Wednesday, November 4, 2015

HR 3875 Introduced – CBRNE Office

On Monday Rep. McCaul (R,TX) introduced HR 3875, the Department of Homeland Security CBRNE Defense Act of 2015. The bill would establish the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosives Office at the Assistant Secretary level within the Department of Homeland Security via the addition of a new Title XXII to the Homeland Security Act of 2002. The CBRNE office would “coordinate, strengthen, and provide chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosives (CBRNE) capabilities in support of homeland security” {new §2201(a)}.

The bill would move the following current DHS operations into the new CBRNE Office {new §2202}:

• The Office of Health Affairs;
• Domestic Nuclear Detection Office;
• CBRNE threat awareness and risk assessment activities of the Science and Technology Directorate;
• The CBRNE functions of the Office of Policy and the Office of Operations Coordination; and
• The Office for Bombing Prevention of the National Protection and Programs Directorate

The new Assistant Secretary would be required to conduct periodic “terrorism risk assessments of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats” {new §2205(a)}. The risk assessments would be shared in both classified form with appropriately cleared Federal, State, local, tribal, and territorial officials and in an unclassified form with “Federal, State, local, tribal, and territorial officials involved in prevention and preparedness for chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear events” {new §2205(d)(4)}.

The bill would also task the DHS Under Secretary of Intelligence and Analysis to “support homeland security-focused intelligence analysis of terrorist actors, their claims, and their plans to conduct attacks involving chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear materials or explosives against the United States” {new §2206(a)(1)}. I&A would be required to share the developed information with “share appropriate information regarding such threats to appropriate State, local, tribal, and territorial authorities” {new §2206(a)(5)}.

The bill also contains a number of obligatory reports to Congress. These include a report by the Secretary on the “the organizational structure of the management and execution of the Department of Homeland Security’s chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosives research and development activities” {§2(c)(1)}. That report would also be required to include “a proposed organizational structure for the management and execution of such chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosives research and development activities”.

Moving Forward

McCaul is, of course, the Chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, so this bill has a high chance of moving to the floor of the House. In fact, this bill will be one of the seven marked up by the full Committee this afternoon.

This is not much more than an organizational bill, so there will be little or no opposition to the bill in the House (or the Senate for that matter). I would expect to see this bill move to the floor of the House before the end of the year. It will almost certainly be considered under suspension of the rules with limited debate and no floor amendments.


This bill continues to reflect the Chairman’s long time preoccupation with biological attacks on the United States. While this is supposed to address the standard panoply of non-conventional terrorist threats subtle language usage and the near complete ignoring of chemical threats show that focus.

For instance, the language on information sharing only address communicating information to one portion of the private sector; the “other national biosecurity and biodefense stakeholders” in §2206(a)(5). There is no mention of the chemical manufacturing community, apparently because no one recognizes a threat of terrorist attack against chemical manufacturing facilities as a mode of WMD attack on the US Homeland.

This ignoring of chemical threats is further evidenced by the failure to include the Infrastructure Security Compliance Division (ISCD), which enforces the current CFATS program and is charged with developing the long awaited Ammonium Nitrate Security Program. These two programs should obviously be part of any organization in DHS responsible CBRNE capabilities in the Department.

One of the big problems that ISCD has is that it has no direct intelligence support of its operations. The security program that it operates for chemical facilities operates in an intelligence vacuum, neither able to process information on potential threats received from the regulated community or share information on potential terrorist threats developed in other agencies. Adding ISCD to an organization like the CBRNE Office could help to alleviate that problem.

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