FBI ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ Inflation

WMD-FBIOne 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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. grampagravy says:

    Whatever it takes to keep the masses cowering under their beds and paying through the nose in both cash and freedoms. There’s lions, and tigers, and bears out there!

  2. Daniel says:

    Unless it is a CBRN weapon (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, or Nuclear) its not a WMD. Silly FBI….

  3. Brett says:

    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.

    I suppose it is. That said, I think nuclear and biological weaponry are the only ones of the group that should count as WMDs, since both have the potential to kill millions in a single use.

    I’m skeptical of including Chemical weaponry in the category. It can kill millions if you use it widely, but it’s basically just a more effective conventional weaponry in terms of causing casualties as long as it isn’t used to the point where it has practically poisoned an area.

  4. Wayne says:

    I would go with the CBRN as WMDs. I would even be open to leaving out Chemicals although in military grade I think they are in special case.

    Like many thing I think many are changing their definition to promote their agenda. It easier to pass a law against WMD then redefine WMD to include stuff that most wouldn’t consider WMD.

    By the above definition, Saddam Hussein definitely had WMD. However the MSM\liberals will only use it when it suits their needs. I’m against using the first bullet definition since it greatly dilutes what WMD once meant.

  5. Brian Moore says:

    What? That’s insane. By that definition, every military on the planet possesses weapons of mass destruction — and has done so for hundreds of years.

    Like you say, why can’t WMD mean what it has always meant?