April 12th, 2007 04:38 EST
It`s a serious issue: chemical, biological, and radiological/nuclear materials "what we call weapons of mass destruction or WMD "being used to attack the U.S.
The threat is real. The anthrax attacks of 2001 killed five Americans and terrorized the nation. And al Qaeda has openly pursued WMD and would likely use any weapons they build or buy against our nation.
Our top priority, as with all forms of terrorism, is prevention: making sure such WMD attacks never get off the ground. But how do we protect a country as large as ours with just 13,000 agents and many other investigative responsibilities?
One important answer, in addition to our national and international investigative and intelligence work: through outreach and education.
We obviously don`t have the resources to be everywhere, " says Special Agent Jeffrey S. Muller, chief of our WMD Countermeasures unit. With our outreach programs and the partnerships we`ve developed over the years, we don`t have to be. "
Muller`s unit "part of our new Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate "focuses on preventing agro-terrorism, bio-terrorism, chemical terrorism, and the use of nuclear and radiological weapons. Much of its work involves teaching companies and others what they need to know to help prevent WMD attacks.
That outreach takes place largely at the local level: each of our 56 field offices has a WMD coordinator who has built relationships across government and private industry. We also attend national conferences, association meetings, and trade shows for different manufacturing and trade groups to explain our role in preventing terrorist attacks and how organizations can help. And we send our agents to universities to make students and faculty aware of how they are possible targets for attack and potential recruiting and training sites for terrorists.
What specific kinds of information do we offer? One example: a vulnerability assessment for at risk businesses and organizations (such as chemical plants) to point out potential security weak spots and suspicious warning signs.
A few questions we might ask to see if you`re being targeted for attack or for the theft/purchase of raw materials that could be used for WMD:
- Are you getting phone calls asking about your use of security guards, your operating hours, and your total number of employees?
- Have you any gotten bomb threats lately (they could be security probes)?
- Is someone taking pictures of your facilities? Watching with binoculars? Taking notes?
- Are people fishing around for information about your products but can`t explain what they`re going to use them for?
- Are potential customers unaware of basic safe handling practices for dangerous materials and willing to pay cash for large orders?
- Do customers want delivery to a non-operating facility or other suspicious location?
In the business of prevention, relationships are invaluable. What I`d say to you is this: if you`re in a sensitive industry and haven`t been contacted already, please reach out to your local field office, ask for the WMD coordinator, and get a relationship in place, " says Muller. The worst time to make that first phone call is when something bad has already happened. "