THE World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings signaled a change in the character of terrorism in the U.S. Most of the previous acts of domestic terrorism have not involved mass casualties. However, recent incidents indicate an apparent desire of terrorists to injure or kill large numbers of innocent people--six people were killed and more than 1,000 injured in the World Trade Center bombing, and 168 people died in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.|
As horrifying as these acts of terrorism were, damage and casualties could have been much greater if the terrorists had used weapons of mass destruction (WMD)--nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. In March 1995, the Aum Shinrikyo cult demonstrated that terrorists can acquire WMD with its sarin nerve gas attacks in the Tokyo subway that killed 12 people and sickened more than 5,000.
An open society like ours in the U.S. is particularly vulnerable to WMD terrorism. Information on nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons is readily available on the Internet and in many how-to books. There is increasing evidence of illegal trafficking in nuclear materials. In addition, a number of countries hostile to the U.S. are known to be developing WMD capabilities, and some of them are known to support terrorist groups.
Livermore Study Group Formed
U.S. Poorly Prepared for WMD Terrorism
National Strategy Recommended
Regarding the need for enhanced capabilities, the study group recognizes that many of the agencies responsible for counterterrorism have initiated significant new efforts to enhance U.S. capabilities in this arena. Nevertheless, in looking at an end-to-end strategy, the group identified a number of promising activities to improve the nation's ability to counter the threat of WMD terrorism.|
For example, in the area of intelligence and warning, the study group's key recommendations are for more and better technologies and systems for tracking materials and activities indicative of WMD development, production, or transport and for policies and approaches that allow U.S. law enforcement agencies to function effectively in the modern communications-technology environment.
For the prevention phase, the study group calls for additional exploitation of diplomatic efforts, foreign policy, and treaties to promote WMD nonproliferation, strengthen international law enforcement, counter the conditions that foster terrorism, and facilitate the use of technology to counter WMD terrorism. They also note the need for better material control programs worldwide to prevent weapons materials from reaching the hands of terrorists and for expanded border protection programs to detect and intercept WMD materials.
To improve U.S. capabilities in crisis management, the study group urges accelerated development of new sensor systems (or improvement of existing systems) for detecting, identifying, and locating WMD materials and devices as well as technical capabilities for disabling and rendering WMD devices safe. Also required for more effective response and deterrence are better technologies, databases, and other means of forensic identification and attribution of the source, origin, and pathways of weapon materials and devices.
For consequence management, the study group stresses the need for intensified planning and preparation to enable emergency response personnel and medical communities to deal with mass casualties caused by WMD agents. The group also calls for faster and more accurate atmospheric transport and deposition models for determining the populations at risk if biological or chemical agents are released.
"The study group recognizes that implementing an integrated national program to deal with the constantly changing threat of WMD terrorism will not be simple or straightforward," says Joe Nye, study co-chair. "However, we must not wait until a disaster of Pearl Harbor proportions forces us to recognize the severity of this threat and the need to mount an adequate defense."
Strategic Support from New Technologies
|A portable radiation detector developed at Livermore to monitor and detect nuclear materials in the field at ambient temperatures also has potential uses to defend against WMD terrorism (Figure 2). The new system is based on a relatively new cadmium-zinc-telluride detector material and can separate gamma- or x-radiation energies to identify the isotopic signature of nuclear materials such as plutonium and uranium. The system has immediate applications, for example, in detecting and deterring nuclear smuggling through airports and shipping ports and in national and international nuclear materials safeguard operations.|
To detect biological weapons, Livermore has developed immunoassay and DNA recognition-based sensors. Unlike most biodetection instruments, which are bulky and can only be used in laboratory settings, the mini-flow cytometer and the mini-PCR (polymerase chain reaction) instrument can be used in the field to identify specific biological warfare agents. (See S&TR, July/August 1997, pp. 14-16.) Both have been tested successfully at the U.S. Army's Dugway Proving Ground in Utah.|
Livermore is also home to the Forensic Science Center, which uses a wide range of advanced chemical, biological, and nuclear analysis techniques to examine samples for the U.S. government and law enforcement agencies. Forensic science techniques are essential for identifying the source of WMD.
These Laboratory technologies and capabilities and others like them contribute greatly to meeting the monumental challenge of countering the threat posed by WMD terrorism.
--Lauren de Vore
Key Words: counterterrorism, cytometer, Forensic Science Center, Joint Biological Remote Early Warning System (JBREWS), Livermore Study Group, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) instrument, portable radiation detector, weapons of mass destruction (WMD), Wide-Area Tracking System (WATS).
For further information contact Dennis Imbro (510) 423-0220 (firstname.lastname@example.org).