Legislation that would require a threat assessment on the transportation of chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological materials through US land borders and within the United States was approved by the House.
The Know the CBRN Terrorism Threats to Transportation Act (HR 3350) would direct the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Intelligence & Analysis (I&A) to conduct a terrorism threat assessment in consultation with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) within 90 days of enactment of the bill and requires that the findings are shared with federal, state and local partners.
“Terrorists and militant groups have expressed an interest in using highly dangerous weapons, especially those utilizing chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear, known as CBRN agents or materials,” said Rep. Brian Higgins (D-NY), who introduced the legislations. “This bill gives federal agencies the information they need to make decisions and develop policies that are informed by the terrorism threat picture.”
A member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, Higgins began lobbying for a threat assessment in 2014 with a letter to the Department of Energy, and garnering approval for an amendment to the Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Intelligence and Information Sharing Act of 2015 earlier this year.
According to the House report on the bill, “Terrorist groups have long had an interest in using weapons of mass destruction, especially those utilizing CBRN agents or materials. Many officials working in homeland security and intelligence analysis agree that the threat from CBRN agents is real, although difficulty in intelligence gathering hampers efforts to get a clear picture of the current state of terrorist development and planned use of such weapons of mass destruction. The director of the Defense Intelligence Agency testified in 2012 that ‘terrorist organizations are working to acquire and employ chemical, biological, and radiological materials.’”
“Two years later, in his statement for the record before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper noted that the ‘[Intelligence Community is] focused on the threat and destabilizing effects of nuclear proliferation, proliferation of chemical and biological warfare-related materials, and development of weapons of mass destruction delivery systems,’” the House report stated.
The House report further stated that, “The Department of State Country Report on Terrorism for 2014 highlights continued concerns securing CBRN materials. Specifically, the report states, ‘CBRN materials and expertise remain a terrorist threat as demonstrated by terrorists’ stated intent to acquire and use these materials; the nature of injury and damage these weapons can inflict; the ease with which information on these topics now flows; and the dual-use nature of many relevant technologies and material.’”
“In addition to concerns that terror groups may try to create or purchase CBRN materials, there are concerns that terrorists could exploit such materials with legitimate commercial uses, including when such materials are transported from one location to another,” the House report stated.
“It is this concern that the bill seeks to address,” the House report stated.
While both the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Department of Transportation regulate transportation of this material, this bill would require DHS to review the process from a terrorist threat perspective.
DHS is currently carrying out activities similar to those required by the bill, but the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that implementing HR 3350 “would not significantly affect DHS spending.”
The legislation would require the DHS Undersecretary for I&A to coordinate with other federal agencies and components to ensure the threat assessment is robust and complete. Additionally, the bill would require I&A to share the completed assessment with appropriate federal, state and local partners, including fusion centers in the National Network of Fusion Centers and the Department of Energy.
“The committee believes that it is appropriate for the threat assessment to be conducted by I&A,” the House report said, noting that, “Section 201 of the Homeland Security Act lays out the responsibilities for the [DHS] secretary related to intelligence analysis and infrastructure protection. Such responsibilities include subparagraph (1), which directs DHS to gather all available information and intelligence to ‘identify and assess the scope of terrorist threats to the homeland; detect and identify threats of terrorism against the United States; and understand such threats in light of actual and potential vulnerabilities of the homeland.’ Subparagraph (2) further requires DHS ‘to carry out comprehensive assessments of the vulnerabilities of the key resources and critical infrastructure of the United States, including the performance of risk assessments to determine the risks posed by particular types of terrorist attacks within the United States (including an assessment of the probability of success of such attacks and the feasibility and potential efficacy of various countermeasures to such attacks).’”
The bill would further require the Under Secretary for I&A to consult with the Administrator of TSA, Commissioner of CBP and heads of other Federal agencies in the preparation of the assessment.
“The committee strongly believes that coordination and information sharing within [DHS], as well as between [DHS] and other agencies is critical for securing the homeland efficiently,” the House report said, saying, “While I&A is the lead agency in preparing the threat assessment, the committee expects the agency to coordinate with the Department of Transportation, the Department of Energy and appropriate DHS component agencies.”