Monday, May 3, 2010

Reader Comment 04-30-10 Free Speech

Last Friday an anonymous reader commented on a blog that I wrote last September about a proposal to store 100 railcars of propane. In that blog I explained how that storage site could be effectively attacked by a terrorist. Anonymous took exception to providing that description, writing that:
“Well - if they didnt have the idea in their head before, they do now!! Sometimes I wonder about the wisdom of free speech!!”
My Blog Readers I certainly understand this concern. In fact it is something that I think about anytime I write about a security-vulnerability or about how an attack could be conducted. I am especially cognizant of this issue since I see a daily report (from Google Analytics®) about where my readers log-on from. Almost 13% of my readers come from outside of the United States. I suspect that these readers are chemical or security professionals, but some of them could be terrorists. Even some domestic readers could potentially be terrorists; such is the spread of the Internet. The vast majority of my readers, however, are professionals that deal with chemical security issues in or outside of government. The whole point of this blog is to share counter-terrorist information and ideas with these professionals. The discussion of potential attack techniques is an important part of this blog, so that professionals can think about how to counter these attack techniques. In this particular instance, the discussion of an attack technique was an important part of explaining why regulators needed to look at rail storage of hazardous materials like propane. Currently there are no security regulations of rail storage facilities like that proposed in the article that I commented upon. Understanding of the potential consequences may have been a contributing factor in the decision to cancel that particular storage proposal. Attack Details People with a military background will have noted that I am deliberately vague on many of the critical details of the attack methodologies that I discuss. I am, after all, not trying to write a primer on how to conduct an attack. I do provide enough details so that security professionals can develop appropriate countermeasures to the methodology. Now professional terrorists will be more that capable enough to figure out these details; I understand that. But, as we have seen in a number of recent incidents, not all terror attacks are planned or executed by professionals. For those less than professional terrorists, my blogs will not be as helpful as they first may look. One other issue that Anonymous did not note in the current comment is that I am careful to discuss potential security provisions that could be employed to prevent the attack. After all, that is what I am trying to achieve; the prevention of successful terrorist attacks. Will I be upset (or sorry) if a team of terrorists uses techniques discussed in this blog to conduct a successful attack? I certainly will. Some of my remorse will come from second guessing if the attack would have been conducted if I hadn’t mentioned the methodology. More of my ire will be directed at security community for failing to address the security issues identified in my blog. Oh yes, one of the things that failed to endear me to more than one military commander under whom I served in my 15 years in the Army was my well known propensity to say “I told you so”.


Red Team said...

"Anonymous" was way off base. An extremist that only figures out how to attack potential targets from a fairly brief article are not the ones we are particularly concerned about. While they are dangerous, their chances of success are very minimal.

Extremist operatives and their handlers already know how to attack, and even they fail a large portion of the time.

Keep doing what you are doing.

PJCoyle said...

Red Team - Thanks for your encouragement. For more detailed response see:

/* Use this with templates/template-twocol.html */