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A Review of the Question of WMD Terrorism

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Between the years 1990 and 1995 the Japanese organization, Aum Shinrikyo, produced the chemical warfare agent sarin and unsuccessfully attempted to acquire biological agents. The leader of the organization had extremely grandiose notions of what he would do with these products: bring about a war between the United States and Japan, and topple the Japanese government. This personal vision of an Armageddon fortunately resulted in no more than the deaths of a dozen innocent Japanese citizens when a hastily produced quantity of sarin was released in a Tokyo subway car.

Six years after mid-1995, in October and November 2001, the so-called “Amerithrax” events in the United States took place. In this instance an extremely highly trained researcher in the premier biodefence facility in the U.S. prepared a dry powder flask of bacillius Anthracis and sent small quantities of the material in letters to several members of the US Congress and to media outlets. 

The combination of these two events had dramatic consequences in the United States, raising the fear of “WMD terrorism” through the use of chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons: C, B, R, and N. Several senior public figures and political scientists prophesized that there would be a “mass casualty event” within five or ten years brought about by terrorist use of one of these weapons. (Most notoriously, Graham Allison, and Republican Senator Richard Lugar and Gary Ackerman released opinion surveys of the expectations of supposedly “informed” persons.)

Roughly 25 years have now passed since the Aum Shinrikyo was active, which affords analysts the opportunity to look back and see what has taken place and what has not, and ask what the current threat potential is for terrorists or other non-state actors (NSA) is to use CBRN weapons. 

The following pages are written in the form of an outline, and presume some familiarity of the subject matter by the reader. Much background information is therefore omitted, and an attempt will be made in different places in the pages that follow to present relevant information about all four of the WMD systems :  C, B, R & N. 

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