On May 18, a carrier ship bound for the Port of New Orleans left a Caribbean nation weighted with 12,000 tons of ammonium nitrate. Intelligence later revealed that two of the ship’s crew members were on terrorist watch lists. Meanwhile, a few miles outside New Orleans, police received a report of someone suspiciously circling a chemical plant in a car while taking pictures.
What may have appeared at first to be isolated incidents were actually parts of an elaborate drill held during a three-day workshop to test how well local, state, federal, and even international emergency responders would coordinate and communicate in the fog of an unfolding terror plot.
The workshop is a prime illustration of our Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate’s mission, which is to prevent a weapon of mass destruction (WMD)—chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or explosive—while at the same time preparing to respond to one.
“You play how you practice,” said Stephanie Viegas, a special agent and WMD coordinator in our Miami Field Office, who attended the workshop. “The time to get to know each other is not when something’s happening. It’s having meetings together, going over each other’s operational plans, getting together, and training together so we have the opportunity to recognize and address any gaps.”
“What keeps me up at night is not what I know—it’s what I don’t know,” said Assistant Director John Perren of the WMD Directorate. “And that’s why we do these things; to establish trip wires to find out what we don’t know.”