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A Delivered Threat: Postroom protection for modern businesses

by Brian Sims

For many businesses and organisations, the perceived threat of malicious or injurious mail may seem a distant threat. However, the risk is higher than anticipated, and failure to protect property and staff could be very costly. Mention malicious or injurious mail, and most peoples’ initial thoughts are typically of letter bombs. Whilst the likelihood of such an attack might be low, the potential result of receiving such a device is severe, and that fact alone means that the risk must be taken seriously. However, it is important to also consider other injurious devices and objects which are more commonly sent through the post. Many of these require little more than ill intent and ordinary household objects, but the impact could be significant for a member of your staff, or even yourself. One of the often-cited reasons why businesses and organisations don’t ensure adequate protection is in place is because of the ‘it won’t happen to me’ mentality. Interestingly, people who are injured or killed by injurious devices sent through the post had the same attitude. It is precisely because the threat was not countered that the attacks succeeded. The very act of dismissing the threat as too unlikely to mitigate was a significant element in the attacker achieving their goals. Malicious and injurious mail attacks occasionally grab the headlines, yet even following an incident where someone is injured or killed, how many of us ever consider the possibilities when opening post or delivered packages? It is such a daily routine that we usually do it without really thinking. Most businesses wouldn’t consider themselves to be potential targets of terrorists, and terrorists are the types of attackers we associate with such activities. Two pivotal questions to be asked when considering the threat from such attacks are who are the targets, and who is targeting them? These are, in all honesty, very general questions, and the answers can therefore only be general in themselves. They do, however, offer some indication of how risks of this nature evolve. At risk? In the modern world there are very few activities which do not” rightly or wrongly” attract some form of opposition. This may take a structured and democratic form, or it may spur some degree of antisocial or illegal reaction. When considering targets of malicious and injurious packages, one would do as well to consider targets of any form of violent crime or malicious activity. Mail-based attacks are no longer limited to international terror groups. If your business or organisation is involved in certain commercial or industrial areas, the risk of receiving such mail is heightened. Add to that ethical, racial or religious backgrounds, and the risk is significantly increased. If your company receives opposition from any element of society, albeit through legal means such as vocal communication or confrontation, the chances are that someone somewhere will bear enough of a grudge or feel so negative about you that they may take their opposition to an illegal position. If this is the case, there is every chance their feelings could be vented via some form of harmful device, delivered through the postal service or via another route. The areas at risk are many, and include establishments such as government ministries and departments, the world of banking and finance (including the insurance industries), the pharmaceutical and medical research industries, industrial research, universities and educational facilities, petroleum and energy suppliers, the media, companies in certain service sectors such as security and debt recovery, manufacturing in sensitive areas like defence or cosmetics, the police, large department stores or retail chains, and national or public utilities. To this list add any company or organisation which might offend any of the thousands of radical groups and minority sects which exist, plus those which might upset extremists or criminal elements. The list of targets must also have added to it any company with disgruntled ex-employees or customers, or any firm who may have unwittingly incurred the displeasure of a malicious individual. In reality, most businesses and organisations fit into one of the above groups. Whilst many appreciate that the circumstances surrounding the areas listed might involve them” at some time or other” in some type of confrontation, too few consider that such a confrontation might come via the postal service. In the minds of many, mail-borne attacks are associated with terrorism” and terrorist groups still are involved in the sending of injurious and malicious mail. It is important that this does not offer a false sense of security. The public image of terrorism, especially in the UK, is one of active service cells from large terror organisations, which will either strike at public places or will target prominent individuals. This ignores a host of other attackers, who may have motives that are far removed from any active terrorist group. If businesses associate such attacks with organised international armies of some description, they could conclude that such groups do not have any quarrel with them. Research has shown that along with devices from terrorist groups, there have been campaigns by specific extremist groups or organisations, as well as radical divisions of usually quite legitimate and well-behaved protest groups. Many have been associated with extreme or breakaway political factions. A number of them have been from individuals who are either seeking financial gain through extortion, seeking fame and notoriety through their actions, or who have a grudge which they wish to take one step further. Some are from unknown people with unknown motives; it has to be accepted that there are individuals out there who find this type of activity amusing, and do it for no other reason whatsoever. Not just bombs It must be said that mail-borne explosive devices are not the stuff of advanced science, and whilst some are ingenious in their construction” especially where efforts are made to stop detection of the device or to foil attempts to disarm the package” most are crude, although frighteningly effective. Information about the construction of letter bombs can be easily found if an attacker is intent on creating a device. To place this into perspective, whilst putting this article together it took no more than a few minutes to discover the manufacturing process of a potentially lethal device. It would have cost around

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