THE MAGAZINE

Federal Security Perspective: Interview with John Perren

By Matthew Harwood


What groups worry the WMD Directorate?

Without getting into real specifics, there are international terrorist groups who want to acquire a WMD capability. Unfortunately we can’t discuss which groups without compromising ongoing investigations. We know there are groups out there who are very interested in chemical and biological weapons, which is why we build up these tripwires. Domestically, there are groups that would like to acquire a WMD capability, again chemical and biological come to mind first because they are easily accessible. Remember, the United States is one of the largest chemical producing countries in the world, and many of those chemicals can have dual uses. That is why we work with our partners in private industry to develop indicators and tripwires.

How much does the lone wolf threat scare the WMD Directorate?

It’s very concerning, because it’s someone who flies underneath the radar. The lone wolf is someone that we don’t have any prior criminal history or intelligence on. That is someone who could be living in his mother’s basement, harboring this hatred via the Internet and then planning to do something. The opportunity for prevention is slim, unless our tripwires are in place and this person has to purchase precursors or gain access to something that kicks off a tripwire.

How do you push down WMD intelligence to state and local partners?

We have over 100 Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF) across the country. Most of our WMD coordinators are either on the JTTF or assigned to a “sister-squad,” colocated with the JTTFs. If there is an event, it gets reported up from the JTTFs. Now as far as dissemination of intelligence, we put it out there through the intelligence community. Since all of the state and local officers on the JTTFs have security clearances, they see the exact same intelligence that the FBI agents see. We also have an unclassified version that goes to state, local, and federal partners not assigned to the JTTFs or without clearances.

There are also over 77 fusion centers in the country, so the JTTFs, the FBI Field Intelligence Groups, and the fusion centers integrate and collaborate and make sure we drive that message down. And again, a lot of it is through the FBI’s WMD coordinators. Part of a WMD coordinator’s job is to know what law enforcement and public safety entities are in their jurisdiction and make sure they know one another. Shame on us all if we meet for the very first time during a crisis.

State and local partners aren’t overwhelmed by the WMD mission?

They know that the FBI is a partner they can count on. But they also know that it’s the local first responder or uniformed officer who is going to be the first to come across something. They know their role; they train for it. Take Washington, D.C.: they do extensive training. They train with the JTTF and the WMD coordinators, everything from perimeter security to evidence collection to hazardous materials packaging to victim decontamination and evacuation. Each agency knows what its mission is during a WMD event. They train alongside us.

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