Friday, February 15, 2008

Senate Committee looks at DOD’s Homeland Security Role

Yesterday the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a hearing on the Defense Department’s Homeland Security Role. According to opening remarks by Sen. Lieberman, the committee chairman, this will be the first of a series of hearing about how the country will deal with the results of terrorist attacks using weapons of mass destruction (WMD).


The three generals testifying at this hearing, MG Punaro (USMCR-Ret), LTG Sherrard (AFR-Ret), and MG Stump (ANG-Ret), all served on the recent Commission on the National Guard and Reserves that just completed its final report to Congress: Transforming the National Guard and Reserves into a 21st-Century Operational Force. MG Punaro was the chairman of that commission. Their prepared testimony dealt with portions of that report that dealt with Homeland Security.


Early on in their testimony they made the same point I made in a blog earlier this month (see “Chemical Plant Incident Response”) that the military will have to be involved in the response to a large scale terrorist attack (page 6);


“A terrorist’s use of a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) in a major metropolitan area would cause a catastrophe to which only the Department of Defense could respond: no other organization has the necessary capacity, capability, command and control, communications equipment, and mass casualty response personnel and equipment.”


Chemical Facilities as WMD


While chemical weapons are clearly included in the term WMD, they are not normally thought of, in a terrorist context, as a large-scale attack. The typical military chemical weapon contains only a limited amount of a toxic agent. While they may be lethal, they affect only a relatively small area. The military delivers a large number of such weapons to have a major effect. A terrorist would only be able to employ one or two such weapons.


An attack on a chemical facility where there is a large-scale release of a toxic chemical, on the other hand, could have a large area affect normally associated with WMD. In that case, I believe we should consider a terrorist attack on a chemical facility where there is a large release of a toxic chemical as the use of a weapon of mass destruction. With that in mind the discussions in this hearing do affect chemical facility security planning considerations.


Chemical WMD Response


According to the Generals’ prepared testimony (page 14), “Congress authorized the creation of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosives consequence management (CBRNE-CM) response forces…” Currently DOD staffs the following such forces:


·        NORTHCOM’s Joint Task Force Civil Support (JTF-CS)


·        National Guard Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Teams (WMD-CSTs)


·        National Guard CBRNE Enhanced Response Force Packages (CERFPs)


·        CBRNE Consequence Management Response Forces (CCMRFs)


·        U.S. Marine Corps Chemical-Biological Incident Response Force (CBIRF)


Lack of Current Planning


While DOD does have some units designated to deal with CBRNE incidents, according to the Generals’, there has been only a limited amount of planning and coordination on how to respond to such incidents. Part of the problem is that DHS, the designated response agency for domestic terror attacks, and DOD have not done the coordination that would be required for DOD to properly support DHS operations. As a result (page 17):


Because the nation has neither adequately identified the requirements related to nor adequately resourced its forces designated for response to weapons of mass destruction, it does not have sufficient trained, ready forces available for that mission. In our report, we call this an appalling gap, though we are certainly not claiming to be the first to recognize it.”


The other main point that the Generals’ made in their testimony (page 9) was that “…the National Guard and Reserves should play the lead role within DOD in supporting the Department of Homeland Security”. This is because, in their words (page 6), it is “‘forward deployed’ in 3,000 communities across the country, is readily accessible to state authorities, routinely exercises with law enforcement and first responders, and is ‘experienced in supporting [local] communities in times of crisis.’”


Needless to say that there was a lot more information provided in the 36 pages of testimony provided by the Generals. Much of it is only of interest to military planners, but there was enough other material that would be of interest to chemical facility security planners to justify a couple of future blogs.

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