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Scott Mahloch, FBI, Food Safety Consortium

U.S. Food System Continues to Be Soft Target for Terrorism

By Maria Fontanazza
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Scott Mahloch, FBI, Food Safety Consortium

Sadly, more and more these days, terrorism has become a prevalent concern. The food sector is not immune to threats either, especially as soft targets and lone wolf attacks become more common.

Food Safety Tech discussed the issue with special agent Scott Mahloch, weapons of mass destruction coordinator for FBI Chicago, during a conversation leading up to this year’s Food Safety Consortium, where Mahloch will be speaking.

Food Safety Tech: In the past year, have there been any changes or new developments in the way in which the FBI conducts outreach to the food industry?

Scott Mahloch presented FBI’s Role in Food Defense on November 29 at the 2017 Food Safety Consortium | Learn moreScott Mahloch: The U.S. food system continues to be a soft target, largely unprotected from the insider threat. Since last year’s Food Safety Consortium we have done targeted outreach to the top dozen food processing facilities in the Chicago area. We worked with our intelligence team, came up with a list of questions and spoke with food safety managers and facility managers regarding the insider threat and educated them on the WMD [FBI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction] program.

FST: Do other divisions of the FBI work in a similar manner as the Chicago division?

Mahloch: It really depends on the office. We have 56 field offices around the nation. In every office we have a WMD coordinator, so it depends on his or her area of responsibility and what that area commands. For example, our office in Springfield [Illinois] is more agriculturally based than we are here in Chicago. Their food outreach would be very similar, but they might be looking at the farms and the agricultural aspect of food production.

FST: Are there any imminent threats to the food sector? Have you seen anything new over the past year?

Mahloch: No, we have not [seen] anything here in the homeland. The bad guys overseas have always expressed interest in attacking food and water, and that remains the same. It’s more the international terrorist groups that have always stressed this in the past. That’s one of the drivers of why we’re so involved in this outreach—we never want that to happen here in the United States. To get in front of the threat, we go out and talk to subject matter experts in this area, the facility managers and food safety managers to get the information out there.

FST: As FBI takes a proactive approach to food defense, what responses have you seen with food companies thus far?

Mahloch: It’s been very positive. People out there believe in our mission and in what we’re doing, and they want to ensure safety and security in their facilities. Communication has been great; they’ve welcomed us into their facility, taken us on facility tours, shown us production lines and answered our questions. It’s been a great relationship.

FST: Does the FBI concern itself with global food supply chain security in terms of how it affects the United States?

Mahloch: Yes, absolutely. What I do is more on a local level here in Chicago, and the same goes for my fellow coordinators in the field offices. We focus on our area of responsibility. The WMD director has a unit that deals with food and water safety. We also have an overseas lead attaché program that works—those folks are also involved in WMD.

FST: What can attendees look forward to hearing about during your presentation at this year’s Food Safety Consortium?

Mahloch: A lot of it will be education and just getting the word out there that the FBI has a role in food safety, food protection and water safety. A lot of people don’t realize the FBI is involved in this. Usually when you think food protection, you think the USDA, FDA, Homeland Security and other agencies that have programs. So a lot of it will be education and telling [attendees] what we do, what we’re about, and where they can turn in a time of need for additional resources. That’s probably the biggest takeaway from the FBI.

[In addition], on outreach and how the FBI is perceived, what we’ve noticed is that we’ve gone into facilities and their defenses are up a bit because they think the FBI is going to regulate, take a look at their processes and inspect. That’s really not what we’re about. We’re not a regulator—we don’t go in and try to change internal processes or rip apart what they’re doing. What we do is strictly education. There are other regulatory bodies that mandate how things are supposed to be shipped, stored and processed. That’s not the FBI. Sometimes there’s that misconception when we go in and want to do some outreach—that FBI is there to regulate. That’s not the truth. We’re a resource and we’re trying to open those doors of communication.

And as far as the threat in the homeland, right now there is none and we continue to try to stay ahead of the threat through education and being a resource.


FBI, food safety, terrorism

FBI to Food Companies: Insider Threat Should Be Big Concern

By Maria Fontanazza
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FBI, food safety, terrorism

SA Scott Mahloch will present FBI’s Role in Food Defense on November 29 at the 2017 Food Safety Consortium | Learn moreIn most cases, contamination that occurs within a food facility is unintentional. However, it’s been documented that terrorists are interested in targeting the food sector, and as lone wolf attacks gain popularity, companies need to be able to identify and protect themselves against the insider threat, said Special Agent Scott Mahloch, weapons of mass destruction coordinator for the Chicago division of the FBI, at the 2016 Food Safety Consortium.

In the following video, Mahloch talks about FBI’s role in the food industry, explains how food companies can protect themselves against terrorism by identifying the insider threat, and discusses some of the FBI’s initiatives surrounding food defense. “One of the biggest concerns that we have is the disgruntled employee and the FBI really isn’t in the position to identify these people,” says Mahloch. “That’s going to be the frontline supervisors, the coworkers that can see somebody’s behavior that maybe deviates outside anything that they would recognize as being baseline behavior.”

Read the article: FBI Says Terrorists May Target Food Sector

Scott Mahloch, FBI, Food Safety Consortium

FBI Says Terrorists May Target Food Sector

By Maria Fontanazza
Scott Mahloch, FBI, Food Safety Consortium

Many people associate terrorism with spectacular attacks such as those that occurred on September 11. However, lone wolf attacks are far more likely to happen in what has unfortunately become the new normal. “The last thing on your mind is a terrorist being interested in food. It does exist, and bad guys do have an interest in this area,” said Special Agent Scott Mahloch, weapons of mass destruction coordinator for the Chicago division of the FBI during the Food Safety Consortium last week. What does this mean for the food industry?

SA Scott Mahloch will present FBI’s Role in Food Defense on November 29 at the 2017 Food Safety Consortium | Learn moreAccording to the Department of Homeland Security, with 2.2 million farms and 900,000 restaurants in the United States, the food and agricultural sector accounts for 1/5 of the national economic activity. There are several industry targets for terrorism: Food processing facilities; food storage and distribution; restaurants, grocery stores and markets; commercial facilities; and cruise lines.

While Mahloch emphasized that there is no imminent threat to the food sector, one of the biggest areas of concern for this particular industry is the insider threat. “The insider threat is that person [who] knows the facilities, processes, distribution network and can cause the greatest impact,” said Mahloch. This can be in the form of a disgruntled employee who has or can gain access to equipment or other areas of a facility that would otherwise be secure and then introduce contaminants into food products. Mahloch stressed the important role that a food company plays in monitoring employees and reporting any deviation from normal behavior. This is not an easy task—in fact, it is the most difficult threat to detect, and the most difficult threat to protect against, Mahloch pointed out.

Insider Threat: The threat posed by an individual who exploits his/her position, credentials or employment to achieve trusted access to the means, processes, equipment, material, location, facility and/or target necessary to carry out a terrorist action.

The likelihood of an employee becoming an insider threat increases with a variety of personal factors, including financial need, feelings of anger or revenge, being a sympathizer with terrorist ideology, having problems at work, compulsive and destructive behavior, ego and family issues. Food organizations also open themselves up to vulnerabilities via the following:

  • Allowing easy access to restricted or sensitive areas within a facility (i.e., not limiting personnel access to certain areas or clearly labeling access controls)
  • Failure to have physical security controls over personal items that are either brought into or taken from the workplace
  • Vague security policies/Lax security perception
  • High employee turnover
  • Lack of proper employee vetting
  • Failure to train employees in proper security protocols
  • Failure to have consequences for violating security policy


When assessing the insider threat, what should food companies look for in an effort to protect their facility and products? “You’re the first line of defense,” said Mahloch. “We get a lot of phone calls where people run things by us. If something doesn’t seem right, say something.” He provided several key behaviors that may be characterized as suspicious in some instances:

  • Someone taking a photograph or video, or notes/sketches, of food processing operations or sensitive areas
  • Someone attempting to gain information about company operations, especially related to security and personnel, in person, or by phone or email
  • Someone conducting surveillance of self services areas such as salad bars, condiment stands or open bulk containers
  • Shipping area: Unscheduled deliveries, driver who is unfamiliar with facility delivery protocols, items left on dock at unusual hours, illegally parked or unattended vehicles, or shipping documents that don’t match

Be Proactive

Companies can take several preventive steps to protect their facilities, products and personnel. Proactive measures include:

  • Monitoring products for evidence of tampering, resealing or damage
  • Securing open containers of food or ingredients in storage areas
  • Controlling access to specific areas of facility by delivery personnel, employees, vendors and contractors, and general visitors
  • Securing loading dock area, and standardize delivery and pickup protocol
  • Developing a written food defense plan
  • Training employees, contractors and vendors to recognize suspicious activity and report it accordingly

Take Action

It’s important to stay alert and be aware—employee observations are critical, said Mahloch. Once suspicious activity is observed, the facility security officer or manager should be notified, and from there a decision can be made on whether external parties need to be involved. In general, state and local partners investigate an incident before the FBI gets involved.

“When it comes to intentional contamination [or a] terrorist incident—that’s an area that we investigate and ultimately prosecute,” said Mahloch. He emphasized the FBI is not a regulatory agency, so it would not show up at a facility due to a company’s lack of compliance to FSMA, for example. The agency is interested in food defense and intentional contamination that has the purpose of causing harm.

For more information about the FBI’s role in food defense, the agency has a document on its website that summarizes food defense for the industry, including some of the above-mentioned factors to look for when trying to identifying suspicious behavior. If a company wants to report suspicious activity that is not an emergency, it can call 1-855-TELL-FBI (1-855-835-5324).