Does Catastrophic Terrorism Incidents Involving
Biological Weapons Constitute a Clear and Present Danger?
excerpted from: Milton Leitenberg, An Assessment of
the Biological Weapons Threat to the United States, "White
Paper" prepared for the Conference on Emerging Threats
Assessment. Biological Terrorism, at the Institute for Security
Technology Studies, Dartmouth College, July 7-9, 2000.
A. An Informed Consensus?
1. Cannot assume that catastrophic CB terrorism is imminent.
2. Historical analysis provides no basis for forecasting
catastrophic CB terrorism, however...
3. Analysis of current trends provides mixed picture.
4. With exception of OBL, not clear that any known group planning,
5. Perception of CB threat driven by vulnerabilities, changes in
political and technological environments, consequences, and judgment
of future generations.
6. We confront a diverse spectrum of potential actors, motives,
purposes, capabilities, substances, targeting choices, levels of
7. Terrorist CB attacks causing catastrophic casualties likely to
8. States or state-sponsored CBW represent potential threat
especially in conflict with US.
9. CB hoaxes are increasing and will continue to be a problem.
10. Threat goes beyond casualties – enormous psychological
impact, potential for economic warfare.
B. Risky Analysis in which Anxieties become Conclusions
1. Instead of assessing intentions and capabilities of an
identified enemy, we begin with...
2. Identifying vulnerabilities, which are infinite...
3. Then positing a foe – they are legion – provided with a
highly generalized motive...
4. To create a scenario focusing on worst cases...
5. Reifying a hypothetical scenario useful for planning purposes
into an actual threat, considered inevitable, imminent, for which we
6. Demanding action (or future generations will judge us harshly)
from which we might derive a deterrent effect.
7. Fact-free analysis lends itself to manipulation and other
1. Not just a matter of time before chem-bio terrorism occurs.
2. Hoaxes and threats more likely than use.
3. Chemical more likely than biological substances.
4. Small-scale more likely than large-scale attacks.
5. Crude dispersal in enclosed area most likely mode of attack.
6. CB terrorism is not about to become the car bomb of the 1990s.