Weapons of Mass Destruction

The FBI is the lead federal agency for responding to threats from weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

WMD Directorate 

Established in 2006, the WMD Directorate (WMDD) is part of the FBI’s National Security Branch and is the FBI’s lead for coordinating the integration of policy, investigations, intelligence, and countermeasures related to WMD.

Mission: Lead the FBI's effort to prevent, mitigate, and respond to WMD threats and incidents.

Vision: Protect U.S. interests from WMD threats.

Execution: WMDD is the FBI's lead for coordinating the integration of FBI policy, investigations, intelligence, and preventive countermeasures related to WMD. 

What Are Weapons of Mass Destruction? 

A WMD is defined by U.S. law (18 U.S.C. § 2332a) as any of the following:

  • A destructive device, such as an explosive or incendiary bomb, rocket, or grenade;
  • A weapon that is designed to cause death or serious injury through toxic or poisonous chemicals;
  • A weapon that contains a biological agent or toxin; or
  • A weapon that is designed to release dangerous levels of radiation or radioactivity.

WMD often refers to all chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or explosive (CBRNE) weapon modalities. These weapons can have a large-scale impact on people, property, or infrastructure.

How It All Began 

In 1995, the FBI established a WMD program within its National Security Division (later renamed the Counterintelligence Division). In 1999, this program was transferred to the newly created Counterterrorism Division. Ten years later, FBI Director Robert Mueller requested the newly formed National Security Branch design an operational element to meet the WMD threat. On July 26, 2006, the FBI established the WMDD. Today, WMDD is comprised of three sections: Countermeasures and Mitigations Section, Investigations and Operations Section, and Intelligence and Analysis Section.

Why WMDD Exists 

The FBI determined the threat presented by WMD was sufficient to require specialized attention. The WMDD was established to create a unique combination of law enforcement authorities, intelligence analysis capabilities, and technical subject matter expertise that exists nowhere else in the U.S. Government.

Creation of the WMDD enabled the FBI to bring its WMD prevention, mitigation, and response capabilities into a single, focused organization. Preventing, mitigating, and responding to WMD threats and incidents is challenging because WMD threats and incidents are unique in character, response requirements, and potential consequences. While extensive expertise is required to support the FBI’s mission, it is also critical to develop an organizational structure which ensures an effective national approach to preventing, mitigating, and responding to WMD threats and incidents.

Additionally, the WMDD components routinely reach out to key areas of the private sector, such as the chemical and agricultural industries, to increase awareness and sensitivities to potential threats and to facilitate reporting of information with potential intelligence value. This includes establishing a two-way dialogue as well as methods to report suspicious activity. The WMDD has established two WMD-specific InfraGuard portals to provide unclassified information and intelligence products to vetted academia and industry members.

Key Programs 

The WMDD coordinates the FBI’s WMD program through a multifaceted approach that addresses all areas of the WMD incident spectrum from prevention through response. The FBI’s approach to the WMD threat, to best address the many requirements of the mission, includes four perspectives:

Preparedness: This perspective incorporates planning, training, and exercises to ensure the FBI and its USG partners are ready to respond to WMD threats and incidents. This involves the development of comprehensive plans and policy at the strategic and tactical levels that inform everyone involved in a situation of their specific roles and responsibilities.

Countermeasures: Countermeasures are actions taken to prevent or mitigate the WMD threat. This perspective includes outreach activities and more specialized countermeasures called tripwires. Tripwires are proactive warning processes established to provide indicators of an emerging threat. In practical terms, they are outreach activities to establish an early warning network where those closest to an emerging situation are aware of potential risks and prepared to inform the FBI before it develops into a WMD threat or incident.

Investigations and Operations: For the WMD environment, the FBI investigates the threatened, attempted, or actual use of a WMD, as well as the attempted or actual transfer of materials, knowledge, and technology needed to create a WMD. The FBI maintains a robust response capability that can collect evidence in contaminated areas, render safe hazardous devices, and provide direct command and control support in on-scene situations.

Intelligence: Timely and relevant intelligence is the basis of the FBI’s proactive approach to countermeasures, investigations, and operations. As a member of the US Intelligence Community, the FBI contributes to and consumes intelligence through analytic products to establish a clear picture of emerging and imminent threats at strategic and tactical levels. FBI Intelligence Analysts sort through reams of data to identify the most important information and produce valuable intelligence products. The FBI relies heavily on its Special Agents to identify intelligence sources for valuable information that could help prevent a WMD incident. The FBI also provides its partners in the Intelligence Community with finished intelligence products that improve awareness of the WMD threat globally.

WMDD Cases 

FBI WMD investigations are classified by their CBRNE modality. The basis of each investigation is anchored by an appropriate WMD-related statute targeting the use, attempted use, or threatened use of a WMD. Assembled within WMDD is a robust scientific and investigative capability designed to support and coordinate a wide range of WMD investigations.

WMD investigations are as varied as they are complex and range from the mailing of threatening communications containing potentially harmful substances to the attempted fabrication of a WMD. In addition to WMD investigations, the WMDD frequently supports other investigative programs within the FBI and U.S. government needing advanced WMD-related expertise.

Graphic of CBRNE modalities

Security Awareness Videos

This video offers a realistic scenario that emphasizes the importance of maintaining awareness in retail stores and reporting suspicious activity to the appropriate authorities. It is designed to be viewed by salespersons, cashiers, customer service representatives, and any employee who interacts with customers. Store managers, security personnel, and loss prevention officers will also benefit from viewing the video.
This video offers a realistic scenario that emphasizes the importance of maintaining awareness in the academic laboratory environment and reporting suspicious activity to the appropriate authorities. It is designed to be viewed by faculty, students, and staff who work in and around laboratories, chemicals, and equipment. Industrial laboratory employees will also benefit from viewing the video.
Video illustrates why willingness and ability of radiation safety officers and security officers to report suspicious behavior is critical to protecting the country against radiological threats.

Contact Us 

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.