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Terrorism: CB Terrorism

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.

Putative Advantages of CB Weapons

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:

...C/B weapons can be produced without much difficulty and in a relatively short time. Such weapons could be built clandestinely by individuals of moderate educational attainment with only a minimum of tools and space. Nearly all of the equipment needed could be improvised or purchased without arousing suspicion.... 
...C/B weapons pose far less of a hazard than attempting to build a nuclear can be applied covertly, allowing the terrorists ample opportunity to get away before the attack is discovered. Dissemination of the agent can be easily disguised.... 
...C/B weapons, by comparison to fissionable devices, are characterized by a high degree of reliability. Because of the inability to test it, any terrorist-built nuclear bomb would stand a high probability of being a dud. A C/B device, on the other hand, could be field-tested with only moderate risk to the security of the project.... (1987: 16-18) 

Similarly, Berkowitz et al. outline the attractions of CB weapons for terrorists as follows:

In summary, the chief advantages of CB weapons are the unrestricted availability of the necessary information, the relatively small resources needed, and the ability to test the product. There are no meaningful controls on the availability of chemicals, and what little control exists over pathogenic cultures can be overcome in a variety of ways. Perhaps most important is the fact that the chemical and biological materials can be produced under the cover of an apparently legitimate commercial venture such as a small research company, fine chemical manufacturer, or bio-medical laboratory. (1972: IX-10)

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:

  • the particularly horrible nature of their effects, heightening the terror and being more inclined to spread panic and/or evoke revulsion on the part of publics. Although this may not necessarily distinguish them from nuclear weapons93, it is undoubtedly partly responsible for the fact that the possession and use of chemical and biological weapons is proscribed by international treaty. As Hurwitz puts it:
While these weapons do not quite have the unique destructive power or political force of nuclear weapons, their acquisition and credible deployment by a terrorist group would undoubtedly be considered as a very significant and ghastly escalation of the terrorist threat. The use of C/B weapons in a terrorist incident...would traumatize the government at which the attack was aimed. If the terrorists were well organized and the initial attack were followed up with threats to use C/B weapons again, the possibility exists that widespread social disruption or even panic might result. (1982: 36)94

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);

  • their indetectability to traditional anti-terrorist sensor systems (Root-Bernstein 1991: 50; Marshall 1990: 373);
  • related to the above, the difficulty of defending against them. As Kupperman and Smith put it: "These agents are...largely unstoppable, except possibly by those nations that have prepared for such attacks by means of intelligence, detection, protective clothing, decontamination, vaccines, and emergency management. Clearly, the United States has not" (1993: 36);
  • by comparison to conventional arms, the ease with which they can be disguised, transported, and introduced into the target area (Alexander 1990: 10; OTA 1992: 35; Milbank 1976: 31);
  • in the case of individual assassinations or low-level attacks, the possibility of disguising the cause of death. In Livingstone's words: "A very high index of suspicion would be necessary for a medical examiner to consider the possibility that an apparent heart-attack or stroke victim died as the result of being infected with cobra venom, shellfish toxin, pure nicotine, or any of dozens of other chemical or biological poisons" (1982: 112);
  • the time-lag between release of the agent and its perceived effects on humans reducing the chance of a perpetrator being apprehended (Simon 1989: 10);
  • the lack of a "signature," thus allowing for the possibility of anonymous attacks (OTA 1992: 37);
  • in the case of some agents at least, their "humaneness," in the sense of being able to temporarily incapacitate "rather than kill or maim" (McGeorge 1986: 57); and
  • (borrowing from the earlier section on biological agents), their capacity to seriously damage the economy of a state (by attacking crops or livestock, for example) or to inflict heavy casualties on military forces, both of which may be impossible using traditional terrorist means (Simon 1989: v and 9; Hurwitz 1982: 37; Buck 1989: 433).

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

Requisite Capabilities

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 heroin."97 They conclude:

In the cases of both chemical and biological weapons, apart from some difficulties involved with large-scale dissemination, the primary constraints are not technical. Toxins can be obtained or manufactured, biological pathogens can be purchased or stolen and cultivated, home laboratories suffice, technical literature is widely available, and many persons possess the necessary skills. (1978: 227)

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 Mengel:

There is no question that the technical skills and resources to embark on new-technology terrorism are available. The limiting factor has been, and will apparently continue to be, the ability of an extremist group to combine the necessary physical resources with technicians who are motivated to engage in an activity that could potentially kill thousands of people. (1976: 451)

Similarly, Mullen writes that

...the construction and employment of a weapon of mass destruction...., while in some instances requiring what the author would term only modest technological skills, are nevertheless levels of skill not apparent in terrorist organizations today or historically. It appears very much as though terrorist groups are simply incapable of mounting a credible mass destruction threat, based on technological resource requirements alone.

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.

Likely Types of Agents

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:

To date, the majority of adversaries known to have employed CB agents have opted for relatively pedestrian materials, including cyanides, weed killers, rat poison, drugs and simple bacteria. Though certainly not elegant in a scientific sense, these agents were judged sufficiently effective for the task at hand, relatively safe to handle and readily procurable in sufficient quantity. Although there is evidence of interest in more sophisticated agents, the contemporary situation does not demand their use. This situation is likely to remain unchanged for most adversary groups until a requirement emerges for agents of greater lethality. (1988: 21-22)

Nevertheless, McGeorge warns:

The reader would do well not to be lulled into a sense of complacency because the majority of the potential adversaries have, to date, used only low-level CB technology. There is a significant gap between what is available and what has been used. The gap could close quickly given sufficient inducement. (1988: 22)

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).

Means of Acquisition

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:

...there is mounting evidence that the USSR is now passing on C/B warfare technology and materials to terrorist groups that support Moscow's international policy aims....Cuba has also been reported to be a supply source for toxin and chemical weapons. South African intelligence sources report that members of the marxist-dominated South-West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO), fighting in Namibia, have received training in C/B warfare from Cuba and the PLO. (1987: 33-4)

Hoffman suggests that "Terrorists may be employed by 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).

Means of Delivery

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:

Although dispersion by explosive means results in a significant loss of agent, this method is common and is just as likely to be used. The objective is either to scatter the agent in the air and thereby create a cloud, or to heavily contaminate a ground area. Explosive dissemination often results in a mix of both effects. While not as efficient as a spray device, explosive dissemination is a simple and reliable approach. The obsolete U.S. one-gallon HD mine is representative of such delivery systems.
Large projectiles lend themselves to explosive dissemination. Groups like the IRA are likely to be comfortable with this approach. On several occasions the IRA has used multiple large-bore (approx. 150-mm) mortars mounted in a truck to attack police compounds. (1986: 60-61)

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:

A major difficulty with both chemical and biological agents is the efficient dispersion of these agents. The technical problems associated with the efficient dispersion of large quantities of chemical and biological agents are complex and require considerable professional and organizational capability. Targets for chemical and biological attacks are central water systems, large central air conditioning systems, and foodstuff production facilities. Dispersal by aerial spraying may be effective, but it is difficult to conduct. (1985: 146)

Similarly, Hurwitz writes:

Efficient dispersal presumes a thorough knowledge of the spaces that are to be attacked and the air flow within them, as well as a precise knowledge of the physical properties of the C/B agent used. However, even if the terrorists only managed to reach ten per cent of the intended victims with a lethal dose of the dispersed agent, the casualties from a single terrorist attack...might easily amount to several thousand deaths. (1982: 39)

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. 1972: I-15)102. Berkowitz et al. discuss this issue at some length:

Few modes of attack are less effective than 'dumping something' into a reservoir. To begin with, the capacity of reservoirs serving as impoundment basins for a community bears no necessary relationship to the water consumption of that community. Major reservoirs hold anything from a few months to a ten-year supply, and the water produced is frequently supplemented by ground water infiltration and well pumping. Secondly, the great bulk of water drawn from an urban water supply never comes into physical contact with the population; it waters lawns, washes clothes and cars, flushes toilets, cools industrial equipment, etc.....a reservoir which is the sole source of water for a community of 10,000 and holds only a two-year supply, contains 1.8 billion gallons. If each member of the community were to drink a quart of water a day, seven billion lethal doses would be needed in the reservoir to deliver one dose per victim....Of the chemical poisons described, 8-fluorooctanol would be most appropriate on the grounds of its stability, but 300 metric tons would be needed. If BTX were equally stable, 7 kg of pure toxin would be required. The OPAs are hydrolyzed rapidly enough to make their effectiveness quite dubious. Nor is the reservoir attack problem easier using biological agents. The preferred organisms for water distribution are not ideal BW agents....: standard methods of water purification...serve to remove or destroy pathogenic bacteria....The terrorist could inject pathogenic organisms directly into the mains past the treatment and quality control stations, but this is still an attack of questionable effectiveness. (1972: IX-12-14)

Similarly, the feasibility of large-scale, open-air attacks is dismissed by many (although by no means all) of the authors consulted103. Douglass and Livingstone are an exception, noting:

Although an attack on a single building or facility, using the ventilation system to transmit the agent, remains the most likely scenario, nevertheless, a major attack on a U.S. city cannot be ruled out. 
Terrorists, for example, might outfit an old tanker with internal tanks (suitable for the storage of a chemical or biological agent), powerful pressurized aerosol generators (which could turn the agent into a deadly cloud of vapor), and external booms. From all outward appearances it would look like just another rusting Liberian tanker as it passed through The Narrows heading toward New York. But off the tip of Manhattan it could crank up the generators and open the booms. Within minutes, if weather conditions were right, a great expanding cloud of lethal vapor would be drifting toward the World Trade Center towers. Because the vapor would likely be both odorless and colorless, and thus undetectable to any observer, the ship would be able to dock in New Jersey and the terrorists could escape before the authorities could pinpoint the source of the attack. (1987: 37)

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

Hand-held liquid spray guns similar to the Israeli Model 5 tear gas dispenser would probably appeal to a terrorist willing to confront his victims directly. A suicide squad armed with such devices filled with a fast-acting nerve agent such as Tabun could cause an enormous number of casualties in crowded areas such as airport terminals or shopping malls. (1986: 60)

Other likely targets include embassies, military facilities, and perhaps national monuments (for their symbolic value). According to Livingstone:

It is not unreasonable to fear that one of the next vehicle attacks on a U.S. embassy in the Middle East might actually involve a chemical or biological poison instead of explosives....terrorists could drive by an embassy or through a U.S. military compound releasing the deadly substance by means of an internal generator mounted inside a car or truck. (1986: 143)

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 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).

Incidents of Past Use or Threat

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 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:

One of the main reasons little is heard about terrorist interest in C/B warfare is that authorities are either totally ignorant of the subject or, conversely, so frightened by the implications of such disclosures that they suppress available evidence of C/B incidents perpetrated by terrorists and other nonstate actors....the International Association of Chiefs of Police published a request in its newsletter in 1984 for any data available on C/B incidents....They did not receive a single response!...Yet, the known incidents that have been reported in the media exceed a dozen, and experts state that the real number is over three times that many. (1987: 32)

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

There have been more than 50 chemical/biological incidents involving terrorists or other nonstate actors in recent years, a figure which reportedly represents only the so-called 'tip of the iceberg' since federal authorities in the United States believe that there have been far more incidents, but that most have gone unrecognized for what they really were. (1986: 142)

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:

  • political and criminal adversaries were the most active;
  • adversaries of all types were most likely to act for personal or ideological reasons;
  • general population was the most common target;
  • retail stores were the prevailing venue for reaching the general population;
  • cyanides or comparably common available compounds were the most frequently employed or sought after; [and]
  • contamination of food, drink, consumable products or water supplies were by far the most common means of dissemination attempted. (1994: 13)

Reasons for Non-Use

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:

Terrorists generally use the simplest technology available for their attacks....Simpler technology is less expensive and often more reliable. Low tech equipment is easier to obtain and attracts less attention....More important, the operatives who carry out the attacks need less training with low tech equipment. Finally, the older weapons and technologies are as effective now as they have been in the past. Terrorists continue to receive wide-ranging publicity for their attacks using older or simpler technology and weaponry.
As the targets originally preferred by terrorists have become 'harder,' that is to say better defended, terrorists have usually switched targets rather than turn to new technologies to penetrate defenses. (1988: 2-3)106

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":

....however, there is still much fertile ground to be plowed by purely conventional means of hostage-taking for ransom....Hostage-takers cannot...demand more than can be paid; they cannot demand of a government more than the government's constituency is prepared to give. Nor can they demand the dissolution of a government, or even an effective major policy change, since such demands would tend to be unenforceable unless the terrorists could maintain a long-term enforcement capability, which seems rather unlikely. 

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 realistic demands:

A credible threat of a mass casualty C/B attack, perhaps preceded by a 'demonstration' with casualties numbering in the hundreds, would be viewed as a highly leveraged instrument of coercion that could crack the resolve even of intransigent governments that had not yielded to less severe threats. The goals of such a threat might include the release of imprisoned comrades, a very large ransom, a demonstration of the government's impotence, and perhaps televised speeches of concession by government leaders. (1982: 37)109

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....

The terrorist that would resort to the direct application of new technologies causing uncontrolled, indiscriminate casualties and damage has not appeared. This terrorist would have to combine the motivation necessary to inflict a high level of damage; the technical expertise and resources; and the willingness to sustain his commitment for an extended period of time....Problems of technical expertise and resources may well be lessened by expansion of the group, but the problems associated with maintaining motivation and sustained group commitment increase in geometric proportions in relation to group size. One individual may well accept uncontrolled indiscriminate consequences, but it is not likely that any group of persons would be able to retain the organization with objectives of this nature. (1976: 458)111

Berkowitz et al. reach similar conclusions about "the inhibiting factors which prevent superviolent attacks from occurring":

We suggest that they stem from the very low likelihood of combining comprehensible motivation with the necessary degree of severe mental illness. To give credence to the threat, we are brought back to the most fundamental question of all: the coalescense in a single individual of (1) the very rare psychosis, organized paranoia; (2) the charismatic leadership able to motivate a threat group; (3) the technical sophistication needed to conceptualize and direct the effort; and (4) the ability to sustain group commitment for an extended period focused on a difficult and risky task. It is incorrect to argue the likelihood of superviolence on the basis of technical practicability or availability of materials; the essential element is the threat group leader. (1972: IX-18)112

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

In the hands of a group such as the IRA that perceived straightforward military value from the use of C/B weapons, these weapons might be used in an attack on an enemy military or political target of extremely high symbolic or actual importance.
In a less 'rational' mode, C/B weapons might be used by an extremist group that had little concern about alienating an outside constituency, but perceived that it might, through a last desperate act or series of acts, achieve a measure of influence. If it failed to influence events, a group could try to destroy what it could not control, avenge its killed or tortured comrades, or simply attack the members of a group that they despised or considered as subhuman. Finally, one could consider the use of C/B weapons as an instrument of punishment by a desperate terrorist group facing imminent defeat and the loss of all that they had fought could imagine an extremist Palestinian group using C/B weapons in a desperate last-ditch effort to block an Arab-Israeli peace treaty. (1982: 37-8)

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

...ethnic/religious fanaticism could more easily allow terrorists to overcome the psychological barriers to mass murder than could a radical political agenda. A terrorist group of religious zealots, with state support, in a context of ongoing violence (i.e., the civil war in Yugoslavia or some new internecine conflict in one of the former Soviet Union's republics) could see the acquisition and use of a chemical, biological, or nuclear capability a viable option....Combined with intense ethnic enmity or a strong religious imperative, this could prove deadly. (1993: 24)

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

...where the terrorists' opponents and intended victims are clearly of a different ethnic group....We note in sectarian violence the ability to become quite cruel. One is mentally able to reduce the opponent to a subhuman status. Also, religious beliefs and fanaticism erode many of the constraints because the religious fanatics have the sanction of God.... Another factor to consider is that the length of the struggle itself may have a brutalizing effect....The lengthy struggle, the loss of comrades, and the desire for immediate revenge may be significant factors....The perception that the terrorist cause is hopeless may provoke a doomsday finale to an episode....
Finally, there is the bureaucratic argument....could it not be that the will to have this weapon even without having a specific use for it will drive them? But once you have one such weapon, it serves as an incentive for using it. (David 1985: 153)

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:

  • moral qualms. This one may seem a bit odd when speaking of terrorism, but according to one un-named "participant" in a discussion of the subject, "Another constraint which may affect terrorist decision-making is morality....groups have stated that it is simply immoral to kill many innocent people who are not their enemies" (David 1985: 152). Jenkins and Rubin also mention "moral considerations" as an "important constraint," but make it clear that they are referring to the inhibitions of others, rather than the terrorists themselves, when they write: "The fact that most nations have renounced chemical and biological warfare may suggest to any group considering their use that their action will provoke widespread revulsion" (1978: 227)114. Jackson rejects outright the notion that terrorist themselves would be inhibited by moral considerations: "Nihilistic bodies, inspired by the concept of the 'purity of violence,'...remain unburdened by any moral constraints at all" (1992: 520)115. Kupperman and Kamen appear to go a step further in disputing even an indirect connection when they write that "Taboos against the use of chemical and biological (CB) weaponry are...largely illusory" (1989: 93). Finally, McGeorge goes so far as to suggest that terrorists, rather than considering CB weapons as "immoral," may actually perceive them as endowing the user with some special kind of "moral" power:
Conventional weapons arouse antipathy and may be seen as diluting the morality of violence. Conversely, CB weapons may be perceived as transcending these prejudices, thus ensuring that violence is not thought of as a mere crime but as a legitimate political tool. (1986: 57);
    • political utility. Many authors believe that terrorists are inhibited by the realization that any use by them of CB weapons for mass destructive purposes would be counterproductive by alienating their followers or potential supporters (Jenkins and Rubin 1978: 227; Kupperman and Trent 1979: 49; David 1985: 149-50; Mullen 1978: 84; Hurwitz 1982: 39; Post 1990: 166; Hoffman 1993: 23; US House Armed Services Committee 1993: 26; Milbank 1976: 31; Jenkins 1975: 11-12; Cohen 1976: 35; Clutterbuck 1994: 53). In Post's words: "An action which produces mass casualties would, by definition, disaffect the general population, the very population whose support the terrorists require, and whom the terrorists are seeking to influence positively to support their cause" (1990: 166)116. Similarly, Hurwitz writes: "...the terrorist organization that used C/B agents in a mass casualty attack would take a tremendous risk of alienating key friendly and neutral constituencies. Years of patiently cultivating the support of certain groups might be sacrificed in a few moments. World opinion might be quite hostile in the aftermath of this 'heinous crime'" (1982: 39). According to Mullen: order for terror to be an effective tactic for coercion, terrorists must be able to make their constituencies understand what is being attempted, and let them know that there are penalties involved and that innocents will be spared to the degree possible. The use of weapons of mass destruction could violate each of these criteria. Such weapons could kill or injure innocent people in very large numbers; the penalties would far exceed any accepted norms for conventional violence; and the terrorist message would likely be lost in the revulsion engendered by any such attack. (1978: 84)

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:

...terrorists with the technical sophistication to use weapons of mass destruction may very well also have the political sophistication to protect their long-range goals while acting in the nearer term. For example, terrorists could overcome the constraints on using such weapons simply by downscaling the initial weapon so that it produces only a low or moderate number of casualties. This would offer a demonstration of the credibility and lethality of their threat to inflict mass casualties later if their demands are not met now. (1988: 11-12)118;
    • the problem of a "safe haven." An un-named participant in the aforementioned discussion noted that "Currently,...Iraq and Libya grant asylum to terrorists" and asked: "Would either continue to do so following the killing of, say, thousands of people? I am not certain" (David 1985: 151). Similarly, Kupperman and Kamen note that "In the past, it seemed likely that even if the technological hurdles were surmounted, terrorist groups would be refused safe haven if they went too far," although they caution that "Since nations have begun to sponsor these events, the problems of safe haven are less at issue" (1989: 94);
    • restraint by state sponsors. While some authors, as we have seen, credit the rise of state sponsorship with expanding the opportunities for CB terrorism119, others are not so sure. David, for example, warns that "the use of such weapons might cause a serious deterioration in the relationship between the terrorist organization and its supporting countries....the use of mass-destruction weapons increases the likelihood that the supporting state will be retaliated against by target states" (1985: 149). Similarly, Mullen suggests that where a terrorist group is state-sponsored, "This in itself might lead to caution in the employment of weapons of mass destruction, since such employment could very likely precipitate countermeasures of such severity as to topple any government associated with the act" (1978: 85). David refers to another possible inhibition on state sponsorship when he writes that "a superpower would clearly refrain from cooperation with groups using mass-destruction weapons....[because] they would be relatively immune to superpower influence and control" and "may involve the superpower in escalation and catalytic processes in which the superpower might have no control" (1985: 149);
    • fear of repression. Again, this may seem a little odd when speaking of terrorist acts, but a surprising number of authors cite this as a factor inhibiting the use of CB weapons for mass destruction (Kupperman and Trent 1979: 49; Kupperman and Woolsey 1988: 2-3; Hurwitz 1982: 39; Mullen 1978: 84-5; Hoffman 1993: 23; Brian Jenkins, quoted in Marshall 1990: 373). In this regard, the un-named "participant" referred to earlier states:
I think there are certain rules of the game between terrorists and national governments. There is a lack of resolve on the part of governments, for example, to take what I would call brutal action against the terrorists. Both parties agree to certain rules, namely, not to go beyond what is acceptable to both. Once political terrorists used mass-destruction weapons, the whole conception of the rules of the game would change. (David 1985: 150-1)

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;

  • lack of control. This is a key factor emphasized by Mengel, related to fears of indiscriminate killing but going beyond them:
Chemical or biological weapons may well carry effects far beyond the intended target. Once agents are released, the attacker has lost control of events, with potential catastrophic results.
In the past, few attackers have selected targets indiscriminately, and even fewer have employed weapons that present problems of subsequent control after employment....It is evident from past events that terrorists, in general, seldom opt for direct application of technologies that cannot be determined to some degree prior to the attack. (1976: 458);
    • safety considerations. Related to the immediately preceding point, Griffiths notes:
On the debit side, so far as the terrorist is concerned, the use of CBW, which would most likely be of the nerve agent type to ensure a rapid fatal effect, would require the people concerned to be equipped with Individual Protective Equipment (IPE) to ensure that they would not suffer any ill effects and this would be a considerable encumbrance to their mobility and speed of action....the use of CBW...would demand some additional protective measures that would present problems. (1992: 222);
    • and, finally, technical constraints. Although most authors consider these to be relatively insignificant (as recounted in some detail in the previous sections on "Requisite Capabilities"), a few still cite them as an inhibition on terrorist use of CB weapons. For example, after largely discounting the possible terrorist nuclear threat on technical grounds, Bremer notes that "Development of biological and chemical weapons presents similar, although less compelling technical constraints" (1988: 9). Similarly, David maintains that "despite all their deficiencies, preventive means have presented those wishing to acquire...weapons [of mass destruction] with serious obstacles" (1985: 149). Clutterbuck simply judges that "the operation is far more complex than a shooting, kidnap or hijack, and more likely to lead to failure or arrest" (1994: 53).

Current Trends/Likelihood of Future Use

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 grounds for complacency about the utilization of modern technologies" (1988: 4); and Alexander that "There 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:

  • a higher degree of organization and professionalism, supplemented by better equipment, inclining terrorists to "take greater operational risks in the next decade" (Alexander 1990: 10);
  • the rise of state sponsorship (described more fully in the previous section);
  • the diffusion of technology worldwide (Kupperman and Woolsey 1988: 3; US House Armed Services Committee 1993: 26), combined with the availability of CB warfare expertise from states (especially disintegrating ones, such as the former Soviet Union) that previously ran military programmes in this area;
  • the fact that CB weapons have been acquired and used in Third World conflicts, despite international prohibitions on such use, and without eliciting the degree of revulsion and subsequent harshness of response that might have been anticipated;
  • the fact that "most of the terrorists' primary targets are better defended today" (Bremer 1988: 6); in Bremer's words: "One of the ironies we face is that successful protection of more and more targets may drive terrorists to use higher technologies" (1988: 16). Similarly, Alexander writes:
...assuming that conventional terrorism would be brought under substantial control in the foreseeable future through national and international legislation as well as through increased security and enforcement measures, this may in fact have the effect of hastening the advent of mass destruction terrorism....Should effective governmental and intergovernmental responses deny terrorists their sought-after publicity, they are likely to change tactics, increase their audacity, and escalate their symbolic-oriented acts through high-technology weapons, if available. (1981: 345)121;
    • the increasing prevalence of inter-ethnic conflicts and those motivated by religious fundamentalism, in which moral restraints may be less operative, in the post-Cold War world;
    • the increasing prevalence of conflicts pitting major Western powers against regional states, some of which sponsor terrorism, in which terrorist use of mass-destruction weapons may be the only means by which such states can hit back against their adversaries and, in particular, inflict severe casualties on their military forces or significant damage to their economies;
    • an increase in indiscriminate attacks by terrorist groups, as evidenced by the cases of product contamination (Kellett 1988: 57 and 60);
    • a trend in targeting away from property and towards people (Kellett 1988: 60);
    • a more frequent occurrence of high-casualty incidents (Kellett 1988: 60-61); and
    • the comparative lack of attention paid to less dramatic terrorist incidents; in Post's words: "An act which would have attracted world attention years ago now barely gets a yawn from a jaded public, so there is a momentum arguing for 'bigger and better' terrorist events to capture attention" (1990: 167).

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 Congress warned:

The relative scarcity of high tech terrorism up until now gives us no basis for complacency....assessments grounded on predicting terrorist behavior cannot be taken as protection. There is too much uncertainty....While the counter-terrorism community's assessment is that current risks are modest, the long-term picture is much less clear. (1988: 15-16)

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

...the prospects for chemical and biological terrorism have probably increased as terrorists and sponsors of terrorism acquire chemical and biological warfare agents and weapons and as dual-use technology and expertise have spread internationally. Therefore, the possibility of terrorist use of such agents against the United States or one of its allies cannot be discounted and should not be ignored. (26 and 65-66)

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

...high-technology terrorism is more speculative than real. Chemical and biological technologies have been available for years and have never been employed....the probability of any group successfully combining the material resources, requisite skills, and motivations necessary to perpetrate an act using high technologies is extremely low. Even the theft of a suitable ready-to-use not likely. (1976: 471-2)

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:

If international terrorism comes to the U.S., it is likely that its practitioners will do more than just set off a 'pipe-bomb'....Inexorably, we are led to the prospect of more sophisticated acts of terrorism than we have seen to date, including...the dispersal of chemical, biological and radiological agents in densely populated areas. (1988: 2)

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:

According to one military planner familiar with the terrorist threat, 'Bugs and drugs are the wave of the future.' The threat of terrorists developing a C/B weapon and using it within the borders of the United States is so real that five years ago the Centers for Disease Control were asked to provide special assistance to the FBI antiterrorist special operations team. (1987: 29)

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:

...the fact that terrorists have not paid much attention to C/B weapons in the past does not assure that they will not do so in the future. The ready availability of C/B agents... means that, for a major incident to occur, only one terrorist group at any single point in time needs to find that such a weapon meets its requirements....While the question of whether terrorists will use C/B weapons in mass casualty attack is unknown and perhaps unknowable this author believes that the odds are perhaps even or slightly higher that an attack will eventually occur. (1982: 39)123

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:

  • (1) that whatever the precise likelihood of such use, it is greater than that for nuclear weapons (Douglass and Livingstone 1987: 174; Loehmer 1993: 64)124;
  • (2) that despite the generally-presumed relatively low likelihood of use, the magnitude of the possible consequences are such that authorities must take the threat seriously and prepare for it as best they can (Kupperman and Trent 1979: 52). As the US National Task Force on Disorders and Terrorism put it:
The science-fiction overtones of threats involving novel destructive technology should not be permitted to obscure the possibility that they may be practical and serious....despite the low statistical probability of seriousness, threats involving novel technologies of mass destruction must be treated as serious threats for the purpose of subsequent police operations; the level of potential destruction involved permits no other course of action. (1976: 182)

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

  • (3) that regardless of the probability of the first mass-destruction incident, once it has occurred the chances of further such incidents are much increased, as imitators take advantage of the proven feasibility and whatever specific "lessons" may have been learned (Alexander 1981: 345; Alexander 1990: 10; OTA 1992: 35; David 1985: 151; Marshall 1990: 373). As an unnamed participant in one discussion put it:
The only statement we could safely make about the probability of terrorist use of unconventional weapons is that it is greater the second time than the first time....whatever the probability of it happening a first time, once it is done there is a higher probability of groups trying to imitate such an act, claiming with increasing credibility to have such capabilities. (David 1985: 151)

Candidate Groups

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:

A principal factor...becomes the ability to ascertain to what levels of violence a particular type of group will escalate to achieve its objectives. A type of group that has taken pains to avoid casualties in the past, probably will not be interested in creating the fatalities generally associated with adopting new technologies. Conversely, a type of group that has historically shown little regard for human life in the target area, such as a separatist movement, should be examined to determine whether it has escalated its terrorist acts and has collected the resources necessary for new-technology terrorism. (1976: 450-1)

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:

...High-technology terrorism, particularly chemical, biological, and nuclear modes, requires extensive risk in the acquisition phase. Not only are there extensive dangers of detection in accumulating resources...,but personnel safety is a constant concern, as are the strains placed on the organization by the requirement for commitment over an extended period of time.
Implementation risk is greater in high technology than in conventional terrorism because of the inherent characteristics of the technologies themselves. It is generally more difficult and risky to employ a chemical, biological, or nuclear device than to engage in other forms of terrorism....Probably most significant of the risks is maintaining the necessary degree of motivation among organization members. Unless the willingness and resolve to commit an act that may have catastrophic societal consequences can be sustained, the organization faces an increased likelihood of compromise. (1976: 460)

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,

Of all the terrorist organizations, the PLO appears to be the best equipped to acquire nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. It enjoys enormous technical support from irresponsible national governments of sovereign states, such as Libya; it enjoys much freedom of action on Lebanese territory; it can meet the financial burden through the aid it receives from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Libya; and it enjoys observer status at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).... (David 1985: 149)

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).

Defence Against CB Terrorism

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

...physical protection against [chemical or biological weapons] is impossible or impractical. Marginal improvements could be made by increasing the obstacles to unauthorized users acquiring certain dangerous chemical compounds and cultures. The problem is that many chemical toxins and biological pathogens have legitimate benign uses as well. (1978: 227)

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:

  • the establishment by the US of a foreign "covert penetration and collection program that is significantly broader in scope and quality than existing efforts" (Douglass and Livingstone 1987: 172). As for US domestic intelligence gathering, Douglass and Livingstone call for a "major overhaul of the Levi-Smith guidelines....[which] prohibit the FBI from investigating individuals or organizations unless they are known to have committed or are about to commit a crime," as well as "an amendment to the federal tort claims act that will provide protection to FBI investigators" and "coordinated changes in the Freedom of Information and Privacy Acts" (1987: 172-3)127;
  • "systematic intelligence exchanges" (Mengel 1976: 464 and 468). As Mengel puts it: "...if intelligence is to be effective in countering the threat in the planning and fabrication phases of high-technology terrorism, exchanges of information must take place at all levels of law enforcement, including lateral exchanges between parallel agencies" (1976: 468);
  • "international cooperation in the surveillance of the activities of terrorist groups and their supporting states in this [mass-destruction weapons] area" (David 1985: 150);
  • the use of disaffected group members as informers (Mengel 1976: 464);128 and
  • the development of "specific intelligence related to high technology," including a list of indicators of an impending incident and "trend analysis of individual groups and the incidents they perpetrate" (Mengel 1976: 469-70).129 Examples of "indicators that should be developed and evaluated" given by Mengel include: "theft or loss in shipment of a biological culture"; "theft of chemicals clearly associated with the manufacture of dangerous agents"; "purchase or theft of unique filters"; "purchase or theft of special handling equipment (e.g., protective clothing, isolation chambers, glove boxes)"; "abduction of persons with high-technology backgrounds"; "rental of isolated facilities"; "purchase of laboratory equipment suitable for chemical, biological, or nuclear experimentation"; "suspicious purchases of chemicals"; "indiscriminate targeting by terrorists"; and "Unexplained sickness or unusual diseases reported for treatment." According to Mengel, "It is very doubtful that even three or four of these indicators would occur at any one locale. Thus, to be of utility in detecting potential high-technology terrorism, there should be a mechanism for information exchange" (1976: 469);

(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:

The lack of effective controls on obtaining deadly specimen cultures or dangerous chemicals is a serious and potentially disastrous problem requiring urgent federal action. Similarly, the absence of uniformly rigorous standards governing the handling, storage, securing, and distribution of pathogens by universities and research institutes should be evaluated. The goal should be to make it more difficult for unauthorized persons to gain access to such facilities and the deadly cultures grown there, without impairing legitimate scientific research. (1987: 173)

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:

It is generally agreed that adequate physical resources are available to provide relief to the victims of high-technology terrorism. But specialized equipment permitting earlier intervention in high-technology incidents is lacking. The availability of equipment to handle chemical, biological, and nuclear situations is not widespread enough to insure adequacy of response. (1976: 462)

Nevertheless, Mengel judges that

The emphasis in resource allocation should be directed toward planning response requirements, defining availability of assets (internal and external), and achieving their integration into an overall plan. Expenditures for sophisticated equipment to counter high-technology terrorism does not appear to be a necessary investment for local or even State governments. The concept of Federal reaction teams seems well worth pursuing from a resources point of view in the foreseeable future... (1976: 472);

Other possible measures of "passive protection" include:

  • better security for "stockpiles of military CBW weapons" (Ponte 1977: 124);
  • decentralization and careful safeguarding of public water supplies (Ponte 1977: 124);
  • the "hardening" of other likely targets (Mengel 1976: 464), although this is highly problematic given their nature and large number;
  • the development of detection technologies to provide advance warning (OTA 1991: 32, 52-4, 87-90; OTA 1992: 5). According to the US Congressional Office of Technology Assessment: "An important element of defense against CB attack would be the ability to learn rapidly of the approach of such agents, either through air or water. Laser-based systems show some promise for early detection. Other areas of interest lie in the development of portable or miniaturized means of protection" (OTA 1991: 32). The OTA goes on to point out some of the problems, however:
A major difficulty in the detection of a chemical or biological attack is the variety of possible agents and the need to search for (often specific) known agent signatures. This immediately limits the detection process to those substances known to the defender. A new, previously unknown substance might well go undetected, at least for a while. Unfortunately, there are no general characteristics of agents that one can look for. (OTA 1991: 53)

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);

  • "evacuation of endangered individuals" (OTA 1991: 32);
  • "the development and stockpiling of vaccines, antidotes, antibiotics, and antiviral agents to combat the most likely threats (as determined by intelligence estimates)" (OTA 1992: 5 and OTA 1991: 32); and
  • various preventative measures against product tampering discussed by Jenkins. The latter include "packaging that provides ready evidence of tampering," such as "seals not easily replaced once broken"; "increased surveillance at retail outlets," including "new bar-code readers at checkout provide more easily recalled records of sales"; "the development of electronic coding devices on labels to prevent the return or resale of tampered products," "dispensing machines...modified to prevent the insertion of adulterated products," and "chemical sniffers to detect the presence of certain poisons" (1989: 3).

(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 their words:

Where terrorists are involved, the terrorists' international patrons should be held responsible for any actions carried out by their surrogates. They should be retaliated against with strong economic and trade sanctions, and if those fail, military actions. Although such drastic measures rattle the faint of heart, the prevention of C/B attacks on the United States perhaps the most bone-chilling threat faced by this country is serious business and cannot be met with halfway measures or restraint. (1987: 175)

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 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:

  • the training of local police and other officials in the warning signs of an impending attack (Douglass and Livingstone 1987: 173; Mullen 1978: 89), as well as in the "basic characteristics" of the agents themselves, in order to "permit preliminary identification and assessment of the nature of the attack," and in the countering of high-technology terrorism in general, including negotiation techniques (Mengel 1976: 462-3 and 466). Douglass and Livingstone list among "the warning signs associated with the clandestine production of a C/B weapon," "the theft of certain kinds of laboratory equipment, break-ins at facilities where class-three pathogens are kept, and the disposal of animal carcasses used in testing," adding: "Most police departments and other state and county law-enforcement organizations would probably not make the connection between the discovery of specialized agent production gear or aerosol testing chambers and the likelihood that someone was attempting to build a C/B weapon" (1987: 173);
  • the creation of a CBW crisis response team, analogous to the Nuclear Emergency Search Team (NEST), and controlled by the FBI (Douglass and Livingstone 1987: 173-4)130. Douglass and Livingstone believe that "there is no question that a unit with resources and funding at least equivalent to NEST should be created." They caution, however, that "The team will need to have techniques, equipment, support, data, liaison channels, and an organizational structure that are all a great deal different from those of NEST, insofar as the C/B problem is very different from the nuclear problem" (1987: 174);
  • the dissemination of public information about "decontamination and antiseptic procedures, as well as suitable sheltering" (Kupperman and Trent 1979: 101). Mengel similarly calls for "publicized planning and citizen information programs" (1976: 464). Mullins notes that "A combination of education, intelligence, and vigilance are the keys to reducing the threat of NBC terrorism," but declares: "This effort has to begin with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. Until they are educated and take the threat seriously, the public cannot be educated" (1992: 117);
  • the "development of sound crisis management policy at various levels of government" (Mullen 1978: 89), with an emphasis on interagency planning (OTA 1992:5131) and on planning at the local and State levels (Mengel 1976: 462-3 and 472). According to Mengel, writing in 1976,
Planning for high-technology terrorism is in a rudimentary stage and is characterized by problems of decentralized authority and resources, jurisdictional ambiguities, and deficiencies in provisions for intelligence collection and exchange. At each echelon of government, authority with respect to incidents involving nuclear material is explicitly governed by Federal statute, with many States having parallel legislation. Where chemical and biological agents are involved, however, there are no similar delineations of authority. (1976: 463)

Yet, as he puts it: " 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);

  • the enactment of new legislation clarifying jurisdictional questions and providing specific guidance (Mengel 1976: 470). In Mengel's view, "the resolution of jurisdictional issues cuts to the heart of effective planning, coordination, and response. Delineation of authorities and responsibilities laterally and vertically in local, State, and Federal relationships is essential" (1976: 472); and
  • "specific postattack plans and actions to restore normal community life" (Mengel 1976: 464).

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:

Under IG/T leadership we are pursuing an aggressive R&D program on emerging technologies which could be used by terrorists or by those fighting terrorism. A distinguished panel of scientists has helped the Inter-Departmental Group on Terrorism identify and prioritize over 70 projects for research....Our program, funded through a State Department account, has so far allocated $17 million to 22 different projects....
In the past year, we have begun a program to coordinate our research and development efforts on high technology terrorism with research in like-minded countries. To date we have proposed such activity with the United Kingdom, Canada, the Federal Republic of Germany and Japan. This effort is still in its initial phase, but I am hopeful that it will yield high dividends in future years.
We have also established a Nuclear Biological Chemical (NBC) Working Group. This specialized group is examining our government's capacity to respond to NBC threats....the federal government has substantial capacity to respond to threats of nuclear terrorism. We are working to develop similar capacities to respond to chemical and biological threats. The NBC working group has also developed an active program of exercises to test our response capability. Various exercises have involved the federal government alone, the federal government coordinating with state and local government, and the federal government acting with other countries. (1988: 13-15)

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....

The spread of chemical weapons in Third World countries has increased the possibility that terrorists will acquire these weapons and the capability to use them. State-sponsored terrorism increases the potential for such an incident. The FBI has accepted this very real possibility and has been working to develop an interagency response. By design, this response package will include a threat assessment component capable of evaluating the credibility of all threats, and a multiagency response team utilizing the expertise of the Department of Defense and other federal agencies, in conjunction with state and local agencies. Once the validity of a threat is established, this highly trained response team would be deployed to the scene to promptly resolve the crisis. In the event a terrorist incident does take place, the FBI will retain management responsibility for dealing with the law enforcement aspects of the crisis. Procedures have been developed to turn over the management of the consequences of the incident to the Federal Emergency Management Agency when the aftereffects of the incident fall within their mandate. This project is currently in the planning stage. (1988: 16-17)

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:

Preparation for such an ill-defined, amorphous threat is obviously a problem. Very little work directly aimed at the terrorist threat has been done; more research has been aimed at the battlefield threat. However, some of the detection research being conducted by the Army for its chemical and biological warfare defense program has direct applications to counterterrorism. There is also some research specifically directed at CBW counterterrorism that is being conducted at the Army Chemical Research, Development and Engineering Center. (1991: 52)

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:

...more coordination and more R&D are needed to improve response capabilities. Because of the reality of the CB terrorist threat and because of the potentially disastrous consequences, a concentrated effort by both the executive and legislative branches to expedite such work would be appropriate.
The recent interagency plan to coordinate agency emergency responses to a CB attack is a welcome start in addressing the problem, but its development should receive urgent attention. Final implementation of the plan should be accelerated. This would required increased financial and managerial resources. (1992: 5)

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 destruction].

Sources: Canadian Security Intelligence Service