NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 11, 2010

The Justice Department is not prepared to ensure public safety in the days or weeks after a terrorist attack in which nuclear, biological or chemical weapons are used, according to the report from the department's Inspector General.   The Department of Homeland Security is designated as first federal responder, in a way, in the event of an attack using weapons of mass destruction (WMD), but every agency in government has a formal, assigned role, and the crucial job of Justice is to manage and coordinate law enforcement and step in if state and local authorities are overwhelmed, says columnist Peggy Noonan. 

So how would Justice do, almost nine years after the attacks of 9/11?  Poorly: 

  • "The Department is not prepared to fulfill its role... to ensure public safety and security in the event of a WMD incident," says the 61-page report.
  • Justice has yet to assign an entity or individual with clear responsibility for oversight or management of WMD response; it has not catalogued its resources in terms of either personnel or equipment; it does not have written plans or checklists in case of a WMD attack.
  • A deputy assistant attorney general for policy and planning is quoted as saying "it is not clear" who in the department is responsible for handling WMD response.
  • Workers interviewed said the department's operational response program "lacks leadership and oversight."
  • An unidentified Justice Department official was quoted: "We are totally unprepared." He added. "Right now, being totally effective would never happen. Everybody would be winging it."  

The Inspector General's staff interviewed 36 senior officials involved in the department's emergency response planning and summarized the finding: "It was clear that no person or entity is managing the overall Department's response activities."  You could almost see them scratching their heads and saying, "No one's in charge here." 

There is one bright spot in the Inspector General's report: the FBI, which was highlighted for its organizational seriousness about WMD readiness, including holding regular exercises and training sessions, and having an actual response plan with clear lines of responsibility. 

Source: Peggy Noonan, "We Are Totally Unprepared," Wall Street Journal, June 11, 2010. 

For text:


Browse more articles on Government Issues