DoD, DHS Mulling 'Truly Catastrophic' Terror Scenarios

Departments developing plans on how to deal with WMD-style terror attacks

This effort is to fulfill an "execute order," approved this spring by then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, that directs the military to be prepared to respond to more than a single domestic attack involving chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapon, said McHale. The order was issued by U.S. Northern Command, which oversees domestic military operations.

"Now we are in the process of identifying units, training units, equipping units," McHale said. "The Defense Department as a matter of policy recognizes the need to be prepared to effectively respond to multiple [weapons of mass destruction] attacks. And we are organizing our force structure and training to do just that."

The order sets out -- at least temporarily -- the current requirement for sizing U.S. forces to deal with civil support missions, the assistant secretary said.

"It's the current standard we have to meet but the QDR may well alter that assessment," McHale said.

Until recently, the Joint Task Force-Civil Support was the Defense Department's primary force dedicated to planning and integrating military support to civil authorities in the event of a domestic attack. Similar capabilities that are resident in this force will be replicated and spread out across the services rather than creating a second, identical joint task force, he said.

"The reason for that is we have to look at the possibility of multiple attacks differing in nature. We may have a combination of biological and chemical attacks happening at the same time. As a result, the task force we would deploy to one site would not reflect the same skill sets that we would deploy to the other," said McHale.

The Pentagon is looking to expand its roster of dual-use units that could be drawn on to support an attack. That lineup includes the the Marine Corps Chemical-Biological Incident Response Force, known as CBIRF; the Army Technical Escort Unit; the Army Chemical Biological Rapid Response Team; the Defense Threat Reduction Agency's Consequence Management Advisory Team; the Army's 52nd Ordnance Group, the Navy's Environmental and Preventive Medicine Unit; the Naval Medical Research Center; the Navy Defense Technical Response Group; the Air Force Radiation Assessment Team; and the Air Force Technical Application Center.