[EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece is from Dr. Bob Norton, chair of the Auburn University Food System Institute’s Food and Water Defense Working Group. He is a long-time consultant to the U.S. military and federal and state law enforcement agencies and editor of Bob Norton’s Food Defense Blog.]


For those who lived through 9-11, whether in Manhattan or at the Pentagon, thoughts often drift back to the sounds, the smells, the tastes and sights of people injured and dying, of a world literally crashing down upon them. Like a looped film, the images repeat. For those who experienced the horror vicariously, the first attacks on American soil since Pearl Harbor are more distant, more abstract—unless you lost a loved one. For many citizens the memories have faded. The drama is gone. For others who weren’t yet born, 9/11 is ancient history –distant, cold and dead. That is not a good thing. Complacency breeds peril.

The nation changed; in fact, the world changed on 9/11 in ways hard to describe to those who were not in the middle of our nation’s response. The public never realized the extent of the response, perhaps did not really care. I was part of that response; a very small cog in a massive machine, coordinated between the military and law enforcement. I distinctly remember the call from a friend who worked for the FBI. He asked, “Bob, do you know anything about anthrax?” Indeed, the world was changing rapidly.

For all its faults and mistakes, the nation’s response moved forward—perhaps lurched forward is more accurate. We were united that there must never be another 9/11. Seventeen years later the treasure spent and sacrifices made by friends, family and colleagues has ensured a nation that continues to be free and prosperous, a nation where terrorists have largely been prevented from continuing their fight on our soil. Instead, our nation chose to take the fight to the terrorists, first in Afghanistan and later in other terrorist havens around the world. That fight continues unabated today.

How Can A Farmer Help?

So how can a farmer help? Most importantly, recognize that you and yours are targets! Put yourself and your holdings in a defensive mode, rather than a passive mode. Do not replace due diligence with a belief that the federal or state government will stop all adversaries, since no agency has the resources and work force to be sure something does not specifically happen to you or your property. Local or county police are very busy with crime and should not be expected to concentrate on the physical and biosecurity of your property. You are always the first line of defense.

So where are we today? Have we made progress? Are we more safe or less? The answers to those questions are complex. Progress is real, but the long fight has really only just begun. We will battle radicalism in many guises for decades to come. Our great grandchildren will have to carry on the efforts started on a dark night 17 years ago, because the cancer that is radicalism is still metastasizing into new places.

Some would accuse the West and, in particular, the U.S. of being responsible for the spread of radicalism, implying somehow that our success as a culture and a nation took success away from others. Human suffering, whatever its origin, is an abomination to human dignity and a reflection of a broken world. Oppression and moral depravity are always wrong and have been responsible for much of human suffering. I have witnessed firsthand too much of each.

Oppression and moral depravity, however, are far different from the results of one nation out-competing another. The ongoing fight is driven in part by perceptions of suffering (the 9/11 hijackers were not poor and disenfranchised) as well as actual suffering. Wanting something better for one’s family, one’s tribe or nation is commendable. Trying to take it from another through violence is not.

Why Does Any Of This Matter To Farmers?

Afghanistan continues to be a quagmire and will continue to be so, as long as a substantial portion of its population places tribe in front of nation. Afghanistan is a terrorist magnet, and we continue to use that to our nation’s advantage. Gen. John W. Nicholson, the then-commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, testified in February 2017 that our primary mission in Afghanistan is protecting our homeland by preventing Afghanistan from being used again as a safe haven for terrorists to attack the United States or our allies. To date, with some unfortunate exceptions, we have been able to maintain the fight there, rather than in the streets and skies of the U.S.

Why should any of this matter to U.S. farmers, whose main concerns should be the pests trying to eat their crops, the vagaries of the weather and market price fluctuations? U.S. farmers may have loved ones serving in the dangerous areas of the world.

Beyond that, the truth is that every farmer and therefore every farm family, every farm, every food processing facility, every warehouse and every retail outlet is a potential target and could therefore be the next ground-zero, should terrorists slip through our nation’s defenses. This is not hyperbole. Radical jihadist groups sincerely want to destroy our food system and poison our waters. To date, the U.S. has prevented this from happening.

Weapons Will Target U.S. Agriculture

In addition, adversarial nations such as Russia, China, Iran and North Korea have biological and chemical weapons programs aimed at defeating the U.S. These same threat nations have reach capabilities, meaning that we are no longer Fortress America. Should war ever break out, these weapons will certainly target U.S. agriculture and the food supply. Without going into details, the pace and investment in these biological and chemical weapons programs are indicators that these hostile nations actually believe war with the U.S. will occur one day in the not-distant future.

The President and First Lady at the World Trade Center Memorial

Remember, the pre-9-11 federal government told the flying public to comply with demands and act passively should a hijacking occur, saying hijackers were only interested in flying out of the country or in ransom money. Barring any passenger resistance, everything would be ok. Use those facts as lessons learned. Do not allow anyone to displace with advice your personal instincts for detecting concerns and dangers. You know your farm far better than any government official ever will!

What was the result of the pre-9/11 misguided federal policies, performance and advice? Nearlly 3,000 dead (including 19 hijackers), 6,000 injured and now, 17 years later, more than 10,000 cases of cancers, many deadly, among first responders.

Government is proactive in many ways. Much of that proactivity, as related to national security must remain hidden. Still, the government cannot and should not be the only “eyes on the ground.” That is where your responsibilities as both a farmer and an American citizen come in. Rather than becoming paranoid, become vigilant. Predators look for the weak and vulnerable, those who are inattentive and situationally unaware. It may seem trite, but it is not. “See something? Say something!”

Stay Strong And Persistent

Terrorists and adversary nation actors alike cannot act out in the open. Adversaries always seek to remain undetected, since exposure invites defeat. History is replete with examples where someone saw something or someone suspicious, acted upon it, and thereby saved the day by notifying the appropriate authorities. History is also replete with examples of people who ignored the warning signs and suffered the consequences. Some would argue that 9-11 is one of our worst examples of turning a blind eye.

National security begins with every citizen on every street corner, in every city and town. Situational awareness must never wane. Inattentiveness endangers everything and everyone dear to us. Our adversaries are out there, and their gaze remains unbroken. Ours must too. They are looking for opportunity. We must never give them the chance to act upon their aspirations or their planning. Our goal as a nation must be to continue to keep our adversaries out of the U.S., confining them to the far fight. Stay strong and persistent.​

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