Monday, December 29, 2008

DHS Five Year Terror Forecast

There have been a number of press reports in the last week or so about a ‘leaked’ DHS forecast on the five year outlook for terror attacks against the US homeland and its interests abroad. I have not had the reportorial privilege of receiving a leaked copy of the FOUO (For Official Use Only, a marking that has little effect on restricting distribution) report, so it is difficult for me to comment on any of the contents with any authority. Fortunately, this does allow me the blogger’s freedom to extrapolate from small bits of information. So be forewarned. The following discussion of future threats against high-risk chemical facilities is only loosely based on what I have read about someone else interpreting a leaked intelligence report. Maybe that will allow you to sleep better. Weapons of Mass Destruction As DHS and the intelligence agencies continue to get better at tracking terrorist organizations trying to buy, steal, or build weapons of mass destruction, sooner or later these miscreants are going to recognize what we have been discussing in this country for a number of years. We have a number of high-risk chemical facilities in this country that can be used as WMD. We have even made it easier since we have exempted a number of the most dangerous chemical facilities, water treatment and waste water treatment plants, from any meaningful security regulations. The political discussion about security or the lack thereof, at these facilities will become louder and even more detailed this year. Our political process has already required, to make a legitimate political point, a non-governmental organization to pinpoint the 101 most useful targets. Even more detailed discussions about some of these potential targets have been included in the local press, again as part of the legitimate political discussion that is an important part of our culture. Even more publicity will be pointed at these facilities as local politicians get involved in the discussions. PJC FORECAST: Within the next year, investigators will uncover a plot against one of the facilities listed in the CAP Chemical Security 101 Report. The investigation will reveal that a small group of local wannabes will have identified their ‘target’ by reading the local newspaper. They will be identified when they try to obtain explosives for their attack from a patriotic criminal. Frontal Assault on Chemical Facility Al Qaeda will actively recruit among technicians from major American chemical facilities shutdown in third world countries. These facilities will be shutdown for economic reasons related to the current global economic downturn. This recruiting will allow them to put together teams of fighters that understand the internal workings of such facilities. Such a force would be able to execute a Mumbai style assault on a major chemical facility and to hold it hostage. While the terrorists were conducting ‘negotiations’ with authorities, well-trained chemical technicians would be able to wire the facility for the most effective attack that would result in the largest number of off-site casualties. Controlled releases of highly flammable chemicals could be used to effect fuel air explosions to destroy multiple toxic chemical storage facilities. PJC FORECAST: Within the next five years there will be a large-scale paramilitary assault on a high-risk chemical facility. The holding of such a facility will allow for an optimized attack on all the chemicals stored at the facility. A disorganized evacuation attempt will actually increase the numbers of fatalities resulting from the well coordinated attack. Cyber Attacks Real terrorists will realize that the most effective way to attack high-risk chemical facilities may not be by a frontal assault, but by a back-door attack through the cyber control system. They will realize that release of toxic chemicals through remotely opening valves or short-circuiting safety devices will produce more terror than a frontal assault. It will also allow them to use the threat of such attacks on other facilities as an extortion weapon to allow them to finance more complex operations. Al Qaeda will not have to use jihadist cyber skills to perpetuate these attacks. They will be able to contract out the work to cyber gangs in Russia or China to do the actual penetration attacks. These gangs will either be aided and abetted by their national governments seeking a ‘competitive’ advantage against US companies, or at the very least ignored by those governments. Independent cyber attacks by disgruntled ex-employees trying to make their way in a severely damage economy will become indistinguishable from terror attacks. The large number of projected layoffs in the chemical industry will inevitably result in at least one tech-savvy ex-employee trying to execute a much publicized revenge cyber attack. The first such attack will result in a number of personnel who still have access to their former employer’s computer systems attempting to resort to cyber extortion to ‘feed their family’. PJC FORECAST: Within the next year there will be a rash of ‘minor’ chemical releases caused by ex-employees exacting revenge on their former employers for letting these people go during rough economic times. Publicity about these attacks will result in a number of threats of major releases as a method of extortion. Within the next two years there will be a major release executed by a remote cyber attack on a cyber control system that will be traced back to Al Qaeda. Unexpected Attack Sources PJC FORECAST: Sooner or later the Drug Enforcement Agency is going to make a major drug bust against a Mexican drug lord for actions on this side of the border. In retaliation, one or more terrorist attacks against El Paso or some other Southwestern rail terminal will be executed by Mexican drug cartels to get the American government to back off. This will take the form of explosive devices on a hazmat rail cars originating in Mexico and destined for locations within the United States. The railcars will not necessarily be marked as hazmat cars. PJC FORECAST: Hamas will become incensed when the Obama Administration demands that they stop rocket attacks on Israel. Hamas will hire a Venezuelan drug cartel to park an explosive packed semi-submersible in the Houston Ship Channel and detonate it when a large ocean-going shipment of hazmat chemicals passes by. The Venezuelan government will deny complicity, but will not fully cooperate in the investigation. PJC FORECAST: A lone environmental extremist will effectively shut down a coal fired power plant during peak hours with the use of a small explosive device. No one will be harmed at the power plant, but the resulting sudden grid shutdown will result in a malfunctioning safety system at a high-risk chemical plant. A significant toxic chemical release will result in injuries to thousands and a few hundred deaths. Well, that should be enough potential terror threats against high-risk chemical facilities to make for a more sober celebration of the New Year. More likely, it will provide some food for thought for professional security managers. This is the type of information that DHS should be providing to security managers at high-risk chemical facilities. A real threat assessment is a look at ‘enemy’ capabilities and interests that facilities can use to analyze the risk to their facilities and adapt their plans accordingly.

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