Modern Age Terrorism and CBRN Risk Matrix – Part II

This is Second Article from the Series of articles based on the concept of Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Risk Matrix.

In addition to environmental hazards mentioned in the Earlier article, the continuous processing and transport of chemical weaponries dump huge amounts chemical compounds which are the Toxic Industrial Chemicals (TICs)These toxins have a lower median lethal toxicity as compared to CW agents, but the sheer volumes in which they are produced, transported,and often insecurely stored makes them lethal for the general public. This is because they might be accidentally released during the transit or inadequate handling, or they might become targets for attacks.
The Bhopal Gas Tragedy (1984) brought into limelight the truly devastating impact such toxins could have. The release of 40 tons of methyl isocyanate (MIC) caused innumerable deaths and accidents with long term consequences. MIC is classified as only a medium hazard agent by the NATO, which highlights concerns about the categorization itself, and the magnitude of effects that other stronger agents could have. Additional regimes such as the European project REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, Restriction of Chemicals) have been introduced to supplement the CWC regime in curbing government oversights, the long term effects of which remain to be seen.
In context of terrorists’ use of chemical weapons, the Chemical Terrorism Universal adherence to and strict national implementation of the CWC is deemed vital. Despite not being designed to curb terrorist activities, they make it difficult for terrorist organizations to acquire chemical weapon capabilities, via the production of militarily significant quantities of chemical agents which might be useful to terrorist organizations. It cannot be guaranteed that a diversion of a kilogram of quantities of key toxic chemicals will be detected. The Monterey WMD terrorism database has reported that there were attacks in which perpetrators acquired CW agents, but failed to use them. Although the fabrication of advanced and effective CW will likely remain a technological challenge to non-state actors,
the intent of non-state actors to use CW is certainly present.
In a sample drawn from the Monterey WMD terrorism database from the period 1988-2004, 207 of the 316 CBRN incidents recorded involved CW. Most of the conventional explosives were mixed with openly available chemicals to make them more deadly, or were failed attempts to weaponize chemical agents. The Aum Shrinikyo Tokyo Sarin gas attacks are the only known ones involving standard CW agents a fact that highlights the level of funding and expertise required to execute such an attack.
The advancements in science and technology, along with globalization, have vastly
complicated the nature of the work of the OPCW. The nature of the products is such that
they can readily be switched for one another, and within thousands of facilities present all
around the world. This poses a challenge to the OPWC as it brings about logistical
constraints in inspections. Micro-reactors, which allow for safe, small-scale production of
chemical agents, are difficult to detect, creating additional difficulties for the OPWC. The
increasing convergence of chemistry and biology, and new discoveries within nanotechnology, may result into modification of existent and new toxics, aided by
possibilities to assist in dispersal methods.

Biological Weapons

Lindstrom defines a biological weapon (BW) as combining ‘a biological warfare agent with a means of dispersing it.’ These comprise bacteria, viruses, rickettsia, fungi and toxins. Biological warfare agents are microorganisms such as viruses or bacteria that infect humans, livestock or crops and cause an incapacitating or fatal disease.’ Biological weapons, by nature, are delivered through ingestion, inhalation or, absorption by the skin, causing effects that can lag and last for days and weeks to end. Toxins are at times treated as chemical agents by the virtue of being non-living poisons. Modern medicine and biological research has facilitated development of a range of biological weapons, which were employed during both the world wars, although with limited success. As with other
weapons, research on biological weapons also continued during the Cold War, which ultimately led to weaponization of anthrax (smallpox) virus.
Despite the ban on such weapons by the Biological Weapons Convention in 1972, several countries secretly continued such programs well into the 90s. At least half a dozen countries around the world are suspected to retain at least some form of offensive BW capacity today.
Some countries such as Israel, Egypt, and Syria have not even signed the treaty.
While the dangers of dangers CBRN weapons have considerably reduced over the last few years, the concerns about such clandestine operations, as well as their residual capabilities still prevail. The concerns predominantly pertain to non-state actors, and the advancement in biotechnology in developing and developed countries. The core nature of biotechnology opens doors for various actors (including developing countries and sub-national actors) with access to the correct agents, infrastructure, and expertise needed to develop BW and even advanced BW (ABW). Moreover, distinguishing legitimate biotechnology enterprises from BW poses a challenge for non-proliferation regimes. Due to the advancements and availability of materials for BWs, much of the debate surrounding the issue has focused on non-state actors, and terrorist groups. This is also due to the fact that at least 25 ‘distinct
sub-national actors’ have shown concerted interest in acquiring BW, with at least eight being successful. Despite being tricky and hazardous to handle, BW agents can be obtained relatively easily and at low costs. Terrorist groups (or non-state actors) would therefore need much more in terms of expertise and weaponization means to make
devastating use of BWs.