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Lawmakers Demand Information on Reported Administration Change in WMD Policy

August 30, 2019 by Dan McCue
21st CST's Level C Photo by Mark Olsen New Jersey National Guard

WASHINGTON – A bipartisan and bicameral coalition of lawmakers is pressing the Department of Homeland Security for answers after a Los Angeles Times report claims the White House has quietly scaled back programs intended to prevent terrorist attacks involving weapons of mass destruction.

In an article published in July, the Los Angeles Times reported the Trump administration has unwound or dramatically cutback numerous programs created in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to help detect and avoid incidents involving weapons of mass destruction.

The alleged changes implemented by the Department of Homeland Security occurred without prior review of how they would affect national security.

Relying on information from more than 30 current and former Homeland Security officials, the Times said the changes in policy and staffing have put U.S. citizens at higher risk for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attacks.

A Homeland Security spokeswoman told the newspaper the actions described were merely the restructuring of some programs “to better address threats, remove bureaucratic redundancy, and fully align with the president’s National Security Strategy.”

On Friday, U.S. Senators Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Ron Johnson, R-Wis., ranking member and chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Representatives Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Mike Rogers, R-Ala, chairman and ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, urged DHS to address concerns that abrupt changes to key counterterrorism programs could put national security at risk.

In a letter to the department, the lawmakers said the Los Angeles Times’ reporting “raises serious concerns that the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office may be struggling with its mission, which is to plan for, detect, and protect against the importation and use of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear materials in the United States and to protect against an attack using such materials.”

The Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office’s mission is to protect against the use of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons. The training, coordination, and detection programs CWMD manages are a key component of protecting homeland security.

Since 2017, there have been chemical attacks in Malaysia and Syria, a thwarted chemical attack in Australia, and extremists have threatened the use of chemical and biological weapons against the West.

The Los Angeles Times report and a recent GAO report indicate CWMD may not be fulfilling its mission to safeguard against these types of attacks due to decisions made by the Administration to curtail the office’s programs.

The text of the letter is available here. The lawmakers have requested a response by Sept. 19.

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