Weirdest Training Drill Ever: Feds Imagine Marijuana Growers Will Launch Terror Attack?
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
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."