From stolen fertilizer to shop vacs… or how not to alarm the public

INVESTIGATIVE REPORT By Douglas J. Hagmann, Director

21 May 2007: Question: What looks like fertilizer, smells like fertilizer, is packaged commercially like fertilizer, is labeled as fertilizer, has a total weight of 5 tons, and is the subject of a wide search by law enforcement officials? Answer: Twenty-eight pallets of commercial “shop vac” style vacuum cleaners, according to public information officials at the Los Angeles Police Department. The story itself smells as bad as the raw cargo that went missing from a tractor trailer in the Los Angeles area sometime Sunday. The mysterious morphing of 5 tons of potentially lethal bomb material, however crude, into 28 pallets of high-powered sucking devices evolved unchecked by media sources, but became the target of our research and investigation.

Since the initial report that a tractor trailer hauling five tons - 10,000 pounds of nitrate based fertilizer was stolen in California on Sunday, the Northeast Intelligence Network has been closely researching this incident. According to initial reports, a tractor-trailer was stolen while the driver took a break Sunday afternoon, parking his truck in an industrial area near Griffith Park, northeast of downtown Los Angeles. When he returned for his rig about 5 hours later, the tractor-trailer was gone. According to the initial reports to law enforcement, the driver was transporting 10,000 pounds of bagged nitrate based fertilizer he was to deliver from Texas to the Home Depot store in Tracy, California.

About 12 hours later, authorities became more concerned when the truck was recovered about 20 miles north of Los Angels in Carson, minus the 10,000 pounds of fertilizer. At that time, a call was put out by LAPD to be on the lookout for the fertilizer, as fertilizer-based compounds wee used in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing as well as the 1995 Murrah Building bombing. Shortly after the announcement of the theft was made, the public backstrokes began. Officer Martha Garcia, a LAPD police department spokeswoman, said investigators believe the missing fertilizer “does not contain anything that could be used to make an explosive, but they were taking precautions.” Precautions indeed.

To put it into proper perspective, the missing cargo consists of about twice as much nitrate based fertilizer that was used in the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Building that killed 168 people and 3 unborn children. Also noteworthy is the fact that about 1500 pounds of nitrate based fertilizer, about one-seventh of the missing cargo, was used in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing that killed 6 people and injured over a thousand more.

As Sunday turned into Monday, the fertilizer turned into shop vacs. Apparently, according to law enforcement sources, there was never any fertilizer so there is absolutely no public danger, unless you are unfortunate enough to allow a vital appendage to be sucked into one of the wayward high powered vacuums.

In an attempt to determine fact from fiction, the Northeast Intelligence Network contacted law enforcement sources and a variety of other sources in and around Los Angeles. None of the “official spokespersons” for the law enforcement agencies involved in this case would comment on the matter or explain how such a mix-up concerning the cargo of the truck could have occurred, especially for the length of time that it did.

After exhausting all of the official law enforcement channels, I contacted the Home Depot store in Tracy, California - the intended customer of the fertilizer. I spoke with three different people holding different positions in the store, all who have knowledge of such deliveries. Unsurprisingly, no one would go on record about the delivery of the fertilizer to their garden department. I did, however, manage to learn two things from these unlikely sources:

First, if you are in the market for a shop vac, they have plenty in stock. Secondly, if you need bags of nitrate based fertilizer, you might want to check with another store.