The future of terrorism - C/B/N?

This could easily be a doom and gloom thread, be forewarned.

I’ve been thinking about this again for a few days, and thought I’d toss it out and see if any one else finds it of interest.

Following the breakup of the Soviet Union, many people have expressed concerns about nuclear material (or finished devices) falling into the wrong hands, such as terrorists. Think Hamas or Hezbollah, for example. Bin Laden?

At the same time, the current outbreak of hoof and mouth disease shows the possible effects that a biological agent could have in the hands of a terrorist group.

Then, there is a third possibility: a liguid or gas chemical attack. A cult in Japan tried it a few years ago, so this should be considered a viable form of attack as well.

So - of the three (chemical, biological, or nuclear) which poses the greatest likelihood of being used for a significant terrorist action in the future? What kind of outcome or scenarios are there? How can a country protect itself, or is it even possible? Is this even something that needs to be worried about?

And, since it wouldn’t be fair to start a thread without a few of my own thoughts, here they are:

My personal bet of the three is that the first such attack would consist of a nuclear detonation somewhere in the MidEast. Nukes are more available - thousands of them already exist, some (as mentioned) under dubious levels of control. A nuke would be easy to smuggle into a country and probably provides the biggest bang for the smallest investment.

That said, a nuclear bomb is still just a bomb. Great loss of life, but just one explosion in one place. The scenario that scares me the most is biological attack, with either a standard agent (botulism, anthrax) or something modified by genetic engineering. The hoof-and-mouth thing shows how easily a disease can be transmitted by the normal movement of people. An agent that has an incubation period of several days to a week, is contagious and is distributed over a large enough area could go on for months. It doesn’t even have to attack humans - Britain is going to slaughter half of it’s cattle. What will that do to the economy over there?

So - what do you think?

I’d say that biological terrorism has the most potential for destruction, but is also the least likely to happen. Although it’s not something to be taken lightly, I think that the United States is equipped to handle an anthrax or botulism outbreak. Our medical system would be able to identify such an occurence quickly, and we have all the reources necessary, even if we have to quarantine a large area and bring a vaccine/cure to a large number of people quickly, we could call in the military. Of course, the prospect of terrorist groups engineering an unstoppable, deadly virus makes for great fiction, but in reality it would take a huge amount of know-how and money to accomplish. Furthermore, a disease that was highly contagious and 100% fatal wouldn’t be used by a terrorist groups, because they would have no way of protecting themselves from the eventual spread of the disease.

Want a fun book along these lines, “The First Horseman” by John Case. Its obvious this guy is not a big fan of organzied religion.

You forget that these are often the same groups that would rather die for their “cause” than live in defeat. Well, at least the leaders would rather the followers die for the cause, as for the leaders themselves, you’re probably right.

For this reason, I’d say chemical is the likely weapon of choice. It can be extremely compact and still have an enormous effect. How many millions of tons of chemical weapons have already been produced?

Car bombings and the introduction of Anthrax are surely front-page news, but the strange hacking, skin-sloughing, eyes bulging, convulsive death people are coming down with is a touch more compelling, IMO.

Really, though, they would all suck.

A Friend of the Devil wrote:

Oh my God, some of our livestock got sick! Head for the hills!

For the record, hoof-in-mouth disease is not, repeat not, a threat to humans. The danger is in the potential economic loss of having sick sheep and sick cattle.

In response to your post, tracer, I think you’re just fine in saying that as long as you acknowledge that the economy is the testacles of the first world. That’s where a savvy terrorist would aim.

Not to drag the John Birch Society into this, but one way to directly target first world nations without detriment to other nations would be to obtain or design a secondary or tertiary chemical agent that requires fluoride as a catalyst and attempt to quickly introduce the components into the water supply. Fluoride is one of the most reactive elements out there; I cannot see why it cannot be used as a factor in building a chemical agent designed to kill those who brush their teeth or drink fluoridated water.

Sterling Hayden is probably rolling over in his grave right now.

“Ice cream, Mandrake, children’s ice cream…”

Seriously, tracer, I acknowledge that hoof-and-mouth doesn’t affect humans - directly. I was using it more as an example of how easily a disease can spread and the impact on could have if it was aimed at an economic target rather than humans.

While the United States is fairly well diversified and self-sufficient in agriculture, many other countries are not and could be crippled by a loss of a major crop (or crops). The Irish Potato Famine in the last century comes to mind as an example. In cases of subsistence level (or less) agriculture, you can kill people just as effectively by starving them to death.

There would be some possible advantages to striking at a non-human target as well. The security risk could be less. The reaction time could be longer. And the overall reaction from the target and the world could be different: nuke 50K people, or kill 50K cows. Which one is more likely to get a megaton size warhead sent back at you?

I say that chemical is the wild card attack. There is more opportunity for, and more people vulnerable to, such an attack it at any given time than each of the other two. Biological pathogens can be easily traced, and the only possible person than can afford a nuke and be willing to use it is Osama ben-Laden. Even when done in countries with quick-response govenments, the massive damage from a chemical attack is usually done before they even arrive on the scene. Non-terroristic chemical disasters, such as the mass carbon monixide poisoning in Sierra Leone, and the toxin release be Union Carbide in Bhopal, India, can, in just a couple of minutes, kill thousands of people before anyone realized what happened. I shudder to think the damage one can do with a spray can filled with nerve gas in a big city.

I ask this because I had heard that during the Gulf War, the CIA introduced a virus into Saddam Hussein’s air defense computer system. This had the effect of making most of his targetting radars unuseable. (But I haven’t been able to find much more about this). Any way, consider the following scenario: terrorists manage to hack the computer network of AMTRAK/Union Pacific railroad., and destroy the schedules of the trains. Almost overnight, trains carrying coal, gasoline, finished goods, food, etc, wind up being misrouted all over the country. Warehouses at car plants run low on parts-then assembly plants start to close… Or, how about disrupting the NYSE for a few days-the financial losses could run into billions-you might even be able to start a run on the dollar.
I sure hope the CIA has planned for this!

Are deadly germs the latest terrorist weapon?

Here’s a slightly off-topic question:

Where would a small (Hiroshima-power) nuke do the most damage? Obviously, NYC is a favorite spot–maybe during a big UN meeting, etc.

But what about EMP damage? Would popping a nuke somewhere between JFK and LaGuardia airports (right near my house…uh-oh) cause the most planes to drop, etc., when their electronics are destroyed? The LA freeway at rush hour, causing power steering to fail? Vegas, inciting a riot when all of the slot machines go dark at once?

Umm . . . folks? Not to put too fine a point on it, but you aren’t even thinking on the right order of magnitude. Or in the right directions.

I think I’ll shut up now. I’ve said too much already.

Several years ago, I had read that one of the deadliest targets for a nuclear bomb would be…a nuclear power plant. The reasoning behind this was that the blast would vaporize the reactor and add the radioactive fuel to the fallout cloud.

**But what about EMP damage? Would popping a nuke somewhere between JFK and LaGuardia airports (right near my house…uh-oh) cause the most planes to drop, etc., when their electronics are destroyed? The LA freeway at rush hour, causing power steering to fail? Vegas, inciting a riot when all of the slot machines go dark at once? **

Or how about Wall Street? Would it be possible to take down the financial system for weeks or better?
As a slight digression, a news story came out today that up to 15000 people are being evacuated in France, because a store of munitions from WW1 has been found to have cracks and may leak. This cache is basically recovered shells from the war, is 157 tons in size, and includes mustard gas and phosgene gas…

Nah, you don’t get away that easy. Open up and join the group.