FBI warns the food sector may be vulnerable to terrorist attacks


By Nichola Murphy
Thursday, 10 August, 2017


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The unpredictability of a terror attack means that every country, person and industry is vulnerable. Special Agent Scott Mahloch, weapons of mass destruction coordinator for the Chicago division of the FBI, thinks the food industry is under particular threat due to the fact that an attack would be so unexpected.

In the US, the Federal Anti-Tampering Act makes it a federal crime to tamper with or taint a consumer product; however, this only goes part of the way towards protecting consumers.

The food and commercial industries also play an integral part in protecting the nation as everyone is a consumer of their products, and therefore these industries are easy targets for mass contamination. The population is dependent on workers within this industry to protect them and minimise the threat of tampering and contamination. However, this puts employees in a position of power, and it is important to ensure that nobody exploits this power.

Terror attacks are not always a product of premeditated groups, but are often the result of an individual acting on their own. While Mahloch’s warning to the food industry is not sparked by any imminent threats, he believes that the main weakness is the insider threat.

“The insider threat is that person [who] knows the facilities, processes, distribution network and can cause the greatest impact,” he explained.

However, insider threat is very difficult to detect. Disgruntled employees are particularly of interest as they can exploit their position in the company, access the facilities and are motivated to take action.

At the coming Food Safety Consortium, Mahloch will explain preventive measures that companies can take to avoid this threat. Firstly, the motivations of a disgruntled employee can stem from multiple issues, including financial problems, destructive behaviour or personal issues at home. It is in the company’s best interest to monitor their staff carefully and look for any unusual behaviour.

This is the first sign the FBI looks for when trying to identify a potential threat.

“That’s going to be the frontline supervisors, the coworkers that can see somebody’s behaviour that maybe deviates outside anything that they would recognise as being baseline behaviour.”

This behaviour may include photography of processing operations, unscheduled deliveries or unattended packages.

As well as recognising unusual behavior in their employees, organisations should also employ certain precautionary measures, such as: strict security policies, stringent vetting of their employees, standardising delivery and pickup protocol, and implementing consequences for violating any of these policies.

Monitoring facilities and observing any suspicious behaviour are crucial to maintain high security. While Mahloch emphasised multiple signs that organisations should be looking out for, he also suggested it is important to place these situations in context in order to assess the potential risk.

“You’re the first line of defence,” said Mahloch. “We get a lot of phone calls where people run things by us. If something doesn’t seem right, say something.”

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/kirill_makarov

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