John Perren is the assistant director of the FBI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate (WMDD). Established in 2006, the directorate is the principal organization within the FBI responsible for countering and investigating threats of terrorism or proliferation of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear materials. Security Management spoke with Perren at his office at FBI headquarters to learn more about the threat of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and how the WMDD works to ensure that terrorists don’t get their hands on WMDs.
What are the WMD director’s responsiblities?
Our mission is to lead efforts to deny state-and non-state-sponsored adversaries access to WMD materials and technologies, to detect and disrupt the use of WMDs, and to respond to WMD threats and incidents. The WMD Directorate integrates and links all the necessary counterterrorism, intelligence, counterintelligence, and scientific and technical components to accomplish the FBI’s overall WMD mission. The WMD Directorate handles—either directly or with the Laboratory Division and the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group—everything that’s related to chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) materials being used illegally.
Prevention is our number one priority. The entire mission set is not to have a WMD incident happen, so we use intelligence to set up countermeasures and tripwire initiatives. And then respond and investigate if it does happen. However, we have a saying in the WMD Directorate: “If we’re responding to it, we didn’t do our jobs.
How do you define a WMD?
In the eyes of U.S. law, WMDs are generally explosive or incendiary devices that may use toxic or poisonous chemicals or radiation harmful to humans. It could be something you can’t even see. We’re talking about microscopic things and nanotechnology, but anything that’s in the chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear arena is what we investigate.
So the FBI already worries about potential abuses of nanotechnology?
Oh yeah, and not just nanotechnology but other new areas as well, like synthetic biology. Today, we have your do-it-yourselfers who can sit there and sequence DNA. While those people are not out to harm anyone, it’s viewed as an emerging threat because technology is moving so quickly. The impact of these new technologies is not yet known. We work with the scientific communities and academia and the private sector to give them a way to report strange behavior they notice and to join in other strategic partnerships as well. We look at what the vulnerabilities are out there. The Internet has really condensed the timeframe between conceptualization and execution of an operation. What used to be physical, on-site surveillance by the bad guys is now done over the Internet.