Don’t Give Away Your Facility’s Keys to the Kingdom

Prior to the events of September 11, 2001, the thought of many Americans regarding terrorists was that they were a loosely identified group of militants with little organization, planning capabilities or skills. However, as many of us have seen since then, those initial thoughts have proved to be wrong. Those that would seek to harm us, our society and our way of life have demonstrated that they incorporate long-range plans, utilize high tech devices and have an organizational hierarchy to communicate their mission objectives and goals.

One method that these terrorists employ involves the theft and use of certain items that allow them to blend into society without being noticed by either law enforcement or the general public. These stolen items include, but are not limited to, company uniforms, identification badges, “branded” vehicles with company logos and clothing patches with logos.

As a physical security consultant and administrator who has performed hundreds of vulnerability assessments at water treatment plants, power generating stations, universities and other infrastructure facilities, I have seen and documented countless incidents of workers’ uniforms containing official patches left near open loading docks, photo ID cards left hanging from rearview mirrors, and public utility vehicles (with official blue license plates, emergency lights, and official city seals painted on the doors) unmanned with the keys in the ignition!

Lapses in security like this provide criminals and terrorist with an unfettered opportunity to steal these items. And once stolen, these valuable assets are used to break through our perimeter and interior defenses by portraying a company worker or city employee. In most cases when someone is wearing the correct maintenance uniform they have a free pass to explore our facility. Who among us would ever think to stop and question a person that is walking into our building wearing blue coveralls with an official company patch, company baseball cap and the name “Bob” embroidered on his chest? “He must be here doing some work … ” is the typical thought pattern. And THAT is the key that will allow the enemy to get past our defenses and into the heart of the Kingdom.

In an Informational Bulletin dated July 22, 2003 from the US Department of Homeland Security entitled Potential Terrorist Use of Official Identification, Uniforms or Vehicles, the DHS stated, “Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups likely view the theft or other illegal acquisition of official identification, uniforms or vehicles as an effective way to increase access and decrease scrutiny in furtherance of planning and operation.”

Terrorists in South America, the Philippines and Pakistan have commandeered or stolen emergency medical services vehicles and uniforms to execute their attacks on key facilities. The New York City High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Taskforce reported that it had identified a Japanese website selling near exact replicas of badges from law enforcement agencies such as the U.S. Secret Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Agency, U.S. Marshals Service and Los Angeles Police Department.

How can we close this avenue of access and prevent this vulnerability from turning into a catastrophe? There are some simple things that you and your organization can do:

  • Recognize that “branded” items such as clothing, vehicles, identification cards (either electronic access control cards or simple photo badges) provide its owner with an “implied authorization” to access areas and perform certain functions
  • Instruct your employees on the importance of these items and how they must be protected from theft
  • Keep detailed records of all official identification cards, badges, decals, uniforms and license plates distributed; investigate any theft of these items and immediately cancel any license plates lost or stolen
  • Practice thorough accountability of all vehicles, including the tracking of vehicles that are in service, in repair or sent to salvage
  • Keep uniforms, patches, ID badges, and other forms of official identification under lock and key at all times, and restrict access to those that require them to perform their job duties
  • All decommissioned vehicles slated for resale and/or salvage should have all agency or company-identifying markings removed or painted over, and emergency lights and warning devices removed
  • Employ identification card technology that eliminates or reduces unauthorized duplication
  • Alert uniform store vendors of the need to establish and verify the identities of individuals seeking to purchase uniform articles.

We all have the power to implement these changes in our organizations. With these protective measures in place we can make it harder for the terrorist or criminal to gain access to our special Keys to the Kingdom.