Chemical Sector Security Summit: Potential Threats and Suspicious Activity Reporting

On Day 1 of the Summit, I was selected to moderate a breakout session entitled “Potential Threat Actors’ Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures.” This expert panel of speakers included Dr. James Carafano, Deputy Director, Institute for International Studies, and Director, Center for Foreign Policy Studies, Heritage Foundation, Robert Bunch, Intelligence Analyst, DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis, and Michael Daily, Security Specialist, DHS Office of Bombing Prevention. Dr. Carafano opened the session by providing a statistical analysis of global terrorist activity over the past several decades. He noted that while we can use statistics and intelligence to try to forecast terrorist activities, terrorists continually develop innovative techniques.

Following Dr. Carafano’s remarks, Mr. Daily explained that as terrorists evolve, it is the new and innovative strategies that pose the greatest risk to the chemical industry. Mr. Daily emphasized that physical, preventive security at U.S. chemical sites is crucial to homeland security, noting that the more “hardened” a target becomes, the less likely it will be chosen for an attack.

Next, Mr. Bunch shared his analysis of current terrorist activity, explaining that the timetable for planning terrorist plots has accelerated in recent years (what used to take months and years to plan is now being planned in weeks or days). He underscored the value of community education and awareness, and particularly the importance of appropriately reporting suspicious activities. Lastly, he stressed that responsibility for securing the homeland should not rest solely with federal and state law enforcement; but that it is all of our responsibilities, including local businesses, employees, and civilians.

Intelligence sharing was explored further on Day 1, during a breakout session concerning the Government’s efforts to secure the homeland. I was able to attend this session, titled “Suspicious Activity Reporting”, which featured panelists Shawn Graff, Director, DHS’s National Infrastructure Coordinating Center, and Steve King, Senior Advisor, Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) Initiative. The Nationwide SAR Initiative establishes “…a unified, standards-based approach at all levels of government to gather, document, process, analyze, and share information about behavior-based suspicious activities that potentially have a connection to terrorism while rigorously protecting privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties of all Americans.” It integrates state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies’ SAR processes into a nationwide effort.

The Nationwide SAR Initiative is currently being implemented through a partnership between the network of 72 National Fusion Centers currently operating in the U.S. and key federal agencies that can coordinate with law enforcement officers.  Fusion centers serve as terrorism prevention and response hubs by collecting information such as suspicious activity reports from government sources, the private sector, and members of the public, and then analyzing that information and coordinating the appropriate response. Please visit the National Fusion Center Association webpage to locate a fusion center in your area.

The panelists reviewed a number of SAR success stories in which reports of suspicious activities to a local fusion center resulted in the arrests of person(s) plotting terrorist attacks and/or involved in major criminal activities. Importantly, Mr. King indicated that approximately 80% of terrorist plots are identified at the local level, further emphasizing the importance of the public-private partnership in securing the homeland.

While helpful to analyze history, the key takeaway from these sessions is that as terrorism evolves and presents new threats, a collaborative approach is required to stay several steps ahead.  Although well-thought through preventative security processes, training and sound physical security solutions are very important to mitigating risk, the sharing of information among the chemical industry, government, and citizens is also vital to securing the homeland and our nation’s critical infrastructure.

~ Ryan Loughin

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