WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, convened a hearing with senior government officials on the risks posed by chemical, biological, nuclear, and radiological weapons, as well as on how the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction office is working to address these threats. The hearing also covered the creation of the Office of Health Security at DHS – which will work to ensure that the Department can address public health and medical related security threats. During the hearing, lawmakers examined how they can work to support ongoing efforts by Office of Health Security and the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction office, including by swiftly passing Peters’ bipartisan legislation that will help develop a comprehensive strategy to counter chemical, biological, nuclear, and radiological and public health threats.
“Chemical, biological, nuclear, and radiological materials, sometimes shortened to CBRN, is an umbrella term to describe hazardous agents that can be weaponized, and can cause everything from mass casualties and incapacitation, to agricultural destruction,” said Peters during his opening statement. “As technology has advanced, the threats posed by these weapons only continue to grow and give malicious actors more opportunities to cause significant harm.”
“Last month, Ranking Member Portman and I introduced bipartisan legislation to significantly enhance the federal government’s ability to detect, recognize, and evaluate chemical, biological, radioactive, and nuclear threats,” continued Peters. “All of these changes will ensure our nation can develop a comprehensive national strategy to protect all of our communities from these dangerous materials, and public health threats that can have catastrophic effects.”
To watch video of Senator Peters’ questions, click here.
Chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons have the potential to cause serious disruptions to our economic and national security. In particular, biological agents, including anthrax and ricin weapons have been used in attempts to attack Americans, including elected officials. Recent security threats have raised concerns that nuclear and radioactive materials could be stolen and used in a domestic attack. For example, in April 2019, a technician was arrested after stealing three radioactive devices from his workplace in Arizona. According to a court filing, the technician intended to release the radioactive materials at a shopping mall, but local police and the FBI arrested him before he could do so.
During the hearing, Peters asked the witnesses to further describe the danger posed by chemical, biological, nuclear, and radiological weapons and discuss the importance of the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction office in countering these threats. The hearing also examined how to address ongoing issues at this office – including improving workplace morale and stakeholder engagement. Peters also discussed how Office of Health Security can better prioritize the Department’s efforts around health threats and workplace safety. Finally, the witnesses highlighted the importance of Peters’ legislation that would make permanent the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction office and Office of Health Security within DHS, clarifies roles and responsibilities for both offices, and adds important accountability and oversight measures. The bill would significantly enhance the federal government’s ability to detect, recognize, and evaluate threats from weapons of mass destruction, which include chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons.
Peters also convened a hearing earlier this year with health care and national security experts to examine the United States’ readiness to respond to biosecurity threats, such as bacteria, viruses, or toxins that can be used as weapons against humans, plants, or animals.