle foot-and-mouth
virus across New Zealand's borders than it would be to bring in
an illicit salami.
"You're most unlikely to get a salami through, but if you
were deliberately trying to cheat the system, then there are ways
and means of doing it," he said. Prof Morris said that the
Waiheke threat was most likely to be a hoax, and that a similar
threat had previously been made in Australia.
In 1984 an extortionist sent a letter to Queensland's Primary
Industries Department threatening to release foot and mouth virus
unless state jails were reformed.
Mr Sutton said the options for countering terrorism were limited,
but it was possible to prepare for a disease outbreak.
"Of course we've thought about the possibility of something
like foot and mouth being an instrument of terrorism deployed against
New Zealand and it's clearly possible," he told NZPA.
"This is sort of a rather clumsy attempt to extort money
and other things from the Government," he said. "There
isn't much that you would or could do to counter it as a terrorist
thing - you've just got to really prepare for an incursion".
Whether the disease was deliberately brought in or whether it
was accidentally brought in, agricultural authorities had to respond
the same way.
"If you had a deliberate terrorist incident, presumably they
might potentially release it in a number of locations simultaneously,
in which case you've got a more difficult task in responding, you
need more resources".
Fairfax New Zealand Limited 2005.