Home made explosives: Know your customer

Peter Bennett from the National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO) elaborates further.

The UK National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO) is a police unit co-located and working in partnership with the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI). NaCTSO supports the UK Government Contest strategy in three main areas, the protection of crowded places, the protection of hazardous sites and substances and assisting the CPNI in the protection of Critical National Infrastructure (CNI).

NaCTSO trains, tasks and co-ordinates a national network of police Counter Terrorism Security Advisers (CTSAs), located across the UK in every police force. The CTSA role is highly specialised and initial training takes two years, leading to a nationally recognised award in Counter Terrorism Management.

The training must equip the CTSAs to perform their work in the three main areas to a very high standard. It has been developed in close co-operation with a number of partner agencies, including the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism (OSCT, part of the Home Office), CPNI, the Environment Agency, the Health Protection Agency and the Health and Safety Executive. It consists of generic training in CT Security Surveying, supported by activity specific training in the protection of, for example, radiological sources, pathogens and toxins (as defined within Schedule 5 to Part 7 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001), and chemicals. It is the need to protect these hazardous materials which originally prompted the development of NaCTSO and the CTSA role, shortly after the distribution of Anthrax letters in the USA in 2001.

Home made explosives
Current methodology employed by terrorists, lone actors and other groups, for varying reasons, has for many years utilised explosives as one of the weapons of choice. In the UK, as in many other countries, commercially produced and military explosives are very strictly controlled. Attempts to purchase or acquire them are heavily scrutinised and attract attention, especially when it appears that some effort has been made to evade the controls. Similarly, thefts of these materials are treated very seriously and thoroughly investigated. This lack of availability has undoubtedly contributed to the widespread use of home-made explosives (HME), incorporated into improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Commonly available chemical components, referred to as precursor chemicals, such as acids, oxidisers and solvents, can be easily obtained in sufficient quantities to produce all sorts of HME, with numerous recipes and instructions openly available in the public domain, especially on the internet. As discussed in a previous article appearing in this publication, attack methodology is focused on our crowded places as targets, with a view to causing mass casualties and severe disruption. The use of IEDs with an HME component is a regular choice of weapon in planning these attacks.

Ammonium Nitrate

The UK, historically, has seen much use of Ammonium Nitrate (AN) in campaigns conducted by Irish Republican Terrorists. AN, to most people, is an important and widely used agricultural fertiliser, several million tonnes of it being used annually. Initially though, AN was developed as an explosive in its’ own right, and it is still used commercially in the mining and quarrying industries. Terrorists have used AN extensively around the world and have looked to enhance its’ performance by adding additional precursor chemical components which might increase propensity to detonate or improve explosive effect.

Much of the work undertaken by NaCTSO and the CTSAs over the last few years, and especially since the July 2005 attacks in London, has looked to reduce the availability of these precursor chemicals. At first this work was aimed at industry, as we sought to understand how these chemicals were used legitimately, in what quantities and combinations and how diverse that activity might be. It was quickly and abundantly clear that those precursor chemicals we see in IEDs around the world are also used, sometimes in very large quantities and in many combinations, in thousands of applications, processes and products on a perfectly legitimate and lawful basis.

The chemical industry in the UK is a significant player in the global market place and contributes a great deal to the UK economy. It is a highly regulated area, with much emphasis upon health and safety. As a control measure, the option to introduce additional regulation to reduce the availability of, or perhaps even ban, some or all of the precursors of concern was simply not viable. As well as being hugely disproportionate, the impact upon the industry would be very significant and quite rightly challenged. Additionally, the effect upon consumers could be to see common household products, perhaps including hair treatments, cosmetics and even some foodstuffs, disappearing from the shelves. Without doubt such controls would be near impossible to enforce.

Know your customer

Through close co-operation with some of the major UK trade associations, notably the Chemical Industries Association (CIA) and the Chemical Business Association (CBA), NaCTSO developed the ‘Know Your Customer’ (KYC) campaign. This is a voluntary scheme designed to raise awareness within industry about the potential for misuse of chemicals and products used or supplied in the course of legitimate business. KYC seeks to encourage industry to adopt it as common sense, good practice activity which complements their approach to product stewardship and being a responsible player in the market place. It encourages personnel to use their knowledge and expertise of the working environment and customer profile to identify activity, such as unusual enquiries or suspicious transactions, and to report that directly or through their line management to the Anti-terrorist Hotline.

The collaboration and co-operation of the CIA and CBA contributed substantially to the introduction of the KYC programme. These associations published articles in their trade journals, distributed to all members, both endorsing and promoting the KYC product as good practice. Since then, they have collectively produced a joint industry code of conduct which all members must comply with and which includes KYC principles as good practice in all areas of product supply, including internet sales.

Since its introduction through industry, KYC has been extended to a wider retail based application, but the principles and messages are unchanged. NaCTSO has also developed a multi-media product known as ‘REVISE’. Although based upon the widely used Project ARGUS initiative, REVISE is a bespoke package designed to increase awareness within the academic sector, borne out of a recommendation made in a review of the protective security of hazardous substances under the UK’s Counter-TerrorismStrategy (CONTEST). REVISE looks to reduce the availability of precursor chemicals in academic laboratories, where a vast range of hazardous materials can be found, and does this by encouraging improvements in challenge culture, stock control and access control.

Identifying unusual activity

Although driven by the need to reduce the availability of precursors used in the production of HME, these campaigns do not focus upon a defined list of materials. They must cater for a broad range of factors which could present in a variety of combinations. Knowledge of the product and its’ legitimate uses, delivery address, payment method and perhaps a request for ancillary equipment, all can indicate that unusual activity might be taking place. In isolation they would rarely suffice to provide a justifiable basis for suspicion, but in combination the aggregate effect may be much more significant.

This is why these campaigns rely on the co-operation of business, from trade associations to national chains, small medium enterprises to the independent local trader. All are stakeholders in this and all have a valuable contribution to make. NaCTSO, CTSAs, the OSCT and all those with an interest and responsibility for counter terrorism must continue to involve and engage with business at every level. This ensures that awareness is maintained, products, campaigns and initiatives remain accessible and fit for purpose, and collectively we continue to make the UK a hostile environment for those who aspire to attack us.

Further information
Most NaCTSO products are available free of charge and can be downloaded from the NaCTSO website at www.nactso.gov.uk


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