Friday, May 16, 2008

To Stop an Attack, Spot the Surveillance

There is an interesting article over on about some high level assassinations in Mexico’s internal war with drug lords. While the article is not really about chemical facility security, the authors, Fred Burton and Scott Stewart, make a couple of very good points that anyone involved in security at any level should constantly reminded of; any target can be successfully attacked. All it takes to make a successful attack against even the hardest target is enough firepower.

Conflict Between Offense and Defense

The better defended the target the greater the firepower required to conduct a successful attack. From the attacker’s point of view, better planning can reduce the amount of firepower required. Planning relies on detailed analysis of the target and that requires surveillance. The better the defenses, the more extensive the surveillance must be.

Military personnel understand this well since they are trained to both attack and defend. When given the mission to defend they do their best to disguise and camouflage their preparations. More importantly they keep an active eye out for the enemies approaching surveillance teams. They know that the early identification of that surveillance gives advanced warning of an impending attack.

Differences Between Security and Defense

The main difference between Security and military defense is philosophical; defense strives to stop the enemy attack from taking the facility while Security strives to prevent the attack. This security orientation is clearly spelled out in the CFATS regulations {Section 27.230(a)(4)}; "Deter, detect, and delay an attack, creating sufficient time between detection of an attack and the point at which the attack becomes successful" to allow for an appropriate response.

One of the best ways to deter an attack is to have such formidable appearing defenses that the terrorist decides that he has a chance of success only by attacking some other facility. This means that a significant portion of the security measures should be clearly visible to outsiders in order to act as a deterrent.

Unfortunately, that means that those visible security measures can be dealt with as part of a planned and well executed terrorist attack on the facility. Additional layers of defenses will be needed to delay the successful attack long enough for an off-site response from security forces or for local law enforcement to arrive on the scene.

The Successful Terrorist Attack Requires Surveillance

The intelligent (and thus potentially more successful) terrorist realizes that the readily visible security measures are only the first line of protection for the high-risk chemical facility, designed to be visible to deter an attack. To locate the second and third layers of protection that are designed to delay the successful attack, the intelligent terrorist will have to conduct a surveillance operation.

The well executed surveillance operation will use multiple methods to collect the necessary information. Those methods fall into three general categories:

  • Insider Information
  • Remote Observation
  • Covert Inspection

Insider Information

Insider information is obtained from personnel working within the facility perimeter. This can come from employees, contractors or vendors. It can be provided by sympathizers to the terrorist cause, personnel with grudges or just people seeking easy money. Extortion and even friendly conversation may provide the terrorist with elements of insider information. Even partial information is valuable in that it can inform the planning for additional surveillance.

The loss of insider information can be stemmed by a comprehensive personnel surety program and a personal understanding of the people working on the site by all levels of management and supervision. A proactive concern about all on-site personnel as people will go a long way to prevent the cooperative provision of insider information.

Remote Observation

When most people think of surveillance they think of someone watching a facility from a parked vehicle or hiding in the bushes, using a camera or binoculars to make detailed observations of the target over a period of time. This off-site surveillance is remote observation. While this is certainly an effective way of conducting remote observation, a large number of technologies now available greatly expands the number of available options for this form of surveillance.

Small video cameras can be placed around the perimeter of the facility to collect a large amount of information without attracting much attention. Radio frequencies can be monitored to collect procedural information from employee conversations over handheld radios. Internet based video surveillance systems that form part of the facility security system can be hacked to provide information. Even commercial satellite photography can be used.

Covert Inspection

Covert inspection requires a member (or members) of the terrorist organization to enter the facility to gather on-site information. This can take the form of surreptitious penetration of the facility perimeter through a variety of standard commando techniques. It can also call for impersonation of a person that has some level of access to the facility like a truck driver or delivery person.

In either case the purpose of the covert inspection is to obtain as much detailed information about the layout and security details of the facility as is possible. The information will include details about the types and models of security devices, layout of the facility and locations of key chemical storage areas, control systems, and power distribution equipment. Measurements will be made or photographs taken to allow for derivation of the required measurements.

Counter-Surveillance Operations

A critical part of any security plan is the plan for counter-surveillance operations. The purpose of counter-surveillance is two fold: 1) the early detection of surveillance operations, and 2) preventing the surveillance operation from gathering adequate intelligence for planning and executing a successful terrorist attack. The successful completion of the first goal can allow government counter-terrorism personnel to round up the attackers before the attack is initiated.

Security personnel require special training to be effective at counter-surveillance operations. They have to be aggressive in looking for remote observation; checking parked vehicles near the facility perimeter; communicating information about repetitive vehicle or personnel sightings; and investigating unusual equipment and trash outside the perimeter.

Non-security facility personnel also need to be trained to look for the signs of covert inspection and personal approaches designed to obtain insider information. Personnel need to have a method of communicating information about suspicious activity to security personnel so that it can be included in the data analysis portion of the counter-surveillance plan. No such information should be belittled or ignored; there is no telling what piece of information will provide the final indicator of terrorist surveillance.

Security planners at high-risk chemical facilities must remember that they cannot possibly provide absolute protection of the facility against a successful attack; any defense or security system can be overcome with adequate firepower. A good security plan, however, will decrease the probability of a successful terrorist attack by having a good counter-surveillance plan in place, designed to detect the terrorists before the successful attack has even been planned.

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