July 26, 2006

FBI creates unit on weapons of mass destruction

By James Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The FBI has created a unit to study
threats from weapons of mass destruction, its director Robert
Mueller said on Wednesday, in a sign of lingering U.S fears of
a chemical, biological or nuclear attack.

Mueller said the creation of the unit was part of efforts
to transform the agency that was widely criticized for failing
to prevent the September 11 attacks.

"This is a reflection of the necessity of focusing our
efforts on preventing a weapon of mass destruction or weapons
of mass destruction (from) being utilized in the United
States," he told reporters.

"I think it is fair to say that anyone who is concerned
about the safety of this country and the future, their concern
is weapons of mass destruction and particularly weapons of mass
destruction in the hands of terrorists," Mueller said.

Although a number of al Qaeda's leaders have been killed or
captured, Mueller said the group still has the capability to
undertake an attack with weapons of mass destruction.

U.S. security officials have long been concerned that
terrorists might carry out an attack using a chemical,
biological or nuclear weapon that results in mass casualties.

After the September 11 attacks, the FBI shifted its
priority to preventing terrorist attacks. As part of its
restructuring, it also sought to improve its
intelligence-gathering abilities, adding analysts and upgrading
its databases, Mueller said.

"We as an organization ... have to change in response to
the threats that we see. We needed to change somewhat
dramatically in the wake of September 11," he said.

FBI officials said the WMD Directorate will study the
consequences of an attack, increase U.S. preparedness and
coordinate the government's response to any attack.

It will be led by Vahid Majidi, a scientist formerly at the
Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Mueller said the FBI had also created a new post, the third
highest-ranking official at the bureau, who will function as
its chief operating officer, dealing with budget and personnel

(Additional reporting by Deborah Charles)