Wednesday, March 13, 2019

HR 1589 Introduced – CBRN Intelligence

Last week Rep. Walker (R,NC) introduced HR 1589, the CBRN Intelligence and Information Sharing Act of 2019. The bill would establish DHS responsibilities for collecting and disseminating intelligence information involving terrorist threats “involving chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear materials against the United States” {new §210H(a)(1)}. The bill is very similar to HR 677 from the last session which passed in the House without amendment.

There are a number of relatively small changes made in the current bill. The largest is the addition of the words “the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office and” in paragraph (b). This office was created since HR 677 was introduced in 2017 and it would be added to the list of offices with which the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis would coordinate in developing CBRN information.

Moving Forward

As I mentioned earlier this week, HR 1589 will be considered by the House Homeland Security Committee in a markup hearing today. It is expected to pass by a voice vote without amendment. The bill is likely to come to the House floor in the not too distant future under the suspension of the rules process where there will be limited debate and no floor amendments will be authorized. The bill would be expected to pass there with substantial bipartisan support.

As in the last two sessions of Congress it is likely that this bill will not receive consideration in the Senate.


While the word ‘chemical’ in the ‘CBRN’ of the title of this bill and in a couple of places within the language itself, there appears to be little intent to involve DHS intelligence in trying to track terrorist threats to chemical manufacturing or transportation. This bill remains at heart a bill addressing the potential threat of bioterror attacks.

While bioterrorism certainly presents a theatrical level threat, that type of attack is much harder to successfully pull off than a conventional or even a cyber attack on chemical storage or transportation systems. In my opinion paragraph (a)(5) of this bill should be modified to reflect this by making it read:

“(5) share information and provide tailored analytical support on such threats to:

(A) State, local, Tribal, and territorial authorities, and other Federal agencies;

(B) Relevant national biosecurity and biodefense stakeholders, as appropriate;

(C) Owners and operators of chemical facilities operating under the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards and the Maritime Transportation Security Act; and

(D) Freight rail owners operating under conditions specified in 49 CFR 1580 Subpart B.”

An interesting side note here; HR 677 was introduced by then Rep. McSally (R,AZ). She has since moved on to the Senate and has not yet introduced a version of this bill in the Senate. McSally was the chair of the Intelligence and Counterterrorism Subcommittee of the Homeland Security Committee when she introduced HR 677. Walker is not the Ranking Member of that Committee. This would seem to indicate that this bill is a priority for the Republican leadership of the Homeland Security Committee.

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