Monday, April 21, 2008

Terrorist CBRN Hazards

There is an interesting blog today by Armchairgeneralist about terrorist use of chemical, biological and radiological weapons. It is based on a captured document taken from a terrorist in Iraq. He makes the point that terrorist would use CBRN weapons as psychological weapons rather than how a military organization would use them. Specifically, he states that:

"…. we ought not be thinking of terrorist chemical and biological attacks in terms of military-scale CBW agents covering square miles. What terrorists are trying to do is use small amounts of industrial chemicals to cause panic, to shake the government's confidence and disrupt normal life."

While the document was related to the anti-American and anti-Iraqi war in Iraq, it is something that might apply as well to terrorist attacks in the United States. Our current effort to protect American chemical facilities from terrorist attack is designed to protect against the massive, military-sized chemical attack. The two previous successful Al Qaeda attacks (the bombing of the Trade Center parking garage and the later 9-11 attack) on the American homeland have been grand sized attacks. We have not seen an even partially successful attack since then.

If Al Qaeda is going to rely on the home-grown, self-directed attacks that we have seen recently in Europe, we might see the smaller scale chemical attacks that have been used in Iraq. They would have the added advantage that they would be missed by our current chemical security efforts. Does this mean that those efforts are misdirected?

Probably not; after all there have not been any reported deaths from the use of 100-lb chlorine bombs in Iraq. The detonation of a 40,000-lb chlorine railcar bomb in an American city would certainly kill people. The bulk of our efforts must remain focused on the military scaled attacks; the cost of potential failure is too high. But we must also realize that the terrorist scale attacks are more likely, if less effective.

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