FBI ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ Inflation
One of the post-9/11 developments of particular annoyance to security scholars is the inflation of the term “Weapons of Mass Destruction” to encompass small-scale explosives. Historically, it was reserved for nuclear, chemical, biological, and radiological devices. The FBI is an especially egregious violator, doing it again and again, most recently in touting the thwarting of an al Qaeda plot to deploy pipe bombs in the New York subway system.
Armchair Genereralist‘s Jason Sigger is “determined to embarrass them repeatedly until they stop.”
Unfortunately, the FBI has managed to enshrine this abuse of the language into official policy:
What is a Weapon of Mass Destruction?
- Any explosive or incendiary device, as defined in Title 18 USC, Section 921: bomb, grenade, rocket, missile, mine, or other device with a charge of more than four ounces;
- Any weapon designed or intended to cause death or serious bodily injury through the release, dissemination, or impact of toxic or poisonous chemicals or their precursors;
- Any weapon involving a disease organism; or
- Any weapon designed to release radiation or radioactivity at a level dangerous to human life.
The first bullet changes the definition beyond recognition but has the bureaucratic advantage of making it much easier to point to success in thwarting the spread of WMD. (Or, actually, the opposite but police forces care about arrests and successful prosecution, not the actual incidence of crime.)
Amusingly, a not-insignificant number of security scholars object calling anything but nuclear weapons WMD, arguing that the others tend to produce very contained casualties. But arguing against using a term to mean what it has always meant is beyond pointless.