The purpose of this third section is to summarize what has been said about biological and chemical terrorism as separate subjects of inquiry, examining both the elements or characteristics that they may have in common and those in which they may diverge, in order to determine what general conclusions can be drawn from the open literature about the phenomenon of CB terrorism as a whole.
Enough has been said to establish rather conclusively that both biological and chemical agents in the hands of terrorists can be very deadly weapons, indeed. Of the two types of agents, it is generally agreed that biologicals have the greatest potential as a weapon of mass destruction to inflict extremely high levels of casualties on a target population in some cases, perhaps, approximating or even exceeding that of a nuclear explosion. It is the relatively tiny quantity of agent required that appears perhaps most remarkable in the case of biological agents. But it is clear that chemical agents can qualify as weapons of mass destruction as well, particularly the more toxic nerve gases, which also have the potential to kill thousands of people in a single incident.
Much of the concern over possible terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction results from the fear that, if public opinion becomes inured or desensitized to the more traditional methods of terrorist attack, and assuming that terrorists above all crave and need publicity for their ultimate success, then terrorist groups will turn to ever more spectacular acts to recapture the public's attention and hence increase their political leverage vis-a-vis governments (Bremer 1988: 12; David 1985: 147; Jackson 1992: 520; McGeorge 1988: 16-18; Thornton 1987: v and 6)91. What could be more spectacular, in this sense, than the threat or use of a weapon capable of killing thousands or hundreds of thousands of people in a single incident? As Hurwitz puts it: "If terrorists were to use C/B weapons in a mass casualty attack, there is no doubt that it would be an event of singular visibility and importance. The particular group would receive enormous publicity, and the event would be perceived as not just another assassination, kidnapping, bombing, or hijacking" (1982: 38).
Of course, within the realm of weapons of mass destruction, as noted in the
introduction, much more attention has been paid to the threat of terrorist use
of nuclear weapons. In fact, however, what makes chemical and biological
weapons so potentially attractive to terrorists, in the eyes of many
commentators, are precisely their advantages as compared to those of
nuclear weapons. Specifically, biological and chemical weapons are widely
considered to be less expensive, easier to manufacture or otherwise obtain,
less likely to be detected, and more reliable to use (particularly since they
can be tested beforehand) (Jackson 1992: 520; OTA 1991: 32; Douglass and
Livingstone 1987: 12; Jenkins and Rubin 1978: 222-3 and 227; Kupperman and
Trent 1979: 58; Revell 1988: 16; David 1985: 145; Kellett 1988: 56; Alexander
1983: 229 and 1990:10; Bremer 1988: 9-10; Petrakis 1980: 22; Milbank 1976: 5
and 31; Cohen 1976: 34-5; Kupperman 1984: 77). Douglass and Livingstone, in
describing chemical and biological weapons as "the poor man's atomic
bomb," address each of these points:
Similarly, Berkowitz et al. outline the attractions of CB weapons for
terrorists as follows:
Though there is some disagreement about the precise level of technological capacity required, there can be do doubt that, in the words of the OTA, "chemical or biological munitions require far less technical sophistication than nuclear weapons" (1991: 32). The fact that this is so, of course, will lend added credibility to terrorist threats to employ chemical or biological agents and thus increase the chances of their achieving their goals whether or not they actually possess such agents, or have any intention of actually using them.
A number of other advantages relative to nuclear weapons might be mentioned: the confining of damage to human beings or other living things, leaving material and structures intact (Wiener 1991b: 65) (although the opposite intention may be more characteristic of some terrorists namely, to focus on physical damage while minimizing human casualties); the opportunity provided for "demonstration" attacks causing few if any casualties to reinforce threats of a larger attack (Mengel 1976: 446)92; the general amenability to relatively selective targeting (e.g., the occupants of a single building or compound) (Milbank 1976: 31); the potentially wider availability of such weapons from external state sponsors, given the wider proliferation in the world of chemical and biological, in comparison to nuclear, weapons; and the greater ease of purchase or theft of such materials since, as Kupperman and Trent put it: "In contrast to the concern over nuclear materials, the control and safeguard of chemical and biological agents have not been given adequate consideration" (1979: 46).
Other putative advantages of chemical and biological agents for terrorists include:
According to McGeorge: "The odious and insidious nature of chemical and biological agents suggests that they are potentially the most powerful and effective instruments of terror available" (1988: 22). Douglass and Livingstone state simply: "The possession of such a weapon would give terrorists the ability to blackmail the governments of states both large and small" (1987: 11);
One putative advantage of biological agents that is not shared with chemical agents is their capacity to reproduce, allowing a small seed culture to produce a large quantity of agent (Kupperman and Trent 1979: 66), and enabling much smaller quantities to infect a larger and more widespread population (Jenkins and Rubin 1978: 225). Of course, this characteristic is also partly responsible for a prime disadvantage of biological agents relative to chemical ones namely, the greater difficulty in containing them and controlling their effects. This in turn predisposes against terrorist use of biological agents for at least two reasons: (1) the enhanced danger to themselves in handling the agent; and (2) the unpredictability of the resulting damage caused, making selective targeting more problematic and the anticipation of effects generally less certain.95
Most authorities on the subject agree that the development or acquisition and use of CB agents of mass destruction is well within the capabilities of contemporary terrorist groups. Typical of much of the genre is the statement by Livingstone that "any reasonably competent graduate-level chemist or biologist has within his power the ability to manufacture with only limited resources and in the privacy of his own home or garage chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction that could be used to terrorize a whole city and even an entire nation" (1982: 109-10).
As we have seen in considering chemical and biological agents separately, some authors might differ about the precise degree of expertise required (whether that of an undergraduate student or a professional scientist, for example), and also as to whether it is possible or likely for a single individual to be able to accomplish the various tasks involved in production and effective dissemination of an agent.96 However, based largely on the ready availability of materials, intrinsic lack of difficulty, and abundance of open literature on the topic, terrorist groups are generally assumed to be capable of making the required effort, if desired.
The 1991 OTA study suggests that "The level of
technological sophistication required to mount a terrorist attack of this
type....for some scenarios,...may be lower than was the case for some of the
sophisticated bombs that have been used against civilian aircraft" (51-2).
Jenkins and Rubin believe that "In difficulty, the task probably ranks
with the clandestine production of chemical narcotics or refinement of
If the terrorists themselves lack the necessary scientific or technological skills, they may be able to hire those who do have them98. At least one author believes that this has already happened; according to Atkins: "Many terrorist organizations have been able to recruit scientists who can isolate chemicals and viruses to be used as weapons" (1992).
The only dissenting views on the general ability of terrorist groups are
those of Mengel and Mullen, both writing in the late 1970s. According to
Similarly, Mullen writes that
Mullen acknowledges that, compared to nuclear weapons, "Fewer skills...would be required to precipitate a credible mass destruction threat with either a chemical or biological agent." However, he continues to insist that "To date, such skills are felt to be beyond the capabilities of contemporary terrorist organizations" (1978: 89).99
Whether either Mengel or Mullen has changed his opinion in the intervening years is not known. But more recent appraisals appear to share the contrasting view of the 1992 OTA study that "there are no serious technological impediments to the utilization of chemical or biological agents....They are relatively easily obtainable, their delivery systems are manageable, and their dispersal techniques are efficient" (34)100.
Those particular CB agents deemed most likely to be used by terrorists have
already been discussed in the two previous sections on biological and chemical
terrorism, treated separately. However, in one of his brief surveys of the
subject, Harvey McGeorge makes some interesting observations applicable to
biological and chemical agents taken together. Noting that "Currently,
there exists a very large gap between the technology presumably available to
our adversaries and that which they have chosen to embrace," he goes on:
Nevertheless, McGeorge warns:
In a more recent article, McGeorge summarizes the findings of his survey of over 200 past CB terrorism incidents, noting that the following agents were "among those that have been used or were being acquired for use": arsenic, carbamates, chlordane, cyanide compounds, mercury, mustard, organophosphates, paraquat, thallium, warfarin, aconitine, botulinum toxin, microcistin, ricin, saxitoxin, snake venoms, SEB, strychnine, tetanus toxin, tetrodotoxin, B. Anthracis, B. Melitensis, B. Suis, C. Imitis, F. Tularensis, M. Tuberculosis, S. Enteriditis, variola virus, V. Comma, and VEE. As before, based on his statistical analysis of the data, he concludes that "The CB terrorist appears to be relatively low-tech who generally seeks to employ commonly available toxic chemicals via contamination of consumables," while cautioning that "This relatively benign description should not be confused with the level of threat or ease of countermeasures" (1994: 13).
The question of terrorists' own production of chemical or biological agents has already been dealt with above, in terms of the availability of raw materials and ease of manufacture. In addition, however, many authors have speculated on the relative ease with which both chemical and biological agents could be acquired ready-made, by other means. For example, many hazardous substances suitable for use directly as chemical or biological weapons are commercially available with minimal, if any, restrictions. CB research facilities within which such agents are developed and/or tested, and even military stockpiles of finished chemical weapons, are said to be far less secure than their nuclear counterparts, making theft by terrorist groups a feasible proposition. Further, it is widely assumed that state sponsors of terrorism will feel fewer inhibitions about providing their clients with chemical or biological agents than they would with nuclear materials. Finally, as has already been mentioned, the proliferation of such agents is more widespread than that of nuclear weapons, resulting in a greater number of potential state sponsors of such terrorism.
On the latter issue, for example, Jackson speculates that "with
chemical and biological weapons having become so much a part of the state's
'conventional' arsenal in [the Middle East] and other regions, it is not
inconceivable that techniques for handling and use, and a percentage of the
agents in storage, will have been made available to an array of guerrilla and
terrorist factions." He singles out as potential sources states such as
Iran, Syria, Libya, and North Korea (1992: 520). Douglass and Livingstone go
even further, claiming (in 1987) that such transfers had already taken place:
Hoffman suggests that "Terrorists may be employed by countries...to stage a covert nuclear, chemical, or biological attack in order to conceal the involvement or complicity of their state patron" (1993: 24)101. Kellett is more cautious on this point, however, noting that "While sponsoring governments may facilitate the acquisition by terrorists of a biological-chemical weapons capability, they are also likely to impose limitations on the deployment of mass destruction weapons in order to preclude really severe countermeasures on the part of victimized states" (1988: 56-7). Similarly, US Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. James Clapper has been cited as suggesting that "those 'rogue' nations that possess WMD [weapons of mass destruction] capabilities may still be wary of dealing with unpredictable terrorist organizations" (Starr 1994: 10).
Potential means of delivery for chemical and biological agents are
essentially the same, with the exception of indirect transmission through
infected animals that has been suggested as a possibility for biological
agents. Those methods most commonly cited for both biological and chemical
agents are: contamination of foodstuffs or liquids; dispersal as vapour or via
aerosol within an enclosed area; dispersal as vapour or via aerosol in an open
area; and through direct human contact. McGeorge adds another, less frequently
cited method, namely explosive dispersal:
Generally speaking, analysts consider the effective dissemination or
delivery of chemical and biological agents by terrorists to be more difficult
than their production or acquisition (Mullen 1978: 76; Douglass and Livingstone
1987: 14; Kupperman and Trent 1979: 58 and 63; David 1985: 146; Loehmer 1993:
62; Hurwitz 1982: 39; Berkowitz et al. 1972: VIII-3). In David's words:
Similarly, Hurwitz writes:
In discussing means of delivery one must distinguish
between attacks on individuals or small groups of people, which may be quite
simple to carry out, and attempted acts of mass destruction, which may be much
more problematic. In the latter category, for example, there is virtually
unanimous agreement that the popular scenario of poisoning a city's water
supply is not a feasible method of attack with biological or chemical agents,
for all of the reasons discussed earlier (Mullen 1978: 76; Kupperman and Trent
1979: 58 and 63; Loehmer 1993: 62; McGeorge 1986: 61; Berkowitz et al.
Berkowitz et al. discuss this issue at some length:
Similarly, the feasibility of large-scale, open-air
attacks is dismissed by many (although by no means all) of the authors
and Livingstone are an exception, noting:
Douglass and Livingstone also maintain that "Random attacks with small C/B bombs scattered around a city, while not producing a large number of casualties, would almost assuredly create a major panic....The detonation of five well-publicized C/B bombs would probably be enough to stampede the population of any city in the United States, turning even a megalopolis like New York into a virtual ghost town overnight" (1987: 39).
Nevertheless, it is generally conceded that attacks within confined spaces,
such as subway systems, domed sports stadia, convention centres, and other
large public buildings would be the most feasible way for terrorists to kill
large numbers of people with chemical or biological agents (Mengel 1976:
454-5). McGeorge states that
Other likely targets include embassies, military facilities, and perhaps
national monuments (for their symbolic value). According to Livingstone:
As for US military bases in Europe: "Not only could water systems be poisoned or dried agents released upwind of a base or airfield, but terrorists could surreptitiously launch an attack on a target using mortars embedded in sand-filled trucks outside the defensive perimeter of the base" (1986: 144).
Douglass and Livingstone suggest that "In nations highly dependent on tourism, the contamination of a leading tourist hotel or national monument with a C/B weapon would all but ensure the ruin of the industry for many years....The psychological impact of an attack that contaminates a great national monument or landmark...is incalculable" (1987: 39). Clark imagines a rather unique method of attack: using Soviet surface-to-air missiles to shoot down an airliner in the hopes of having it hit CBW storage sites located near the airports in Denver or Salt Lake City (1980: 123). Finally, Mengel points out that "Attacks through bulk foodstuffs or beverages (via dairies, meat processing plants, canning companies, bakeries, and soda and beer bottlers) offer the terrorist a means of attacking either particular groups or a broad cross section of society, depending on the specific facility attacked" (1976: 455). Similarly, Griffith asserts that "food is especially suitable to chemical or biological contamination for attacking large segments of the population," going on to quote "national Civil Defense authorities" to the effect that "Because of the characteristics of food manufacturing processes, and the nature of certain foods and their ingredients, many segments of the food industry are extremely vulnerable to introduction of biological and chemical agents" (1975).
Based on his analysis of over 200 (self-defined) past incidents of CB terrorism, McGeorge concludes that "Dissemination devices (munitions) or means (i.e., product contamination) have typically been very simple in design or procedure and of corresponding low efficiency." He identified a total of eight different techniques that had been used in the incidents in question, namely: (1) contaminated food or drink (43%); (2) contaminated consumable products (13%); (3) contaminated water supplies (12%); (4) aerosols (9%); (5) contaminated personal items (e.g., clothing) (4%); (6) contaminated projectiles (3%); (7) "disease vectors" (2%); and (8) vapor clouds (1%). In 13% of the cases, the dissemination technique or device was "unknown" (1994: 13).
There has been a rather extraordinary confusion surrounding the issue of past use of CB agents by terrorists. Despite the ample number of cases cited in previous sections of this paper, some sources, and not only those dating back to the 1970s, insist that no such incidents have yet occurred. For example, Jenkins and Rubin, writing in 1978, state that "Thus far terrorists have not sought to acquire or threatened to use weapons of mass destruction" (221). The OTA in 1991 stated baldly that "A terrorist attack using chemical or biological (CB) agents has not yet occurred" (32). According to Griffiths, referring to the 75 years prior to his publication date of 1992, "there have been no confirmed reports of terrorists, as opposed to countries, using chemical and biological warfare (CBW), or threatening to use CBW, in this period," and "CBW has yet to be used in terrorist attacks" (1992: 221 and 222). Similarly, David maintains that "no actual use of mass- destruction weapons by a terrorist group has so far occurred" (1985: 149); Revell that "the United States has not experienced an act of terrorism involving nuclear, chemical, biological or other highly technical weapons" (1988: 15). Kupperman, while acknowledging that "The United States....have...been faced with a limited number of biological and chemical threats," declares simply that "All of them have been hoaxes or the products of diseased minds" (1985: 158) (as if the latter cannot by definition belong to terrorists).
At the other end of the extreme, Mullins goes so far as to classify Saddam Hussein's Gulf War threat to use CBW and Tom Clancy's 1991 novel, The Sum of All Fears, as "examples of NBC terrorism" (1992: 95-6). Some of the confusion is undoubtedly attributable to vagueness or ambiguity in the use of the term "terrorist," some to similar problems with "weapons of mass destruction." The confusion is aggravated by the practice in some cases of aggregating CB terrorist incidents with those committed by "other nonstate actors"104. For the purposes of this paper (and following standard usage), an incident of terrorism presupposes a political motive, and any chemical or biological weapon is considered a "weapon of mass destruction" by virtue of its potential, whether it is ultimately used actually to inflict "mass destruction" or limited to some lesser role.
Most sources acknowledge that there have, indeed, been incidents of the use or threat of use of CB agents by terrorists in the past, but characterize the cases as few in number (Jenkins and Rubin 1978: 267; OTA 1991: 51; Mengel 1976: 450), "low-level" (Kellett 1988: 55 and 57), not "at a serious level" or "major" (OTA 1991: 32 and 51; Clark 1980: 111; Marshall 1990: 368), not "significant" (Mengel 1976: 450), "not on a large scale" (Luchaire 1984: 121), or "isolated" and even "inept" (Kupperman and Trent 1979: 49). As Douglass and Livingstone put it: "Fortunately, most incidents purportedly involving C/B agents have turned out to be hoaxes designed to extort ransom" (1987: 31). Similarly, Jenkins and Rubin note that "Plots to poison large numbers of people are more often the product of lunatics than of political extremists," and that "terrorists thus far have not used exotic weapons of mass destruction...to cause mass casualties" (1978: 267 and 269). Writing in 1978, they also took comfort from the fact that "No one is known to have died as a result of chemical or biological warfare by terrorists" (1978: 229). Kupperman and Kamen may have put it best when writing, in 1989, that "To date, terrorist groups or individual fanatics have only experimented around the edges of mass destruction weaponry. But their interest in and awareness of the potential of such weaponry is obvious and ominous" (1989: 93-4).
Indeed, there is a perception on the part of some commentators that actual
incidents of threat or use have been under-reported. Douglass and Livingstone,
for example, write:
They footnote their own, quite extensive list of such incidents with the
proviso that "In addition to the incidents included above, the authors are
aware of several dozen others which cannot be released at this time. Moreover,
many incidents are not recognized for what they are and therefore go
unreported" (1987: 187). Elsewhere, Livingstone has claimed that
Alexander puts the number of specifically terrorist-connected incidents even higher, noting: "There is no accurate statistical data on the number of chemical- and biological-related terrorist incidents because not all of them have been reported by governments and the news media. But there apparently are more than 100 known cases." Still, he acknowledges, "such forms of technological terrorism have been rare in comparison to the approximately 40,000 domestic and international incidents during the past twenty years" (1990: 10).
Harvey McGeorge has conducted the most extensive published survey of past incidents of "CB terrorism," which he defines, self-admittedly "broadly," as including "most criminal acts and some governmental or military special operations that relate to the use of chemical or biological agents against individuals, groups, crops or materials."105 He argues that "Although [this] definition of CB terrorism...may seem overly broad, an inclusive definition facilitates broad understanding and can later be narrowed as appropriate" (1994: 12). According to McGeorge, there have been either 201 or 244 examples of such incidents in the past, occurring in at least 26 countries. These have fallen into seven broad categories of "adversaries and their distribution": (1) "political," with the goal being to change a political system through violence (20%); (2) "government persons acting as agents of a sovereign state, e.g., commandos, mercenaries, etc." (9%); (3) criminals acting for financial gain (26%); (4) "philosophical/religious persons acting out of philosophical or religious indoctrination" (7%); (5) "psychotic persons acting out of severe mental derangement" (8%); (6) "egoist non-psychotic persons acting for egocentric reasons, e.g., exhibitionism, megalomania, etc." (2%); and (7) "hostile employees," whose "goal is revenge against a current or former employer" (2%). In fully 25% of the cases, according to McGeorge, there was "insufficient information to categorize [the] adversary" (1994: 12).
McGeorge has also discerned four "primary motivations" for the actions in question: (1) "ideologic linked to a political, philosophical or religious system" (22%); (2) "economic," involving "a desire for financial gain" (9%); (3) "personal a unique circumstance or mindset" (27%); and (4) "government expediency acting in the interest of a state" (18%). Once again, in 23% of the cases there was "insufficient information to categorize motivation" (1994: 12).
McGeorge characterized the "targets" of such actions as follows: (1) "individuals one or more specific individuals whose identity was known to the attacker" (16%); (2) "specific groups a group of people defined by some significant common characteristic," where "the attacker probably did not know the identities of individuals within the group" (16%); (3) "general population" where "no unifying group characteristic was observed" (62%); (4) livestock, where the "primary target was domestic animal" (1%); and "none or unknown either there was no target or it was not identifiable" (5%) (1994: 13).
McGeorge summarizes his findings in regard to past incidents as follows:
If the technical capacity to practice CB warfare appears well within the reach of terrorist groups, how does one explain the fact that the actual number of incidents to date has been relatively small (certainly in comparison with the total number of terrorist incidents of all kinds) and that such incidents have been limited to actions, if not threats, well below the threshold of "mass destruction"?
One possible explanation is that terrorists so far have perceived no need to make use of CB weapons in order to advance their goals. As Jenkin and Rubins put it: "In terms of their ability to kill large numbers of people, terrorists have generally operated well below their technology ceiling, perhaps simply because thus far it has been unnecessary for them to escalate their violence beyond what we have seen" (1978: 267). Specifically, Griffiths notes: "If the terrorist scenarios over the last twenty years are considered in depth, the major happenings have been associated with hijacked aircraft together with an isolated cruise liner and a few building sieges. In these situations, there would be very little advantage to be gained from introducing CBW into the arsenal used" (1992: 221).
Similarly, an unnamed "participant" in one discussion of the
subject is quoted as stating that "Although terrorism may have a declining
publicity value in the world and a declining coercive value, some terrorist
movements have struggled for a sufficiently long time and have gained
sufficient confidence in the ultimate achievement of their goals that they no
longer feel a need to escalate their terrorist acts." He cites as examples
the IRA and PLO, adding: "No escalation is needed, just maintenance of the
struggle and hope for attrition of will on the other side" (David 1985:
152). Bremer expounds on a variety of other related aspects:
The anonymous "participant" referred to above
touches on another aspect of the question of "need," namely that,
with weapons of mass destruction, "It is difficult to conceive of the
demands one would make commensurate with the threat that the action would
involve" (David 1985: 154)107. Mullen goes into greater
detail on this point, in referring to "the frequently cited scenario of
terrorists holding a city or government hostage for purposes of extortion by
threatening the use of a weapon of mass destruction":
The single exception he considers is where "a
government might be held hostage for the release of political prisoners"
(1978: 85) (which is, of course, the very motive cited in the 1975 Stuttgart
case referred to in the section on "Chemical Terrorism"
above).108 Hurwitz, on
the other hand, has no difficulty coming up with what he considers to be
In seeking to explain the relative non-use of CB weapons for mass destruction purposes by terrorists, some authors refer to the simple fact that, historically, for whatever reason, terrorist attacks have typically been limited and not indiscriminate (Alexander 1990: 10; Jenkins and Rubin 1978: 222 and 227; Mengel 1976: 458; Joyner 1990: 137; Milbank 1976: 31; Jenkins 1975: 11)110. Alexander points out that "Had it been otherwise, they could have used conventional weapons to cause major disasters in our extremely vulnerable society by attacking, for example, hazardous-chemical plants" (1981: 344 and 1983: 227). Mengel discusses at some length the organizational constraints that might help account for such conservatism:
In the past, few attackers have selected targets indiscriminately....
Berkowitz et al. reach similar conclusions about "the inhibiting
factors which prevent superviolent attacks from occurring":
Others, however, disagree. Kupperman and Trent, for example, maintain that "Terrorist groups have not been deterred from widespread killing....Mass-destruction weaponry may prove highly appealing to nihilistic groups bent on causing shockingly destructive incidents" (1979: 51). Kellett suggests that "product contamination....may...signal an erosion in the restraints limiting the use of biological, chemical, or radiological agents" (1988: 57). Post points out that "the threshold of mass violence terrorism has already been crossed with the bombing of airliners" (1990: 167)113. To this could be added the even more recent example of the New York City World Trade Center bombing, believed to have been intended to kill thousands.
Hurwitz considers that
Similarly, Simon has suggested that "groups that suffer major setbacks at the hands of a government may one day turn to unconventional weapons as a last resort to either regain momentum or avert total collapse of their movement" (1989: 13). Alexander adds that "Because the confrontation is seen by many groups as an 'all-or-nothing' struggle, in case of failure the terrorists are prepared to bring the government to submission, to actually use these weapons and, in the process, to bring devastation and destruction to many lives including their own" (1981: 345).
Other likely candidates would include groups involved in ethnic or religious
clashes (David 1985: 150). Hoffman, for example, maintains that
McGeorge suggests that some terrorists might perceive CB weapons as having a kind of "mystical" power. In his words: "Religious fundamentalism and the biblical references to epidemics as instruments of divine retribution may encourage those who see themselves as God's emissaries" (1986: 57).
Similarly, the un-named participant in the discussion referred to earlier
notes that constraints might be eroded
Mullen appears to accept the possible "desperation" motive when he writes that "It is difficult to discern any set of conditions short of sheer desperation which would systematically and logically lead terrorist groups to the conclusion that it was in their interest to employ a weapon of mass destruction." However, he goes on to discount the likelihood even of this case: "...there are several requisite steps which must be taken before the desperate use of a mass destruction weapon may be made. The principal one is the advance preparation of contingency plans which encompass such a strategy. However, it does not seem likely that an organization would plan in advance for its own final hours" (1978: 85).
Other possible reasons for the lack or comparative infrequency of CB weapons use by terrorists that are mentioned in the open literature include:
The potential impact on terrorist allies may be an additional disincentive according to David, who believes that "the use of mass-destruction weapons is likely to cause mutual dissociation among terrorist groups. Since most of these groups constantly strive for legitimacy, they are likely to separate themselves from groups using inhuman methods" (1985: 149).
Of course, such considerations would not preclude a
smaller-scale or more discriminate attack. As Jenkins and Rubin note:
"Against a more limited target composed of some segment of the population
or representative of the system despised by the terrorists a church, a police
station, a government office, the boardroom of a major corporation one can more
easily imagine the use of such weapons" (1978: 227)117. Similarly, Bremer warns:
Another participant in the same discussion notes that "The terrorists fear...unleashing harsh crackdowns that will have popular support and threaten the organization's existence. They are concerned about retribution by the world community" (David 1985: 152-3). On the other hand, Kupperman and Trent make the valid point that "Repressive countermeasures that may discredit a democratic government are certainly one terrorist goal" (1979: 51).
Similarly, in regard to chemical terrorism, Thornton argues that "The use of such agents may prove to be the very catalyst that terrorists have been seeking to provoke the US into an overreaction that our international friends and allies so fear" (1987: 2)120;
Most of those authors who speculate about why terrorists have not resorted to CB weapons more frequently in the past go on to warn that the historical record in this respect cannot necessarily be considered as a reliable guide to the future. Thus, for example, Jenkins and Rubin caution that "we cannot depend on the permanence of political or moral constraints on the activities of political extremists" (1978: 269); Kupperman and Trent that "the arguments against the plausibility of...terrorist use of mass-destruction agents may not be as compelling, for the longer term, as they now appear" (1979: 50); Bremer that "There are...no grounds for complacency about the utilization of modern technologies" (1988: 4); and Alexander that "There are...no guarantees that the self-imposed constraints of terrorist groups will persist indefinitely" (1983: 227).
Among the trends possibly predisposing terrorists to greater use of CB weapons in future, the following may be noted:
Regardless of which of the above trends (if any) may be held responsible,
there is an evident perception on the part of most authors that the likelihood
of use of CB weapons by terrorists in the future is increasing (David 1985:
151; Post 1990: 167; Jenkins, cited in Marshall 1990: 368 and 373). This
perception also seems to be shared by government officials. L. Paul Bremer III,
the US Ambassador-at-Large for Counter-Terrorism, in his May 1988 testimony to
US Secretary of State George Shultz in his 7 January 1989 speech to the
International Chemical Disarmament Conference in Paris declared that
"Terrorists' access to chemical and biological weapons is a growing threat
to the international community" (quoted in Barnaby 1992: 85). In 1991 the
US Congressional Office of Technology Assessment warned that "A terrorist
attack using chemical or biological (CB) agents has not yet occurred, but might
happen in the near future" (OTA 1991: 32). More recently, the head of the
Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, Ye. Primakov, declared that "A great
possibility...exists of chemical and biological weapons use for terrorist
purposes," noting: "Terrorism with the employment of WMD [weapons of
mass destruction] is being transformed from a plot of adventure films into an
urgent problem for realistic policy" (1993: 5-6). A 1993 report by the US
House Committee on Armed Services concluded that
According to a 1993 report in the New York Times, a Pentagon study on "Terrorism Futures" scheduled to be released in early 1994 concludes that "'there will be proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,' including biological, chemical and small nuclear devices" (Thomas and Lippman 1993). Another report on the same study quotes the authors, Marvin Cetron and Owen Davies, as warning that tomorrow's "most dangerous terrorists will be motivated not by political ideology but by fierce ethnic and religious hatreds....Nuclear, biological and chemical weapons are ideal for their purpose" (Intelligence Newsletter 1994c: 6).
Within the past year or so, there has been an increase in the number of public statements by senior US government officials warning of the dangers of mass destruction terrorism, including the possible use of chemical and biological agents. These have included statements by Defense Secretary Les Aspin at a NATO defense ministers' meeting in December 1993 (Defence Newsletter 1993: 3); Lt. Gen. James Clapper, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, at the National Defense University in Washington, DC, in the fall of 1994 (Starr 1994); CIA Director James Woolsey, on CNN television on 18 December 1994 (Reuters 1994e and AFP 1994); and Acting CIA Director William Studeman, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on 17 January 1995 (Reuters 1995c).
"Top military and intelligence officials" were cited as having told a conference on "counter-proliferation" at the National Defense University in mid-November 1994 of their "concern that fundamentalist religious and ethnic groups would soon be acquiring and using nuclear, biological and chemical weapons in terrorist strikes against the West, particularly the U.S.." The report went on: "Experts believe that terrorists are 'almost certain' to begin using WMD's [weapons of mass destruction] within the next five years, ushering in an age of super-terrorism" (Intelligence Newsletter 1994b: 5). General Clapper was quoted as describing "the potential for a terrorist incident involving nuclear, chemical or biological weapons" as "one of the 'most nightmarish concerns' facing the USA and its allies," and further as having stated: "It is amazing we have not seen any actual incidents" (Starr 1994). Similarly, Woolsey was reported to have told CNN that the possibility of a terrorist seizing or manufacturing a nuclear, chemical, or biological weapon was one of the CIA's "greatest preoccupations" at present (AFP 1994). And Admiral Studeman told the Senate Armed Services Committee the following month: "I think that there is a prospect that one of those kinds of threats...could potentially reach the United States in this decade" (Reuters 1995c).
The academic authors examined for this study have varying views on the
issue. Perhaps not surprisingly, those writing in the 1970s exhibited the
greatest degree of skepticism about the likelihood of terrorist use of chemical
or biological weapons. For example, Mengel, writing in 1976, insisted that
Even more definitively, Mullen wrote: "The more mass destruction weapon city- or government-hostage scenarios are examined, the more unlikely a proposition they seem to become" (1978: 85); "It simply strains the bounds of credulity to conclude that noninstitutional terrorist violence will evolve to a mass destruction capability" (88); "the possibility of a credible terrorist mass destruction threat seems remote in the extreme" (88); "the possibility of a threat appears too remote to consider that a credible one will occur in the foreseeable future" (88); and: "the danger of non-institutional terrorist mass destruction threats are [sic] vanishingly remote" (89).122 Even Mengel and Mullen issued some caveats, however: Mengel that the "potential nature [of new-technology terrorism] should not delude public officials and private citizens into believing it cannot happen" (1976: 473); and Mullen that "the possibility such a threat could arise is also a function of geo-political, cultural, temporal, and economic factors....the same level of potential threat, while small, does not exist for all peoples and all nations" (1978: 89).
In this regard it is interesting to see the evolution in the views of Robert
Kupperman over time. In 1979, he and Trent wrote that "Biological and
chemical agents, though readily attainable, have remained largely unused and
therefore do not appear to be likely terrorist weapons" and that
"Although we expect that terrorism will take on new and more harmful forms
and the possibility of irrational acts of mass destruction cannot be excluded
we do not anticipate mass-destruction terrorism" (1979: 46 and 48). By
1988, Kupperman and Woolsey were warning:
And by 1993: "Clandestine attacks using chemical, biological, and radiological agents pose a significant risk and they may prove quite difficult to deter" (Kupperman and Smith 1993: 36).
Not surprisingly, of recent works on the subject, those of Douglass and
Livingstone are perhaps the most alarmist. In 1987, they described "the
chilling prospect of a terrorist group building or stealing C/B weapons"
as "a very real threat" (1987: 11), going on:
Similarly, Ketcham and McGeorge describe "the use of...chemical, biological, and toxin agents" as "one of the greatest terrorist threats facing the United States" (1986: 31). By contrast, as late as 1992, Griffiths was stating confidently that "The chances of terrorists using CBW appear to be remote at this time" (1992: 222).
Most analyses of the issue fall somewhere in-between these extremes. That of
Hurwitz is perhaps the most daring, in attempting to assign a probability:
Referring to the terrorist acquisition of "atomic bombs, nerve gas, [and] germ weapons," Lowell Ponte declares: "More than possible, it is probable, indeed almost certain, that this will happen" (1977: 58).
Most commentators on the potential use of CB weapons for mass destruction by terrorists appear to agree on at least three points:
Or as Kupperman writes: "...mass-destruction terrorism should be viewed as a very high-consequence, low-probability event which must be studied seriously, for it is unfortunate but true that a great deal of trouble can be created by terrorists who are sufficiently dedicated and willing to take considerable personal risks" (1985: 157); and
As in the case of biological and chemical weapons treated separately, a few of the authors consulted attempt to delineate the characteristics of terrorist groups most likely to resort to a mass-destruction, CB attack. The following such characteristics have been suggested:
(1) state sponsorship, given the requirements for training, money, and test areas (Bremer 1988: 7);
(2) those with objectives attracting highly-educated individuals (for example, anti-nuclear, environmentalist, and animal rights activists) (Bremer 1988: 7);
(3) those responsible for high-casualty operations in the past (Bremer 1988:
12). As Mengel puts it:
Bremer suggests as possible candidates of this type "some radical Sikh and Tamil elements, some groups in Lebanon, and Sendero Luminoso in Peru" (1988: 12);
(4) those ideologically opposed to Western society in general, who are out to build an entirely new structure on the ruins of the old (David 1985: 148);
(5) those whose operations are directed against countries or ethnic groups other than their own (David 1985: 148; Post 1990: 166). David notes that both the IRA and PLO fall into this category;
(6) smaller groups (David 1985: 150);
(7) those least deterred by Western public opinion, such as religious fundamentalists (Post 1990: 166). Post does not believe that the PLO fits this profile, noting that "Palestinian terrorism plays very strongly to the West and to the United States. The more moderate wing of the Palestinian movement will be reluctant to sponsor terrorist activity which can disaffect the West." Rather, he proposes "the more radical Shi'ite fundamentalist groups" (1990: 166);
(8) so-called "losers," who are "failing and on the way out," and may consequently have a "'what have we got to lose' attitude" (Post 1990: 167). In Post's words: "They may feel that, in order to justify their existence and recapture the headlines, they need a terrorist 'spectacular' to regain their sense of efficacy and demonstrate their potency as a power" (1990: 167). Mengel agrees that "Means involving mass casualties are typically employed by a group at the conclusion of a failed revolution, during periods of intense frustration, or when support declines" (1976: 453);
(9) those who have previously demonstrated a capability for high technology
and a willingness to incur substantial risks (Alexander 1981: 345). Mengel
discusses the "risk" aspect at some length:
Overall, Mullen observes (writing in 1978) that "if one searches for
terrorist groups possessing technological and physical science skills, such
will be found only in two or three relatively small groups in the
mid-East" (1978: 87). Post argues that, because of the likelihood of
alienating the general population, European terrorist groups are unlikely to be
sponsors of mass-casualty terrorism (1990: 166). Alexander, on the other hand,
suggests a mix of Middle Eastern and European groups: Fatah; Hezbollah,
"operating with the support of Iran"; Direct Action (France); the
IRA; and the Red Army Faction (1990: 10). According to David,
An un-named participant in the discussion following David's presentation opined that, although he was certain that the PLO had "the ability and the facilities today to use some of the mass-destruction weapons such as chemical or perhaps biological weapons," he did "not believe that the PLO as it stands today would decide to use such means," although "a small group within the PLO may do so" (David 1985: 150).
In their discussion of "groups posing the most serious threat to the United States," Livingstone and Douglass suggest that a number of domestic US terrorist organizations could have both the capability and the motivation to launch CB attacks: (1) the Puerto Rican separatist group FALN ("It is unlikely that such a group would refrain from using chemical or biological weapons if it served their purposes"); (2) environmental extremists such as the New World Liberation Front ("composed of the kind of better-educated zealots capable of building a chemical or biological device"); and (3) small "nihilist" groups ("It is not difficult to imagine a person like the Reverend Jim Jones or a group like the Manson Gang trying to develop a crude C/B capability"). With regard to the latter, however, they add: "Fortunately, such groups have had, to date, a low resource capability, and even a crude C/B device is probably beyond their province" (Livingstone and Douglass 1984: 21-22).
McGeorge distinguishes between three "levels" in terms of the ability of a terrorist group to acquire and use CB agents. A "Level I" group, whose members lack a background in chemistry or microbiology and "do not enjoy the support of a patron willing to subsidize a CB mission," are "limited to off-the-shelf chemicals acquired by purchase or theft." A much smaller number of groups fall into the "Level II" category, having "members who possess significant training in chemistry or microbiology, or who have access to these skills through sponsors," and who also have "access to at least minimal laboratory facilities." According to McGeorge, such groups "can be expected to be able to undertake the manufacture of traditional CB agents and effective if not very efficient delivery systems." Finally, "Level III includes only groups so experienced in conventional terrorism that a patron state would risk exposure by supplying the group with the means to mount a CB attack." McGeorge suggests that "Cabals led by Abu Nidal and the IRA are possible examples of this class of attacker" (1986: 58).
Not surprisingly, as in the case of biological and chemical terrorism
treated separately, most authors are rather pessimistic about the chances of
defending against a CB terrorist attack directly. Livingstone, for example,
maintains that "The United States has virtually no defense against a
large-scale chemical or biological attack. Vaccines and antidotes are not
stockpiled in anywhere near the quantities needed to provide adequate
protection either to the public or to U.S. military units" (1982: 110).
Douglass and Livingstone add: "...should such a [CB] attack occur, it is
unlikely that it could be rapidly detected or that the specific agent would be
expeditiously identified....Few police departments or civil defense units have
standard U.S. military chemical agent detector kits or such things as detector
paper and vesicant detector crayons" (1987: 18). Similarly, Jenkins and
Rubin write that
Cohen emphasizes the impracticality of direct physical defence in pointing out that any attempt to guard the ventilation systems of large buildings "would surely require a guard force of thousands in every large city" (1976: 35). According to Atkins: "Much of the counterterrorism effort of the United States is directed toward reducing threats of this nature, but no effective military or civilian defense against these agents has been developed" (1992).
Proposed measures to deal with the threat of CB terrorism fall into the same five broad categories examined with reference to defence against biological terrorism: (1) intelligence-gathering; (2) counter-acquisition; (3) passive protection; (4) active defences; and (5) contingency planning. Each of these will now be dealt with in turn125:
(1) intelligence gathering. A number of authors stress the crucial role of intelligence (Douglass and Livingstone 1987; Mengel 1976, especially pp. 468-470; Mullins 1992: 117; McGeorge 1986: 61; Berkowitz et al. 1972: X-37).126 Among the specific suggestions made in this regard are:
(2) counter-acquisition strategies. Many authors stress the need for
more effective controls on the acquisition of dangerous substances or equipment
used to produce them (Douglass and Livingstone 1987: 173; Mengel 1976: 464 and
470; David 1985: 150). In the words of Douglass and Livingstone:
Similarly, Mengel calls for new legislation to "develop standards for protecting specific materials and items of equipment crucial to the manufacture of high-technology weapons," as well as the "prescription of licensing procedures for the purchase and retention of special materials associated with high-technology terrorism" (1976: 470). Also within this category, in keeping with her emphasis on the role of state sponsorship, Buck declares that "one of the most important steps that must be taken is to exercise control worldwide to stop nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons from falling into the hands of sovereign states that will use such weapons for terrorist purposes" (1989: 435). Similarly, Marshall cites the argument of "many analysts" that "Preventing proliferation and keeping the moral taboos against their use...are the best ways to keep both states and terrorists from using chemical and biological weapons" (1990: 368). Later on, in referring to the twin goals of denying access to weapons materials and "delegitimizing" chemical and biological weapons, he writes (with a view to the then-emerging Chemical Weapons Convention) that "Many experts believe both goals are best achieved through a verifiable multilateral treaty" (1990: 378).
(3) passive protection. Under this rubric, Griffiths calls for the
provision to police forces of protective equipment such as respirator masks or
chemical hoods, overalls or suits, gloves and gumboots (1992: 222). Similarly,
Mengel calls for the provision of specialized equipment, such as "basic
chemical test kits," to "handle" CB situations (1976: 462 and
466). According to Mengel:
Nevertheless, Mengel judges that
Other possible measures of "passive protection" include:
Again: "Both stand-off detectors and point detectors need to know just what agents to look for. For remote optical detection, the emission or absorption spectrum of the agent must be known in advance" (OTA 1991: 54);
(4) active defenses. About the only specific proposal falling into
this category is the suggestion by Douglass and Livingstone for the creation of
a "covert strike force" against state sponsors of CB terrorism. In
Marshall, however, points out the difficulties of relying on deterrence through the threat of retaliation when he writes that "Terrorists are generally immune to the kinds of deterrents that might be effective against states, because the victimized country doesn't often know just where to retaliate in the wake of a terrorist incident" (1990: 378). Ponte puts the same point a little more colourfully, declaring that "Wielding such weapons, the technoterrorist....[i]n some ways...is more powerful than governments, for he can hide and move and strike at will with no more fear of retaliation than a common criminal, and he can bring governments to their knees" (1980: 53).
(5) contingency planning. Among the many suggestions made in this category are:
Yet, as he puts it: "...as an umbrella concept, planning is the principal factor in control. Without planning, other aspects of control will in all probability fail when implementation is necessary" (1976: 472). As for the private sector in regard to product tampering, Jenkins reports that "Food and drug manufacturers have increased their response preparations, including public information contingency plans, procedures for the prompt and efficient recall of threatened products, and simulations to train decisionmakers and develop possible responses" (1989: 3);
Some authors have contrasted the situation of defence against terrorist use of CB agents with that pertaining to protection against nuclear weapons. "While government uses state-of-the-art technologies in detecting and dealing with nuclear materials and weapons," wrote Kupperman and Woolsey, "we are by contrast poorly prepared to cope with the chemical or biological incidents" (1988: 5). In fact, the early authors on the subject bemoaned the lack of attention paid to CB threats as compared to that of nuclear terrorism in general. Writing in 1976, for example, Mengel declared: "Of greatest importance to the overall problem of high-technology terrorism is the fact that, aside from nuclear terrorism, other forms have not been addressed at any level of government" (1976: 462). As late as 1990, Marshall wrote that there had "been no real attempt" in the US to prepare "a response capability to deal with threatened or actual terrorist use of biological or chemical weapons," and that there was no equivalent to the NEST for chemical or biological incidents. He cited an unidentified State Department official to the effect that "such a response group is just now in the initial stages of being formed" (1990: 378).
More recently, however, governments have begun to rectify the obvious
imbalance in this regard. Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III told Congress in May
1988 of the attention paid to "high technology terrorism" by the U.S.
federal Inter-Departmental Group on Terrorism (IG/T), which he chaired.
According to Bremer:
At the same session of the US Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Technology and the Law, Oliver B. Revell, Executive Assistant Director of the FBI, declared that "Although the United States has not experienced an act of terrorism involving nuclear, chemical, biological or other highly technical weapons," the FBI had "aggressively pursued the coordination of interagency operational responses to prepare for crises such as these" (1988: 15). He went on:
One of the most ambitious projects currently underway at the FBI is the
establishment of a response for chemical and biological terrorism....
In testimony to the same Subcommittee several months later, Revell added that "Each of the FBI's 58 field offices will have contingency plans formulated specifically to address a chemical or a biological terrorist crisis," and that "we intend to provide specialized training to our Special Agents in Charge and other senior management personnel to ensure that the FBI can quickly and effectively deal with such a crisis" (1988b: 3). The representative of the (US) Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at the same hearing on 15 September 1988 revealed the existence of a "Chemical/Biological Incident Response Research and Development Subgroup" of the above-mentioned NBC Working Group (Woloshyn 1988: 6).
The 1991 OTA study, in referring to chemical and biological terrorism, notes
that "One exception to the general low priority given to this topic is the
work undertaken by the interagency Technical Support Working Group
(TSWG)," adding that "Some attempts to develop detection and
protective capabilities applicable to terrorism have been made, notably by the
TSWG" (1991: 32). It goes on:
Appendix D to the 1991 OTA report summarizes a number of recent US projects on CBW detection systems, including development of an automated biochemical detector field device, funded at "approximately $5 million per year"; a projected $30 million project for development, production, and deployment of a chemical and biological mass spectrometer, on which $8.8 million had been spent through fiscal year 1990; and smaller projects for a building air monitor, real-time water monitor, combination detector system, remote agent detector, mobile laboratory, and "improved expedient hood" (1991: 87-90).
The 1992 OTA study concluded that "Interagency coordination for
responding to chemical and biological (CB) terrorism has shown marked (and
sorely needed) improvement recently," noting that "An interagency
plan to respond to such eventualities now exists." However, it went on:
This view is apparently shared by the US House Committee on Armed Services, which in 1993 recommended, simply, that "The United States should strengthen emergency planning to respond to a potential terrorist use of chemical or biological weapons" (1993: 66).
The most detailed, unclassified depiction of the US Government's current structure and programs for dealing with CB terrorism is found in the May 1994 Report on Nonproliferation and Counterproliferation Activities and Programs, produced by the Office of the Deputy Secretary of Defense, John M. Deutch. According to this report, the State Department's Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism "helps coordinate the US government's interagency efforts to be better prepared to respond to a WMD [weapon of mass destru