FBI Weapons of Mass Destruction Joint Criminal-Epidemiological Investigative Process

Jan 4 | Advocacy, News

By Special Agent Scott Mahloch, FBI Milwaukee Weapons of Mass Destruction Coordinator, and Dr. Stephen W. Goldsmith, FBIHQ Weapons of 
Mass Destruction Directorate, Chemical-Biological Countermeasures Unit

“Our Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate continues to do work and worry about things that you and the American people don’t need to worry about because they do. Theirs is fascinating, high stress and thankless work. They often labor in the shadows because their job is to think about, and prepare for the worst, so nobody experiences it.” These are the words of former FBI Director James Comey, which stresses the unpredictable and fast-paced work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI’s) Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) mission.

WMD investigations have been worked since the early days of the FBI. However, the FBI’s WMD program was officially created in 2006, to build a cohesive and coordinated approach between FBI Headquarters and FBI field offices. This allows the FBI to better address incidents involving chemical, biological, radiological/nuclear, and explosive threats. There are 56 field offices within the FBI with a WMD Coordinator assigned to each office. The FBI’s WMD successes are a result of continued collaboration between the FBI, state and local law enforcement, and public and private sector partners.

Examples of these collaborations include the FBI’s partnership with public and animal health professionals, which are vital during a joint criminal-epidemiological investigation or the threat or suspicion of an unusual disease incident. These joint investigations allow public health, animal-plant disease and law enforcement experts to utilize each other’s strengths, knowledge and resources for the earliest detection and disruption of intentional attacks against animal agriculture. This is accomplished by developing tripwire initiatives and protocols for rapid notification, information sharing, and joint response and investigative efforts.

The goal of a bioterrorism event is to attack human health using human or zoonotic disease agents as bioweapons. Attacks against agriculture are classified by the FBI as acts of agroterrorism, which is a subset of bioterrorism. Agroterrorism primarily targets the economy by the intentional use of biological agents that may have no direct effect on human health and are difficult to discern from a natural or accidental outbreak. The effects are the disruption of agriculture production, export markets and food security that threaten the economic stability and national security of the U.S.

In order to meet these threats, the FBI has established the Animal/Plant Health Joint Criminal-Epidemiological Investigations Workshop, a two-day event containing presentations, open discussions, and tabletop exercises. FBI Milwaukee and the FBI Headquarters Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate have hosted the workshop in the past and hope to conduct more in the future. The goal is to develop the ability to detect and disrupt the intentional release of an animal pathogen or toxin, economic espionage, sabotage, agrocrimes, or terrorism.

For more information on the FBI’s WMD program or joint criminal-epidemiological investigations, please contact FBI Milwaukee WMD Coordinator Scott Mahloch at (414) 489-3541 or smahloch@fbi.gov.

Special Agent Scott Mahloch was previously the WMD Coordinator for FBI Chicago and has been serving as the FBI Milwaukee WMD Coordinator since October 2019. Special Agent Mahloch has worked hard to develop relationships and establish tripwires to protect Wisconsin  against biological threats, including those within the animal sectors.