U.S. Defense Contractors: Are They A Potential Target?

September 11th was indeed a strategically planned attack on the United States. The intelligence gathering, planning, training, and financial support and logistics of this attack were highly coordinated. As a result of these attacks, the world has changed its posture against terrorism. We are now targeting sleeper cells, cutting off financial support to these groups, and rounding up key supporters and leaders of their networks.

All of this will surely make it harder for groups such as Al-Qa’ida to communicate because of the angular targeting of their infrastructure. In my opinion and the opinion of many others this is good progress in the struggle against terrorism. But one must consider the interim results.

Knowing that we have temporarily disabled Al-Qa’ida‘s ability to conduct long term planning of strategic attacks, the question naturally arises: How will this effect their current operations? In my opinion this will not stop attacks that were planned long before 9/11. Those operatives and cells are always one step ahead of us. It is a proven fact that in most cases Al-Qa’ida plans their attacks well in advance, sometimes 2-3 years in advance. A terrorist, whether domestically or internationally based, will always strike where we least expect them.

A Chronology of Recent Terrorist Attacks against the United States

April 19, 1995: The Alfred P. Murray federal building was hit with a truck bomb. This bombing opened our eyes to the threat of domestic terrorism, and as a result Federal building security was improved and certain types of fertilizer containing ammonium Nitrate were banned. So far this has been the most significant, or should I say horrific, domestic attack.

June 26, 1996: The Khobar towers were hit with a truck bomb which consisted of explosives attached to a fuel truck. Subsequent analysis resulted in restructuring of Force Protection measures and training throughout the Department of Defense.

August 7, 1998: The U.S. embassies were bombed in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. Once again this resulted in threat awareness and improved security being implemented for U.S. interests overseas.

October 12, 2000: The USS Cole was attacked in the Port of Aden. This clearly demonstrated the need to improve Force Protection. As a result, Port security was improved both home and abroad.

September 11, 2001: The Pentagon and World Trade Center were struck from the air with hijacked commercial jetliners being used as missiles. The government temporarily grounded all aircraft and stationed the National Guard in the airports with empty weapons. Tarmac security is now being improved through a number of measures, including the terminating of contracts with untrained, underpaid private security guards. Those guards are being replaced with federal airport screeners.

You can see a pattern developing. Each time a terrorist attack occurs, we harden the target type by using lessons learned. It is obvious we need to take a more proactive, universal approach to security, but budgetary constraints seem to hinder this approach on all fronts. No one seems to value security until it is too late.

The Potential Threat

Defense contractors provide an integral element to our economy and National Security Infrastructure. Fear of terrorism has stricken different portions of the country: nuclear power plants, transportation systems, financial institutions, computer networks, and water supplies to name a few. Other than shopping malls and large public gatherings, what targets are left? Domestically speaking Military Installations, the Whitehouse, Federal buildings and events such as the Olympics have so far been adequately protected, and will likely continue to be so.

In theory, an attack on a defense contractor could prove to be very detrimental. Moreover, methodically planned concurrent attacks on multiple contractor facilities, could prove disastrous. The 1995 embassy bombings and the 2001 Pentagon and WTC attacks have demonstrated that terrorists have the funding and coordination to carry out such concurrent attacks.

Loss of human life would be only one aspect of a successful attack; Scientists, engineers and production crews would be in complete fear, crippling their ability to work. These individuals provide all aspects of material to the government. They provide support of innovative technologies, software, fighter jets, ships, tanks, radar equipment and especially precision guided missiles. To put it bluntly, the United States and its allies are totally dependent upon contractors to fulfill their operational needs.

Production could be impaired or even halted depending on the nature or scope of the attack. A halt on production would cause great damage to the U.S. especially with the current demand for military hardware and technology in anticipation of conflicts overseas. Terrorist attacks could literally delay a buildup of weapons, and impair our ability to fight wars on multiple fronts.

To put it mildly, our armed forces are low on manpower due to military cutbacks by previous presidential administrations. Furthermore, our ability to supply weapons and ammunition to our deployed soldiers has been weakened. This weakens our ability to defend ourselves or to take preemptive action against countries harboring terrorists, rogue nations or those identified as the axis of evil.

Most defense contractors have a higher level of threat awareness and security in comparison to the average private sector company. To my knowledge most DOD contractors have things such as access control systems, alarm systems, patrol officers, perimeter fencing, CCTV and local agreements with law enforcement. But are the defense contractors capable of defending against a terrorist attack?

Don’t get me wrong; I do believe defense contractors are prepared. Unfortunately in my opinion, defense contractors are not prepared for the right threats.

Defense contractors are prepared for spies, industrial espionage, theft of trade secrets, proprietary processes and technology, natural disasters and perhaps even large public demonstrations. Even in this post cold war era, the threat of espionage is still present. However the threats facing defense contractors are not limited to espionage alone. Terrorism remains a very real threat to defense contractors, as they are seen from many peoples perspective as the ones who enables our government to militarily dominate.

Defense contractors must find a balance between the two threats, spies and terrorists. Ironically in some ways the characteristics of a spy and terrorist are the same.

The terrorist, much like the spy must conduct surveillance and collect intelligence before striking. Both the terrorist and spy are our adversaries, but one is more of an imminent threat than the other. A spy wants to know what your secret is, what you are making, how they can steal it without being detected and utilize it to benefit themselves.

A terrorist only needs to know that you are a U.S. company that provides integral products to the Government. For them to collect such information, all one must do is go to a web site and find who makes what critical products. Lists are published all the time as to who are the top U.S Defense Contractors. If peaceful local protest groups can target a facility for demonstrations. Then surely a trained intelligence gatherer can locate this information. From this point planning begins. Successful implementation of a terrorist plot may be as simple as a few truck bombs in the parking lots at multiple facilities nationwide.

To sum this up, from my perspective as a security practitioner, the threat is clearly here. Defense contractors although private sector, need to have the same protection and awareness as Military Bases and Federal Buildings. The most important components are threat awareness and operational security training.

They need to have anti-terrorism training and briefings similar to what is provided to DOD and DOE personnel. There should be a government standard that forces contractors to employ or contract out a Protective Force capable of repelling a terrorist attack.

There should be contingencies in place for the specific threat of terrorism. In some cases there may be a need to have armed personnel such as federal installations. The GSA’s Federal Protective Services is a good example of a well-trained force that performs these duties, but a well-trained private or contract guard force would suffice.

Finally they should receive funding from the Government to incorporate these simple measures; after all it’s literally in everyone’s best interest to protect DOD contractors from the threat of terrorism.

Authored by: Jesse Robert, CPO

Webmaster: J.R’s Global Security Resource


Article originally published in IASCP CT&Homeland Security Reports Volume.10, No.2

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

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