Presentation on theme: "Weapons of Mass Destruction and Terrorism James J.F. Forest, Ph.D. UMass Lowell and Joint Special Operations University."— Presentation transcript:
Weapons of Mass Destruction and Terrorism James J.F. Forest, Ph.D. UMass Lowell and Joint Special Operations University
Suggested Reading Material Published 2012 by James Forest and Brigadier General (retired) Russell Howard Foreword by Michael Sheehan, DASD for SO/LIC Preview materials available at
Defining WMD Weapons that have a relatively large-scale impact on people, property, and/or infrastructure. WMD are defined in US law (18 USC §2332a) as: (A) any destructive device as defined in section 921 of this title (i.e. explosive device); (B) any weapon that is designed or intended to cause death or serious bodily injury through the release, dissemination, or impact of toxic or poisonous chemicals, or their precursors; (C) any weapon involving a biological agent, toxin, or vector (as those terms are defined in section 178 of this title) (D)any weapon that is designed to release radiation or radioactivity at a level dangerous to human life. CBRN weapons: chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear
1) Chemical Weapons Chemical Weapons use the toxic properties of chemical substances to cause physical or psychological harm to an enemy Choking and blood agents (like chlorine, phosgene, fentanyl gas) cause respiratory damage and asphyxiation Blistering agents (like mustard gas and lewisite) cause painful burns requiring immediate medical attention Nerve gases (like sarin, tabun, VX) degrade the functioning of the nervous system, causing a loss of muscle control, respiratory failure, and eventually death –a few droplets absorbed through the skin can kill in minutes. Others: Incapacitants (disorient, hallucinations); Binary Can be delivered through bombs, rockets, artillery shells, spray tanks, missile warheads, open containers, train/truck wreck... Lots of industrial uses for chemicals – most widely available form of WMD
2) Biological Weapons Disseminate agents of infectious diseases to harm or kill others Bacteria (like Anthrax, Brucellosis, Tularemia, Plague) Viruses (Smallpox, Marburg, Yellow Fever) Rickettsia (Typhus fever, Spotted fever) Fungi (the molds that cause stem rust of wheat and rye) Toxins (like Ricin, Botulinum and Saxitoxin) aka midspectrum Key attributes include: Infectivity - the ability of a pathogen to establish an infection Virulence/Pathogenicity - the ability of that infection to produce a disease Toxicity - the damage to humans or agriculture that can be caused by the disease The incubation period between infection and symptoms of the disease Transmissibility – how easily it can be transmitted from person to person The lethality or killing power of that disease The stability and resilience of the pathogen Relatively cost-effective and can be hundreds to thousands of times more potent than chemical agents by weight
Variety of Threat Scenarios Biological agents can be distributed through Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems Pressurized sprayers mounted on trucks, airplanes, UAVs Food/water contamination Envelopes/packages Infected blankets or clothing Explosive munitions Strikes against the agricultural sector Potential use of infectious agents as bio-weapons Potential to trigger large-scale socio-economic impact Attack could take form of toxins/bacteria directly introduced into the food chain, or a viral strike targeting the cattle industry Humans can be a means for delivery/dissemination as well as the victims
3) Radiological Weapons RDD: any means used to disperse radioactive material. Can use conventional explosives, an aerial sprayer, or other means RED: highly radioactive materials placed somewhere while unshielded Locations where many people would be exposed (subways, airports, office buildings, indoor stadiums) Radioactivity: When certain atoms decay, they release excess energy Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Neutron Shorter half-life (faster decay) means higher radioactivity When these substances are processed into a usable form, such as pellets or powder, they are called radioactive sources Many industrial uses: research, cancer treatments, power source
4) Nuclear Weapons Unique in their explosive energy from nuclear fission or fusion: Uranium-235 first fissile material discovered Destructive power up to 50 megatons –1,000 tons of TNT = 1 kiloton
Analyzing the WMD Threat High Low High Capabilities & Opportunities Intentions Where do your favorite terrorist groups belong in this diagram?
A Model for Analysis High Low High Capabilities & Opportunities Intentions What do we know?
Capabilities Group capabilities depend upon: Knowledge and skills of organizations members Finances Environmental context –Local grievances that motivate terrorist group recruitment, local sympathizes, etc. –access to materials, safe haven, etc. Commitment to learning (from own mistakes or successes, from other group strategies, tactics, etc.) What terrorist groups have high capabilities? How do we know?
Opportunities to Acquire Dual use problem of many technologies, CBR materials AQ Khan nuclear proliferation network Transfer of an intact weapon from a state sponsor The theft or purchase of materials to fabricate and detonate a crude WMD WMD designs, instruction manuals available online Pre-positioned WMD Nuclear power plants Chemical storage facilities Bio-technology labs Dams, water protection infrastructure (e.g., Katrina) Urban transportation of toxic chemicals
Opportunities to Acquire 1987: Individuals in Goinoia, Brazil find old discarded x-ray machine with canister of glowing material; kills 4 people, hundreds sick (cesium-137) 1998: 19 small tubes of cesium are stolen from a Greensboro, NC hospital, and have never been recovered 1999: Thieves try to steal 200g of radioactive material from a chemical factory in Grozny, Chechnya 2001: strontium-90 stolen from aging Russian lighthouse 2003: Attempt to smuggle (highly radioactive) cesium-137 and strontium-90 from Georgia to Turkey 2003: Chinese doctor Gu Tianming attacks colleague with iridium : Schoolteacher in Bangkok arrested attempting to sell cesium- 137
A Model for Analysis High Low High Capabilities & Opportunities Intentions What do we know?
Intentions The probability of a terrorist organization using a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear weapon, or high-yield explosives, has increased significantly during the past decade. – 2003 US National Strategy for Combating Terrorism Terrorists have declared their intention to acquire and use weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to inflict even more catastrophic attacks against the United States... and other interests around the world. – 2006 US National Strategy for Combating Terrorism Dozens of identified domestic and international terrorists and terrorist groups have expressed their intent to obtain and use WMD. - Denis Blair, Director of National Intelligence, 2010 There is a high likelihood of some type of WMD terrorist attack by the year Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism, 2008
Indications of CBRN intent 1990s: Chechen rebels make several threats against nuclear power plants 1996: John J. Ford, Joseph Mazzuchelli, & Edward Zabo plot to kill 3 New York politicians by putting radium in their food, cars, and toothpaste 1998: Chechen rebels attempt to detonate dirty bomb on railway 2003: an apartment in north London has raw ingredients for making cyanide and ricin, as well as instruction manuals 2004: seven pounds of cyanide salt are found during a raid on a Baghdad house reportedly connected with al Qaeda
Indications of CBRN intent November 2004, a chemical laboratory is discovered in Fallujah containing potassium cyanide, hydrochloric acid, and sulfuric acid Setptember 2007: Australian home-grown terrorist group allegedly plans to attack the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor with rocket launchers August 2008: FARC attempts to sell uranium, but not weapons- grade December 2008: Right-wing extremist in Maine orders radioactive materials through the Internet, along with precursors for high-grade chemical explosives
However... History of WMD attacks by non-state actors is very thin , The Dalles, Oregon: Rajneeshes poison locals with salmonella June 1990, Sri Lanka: Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) used chlorine gas in its assault on a Sri Lankan Armed Forces camp at East Kiran Japan, : Aum Shinrikyo uses sarin nerve agent for attacks in Matsumoto and Tokyo U.S., September-October 2001: anthrax attacks through U.S. mail Russia, 1995: Chechen rebels planted a dirty bomb in Moscow's Ismailovsky Park, but did not detonate
Theories Many different theories proposed as to why so few WMD terrorist groups have crossed the WMD threshold Practical Constraints Theories Strategic Constraints Theories Environmental Constraints Theories
Practical Constraints The more complex the weapon, the lower the probability of success WMDs are far more expensive, difficult to acquire and handle For the most part, we cant really test these weapons to make sure weve got the right formula, delivery mechanism These weapons are just too complicated... Probability of Success Complexity of Weapon
Strategic Constraints Limited (if any) strategic benefit from developing, acquiring, using a WMD compared to other weapons –Depends on ideology, local context; will a WMD help us achieve our objectives faster/better than other means? Could be counterproductive –Deemed repulsive by core constituencies, general public –Provoke massive government response
Weapon Effects Different interests according to weapon type Biological and chemical weapons can be deployed silently. Effects produced by chemical and biological weapons are usually delayed and spread over time. Radiological weapons involve both explosion and long-term effects Nuclear weapons are unique in their explosive energy (derived from fission) which can cause catastrophic damage and long-term radiation Terrorists prefer spectacular, massive impact, instant worldwide publicity, shock & awe effect Thus, nuclear or radiological may be more likely, but are more significantly more difficult
Environmental Constraints Access to core materials needed to construct WMD is difficult –In many cases, may want to attack in foreign country –Either need to smuggle a weapon across border, or access materials and manufacture weapon in unfamiliar territory International community is making huge strides in non- proliferation, intelligence and interdiction
Projecting the Future WMD Threat High Low High Capabilities & Opportunities IntentionsWhat factors would lead a group to move from point A to point B? A B What could diminish practical, strategic, or environmental constraints? What kinds of radicalization would indicate a higher WMD threat? –What do we look for? How do we know?
Affecting the Future WMD Threat How can we influence groups to stay away from the WMD threshold? What can be done to exacerbate the practical, strategic, environmental constraints they already face? Other ideas?
Final Thoughts The threat is real, but within narrow parameters Most important dimensions: –Motivations / Intentions –Capabilities –Opportunities –Constraints (theirs & ours) There are many ways in which we can contain and reduce the threat of WMD Terrorism