Chemical Biological Incident Response Force, United States
█ JUDSON KNIGHT
The Chemical and Biological Incident Response Force (CBIRF) is a unit of the United States Marines devoted to countering chemical or biological threats at home and abroad. Activated in 1996, the unit served a number of protective functions. Since the terrorist bombings of September 11, 2001, however, its prominence has increased dramatically. Now part of the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB), it has performed homeland security functions that included the removal of suspected toxic agents from House and Senate office buildings during a rash of anthrax attacks in late 2001.
Background and Mission
Chemical agents have been a widespread threat since World War I, when first used by German forces on the Eastern Front in 1915. Soon the British developed their own chemical weapons, and the age of chemical warfare began, forever altering the battlefield equation. Use of chemical weapons by Saddam Hussein on Kurdish civilians, use by both Iran and Iraq during their prolonged war in the 1980s, and use during the 1994 and 1995 attacks by Aum Shinrikyo (a Japanese cult) that released deadly sarin gas into the Tokyo subways and killed 12 civilians, demonstrate that both military and civilian personnel are increasingly vulnerable to chemical attacks.
On June 21, 1995, partly in response to the Aum Shinrikyo attacks, as well as the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19 of that year, the administration of President William Jefferson Clinton issued Presidential Decision Directive 39, "United States Policy on Counterterrorism." The directive called for a number of specific efforts to deter terrorism on America's shores, as well as that against Americans and allies abroad. In response to the need for a response team to deal with chemical and biological threats, the United States Marine Corps established CBIRF (the first two words are sometimes rendered as "Chemical Biological" or "Chemical, Biological) on April 4, 1996.
Training exercises. Writing in the Marine Corps magazine Leatherneck, Margaret Bone described CBIRF thus in early 1999: "It's new, it's unique to the Armed Services, and right now, it's the only quick reaction force in the world equipped to help in the aftermath of a chemical, biological, or radiological (nuclear) attack." But the writer went on to note that "CBIRF is not a counterterrorist group, and it's not direct-action oriented, though there is a security element of more than 120 Marines, with the capability to increase that strength as needed." In the words of a force protection element commander for CBIRF, "We are a consequence management force. Our mission is to respond, to come in and save lives. We bring the full package: self-contained, expeditionary, and task-organized."
During the spring and early summer of 1996, CBIRF was deployed for training in a variety of environments throughout the United States. Its members closely studied the bombing that took place at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta on the night of July 27, and practiced coordinating a response with local fire and police. They also undertook an experiment at the Citadel, a military college in Charleston, South Carolina, where CBIRF personnel acted to control lethal agents released by a mock chemical weapons plant. Moving beyond training to real-world situations, CBIRF provided security for President Clinton's second inauguration in January 1997, and for the Summit of Eight in Denver, Colorado, that following summer.
A changing role. In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, CBIRF's mission became incorporated into the 4th MEB, along with the Marine Security Force Battalion, the Marine Security Guard Battalion, and the new anti-terrorism battalion. (The latter had evolved from the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, which had been hit in the 1983 terrorist bombings of United States Marine barracks in Lebanon.) In December 2001, CBIRF sent a 100-member initial response team into the Dirksen Senate Office Building alongside Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) specialists to detect and remove anthrax. A similar mission was undertaken at the Longworth House Office Building in October, during which time samples were collected from more than 200 office spaces.
█ FURTHER READING:
Bone, Margaret. "Marines Provide Safety Net to Terrorist
Threat." Leatherneck 82, no. 2 (February 1999): 50–53.
Cabellon, Paul C. "CBIRF Takes the (Capitol) Hill." Leatherneck 85, no. 2 (February 2002): 19.
Garamone, Jim. "Marines to Stand up Anti-Terror Brigade." Pentagon Brief (October 2001): 5.
Vogel, Steve. "Cooler Name Prevails for 'Hot' New Marine Corps Club at Indian Head." Washington Post. (April 26,2001): T15.