“A Team Effort: Addressing Chemical and Explosive Threats through Cross-sector Collaboration and Intelligence-driven Support ”
We often hear that prevention is better than the cure, but in the chemical security sphere, this simple advice can go a long way. Developing a strong understanding of existing vulnerabilities and working collaboratively to implement preventative measures are part and parcel of countering new security threats as they emerge. Indeed, these practices are essential in today’s threat landscape: in recent years, we have witnessed the use of chemical warfare agents by terrorist organizations, posing considerable threats to public safety, security and response efforts. Furthermore, INTERPOL data showed that in 2019, over 1,200 improvised explosive attacks took place across the globe, with devastating consequences: these attacks resulted in over 11,000 casualties, the vast majority of which were civilians. Looking forward, there is little reason to expect the threat from chemical and explosive terrorism to decrease in the near future.
Rising to the occasion and responding to this present reality truly is a team effort. This spirit of cooperation is the common thread throughout the G7 Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction (GP) and INTERPOL, as an implementer of many GP-initiatives, brings this same approach to our global law enforcement community and beyond. Best summarized by Kevin Sheehan, INTERPOL’s Assistant Director for the CBRNE & Vulnerable Targets Sub-Directorate, “As the threat to international security persists and heightens, it is essential to increase the preventative, preparedness and response capacity of our member countries. Multi-sector, global engagement and cooperation is a crucial step in achieving this goal. Collaboration is vital for preventing and countering chemical and explosive incidents.”
INTERPOL’s Chemical and Explosive Terrorism (CMX) Prevention Unit – a long-standing partner of the GP – seeks to increase the capacity of INTERPOL member countries to deal with terrorists and criminals acquiring, diverting, smuggling and using chemical warfare agents, toxic industrial chemicals and explosive precursor chemicals. To ensure that the support provided to INTERPOL’s 194 member countries addresses the most pressing threats and needs, CMX activities are underpinned by a comprehensive system of intelligence gathering and analysis – known as the Watchmaker initiative.
Watchmaker Initiative: Our Intelligence-based Foundation
Watchmaker is a global platform that enables INTERPOL to identify and track known or suspected individuals involved in chemical and explosives crimes, the devices they use to perpetrate attacks, as well as the sources and means utilized by nefarious actors to construct and deploy these weapons. As the foundation for all of its activities, CMX implements a two-step intelligence-driven approach. CMX develops a regional threat picture and prioritizes countries based on chemical risk factors. Based upon this analysis, INTERPOL member countries partner with CMX to develop a needs and capability plan, which identifies gaps, determines capabilities, and support the development of mitigation measures.
In tandem, Watchmaker Working Groups sustain ongoing data sharing and intelligence-gathering activities at a regional level. These Working Groups regularly bring law enforcement partners together in order to ascertain the chemical and explosives threat environment across the region and to share information among member countries. This provides a framework to identify and adapt to threats as they emerge. Through continuous facilitation and assessment of Watchmaker Working Groups, CMX has the ability to develop vital assistance that optimises the impact and benefits of its country-based support.
The Global Congress on Chemical Security and Emerging Threats: A Collective Effort
With a steady increase in the diversion of chemical precursors for use in explosive devices or chemical weapons around the world, it is clear that one community cannot counter these threats alone. Instead, the most effective chemical security practices involve a wide range of partners from industry to policymakers, law enforcement, customs officials, civil society and academia. Facilitating multi-sector engagement and dialogue is paramount to understanding the evolving and emerging threats, and in turn improving our collective response to identified needs. Cognizant of this, the ‘Global Congress on Chemical Security and Emerging Threats’ was conceived to promote this very goal of a chemical security community of practice that transcends borders, sectors and institutions.
At the 2019 iteration, the co-chairs of the Global Partnership Chemical Security Working Group issued a joint statement, highlighting that “collaboration across governments, academia, the chemical industry, and multinational organizations is essential to strengthening our collective ability to prevent future uses of weapons of mass destruction and building the necessary response capabilities.” The collaborative nature of this network drives mutual assistance and concerted action between its members and across domains of expertise. The chemical security practitioners that compose the membership of the Global Congress share best practices and explore innovative solutions to counter and effectively respond to persistent and evolving threats.
The Global Congress acts as a convening point for this international and multi-stakeholder network. Annual in-person gatherings bring together close to 200 experts from more than 40 countries worldwide. Concerted panel discussions and presentations bring to light key challenges and issues witnessed locally and taking place globally, setting the stage for candid debates on applicable mitigation methods.
However, the annual gatherings of the Global Congress are only the centre of a far-reaching network committed to preserving our fundamental goals that stretch far beyond these in-person events. The 2019 Global Congress event led to the establishment of an expert roster, which provides a network of far-reaching expertise that aims to support problem solving, information sharing, as well as training and capacity-building mechanisms.
The expert roster forms the basis of an ongoing matchmaking process, during which Global Congress members flag knowledge and capability gaps that can then be matched to the relevant skillsets included within the expert roster. This process plays a key role in developing new mechanisms that encourage peer-to-peer learning and consultations and ultimately, strengthen the collective knowledge of this chemical security community of practice.
The Industry Advisory Group structure nourishes the roots of this multi-stakeholder initiative, by raising the voice of private sector members within the Global Congress constituency and ensuring that their specific needs and challenges are brought into the spotlight. The Industry Advisory Group is comprised of subject-matter experts who help support the co-implementing partners by providing substantive guidance that reinforces the multi-sector approach upon which the Global Congress was founded.
Over recent months, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has led organizations worldwide to significantly adapt their approaches to work and life. The inaugural webinar series organized in September 2020 under the Global Congress umbrella was launched in response to these challenges and in a bid to maintain engagement and continued information exchange. Entitled, ‘Chemical Security in a Pandemic Environment’, subject matter experts from a range of sectors led participants through three different approaches to raise awareness of some of the current issues we are facing as a result of the pandemic. As virtual methods of engagement are quintessential for pursuing the collective goals of the Global Congress, similar initiatives are set to continue in 2021.
The Global Congress secure online platform will be at the heart of these efforts. Set to launch in early 2021, this platform will serve as a means to foster communication and information sharing among the Global Congress network. By providing an opportunity for regular engagement and for frank and open discussion on evolving threats, the Global Congress will take one-step further in cementing the goal to work collectively to detect, deter, and disrupt the acquisition or use of explosive precursor chemicals and chemical weapons.
INTERPOL is the focal point for this communication and drives the global dialogue on current threats and emerging trends related to the criminal and nefarious use of chemicals and explosives. In the spirit of cooperation, CMX cultivates cross-sector networks of chemical and explosive practitioners and experts at an international level to ensure the widest and most effective provision of support and assistance to law enforcement communities within its 194 member countries. These networks permit INTERPOL to not only stay abreast of the latest threat trends and knowledge gaps, but to also keep a finger on the pulse of innovative solutions and technologies in the chemical and explosive terrorism prevention domain.
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Launched in 2018, the Global Congress is co-organized by INTERPOL, the US Department of Homeland Security, the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Global Congress is delivered in cooperation with the GP and is supported by generous funding from Global Affairs Canada.