There is a very long history of the use of biological weapons. In the Middle Ages soldiers used to launch cattle that were ridden with anthrax over the walls of castles that were under siege. English and Dutch settlers (it is undetermined if they knowingly or unknowingly did) used to sell blankets to Native Americans that contained the smallpox virus. During the 1930’s the Japanese started bombing China with containers of fleas that contained the plaque. In more recent times there have been the salmonella poisoning by the Rajhneeshees on Oregon in the 1980s, and the anthrax scare in America after 9/11.
While some people state that terrorists all “want a lot of people watching, not a lot dead” (Stern, pg 517), this is not always necessarily true. Each terrorist act is unique. The soldiers in the Middle Age and the Japanese desired mass causalities, perhaps without much publicity. The Rajhneeshees wanted to influence local elections in The Dalles, Oregon. The Rajhneeshees remained silent about their contamination of salad bars with salmonella. The anthrax scare in America still remains unsolved, however, these attacks did get lots of people scared and the attacks were focused on people in the media. Hence the anthrax scare was to get people watching and not mass causalities. These anthrax attacks did create fear in the public and destroy moral.
Even though there are common themes and motivating factors, every attack is different and to focus on one type of group (for instance religious zealots) while neglecting others (political zealots) will only create a false sense of security and allow compliancy to build.
It is this religious ideology that is of great concern. There are state organizations that may have the same extreme religious views as terror organizations. These state groups may have the capabilities to develop and deploy chemical or biological weapons. Moreover, these states may not want to be associated with the deployment of these weapons. Therefore it is advantageous for a state to align themselves with a radical religious terror group to covertly conduct their operations. It is this reason this paper is going to focus on terror organizations that may be tied into state sponsored terrorism, such as Hezbollah and Iran. Iran has the means of developing and deploying chemical and biological weapons, and they might use Hezbollah as the means to aid in the deployment.Development of Chemical and Biological Weapons
One of my major concerns is not the development of chemical weapons by terrorist organizations, the development has proven to be too costly and time consuming for most terrorists organizations. My major concern is the acquisition of chemical weapons by terrorist organizations by existing state run chemical weapons programs. These acquisitions may be through purchasing, political or ideological alignment or through theft.
The theft might occur at an existing weapons depot, even one from a country that is not allied with the terrorist organization. For instance the United States used the Johnston Atoll for the demolition of chemical weapons between 1963-2003. JACADS (Johnston Atoll Chemical Agents Disposal System) had been used for the demolition of VX, Mustard Gas, Agent Orange, and other chemical agents. The population of the island consisted of a maximum of 300 military personnel and approximately 1000 civilian contractors. This is barely enough personnel to defend the island against a major terrorist attack, which could have happened by air due the large runway. Moreover, Johnston Atoll is located 700 miles southwest of Hawaii and it would have taken hours before Air Force or Navy could have responded. A well designed terrorist attack could have obtained some deadly chemical agents designed by Americans and used against Americans.
In 2004 all of the buildings on Johnston Atoll have been demolished, including JACADS. Control of the island left the US Military and it has been handed over to the Department of Fish and Wildlife. There remain 6 Chemical Agent demolition sites within the United States that are controlled by the US Military.
It is very likely that terrorist organizations may form alliance with states that are developing chemical or biological weapons. The common goals (especially if the goals are anti-American) can unite strange organizations.
In 1996 the US Secretary of Defense stated that the Iranian government was producing and storing chemical weapons on the islands of Abu Musa (figure 2) and Lesser Tunb. Both of these islands are located in the middle of the Straits of Humuz (figure 3) and could easily be accessed by incoming and outgoing shipping. Ships could easily transit into the Persian Gulf, pick up a shipment of chemical weapons and then quickly leave the Persian Gulf to the Indian Ocean. Moreover, Iranians could deploy biological agents onto passing ships as they pass in hopes of spreading small pox or camel pox throughout the crew and their next port of call.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard has conducted naval drills against the US Navy. These drills consisted of small fast boats speeding near US naval ships and dropping 55 gallon drums by the ships. It is estimated that the Revolutionary Guard was trying to make the US Navy maneuver into Iranian territorial waters. Perhaps the Revolutionary guard was testing if they could get close enough to US ships and dropping 55 gallon drums of CB agent in front of the ship so the crew becomes contaminated.
The Iranian government has routinely stated that they are not using Abu Musa, Lesser Tunb or Greater Tunb for military reasons. However, the islands are heavily fortified and underground bunkers (Figure 4) can be seen on Lesser Tunb. The US Military also has proof that the Iranians are building chemical and biological weapons on Abu Musa.Deployment of Chemical and Biological Weapons
The deployment of chemical and biological weapons is out of the reach of most terrorist organizations. The large scale deployment of these weapons would require aerosol disbursement which is beyond the technical capabilities of most terrorist groups. Large scale deployment of these agents would require state and national help to deploy them.
Some of the 7000-15000 dead from the Chemical Attack in Halabja Iraq.
We have witnessed the large scale destruction that chemical weapons can produce. In 1988 Sadam Hussein had his military attack the town of Halabja in Northern Iraq. This Kurdish town was pro-Iranian during the Iraq-Iran war. Hussein’s air force deployed mustard gas, VX, and sarin above the town. Witness described it as clouds started to form, then they turned grey and than all the clouds turned yellow. It is estimated that 7-15 thousand civilians died from this attack. Most of the dead were women and children since the men were fighting the war already.
Since Iran does not have a nuclear deterrence, it rests on the threat of terrorist attacks as deterrence from invasion. The Iranian government has developed close ties with Hugo Chavez’s government in Venezuela and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard has trained and conducted joint operations with the Venezuelan Army. It is unclear if Hezbollah has also trained with the Venezuelan Army, but we do know that Hezbollah has trained with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and that Hezbollah does have operatives in Central America and possibly America.
This being said it is possible that Hezbollah could conduct a chemical or biological attack on American soil in behalf of the Iranian or Venezuelan government. This attack could be large like the attack on Halabja, but that would require large logistical support and would most likely occur on a southern US border town. But this would require large logistical support and would revoke a large response for America, which neither Hezbollah, Iran nor Venezuela wants.
The most likely scenario would be a terrorist organization such as Hezbollah covertly deploying chemical or biological agents in small amounts to create fear in America and to break the American moral. This attack would be a coordinated attack for example, spreading Anthrax through the mail or in a large shopping complex, along with the dispersing of small pox at a large shopping mall, while another branch of the terror organization conducts a large scale conventional attack such as a truck bombing.Ago-Terrorism and Agriculture Security
Ago-terrorism is a major concern for many reasons. Much of the American food supply originates from South or Central America. Some of this food supply does originate in Mexico, while others transit through it on its way to America. The Mexican government is very weak and strapped financially trying to fight the drug cartels. Moreover, the Mexican government blames America for the gun supply to the drug cartels. The security of the American food supply is not a high priority for the Mexican government.
Mexico has always been a hot bed for anti-Americanism. Due to its proximity with America, many enemies of America have stationed themselves there to maintain a watchful eye on America. During WWII Nazi spies were stationed in Mexico City. There are Al Qaeda and Hezbollah terror cells located in Mexico, and once again, this most likely not the Mexican government’s highest priority since the Mexican government is not their target.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture which is responsible for food safety is one of the smallest branches in the government. Since it is so small and the US consumption is so large and relies on many imports, the USDA can only sample some of the imports. This makes it very likely that some ago-terrorism would go undetected.
Therefore it would be easy for terror organizations in Mexico to spread a biological agent like swine flu (which originated in Mexico) in hopes of spreading a highly contagious disease throughout the American population.
The acts of agro-terrorism would also be very appealing to a terror group that is state sponsored. Not every terror group wants to claim responsibility for a bio or chemical attack. For instance Hezbollah has been seeking a legitimate political party status for years in Lebanon. For them to be associated with an act of bio- terrorism could damage their status. This is why agro-terrorism would be appealing to them, it is extremely difficult to trace the origins of ago-terrorism back to its source and declare it as an act of terrorism. For instance where and why did Mad Cow or Bird flu disease begin? Were these actual acts of bio-terrorism on the food supply or natural occurrences?Conclusion
It is very possible for a chemical or biological terror attack to occur on US soil. The most likely occurrence would be from a country with strong anti-American sentiment that would use a terror organization as its weapons delivery. This attack may be done on a large or small scale based on the host country and what the objectives are. If the host country’s objective is to create fear in the American public that most likely the terror attack would be through agro-terrorism and be a multi-faceted attack. If the host country is not fearful of US retaliation or wants to provoke America, then the attack would be non-covert and large scale. This attack would occur most likely around US borders.
It is only with the help of a host country that a large scale attack could occur. Only a host country such as North Korea or Iran would have the ability to mass produce chemical or biological weapons, such as the facilities at Abu Musa or Lesser Tunb. Also only a host country would have the ability to raid an existing chemical weapons depot, such as Johnston Atoll (when it was operational) and be able to steal existing chemical weapons.