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DHS warns utilities at risk from insider threats

Published 25 July 2011

Last week DHS warned critical infrastructure operators like chemical facilities, nuclear power plants, and electric utility companies that terrorists could be targeting major facilities from the inside; officials cautioned that “violent extremists have, in fact, obtained insider positions,” and that “outsiders have attempted to solicit utility-sector employees” for damaging physical and cyber attacks.

Last week DHS warned critical infrastructure operators like chemical facilities, nuclear power plants, and electric utility companies that terrorists could be targeting major facilities from the inside.

In the intelligence report titled “Insider Threat to Utilities,” officials cautioned that “violent extremists have, in fact, obtained insider positions,” and that “outsiders have attempted to solicit utility-sector employees” for damaging physical and cyber attacks.

The report went on to say, “Based on the reliable reporting of previous incidents, we have high confidence in our judgment that insiders and their actions pose a significant threat to the infrastructure and information systems of U.S. facilities.”

Past events and reporting also provide high confidence in our judgment that insider information on sites, infrastructure, networks, and personnel is valuable to our adversaries and may increase the impact of any attack on the utilities infrastructure,” the report added.

The latest warning comes after intelligence gathered from documents collected in the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound revealed that al Qaeda had aspired to conduct a massive attack around the ten year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Officials were careful to note that there was no specific or imminent threat and that the security bulletin was part of DHS’s ongoing efforts to share intelligence.

Matt Chandler, a spokesman for DHS, explained, “DHS routinely shares information with its state and local partners on a wide-range of potential threats, and as part of this responsibility, DHS issued an intelligence note to its federal, state, local, tribal and private sector partners on July 19 regarding potential threats to private sector utilities. While DHS has no specific, credible intelligence of an imminent threat posed to the private sector utilities, several recent incidents highlight the on-going threat to infrastructure in the utility sectors from insiders and outsiders seeking facility-specific information that might be exploited in an attack.”

Richard Clarke, a former counter-terrorism advisor to President Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, said that insider threats posed a significant risk to utilities and that an attack could result in mass casualties or chaos.

There are a lot of very sensitive facilities where someone can get a job on the inside, get access to a control room, flip a switch, which causes an electric power grid to short circuit, causes a pipeline to explode,” Clarke said.

Last year U.S. authorities arrested an American man, who had worked at five different nuclear power plants after he had been allegedly recruited by al Qaeda. The man successfully passed federal background checks to obtain the jobs.

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