Is Offsite Mail Screening Needed for Your Organization?

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What is Offsite Mail Screening?

Offsite Mail Screening is a mail screening and distribution service performed by a 3rd party in a separate location to manage organizational mail security and processing.

An offsite, confidential screening location can minimize the possibility of threat exposure to personnel and visitors and facility closures. Airtight shelters detect threats before they are delivered to your organization.

Screening mail offsite is a best practice utilized to keep organizations safe from Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive (CBRNE) mail and package delivery threats such as mail bombs, ricin letters and even white powder hoaxes.

Trends in Offsite Mail Screening

As reported in this year’s 2019 SafeMail Mail Security Survey, Offsite Mail Screening is on the rise.

The latest trends we surveyed indicate the risky practice of screening mail in the same building in which most employees work has dropped from 60% in 2018 to 43% in 2019.

This is testament to the fact that Offsite Mail Screening can be your organization's best insurance for business continuity.

You might be considering this step for your business. But what is the best way to determine if Offsite Mail Screening is right for your organization?

5 Questions to ask to determine if Offsite Mail Screening is right for your organization:

(1.) Does the mailroom share a ventilation system with other departments, such as accounting, support or sales?

(2.) Is your organization’s mail screening area shared space with another organization? Is it in a building with multiple tenants?

(3.) Does your organization lack the specialty equipment needed to detect chemical, biological and radiological threats?

(4.) If your organization purchases specialty equipment, will space for the additional staff and equipment be a challenge?

(5.) Is your organization too short-staffed or over-worked to keep up on the latest threats, latest training and cutting-edge equipment?

If you answered “yes” to two or more of these questions, Offsite Mail Screening may be the best option to keep your facilities operating and your employees safe.

Basic steps for Mailroom Safety include:

  • Put a plan in writing
  • Install the correct sensor equipment
  • Train employees
  • 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. Click here to learn more about SoBran’s offsite screening services.


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

Lone Wolf Terror: The Continuing Mailroom Threat

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The Continuing Threat from Lone-Wolf Terrorists in America - In Homeland Security

In their article last month, In Homeland Security spotlighted the ongoing threat from Lone Wolf individuals, specifically sighting Cesar Sayoc who was, “…arrested in Plantation, Florida, for allegedly mailing more than a dozen homemade parcel bombs to liberal politicians and media affiliates, including CNN.”

Who Are Lone Wolf Terrorists?

“Domestic terrorists in the U.S. are usually loners who are often frustrated with their personal and professional lives. They are usually unmarried and often align with an extremist organization that they feel will understand and nurture their rage – a group that gives them a sense of belonging that they have never felt.” -- In Homeland Security

Despite this, the fact is that we don't really know who lone wolf terrorists are or will be.

We do know they often they suffer from mental illness. While they may identify with a larger terror group. they act on their own with no contact or direction from a group of any size. Lone wolves often act on beliefs or philosophies that guide known terrorist groups, but despite where their inspiration comes from, their plots are self-directed.

Examples of lone wolf attacks range from the classic Unabomber to the ricin-laced letters sent to President Obama. And while many of the widely reported on mailroom lone wolf attacks involve explosives, there are just as many chemical and biological threats.

Even hoax-threats by lone wolfs are costly to your organization causing stress for evacuated workers, continuity disruption and harm to organizational reputation in the news.

Why is this important?

Because social media monitoring is often seen as an infringement on individual rights, forewarning is limited, and organizations can be taken by surprise. Furthermore, the often classic solitary character of lone wolves hinders early detection.

Widespread use of social media and general online communication has facilitated either inspiring or educating a lone wolf in the best tactics to carry out harm.

Complacency could be costly for your organization. For the price of a stamp - the mailroom is an open door to possible lone wolf threats. It is important to take these threats into consideration for your organizations full security plan.

How do we protect our organization?

By nature, lone wolf terrorism is hard to predict. Therefore, organization’s must employ all the latest protections to mitigate all possible avenues for these types of possible threats to business continuity.

Preventing attacks by employing advanced detection devices is critical. X-ray screening is not sufficient to detect all threats, and is primarily used to detect explosives.

Additional training and specialized equipment is needed to detect targeted chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats.

Basic steps for Mailroom Safety include:

  • Put a plan in writing
  • Install correct sensor equipment
  • Train employees
  • 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

Hate Crimes – The Danger to Your Organization’s Mail

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"The NYPD recorded 184 hate crimes through June 2 — up from 112 in 2018 — during a period when the city experienced a continued reduction in overall crimes." -- New York Times

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 can play out as “a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias." But the crime can also be in the form of mail - a package or a letter.

Last October, the FBI released hate crime statistics from 2017 reporting they rose more than 17% led by increases in minority and religious attacks.

"It is the biggest annual increase in reported hate crimes since 2001, when attacks on Muslims surged in response to the Sept. 11 attacks, and the third straight year that hate crimes have gone up." - LA Times

What Does This Mean for My Organization?

Targeting an individual or a well known organization, or targeting non-profit’s mission or an organization’s goals is a real and current danger.

Whether the hate crime is committed by a group or by a lone wolf, the incidents overall are rising.

What is the danger?

There is always the possibility of dangerous mailed hate crimes containing chemical threats, biological threats, radiological, nuclear and mail bomb threats. However, even 'simple' threatening letters can be illegal.

Organizations can easily be targeted for their beliefs or for the causes they champion. These can be political, religious or social. In the past year, religion has been a large target for all manner of hate crimes including dangerous and deadly mail attacks.

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.

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 is the difference between Threatening Letters and Hate Mail?

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

Religious Hate Crimes are Making Headlines

Religious Freedom Report Offers Grim Review Of Attacks On Faith Groups - NPR

While many types of hate are causing threats, religious oriented hate crimes are a troubling trend for all beliefs and religious organizations.

"Hate crimes surge in NYC, attacks on Jews almost double" - NYT

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

Click here for the Poster "Signs of Dangerous Mail"

Basic steps for Mailroom Safety include:

Put a plan in writing
Install correct sensor equipment
Train employees
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

MAIL: Symbol of Trust – Tool of Terror

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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 2019 Survey Infographic.

Why Is This Important ?

Anyone can be a target.  Up from last year, at least 34% of companies say they received threats in the mail.  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 (66%) or X-ray (73%) leaving themselves vulnerable to threats including biological or chemical.

“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.”

“.....It remains both a symbol of trust and a tool of terror...”The Atlantic

 

What are the Main Roadblocks to Mail Security?

When asked to name their biggest challenge,  survey respondents indicated equipment (34%) and budget (45%) 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 risky practice of screening mail in the same building in which most employees work has dropped from 60% in 2018 to 43% in 2019. Offsite Mail Screening is a mail security "Best Practice."  keeps employees safer and reduces risk of productivity downtime as the result of a threat or hoax.

It is imperative for organizations that handle mail screening themselves to increase the knowledge of mailroom staff and any employees who handle incoming mail.

Providing specialized training on equipment for advanced screening to a small team of employees enables them to prevent the most dangerous threats from spreading within your organization. Their training should be refreshed as risk factors change and as new employees enter the organization. It is also critical to continually train staff on the latest threats and screening techniques.

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: “Symbol of Trust - Tool of Terror: Lessons Learned from the 2019 SoBran Mail Security Survey."

The #1 Best Practice for Mail Security

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As stated by the Department of Homeland Security --

“The first and best practice to minimize risk and exposure to personnel and the public is centralizing the mail handling/processing operation at a separate location.”

Here's why:

• Centralization minimizes risk, reduces cost, and increases efficiency and effectiveness.
• It lessens risk by limiting exposure to one location and fewer personnel.
• It reduces cost by eliminating the redundancy of multiple mail centers, personnel, and equipment.
• Utilization of a trained staff working together at one location increases efficiency.
• Deploying better equipment at one location that greatly enhances risk reduction improves effectiveness.

 

Is your business at risk? Check into how Offsite Screening could be the answer.

Basic steps for Mailroom 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

 

Top 5 Myths in Mail Screening

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MYTH #1: It Won’t Happen Here.

Complacency is the enemy of security. We’ve said it before, and we’ll keep saying it.

Most organizations don’t take adequate security precautions. Anywhere between a quarter and a third of organizations do no mail screening.

During our annual surveys, approximately half (56.5%) of survey respondents report that the organization they work for screens at least some of the mail they receive. A much smaller number—35%—say all mail is actively screened on a consistent basis.

Mail threats can occur at any time, for any type of organization. They may come from terrorist factions, 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.

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.

 

MYTH #2: X-ray Mail Screening Is Enough

Many organizations have X-ray for mail screening, but X-rays are primarily useful for identifying only explosives.

Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) threats require other specialized equipment and training. These threats are not detected by X-ray.

X-ray equipment is a good first step in screening mail -- but it is only a first step.

X-ray technology is often misunderstood. It is not designed to isolate small amounts of low density powder or liquids and cannot identify chemical, biological or nuclear threats. X-ray scanning systems are a first line of defense to detect threats that contain high density materials, like the metals found in IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) or PIES (Power Source, Initiator, Explosives & Switches), weapons, sharps and blades.

The technical definition for x-ray is “electromagnetic radiation of high energy and very short wavelength (between ultraviolet light and gamma rays) that is able to pass through many materials opaque to light.”

But what does that mean? Here is a simple way to think about it:

X-rays penetrate objects at different rates, for example wood is penetrated more than lead. As the x-rays hit an object, the X-ray unit collects and analyzes the object's density and absorption rate. It translates these results into different shades of grey. Low density items like most powders appear light and shadowy, so difficult to see. For color displays, the color you see on the monitor is computer generated.

 

MYTH #3: There is Little Threat

This past year was truly a “high water mark” for threats in the mail. 

There were multiple incidents including the Austin Bomber last March, Ricin letters sent to Trump and the Pentagon, and the several Mail Bombs sent in October 2018 to former president Obama, Hilary Clinton and others.

Other years we have noticed there are very few mail threats reported on.  Why is this?  They are detected by mail screening experts with a concern for privacy and discretion.

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

“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

If you are associated with controversial issues or experienced recent layoffs, your risk of an attack is elevated. It’s important to remember, however, that mail threats can occur at any time, for any type of organization. They may include dangerous substances or explosives or they may simply be designed to frighten an organization. Even a hoax threat can shut down operations for hours if not days or more.

MYTH #4: The U.S. Postal Service Screens the Mail Already

 "The overwhelming volume of mail does not permit the Postal Service to screen every piece." - U.S. Postal Inspection Service website

Each year, the U.S. Postal Service processes 170 billion pieces of mail.  In order to mitigate threats to employees and the overall organization, further precautions must be taken.

In addition, the number of deliveries that reach organizations from outside delivery companies is rising.  FedEx, UPS and others deliver well over 30 million packages daily.

Your organization's mailroom is the last line of defense.

MYTH #5: Mail Screening Costs Too Much

The question organizations need to ask is ‘What is the cost of NOT screening the mail?’

In our discussions with customers, the question of budget and cost does come up. Why is mail screening so expensive and why should we pay this amount when we haven’t had a mail threat in years? What we tell them is most of our existing customers felt the same way until they actually received a threat. And these organizations were shut down for days in some cases - and for weeks in other cases.

We have seen examples such as a multinational bank shut down for only a couple hours, however the cost was around 1.7 million dollars.

What will a day or two business disruption cost your business?   $500,000? $1,000,000 ? Sometimes looking at the cost of one mail threat and evacuation in any calendar year can be a good way to assess the value of mail screening. It depends on your business risk.

Make sure your facilities and your organization are protected.

Mail screening is an important piece of an entire security plan.

Basic steps for Mailroom 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

Dangerous Prison Mail – What This Means for Your Business

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"The Postal Service, which touts itself as the most trusted government agency, has also become a trusted delivery mechanism for drug traffickers." - Washington Post

While the high-profile national mail security issues were the biggest headline news, there were a myriad of dangerous issues within the prison mail systems nationwide that also made headlines recently.

Last year saw more than a few large incidents within the prisons. In ten Pennsylvania prisons , 23 guards, four nurses and an inmate were exposed to substances described as liquid synthetic drugs like Opioids.

Concurrently, in Ohio 20 prison guards and inmates sickened by possible opioid overdose symptoms.

These widespread prison incidents have led to further scrutiny of the incoming mail security screening and procedures.

 

Prison Mail – What is the Danger?

 

Contacts outside the prison system are soaking letter paper and envelopes in synthetic marijuana and an opioid drug used to treat heroin addiction.  These pre-soaked letters and envelopes are being sent directly to the prisons.

“they had found Suboxone strips in crayon drawings, as well as under postage stamps (leading some facilities to remove stamps from incoming mail).”  - Prison Legal News

Such little amounts of the opioid is needed for a drug user, that the quantity in even a regular envelope is hard to detect.  And only a few grains can be dangerous for those who open and handle mail.

 

 

What is being Done to Protect Both Prison Workers and Inmates?

Some prison systems have put extensive rules on the types of mail that can be delivered. Others have gone to completely no original mail for inmates. Unpopular policies of only providing Xeroxed versions of mail are now being overturned in some states.

"Except for legal and privileged correspondence, Virginia prisoners also no longer receive their actual mail. Instead, each letter – which is restricted to five pages – and its envelope are photocopied, and the copies are given to prisoners."  -Prison Legal News

Prison mailrooms have had to develop more stringent screening processes.  In addition, those who screen the mail now use at least basic protective wear such as gloves and breathing masks.

 Mail to N.H. Prison Inmates on Hold for Screening Upgrades  - New Hampshire Public Radio

 

What Does This Mean for Your Organization?

The situation at prisons reminds us that anyone with a postage stamp and an intention to do harm can have easy access.

As chemicals, biologics and drugs are available on a mail-order basis over the internet, the unintended uses and transport of the harmful substances can intentionally or unintentionally do harm to those who come in contact with them at any step in the mail or package delivery and opening process.

Those wishing to do harm, have developed even more creative and deadly ways to get very powerful drug-like substances to intended targets.

Make sure your facilities and your organization are protected. Mail screening is an important piece of an entire security plan.

Basic steps for Mailroom 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

 

A Year in Mail Threats – 2018

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2018 was a High-Water Mark for Nationally Publicized Dangerous Mail Security Incidents

And these high profile incidents are the tip of the iceberg. For every mail threat that makes the news, most others are handled discretely without national press coverage.

2018: Year in Review

We started the year with continuing reports of deadly Fentanyl flowing into the U.S. mail system as the “delivery method of choice” for ordering drugs off the dark web and the internet.

JANUARY 2018: The danger of opioids in the U.S. Mail takes center stage as reports highlight the staggering scope of this issue.

U.S. Postal Service unwittingly smuggles Chinese opioids to American addicts

And now we are beginning to understand just how dangerous this drug can be in the mail system.  Killer Opioid Fentanyl Could Be a Weapon of Mass Destruction

Shockingly, it would take only 118 pounds of Fentanyl to kill 25 million people.

FEBRUARY 2018: A white powder letter was mailed to Donald Trump Jr, and opened by his wife Vanessa who was hospitalized as a precautionary measure.

Vanessa Trump taken to hospital as precaution after white powder sent to her home


Eric Trump recently reported that white powder has been mailed to every member of President Trump's family.

FEBRUARY 2018: Meghan Markle and Prince Harry targeted in white powder threat including racist hate letter.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry in anthrax terror scare

FEBRUARY 2018: A U.S. military base building near the Pentagon was evacuated and over a dozen people, including Marines, fell ill after a white powder letter was opened.

Marines Hospitalized at Joint Base Myer After Opening Letter With Unknown Substance - NBC4 News

MARCH 2018: For almost three weeks, the Austin area was terrorized by the Austin Mail Bomber incidents killing two people and injuring five. This was no hoax, and all mail and package delivery methods were threatened.

Police: Austin bomber left 25-minute confession video on phone

MARCH 2018:  Multiple government facilities in the Washington D.C. area received suspicious packages reported to contain possibly explosive materials.

D.C.-Area Military Sites Sent Suspicious Packages That Included ‘Disturbing’ Letters

OCTOBER 2018: Ricin letters sent to President Trump, Defense Secretary James Mattis, chief of naval operations Adm. John Richardson, FBI Director Chris Wray, CIA Director Gina Haspel and Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson.

Utah man charged for sending toxic letters to Trump, other admin officials

OCTOBER 2018: 13 IED’s - Improvised Explosives Devices - were sent through the United States Postal Services to 16 high ranking officials including President Barack Obama, President Bill Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and others. CNN was also targeted.

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and CNN Offices Are Sent Pipe Bombs

What Does This Mean for My Business?

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. If anything, this year demonstrates that although many threats are costly and harrowing hoaxes, they also prove deadly.

The majority of threats are actually not in the news every day. They are detected by mail screening experts with a concern for privacy and discretion.

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

 

What We Learned from the Recent Ricin and Mail Bomb Attacks

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6 Things We Learned from the Recent Ricin and Mail Bomb Attacks

 

1. The Threat is Real

These are not hoax devices.”   FBI Director Christopher A. Wray -

Many times, the news we hear about mail terrorism involves a hoax effort.  While they continue to investigate the possibility of detonation, there is no question these were intended to be explosive mail bombs to do harm.

The devices found so far have been called improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and they can be very deadly.  Learn more about the threat of explosives in the mail as well as the threat of biological hazards from our earlier newsletters.

 

2. Dangerous Attacks are Making it Through the U.S. Mail

"..the U.S. Postal Inspection Service website says "the overwhelming volume of mail does not permit the Postal Service to screen every piece." -- NPR

There are a lot of questions surrounding how pipe bombs could travel such distances through the U.S. Mail -- and even get to their destination without being detected. Screening protocols are in place for the USPS, but the volume is such that not all pieces get screened.

And the danger of biological threats getting through is even greater due to their small quantities. X-ray or bomb dogs cannot detect biological threats.  In order to mitigate all possible danger, mail screening is an important component to your organization's overall security plan.

 

3. Attacks Through the Mail are Still Nothing New

"America's long and frightening history of attacks by mail" - CNN

From mail bombs as far back as 1919 to last month's ricin letters sent to the President, there is nothing new about mail threats getting through to an individual or an organization.

This is a frightening reminder we must stay vigilant.  And we must use all resources available to mitigate possible threats to employees,  assets and organizational reputation.

 

4. You Won't Know If or When Your Organization Might be a Target

"Mail Bomb Suspect Had a List of 100 Potential Targets, Officials Say" – New York Times

A terrorist or lone wolf's list could be long, with many types of targets included.  Why one public organization and not another?  We won't know the reasoning, and that uncertainty leads to possible danger.  There is no question that the best protection is planning ahead for the worst case senario.

 

5. Mail Screening Works

"What all of the attempts have in common........is that they have, so far, been intercepted before they could cause any damage."  –Wired Magazine

If you stop and think about the fact that none of the mail bombs made it to their targeted end recipient, then it becomes clear that individuals and/or organizations who rely on mail screening are realizing its benefits.  Disaster and possible deaths have been averted by trusted mail screening security services.

 

6. Even Hoaxes are Damaging and Costly

"Mail Bombs Don't Need to Explode to be Destructive" - The Verge

Fear is the goal of any type of terrorism, including mail targets. So although both incidents this past month were very real -- the fact that they did not reach their targets or do bodily harm, does not mean they were not and are not continuing to be destructive.  Furthermore, all the mail employees along the mail route of these dangerous deliveries were put in harms way.

 

How Can Your Business or Organization Stay Safe?

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

 

Mail Screening Diverts Suspected Ricin Letters from Reaching President Trump

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Mail Screeners Divert Suspected Ricin-Tainted Letters from Reaching President Trump

Luckily, earlier this month, when envelopes were sent to President Trump and top military leaders contained the natural ingredients used to make the deadly poison Ricin, they did not reach their destination. They were identified and isolated at a dedicated mail screening facility first. Describing the incident, the FBI has indicated that potentially hazardous chemicals were also found but have not provided additional details.

Why Choose the Mail as a Channel to Harm President Trump?

The President is flanked by Secret Service when in public, locations for his appearances are checked in advance, and visits to the White House are invitation-only and carefully screened.  An attacker assumes that an innocent-looking package can easily get mixed into the mountain of mail that the President, like many public officials and business leaders, receives every day.

Are Biological Threats Like Ricin on the Rise?

Ricin is a biotoxin, on the CDC’s list of biological threats. Similar to Anthrax, it could be weaponized to cause illness, death, fear, societal disruption, and economic damage. As discussed in previous Insights articles, Bill Gates has warned that “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.”

Just three years ago, both President Obama and Mayor Bloomberg of New York were sent Ricin-tainted mail. Again, those letters did not reach their destinations thanks to skilled mail screeners.

What are the Effects of Ricin?

Ricin is incredibly deadly. The poison prevents human cells from creating proteins, causing them to die. As more cells die, the entire body shuts down. The poison comes from the husks of castor beans, the seeds of the castor oil plant. When castor oil is created from the plant in order to be used in pharmaceuticals and manufacturing, Ricin is created as part of the waste.

If mail handlers were to open a package filled with Ricin, they would be in danger unless they operated with Personal Protective Equipment, ideally in a clean room environment. Ricin in the form of a fine powder can be suspended in air, similar to anthrax, and could be inhaled.

Ricin poisoning could be deadly for those who encounter it directly, but it would not be contagious to others.

How Could Ricin be Identified by Mail Screening?

A manual screening process in a standard mailroom or an inexperienced screening team would have no capacity to differentiate a Ricin-filled package from any other.

  • Ricin – or the castor beans of the plant – would not have a particular odor to alert mail screeners to its presence.
  • It wouldn’t leave a residue on a package, cause it to become wet or otherwise stand out.

Only an advanced main screening process that includes CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive) detection would have a chance to identify Ricin within a letter or package. Advanced tools that determine the level of Ricin bioactivity will dictate the emergency response plan and waste removal plan.

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

Who is at Risk?

While attacks on high profile targets like politicians make the news, we know all too well that the mail is used to send dangerous materials to all types of targets. If Ricin, or even castor beans, were to reach a food protection facility, a hospital, a school or a business, many more people would be at risk.

Every mailroom team should be aware of possible biological threats and a plan in place to respond.

Steps for mailroom safety include:

• The correct equipment to screen for biological threats
• Personal Protective Equipment
• Trained staff
• A written plan

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

Thank you to all the mail screeners who put themselves at risk to keep us safe.

Stay safe,
Soma K. Martin and your SoBran SafeMail Team