The Justice Department and other agencies within the nation’s top law enforcement organization have not implemented adequate plans to respond to an attack in this country involving a weapon of mass destruction, a government report said Tuesday.
While the FBI has taken “appropriate steps” to prepare for such an attack, Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said an investigation established that the department itself “is not fully prepared to provide a coordinated response to a potential WMD attack.”
“The use of a Weapon of Mass Destruction poses a potential threat to the United States,” Mr. Fine said. “It is critical that the department address the deficiencies identified in our report so that it would be better prepared to respond if such an attack occurs.”
A weapon of mass destruction is defined by a national security presidential directive as including any device intended to cause death or serious injury to a significant number of people through the release of toxic chemicals, disease organisms or radioactive material. A greatest concern is that terrorist may build or acquire a WMD.
The IG’s office, in a lengthy report, said the Justice Department has not implemented adequate WMD response plans; has not assigned one agency or person to oversee or manage WMD incident response; and has not updated its guidelines to reflect national policies on WMD responses.
The report also said the department’s operational response policies and plans have not been fully implemented, and no law enforcement component within the department other than the FBI has specific WMD operational response plans or provides training and exercises on responding to a WMD incident.
“While the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the United States Marshals Service each have groups that manage all-hazards responses, they do not include specific preparations for WMD incidents and they do not regularly participate in national, state or local exercises involving WMD incidents,” Mr. Fine said.
According to the report, the FBI has implemented WMD response plans, provided WMD training to its staff on responding to a WMD incident, and regularly conducts and participates in WMD response exercises.
In a response, the Justice Department said “preventing terrorist attacks, including WMD attacks,” was the department’s highest priority. In a letter to Mr. Fine, Associate Deputy Attorney General James A. Baker conceded that the department needed to do more “to formally and centrally coordinate” its agencies’ responses.
Mr. Baker also acknowledged that the FBI was not the only agency responsible for addressing WMD attacks, and that the entire Justice Department “must be prepared to respond effectively to a WMD attack or any other emergency event should one occur.”
In addition to examining the Justice Departments readiness at the headquarters level, the IG’s office also examined the readiness of department components field offices in the District, Virginia and Maryland to respond to a WMD incident in the Washington area.
Under the National Response Framework, issued in January 2008 by the Department of Homeland Security and approved by the president, Justice is given the task of coordinating federal law enforcement activities in response to a WMD attack and for ensuring public safety and security if the incident overwhelms state and local law enforcement.
But the IG’s report says the department is “not prepared to fulfill” that role. It said the department designated ATF as the lead agency to implement this role, but the department and ATF have not fulfilled their responsibilities.
For example, the report said the department and ATF have not assigned personnel to manage these activities, and ATF has not developed a catalog of law enforcement resources — people and equipment — available for use in a WMD incident.
In addition, the report said the ATF had only trained its personnel in field offices in states prone to hurricane activity for an activation resulting from a hurricane, but had not provided training on responding to a WMD incident.
“Our review also found that, in the National Capital Region, law enforcement agencies coordinate and plan regularly for all types of incidents [including a WMD] when they prepare for the frequent special events held here, such as presidential inaugurations and visits by heads of state,” Mr. Fine said. “However, we found that with the exception of preparing for special events, WMD incident response planning depends primarily on FBI resources and capabilities.”
According to the report, the FBIs Washington field office is the only Justice Department component field office in the National Capital Region with a written plan and checklist to respond specifically to a WMD incident.