An LA Times Investigation has found that the Trump administration has quietly dismantled post-9/11 security programs that are meant to detect and prevent attacks from weapons of mass destruction. These scale-backs were made without much review or oversight.
Over 30 former and current Homeland Security employees and contractors are now anxious that the changes are putting American lives in danger.
“What we had done in the past was analytically based: Where are the threats? Where can we get the most return on the taxpayers’ investment for security?” said Paul Ryan. Until mid-2017, Ryan helped lead Homeland Security’s Domestic Nuclear Detection Office. “We’re not as secure as we were 18 months ago,” he said.
Trump appointee James F. McDonnell has directed the cutbacks and shifts. In May 2018 Trump promoted McDonnell to assistant secretary of Homeland Security, which heads the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office.
In Trump’s National Security Strategy from 2017, he promised to “augment measures to secure, eliminate, and prevent the spread of WMD and related materials … to reduce the chance that they might fall into the hands of hostile actors.”
One cutback affected the International Cooperation Division of Homeland Security. The division worked with the UN nuclear watchdog agency to detect and prevent the smuggling of nuclear materials overseas. The division no longer operates.
Over 100 scientists and policy experts who specialize in nuclear threats have now been reassigned.
Officials say the changes have seriously subverted the U.S. government’s ability to detect nuclear weapons. The current and former Homeland Security officials say they don’t understand McDonnell’s rationale for rolling back these important programs.
On July 15, Homeland Security spokeswoman Ruth Clemens released a statement saying that the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office, headed by McDonnell, “is focused on preventing WMD terrorism by working with federal, state, and local partners across the nation.” The statement continued, “some programs were realigned or restructured to better address threats, remove bureaucratic redundancy, and fully align with [Trump’s] National Security Strategy.”
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