Terrorist diversion of chemicals greater risk than theft - US

08 July 2010 15:56  [Source: ICIS news]

BALTIMORE, Maryland (ICIS news)--US chemical producers and distributors must take steps to prevent diversion of chemical products that can be used to create weapons of mass destruction, a top federal enforcement official said on Thursday.

Larry Stanton, senior technical advisor to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on infrastructure security compliance, told industry executives that diversion of hazardous chemicals can pose a greater national security risk than outright theft because diversions can be subtle and undetected.

“We worry a bit more about diversion than theft,” Stanton said, speaking at the eighth annual chemical sector security summit conference.

He said diversion of weapons-capable chemicals differs from outright theft in that “the bad guys get what they shouldn’t have by means of deception”.

Stanton described multiple means by which terrorists intent on causing mass casualties through a chemicals-based attack or bomb can acquire the materials they need, including the establishment of dummy companies.

He said terrorists can easily rent a garage or some warehouse space, put up a sign, get a phone line activated and file a doing-business-as registration with local government to establish a bank account and obtain credit.

“Then they call your company and order $50,000 worth of hydrogen peroxide and have you deliver it to their phony company at the warehouse... they might even pay for it - and then they’re gone,” he said.

Terrorists also might use a tactic long familiar to criminal law enforcement agencies, known as creating a “breakout company”.  In this, a terrorist group purchases an existing company and uses it to order materials it needs for an attack.

“This has been done many number of times to acquire narcotics-related chemicals,” Stanton said, “and it can easily be done to acquire weapons-capable chemicals.”

The breakout tactic is a risky procedure for terrorists because a corporate registration leaves a public trail, Stanton said, but it is a tactic that is very hard to detect, he added.

He said that terrorists might also use the threat of force to co-opt a chemical company employee in order to obtain needed compounds, or pose on the telephone as the representative of a real chemicals-consuming company to order materials - known as a “false flag” approach - for delivery to a new address.

Chemicals manufacturers also have to guard against cyber attacks as a means of diversion, he said, warning that terrorists could hack into a company’s online ordering system to direct the delivery of substances to any destination they want.

To guard against product diversions, Stanton urged the executives to restrict access to their products and inventories, especially if those products are portable, even if only in cylinders weighing up to one tonne.

Also critical in combating the diversion of dangerous chemicals are doing background checks on those with access to products and a company’s online systems, maintaining inventory controls and the physical security of inventory, protecting customer details, and training sales, credit and accounting personnel in security sensitivity.

Stanton said it is critical that a company’s sales force should be educated on the potential security risks inherent in the firm’s chemical products and the potential for diversion.

“If an order seems too good to be true, it probably is,” he said, adding that a sales force must be alert for unusual patterns in ordering among a company’s customer base.

Stanton's office at DHS, the Infrastructure Security Compliance Division (ISCD), is responsible for enforcing the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS).

The security conference, which is cosponsored by the DHS and industry associations in the Chemical Sector Co-ordinating Council, concludes on Thursday.

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