President Obama has declared that terrorist groups and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) remain the greatest threat to the United States. According to a Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center white paper, President Obama stated, “If an organization like al-Qaeda got a weapon of mass destruction in its hands…just a few individuals could potentially kill tens of thousands of people, maybe hundreds of thousands.”
The Department of State reported, “The nexus of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism poses one of the gravest potential risks to the national security of the United States and its global partners.” Furthermore, it claims “The US Government places the highest priority…to meet the global challenge of WMD terrorism.”
President George W. Bush stated in a 2004 National Defense University speech: “The greatest threat before humanity today is the possibility of a secret and sudden attack with chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons.”
Terrorism Experts Say that Terrorist Interest in Weapons of Mass Destruction Is Growing
What do the experts on terrorism believe? The Central Intelligence Agency has said for years that terrorist interest in WMD weapons is growing. When former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was asked by the media what kept him up at night, Gates replied, “It’s the thought ofa terrorist ending up with a weapon of mass destruction, especially nuclear.”
Dr. Jessica Stern, a terrorism expert and Boston University research professor, wrote that WMD “seem to be ideal for terrorists, who seek to inspire fear in a targeted audience.”
Why Has There Been No WMD Attack by Terrorists?
It has been over 15 years since such assessments about the use of WMD by terrorists began to be publicized. There still has been no major WMD attack by any terrorist group in the United States.
Interestingly, there is no internationally agreed definition of either terrorism or WMD.
The US Code and the FBI define terrorism as the “unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives.”
WMD is a term adopted from the former Soviet Union. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) defines WMD as “any weapon that is designed or intended to cause death or serious bodily injury through the release, dissemination or impact of toxic or poisonous chemicals; disease organisms; radiation or radioactivity; or explosion or fire.”
With chemical, biological and radioactive agents, their presence in any attack is not easily detected, making it difficult to determine when and where they were originally deployed.
The main issue with defining WMD is what determines “mass destruction?” Is it the number of people affected? The amount of damage to property caused? This aspect of WMD is highly subjective. In any case, perhaps WMD is not even relevant regarding terrorist goals.
Read the complete report here.