ATbar Non-Conventional Terrorism: Threats and Realities
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Non-Conventional Terrorism: Threats and Realities

28/12/2014 | by ICT Staff  

Terrorist organizations have the desire to acquire non-conventional weapons, but lack the capacity to build them. The only plausible way that terrorist organizations could acquire chemical or nuclear weapons is through state cooperation or through the collapse of a nuclear or chemically armed state. This is not out of the realm of possibility, so these weapons must be closely guarded. The physical damage from one small attack might not be great, but the psychological impact would be great. 

Chair: Dr. Ehud (Udi) Ganani
Vice President, Israeli Operations for EIS Council & Former CEO Israel Military Industries (IMI), Israel

Prof. Phineas Dickstein
Research Fellow, International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT), IDC Herzliya, Founder and CEO, Dr. Phineas Dickstein Technologies Ltd., Israel

Prof. Adam Dolnik
Professor, University of Wollongong, Australia

Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Uzi Eilam
Senior Research Fellow, The Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) & Former Director General of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission and Chief Scientist and Director of R&D in the Ministry of Defense, Israel

Dr. Gad Frishman
Research Fellow, International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT), IDC Herzliya, Israel

Dr. Ely Karmon
Senior Research Scholar, International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT), IDC Herzliya, Israel


Prof. Adam Dolnik
Prof. Adam Dolnik discussed the debate as to whether a mass casualty attack was inevitable using CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear) methods. Certainly, if groups are pushed to the edge, they could use these devices, perhaps as a bargaining or extortion chip.  Al-Qaeda has the intent to acquire materials and use CBRN. However, the trick is more than a will to acquire material – there is also an issue of innovation. One has to examine how innovative the group is, and how willing they are to depart from the conventional methods of terrorism. Generally, terrorist groups are very conservative. CBRN use is a threat, but it is not imminent. Prof. Dolnik argued that we need to understand that it is a small-scale threat, which is comparable to conventional attacks; however, a CBRN attack would have a higher psychological effect than a conventional attack. Terrorist groups willing to use CBRN are outliers, and they would have to be very lucky every step of the way in order to achieve their goals.

Prof. Phineas Dickstein
Prof. Phineas Dickstein discussed the essentials of nuclear terrorism. A critical mass is the minimum amount needed to create an explosion. A group could manifest a critical mass through an attack on a power station, which would cause the release of materials, or through a dirty bomb, which contains radioactive material that scatters. In the past, radiological accidents have had psychological and psychosomatic effects on the population. He used the Goiania incident in Brazil in the 80s as an example. Prof Dickstein also pointed to the fact that many countries have lost track of nuclear devices, and these devices could get into the wrong hands. The intention to use CBRN has been declared by at least four terrorist groups. There is religious justification for these attacks, and there have been attempts to acquire materials for them. 

Dr. Edud Ganani
Dr. Ganani discussed the threat of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack.  The electrical grid is highly susceptible to an attack. EMP can be generated through a nuclear explosion in the atmosphere, locally through radars, and through geomagnetic storms. The world is highly vulnerable to terrestrial storms, which can cause huge power outages. EMP offers the “biggest bang for the buck” and could cause far more damage than an A-bomb in a city. The electrical grid is a target for terrorists, and devices to disrupt our electrical grid can be found on the Internet. The intent exists, and such attacks have been carried out before. The clock is ticking, and the time it takes to build resistance is a lot longer than the time it takes for terrorists to build a device.

Dr. Gad Frishman
Dr. Frishman discussed chemical warfare agents (CWA) of terrorism. The discussion began with a historical overview of chemical attacks. The level of damage of CWA depends on the following: type of chemicals used, exposure dose, route of exposure, physical conditions, and weather conditions. Dissemination could occur through a chemical spill, in an IED, or at a hazardous material danger zone. The Syrian Army used sarin during the civil war in 2013 on civilians. The United Nations Security Council ordered Assad to turn over his CWA; however, some reports maintain that Assad may not have turned over all weapons. Additionally, ISIS may have obtained materials from facilities in Iraq.  The concern is that terrorists will use CWA in an explosive device, to dispose in the atmosphere, to contaminate water and food, and even for pharmacological tampering. Dimensions for terrorists to use CWA depend on motives, available material, knowledge, and opportunities. While the likelihood of an event happening is low, the effects of such an event would be high. 

Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Uzi Eilam
Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Eilam discussed the threat of nuclear terrorism. The definition of nuclear terrorism includes the detonation of a yield of fissile material as well as the sabotage of nuclear facilities and/or dirty bombs. The risk of dirty bombs remains relatively low. Building a device requires more than having the necessary materials, and the chance of harming oneself by creating one remains high. The globally known stockpile of weapons is high, with seven states having nuclear weapons, including Pakistan. There is the threat of Pakistan disintegrating as a state, which could put nuclear weapons into the hands of terrorists. 130 countries have research reactors, which a terrorist could use as a target for an attack or to obtain fissile material. The likelihood of a terrorist group building a bomb from the ground up is low; however, the risk that they will acquire a weapon from a disintegrating country is high. 

Dr. Ely Karmon
Dr. Ely Karmon discussed CBRN terrorism after the collapse of states, particularly in the Middle East. According to Dr. Karmon, there have been 292 CBRN incidents in the last thirty years, which includes threats and criminal activities. He provided examples of a number of attacks, including the anthrax incidents in the U.S. In that case, the U.S. was not prepared for or able to deal with the results of the attack. In Pakistan, in the last two to three years, the Taliban have attacked military bases and busses at nuclear facilities.  In Iraq, ISIS has control over a lab that was destroyed; however, there is remaining access in the area to chemicals, and ISIS has used this against the Kurds.