|January 6, 2001
Bio-Chemical Overview and Protecting Yourself
NOTE: This newsletter contains photos that might be disturbing.
Dear Friends and Family,
With the 1998 U.S. Embassy terrorists on trial, the USS Cole undergoing extensive repairs after a deadly attack, Saddam Hussein's probable stroke New Year's Eve, Middle East tensions escalating, Timothy McVeigh's decision of no more appeals for his life -- all in this week's news -- and most importantly, the CIA's New Year's report on the future of the world, it is appropriate to release Part 3 of our look at NBC attacks and terrorism.
CIA REPORT ON TERRORISM
Compiled with help from think tanks in America and the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, this new CIA report states, "Between now and 2015 terrorist tactics will become increasingly sophisticated and designed to achieve mass casualties. We expect the trend toward greater lethality in terrorist attacks to continue."1
"Chemical and biological threats to the United States will become more widespread; such capabilities are easier to develop, hide, and deploy than nuclear weapons. Some terrorists or insurgents will attempt to use such weapons against US interests --against the United States itself, its forces or facilities overseas, or its allies. Moreover, the United States would be affected by the use of such weapons anywhere in the world because Washington would be called on to help contain the damage and to provide scientific expertise and economic assistance to deal with the effects. Such weapons could be delivered through a variety of means, including missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles, or covertly via land, air, and sea."2
|It specifically addresses the growing threat of biological and chemical weapons and "suitcase" nuclear devices against the United States.
"Much of the terrorism noted earlier (in the report) will be directed at the United States and its overseas interests. Most anti-US terrorism will be based on perceived ethnic, religious or cultural grievances. Terrorist groups will continue to find ways to attack US military and diplomatic facilities abroad. Such attacks are likely to expand increasingly to include US companies and American citizens. (emphasis ours) Middle East and Southwest Asian-based terrorists are the most likely to threaten the United States.
WHEN, NOT IF
To a terrorist not heavily bankrolled, the prospect of using either chemical or biological weapons might be too tempting. Nukes require heavy investment dollars, sophisticated launching equipment and aren't terribly inconspicuous unless speaking of the suitcase variety. Nukes can't be hidden in your hip pocket or body cavities or sent through the mail.
Georgia Senator Sam Nunn stated in March 2000 that the United States has a "remarkable lack of domestic preparedness" to deal with such situations. The senator has warned many times, "An attack of this kind is not a question of 'if' but 'when'." CIA Director John Deutch warned that the threat of chemical and/or biological attack in the U.S. is "the most urgent, long-term pressing intelligence challenge we face. The materials and expertise necessary to build chemical and biological weapons are more readily available today than ever before."3
MAKE MINE "BIO", SAID THE SPIDER TO THE FLY
If someone were hell-bent on causing the most destruction for the least bucks, they'd choose biologicals. Kathleen C. Bailey, a former assistant director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, has visited several biotechnology and pharmaceutical firms. She is "absolutely convinced" that a major biological arsenal could be built with $10,000 worth of equipment in a 15 x 15 foot (5 x 5 m) room.4 That opens it up to far too many groups and individuals.
(NOTE: These are 1969 prices so the dollar amounts would need to be adjusted up accordingly.)
From the chart on the right we can see that the world is putting much more effort into chemical Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD).
This general cost breakdown is for weapons producing 50% casualties per square kilometer.
- Conventional - $2,000
- Nuclear / Radiologicals - $800
- Chemicals - $600.00
- Biologicals - $1.005
Due to the cost factor one would think that biowarfare would be the favored agent, but there are other factors to consider. We will see in Part 5, specifically what countries have which types of weapons.
PROS and CONS FROM A TERRORIST'S POINT OF VIEW
- Dirt cheap
- Perpetrators can escape long before there are casualties
- Easy to produce in a lab
- Easy to procure from the environment, universities, biological
supply houses and clinical specimens
- Can easily select specific targets
- Can be used on people, animals, crops, water
- Person-to-person transmission of plague or smallpox could mean
- They can multiply, and so self-perpetuate
- They can naturally mutate, frustrating protective measures
- Even the tiniest quantities are lethal, much more potent than
comparable amounts of CW
- Easy to obtain
- Reasonably priced
- Easy to purchase on the black market and from willing manufacturing
- Instant casualties, injuries and death
- Easy to disperse
- "Tried and true", first used in 1915 by the Germans at Ypres,
- Does not have the stigma of BW
- Extremely toxic
- Have very rapid effect
- Can be hazardous to the user
- Dependent on optimal weather conditions for effective dispersal
- May be rendered useless due to solar irradiation and other climatic
- Skin with no cuts or wounds is an excellent barrier to most bio
- BW attacks generally allow time for an effective emergency response
to save many lives
- Not contagious
- Become less lethal as they are dispersed and diluted
- Much shorter "life expectancy" than BW
- Effectiveness dependent on weather, prevailing wind, temperature
- The use of chemical weapons can generally be detected by seeing
colored residue, dead foliage and dead insect and animal life
Chemical weapons can be divided into seven groups:
Nerve Agents - affect muscles and nerves causing immediate convulsions, paralysis, and death
Mustard Agents - primarily known as "blistering agents"
Hydrogen Cyanide - causes general poisoning
Tear Gases - used mainly in military exercises and in riot control, causing eye pain and tearing
Arsines - lewisite best known and causes injuries similar to mustard agents
Psychotomimetic Agents - drugs that affect the mind, most notably LSD
Toxins - poisons produced by living organisms, the biowarfare category
Although there are thousands of poisonous substances available, only ~70 chemical have ever been used or stockpiled as CW agents. Today the number of useable chemicals has dropped even lower because terrorism has become more refined. A CW agent must not be too toxic to handle, have a long shelf life, be able to withstand high heat when dispersed, and be resistant to atmospheric water and oxygen so that it does not lose effect when dispersed.
For large scale terrorism, the most powerful forms are nerve, mustard, cyanides and toxins with nerve agents on top of the heap.
A LOT OF NERVE
All nerve agents are clear in their pure state and those absorbed through the respiratory system generally work fastest and create the most trauma.
|Tabun, (GA) This nerve agent is the easiest to manufacture so it is more likely to be used by countries just developing their CW arsenal. More industrialized countries consider tabun out-of-date and of limited use.
Sarin, (GB) is very volatile and generally taken up through inhalation.
Soman, (GD) is moderately volatile and absorbed through the skin or inhaled.
GF has low volatility and taken up through skin contact and inhalation. Used as either a gas or aerosol.
VX is very persistent and can remain on material, equipment and terrain for long periods. Uptake is mainly through the skin but also through the lungs and used as a gas or aerosol.
© Text and Graphics, 2001 Stan and Holly Deyo, except where otherwise noted