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By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Military University
At the end of 2018, media attention focused on the volatile stock market, the ongoing government shutdown and President Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria. These events helped push the holidays off the front page.
However, an important homeland security change occurred on December 21. On that date, following approval by the House and Senate, the President signed into law the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Act of 2018 (H.R. 7213).
The new law strengthens the Department of Homeland Security’s ability to protect against evolving weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), including chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats to the U.S. The law is one of the additional homeland security initiatives of the past year, such as the creation of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency designed to address threats from the digital battlefield.
Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Act Aims to Strengthen DHS Efforts and Expand Defense Capabilities
The Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Act will improve the nation’s security by the adoption of three strategic goals:
- Improve the capabilities of the United States to prevent terror acts involving the use of weapons of mass destruction
- Utilize support from operational stakeholders to address and close the vulnerability gaps associated with adversary pathways
- Utilize new and innovative technologies to strengthen operations and new technologies to meet partner requirements
WMDs from Non-State Actors Are an Increasing Threat
WMDs were usually considered a threat only from other nation-states, due to the complexity to manufacture and deploy them. However, recent attention has turned to the threat of WMDs from non-state actors.
These non-state actors include individuals or small, domestic terrorist organizations with political or other goals not associated with a particular nation or international terror organization. Lone-wolf attackers can also be considered non-state actors. No matter who would use an WMD, an incident would have a devastating effect on the U.S. and the world.
As a result, the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Act strengthens DHS’s efforts by developing a more integrated approach to addressing these threats. The law brings together intelligence agencies, improves inter-agency cooperation, and even promotes international action to increase protection from WMDs.
New Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office Established
Due to the evolving nature of WMDs, it is important to take innovative strategies to mitigate and overcome these threats. The new law has helped in this regard by authorizing and establishing a Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office.
A DHS statement said the new office “consolidates key DHS functions and will lead the Department’s efforts to counter WMD threats. It will also allow for greater policy coordination and strategic planning, as well as provide greater visibility for this critically important mission.”
The United States faces increasing danger from terrorist groups and rogue nation-states that could use chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear agents to harm Americans, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen explained in the DHS statement.
“That’s why DHS is moving towards a more integrated approach, bringing together intelligence, operations, interagency engagement and international action. As terrorism evolves, we must stay ahead of the enemy and the establishment of this office is an important part of our efforts to do so,” she said.
BioWatch Program to Reduce Risk of Biological Attack in US
The DHS Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office operates a program called BioWatch, which is designed to reduce the risk of a biological attack on the United States through air monitoring, analysis, notifications and risk assessments in over 30 domestic jurisdictions.
The BioWatch program, in effect since 2003, utilizes resources and assistance from a wide range of stakeholders working together to address the threat of a bioterrorism attack. BioWatch stakeholders include:
- Public health agencies
- Emergency management
- Law enforcement
- Scientific and environmental health organizations
BioWatch focuses on new technologies to address emerging bioterrorism threats and provides real-time data to stakeholders responsible for bioterrorism protection.
Domestic Nuclear Detection Office Prepares Responses to Radiological or Nuclear Attacks
Another important component of the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office is the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO). This office is responsible for preparing responses to radiological or nuclear attacks and for the integration of federal nuclear forensics programs.
In addition to providing detection and protection in the United States, the DNDO is responsible for the development of global nuclear protection and reporting, utilizing partnerships with federal, local, international and private-sector partners.
The Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Act is the latest example of how the Department of Homeland Security continues to evolve and take a strategic approach to thwart future terrorist attacks.
The importance of the new law was underscored as early as New Year’s Eve, when an assailant stabbed three people, including a British Transport Police officer, at Victoria Station in Manchester, England. Their wounds were not life-threatening and the alleged assailant was arrested.
“The incident, classified as critical, was being investigated by counter-terrorism police officers after the perpetrator was allegedly heard shouting Islamist slogans,” the Guardian reported. Similarly, both Japan and Germany had incidents of a driver deliberately targeting a group of people.
While all of these incidents are still under investigation, they reflect the possibility and danger of domestic terrorism. As one observer of the Manchester attack told the Guardian, “It just highlights the fact that it can happen anywhere.”
About the Author
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski has been a member of the Coast Guard since 1997. His expertise includes infrastructure security, maritime security, homeland security contraband interdiction and intelligence gathering. He has received commendations from the Coast Guard. Currently, Jarrod is a supervisor in the Reserve Program and provides leadership to Reserve members who conduct homeland security, search and rescue, and law enforcement missions.
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