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  4. Fact Sheet: Biden Administration’s National Security Memorandum to Counter Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism and Advance Nuclear and Radioactive Material Security

Fact Sheet: Biden Administration’s National Security Memorandum to Counter Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism and Advance Nuclear and Radioactive Material Security

Release Date: March 3, 2023

President Biden signed National Security Memorandum (NSM) 19 to Counter Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Terrorism and Advance Nuclear and Radioactive Material Security worldwide.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plays a key role in securing the nation from WMD terrorism through efforts to enhance and implement capabilities to prevent, mitigate, and respond to WMD threats, conduct risk analyses, and collect and analyze threat data.   

Implementing and Enhancing Capabilities

DHS implements the NSM’s objectives, which address all stages of WMD terrorism from terrorist acquisition of WMD materials through use in an attack. DHS capabilities help ensure the nation is postured to prevent, mitigate, and respond to the full spectrum of WMD threats, whether chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear. For example:

  • The Secretary of Homeland Security, in coordination with the Attorney General, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, and the Secretary of Energy, develops an enhanced Global Nuclear Detection Architecture (GNDA) to detect and report on radioactive and nuclear materials out of regulatory control. CWMD is the federal lead for implementing the domestic portion of the GNDA, a key mechanism for preventing nuclear terrorism from occurring within the United States.
  • The Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office (CWMD) coordinates the Department’s efforts to detect and protect against WMD threats and incidents, including developing, acquiring, and providing equipment and training to federal, state, and local partners through programs like Securing the Cities and BioWatch. Further, CWMD deploys mobile detection equipment in transportation pathways and at high-attendance public events.
  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and Federal Protective Service (FPS) conduct monitoring, screening, and interdiction activities to identify threats at and between U.S. ports of entry, in the maritime domain, and in transportation networks.

Assessing Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Risks

The NSM improves national WMD terrorism risk assessment efforts. CWMD has the responsibility for producing and distributing WMD risk assessments across the U.S. Government and does so in partnership with the DHS Science and Technology Directorate. These risk assessments provide the U.S. Government the ability to understand, anticipate, and mitigate current and future national-level risks related to nuclear and radioactive materials and other potential WMD. As DHS strengthens the applicability and accuracy of its risk assessments, it is expanding these assessments to incorporate risks associated with emerging technologies that could be used by terrorists to develop, acquire, or employ WMD in attacks. These data-driven assessments help decision-makers at all levels of government understand the current and future risk landscape and most effectively plan for and prioritize resource investments.

Threat Reduction

The NSM seeks to manage the security risks posed by radioactive and other materials and nuclear technology by encouraging feasible alternatives, where possible, and by encouraging best practices for nuclear management.

  • The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) works with private sector partners to reduce the threat of radiological terrorism by encouraging the voluntary replacement of radioisotope-based devices with non-radioisotopic alternative devices where economically and technically feasible.
  • CISA  manages the risk-based regulatory Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) intended to secure the nation's high-risk chemical facilities holding toxic, flammable, explosive, and reactive chemicals against terrorist attack, release, theft, or diversion.
  • CISA, alongside the associated Sector Risk Management Agencies, like TSA, works with private sector partners to continually advance physical and cybersecurity requirements for industry, including chemical facilities and nuclear power plants, to stay ahead of increasingly sophisticated cyber threats.

Coordinated Response

The NSM seeks to ensure a managed, coordinated response to any WMD threat or incident. By enhancing the nuclear and radiological material detection efforts across federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial governments, as well as with academia and private sector partners, CWMD advances this goal by enabling rapid response to any threat. Simultaneously, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is enhancing national preparedness by leading national and regional exercises related to WMD terrorism, resilience, and recovery. FEMA is also updating the Federal Interagency Operational Plans, including annexes on radiological/nuclear incidents, biological incidents, and chemical incidents. These plans result in a better coordinated response posture by the U.S. Government.

Last Updated: 03/03/2023
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