Jim Kouri
Holder lacks WMD response plan, but has Arizona in cross hairs
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By Jim Kouri
June 22, 2010

Is Attorney General Eric Holder more interested in bullying Arizonians over immigration enforcement than in protecting Americans from nuclear, biological or chemical weapons?

A report released by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of the U.S. House of Representatives, reveals that almost nine years after the 9-11 terrorist attacks Attorney General Eric Holder does not have a coordinated plan to respond to the threat and use of weapons of mass destruction.

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 suggests that anti-WMD policy does not sit high on Holder's "to do" list.

One of the greatest concerns 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 prepare 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.

Recently 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 reports 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 have 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.

The GAO also determined that the Department is not prepared to fulfill its role, assigned to it under the National Response Framework's ESF-13, to ensure public safety and security in the event a WMD incident overwhelms state and local law enforcement.

The Justice Department designated the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) as the lead agency to implement this requirement, but the GAO report states: "[We] found that the Department and ATF have not fulfilled the Department's role for coordinating the federal law enforcement response activities to an ESF-13 activation. For example, the Department and ATF have not made personnel assignments to manage these activities, and ATF has not developed a catalog of law enforcement resources people and equipment available to be deployed in the event of a WMD incident."

Other than the FBI, Department components' preparations for responding to a WMD incident were not well coordinated. Department personnel (other than FBI staff) receive little training in the unique requirements associated with responding to a WMD incident.

The GAO also reported finding that the Department does not have central oversight or management of WMD incident response policy development and planning for responding to a WMD incident.

"The management of the Department's response program is uncoordinated and fragmented, with some response functions being handled by a Special Assistant to the Deputy Attorney General and others by senior staff at the National Security Division (NSD), the Executive Office for United States Attorneys (EOUSA), and the FBI," states the GAO report.

© Jim Kouri

 

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Jim Kouri

Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police... (more)

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