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Global trends in CBRN terrorism: I mplications for pathogen security Dr Robert Stagg Department of Defence UNCLASSIFIED – FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY.

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Presentation on theme: "Global trends in CBRN terrorism: I mplications for pathogen security Dr Robert Stagg Department of Defence UNCLASSIFIED – FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY."— Presentation transcript:

1 Global trends in CBRN terrorism: I mplications for pathogen security Dr Robert Stagg Department of Defence UNCLASSIFIED – FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY

2 The CBRN terrorism threat in context… Terrorism is likely to remain the preferred tactic of non- state actors to violently address grievances Most terrorist groups have and will probably remain tactically conservative –Explosives will continue to be the overwhelmingly preferred tactic Some will continue to seek CBRN to achieve tactical and/or strategic goals –Most organisations dont start with CBRN but escalate –Potential to increase fear, attention and scale –Requires a degree of organisational learning –Acquisition of expertise and material UNCLASSIFIED – FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY

3 WMD vs. CBRN Mass casualties can be achieved without CBRN –9/11 attacks killed 3000 people after hijacking four planes with box cutters Most interest in CBRN is not for the purposes of causing mass casualties –Typically insurgents pursuing discreet and small- scale targets But… CBRN attacks do represent one of the most viable ways for terrorists to inflict mass casualties

4 Who pursues CBRN? 1.Lone actors – with personal grievances and ready access to CBRN materials or expertise. eg 2001 Amerithrax attacks 2.Insurgencies – where most CBRN activity is seen –A small proportion of insurgents invariably consider CBRN –Discreet targets, low scale, crude in nature 3.Religious cults - p erpetrators of historical CB attacks 4.Terrorists with local grievances –Political, nationalist, religious, issue-motivated –Low-level interest in CBRN that is rarely put into practice 5.Violent global Jihadists (AQ and AQ-inspired) –Seek WMD-like CBRN capabilities –Prepared to invest time and resources in sophisticated effort Very few groups seek mass casualties

5 Crude vs. sophisticated Crude Extension of conventional tactics and goals Often improvised or requires little preparation Requires minimal expertise and uses readily available materials Purchase or theft of off-the-shelf toxic chemicals or radiological material Dispersal by IEDs, food supplies, conventional munitions Expect low scale casualties Sophisticated Usually for the explicit purpose of causing mass casualties (civilian targets) Requires access to specialised expertise – experienced scientists Requires specialised materials – CW agents, BW agents, fissile material Technical challenge of weaponisation (varying difficulty) Time consuming and relatively heavy investment of resources Potential to cause tens of thousands of casualties

6 Examples of crude CBR terrorism Crude CBR devices incorporate readily available materials –Require little to no manipulation – cyanides, pesticides, chlorine… –Terrorists utilise existing expertise – recognition of additional fear factor, increased casualties & complication of the response process –Most cases use explosives to disseminate the CBR material Chlorine IEDs in Iraq (AQI), acid IEDs in Thailand Terrorists in Afghanistan continue to seek poisons UNCLASSIFIED – FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Toxicity and dissemination both limiting factors

7 impact difficulty Explosives Improvised chemical or radiological dispersal Poisons WMD-like weapons Cliff face Will not be scaled by accident Comparative difficulty

8 Sophisticated CBRN over time Rajneeshee cult Salmonella-attack (1984, USA) Intent Aum Shinrikyo sarin attack (1995, Japan) AQ WMD program (1999-2001, Afghanistan) AQ inspired groups (current threat) time Lone actors? cults? Anthrax letters (2001, USA)

9 Rajneeshees: The first sophisticated CBRN terrorists (1984) Religious cult who sought to win County elections (USA) Aimed to incapacitate opposition voters - Purchased and cultured a Salmonella enterica strain - Used a freeze dryer - Infected 750 people via contamination of salad bars in 10 restaurants - 45 hospitalisations but no deaths The only group to have conducted a successful large scale bioterrorist attack

10 Aum Shinrikyo: The most sophisticated CBRN effort A Japanese-based apocalyptic cult > 10 000 members including dozens of scientists with post-graduate qualifications Hundreds of millions of dollars of assets WMD development was the centrepiece of the groups goals –Investigated acquisition of fissile material –1993 – commenced program to manufacture VX and sarin –1994 – Tested sarin and VX on sheep in Australia –1994 – Used sarin in assassination attempts – 7 killed –1995 – Tokyo subway attack – sarin kills 12, thousands injured –Attempted anthrax attacks – but used vaccine strain

11 Afghanistan: AQs WMD efforts (1999 – 2001) Commenced about 1999 but went unnoticed –Recruited multiple scientists and established multiple labs Concentrated on traditional agents –anthrax, plague, nerve & blister agents, nuclear devices Outreach to Jemaah Islamiyah to acquire appropriate expertise –Recruitment of Yazid Sufaat – a U.S. trained biochemist - to isolate and culture Bacillus anthracis in a laboratory near Kandahar –Isolation almost certainly failed Considered weaponisation –Interest in crop dusters for dissemination of agent Disrupted by Coalition invasion –Removal of safe haven and key operatives –Without disruption, WMD efforts may have been successful UNCLASSIFIED – FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY

12 AQ post 2001 AQ have not realised WMD ambitions (yet) Maintained intent (rhetoric), but what about in practice? –Have they had significant time/ space/ resources to achieve development of relatively sophisticated agents? Possibility of ongoing highly compartmented projects –Increasingly difficult with CT efforts AQ doctrine offers religious sanction, strategic preference and practical justification for using WMD and specifically CBRN AQ has been able to influence elements of other groups with overlapping ideology –JI bombings against Western targets in Indonesia Some groups susceptible to AQs influence have greater access to expertise and materials

13 Bioterrorism: The worst of a bad bunch Bioterrorism probably represents a greater threat than chemical, radiological or nuclear terrorism Compared to bioterrorism: –Radiological terrorism has lower potential to cause casualties –Nuclear terrorism is very unlikely to occur –Chemical terrorism has less potential to proliferate

14 What can bioterrorists achieve? Disruption, annoyance, fear –White powder scares Augment conventional attacks –Increase impact and complicate response to IED attack Poisoning of food or water –Suitable for attacking a discreet group of people –But why not use chemicals? Incapacitate instead of kill? Agricultural terrorism –Economically devastating Mass casualties –Probably relies on inhalation of organism

15 Bioterrorism threat: a product of intent and capability… Low impact bioterrorism could meet the goals of many terrorist groups –Few groups have shown intent in the past High impact bioterrorism only meets the goals of very few groups –AQ and affiliates –Lone scientist –Apocalyptic cults Capability of terrorist group –Financial & logistical resources –Knowledge/skill acquisition –Materials & technology acquisition –Production, weaponisation and delivery UNCLASSIFIED – FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Threat = intent x capability

16 Biological agents of concern Agricultural diseases –eg Foot and Mouth Disease, wheat rust –Huge costs to a countrys economy Human pathogens suitable for low impact bioterrorism –Salmonella, Shigella, E. coli, influenza and other respiratory viruses, malaria, TB, HIV etc –Relatively low fatality rate –The Rajneeshee Salmonella attacks Human pathogens suitable for high impact bioterrorism –Bacillus anthracis, Yersinia pestis, Clostridium botulinum… –Suitable for weaponisation (inhaled, environmentally hardy) –High fatality rate –No terrorist group has ever obtained a suitable strain

17 Terrorist interest in biological agents Predominantly traditional biological warfare agents –Recognition of state development as weapons –Volume of reporting and experimental data on internet –Media coverage of agents eg AQIM & plague –Preparation by governments to respond to the threat Bacillus anthracis, Yersinia pestis, Clostridium botulinum, toxins including botulinum toxin, ricin, etc. List of potential agents is almost endless –Particularly if mass casualties are not a priority –Selected agent will be influenced by availability & expertise UNCLASSIFIED – FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY

18 The science fiction side Artificial manufacture of BW agents –Synthesis of smallpox virus Genetically modified super germs –Interleukin or toxin expressing viruses Theoretically possible and increasingly within the capabilities of states or elite researchers Non-state actors have shown little to no interest Non-state actors do not have the expertise or resources to attempt such efforts –Exception of lone scientist?

19 Successful tactics proliferate Driven by media exposure and ease of information sharing Chlorine IEDs in Iraq –Idea proliferated on the internet and in extremists circles –Has not resulted in proliferation of chlorine attacks Consider bioterrorism –No trigger since the rise of AQ –Ease of proliferating material Expect that once acquired, a BW-suitable agent would proliferate –Highlights the importance of preventing initial acquisition (pathogen security) UNCLASSIFIED – FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY

20 Importance of biosecurity Obtaining a suitable pathogen has been the key stumbling block for would-be bioterrorists The most likely scenario for terrorists to develop WMD is by weaponisation of a suitable biological strain obtained from a legitimate facility The key step for reducing the threat of a high impact CBRN terrorism attack is to better secure pathogen stocks Significant burden of infectious disease in Asia and increasing microbiology sector Increasing amount of infectious material housed in laboratories, collection venues, veterinarian clinics, etc.

21 Some thoughts on biosecurity Traditionally, biosecurity has focused on containing the pathogen rather than securing the facility. –Some biosafety practices contribute to biosecurity Biosecurity requires multiple different security layers that, when combined, dramatically reduce terrorist access to pathogens –Vetting of staff –Culture of responsibility –Controlled access to material –Improved facility security –Inventory control –Management of infectious material Understanding where pathogens are housed –Importance of considering small facilities


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