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Ron Purver - Strategic Analyst
The following study, based entirely on open sources, was on the verge of being completed at the time of the Tokyo subway attack in March 1995. As a result, a fairly lengthy "Postscript" has been added to it, incorporating material about the Tokyo attack and subsequent incidents. The main body of the text has not otherwise been altered, however.
Most of the literature on possible terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction has focused on so-called "nuclear terrorism." Entire books have been written on the subject. Even segments of the public at large are aware of certain aspects of this question, such as the existence of the US Nuclear Emergency Search Team (NEST) designed to counter threats or acts of nuclear terrorism. By contrast, comparatively little information can be found in the public domain on the possible terrorist use of chemical or biological agents, even though most specialists agree that the likelihood of such use is greater than in the case of nuclear materials.
For the most part, speculation about "CB terrorism" has been dealt with perfunctorily within broader discussions of "high-technology terrorism," "new technology terrorism," "mass destruction terrorism," "super-violence," or "nationally-disruptive terrorism" and the like. Furthermore, much of the speculation on this subject-which has worked its way into suspense novels and movie thrillers-has been derided by more sober analysts as overly sensationalist in nature.
Nevertheless, over the past two decades or so, a small body of professional literature on the subject of chemical-biological terrorism has accumulated. The object of this paper is, first, to review the existing body of unclassified information in an attempt to ascertain how real is the CB terrorist threat; and second, to examine the evolution of one, classified intergovernmental effort to deal with this question, including (by way of comparison) its own conclusions as to the reality of the threat.
The first part of the paper, then, will seek answers to (or at least try to shed some light on) the following set of questions: What factors or characteristics of chemical/biological agents might incline terrorists to their use or threat of use? How likely is it that a terrorist group would be capable of such an attack? (In particular, what degree of expertise would be required?) Which particular agents would be most likely to be used? How would these be acquired, and what means of delivery employed? Have there, in fact, been incidents of the use or threat of use of these weapons in the past? If not, why not? Based on current trends in terrorist operations and the world at large, what is the likelihood of future use of these agents by terrorists? Which kind of terrorist groups would be most likely to avail themselves of this type of warfare? And what, if anything, can be done to defend against such use? In short: How real is the threat posed by chemical or biological terrorism?
Because biological and chemical agents are so dissimilar, each category will be dealt with separately before the paper turns to an evaluation of their common elements or characteristics.