University biosecurity, forensics expert testifies before Congressional subcommittee on new legislation

Randall Murch

Randall Murch

NATIONAL CAPITAL REGION, July 9, 2010 – In testimony before a U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security subcommittee hearing on Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity, and Science and Technology, Randall Murch, said he strongly supported the development, coordination, and implementation of a National Intelligence Strategy for Countering the Threat from Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).

The strategy was recommended by the WMD Commission and led by the director of National Intelligence (DNI).  

At the same time, however, Murch, who is associate director for Research Program Development at Virginia Tech in the National Capital Region, asserted that “as with many other endeavors in government public policy programs, successful implementation through plans with measures of progress and accountability are crucial.”  He agreed with a subcommittee member that the strategy document should be broader and more overarching.

Murch testified with three other experts in related fields who all gave brief summaries of submitted written testimonies and answered questions of subcommittee members. During the 90-minute hearing on H.R. 5498, the WMD Prevention and Preparedness Act of 2010,  Murch continually emphasized that clearly articulated goals and objectives, assignments of responsibility, requirements or expectations, and measures of success are key to progress.

“I am gratified to see that provisions have been made in the legislation for plans and reporting.  Also, someone has to be actively ‘in charge;’ when everyone is in charge, no one is in charge.  My hope is that the DNI will fill that role and do so well.  The enterprise should be held accountable, otherwise having a strategy and a plan is not particularly useful or meaningful,” he said.

Murch said that in his view “it is absolutely necessary to improving our capabilities and performance that those non-DHS federal departments and agencies with more direct front-line roles in domestic security, law enforcement, and intelligence are fully and aggressively leveraged and involved as equal partners.

Those latter agencies I am alluding to have many years of expertise, experience, and committed resources, in some cases substantial in each category, devoted to WMD intelligence and response … better focused and more innovative and integrated initiatives and approaches are required to address the very substantial challenges and gaps we face with WMD intelligence. … We should acknowledge that DHS is a relative newcomer,” Murch said.

In his testimony, Murch also addressed the topic of bio-intelligence.  He said that advancing and applying new knowledge and understanding, implementing policies, practices, and technology, and leveraging innovation, creativity, and calculated risk-taking must be the foundation upon which a bio-intelligence effort is built. “This would apply to gathering and making sense of large amounts of open source technical information, new infectious disease surveillance approaches to  better connect public health with intelligence and law enforcement,  as well as new methods and techniques in human intelligence.”

Murch, who also serves as core faculty, Center for Technology, Security and Policy and as adjunct faculty, School of Public and International Affairs, at Virginia Tech in the National Capital Region, served 23 years as a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation  (FBI) during which he was heavily involved in weapons of mass destruction terrorism and counterterrorism from the operational, investigative, intelligence, planning, science and technology, and forensic perspectives.

During his tenure with the FBI, Murch spent 10 years in the FBI Laboratory, eight years in the technical surveillance program, and oversaw forensic investigative and technical investigative support efforts for a number of well-known domestic and international terrorist attacks including Oklahoma City, Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, the USS Cole, the U.S. Embassies in East Africa, and Sept. 11. Murch also created the national program for WMD forensics which has led to the creation of associated scientific disciplines, such as microbial forensics.

Murch noted that while “significant progress has been made in a number of areas within microbial forensics to characterize and attribute biological weapons and attacks over the past 15 years, much remains to be done to address likely events and predictable contingencies and perhaps some exigencies with some surety. A strategy and plan is needed to encompass not only scientific advancements but also to address “common practices, standards, and shared infrastructure resources such as a National Microbial Forensics Repository.” Future legislative and policy documents should not only mention what needs to be done, but also the how, who, and what of the outcomes sought, Murch said.

He also strongly recommended that this legislation address the role of forensic science in homeland security and focus on “the current state of forensic science in DHS as it is developed, validated, used and practiced, planned, managed, and intended in all of the agencies and components that have forensic science programs and capabilities of any sort or type.”

In concluding his testimony, Murch said, “The nation should demand that its forensic science enterprise will meet or exceed requirements and expectations and embrace best science and practice wherever it resides or for whatever mission it supports, including within DHS.”

Virginia Tech has fostered a growing partnership with the greater metropolitan Washington, D.C., community since 1969. Today, the university’s presence in the National Capital Region includes graduate programs and research centers in Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, Falls Church, Leesburg, Manassas, and Middleburg. In addition to supporting the university’s teaching and research mission, Virginia Tech’s National Capital Region has established collaborations with local and federal agencies, businesses, and other institutions of higher education. Virginia Tech, the most comprehensive university in Virginia, is dedicated to quality, innovation, and results to the commonwealth, the nation, and the world.

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