Weapons of Mass Destruction
In July 2006, the FBI created the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Directorate to build a cohesive and coordinated approach to incidents involving chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBRN) material—with an overriding focus on prevention. The WMD Directorate proactively seeks out and relies on intelligence to drive preparedness, countermeasures, and investigations designed to keep WMD threats from becoming reality.
Definition of WMD
Title 18 U.S.C. §2332a defines weapons of mass destruction (WMD) as:
- Any explosive, incendiary, or poison gas, including the following: a bomb; grenade; rocket having an explosive or incendiary charge of more than four ounces; missile having an explosive or incendiary charge of more than one-quarter ounce; mine; or device similar to any of the previously described devices;
- Any weapons that is designed or intend to cause death or serious bodily injury through the release, dissemination, or impact of toxic or poisonous chemicals, or their precursors;
- Any weapon involving a disease organism; and
- Any weapon that is designed to release radiation or radioactivity at a level dangerous to human life.
Nature of the Threat
According to national policy, WMD refers to materials, weapons, or devices that are intended to cause (or are capable of causing) death or serious bodily injury to a significant number of people through release, dissemination, or impact of toxic or poisonous chemicals or precursors, a disease organism, or radiation or radioactivity, including (but not limited to) biological devices, chemical devices, improvised nuclear devices, radiological dispersion devices, and radiological exposure devices.
WMD terrorism and proliferation are evolving U.S. national security threats. The Director of National Intelligence has stated that dozens of identified domestic and international terrorists and terrorist groups have expressed their intent to obtain and use WMD—including nuclear materials. Indicators of this increasing threat include the 9/11 attacks, the Amerithrax letters, and multiple attempts by terrorists at home and abroad to use improvised explosives created from basic chemical precursors. The challenge presented by these threats is compounded by the large volume of hoax threats that distract and divert law enforcement agencies from addressing real threats.
Inside Our Operations
The WMD Directorate exists to ensure the FBI and partners are prepared to anticipate, mitigate, disrupt, or respond to WMD threats. With the continued evolution of the WMD threat and the possibility of an overseas origin or nexus, the Directorate advances WMD prevention activities by supporting international WMD capacity building, developing plans and policies at strategic and operational levels, developing partnerships, training, and conducting outreach endeavors. By improving WMD security on a global level, the Directorate protects U.S. interests abroad and keeps WMD threats outside our borders.
At the field office level—and at select legal attaché offices overseas—the WMD Directorate conducts prevention and outreach efforts through Bureau agents who serve as WMD coordinators. These coordinators regularly meet with representatives from industry and academic institutions, public health officials, local law enforcement, and first responders to raise awareness about threats to our national security. These efforts are known as setting tripwires, and the intent is to establish an early-warning network where those who are aware of an emerging situation know the potential risks and are prepared to inform the FBI when suspicions are raised.
Evolution of Our WMD Program
On September 23, 1996, Congress passed the Defense against Weapons of Mass Destruction Act, which included the FBI as one of the key federal agencies to work in partnership with other key agencies to better protect the nation from a WMD attack. This involved preparing the nation’s first responders to take action if one were to occur. Following the attacks of 9/11 and the anthrax attacks a month later, the FBI continued to evolve to meet the threat posed by WMD. The FBI determined the need for a program that not only met the current threat, but also prepared a workforce and organization to counter future threats and respond to incidents involving those threats. In 2005, then-Director Robert Mueller requested that the newly-formed National Security Branch design an organizational element to meet the WMD threat. By July 2006, the FBI had established the WMD Directorate.
The Directorate has achieved FBI National Program status, demonstrating its impact on the Bureau’s WMD program since its inception. Achieving program status gave the Directorate full oversight over initiatives and program activities—such as prevention, preparedness, countermeasures, investigations, and operational response—as well as the ability to lead field personnel.
- 04.19.2019 — Massachusetts Man Sentenced for Sending White Powder and Threatening Letters from 2015 Through 2018
- 04.12.2019 — Bombing Plotters Sentenced
- 03.21.2019 — Cesar Sayoc Pleads Guilty to 65 Felonies for Mailing 16 Improvised Explosive Devices in Connection with October 2018 Domestic Terrorist Attack
- 03.13.2019 — Federal Grand Jury Indicts Long Beach Man on Four Felony Offenses Related to Aliso Viejo Spa Bombing That Killed His Ex-Girlfriend
- 02.28.2019 — Broward County Resident Pleads Guilty to Distributing Information Pertaining to Explosives Online
- 02.25.2019 — Federal Jury Convicts Man Who Attempted to Bomb Downtown Oklahoma City Bank
- 02.15.2019 — Federal Grand Jury Indicts Corona Lawyer Found with Illegal Guns, Silencers, Hand Grenade, and Fake FBI Credential
- 02.08.2019 — Anderson Man Sentenced to Over 30 Years in Federal Prison for Using Weapons of Mass Destruction
- 11.30.2018 — Matthews, North Carolina Man Pleads Guilty to Attempted Possession of Radioactive Material in Murder-for-Hire Plot
- 11.26.2018 — Bronx Men Plead Guilty in Manhattan Federal Court to Explosives Charges
To report suspicious activity involving chemical, biological, or radiological materials, call this toll-free number: 855-TELL-FBI (855-835-5324). For more on reaching out to the FBI, including submitting an online tip, read our Contact Us page which provides detailed information, such as additional phone numbers and the addresses of our local and international offices.