Review of the Department's Preparation to Respond to a WMD Incident
U.S. Department of Justice
Office of the Inspector General
Evaluation and Inspections Division
The use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), whether by a hostile nation, a terrorist group, or an individual, poses a potentially serious threat to the United States. 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.1
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 the President. 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. Further, 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 (Department or DOJ) 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.
This review evaluated the readiness of the Department and its components to respond to a potential WMD incident. In addition, we examined the readiness of Department components’ field offices in the National Capital Region (NCR) to respond in a coordinated way to a WMD incident.2
RESULTS IN BRIEF
Our review found that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) 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, we 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 Department does 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.
We 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 Department designated the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) as the lead agency to implement this requirement, but 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.3 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.
In the National Capital Region (NCR), we found that law enforcement agencies coordinate regularly because of the preparations and cooperation required for the frequent special events held there. However, improvements are needed to ensure Department components’ field offices are prepared to quickly and safely respond to a WMD incident. For example, the FBI’s Washington Field Office is the only Department component field office in the NCR with a written plan and checklist to respond specifically to a WMD incident in the NCR. Moreover, most component field offices in the NCR have conducted little or no planning specifically for responding to a WMD incident and have no defined role in the FBI’s WMD response plans. We also determined that some component officials in the NCR field offices are not aware of ESF-13 or that the Department designated ATF as the lead agency in carrying out the Department’s responsibility to ensure public safety and security if ESF-13 is activated in the aftermath of a WMD incident.
In the sections below, we discuss in more detail the status of the Department’s and its components’ preparations for responding to a WMD incident, as well as the preparations of Department component field offices in the NCR.
The FBI has taken appropriate steps to prepare to respond to a WMD incident.
We concluded that the FBI has taken appropriate steps to prepare to respond to a WMD attack. Part of the FBI’s primary mission is to prevent WMD incidents and investigate WMD threats. The FBI also has a WMD response program managed by the FBI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate (WMD Directorate). The WMD Directorate’s mission includes managing WMD investigations, assessing and responding to incidents involving the use or threatened use of WMD, and conducting exercises to test the FBI’s ability to respond to a WMD incident.
The FBI has developed various plans, handbooks, and other resources to guide its staff in responding to a WMD incident. Further, the FBI regularly provides its staff with training specific to WMD incidents. The FBI provides WMD training for all new Special Agents during their initial FBI Academy training, and FBI WMD Coordinators and Intelligence Analysts are trained in specific WMD areas of emphasis. The FBI also provides training to a designated cadre of its Special Agents in Charge to serve as Senior Federal Law Enforcement Officials.4
The FBI also regularly conducts and participates in WMD response exercises. The FBI’s data showed that from fiscal year (FY) 2005 to FY 2009, its field offices participated in at least 936 WMD exercises.5 However, we found that the preparation of after action reports to document deficiencies identified during WMD response exercises is inconsistent, which hinders the FBI’s ability to identify and address those deficiencies.
The Department is not fully prepared to provide a coordinated response to a WMD incident.
In contrast to the FBI, we found that the Department as a whole does not have policies or plans for responding to a WMD incident. Further, 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. We also found 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.
The Department has previously identified the need for coordinated emergency management at the Department level. In January 2006, the Assistant Attorney General for Administration circulated a proposed DOJ Order that assigns responsibilities for emergency response to a Crisis Management Committee. However, the proposed Order has not been made final.6
During our review, the Department began to take additional action in this area. In August 2009, the Deputy Attorney General directed the NSD, Office of Legal Policy, EOUSA, and the Justice Management Division to each designate a senior-level position to coordinate interagency response and emergency management activities. However, we believe this latest approach risks perpetuating a fragmented program because these individuals report to their component senior management. We believe the Department needs to assign a senior official to be responsible for coordinating across all Department components the preparations and training to respond to a WMD incident.
We also found that the existing Department-level response policies and plans are not in compliance with national policy and are outdated. The Department’s policies and plans do not incorporate principles and requirements of the National Response Framework or the National Incident Management System, which establishes a standardized approach for planning for and responding to all domestic incidents, including WMD incidents. The Department’s Critical Incident Response Plan, which has not been updated since it was approved by the Attorney General in May 1996, does not address WMD incidents.
Additionally, the Department’s policies and plans have not been fully implemented. For example, while current Department policies establish a Crisis Management Committee to determine the Department’s on-scene response to an incident and an Attorney Critical Incident Response Group to coordinate legal support during an incident, neither of these entities exists.
Finally, we found that no Department law enforcement component, other than the FBI, has specific WMD operational response plans. ATF, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the United States Marshals Service (USMS) each have groups that manage all-hazards responses, but these groups do not include specific preparations for WMD incidents. Further, although senior officials from all components told us they would support an FBI response, ATF, the DEA, and the USMS do not maintain operational response plans to respond to WMD incidents.7 Also, except for the FBI, the components have provided little to no training for responding to a WMD incident and have rarely participated in WMD exercises. The other components do not regularly participate in National Level Exercises involving a WMD incident response or in WMD exercises at the regional, state, and local levels.
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 of a WMD incident.
The National Response Framework established the Department as the lead agency under ESF-13 to coordinate the use of federal law enforcement resources to maintain public safety and security if local and state resources are overwhelmed during an incident. However, our review indicates that in the event of a WMD incident, the Department is not prepared to coordinate federal law enforcement activities to ensure public safety and security in accordance with ESF-13.8
In January 2008, the Department’s lead component for ESF-13, ATF, proposed a Concept of Operations Plan to provide a structure for the Department to implement its ESF-13 responsibilities. As of March 2010, that Concept of Operations Plan was still in draft, and several actions essential to the Department’s ability to fulfill its responsibilities for coordinating the federal law enforcement activities in an ESF-13 activation remained incomplete. The incomplete elements include staffing national and regional coordinator positions; training staff in ESF-13 operations; cataloging law enforcement resources available in the event of an ESF-13 activation; participating in National Level Exercises to test preparedness; and deputation of law enforcement personnel.
We found the Department and ATF have not made all the necessary personnel assignments to manage ESF-13 activities. At ATF headquarters, the ESF-13 National Coordinator has been assigned, but a Deputy National ESF-13 Coordinator has not been designated, and as of April 2010, ATF has not filled 6 of the 13 other positions it has dedicated to ESF-13.
In addition, ATF has provided minimal training in implementation of ESF-13 responsibilities to ATF field office personnel, support agency personnel, and state and local emergency operations officials. According to ESF-13 staff, ATF has trained only its personnel in field offices that are in states prone to hurricane activity for an ESF-13 activation resulting from a hurricane.
ATF has also not developed a catalog of law enforcement resources available to be deployed from all ESF-13 agencies or Department components in an ESF-13 activation because other agencies have not responded fully to ATF’s requests for information. Further, ATF has not tested its preparedness to carry out its ESF-13 responsibilities in National Level Exercises or any other functional exercise involving a WMD incident. Finally, ATF is still in the process of determining how ESF-13 law enforcement personnel will be deputized as Deputy U.S. Marshals if ESF-13 is activated.
In the National Capital Region, with the exception of preparing for special events, WMD incident response planning depends primarily on FBI resources and capabilities.
In the NCR, Department components regularly work with each other, with other federal agencies, and with state and local law enforcement to prepare to respond to critical incidents that may occur during the frequent special events that occur in the NCR, such as presidential inaugurations and visits by heads of state. As a result of the frequent cooperation and coordination for special events, NCR field office staff told us they are aware of other agencies’ roles and the resources that are available from them if a WMD incident should occur during a special event.
However, outside of special events, among Department components in the NCR only the FBI has conducted WMD-specific planning or training. The FBI’s Washington Field Office is the only Department component in the NCR with plans specifically for responding to a WMD incident, and it is the only NCR field office that provides WMD training to its response personnel and regularly participates in WMD exercises. The FBI’s plan identifies how the FBI will work with federal agencies outside the Department, state and local law enforcement, and emergency response agencies, but it does not include any stated role for the NCR field offices of the Department’s other components.
When we asked if they were familiar with the FBI’s WMD response plan, officials from ATF, the DEA, and the USMS said they were not familiar with the plan and had not asked to see it. Additionally, FBI exercise data, from FY 2005 through FY 2009, shows that the FBI Washington Field Office participated in 29 WMD exercises with state and local law enforcement, as well as other federal agencies. However, the other Department of Justice components did not participate in these or other WMD response exercises.
We also found that some component officials in NCR field offices were not aware of ESF-13 or ATF’s role as the Department’s lead coordinator if ESF-13 is activated. We asked 12 NCR field office managers about ESF-13 requirements and assignments, but only 6 knew about ESF-13 and only 3 were aware of ATF’s designation as the Department’s lead coordinator. This lack of familiarity could delay a coordinated federal law enforcement response in the event a WMD incident or other disaster results in the activation of ESF-13.
Our review concluded that only the FBI has taken adequate steps to prepare to respond to a potential WMD attack. The FBI has headquarters and field office operations plans, handbooks, and other resources for responding to WMD incidents. The FBI regularly provides WMD-specific training to its personnel who are likely to respond to a WMD incident. The FBI regularly conducts or participates in WMD response exercises, having taken part in over 900 exercises from FY 2005 through FY 2009. The FBI field offices track their participation in exercises, although after action reports based on the exercises are not consistently prepared.
However, neither the Department nor the components within the Department have implemented adequate WMD response plans. The Department has not designated an entity or individual to provide central oversight of WMD-related activities, and responsibility for management of the Department’s response program is uncoordinated and fragmented. The Department has not updated its policies to reflect recent national policies, existing policies have not been fully implemented, and we found no Department policies or plans for responding to a WMD incident.
Aside from the FBI, the Department’s other law enforcement components’ preparations for responding to a WMD incident are also lacking. Officials in ATF, the DEA, and the USMS indicated that they would support the FBI’s response to a WMD incident. However, none of these components has specific WMD operational response plans, provides training for responding to a WMD incident, or regularly participates in WMD response exercises.
In addition, the Department has not adequately prepared to coordinate federal law enforcement activities if it is called upon to ensure public safety and security in accordance with ESF-13 in the event of a WMD incident. ATF has not assigned adequate staff to ensure all ESF-13 planning and coordination activities required by the National Response Framework are carried out. ATF has not provided adequate training in ESF13
responsibilities to its own staff or personnel from other ESF-13 agencies. Additionally, ATF lacks comprehensive information on law enforcement resources that could be deployed during a WMD incident.
In the National Capital Region, coordination is aided by regular preparations and cooperation required for frequent special events in the region. However, other than the FBI, component field offices in the NCR have no WMD-specific response plans or training and have not participated in WMD-specific exercises. Moreover, we found a lack of awareness regarding the Department’s ESF-13 responsibilities and ATF’s authority to serve as the lead coordinator for those activities, which could delay coordinating federal law enforcement support to state and local law enforcement in the event of a WMD incident in the NCR.
In this report, we make five recommendations to help the Department better prepare to respond to a WMD incident and to fulfill its responsibilities under ESF-13. We recommend that the Department:
1. Designate a person or office at the Department level with the authority to manage the Department’s WMD operational response program.
2. Update the Department’s response policies and plan to conform them to the National Response Framework and the National Incident Management System.
3. Require Department components to update their own policies and plans to reflect the updated Department guidance, and to reflect the need for adequate coordination among Department components in responding to WMD incident.
4. Establish effective oversight to ensure that components maintain WMD response plans, participate in training and exercises, and implement a corrective action program in response to such exercises.
5. Ensure that the Department is prepared to fulfill its emergency support function responsibilities under the National Response Framework, including reviewing the designation of ATF as the Department’s lead agency to coordinate public safety and security activities, approving a Concept of Operations Plan, and staffing national and regional coordinator positions.
1 Annex 5 to National Security Presidential Directive-17/Homeland Security Presidential Directive-4, Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction, February 26, 2008.
2 The National Capital Region is composed of the District of Columbia and nearby jurisdictions in Virginia and Maryland.
3 ESF-13 activities include: (1) providing basic law enforcement assistance such as conducting routine patrols and making arrests; (2) issuing identification badges to emergency responders and other personnel needing access to a controlled area and verifying emergency responder credentials; (3) providing security forces to control access to the incident site and critical facilities; (4) providing officers for traffic and crowd control; and (5) providing for protection of emergency responders and other workers operating in a high threat environment.
4 The National Response Framework authorizes the Attorney General to appoint a Senior Federal Law Enforcement Official, in appropriate circumstances such as a WMD incident, to provide operational coordination and direct the federal law enforcement support operations related to the incident.
5 The data provided by the FBI included 45 of its 56 field offices.
6 As of May 2010, the Department components had commented on the proposed Order and the Order was awaiting review by the Justice Management Division’s Office of General Counsel.
7 EOUSA (and the United States Attorneys’ Offices) and the NSD have developed plans or guides for a legal response to a WMD incident.
8 The National Response Framework outlines 10 specific responsibilities for the Department to coordinate. See Appendix III for the Department’s ESF-13 responsibilities.
Access Full Report [PDF 2.7MB]
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|