Long time readers of this blog will be well familiar with my consistent calls for high-risk chemical facilities to establish counter surveillance programs as part of their security planning. Two internet articles, one from London and one from here in the US, from last week take a brief look at formal counter surveillance programs established by government agencies look at some of the issues that face such programs.
Security Guard Interactions
The program in London provides training to local security guards in how to deal with individuals taking pictures or making sketches of public buildings. The article points out the concerns of civil rights activists that the program has security personnel and police unlawfully stopping people for doing nothing more than taking pictures, hardly an illegal activity.
Anyone setting up a counter surveillance program needs to take care to ensure that their legitimate security efforts don’t trample on the civil rights of the public. While taking pictures of chemical plants is less likely to be an action taken by simple tourists, there are still a number of legitimate reasons for people to be taking such pictures. Chemical safety and environmental activists all have a politically protected right to take such pictures as long as they don’t trespass on facility property.
There is nothing wrong with security personnel talking with such off-site observers as long as care is taken to ensure that nothing in the actions and demeanor of those personnel that would indicate an effort to ‘detain’ the off-site personnel. Politely asking who the people are and why they are taking the pictures is unlikely to raise civil rights concerns. Crossing the line by demanding to see identification or blocking the movement of individuals or their vehicles until the police arrive should be avoided unless there is some other clear indication of obviously illegal behavior. Extensive training, vetted by company legal staff, needs to be provided to security personnel interacting with non-company personnel.
Having said that, taking pictures of a high-risk chemical facility is an action that might be an indicator of a pre-attack terrorist planning process. Terrorist would need that type of detailed facility information to conduct target selection and planning activities. Identifying people conducting this type surveillance activity is a key part in preventing terrorist attacks. This makes identifying personnel taking pictures of a chemical facility a key intelligence activity.
General Public Observations
The second article looks at providing training to non-security personnel to report suspicious activity. The program sponsored by DHS relies on the fact that people working in the community have a better chance of observing suspicious activity than intermittent police patrols. They may spend more time in a single area making them more attuned to what is normal and what is abnormal.
High-risk chemical facilities can utilize local neighborhood organizations to perform a similar function. The facility neighbors have a strong self-interest in helping to detect potential terrorist attacks that would directly affect the local population. Since management needs to be talking with these same people on emergency response planning matters, they might as well be asking these same people to help identify unusual individuals that show an interest in the operations of the chemical facility.
To be effective any such observation program needs to include a reporting procedure that is simple and encourages participation. A phone number needs to be made readily available to the local population. More importantly there needs to be a positive person on the receiving end of that phone call that knows how to ask questions to draw out additional details. A voice message system is unlikely to inspire continued participation. Facility employees can be trained to accept these calls, but it would probably be more effective if trained security or law enforcement personnel handled this.
I spent 15 years in the US Army as an Infantry NCO. After getting out of the Army I started working in the chemical industry, getting my BSc Chemistry degree while working as a technician. I spent 12 years working as a process chemist in a specialty chemical company. Most recently I worked as a QA/R&D Manager in a specialty chemical manufacturing facility. Currently I am working as a freelance writer.