Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Technology and Terrorism

Industrial Technology 198
Technology and Civilization

Technology and Terrorism

Chain letters don’t work. It’s a known fact. The million dollars or so you are promised if you’ll just send one single dollar to the name at the top of the list, add yours to the bottom and then send the letter on to five friends never arrives. This one, Captain Trips chain letter, worked very well. The pyramid was indeed being built, not from the bottom up but from the tip down—said tip being a deceased army security guard named Charles Champion. All the chickens were coming home to roost. Only instead of the mailman bringing each participant bale after bale of letters, each containing a single dollar bill, Captain Trips brought bales of bedrooms with a body or two in each one, and trenches and dead-pits, and finally bodies slung into the oceans on each coast and into quarries and into the foundations of unfinished houses. And in the end, of course, the bodies would rot where they fell.

--Stephen King “The Stand.”

Within Stephen King’s post-apocalyptic tale, a virulent strain of superflu wipes out much of the world’s population leaving the survivors in a dazed shock. However, this tale of fiction shows a nightmare scenario of how unprepared the United States would be if confronted with a serious biological epidemic within its borders. What worries government officials even more is the possibility of a biological or chemical attack against the United States by a terrorist organization. This possibility of a terrorist organization acquiring and using such weapons of mass destruction has prompted the Clinton Administration to spend almost $1.4 billion to protect US citizens from such an attack (Tucker, 1999). This includes an increase in the Department of Health and Human Services Bioterrorism Initiative, whose budget exploded from $14 million in 1998, to $158 million in $1999, and is expected to top $230 million within the year 2000 (Carus, 1999). But what is the risk of a biological and or chemical attack against the United States by a terrorist organization and how may technology reduce the probability of such a terrorist threat? In order to understand this risk, one must look at three aspects—the nature and structure of a terrorist organization, the identification and definition of chemical and biological weapons, and finally development and integration of technology to detect and counter a terrorist attack using these weapons.

The first aspect of the nature and structure of a terrorist organization has changed. Mainstream organizations such as the Palestine Liberation Organization and Irish Republican Army had political agendas and used terrorism during the Cold War to achieve legitimacy to their organizations and their political goals (The Future of Terror: On Guard: America is the Dominant nation Entering the New Century—And the Top Target for Extremists, 2000). In short, terrorism was used to bring these organizations to the negotiation table. Both the PLO and IRA are now attempting to negotiate to find a compromising solution to the problems these organizations have an interest in. Both the PLO and IRA have no use for weapons of mass destruction since the application of these weapons would possibly cause world condemnation against them and destroy any level of trust with the national governments they are in negotiations with. In addition, the larger mainstream organizations may also have a greater chance of infiltration by counter-terrorist organizations of national governments. However, smaller terrorist organizations are being created. These new organizations are usually small groups comprised of single-issue extremists, anarchists, religious fanatics, and cultists. These second generation terrorists are motivated by rage, vengeance, racial and religious hatred, anti-government feelings and extreme nationalism. They do not seek negotiations and compromise, but would rather destroy the current status quo and create a new order, which they can control (Cillufo, Tomarchio, 1998.). These organizations are willing to kill and they would have an interest in seeing violent acts presented through the news media (Cillufo, Tomarchio, 1998). Because of their small size, these new terrorist cells do not have the technical sophistication to plan and deploy a successful chemical or biological attack. Instead these cells would concentrate on developing attacks using conventional weapons and explosives. But chemical and biological attacks can occur. In 1984, members of an Oregon-based Rajneeshee cult deliberately contaminated restaurant salad bars in the town of The Dallas with salmonella bacteria, causing 751 people to become ill. The objective of this attack was not to kill people, but to stricken voters with illness and to keep them home in order to throw the outcome of local elections in the cult’s favor (Sands, Tucker, 1999). In 1995, the Japanese religious cult Aum Shinrikyo released sarin—a nerve gas—into the ventilation system of the Tokyo subway. This assault killed 12 and injured 5,500. After the attack, investigators learned the cult had members in excess of 50,000 in Japan and Russia and the cult was looking to purchase chemical weapons plans and training from officials in the Russian government. Finally, there were similar plans being developed by Aum Shinrikyo to attack major US cities with chemical weapons (Cullufo, Tomarchio, 1998).

One of the greatest threats US officials fear is the problem of “state-sponsored terrorism.” This is where sovereign states would use money and resources to create and develop weapons of mass destruction while providing aid and technical assistance to the terrorist organization in utilizing these weapons. David Siegirst, an expert on terrorism at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies is concerned that the integration of these two groups would allow a non-major power to lash out at the United States with chemical or biological weapons either directly or by arming a terrorist group (Lluma, 1999.). The US intelligence community estimates that at least a dozen countries may have offensive biological weapons programs including two permanent members of the UN Security Council—China and Russia. Other nations with biological weapons programs include the six countries on the State Department’s list of state supporters of terrorism—Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria with three nations—Iran, Iraq, and North Korea being the most likely to confront the United States militarily (Carus, 1999).

The nature of chemical and biological weapons is a sort of paradox. Chemical and biological weapons are considered invisible, odorless, tasteless, silent and insidious. Nerve agents can attack the central nervous system resulting in seizures, loss of voluntary control, and death by respiratory failure. Nerve gases such as sarin can kill in minutes while mustard gas may contaminate buildings and people in affected urban areas causing major disruptions. These advantages make chemical and biological weapons a persistent and gnawing psychological terror of death by an invisible agent more frightening than the sudden trauma of a conventional explosion. However, chemical and biological weapons are more hazardous to store and work with in developing a viable weapons system. Medical intervention would be necessary in case of accidental exposure. And finally, biological and chemical weapons may reduce delayed effects of psychological gratification to the terrorist organization as they wait for the final of an attack outcome to be known, whereas a car bomb explosion is quickly reported in the media (Sands, Tucker, 1999). Yet despite this paradox, these weapons of mass destruction are deadly. Take for example the two most formidable biological threats: anthrax and smallpox. Anthrax is a disease with a fatality rate of 80-90% (Biological Warfare—America the Unready, 2000). In fact a supply of anthrax the size of a 5-pound bag of sugar would kill half the population of Washington (Lluma, 1999). Smallpox is a far more deadly disease. Smallpox is a highly communicable disease which in 1967 were killing 2 million people a year worldwide (Biological Warfare—America the Unready, 2000). The World Health Organization began a major campaign to vaccinate the entire population of the world from smallpox and by 1980, WHO declared smallpox eradicated from the planet (Lluma, 1999). However, two officially remaining stocks are held in laboratories—one in the United States and one in Russia. Since the eradication of smallpox, the virus has gained a strategic value, which has continued to rise while smallpox vaccinations have ceased, according to Donald Henderson—former director of the World Health Organization’s program to eradicate smallpox (Lluma, 1999). The United States stopped vaccinating people for smallpox in 1972, and currently around 90% of the population now lacks a smallpox immunity while the reserves of smallpox vaccine are around 15 million doses—half of which are usable (Biological Warfare—America the Unready, 2000). What is more frightening is that during the Cold War, the Soviet Union attempted to develop smallpox as a biological weapon by delivering the virus on SS-18 missiles to the United States in case of a total war, as reported by Ken Alibek who was a former Soviet bio-weapons specialist (Lluma, 1999). Alibek claims to have supervised production of 20 tons of smallpox (Lluma, 1999). Whether Alibek’s claims are true, the value of smallpox is almost devastating if a terrorist organization or a rogue state were able to obtain and unleash the smallpox virus upon the general population of any nation.

While the consequences of such an attack are frightening, the acquisition and deployment of weapons of mass destruction is still very difficult for a terrorist cell. However, the United States government cannot wait idly until an attack occurs. Steps can be taken which will allow the U.S. to maintain a diligent watch against such an attack using a combination of technology, training, and the development of a command-and-control infrastructure. Both technology and a specialized command and control organization are necessary for the United States to respond to these terrorist threats. For technology, the most important goal is to detect a chemical or biological threat through sensors. Scientists at the Sandia National Laboratories are developing small acoustic-wave chemical sensors. When the sensor absorbs chemicals, acoustic waves are slowed. The lab expects that chips can be miniaturized so this “chem lab on a chip” can be built into a hand held device soldiers and others can use to detect chemicals (Auster, 2000). Another example of sensor research is that researchers at MIT are examining lasers to light up individual particles into the air to distinguish between naturally occurring dust and pollen from toxic agents (Auster, 2000). The goal is to find a sensor, which can detect more than a single toxic and biological agent, weigh less than five pounds, and tell what they’ve found in less than a minute. Director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Frank Fernandez told Congress “Sensors are important in dealing with every aspect of the biological incident, from warning of the presence of an agent in the atmosphere to determining whether a building is fully decontaminated and safe to reenter.” Finally, scientists at Iowa State University and DARPA are training wasps to locate chemicals. Wasps are able to detect a wide range of chemical compounds and DARPA hopes to train wasps to detect certain chemicals, and then raise them as sentinels to warn of a possible chemical attack. A more ambitious use of wasps is to develop a biological sensor system using wasp antennae interfaces with electronics to create a sensor to detect production or storage sites for toxic compounds as reported by DARPA’s Controlled Biological Systems program (Auster, 2000).

Sensors are useless unless the information they detect can be sent to the correct officials who can respond quickly and effectively to an attack. An efficient command and control system can help direct such a response against a chemical or biological attack on the United States. Coordination between the Department of Defense, Justice Department, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Public Health Service, and the intelligence communities is important. In June 1995, President Clinton issued the Presidential Decision Directive 39, which established US policy on deterring, defeating and responding to terrorism. In PDD-39, the National Security Council is responsible for coordinating interagency counter terrorism and reviewing ongoing crisis operations, while the State Department handles foreign issues, and the FBI is responsible for counter terrorism in the US. The Federal Emergency Management Authority is responsible of consequence management on a terrorist attack using weapons of mass destruction (Cillufo, Tomarchio, 1998). In addition, communication and coordination must take place between federal agencies and state and local agencies. State and local fire and police agencies will be the first units to respond to a terrorist attack and many of these units do not have the specialized training to cope with a biological, chemical or nuclear attack. The Department of Defense and Department of Justice has responded to this by launching the Domestic Preparedness Program. This program trains state and local government officials, fire departments, police departments, and medical personnel to respond to mass emergencies including attacks using weapons of mass destruction. It is a 120-city initiative, which has reached more than 70 cities including New York, Washington, Miami, and Boston (Stern, 2000). The Department of Defense also has plans to develop National Guard Rapid Assessment and Initial Detection (RAID) teams. These RAID teams are National Guard units that act in concert with fire and police departments in the event of a chemical, biological or nuclear attack. The Pentagon plans on spending $52 million in 2000 to deploy the first 10 of a planned 54 RAID teams (Lluma, 1999). However, what is equally important is that the Defense Department should provide specialized equipment for nuclear, chemical and biological warfare currently used by active units to National Guard units. Training programs should also be established where selected National Guard units can receive specialized training on nuclear, chemical and biological warfare from active military programs. These selected Guard units can then be used to further train other reserve units. Through providing specialized training and equipment to the regular National Guard units, state governments would have an increased ability to respond efficiently in the first critical hours of a terrorist attack.

For as long as the United States is perceived as the leader of the world, there will always be groups of individuals who will have critical views on the US leadership or a hatred of the United States. These individuals will see violence as an opportunity to strike against the US. With the constant development of weapons of mass destruction by the superpowers during the Cold War, individuals and terrorist groups have an opportunity to obtain these weapons of mass destruction and to use them against the United States for their own cause. While a chemical or biological attack of a massive scale has yet to occur, these weapons leftover from the Cold War still exist—especially within Russia and the former Soviet republics. It is only a matter of time for a terrorist group to obtain or develop a chemical or biological weapon and use that weapon against the United States. And when that time occurs, it will become a moment of deep psychological shock and surprise to the American people—a chemical or biological Pearl Harbor.

Works Cited

Auster, Bruce. “Striking Back at Terrorism.” Asee Prism. (2000). Vol. 9. No. 6. Pg. 16-21.

“Biological Warfare—America the Unready.” The Economist. Jan. 22, 2000. Vol. 354. Is. 8. Pg. 34.

Carus, Seth W. “Biohazard.” The New Republic. Aug. 2, 1999. Vol. 221. No. 5. Pg. 14-16.

Cillufo, Frank J. Tomarchio, Thomas. “Responding to New Terrorist Threats.” Orbis. (1998). Vol. 42. No. 3. Pg. 439.

“Future of Terror: On guard: America is the Dominat Nation Entering the New Century—And the Top Target for Extremists.” Newsweek. Jan. 10, 2000. Vol. 135. Is. 2. Pg. 34.

Lluma, Diego. “Low Probability, High Consequence.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Nov/Dec. 1999. Vol. 55. Is. 6. Pg. 14-16.

Sands, Amy. Tucker, Jonathan B. “An Unlikely Threat.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. July 1999. Vol. 55. Is. 4. Pg. 46.

Stern, Aimee. “Bioterrorism.” Hospitals & Health Networks. Jan. 2000. Vol. 74. No. 1. Pg. 58-60.

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