By Jim Kouri
A report released Wednesday by the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Center gives failing or near failing grades for U.S, bio-terrorism preparedness and response, according to U.S. Rep. Peter T. King (R-NY), Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security.
“I applaud the continued dedication and vigilance of former [Democrat] Senator Bob Graham and and former [Republican] Senator Jim Talent in their oversight of our Nation’s biopreparedness. The findings they announced today are disturbing. They report that we continue to fall short on capabilities from detection to attribution to recovery,” said Chairman King.
The WMD Center is headed by former Senators Graham and Talent. Previously, the two led the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism (WMD Commission).
“The Department of Homeland Security Authorization bill (H.R. 3116) that the House Homeland Security Committee is marking up [on Wednesday] addresses several of these concerns, as does the WMD Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2011 (H.R. 2356), which I joined Rep. Pascrell (D-NJ) in introducing in June,” King noted.
“I will continue to work with the WMD Center, the Administration, and others in Congress to ensure that necessary policy initiatives to secure our homeland from bioterrorism are implemented,” said Rep. King
In June, 2010, while the Congress was still controlled by the Democrats, a report released by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of the U.S. House of Representatives, revealed that almost nine years after the 9-11 terrorist attacks Attorney General Eric Holder did not have a coordinated plan to respond to bio-terrorism or the threat and use of other weapons of mass destruction. Sadly, that situation remains, according to terrorism experts.
The use of weapons of mass destruction, whether by a hostile nation, a terrorist group, or an individual, poses a serious threat to the United States, yet the GAO report suggested that anti-WMD policy did not sit high on Holder’s “to do” list.
The news media were practically silent regarding the report, preferring to cover economic and social issues such as Obamacare and reform of financial institutions.
One of the greatest concerns of counterterrorism experts is that a WMD may fall into the hands of terrorists or that terrorists will develop their own WMD. WMDs include any device that is intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to a significant number of people through the release of toxic chemicals, disease organisms, or radioactive material.
The federal government has taken various steps to to meet that threat. Among those steps has been the issuance of national policies, such as the National Response Framework, issued in January 2008 by the Department of Homeland Security and approved by then President George W. Bush.
The National Response Framework established a comprehensive approach for a unified national response to natural and man-made disasters, including WMD incidents. The National Response Framework directs the Attorney General to appoint a Senior Federal Law Enforcement Official to coordinate and direct federal law enforcement support activities related to a critical incident.
Also, the National Response Framework includes annexes called Emergency Support Functions (ESF) that assign specific responsibilities to federal agencies in the event of a disaster. Under the National Response Framework, the Department of Justice is assigned by ESF-13 the responsibility for coordinating federal law enforcement activities in response to a critical incident, such as a WMD attack, and for ensuring public safety and security in the event an incident overwhelms state and local law enforcement.
The U.S. Congress directed the Government Accountability Office to evaluate the readiness of the Justice Department and its branches to respond to a potential WMD incident. In addition, GAO examined the readiness of the Justice Department components’ field offices in the National Capital Region (NCR) to respond in a coordinated way to a WMD incident.
The GAO reported that its analysts found that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has taken appropriate steps to prepare to respond to a potential WMD attack. The FBI has implemented a headquarters-led program that has established WMD response plans, provides WMD training to its staff and regularly conducts and participates in WMD exercises.
However, the GAO concluded that the Department of Justice as a whole and components within the Department had not implemented adequate WMD response plans. As a result, the Department is not fully prepared to provide a coordinated response to a WMD incident.
For example, the Justice Department did not assign one entity or individual with the responsibility for the central oversight or management of WMD incident response.
The Department has not updated its policies to reflect recent national policies, and the Department’s operational response policies and plans have not been fully implemented. Moreover, no components other than the FBI have specific WMD operational response plans or provide training on responding to a WMD incident.