Justice Department isn’t ready for WMD attack, report says

The Justice Department is not ready to provide a coordinated response to an attack by a weapon of mass destruction, the agency’s inspector general said in a report out Tuesday.

In the event of an attack by nuclear, biological, chemical or other mass-casualty weapons, the Justice Department is assigned the responsibility for coordinating federal law enforcement activities and for ensuring public safety and security if the incident overwhelms state and local law enforcement, the report says. The review found that “the department is not prepared to fulfill its role.”

“The use of a weapon of mass destruction poses a potential threat to the United States,” said DOJ Inspector General Glenn Fine in a statement. “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.”

This is the latest in a series of reports criticizing the government for inadequate planning for WMD attacks. In January, a bipartisan commission gave the Obama administration and Congress an “F” for its preparation for a biological attack.

In 2008, another commission concluded that “performance has fallen short in all three pillars of the National Strategy to Combat WMD: prevention; protection; and response…. In 2002, the president issued a comprehensive National Strategy to Combat WMD — supplemented subsequently by national strategies against biological and terrorist threats — but [the Defense Department] and the U.S. government as a whole have not fully implemented them.”

The report concluded that “the Department of Justice has not implemented adequate WMD response plans.”

No one at the department has responsibility for the central oversight or management of WMD incident response, and the department has not updated its policies to reflect recent national policies for responding to a WMD incident, the report says.

The FBI, a component of the Justice Department, was praised for having implemented a program that has established WMD response plans. The FBI provides training to its staff on responding to a WMD incident, and regularly conducts and participates in response exercises, the report says.

But no DOJ law enforcement component other than the FBI has specific WMD operational response plans or provides training on responding to a WMD incident, the report says.

The review also found that, in the Washington, D.C., region, only the FBI’s Washington field office had a written plan and checklist to respond specifically to a WMD incident. Other federal law enforcement agencies, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Drug Enforcement Administration, “have conducted little or no planning specifically for responding to a WMD incident and do not have defined roles in the FBI’s response plans.”

The inspector general found that “some officials in these field offices were not even aware of the department’s responsibilities” in an attack, “or that the department had designated ATF as the lead agency for coordinating federal law enforcement activities in the aftermath of a WMD incident.”

In written responses included in the report, the Justice Department agreed with the conclusions and promised action to address the shortcomings.