Thursday, February 11, 2010

Jihadist CBRN Threat

There is an interesting article over on, an open-source private intelligence organization, that discusses the possibility of Jihadist organizations using chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) weapons against the United States. This is especially timely since the Obama Administration has repeatedly emphasized that the threat of terrorists using such weapons against the United States is among the greatest threats facing this country. The Stratfor analysts reason that it “chemical and biological weapons are expensive and difficult to use and have proved to be largely ineffective in real-world applications”. They compare the effectiveness of the Aum Shinrikyo chemical and biological attacks in Tokyo with the IED attacks on Madrid rail lines and note that the more readily available explosives are much more effective at causing death and destruction. They also point to the ineffectiveness of chlorine augmented attacks in Iraq to argue against the potential threat of improvised chemical weapons. They do describe two possible exceptions to this rule; the use of radiological dispersion weapons (the so called dirty bombs) and attacks on toxic chemical storage or transportation to disperse those chemicals. They note that a dirty bomb is technically quite simple, but it would cause few actual deaths or injuries beyond those caused by the conventional explosives used as the dispersion agent. In fact, they go so far as to coin a new descriptive term for this type weapon, weapon of mass disruption, because of the potential for panic related to the irrational fear of radioactivity. Readers of this blog will certainly be aware of the potential effectiveness of a successful attack on chemical storage facilities. Even this is less of a threat for large scale casualties, according to the Stratfor analysis. They state:

“Of course, it is not unimaginable for al Qaeda or other jihadists to think outside the box and attack a chemical storage site or tanker car, or use such bulk chemicals to attack another target — much as the 9/11 hijackers used passenger- and fuel-laden aircraft to attack their targets. However, while an attack using deadly bulk chemicals could kill many people, most would be evacuated before they could receive a lethal dose, as past industrial accidents have demonstrated. Therefore, such an attack would be messy but would be more likely to cause mass panic and evacuations than mass casualties. Still, it would be a far more substantial attack than the previous subway plot using improvised chemical weapons.”

The full article is worth reading, especially in light of the near constant stream of warnings about the weapon of mass destruction threat to the country.

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