Easy to Make – Hard to Spot

Published

“Mail threats are so common today they don’t make the news unless they reach a high-profile target. If you wait to screen until mail terrorism threatens your company, it’s too late.”
Amos-Leon’ Otis, SoBran Founder and CEO

To assess how organizations are protecting themselves from mail terrorism, SoBran, Inc. conducts an annual survey of security and mailroom professionals. Click here to view the new 2018 Survey Infographic.

Why Is This Important ?

Anyone can be a target.  At least 25% of companies say they received threats in the mail this year.  These threats can occur at any time, for any type of organization.  They may come from terrorist actions, homegrown extremists, or individuals with a grievance against a particular company

Mail screening is an essential part of an overall security plan that includes physical security and cyber security strategies to protect an organization’s staff, assets and reputation.

Understanding how organizations included in this survey address mail security challenges can help security professionals, facilities managers, mailroom staff, and business leaders shape their own risk management practices.

How Worried Should We Be?

Each year, the FBI and US Postal Service receive thousands of reports of hazardous or threatening mail. High profile or controversial organizations are not the only ones targeted by mail terrorism.

Unfortunately, half of companies surveyed don't screen incoming mail at all.  Those that screen typically stop at visual inspection (69%) or X-ray (60%) leaving themselves vulnerable to threats including biological or chemical.

What are the Main Roadblocks to Mail Security?

When asked to name their biggest challenge, 40% of survey respondents indicated equipment and budget were the main issues they must constantly address for mail security and the proper screening equipment.

As the results of this survey indicate, even organizations that are aware of the threat of mail terrorism and have taken steps to address it, have gaps in their security strategies which could leave them exposed to an attack

Where Can We Improve?

The primary area for improvement is the screening location. 60% handle screening onsite on their own - potentially exposing employees and assets to harm. Moving screening offsite is the most effective way to keep
employees safe.   When mail is screened in a separate location from where most employees work, risk is minimized.

A second opportunity for improvement is a deeper emphasis on training.
Organizations can increase the knowledge of mailroom staff as well as anyone who handles incoming mail with a variety of training strategies.

Basic steps to Mail Safety Include:

1. Put a plan in writing
2. Install correct equipment
3. Train employees
4. Run practice drills

If this is not possible, consider outsourcing mail screening to a third party or sending mail to a third party screening facility.

Every day, threatening letters and parcels land at corporate and government offices. Most are inconvenient. Some cause damage. A few change everything. As long as terrorists have low cost and easy access to mail, all organizations must consider comprehensive mail screening an essential part of a security program.

For more information on mail security best practices, SoBran can help.

All this information, and much more is included in the complete survey brief: “Easy to Make and Hard to Spot: Lessons Learned from the 2018 SoBran Mail Security Survey."

Why Does My Organization Need Mail Screening?

Published

98 Years of Mail Fraud
How the postal letter became a tool for ingenious criminality.    -- 

"This anonymity is the beating heart of mail crime, opening the door for anyone with enough motive to commit criminal acts at arm’s length from the law. In the same way that the internet allows lone hackers to become bank robbers, the letter serves as a gateway for unconnected people to reach out to the world, whatever their intentions. It remains both a symbol of trust and a tool of terror..."

It’s Not If, But When.

Far from declining, the number of suspicious pieces of mail, including those containing improvised explosive devices, is holding steady, according to the U.S. Postal Service.

Every day, threatening letters and parcels land at corporate and government offices.

Most are inconvenient. Some cause damage.  A few change everything.

Mail threats can occur at any time, for any type of organization. They may come from terrorist actions, homegrown extremists, or individuals with a grievance against a particular company. Mail screening is an essential part of an overall security plan that includes physical security and cyber security strategies.

Three Critical Reasons to Consider Mail Screening:

1. Employee Safety
First and foremost your frontline mailroom employees and any employee who receives  mail or deliveries could be at risk. Ensuring their safety and workplace security is always of first priority.

2. Facilities and Assets
Business disruption is expensive. Even a hoax letter can cripple operations for hours. A hazardous one could shut down your office for days or longer, at great cost to your business.

Damaged facilities or assets can be very costly and repair can take valuable time.

Protecting your business continuity is important.

3. Organizational Reputation

The goal of a mail terrorist is to disrupt and generate publicity.

In a matter of minutes, a mail threat could force your employees to be evacuated. Staff scrubbed down by a hazmat crew, their images broadcast on national television.

Prevention is key.

Why aren’t more mail threats in the news every day? They are detected by mail screening experts with a concern for privacy and discretion.

What Should We Do?

Mail threats are a low-cost, accessible form of terrorism. For the price of a stamp, your organization is at risk for disruption or real harm.

Start receiving your mail with confidence.

Basic steps for Mailroom Safety include:

1. Provide mailroom security training
2. Put a plan in writing
2. Install correct sensor equipment
3. Train employees
4. Run practice drills

If this is not possible, consider outsourcing mail screening to a third party or sending mail to a third party screening facility.

If you need help determining your best course of action, let us know. We’re here to help.

As always, I appreciate your comments. smartin@sobran-inc.com

Austin Bomber – Lessons Learned

Published

What Your Organization Can Learn from the Austin Bomber Incidents

(1) Mail Bombs are Nothing New

A Catalogue Of US Parcel Bomb Attacks

This article mentions only recent U.S. mail bombers.  As far back as the early 1700's a package bomb was delivered to a gentleman in Denmark.  There have been numerous incidents since that time.  In the United States, a mail bomb sent to President Roosevelt was intercepted by the mail room in 1933.  In 1947, letter bombs were sent to President Truman.  These are only the high profile cases.  The actual occurrence of mail bombs in the U.S. is too high to list.

 

(2) For the Price of a Stamp, Your Organization and Your Assets Could be at Risk

The Ease of the Postal Service Makes It a Vector for Violence

Again and again we see that the anonymous nature of the USPS and other delivery services is attractive to those who wish to create destruction and incite fear.
Mail threats are a low-cost, accessible form of terrorism. For the price of a stamp, your organization is at risk for disruption or real harm.

It is unfortunately both cheap and relatively easy to put together a mail bomb with hardware store ingredients utilizing instructions found on the internet.

 

(3) All deliveries Should Be Screened

Package bound for Austin detonates at FedEx facility

Whether the letters and packages come in the USPS or through delivery services like FedEx or even left at your business doorstep --  all incoming deliveries need to be safely screened.  The Austin bomber left packages at residences.  He also used FedEx.  There is no sure way to know a letter or package is safe based on its origin or method of delivery without proper screening.
 
 
 

(4) It's All too Familiar

Austin bombings and the explosive echoes of the Unabomber

Although the Unabomber was able to carry out destructive bombings over 17 years, the serial nature of the Austin Bomber has a lot of parallels with Unabomber Ted Kaczynski’s methods. We can’t know when it might happen again. Or where it might happen. Or whether someone will strike in residential neighborhoods, or at large multinational corporations. Maybe somewhere in between.

 

 

(5) There Might Not Be a “Why”

What Makes a Serial Bomber Tick?

The Austin bomber killed himself before he was captured. In many of the historical cases we do know why these people decided to kill and maim via the mail or a delivered package. However, there are cases like this one where we might not be able to determine a motive. From what we can tell today, the Austin bomber seemed relatively normal. There were no outward signs this kind of deadly activity might be in the works.

The message here is that we will not necessarily see it coming.  Mail security and screening is the only way to ensure safety.

 

For more information on suspicious packages, please check out our “Signs of Dangerous Mail” download.

 

 

Basic steps for Mailroom Safety include:

1. Provide training
2. Put a plan in writing
2. Install correct sensor equipment
3. Train employees
4. Run practice drills

If this is not possible, consider outsourcing mail screening to a third party or sending mail to a third party screening facility.

As always, I appreciate your comments. smartin@sobran-inc.com

 

 

FBI Report: Hate Crimes Rising

Published

US Hate Crimes Rise for Second Straight Year -  Reuters

"There were 6,121 hate crime incidents recorded last year, an almost 5 percent rise from 2015 and a 10 percent increase from 2014, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Hate Crimes Statistics report said." - Reuters

Since 1992, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been keeping statistics. Although many experts state these crimes are under-reported to the FBI, the increasing trend here is undeniable.

What is a Hate Crime?

The FBI defines a hate crime as a “crime in which the perpetrators acted based on a bias against the victim’s race, color, religion, or national origin.”  They also include “crimes committed against those based on biases of actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or gender.”

These types of crime play out as “a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias."

What Does This Mean for My Organization?

Targeting an individual or an organization based on their workplace, or targeting non-profit’s mission or an organization’s goals is a real and current danger.

What the FBI also points out is that individuals and groups that espouse hatred often find fertile places to plant the seeds of domestic terrorism.  Whether the hate crime is committed by a group or by a lone wolf, the incidents overall are rising.

Is Hate Really Against the Law?

Hate crimes include all true crime, just with the added bias that is either real, or perceived.  Of course, using the mail to do harm to an organization or individual is against the law.  So for mail security, whether a mail bomb is sent or just a hoax letter with white powder enclosed, these are crimes which can be motivated by hate.

In addition, federal law and most all state laws make it illegal to send threatening letters.

What is the difference between Threatening Letters and Hate Mail?

Threatening Letter: According the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), this is a letter “threatening a person's reputation, blackmail or extortion through the mail.” This considered a federal crime.

Hate Mail: This is a letter containing usually negative, hostile and hurtful language targeting a person or group based on a bias. If the letter does not contain certain threats, then sometimes it is not considered a crime.

What is the danger?

While there is always the possibility of hate crime through mailing chemical threats, biological threats, radiological, nuclear and explosive/bomb threats -- threatening letters are also illegal.

Organizations can easily be targeted for their beliefs or for the causes they champion. These can be political, religious or social. Locally or globally, the motivation for the hate crime is sometimes only based on a company having a well-known brand where the hate would make its biggest impact for notoriety.

Hate crimes motivated by hatred of a religion increased last year, with a rise in the number of crimes targeting Jews and Muslims. - Wall Street Journal

These hateful and disturbed individuals and organizations are always looking to find ways to make their message known, while often the groups would like to also grow their membership.

What should we look for?

Again, for hate crimes the full spectrum of all possible mail threats should be mitigated. All causes for question or suspicion must be taken seriously.

Any of these items or a combination can indicate a dangerous package:
• Excessive postage
• Sealed with extra tape and material
• Restrictive markings like “Personal” or “Private”
• Lack of return address
• Lopsided or uneven package
• Strange odors, stains or leakage
• Badly typed or written addressing
• Misspelled words
• Return address from foreign country or does not match postmarking

Basic steps for Mailroom Safety include:

1. Provide training
2. Put a plan in writing
3. Install correct sensor equipment
4. Train employees
5. Run practice drills

If this is not possible, consider outsourcing mail screening to a third party or sending mail to a third party screening facility.

As always, I appreciate your comments. smartin@sobran-inc.com

Mailroom Workers Face Deadly Fentanyl Dangers

Published

 

Unchecked mail leads to fentanyl in the US - The Herald-Dispatch

"This isn't like boats of cocaine that can only go to a certain island. Every post office now becomes like the Port of Miami."  -Juliette Kayyem

 

"Customs officers cannot examine every one of the 1 million packages that pass through the JFK facility every day."  –USA Today

 

Burgeoning online sales of the new and highly dangerous synthetic opioid drugs from foreign countries are pouring into the United States via the US Postal Service mail.

 

What is the Danger?

 

Anyone who opens mail at your organization is at risk.

“The drug is so powerful that DEA officials have warned it can kill people just by touching it.”  - WCVB

 

Lethal potent synthetic opioid drugs are pouring into the U.S. via international mail daily.  Our current United States Postal Service system cannot keep up with the dangers.  The packages are reaching homes and businesses, unchecked or undetected.

Suddenly, your organization’s mailroom could be unwittingly a drug distribution center.

But more urgently, your mail handlers are at risk for occupational exposure to deadly opioid drugs.

There are states hardest hit such as West Virginia and New Hampshire, but since the drugs are going everywhere, even a more remote location doesn’t mean any more safety from this threat.

If you think beyond drug dealers, and how they currently get a deadly envelope through the mail – terrorists and other lone wolf types are sure utilize this dangerous loophole with direct access to your organization. Targeted individuals or companies are just a postage stamp away from danger.

You can safely assume opioid drugs are much easier to obtain than Anthrax or Ricin.

“It’s going absolutely everywhere”  - CBS News

 

What is Different About This Threat?

 

The landscape of synthetic drugs such as fentanyl and carfentanil has changed very quickly. Where drug sellers used to cut heroine with some of the cheaper synthetics, in the name of profit they now have replaced heroine all together with these deadly concoctions.  The synthetics are 10-100 times more potent - and therefore more deadly.

It is extremely hard to detect the individual shipments of small quantities, sometimes only several granules.

In order to get around FDA drug classifications, new synthetics are being developed daily by malicious scientists skirting drug laws.

The shipments are being received by smaller individuals who ordered on the dark web. Large cartels don’t need to use this system. However, the people seeking these drugs no longer need a cartel as internet shopping has become the norm.

"But there's another route that drug smugglers have also found to be effective: the US Postal Service."  - CNN

 

Ineffective Mail Screening

There are two major issues with the government's screening these international shipments before they get to your building.

• First, the USPS does not require advance electronic screening of mail. There is currently a bill under consideration that would require the USPS to gather digital information and send the data to government agencies. The agencies could then better investigate illegal shipments.

• Second, physical screening is also limited. Customs and Border Protection handles more than 275 million parcels through international mail facilities. Todd Owen, an official with the agency, revealed this problem, “we’re literally taking giant sacks of mail and putting it through X-rays, looking for those shipments of concern.”  He said at the Senate round table this spring, “The volume is overwhelming.”

“Fentanyl is the number one killer drug in America. And as deadly as it is, you can go online and order it through the mail.”  Attorney General Jeff Sessions - Washington Post

 

What are the Types of Opioid Threats?

 

Opiates are a class of drug that suppress the central nervous system. They were originally naturally derived. Now they are also synthetically made.

Natural Opiates –not as powerful or dangerous:

Opium: the ‘sap’ of poppy plants used to make natural opiates
Morphine: powerful analgesic treatment for chronic pain
Codeine: sedative and narcotic painkiller
Heroine: (made using Morphine): extremely addictive opiate drug

Synthetic Opioids – highly dangerous

Fentanly: up to 50x more lethal than heroine
Carfentanil (Elephant tranquilizer)
Demerol: potent opioid narcotic painkiller (often used in labor and childbirth)
Hydrocodone
Oxycodone
Dilaudid.
Norco.
Lortab.
Atarax.
Methadone.
Buprenorphine
And much much more….

 

How potent is Fentanly?

Image Credit: CNN - How potent is fentanyl?

Image Credit: CNN

 

What Should We Look for?

 

Small packages or envelopes mailed via USPS

Packages and/or envelopes originating from China or Hong Kong

Repeat packages/letters from international locations such as China

And all the regular Signs of Dangerous Mail including:

  • Excessive postage
  • Sealed with extra tape and material
  • Restrictive markings like “Personal” or “Private”
  • Lack of return address
  • Lopsided or uneven package
  • Badly typed or written addressing
  • Misspelled words
  • Return address from foreign country or does not match postmarking

Finding these opioids in the mail is extremely hard. Factors that hinder efforts include:

(1) Size – a few grains can be deadly
(2) Quantity – the sheer volume of international mail
(3) Tracking – lack of electronic data sender information system for our USPS

 

Do We Have the Right Equipment for Protection?

 

First and foremost, protect your employees.

At a minimum, provide the protective equipment needed including:

(1) Nitrile Gloves

(2) Safety Goggle Glasses

We suggest the following the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) recommendations from the CDC website for emergency workers using perhaps the "Minimal" or "Moderate" categories.

Their categories are as follows:

Minimal: "Response to a situation where it is suspected that fentanyl may be present but no fentanyl products are visible."

Moderate:"Response to a situation where small amounts of fentanyl products are or appear visible."

For more information visit CDC.gov

 

Do We Have the Right Equipment for Screening?

 

Currently, the following are being used by mail screeners:

1. Hand Held Sensors
2. Automatic Sensors
3. X-ray Machine
4. Canine Teams  -with care, dogs can become sickened and handlers are carrying proper canine Naloxone kits in case of danger.  (More information at the end of the CDC page.)

 

How Can We Ensure Protection?

 

Unfortunately, since this threat is so new, there are not yet federal or private guidelines developed and proven. In fact, this past October, the U.S. Congress sent a letter to the USPS requesting a USPS audit to examine how it is protecting its workforce from the risks of illegally shipped opioids.

You need to know what is coming through your doors. Parcels that are illegal or endangering employees are compromising your facilities and reputation Relying on the USPS inspection of parcels is not protecting you.

1. Appoint a mail center security coordinator and an alternate to be responsible for your screening plan, your employee protection plan and to ensure compliance.
2. Establish lines of communication between the mail center security coordinator, management, and the security office.
3. Screen all mail and packages when they first arrive at your mailroom for sorting.
4. Staff who sort mail by hand should perform the screening, as they are the ones most likely to notice a suspicious item.
5. Prominently display a list of suspicious letter and package indicators in your mailroom and provide a copy of the list to all staff to ensure they’re familiar with it.

 

Basic steps for Synthetic Opioid Mailroom Safety include:

 

1. Provide and train employees to wear the correct protective equipment
2. Put a plan in writing
2. Install correct sensor equipment
3. Train employees on proper screening procedures
4. Run practice drills

If this is not possible, consider outsourcing mail screening to a third party or sending mail to a third party screening facility.

As always, I appreciate your comments. smartin@sobran-inc.com

 

Explosive Threats in the Mail – What you need to know

Published

FBI Considers Terror Possibility After Pipe Bomb Explodes at Indiana Post OfficeTIME

This Chicago Post Office pipe bomb incident is unfortunately timely with our focus on explosives in the mail. Read on to ensure your business or organization is prepared and stays safe.

Sending a destructive bomb device through the mail is regrettably not a new idea. Long before the Unabomber in 1980-1990s, bombs sent in a parcel date back to the 1700s. Just this past year, an International Monetary Fund (IMF) worker in Paris was injured by a letter bomb, and the former Greek Prime Minister was also wounded by a letter bomb.

We have taken a look at Chemical, Biological and Radiological threats in previous SafeMail Insights. This month, I’ve turned to SoBran's SafeMail threat experts Will Hobbs and Rich Swank to learn more about Explosive threats in the mail.

What is an Explosive Mail Threat?

According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) "An improvised explosive device (IED) attack is the use of a “homemade” bomb and/or destructive device to destroy, incapacitate, harass, or distract. IEDs can be carried or delivered in a vehicle; carried, placed, or thrown by a person; delivered in a package or in the mail; or concealed on a roadside." When mailed or delivered through a third party, this threat is most often referred to as a letter bomb, mail bomb or parcel bomb.

The primary focus this month is on explosives and letter bombs. IEDs used for dispersing chemical, radiological, or biological material, also known as “dirty bombs” were covered here.

What is Different About This Threat?

Explosives can come in many forms:

• Crystalline solids (i.e. fertilizer)
• Powders (i.e. ammunition)
• Plastic solids (i.e for demolition and blasting)
• Liquids. (i.e. nitroglycerin for dynamite)

Complicating this is the potential for additional threats within an explosive that is being used to spread another contaminant such as a biological weapon or a chemical. Additionally, dangerous glass, metal fragments or nails are often combined to maximize injury and death for the perpetrator’s deadly goals.

What are the Types of Bomb/Explosive Threats?

However a letter or package may get to your business or your mailroom, there is always a chance for a threat.

• Small Package/Letter
• Parcel Package/Box
• FedEx, UPS or any third party delivery Parcel or Package
• Hand Delivery
• Interoffice Mail/Delivery
• Courier Delivery

What Should We Look for?

Any of these items or a combination can indicate a dangerous package and possibly an explosive:

• Excessive postage
• Sealed with extra tape and material
• Restrictive markings like “Personal” or “Private”
• Lack of return address
• Lopsided or uneven package
• Strange odors, stains or leakage
• Badly typed or written addressing
• Misspelled words
• Return address from foreign country or does not match postmarking

Do We Have the Correct Equipment for Protection?

Only so much can be detected by visual inspection. Further methods to detect bomb threats include:
• ‘Trace detectors’ can identify tiny amounts of some explosives in the air
• X-ray machines can detect metallic elements in a package.
• Dogs trained to sniff out chemical explosives can provide another level of security

According to a government mail safety guide the “critical lesson about mail bombs is that virtually all of them can be detected by skilled x-ray inspection of letters and packages.”

How Can We Ensure Protection?

1. Establish a letter and package screening program designed to fit your organization’s threat as a potential target (terrorist, disgruntled employee, etc)
2. Appoint a mail center security coordinator and an alternate to be responsible for your screening plan and to ensure compliance.
3. Establish lines of communication between the mail center security coordinator, management, and the security office.
4. Screen all mail and packages when they first arrive at your mailroom for sorting.
5. Staff who sort mail by hand should perform the screening, as they are the ones most likely to notice a suspicious item.
6. Prominently display a list of suspicious letter and package indicators in your mailroom and provide a copy of the list to all staff to ensure they’re familiar with it.

Basic steps for Mail Bomb/Explosive Safety include:

1. Put a plan in writing
2. Install correct sensor equipment
3. Train employees
4. Run practice drills

If this is not possible, consider outsourcing mail screening to a third party or sending mail to a third party screening facility.

As always, I appreciate your comments. smartin@sobran-inc.com

Addressing Mailroom Security Complacency

Published

Addressing Mailroom Security ComplacencyTo assess how organizations are protecting themselves from mail terrorism, SoBran, Inc. conducts an annual survey of security and mailroom professionals.

Click here to view the Survey Infographic.

Why Is This Important?
Mail threats can occur at any time, for any type of organization. They may come from terrorist actions, homegrown extremists, or individuals with a grievance against a particular company

Mail screening is an essential part of an overall security plan that includes physical security and cyber security strategies to protect an organization’s staff, assets and reputation. Yet, many security professionals battle complacency in their organizations and haven’t implemented adequate protection from mail threats.

These survey findings reveal how organizations can move from complacency to funding mail screening as a critical component of their overall security plan. Understanding how organizations included in this survey address mail security challenges can help security professionals, facilities managers, mailroom staff, and business leaders shape their own risk management practices.

How Worried Should We Be?
Each year, the FBI and US Postal Service receive thousands of reports of hazardous or threatening mail. High profile or controversial organizations are not the only ones targeted by mail terrorism.

Almost one in three respondents in the SafeMail survey report that over the last year they have received at least one mail threat (including hazardous mail and hoaxes). Thirteen percent received 3 or more threats

What are the Challenges to Mail Security?
When asked to name their biggest challenge, 38% of survey respondents indicated they must constantly work to gain awareness and/or budget for mail security, combating the complacency that can set in when organizations feel “too safe.”

As the results of this survey indicate, even organizations that are aware of the threat of mail terrorism and have taken steps to address it, have gaps in their security strategies which could leave them exposed to an attack

Where Can We Improve?
The primary area for improvement is the screening location. Offsite screening, in which mail is screened in a separate location from where most employees work, is the most effective way to minimize potential harm.

A second opportunity for improvement is a deeper emphasis on training.
Organizations can increase the knowledge of mailroom staff as well as anyone who
handles incoming mail with a variety of training strategies.

Basic steps to Mail Safety Include:
1. Put a plan in writing
2. Install correct equipment
3. Train employees
4. Run practice drills

If this is not possible, consider outsourcing mail screening to a third party or sending mail to a third party screening facility.

As long as terrorists have low cost and easy access to mail, all organizations must consider comprehensive mail screening an essential part of a complete security program. For more information on mail security best practices, SoBran can help.

All this information, and much more is included in the complete survey brief: “Addressing Complacency: Lessons from the 2017 SoBran Mail Security Survey.”

 

Why Radiological Threats are Attractive to Terrorists

Published

The radiological threat is real and growing according to the April Time Magazine article titled “Inside the Uranium Underworld: Dark Secrets, Dirty Bombs.

"It would change our world," President Obama said of a potential dirty bomb in April 2016. "We cannot be complacent." - TIME INC

"In a sense we've been lucky so far, I honestly think it is only a matter of time before we see one of these dirty-bomb attacks." Sharon Squassoni, Director of the Proliferation Prevention Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) – TIME INC.

Last fall, an undercover investigative group demonstrated how simple it was to obtain radiological materials for a dirty bomb – right here in the United States.

This spring, in response to the growing radiological threat, ambulances in our Nation’s Capital were fitted with radiological detection equipment. Larger devices of this sort have been put into operation at our nation’s ports just this past year. The goal here being early detection before the harmful radioactivity can be put to use in any act of terror – whether at a crowded event, on a city block or in the mail of a targeted organization.

What is a Radiological Mail Threat?
The Department of Homeland Security defines a radiological attack as “the spreading of radioactive material with the intent to do harm.” This can include an explosion of some kind and the resulting unprotected exposure to radioactive material. According to the United States Postal Inspection Service, radiological dispersion can be achieved “by combining a radiation source with a conventional explosive to create a ‘dirty bomb’ that can be introduced into the mail stream as a package.”

Why are Radiological Threats be Appealing to Terrorists?
Terrorist use of a Radiological Dispersion Device (RDD) — or “dirty bomb” — is considered far more likely than use of a nuclear explosive device. This appeals to terrorists because the RDDs require less technical knowledge to build and deploy compared to a nuclear device. Furthermore, the radioactive materials in RDDs are widely used in agriculture, medicine, industry and research, and are easier to obtain than weapons grade uranium or plutonium.

What is Different About This Threat?
By itself, radiation is odorless and invisible, and there are few clues about the danger.

However, in some ways, the threat is very much like a bomb (or explosive) threat due to the fact that in order to disperse the radiation, a conventional explosive device (or Radiological Dispersion Device RDD) is needed.

The difference lies in the fact that there is radioactive material being scattered. And therefore, additional detection methods apply here.

Radiological threats by explosion may affect:
• Small, localized areas (e.g., a street, a mail room, a single building, or city block)
• Large areas, up to a few square miles, depending on the nature of the dispersion and the amount and type of radioactive material

What are the Types of Radiological Threats?
Radioactive sources can be solid, aerosol, gas, or liquid.
Radiological Dispersal Devices (RDDs) or ‘Dirty Bombs’ explosion produces radioactive and nonradioactive shrapnel and radioactive dust over a targeted area.

Explosion causes:

  • Radiation contamination, commonly
  • Radiation exposure only in certain circumstances
  • Physical injury
  • Burns
  • Panic, fear

RDDs can also include other means of dispersal, including placement of a container containing radioactive material to disperse powdered or aerosolized forms.

What Should We Look for?
In addition to Signs of Dangerous Mail which can help an organization identify possible dangers, radiological threats will need the help of specialized equipment to detect radiation hidden in a mail package.

There are different types of radioactive materials that emit different kinds of radiation:

Gamma and X-rays can travel long distances in air and can pass through the body exposing internal organs; it is also a concern if gamma emitting material is ingested or inhaled.

Beta radiation can travel a few yards in the air and in sufficient quantities might cause skin damage; beta-emitting material is an internal hazard if ingested or inhaled.

Alpha radiation travels only an inch or two in the air and cannot even penetrate skin; alpha-emitting material is a hazard if it is ingested or inhaled.

Do We Have the Correct Equipment for Protection?
A radiological mail threat can be detected with equipment which measures dose rate such as a Geiger counters. Systems to detect radiation in mail operations are capable of detecting and identifying differing types of radiation particles mentioned above (i.e. alpha, beta, and gama). Other types of instruments are used to identify the radioactive element(s) present.

Organizations can set up their own screening equipment at their own location. When cost of equipment and training is a factor, mail can be screened at a 3rd party offsite screening facility. With these “offsite mail screening” facilities, you have no capital costs and pay a monthly fee that is typically based on the volume of mail screened. (For the record, SoBran operates several of these facilities.)

-
How Can We Ensure Protection?
Best practices include:

1. Screening inbound delivery vehicles for radiation using pedestal or wall mounted sensors.

2. Integrating radiation sensors into the central security system - monitoring 24/7.

3. Equipping mail center personnel with wearable radiation pagers while screening and processing mail or unloading delivery vehicles in the loading dock area.

Basic steps to Radiological Mail Safety include:

1. Put a plan in writing

2. Install correct sensor equipment

3. Train employees

4. Run practice drills

If this is not possible, consider outsourcing mail screening to a third party or sending mail to a third party screening facility.
Stay vigilant and next time we will cover the threat of explosives and letter bombs. As always, I appreciate your comments. smartin@sobran-inc.com

Chemical Mail Threats – What You Need to Know

Published

Last month we took a look at the biological mail threats. This month I turned to the mail security experts at SoBran to talk about chemical threats.

What is a Chemical Mail Threat?

The Department of Homeland Security defines a chemical attack as “the spreading of toxic chemicals with the intent to do harm.” In the mail, chemical gas, solids or liquid agents are sent to an intended target individual or company. The threat is usually contained while the package or letter is being processed, and then could be released from the act of opening by the recipient, or by a timer or a remote.

What is Different About This Threat?

Since chemical threats are often contained until the delivery is opened, they are difficult to detect. The small size and light weight means they can be deployed using almost any national or local delivery service. This also presents unique challenges for trying to identify their presence in your organization’s mail and deliveries.

Furthermore, with a very modest amount of material, the chemical agent can cause significant and immediate casualties in a building.

What are the Types of Chemical Threats?
A diverse range of chemicals can be formulated, stolen or otherwise procured for use with malicious intent.

These chemical threat agents can be poisonous vapors, aerosols, liquids or solids that are either naturally occurring in the environment or synthetically produced.  General categories include:

  • Nerve agents (i.e. Sarin)
  • Blood agents (i.e. Cyanide)
  • Pulmonary (choking) agents (i.e. Ammonia, Chlorine)
  • Blister agents (i.e. Mustard)
  • Toxic Industrial chemicals (i.e. Chlorine and Phosgene)

What Should We Look for?
Because of the very small quantity of agent needed for a chemical threat, detection is problematic.
In addition to knowing the general Signs of Dangerous Mail - many chemical agents can have a unique odor and color. Be alert for:

• Unexplained odors (smell of bitter almonds, peach kernels, newly mown hay, or green grass)
• Droplets of oily film on surfaces
• Unusual liquid or vapors

Do We Have the Correct Equipment for Detection?
Most organizations employ X-ray screening, but X-rays are effective for visible threats, like explosives. Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats all require specialized equipment and training. Needed screening equipment includes an air sampling chemical sensing system – both automatic and handheld.

Organizations can set up their own screening equipment at their own location. When cost of equipment and training is a factor, mail can be screened at a 3rd party offsite screening facility. With these “offsite mail screening” facilities, you have no capital costs and pay a monthly fee that is typically based on the volume of mail screened. (For the record, SoBran operates several of these facilities.)

How Can We Ensure Protection?
Your mail screening facility should have chemical detection sensors installed in the loading dock area and the mail screening area. These sensors should provide both an audible and visual alarm that can be detected in the immediate area.

You can safeguard your people and your assets against the chemical exposure threat. Advance preparation is essential to assessing and managing a chemical threat that may come in the mail.  As always, early detection and accurate identification are critical to enable effective treatment and to prevent additional exposures of chemical threats.  Every mailroom should have a solid understanding of the chemical threats risk, and a written security plan on how to respond.

Basic steps to Chemical Mail Safety include:

1. Put a plan in writing
2. Install correct sensor equipment
3. Train employees
4. Run practice drills

If this is not possible, consider outsourcing mail screening to a third party or sending mail to a third party screening facility.

Stay vigilant and next time we will cover radiological threats. As always, I appreciate your comments. smartin@sobran-inc.com

Biological Attack by Terrorists Increasingly Likely

Published

“A biological attack by terrorists that could kill up to 30 million people is increasingly likely due to the ease with which pathogens can be created and spread, Bill Gates has warned.”

In light of the latest headlines about the intensified biological threat, we think it is important to understand the threat and how to protect your organization.

What is a Biological Mail Threat?
The Department of Homeland Security defines a biological threat as “the intentional release of a pathogen (disease causing agent) or biotoxin (poisonous substance produced by a living organism) against humans, plants, or animals. An attack against people could be used to cause illness, death, fear, societal disruption, and economic damage.”

The DHS makes a distinction between the two types of biological threats:
• Transmissible agents that spread from person to person (e.g., smallpox, Ebola) or animal to animal (e.g., foot and mouth disease).
• Agents that may cause adverse effects in exposed individuals but that do not make those individuals contagious to others (e.g., anthrax, botulinum toxin).

What is Different About this Threat?
There is an important difference between biological threats and the other types of mail threats. Mail bombs and chemical and radiological attacks are often more easily identified, and typically consequences can and must be managed immediately.

Because of the minuscule size and amount needed of the biological agents, this threat is not as immediately recognizable - which means consequence management could be delayed enabling contamination to travel and spread.

As we learned with the 2001 anthrax letters, large quantities of weaponized spores can be distributed using one envelope. Utilizing a more sophisticated ‘bomb,’ they can also be disbursed through an aerosol method from an enclosed flat envelope or parcel.

What are the Types of Biological Threats?
Bacteria (i.e. Anthrax, Plague and Smallpox)
Viruses (i.e. Smallpox or Ebola)
Biotoxins (i.e. Ricin or Botulism)

See the full CDC list here

What Should We Look For?
Most often fine powder is the only visual clue. However, a dangerous agent like Anthrax is almost imperceptible since so little is needed to spread both fear and sickness.

Furthermore, in many cases the powder is a result of the mail handling process itself. Few individuals realize the level of automation involved in the mail process that causes some substances that are solid when mailed to become powders by the sorting equipment used at postal facilities.
Even though the majority of these type of mail threats turn out to be either the result of mail processing or attempted hoaxes, the threat of bioterrorism is more real now than ever. Each suspicious package or letter has to be treated seriously.

Do We Have the Correct Equipment for Detection?
Most organizations have X-ray screening, but X-rays are primarily used for explosives. Like chemical, radiological and nuclear threats, biological agents require specialized equipment and training.

Organizations can set up their own screening equipment, or can cost-effectively have their mail screened at a 3rd party offsite screening facility. Needed screening equipment includes Bio-collection devices and BioFlash detection air sampling units.

How Can We Ensure Protection?
Effective countermeasures are available against many of the bacteria, viruses, and toxins. Advance preparation is critical to assessing and managing any biological threat that may come in the mail.
Every mailroom should have a solid understanding of possible biological threats, and a written security plan on how to respond. Basic steps to Biological Mail Safety include:

Taking action:
1. Put a plan in writing
2. Install correct equipment
3. Train employees
4. Run practice drills

If this is not possible, consider outsourcing mail screening to experts or sending mail to a third party facility.

Next time we will cover chemical threats. I’d like to hear your comments. smartin@sobran-inc.com

Stay Safe,

Soma K. Martin and your SoBran SafeMail Team