Last month Rep. Higgins (D,NY) introduced HR 3350, Know the CBRN Terrorism Threats to Transportation Act. This bill would require the production of a threat assessment of the transportation of chemical, biological, nuclear, and radiological materials through United States land borders and within the United States.
The DHS Secretary, acting through the Under Secretary of Intelligence and Analysis, would be required to make the assessment within 90 days of the enactment of this bill. It would then be required to be shared with DOT, DOE, State and local officials and distributed to the network of fusion centers.
There is no discussion of the parameters of the types of threats to be assessed and no funding is provided for conducting the assessment. Neither is there an explanation as to why such an assessment is now necessary.
Rep. Higgins is the Ranking Member on the Counterterrorism and Intelligence Subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee. Subcommittee Chair King (R,NY) and Committee Ranking Member Thompson (D,MS) are both cosponsors of this bill so there is definitely the political pull necessary to get this considered in Committee. Since there are no funding provisions and no regulatory actions required there is little in this bill that would prevent its passage in the House. If it does make it to the floor it would certainly be considered under the suspension of the rules process with minimal debate and no amendments.
I certainly think that an assessment of the potential security threats against the transportation of chemical, biological and radiological materials into and through this country would be a valuable thing. I would be very surprised and disappointed if the TSA had not already done such an assessment.
I am disappointed, however, that a bill of this sort does not lay out the reasons that such an assessment would be appropriate and what sorts of issues that Congress expects this assessment to include. Assuming that there are no current specific indicators that anyone intends to attack such shipments, the broad intent of this bill would be served by a simple statement that there are currently no credible indicators of an intent to attack such shipments. Such a report, even if puffed up with the typical bureaucratic verbiage we have come to expect from intelligence agencies, would serve little or no purpose.
What would serve a more useful purpose, both for counter-terrorism planners and legislators, would be detailed look at what materials currently in commerce could be useful as either an expedient weapon of either mass destruction or mass hysteria or could be used to develop such weapons. This would need to include a discussion of both the potential consequences of the release/detonation of both the largest commercial shipping container and the most common size shipping container of the materials and how difficult it would be to effect such an attack.
A discussion of current efforts to prevent or mitigate such an attack would also be useful for those tasked with assessing what new efforts would need to be taken to lessen the threat. Also helpful would for such an assessment to include a look at the potential types of attackers that would have special skills or incentives to attack effect such attacks.
A detailed and more useful report of this type would probably take more than 90 days to prepare, but it would serve to better inform both the emergency response/planning community as well a potentially provide law makers with the information necessary to consider potential legislative action that might be required.