The nexus of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and terrorism poses one of the gravest threats to the national security of the United States and its global partners. A successful major WMD terrorist attack could result in mass casualties and produce far-reaching economic and political consequences. This chapter outlines:
The United States places the highest priority on working with a broad range of local governments, federal entities, domestic emergency responders, international organizations, foreign governments, and private sector organizations to develop effective partnerships to confront the global challenge of WMD terrorism.
Diplomatic and Strategic Priorities for Combating WMD Terrorism
U.S. diplomatic priorities for combating WMD terrorism build on the comprehensive approach set forth in the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism (http://www.globalsecurity.org/security/library/policy/national/nsct_sep2006.pdf). Specifically, the U.S. strategic approach hinges on the six objectives outlined in the National Strategy. The USG works across all objectives simultaneously to maximize its ability to eliminate the threat.
In January 2009, the Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism released a report card on the U.S. government’s response to its December 2008 recommendations. This report highlighted several key observations including the high likelihood that a WMD would be involved in a terrorist attack within the next five years. The Commission concluded that the United States, and the world, must act quickly to slow the proliferation of WMD technologies and information to avoid such an act.
As the implementation of diplomatic strategic priorities for combating WMD terrorism move forward, special care must be taken to work closely with the full range of foreign partners to prioritize and tailor capacity-building approaches to the differing regional and local conditions that exist worldwide.
THE MATERIAL THREATS
Four categories of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that terrorists may seek to acquire and use in a WMD terrorist attack are chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN).
Chemical weapons represent a potentially dangerous tool in the hands of terrorists. Effectively dispersed and in sufficient dosages, chemical agents could cause mass casualties, as was demonstrated by the use of chemical weapons during World War I and the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988). Today’s chemical terrorism threat ranges from the potential acquisition and use of chemical warfare agents and military delivery systems, to the production and use of toxic industrial chemicals, such as industrial chlorine containers included in IED attacks in Iraq, or improvised dissemination systems, such as those used in the 1995 attack conducted by Aum Shinrikyo in the Tokyo subway system. Perpetrators of that attack used sharpened umbrellas to puncture plastic bags filled with the nerve agent sarin causing the sarin to spill out and evaporate – killing twelve and injuring thousands. Terrorists also have sought to acquire and use commercially-available materials, such as poisons and toxic industrial chemicals. The growth and sophistication of the worldwide chemical industry, including the development of complex synthetic and dual-use materials, may make the task of preventing and protecting against this threat more difficult. Preventing chemical terrorism is particularly challenging as terrorists can use toxic industrial chemicals and other commonly available chemical agents and materials as low-cost alternatives to traditional chemical weapons and delivery systems, though likely with more limited effects.
Bioterrorism, another deadly threat, is the deliberate dispersal of pathogens through food, air, water, or living organisms to cause disease. The 2009 Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism concluded that it is more likely that terrorists would be able to acquire and use biological agents than nuclear weapons due to the difficulty in controlling the proliferation of biotechnologies and biological agent information. If properly produced and released, biological agents can kill on a massive scale and, if terrorists use a pathogen that can be transmitted from person to person, the disease could quickly spread through commercial air travel across oceans and continents before authorities realize their nations have been attacked.
Developing a bioterrorism capability presents some scientific and operational challenges. However, the necessary technical capabilities are not beyond the expertise of motivated scientists with university-level training. Unlike most other types of CBRN threats, the materials required to produce a biological weapon are available in laboratories worldwide, and many threat agents could be isolated from nature, though doing so may pose a challenge. International laboratories are often not safeguarded and secured up to preferred U.S. standards, making access to dual-use equipment and potentially dangerous pathogens possibly more accessible. Even the use of a badly-designed weapon that resulted in only a limited health impact could cause significant disruption. A small-scale bioterrorism attack such as the 2001 anthrax attacks in the United States, which resulted in five Americans killed and an additional 17 individuals infected, had a substantial economic impact with the costs of decontamination, medical treatment for those exposed, decreased commercial activity, social distress, and lost productivity. The terrorists can often meet their objective of creating disruption and fear without causing large numbers of casualties.
Among present-day terrorist organizations that pose a threat to the United States, al-Qa’ida (AQ) is believed to have made the greatest effort to acquire and develop a bioterrorism program. The United States discovered a partially built biological laboratory near Kandahar after expelling the Taliban from Afghanistan. Although it was not conclusive that AQ succeeded in producing a biological weapon, the discovery demonstrated a concerted effort to acquire a biological attack capability.
Some terrorists seek to acquire radioactive materials for use in a radiological dispersal device (RDD) or “dirty bomb.” Radioactive materials are used widely in industrial, medical, and research applications and include devices used for power supply in remote locations, cancer therapy, food and blood irradiation, and radiography. Their widespread use in nearly every country makes these materials much more accessible than the fissile materials required for nuclear weapons. Most radioactive materials lack sufficient strength to present a significant public health risk once dispersed, while the materials posing the greatest hazard would require terrorists to have the expertise to handle them without exposure to incapacitating doses of radiation or detection during transit across international borders. Public panic and economic disruption caused by setting off an explosive radiological dispersal device, however, could be substantial, even if a weak radioactive source is used.
Some terrorist organizations, such as al-Qa’ida, have stated their desire to acquire nuclear weapons. The diffusion of scientific and technical information regarding the assembly of nuclear weapons, some of which is now available on the Internet, has increased the risk that a terrorist organization in possession of sufficient fissile material could develop its own crude nuclear weapon. The complete production of a nuclear weapon strongly depends on the terrorist group’s access to special nuclear materials as well as engineering and scientific expertise. Certainly with recent nuclear proliferants including irresponsible countries, such as North Korea, the number of potential sources of an unsecured nuclear weapon or materials is challenging world-wide efforts to control and account for nuclear materials. Terrorists may, however, seek to link up with a variety of facilitators to develop their own nuclear capability. These facilitators include black market proliferators or transnational criminal networks that may seek to profit from the sale of nuclear material, a weaponized device, or technical knowledge gathered from nuclear experts currently or formerly involved in a national nuclear program.
Dual-Use Materials, Equipment, Research, and Technologies of Concern
Reducing the risk of terrorist acquisition of, access to, and use of dual-use materials, equipment, research, and technologies remains a critical challenge. Terrorists have shown an interest in taking advantage of the availability of such material when developing improvised devices. Attacks in Iraq in 2006 and 2007 involving chlorine cylinders, a dual-use chemical used in water treatment facilities, offered a notable example. This challenge has only been compounded by the diffusion of dual-use information on the Internet and in academic venues.
The United States maintains dual-use export controls based on its multilateral commitments in the export control regimes, and it also maintains unilateral controls on a wide range of dual-use items predominantly for antiterrorism reasons. Effective partnerships with private sector organizations, industry, academia, and the scientific research community, as well as with local governments, will play an important role in mitigating the risk of dual-use capabilities falling into the wrong hands. Using alternative materials in technologies is one way to curtail the threat around the world. For example, recent technological developments allow the use of low enriched uranium as a substitute for highly enriched uranium for production of the medical isotope molybdenum-99.
In this era of globalization, control of exports cannot occur only at national borders, but also must be a concern for the knowledge sharing at U.S. research universities, laboratories, and industry. The reduced domestic pool of qualified scientists and engineers has driven many U.S. companies, universities and laboratories to recruit foreign nationals in order to remain competitive. The increased presence of talented foreign science and engineering staff and students carries the risk of WMD technology transfers by way of “deemed exports.” (A deemed export is the release of information pertaining to the design and manufacturing of dual-use technology or source code to a foreign national within the confines of the United States borders.) In accordance with the Export Administration Regulations, several USG departments and agencies support a national effort to better control foreign access to sensitive dual-use technologies to prevent unauthorized transfers.
STATE SPONSORSHIP OF TERRORISM: A KEY CONCERN
A state that directs WMD resources to terrorists, or one from which enabling resources are clandestinely diverted, poses a grave WMD terrorism threat. Although terrorist organizations will continue to seek a WMD capability independent of state programs, the sophisticated WMD knowledge and resources of a state could enable a terrorist capability. State sponsors of terrorism and all nations that fail to live up to their international counterterrorism and nonproliferation obligations deserve continued scrutiny as potential facilitators of WMD terrorism.
NON-STATE FACILITATORS: AN EMERGING THREAT
State sponsors of terrorism with WMD programs represent just one facet of the overall risk of WMD terrorism. The non-governmental entities they use to facilitate their WMD programs have emerged as a growing proliferation threat in recent years that could eventually provide terrorists with access to materials and expertise that are particularly hard to acquire. In 2003, the United States and its international partners succeeded in interdicting a shipment of WMD-related material destined for Libya’s then-active nuclear weapons program. The facts surrounding this shipment indicated a transnational nuclear proliferation network reaching from East Asia to Europe, developed by Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan. This network was making available sensitive technology and WMD-related materials to nations willing to pay. There is a risk that such non-state facilitators and their networks could provide their services to terrorist groups.
The dismantling of the A.Q. Khan network revealed an uncomfortable truth about globalization. The very trends driving globalization, improved communications and transportation links, can enable the development of extended proliferation networks that may facilitate terrorist acquisition of WMD. Globalization requires that partner nations work together closely to prevent, detect, and disrupt linkages that may develop between terrorists and facilitators such as A.Q. Khan.
ADDRESSING THE INTERNATIONAL NUCLEAR THREAT
On April 5, in Prague, President Obama presented an ambitious three-part strategy to address the international nuclear threat: 1) proposing measures to reduce and eventually eliminate existing nuclear arsenals; 2) strengthening the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and halting proliferation of nuclear weapons to additional states; and 3) preventing terrorists from acquiring nuclear weapons or materials. He also announced an international effort to secure vulnerable nuclear materials within four years, break up black markets, detect and intercept materials in transit, and use financial tools to disrupt illicit trade in nuclear materials.
At the L’Aquila G-8 Summit on July 8, the President formally announced his plan to host a Global Nuclear Security Summit in March 2010. The Summit would allow discussion on the nature of the threat and develop steps that can be taken together to secure vulnerable materials, combat nuclear smuggling and deter, detect, and disrupt attempts at nuclear terrorism. The planned outcome of the Summit would be a communiqué pledging efforts to attain the highest levels of nuclear security, which is essential for international security as well as the development and expansion of peaceful nuclear energy worldwide.
At the United Nations on September 24, President Obama presided over the UN Security Council (UNSC) meeting which unanimously cosponsored and adopted UNSC Resolution (UNSCR) 1887. UNSCR 1887 conveyed the Security Council’s grave concern about the nuclear proliferation threat and the need for concerted international action to prevent it. It demonstrated agreement on a broad range of actions to address nuclear proliferation, disarmament and the threat of nuclear terrorism. UNSCR 1887 listed fourteen steps that the Security Council will pursue in reducing the nuclear proliferation and terrorism threat and further buttresses UNSCR 1540 in helping prevent WMD proliferation.
PARTNERSHIPS TO COMBAT WMD TERRORISM
Since September 11, 2001, the international community has made significant strides in responding to the threat of WMD terrorism. States are working together bilaterally and multilaterally to address these threats and protect their populations. The United States has taken concrete measures to build a layered defense against the WMD terrorism threat. In 2003, the United States announced the first National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction. Through a variety of multinational initiatives such as the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, (GICNT), the United States has taken a leadership role in reducing the threat of WMD reaching the hands of non-state actors and terrorists. On July 8, 2009, the G8 endorsed President Obama’s three-part strategy to address the international nuclear threat by 1) proposing measures to reduce and eventually eliminate existing nuclear arsenals; 2) strengthening the Non-Proliferation Treaty and halting proliferation of nuclear weapons to additional states; and 3) preventing terrorists from acquiring nuclear weapons or materials.
The Proliferation Security Initiative: Announced in 2003, the Proliferation Security Initiative deserves special mention as a particularly effective international initiative. The PSI is a global effort that aims to stop the trafficking of WMD, its delivery systems, and related materials to and from states and non-state actors of proliferation concern worldwide. The PSI relies on voluntary actions by states, using existing national and international legal authorities, to put an end to WMD-related trafficking. PSI partners take steps to strengthen those legal authorities as necessary. States that wish to participate in the PSI are asked to endorse its Statement of Interdiction Principles, which identifies specific measures participants commit to undertake for the interdiction of WMD and related materials. As of December 31, 2009, 95 states have endorsed the Statement. PSI participants conduct approximately four exercises per year to improve their operational capabilities to conduct interdictions and meet periodically to share information and develop new operational concepts. The PSI has led to a number of important interdictions over the last six years and is an important tool in the overall U.S. strategy to combat WMD proliferation to state and non-state actors.
The Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT): The Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT), which is co-chaired by the United States and Russia, is a cross-cutting strategic framework of 77 partners and four observers who are determined to strengthen individual and global capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to a nuclear terrorist event. These partners have endorsed a set of core nuclear security principles encompassing the full spectrum of deterrence, prevention, detection, and response objectives. Partners utilize multilateral activities and exercises to share best practices and lessons learned in order to strengthen individual and collective capacity to combat nuclear terrorism. To date, partners have conducted 34 multilateral activities and five senior-level meetings in support of these nuclear security goals. Through these activities, partners have improved international understanding in emerging detection technologies, emergency response and preparedness practices, and anti-smuggling assistance programs. The Initiative is open to nations that share in its common goals and are committed to combating nuclear terrorism on a determined and systematic basis.
The Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI): The goal of GTRI, announced by the United States on May 26, 2004, in Vienna, Austria, is to identify, secure, remove, or facilitate the disposition, as quickly and expeditiously as possible, of vulnerable nuclear and radioactive materials and equipment around the world that pose a potential threat to the international community. One hundred international partners are key participants in this initiative, and GTRI has undertaken cooperative activities in 100 countries. In particular, GTRI seeks to facilitate globally the reduction or elimination of the use of highly enriched uranium in civilian nuclear applications and to remove or protect other vulnerable nuclear and radiological materials at civilian sites worldwide. Specific activities include the conversion of reactors used for research, testing, and medical-isotope production from the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU) fuel to low enriched uranium (LEU); repatriation of fresh and spent HEU fuel to its country of origin (the United States or Russian Federation); enhancement of physical protection at sites utilizing such materials; and removal of unwanted radiological sources and other nuclear materials not otherwise covered by the fuel-return programs.
The Export Control and Related Border Security Program (EXBS) is the U.S. government’s premier initiative to assist other countries in improving their strategic trade control systems. EXBS seeks to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and irresponsible transfers of advanced conventional weapons by helping to build effective national export control systems in countries that possess, produce, or supply strategic items as well as in countries through which such items are most likely to transit. EXBS provides extensive training on export control legislation, licensing, enforcement, government-industry outreach, and interagency cooperation, as well as providing inspection and detection equipment. EXBS country programs complement DHS/CBP’s Container Security Initiative, DOE’s Second Line of Defense Program, and the Megaports Initiative, and improve partner countries’ capabilities to fulfill their commitments as part of the Proliferation Security Initiative, the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, and UNSCR 1540 EXBS currently has 21 Program Advisors stationed globally and is active in over 60 countries. The EXBS program’s comprehensive approach, flexibility, responsiveness, and interagency approach makes it a unique resource for addressing critical aspects of the United States’ nonproliferation objectives.
Second Line of Defense (SLD): Under its Second Line of Defense (SLD) Program, the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) cooperates with partner countries to provide radiation detection systems and associated training to enhance host nation capabilities to deter, detect, and interdict illicit trafficking of special nuclear and other radiological materials across international borders. The SLD Program complements first line of defense threat reduction efforts, which ensure that protections are in place to lock down and protect material at the source in civilian and military facilities. The second line of defense thus serves as a key component in a layered defense system, seeking to detect trafficking in material that may have been removed from these facilities as it is moved across international borders and through the maritime shipping network. The SLD Program includes two components: the Core Program and the Megaports Initiative. The Core Program focuses on providing equipment to land border crossings, feeder seaports, and international airports. This work originally began in Russia and has since expanded to include former Soviet states, the Caucasus, Eastern Europe, and other key areas. Mobile detection equipment is also provided to selected countries for use at land borders and internal checkpoints. The Megaports Initiative began in 2003 and provides equipment to scan cargo containers as they move through the global maritime shipping network. In identifying ports of interest for engagement under the Megaports Initiative, DOE/NNSA considers a number of factors, including volume of containers and regional terrorist threat. To date, DOE/NNSA has completed deployments at over 230 sites around the world.
Global Threat Reduction (GTR): GTR programs aim to prevent proliferators and terrorists, anywhere in the world, from acquiring WMD expertise, materials and technology. GTR is actively engaged in a variety of countries including Pakistan and Afghanistan. GTR programs have expanded to meet these emerging WMD proliferation threats worldwide and focus on promoting biological, chemical, and nuclear security in those countries where there is a high risk of WMD terrorism or proliferation. The programs also engage and redirect former weapons scientists in the former Soviet Union, Iraq, and Libya. By engaging biological, chemical, and nuclear scientists, and helping them to secure dangerous pathogens, improve chemical security, and adopt nuclear safety best practices, GTR seeks to keep WMD and dual-use materials, technology and expertise away from proliferators and terrorists. GTR outreach has helped at-risk facilities deter attempted thefts of dangerous pathogens, and engaged WMD scientists worldwide, among other nonproliferation successes.
National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats: In November 2009, President Obama approved a new national strategy which aimed to provide greater policy cohesion and coordination for U.S. efforts to prevent the acquisition and use of biological weapons. The strategy aimed to build international capacity to detect and contain outbreaks of infectious disease regardless of cause; reinforce norms against the misuse of the life sciences; and pursue a coordinated suite of actions to identify, influence, inhibit, or interdict those pursuing a biological weapons capability.
U.S. Efforts to Counter the Threat of a “Dirty Bomb”: Since the terrorist attacks of 2001, the United States has played a central role in raising international attention and establishing systems of control for radioactive material that could be used in a radiological dispersal device, or “dirty bomb.” The United States was instrumental in the development of the first international export control framework for radioactive sources. The IAEA Guidance for the Import and Export of Radioactive Sources was released in 2005 with strong G-8 backing. Within the United States, export control measures consistent with the Guidance were incorporated into the 2005 Energy Policy Act and into new rules issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The United States also took a lead role in revising the international standard for the control of radioactive materials, the IAEA Code of Conduct on the Safety and Security of Radioactive Sources, to better account for security concerns and in building international recognition and observance of this benchmark. To date, 97 countries have made a political commitment to the IAEA Director General to follow the non-legally binding Code and it has been endorsed by leaders at G-8, U.S.-EU, APEC, and OSCE summits. The United States provides substantial bilateral assistance, primarily through the NNSA Global Threat Reduction Initiative, and support for the IAEA to secure vulnerable radioactive materials, provide training, detect materials at border crossings, and improve regulatory infrastructures around the world.
Additional U.S. Efforts Supporting a Global Layered Defense: The United States has also worked with partner nations through the UN and the IAEA to reduce the threat of WMD use by terrorists. The UN Security Council has passed three important resolutions related to the prevention of terrorism and the proliferation of WMD. In 2001, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1373, which requires all UN member states to refrain from providing any support, active or passive, to terrorists, and to work together to limit terrorist movement and safe haven. In 2004, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1540, which requires all UN member states to refrain from providing support to non-state actors that attempt to develop or acquire WMD and their means of delivery. In 2009, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1887, committing all UN member states to work toward a world without nuclear weapons and endorsing a broad framework of actions to reduce global nuclear dangers. The United States remains committed to full implementation of both UN Security Council Resolutions 1373, 1540, and 1887.
The Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (Nuclear Terrorism Convention) entered into force on July 7, 2007. On September 25, 2008, the Senate passed resolutions of advice and consent to ratification of the Nuclear Terrorism Convention to the Senate, the Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, the Protocol of 2005 to the Convention on the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation, and the Protocol of 2005 to the Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Fixed Platforms Located on the Continental Shelf. Collectively, these treaties will enhance international cooperation with regard to the prevention of WMD terrorism and proliferation of WMD, as well as the investigation and prosecution of such acts.
Conclusion: As the President stated in his Prague speech, nuclear terrorism is the most immediate and extreme threat to global security. We should not wait for an act of nuclear terrorism before working together to collectively improve our nuclear security culture, share our best practices, and raise our standards for nuclear security. During the past year, the USG has built on a range of activities and launched new efforts to prevent, protect against, and respond to the threat or use of WMD. Together with partner nations and international organizations, the United States will continue to take the initiative to reduce the global risk of WMD terrorism.
For FY 2009, the following countries are Global Initiative Current Partner Nations:
|1. Afghanistan||26. Hungary||51. Panama|
|2. Albania||27. Iceland||52. Poland|
|3. Armenia||28. India||53. Portugal|
|4. Australia||29. Ireland||54. Republic of Korea|
|5. Austria||30. Israel||55. Republic of Macedonia|
|6. Bahrain||31. Italy||56. Romania|
|7. Belgium||32. Japan||57. Russian Federation|
|8. Bosnia||33. Jordan||58. Saudi Arabia|
|9. Bulgaria||34. Kazakhstan||59. Serbia|
|10. Cambodia||35. Kyrgyz Republic||60. Seychelles|
|11. Canada||36. Latvia||61. Slovakia|
|12. Cape Verde||37. Libya||62. Slovenia|
|13. Chile||38. Lithuania||63. Spain|
|14. China||39. Luxembourg||64. Sri Lanka|
|15. Cote d’Ivoire||40. Madagascar||65. Sweden|
|16. Croatia||41. Malta||66. Switzerland|
|17. Cyprus||42. Mauritius||67. Tajikistan|
|18. Czech Republic||43. Montenegro||68. Turkey|
|19. Denmark||44. Morocco||69. Turkmenistan|
|20. Estonia||45. Nepal||70. Ukraine|
|21. Finland||46. Netherlands||71. United Arab Emirates|
|22. France||47. New Zealand||72. United Kingdom|
|23. Georgia||48. Norway||73. United States|
|24. Germany||49. Pakistan||74. Uzbekistan|
|25. Greece||50. Palau||75. Zambia|
78. IAEA (Observer)
79. INTERPOL (Observer)
80. European Union (Observer)
81. UNODC (Observer)