US chemicals sector to get new terrorism reporting venue

07 July 2011 00:25  [Source: ICIS news]

BALTIMORE, Maryland (ICIS)--The US chemicals sector soon will have an additional means of reporting potential terrorist threat activity to federal security officials and within the industry, a top homeland security advisor said on Wednesday.

Steven King, senior advisor for the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) national suspicious activity reporting initiative (NSI), told chemical industry officials that the year-old effort to co-ordinate and analyse local level incident reports - police, fire departments, emergency responders, etc. - would be expanded to encompass suspicious activity reporting from the 18 critical infrastructure sectors, including chemicals manufacturers.

The federal programme for gathering and analysing local level intelligence leads on potential terrorist activity was launched by the department in March 2010. 

The NSI system gets reports of suspicious activity from city, county and state officials. Those reports are vetted to see if they meet one or more of 16 suspicious activity criteria - for example, an attempted probe of a power plant’s perimeter security, someone taking extensive photos of chemical plant, etc. - before being passed up the intelligence chain.

King said that information from suspicious activity reports (known as SARs) is combined and analysed “to see if the SAR ‘dots’ come together in a way that a connection can be made to possible terrorist activity”.

In the wake of the September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City and against the Pentagon outside of Washington, DC, a national commission found that there was a lot of separate pieces of information available about the 9/11 plotters, their actions, travel and communications - but that US intelligence and counterterrorism agencies failed to “connect the dots”.

King said that in more than 80% of recently thwarted terrorist plots in the US, the initial intelligence leads came from local level reports, and that in 40% of busted terror plans the first suspicions and alerts were raised by people in the private sector.

Since the NSI was launched in March 2010, King said his office has been familiarizing and training local authorities and agencies - town and city mayors, state-level intelligence analysts and even the country’s 800,000 police officers - on how to recognise and report suspicious activities that fall into the 16 specific categories of concern.

Beginning in October this year, he said, the NSI programme will begin to bring in suspicious activity reporting from chemical manufacturers and other industries that make up the nation’s 18 critical infrastructures.

(In addition to the chemicals industry, the 18 critical infrastructure sectors include agriculture, banking, dams, energy, transportation and shipping, among others.)

Once in the NSI programme, chemical manufacturers would be able to submit suspicious activity reports to the department.  Depending on the nature and qualifications of each SAR from chemical producers, the report may be moved up the intelligence chain for further analysis and, if necessary, response by appropriate agencies.

Among the 16 categories of suspicious behaviours that would qualify for reporting would be an attempted facility intrusion, someone misrepresenting themselves as a company employee, diversion of chemical products, sabotage or tampering, weapons discovery or unauthorised facility photographing.

The SAR information provided to the Department of Homeland Security also would be available to other chemical manufacturers through a special online portal, King said, so that other facility operators might be alerted for similar worrisome developments.

King spoke at the ninth annual Chemical Sector Security Summit.

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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