US producers threatened by terrorist diversion of chemicals

06 July 2011 20:35  [Source: ICIS news]

BALTIMORE, Maryland (ICIS)--Theft and diversion of hazardous or precursor chemicals by terrorists pose major challenges to US chemicals manufacturers, a top US security official said on Wednesday, warning that producers face liability risks as well.

Larry Stanton, senior technical advisor for infrastructure security at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), told chemical industry executives that terrorists bent on producing weapons of mass destruction are more likely to try to buy necessary chemical components under false pretences - diversion - than to steal them.

Speaking at the ninth annual Chemical Sector Security Summit, Stanton defined diversion as “acquiring chemical products by deception”.

“You, the manufacturer, usually will get paid for the diverted product, and you will put the product in motion for delivery - but it will not end up where you think it will,” he told some 700 industry security executives.

“Your getting paid does not mean that a crime has not been committed,” he said.

He cautioned that terrorists seeking to acquire significant quantities of mass casualties chemicals - those, such as chlorine, that are fatal on their own, or precursor substances that can be combined to cause widespread harm - are more likely to order and pay for the chemicals they want through dummy corporations or cyber attacks, rather than to use violent means.

“Using violence to hijack a truckload of chemicals is a form of diversion, but it would not be the first choice of terrorists because it alerts authorities that the material has fallen into the wrong hands,” Stanton said.

To conceal their tracks and keep law enforcement at bay, he said terrorists would more likely set up a dummy company or establish a “false flag” entity (posing as a legitimate, brand-name corporation) to buy hazardous materials.

He recommended countermeasures that manufacturers and chemical suppliers can take to reduce the chances that would-be terrorists can obtain what the DHS terms “chemicals of interest” or COI, meaning substances that could be used as a weapon of mass destruction.

“First, know your customers,” Stanton said, “and watch for any unusual patterns in their purchases or delivery destinations. Restrict access to COI products and run background checks on employees with access to COI supplies.”

“Monitor COI inventories frequently,” he recommended, adding: “It is of little good to us if you call us 28 days after a supply of potentially dangerous chemicals has gone missing. We need to know right now, today.”

Stanton also urged chemicals producers and distributors to install tamper detection devices to ensure that incremental thefts or diversions do not go unnoticed.

“The easiest way to steal chemicals is to take part of a shipment - and chances are you’ll probably never know it is gone,” he said.

He also cautioned that any producer or distributor of chemicals should be wary of - and promptly report to authorities - any purchases with payment by cash or credit card.

In addition, chemical manufacturers and suppliers should train all key transaction employees concerning the risk of terrorist diversion of products, he said, including those in sales, the credit department and accounts payable but also customer service representatives, accounts receivable agents and auditors.

Stanton said that in-house measures to combat chemicals theft or diversion also make good business sense, because producers who have better knowledge of their customers are more likely to make additional sales.

Further, companies whose products are diverted for criminal purposes could suffer significant public relations consequences and even be held liable for civil damages or criminal prosecution if their products are used to cause casualties or environmental damage.

Cosponsored by DHS, the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates (SOCMA) and other industry associations in the Chemical Sector Co-ordinating Council, the security conference runs through Thursday.

By: Joe Kamalick
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