Phillip Smith / Drug War Chronicle / Alternet & Dylan Darling / The Record Searchlight – 2010-11-28 21:35:09
Weirdest Training Drill Ever:
Feds Imagine Marijuana Growers Will Launch Terror Attack?
Phillip Smith / Drug War Chronicle / Alternet
REDDING, California (November 21, 2010) — Northern California pot growers bomb a car and a bus, then take over Shasta Dam in a bid to free an imprisoned comrade. It sounds like the plot to a very cheesy Grade-B thriller, but it was actually the premise for a day-long terrorist attack drill conducted by 20 state, local, and federal law enforcement agencies Wednesday.
According to an account published in the local paper the Redding Record Searchlight, the Shasta Dam scenario had the “Red Cell” pot grower/terrorists blowing up the car and bus to create a distraction and then taking over the dam. Holding three people hostage, the terrorist pot growers then threaten to flood the Sacramento River by opening the flood gates unless their imprisoned comrade is freed.
The drill was part of the US Bureau of Reclamation’s Critical Infrastructure Crisis Response Exercise Program, which started in 2003. It identified six dams, including Shasta, the nation’s second largest, as possible terrorist targets.
Similar exercises took place at Utah’s Flaming Gorge Dam in 2003, Washington’s Grand Coulee Dam in 2005, and Hoover Dam on the Arizona-Nevada border in 2008. But none of those exercises identified pot growers as the putative terrorists.
According to bureau spokesperson Sheri Harral, the drill took 18 months of planning and cost the bureau $500,000. The other emergency and law enforcement agencies that participated paid their own expenses.
As of press time, Harral had not returned a Chronicle call asking why marijuana growers were selected as the terrorists. Northern California is home to thousands of pot growers, many of them doing it legally under the auspices of California’s medical marijuana law. There are no known incidents of pot farmer terrorist attacks on critical infrastructure.
Dale Gieringer, head of California NORML and an observer of the state marijuana scene for decades, told the Chronicle he was unaware of any California pot grower terrorist cells — ever. “No, never,” he said.
Nor was he impressed with the pot grower as terrorist scenario. “That was so stupid,” he sighed. “I don’t know what inspired it. I can see the need to do better pat downs for air travelers to make sure they’re not holding joints in their underpants, but this? It sounds like something some yahoo red county sheriff would dream up.”
Neither was the Marijuana Policy Project amused. “This is a classic example of law enforcement’s utterly inaccurate stereotype of who is involved with marijuana,” said the group’s communications director, Mike Meno. “For decades, they have villianized users and people involved in the industry to such an extent that they now equate them with terrorists. It might be laughable,” he said, “but it gives us real insight into the drug warrior mentality and what they think of marijuana people.”
“The whole idea that they would equate growers with terrorism is absurd and insulting,” sputtered NORML founder Keith Stroup. “This is too ignorant to take seriously. It’s hard to imagine that in this time of fiscal crisis, someone would have the nerve to propose spending money on such a ludicrous exercise. My goodness! Of all the potential violent criminals out there, the idea that they would focus on pot growers shows that this is a political game,” he said.
“People will be laughing about this for decades,” Stroup continued. “You have almost half the people in California voting for marijuana, and on the other hand, this. It’s hard to believe this is going on.
At least, they could have called it the “Green cell.”
20 Agencies Coordinate for Mock Shasta Dam Attack
Dylan Darling / The Record Searchlight
Brian Banning of the California Emergency Management Agency, Holly Powers of the Oak Ridge Institute of Science and Education, Mike Dayton of the California Emergency Management Agency and Frank Calvillo of Homeland Security watch during the Shasta Dam Full-Scale Exercise on Wednesday. The exercise, put on by the Bureau of Reclamation, brought together 20 federal, state and local agencies.
REDDING (November 17, 2010) — Bomb blasts that blew apart a car and a bus at Shasta Dam were distractions to allow terrorists time to take hostages and control of the nationâ€™s second-largest dam.
Luckily for the north state the dramatic scenario Wednesday was part of a 12-hour terrorist drill at the dam and not real. The goal was to ensure local, state and federal agencies could respond to such a situation and reclaim the dam.
More than 250 people from more than 20 agencies took part, said Sheri Harral, Shasta Dam’s spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation.
“It’s not just a couple of agencies,” Harral said. “It’s 20.”
Led by the Bureau of Reclamation — the federal agency that oversees the massive concrete dam that creates Lake Shasta — medical, fire and police agencies responded to the mock terrorist attack. During the drill the dam, the roads leading to it and a pair of popular fishing boat ramps were closed.
Part of the Bureauâ€™s Critical Infrastructure Crisis Response Exercise Program, which started in 2003, the exercise was the first of its kind at the dam, Harral said. Similar drills took place at Utah’s Flaming Gorge Dam in 2003, Washingtonâ€™s Grand Coulee Dam in 2005 and Hoover Dam on the Nevada-Arizona line in 2008. A similar drill is set for Folsom Dam next.
The federal government identified the six dams as possible terrorist targets.
Harral said the reclamation bureau’s role in the drill took 18 months of planning and cost $500,000. The other agencies that helped in planning and performing the drill covered their own costs.
The Shasta Dam scenario began with the two mock bomb blasts followed by the “Red Cell” terrorist group taking over the dam in an effort to free one of their fellow marijuana growers from prison. Holding three people hostage, they threatened to flood the Sacramento River by rolling open the drum gates atop the dam. Those gates hold back the nearly full lake.
To show their seriousness in the drill, the Red Cell twice pretended to release water from the dam. Each of the damâ€™s three dr-m gates can release up to 66,000 cubic-feet-per-second when the dam is full — 198,000 cubic feet-per-second in all — while the river’s channel can only handle 79,000 cubic feet per second, said Pete Lucero, reclamation bureau spokesman in Sacramento.
Such a terrorist attack could flood parts of Redding and the Central Valley.
“The river channel won’t be able to handle the water coming out of (Shasta Dam’s) gates,” he said.
In the end the Shasta County SWAT team raided the dam and the hypothetical flood didnâ€™t happen.
“We had them go in, search for and neutralize the Red Cell,” Lucero said.
While the drill offered the bureau a chance to see how its security at the dam would respond to such an attack, and the SWAT team the opportunity to test its skills in the field, Lucero said it also provided training for medics, firefighters and bomb squad members.
About 30 students studying to be firefighters played the role of the bus bomb blast victims, with tags telling medics their injuries.
Near the end of the drill late Wednesday afternoon, Lucero said everything went according to plan. He said it was too early to tell what changes, if any, might be made as a result of problems discovered during the drill.
“That we will know later on tonight and as we debrief it tomorrow,” he said.
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