DHS Launches New Office to Combat Threat of Terrorists Acquiring WMDs

'As terrorism evolves, we must stay ahead of the enemy'

Kirstjen Nielsen
Kirstjen Nielsen / Getty Images
December 7, 2017

The Department of Homeland Security on Thursday launched an office dedicated to confronting the threat of terrorist groups acquiring weapons of mass destruction to use against the United States.

The new Office of Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction will streamline current DHS efforts to combat the "rising danger from terrorist groups and rogue nation states who could use chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear agents to harm Americans," Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement.

"DHS is moving towards a more integrated approach, bringing together intelligence, operations, interagency engagement, and international action," Neilsen said. "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."

The office, led by Acting Assistant Secretary James McDonnell, will pull funding from the Domestic Nuclear Office and the Office of Health Affairs, which will work jointly on initiatives to combat the proliferation of WMDs, a senior DHS official told the Washington Free Beacon.

The official said the office will serve as a support operation for interagency partners, including the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to help prevent the movement of WMDs into the United States through early detection and rapid response efforts.

"We're very much behind the scenes supporting the frontline operators," the official said.

The office is currently examining efforts to deploy sensor technology beyond ports of entry and into known trafficking pathways in the Caribbean and southern border so DHS can intercept dangerous agents before they enter the United States, according to the official.

McDonnell has already brought on two people to assist in this mission, one of whom will work under a Coast Guard admiral on Caribbean smuggling operations and the other who will operate on the southern border under a senior border control executive.

"We have a lot of opportunity to leverage the activities of the special operations community and, in particular, to leverage big spending in the Pentagon to tailor to us technologies that we can deploy to help first responders in the United States," the official said.

The intelligence community has long warned of the ambitions of terrorist groups such as the Islamic State and al Qaeda to find the materials needed to carryout an attack using WMDs. Though the success so far has been limited, ISIS has used chemical weapons in attacks in Iraq and Syria.