I was attracted to this recent Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article that discussed the establishment of a Master of Science in Strategic Studies in Weapons of Mass Destruction at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania. This course, established in the Department of Criminology, will teach Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents, but not anyone else, at least at the moment.
With help from government threat analysts and federal law enforcement, IUP criminologist Dennis Giever created the Master of Science in Strategic Studies in Weapons of Mass Destruction. The 30-credit, multi-year course focuses on worst-case scenarios: radiological “dirty” bombs, power grid disruptions, crippling biological attacks on food and water supplies.
“It’s not going to be open enrollment (or) traditional students,” Giever said. “You worry about whether you might be teaching the wrong person this stuff.”
At first, the FBI will select students from within its ranks, though Giever wants to open it to other law enforcement agencies. Rather than traditional tuition, agencies will contract with the school, paying about $300,000 a year for groups of 15 to 20 full-time students, according to documents submitted to the board of governors of the State System of Higher Education.
Now on one hand, I think it’s great that a public university would have the interest in developing a program of study about WMD. It’s difficult to evaluate the goodness of such an effort without seeing the curricula or reference material, but one can only encourage the desire to educate any group about this topic. And if I were offered $300,000 a year to teach a small number of students about WMDs, oh, I’d have to jump at that opportunity.
On the other hand, I have to wonder about the appropriateness and sustainability of establishing a master’s program instead of a few courses that might be inserted into a criminology or a national security studies program.
It’s my observation that the U.S. government has this tendency to segregate WMD issues away from the general mainstream of homeland security and national security agendas. Because of the unconventional nature of the weapons involved (nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons) and the technical nature of the response to any use of these weapons, it’s as if the traditional homeland security/national security professional doesn’t want to address them. These are “special” topics that only the High Anointed can understand and address. In no small part, one can see this in the discussion about nuclear weapons and nuclear terrorism.
We see arms control experts and people who design nuclear weapons talking about the threat of nuclear war instead of those military officers and government civilians who deal with conventional warfare issues every day. We hear from nuclear physicists and (again) the arms control experts about the threat of nuclear terrorism rather than those people responsible for combating terrorism every day. Well, that’s not entirely true. Every now and then you hear from military leaders and counter-terrorism directors about the “deadly threat” of WMD, but it’s largely relegated to rhetoric for speeches. The discussion and agenda is controlled by the High Priesthood of WMD.
This is not a good thing.
We do need to discuss the possible (if not improbable) military use of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons on future battlefields, if only to understand the potential outcome of state conflicts. We do need to discuss the possible (if not improbable) terrorist use of chemical, biological, or radiological hazards, if only to understand how local and state first responders can avoid being overwhelmed and unprepared by such an event.
But the key is context.
How we address “WMD” in a domestic setting is quite different than how we address “WMD” on a battlefield, but the key is how we integrate the response to that threat within the context of homeland defense/civil support and major combat operations. It’s not to say, “oh, hey, there’s a unique threat, call Sam the CBRN guy to tell us what to do.”
We probably don’t need a Master of Science program of study on WMD. We certainly should not be overly concerned about “teaching the wrong person this stuff.” The information is out there. We do need every college or university offering a national security or homeland security program to include a few mandatory courses (not electives) on how their community addresses the threat of WMD. Understanding that it’s just another hazard within the context of a larger discipline is more important than controlling information (that cannot be controlled anyway).
But I’m really disappointed with the professor’s closing comments.
The goal of the degree program, Giever said, is obscurity. The best plan results in nothing happening.
How ridiculous. The goal of education is to inform, to enlighten, to spread knowledge. Obscurity only limits our ability to understand, especially about this issue. As Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “Plans are nothing. Planning is everything.” No amount of education will prevent states from developing nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, or prevent terrorists from considering the use of chemical, biological or radiological hazards. But maybe we can, through some continuing education, reduce the hype and rhetoric around “WMDs” and actually bring some sanity into the discussion.