Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Secrecy and Chemical Facility Security

There is an interesting article on HSToday.US about the issue of ‘excessive secrecy’ within government security agencies in general and DHS in particular. It is based in large part on the recent testimony of Stephen Flynn before the Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment. While not specifically addressed in the article, many of the points may be applicable to security issues at high-risk chemical facilities.

Dissemination of Intelligence Information

There is always an interesting tug of war in the intelligence and security communities between secrecy and disclosure. Threat information is a particular problem. The more people know about the threat, the more they are able to prepare for and prevent attacks. Disclosure of information may tell the enemy much about how we collect information. The perhaps apocryphal story about Bin Laden’s cell phone use is used as a frequent example of too much disclosure.

Very few chemical facilities have any access to independently developed intelligence information about potential terrorist attacks. Nor do they have the analysis staff available to interpret what information is available through open sources. All high-risk chemical facilities must rely on government intelligence collection and analysis. Unfortunately there does not seem to be a formal mechanism for sharing such information.

What is probably going to be required is a chemical industry specific intelligence fusion center. The closest I have seen to such a center is the National Hazardous Materials Fusion Center (see: "National Hazardous Materials Fusion Center"), but this center is slanted more towards the hazmat response community. A chemical facility fusion center would have to be driven more by DHS than many state and city fusion centers due to the lack of an industry intelligence infrastructure.

Dissemination of Facility Security Information

Vulnerability Assessment and Site Security Plan information is information that should not be given to terrorists. There are few outside of the ‘terrorist community’ that would disagree with that statement. That is surely adequate justification to ‘classify’ information about this information as Chemical Vulnerability Information (CVI) and to restrict access to this information to cleared personnel with a need to know.

Unfortunately, painting all of this information with such a broad brush may hamper facility security. High-risk facility security does not exist in a vacuum. Facility personnel, the local community and emergency response personnel all can play a valuable role in threat detection and prevention. They cannot play that role if they are excluded from the security processes for the facility.

What is needed is a graduation of CVI, much the same way that classified information has varying levels of sensitivity. This would allow dissemination of the less sensitive information to more people while restricting the most sensitive to a small, controlled audience.

One piece of information in particular that should be considered for maximum dissemination would be the classification of a facility as a high-risk facility. Allowing the community outside of the facility gates to know this fact would bring them into the counter surveillance team (see: "To Stop an Attack, Spot the Surveillance") around the facility. It would also allow for political pressure to be applied to the local government to support the security initiates at the facility.

There will always be a discussion in a free society about the role of secrecy in security and intelligence operations. A certain amount of information sharing is required. In the long run, the information sharing and disclosures suggested here will enhance security rather than detract from it.

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