view counter

WMDFBI’s WMD Directorate marks its first decade

Published 8 September 2016

If you can imagine a disaster involving explosives or the release of nuclear, biological, chemical, or radioactive material, there is a pretty good chance a group of subject-matter experts within the FBI has built an elaborate scenario around it and tested how well emergency responders face up to it. It is the main jobs of the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Directorate — to imagine worst-case scenarios and then devise ways to prevent and prepare for them. The Directorate was created ten years ago, on 26 July 2006.

If you can imagine a disaster involving explosives or the release of nuclear, biological, chemical, or radioactive material, there is a pretty good chance a group of subject-matter experts within the FBI has built an elaborate scenario around it and tested how well emergency responders face up to it.

The FBI says that it is one of the main jobs of the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Directorate — to imagine worst-case scenarios and then devise ways to prevent and prepare for them. The Directorate was created ten years ago, on 26 July 2006. John Perren, who has served as the WMD Directorate’s assistant director since 2012 and was instrumental in its creation, said his team’s job is to find gaps and vulnerabilities in the system and work to fix them.

“Countermeasures is the capital P-for-Prevention in the WMD Directorate,” said Perren, who retires this month after nearly thirty years as an FBI agent. “That’s where we sit down with academia, we sit down with the private sector, we sit down with the scientific community, and we describe to them what we view as the threat. Then together we decide: What are the gaps, what are the vulnerabilities, and how do we mitigate them?”

Given the nature of his job, Perren is often asked what his biggest worries are. “What keeps me up at night is not what I know. It’s what I don’t know,” he has said in speeches, in testimony, and in briefings to members of Congress.

The FBI notes that the agency has long had a role in preventing and investigating weapons of mass destruction. In 2005, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller recognized the need to elevate WMD matters with a focus on a more cohesive and coordinated approach. The WMD Directorate was officially established a year later. And Mueller tapped Dr. Vajid Majidi, the Department of Justice’s chief science advisor, to serve as assistant director.

“The Directorate integrates and links all the necessary intelligence, scientific, and operational components to detect and disrupt the acquisition of WMD capabilities and technologies for use against the U.S. homeland by terrorists and other adversaries,” Mueller said in testimony before Congress just six months after the WMD Directorate’s formation.

The Directorate has three sections: countermeasures, investigations and operations, and intelligence. In its first five years, the Directorate established itself as a central hub for WMD subject-matter expertise. Over the past five years, Perren said, it has assumed a more operational posture, investigating hundreds of cases, providing scenario training for emergency responders, and establishing contacts and relationships in the communities where the FBI operates.

“We are intelligence driven,” Perren said of today’s WMD Directorate. “We have analysts embedded within different cells, but we also have tactical analysts with our operators in our investigations unit. We’ve done great things when it comes to investigations. We’ve been very proactive. We have undercover platforms. We have intelligence platforms. We work on the Dark Web. We work in all areas of the world.”