submitted by Mr Le Guen, Rapporteur (France, Socialist Group)
- There is nothing new in the use of toxic biological and chemical agents and radioactive substances for the purposes of terrorism. But in the period following the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States, the possibility of this happening became one of the priorities with regard to the prevention of terrorism. The media of course bear a large share of the responsibility, given their tendency to oversimplify and exaggerate justifiable fears in this area. The very mention of chemical, biological and radiological substances (CBRs) being used as instruments of terror is enough to strike fear into people's hearts. Anthrax, cyanide, ricin, sarin, smallpox, plutonium, uranium and the like are words that conjure up apocalyptic images in the public mind in all our societies.
- Governments in their turn need to react to the possibility of attacks involving such agents and substances. Mass vaccination, quarantine and isolation programmes together with civil-military coordination plans are drawn up, studied and tested at national and European level in order to reassure and if necessary protect the general population. In parallel, systems for in-depth study, monitoring and control over the circulation of CBRs have been set up or, where they existed already, improved. For most such agents, barring one or two, exist in nature or are a product of the chemical, biological and pharmaceutical or nuclear industries, for the most part in the civilian sector.
- The widespread nature of their existence is often "ignored", until such time as industrial or nuclear disasters occur. To give an idea of the scale involved, the Bhopal tragedy (India, 1984) resulted directly in over 8 000 deaths and caused injury to tens of thousands2 while the attack that took place in the Tokyo underground in 1995, involving the nerve gas, sarin, killed 11 and affected over 5 5003. The terrorist threat is a serious one, but much depends on the quality and quantity of CBR agents and substances and how readily available they are. These are three aspects that need to be taken into account in any evaluation of current levels of threat. What makes the incidents involving anthrax which occurred in the United States in the weeks following 11 September 2001 a major cause for concern is not so much the presence of the substance (in very small quantities) in the various items of mail or air conditioning systems but the fact that the spores used were of "weaponised" anthrax4.
- The 11 September attacks also gave rise to the fear of an attack involving radioactive substances, either nuclear ordnance or radiation-emitting agents. The first scenario is the more dangerous but also the least likely one for terrorists to be involved in, unless the terrorism is state-sponsored. "Home-made" nuclear weapons can be put together from radioactive substances gathered on site (stolen or otherwise removed from laboratories, industrial installations, or, for example, from nuclear waste-reprocessing plants). It is, however, the kind of attack against which the public authorities are best prepared because of the threat of nuclear war that has hung over Europe since the 1950s.
- Notwithstanding the inadequacies in security provision in the United States and Europe, which allowed the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States and the 11 March 2004 attacks in Spain to happen, the transatlantic community has the means, both in terms of security and defence and civilian protection, to cope with a CBR attack, either at individual country level or within a collective assistance framework. Unless such an attack were a massive one, which is unlikely unless it were supported by another state, its physical, psychological and economic repercussions could be managed and contained using the resources and procedures that currently exist.
- It is necessary to maintain present efforts and modernise prevention and response systems, civilian and military, at all levels. The first line of defence is civilian and military intelligence. Public health services require sustained attention in terms of resources and staff training, as they are in the front line when dealing with the consequences of a CBR attack. Informing the public at large and involving them in exercises and simulations is also a means of managing the immediate effects and later consequences of a terrorist attack. These are government responsibilities that can be supplemented by joint action at European and international level.
II. Risks and threats of chemical, biological and radiological terrorism
- CBR terrorism is a separate issue from that of chemical, biological and nuclear (CBN) weapons. The latter were designed, developed and produced to serve nations' defence policies. Their use was envisaged solely in the event of war and the development and production programmes for such weapons were (and still are) subject to extremely tight security and secrecy regulations. Although, overall, tens (indeed probably hundreds) of thousands of people have worked on these weapons programmes, a far smaller number possess or ever possessed the knowledge needed for carrying out such highly complex projects. In addition, the necessary technical and financial resources have to be available, and the time required to see through such programmes5.
- Leaving aside state terrorism, which carries the risk of reprisals, conventional or non-conventional, to the state concerned, the likelihood of terrorist groups (by and large) making use of weapons of terror and mass destruction is limited by the factors referred to above. It is not inconceivable that a terrorist, common criminal or other organisation (a religious sect for example) might, by force or in return for payment, get hold of a CBR weapon, but such "terrorists" would still have to have the know-how and wherewithal (transport, launchers etc.) to make use of it. As far as nuclear weapons are concerned, size and weight are a considerable disadvantage, as is the trigger mechanism (for example, nuclear warheads are "hardened" to prevent them exploding, for example if dropped by accident).
- The risk is greater when it comes to use of CBR agents obtained or produced industrially and available on the market. Contamination of the food chain or drinking water sources are obvious dangers, although here again very large amounts of toxins would be needed, as well as access to the last link in the chain - between the final health (and quality) control and the consumer. These threats and risks are very real ones and should not be minimised, but the likelihood of an attack of this nature succeeding is slim. Nevertheless, appropriate plans for protection and for taking the necessary steps to deal with such eventualities must be put in place.
1. Chemical and biological terrorism
- Cases involving chemical and biological intoxication of individual human beings or communities, arising either through human error (industrial accidents or failure of public health systems) or spontaneously in nature (for example, epidemics) are not uncommon in modern-day societies. What makes the threat of terrorism more alarming in this context, both for governments and the wider society, is the confusion that exists between chemical and biological agents and toxins and weapons. A wide range of chemical substances from mustard gas to sarin are highly lethal and their effects have been known and documented since the first world war. Although there has never yet been a biological war, there is a general awareness of the potency of the anthrax bacillus, ricin or botulin toxin, thanks to studies and simulations carried out mainly between the two world wars and during the cold war.
- Closer to home, two recent cases of chemical and biological terrorism have alerted governments and public opinion to the issue. This also goes to show that although the probability of a recourse to chemical and biological agents is low, the risks and threats are nonetheless very real. The sarin gas attack in the Tokyo underground (Japan) in 1995 and the case of the "boobytrapped" letters laced with anthrax in the US in 2001, showed the potential such actions have to destabilise communities and also, fortunately, the limits of the effectiveness of such forms of terrorism.
(a) The Tokyo attack (Japan, 20 March 1995)
- On the morning of 20 March 1995, five members of the Aum Shinri Kyo sect6 took the underground from different stations on three lines converging on Kasumigaseki station. The station served a complex of state-owned buildings housing inter alia the National Police Headquarters. Each of the five was carrying a package consisting of a plastic bag containing a mixture of chemicals, for the most part sarin gas. Before leaving the underground, the "terrorists" placed the bags on the floor of the train compartments and perforated them using umbrellas. The people closest to hand were the most seriously injured. In total, 12 people died and over 5 500 were affected, including those hurt in the crush caused by the resultant panic.
- The Tokyo attack might have had far graver consequences had the Aum sect not encountered difficulties in producing and releasing the sarin. The gas was in fact of very indifferent quality. Warfare-calibre sarin in its pure state is colourless and odourless and one drop will kill. The sarin used by Aum was dilute and, on contact with the air, gave off an odour which alerted the passengers. Furthermore, the method of releasing the gas considerably limited its effect. Aum's technical people were unable to develop an aerosol system which would have contaminated the surrounding atmosphere with droplets that people then inhaled. Only those in contact with or in close (virtually physical) proximity to the bags were killed or seriously injured.
- Despite its being largely unsuccessful, the Tokyo attack showed that the threat of a terrorist attack using chemicals was a real one and highlighted the difficulties of an immediate response. In the ensuing panic, the stampede towards the exits from the underground partially blocked them, preventing the emergency services from getting through immediately. Similarly, police, fire and ambulance services were called to the scene but had no protective clothing being, initially at least, unaware of the cause of the incident. Had the substance used been a true biological or chemical weapon, the number of victims could have been far higher, including among those on hand to administer help.
(b) The letters containing anthrax (United States, September 2001-January 2002)
- Between September 2001 and January 2002, a number of mail items containing anthrax spores came to light in the United States. Following hard upon the 11 September 2001 attacks, these incidents caused anxiety to the authorities and among the wider public, in the United States and in other countries. They served to confirm that the risk of a biological attack was well founded. However, apart from the panic inevitably generated as a result of the publicity surrounding them, the attacks were of very limited impact. Sadly, five people lost their lives and some dozen or so suffered contamination. The material costs involved since 2001 - in terms of mobilisation of health services and decontamination measures - have been put at hundreds of millions of dollars7.
- The five deaths were due to inhalation of anthrax spores placed in the letters. More than half the injuries sustained were as a result of contact with the skin. The attacks seemed deliberately targeted, especially towards the national and local media (for maximum psychological impact). Two letters, at least, were sent to the US Congress (addressed to Senators Daschle and Leahy, both of them democrats). The immediate effect of this method of delivery was to cause major delays to postal services, with significant economic impact. At the same time there were a number of false alarms and "scares" about contaminated mail which added to the general feeling of insecurity. Similar types of occurrences in a number of European countries had similarly disruptive effects on postal services and put excessive pressure on countries' health and security services.
- With the authorities working on the (well publicised) assumption that terrorist action lay behind the attacks, an attempt was made to identify the source of the anthrax strain used. After a number of analyses (followed by heated debate) this was identified as the "Ames" strain8, one of 89 known strains of anthrax and the one used in US biological weapons programmes9. It can still be obtained for research in connection with anti-biological warfare programmes. The particular variety in question is highly lethal and resistant to known vaccines, which is why it is commonly used in defence research. Anthrax inhalation is fatal in roughly 80% of cases of exposure to it.
- Use of the mail service to spread anthrax was one of the scenarios envisaged in a confidential report on the threat of bioterrorism commissioned by an American federal agency from the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) under a defence contract in February 1999. The report was drafted by the "inventor" of the American process for producing "weaponised" anthrax, one William C. Patrick III10. This document suggests that the quantity of anthrax needed per letter would be no more than 2.5 grammes, assuming that the substance was of a quality inferior to that available for defence purposes. The letter addressed to Senator Daschle contained 2.0 grammes of "pure" anthrax. To date, there have been no arrests and the fact that some of the information about the anthrax is classified defence information considerably complicates the investigators' task.
2. The specific case of nuclear and radiological terrorism
- Nuclear weapons are those that today best illustrate the concept of mass destruction, in as much that it is possible to attenuate or combat the effects of chemical and biological agents and toxins fairly effectively (for example through decontamination or vaccination) while the consequences to humans of exposure to nuclear explosion or radiation are virtually irreversible. Those who survive often develop cancer, skin or blood diseases and their offspring risk deformity and other congenital ailments. Nuclear weapons have no parallel, both in the horror they cause and in terms of their power to destroy both material objects and human beings. The prospect of a terrorist attack using such means is terrifying to the highest degree to governments and the wider community alike.
- If they cannot gain access to real nuclear weapons, terrorist groups face two choices, both equally dangerous: mounting an attack on a nuclear power plant or manufacturing some kind of radiation device - a nuclear "dirty" bomb. The scenario involving the staging of a plane crash on a nuclear power plant is a plausible one, but high levels of uncertainty as to the effectiveness of this method make it an unlikely choice. Such plants are rarely situated close to major population centres (capitals), nuclear reactors are normally buried deep under many layers of concrete and the surrounding airspace is under constant close surveillance (especially since the 11 September 2001 attacks). Similarly, mounting an assault on a power station is a difficult undertaking and a knowledge of how it functions and the protocols governing its operation are a necessary prerequisite for control over it (or sabotage).
- Far easier to achieve, at least in theory, is the manufacture of a bomb containing both conventional explosives and radioactive substances. However, the choice of the latter, presents potential terrorists with serious difficulties. Some radioactive elements are more lethal than others (far and away the most lethal being enriched uranium and plutonium). They have to be present in sizeable quantities in order to ensure that the explosion and their dispersal do not diminish their effect. The terrorists have to assemble the "dirty" bomb in the first place without contaminating themselves and thus becoming incapable of using it. Notwithstanding such constraints, a nuclear or radiological attack, even an unsuccessful one, would have quite a significant destabilising effect on our societies.
(a) Nuclear weapons and the terrorist threat
- In the weeks following the 11 September 2001 attacks, the US security services received intelligence that subsequently proved false to the effect that terrorists linked to al-Qa'ida were planning to bring a 10-kilotonne nuclear warhead into the United States, more specifically, into New York11. The information was kept secret in order to prevent panic among the general public and neither the FBI or the city authorities were informed about it. This was the most dreaded of all terrorist scenarios, and even more so as it involved a military warhead, not a "dirty" bomb, or one put together out of materials and through processes not part of the standard nuclear technology.
- Terrorism apart, it is vital to know where weapons originate in order to be able to act effectively, should the need arise, in preventing their use or making preparations to deal with the effects of an attack. All nuclear weapons are identifiable, either from the way in which they are fired or their explosive or radioactive effects. It is therefore important to have information about the quality of the materials and the manufacturing process.
- There are two main types of nuclear bombs: fission and fusion. The first are fuelled by uranium 235 and plutonium 239. They are fired much in the same way as a revolver (by hurling one mass of fissile material at another) or by implosion (using explosives). Fusion bombs (the H-bomb) use a mixture of hydrogen, deuterium and tritium and firing is by fission reaction. The energy released by this type of weapon is much more powerful than in the case of fission weapons, hence their description: "thermonuclear". There are several variations on these two basic themes, such as the fission-fusion-fission bomb, which is in fact a super H-bomb. These types of weapons are very complicated to assemble.
- Fission bombs are the easiest to produce, but they require large quantities of uranium 235 and plutonium 239, both elements which are not naturally occurring but obtained by complex chemical and physical processes known, where uranium is involved, as enrichment12, or, in the case of plutonium, by fission processes and processing naturally occurring uranium 238. Between six and 25 kilogrammes of uranium 235 and three and eight kilogrammes of plutonium are reckoned to be needed for a fission bomb13. In order to produce these quantities, a complicated structure is needed involving nuclear reactors and reprocessing plants (to obtain plutonium from natural uranium 238). To build and run a reactor, a power station or a reprocessing plant requires considerable financial and technical investment, putting them out of reach of terrorist organisations. Such installations, highly visible on account of their size and surface area, are very difficult to camouflage.
- It is possible to design bombs that work, using smaller quantities of uranium and plutonium, but this also requires the use of compression techniques which are very expensive and difficult to handle14. For instance, one of the "smaller" nuclear programmes of the 1980s, South Africa's, cost a billion dollars (money of the day) and employed some 400 people over a 10-year period to produce a total of six fission bombs (using uranium 235 as fuel)15. In the present state of the art, the assumption would be that a state could achieve the same result faster, and at lower cost, but that a terrorist group could not, unless the terrorism were state-sponsored.
- A coincidence of interests between a state with a nuclear capability and a terrorist organisation constitutes a new danger, of hitherto unparalleled dimension. An 11 September 2001-type nuclear attack involving even a low-powered weapon would have unforeseeable and highly destabilising effects on today's international order. It might be envisaged that if the state attacked were itself a nuclear state, the response might be of a similar order with the risk of escalation. Control over nuclear proliferation thus becomes an essential instrument in parrying the threat of nuclear terrorism. If, whatever the initial justification (traditional territorial defence), states continue to acquire weapons of this kind, which are, moreover, increasingly becoming easier to develop (not to mention the whole issue of control, security, stockpiling and means of delivery) there is an abiding risk of a nuclear warhead one day falling into the hands, directly or indirectly, of a terrorist group.
- This is a scenario contemplated since the break-up of the USSR, but one which fortunately has not come to pass. The strengthening of the structures of authority in Russia also make it an increasingly unlikely hypothesis, especially in the context of the terrorist threat from radical Islam, the situation in Chechnya and instability in former soviet central Asia. Under such circumstances, it would be the Russian Government itself that had most to fear including from a terrorist threat of a criminal nature, or from other than an Islamic source. Another state presenting the same type of problem is Pakistan, whose developing nuclear capabilities need monitoring and, as far as possible, kept under supervision. However, given that, in this area, as far as one can see, neither Russia nor Pakistan is prepared to disarm unilaterally, international efforts should be directed towards improving the security and safety of existing weapons and achieving greater transparency among states with nuclear capabilities in regard to the control and management of their stockpiles.
(b) The radiation bomb
- Command of the technology and production cycle of nuclear weapons (with the physical infrastructure this implies) and direct access to weapons primed for use are immensely difficult for a terrorist group to achieve without state support. But states and terrorists want different things. Media reaction and psychological aspects are also extremely important. The public in general tends to have a rather sketchy and simplistic knowledge about nuclear energy and nuclear weapons. Accidents and scares in the civilian nuclear sector invariably produce high levels of anxiety about radioactive pollution and contamination among the wider community, as in the case of the Chernobyl disaster (1986).
- This lack of information, which is also arises because of the secrecy that surrounds things nuclear, can easily be exploited by a terrorist group. The threat of a radiological attack is essentially a psychological one. In point of fact, for death to be instantaneous there has to be a large radiation dose concentrated within a very short time-period. Otherwise radioactive contamination has a medium-to-longer term effect which may respond to medical treatment, and indeed clear up completely. Physical decontamination of the environment can also be achieved to levels of radiation tolerable to life. The Chernobyl accident is an important point of reference today in understanding the effects of a large-scale nuclear accident.
- On 26 April 1986 a reactor at the Chernobyl power station (Ukraine) exploded, releasing large amounts of radioactive particles and gas into the air. The cloud spread over a large area of Ukraine and Belarus, through central Europe and into western Europe. At the time of the accident16, there were roughly 450 people on site. Their presence was augmented by the fire services called in to bring the fires caused by the explosion under control. A total of over 300 people suffered the direct effects of radiation and burns of varying degrees. Over 115 000 people in all were evacuated (as far as the Kyev region, at a distance of 100 kilometres from Chernobyl, and in Belarus), a 30-kilometre security cordon was thrown around the site and an area of 7 000 square kilometres was subjected to various forms of treatment and decontamination measures in an attempt to reduce or eliminate traces of radioactivity.
- In the first 24 days after the accident, 19 people died as a result of radiation exposure. >From 24 to 96 days afterwards, nine more people died. The most lethal form of exposure was that to radioactive iodine (131I) and caesium (137Cs). The toll, overall, on people's health as a result of the accident was summed as follows at the Third International Conference on the Health Effects of the Chernobyl Accident17:
"Stochastic radiation effects18
There is no doubt that the incidence of thyroid cancer has substantially increased in children who were 0-18 years old at the time of the accident and that this is related to radiation from the accident. An increased number of cases of thyroid cancer among liquidators who worked in 1986 is expected to occur.
There is a tendency of an increase of leukaemia among liquidators who worked on the site in 1986 and 1987 and who received significant doses (...). There is no significant increase of leukaemia in adults or children living on contaminated territories of the three affected countries.
While there has been increased incidence of solid tumours, there is little significant and/or consistent evidence of a radiation-related increase in clean-up workers, evacuees, or residents of contaminated areas in the three affected countries. (...)
Deterministic radiation effects
Bone marrow syndrome was diagnosed in 134 persons who received 1-12 Gy19 of relatively uniform whole-body exposure during the early stages of the accident. Supportive medical care provided to these individuals resulted in substantial survival. However, 28 died during the first three months after the accident. In later years 14 additional deaths, attributable to a variety of medical conditions, have occurred.
Various somatic disorders, including delayed neuropsychiatric complications and radiation skin damage, have been observed in survivors of bone marrow syndrome. Cataracts are seen in survivors at a level related to dose. (...)
There are indications that the incidence of cardiovascular, cerebrovascular and thyroid diseases in clean-up workers and possibly other non-cancer conditions may be increased; radiation exposure or other factors may play a role in this increase. (...)
Other health effects
At 15 years after the accident other types of health effects seem to have emerged. These are primarily neuropsychiatric and cardiovascular diseases, but also include:
Deteriorating health of liquidators20 ;
Increasing invalidity among liquidators;
Decreased birth rate;
Diminished health of new-borns;
Increased pregnancy complications;
Impaired health of children."
- The Chernobyl accident foreshadows what might happen in the event of a large-scale attack on a nuclear power plant. The psychological impact in the short term is significant but the fact that all the consequences become apparent only in the medium and longer-term substantially mitigates any destabilising effects, political, economic or social - for example, although there are now fewer civilian nuclear programmes than before there was no wholesale power station shutdown in the wake of Chernobyl. The accident also made it easier for states with nuclear power stations to improve and adapt their emergency rescue plans in the event of a major incident, whether deliberate or accidental. At the same time security and control procedures governing such plants were tightened up.
- Given the difficulties involved in making a weapon or provoking a nuclear accident, a terrorist group might still resort, as an alternative, to making a radiation bomb. The American reference document, the "Militarily Critical Technologies List" (MCTL)21 describes such weapons as follows:
"Radiological weapons use the beta rays, neutrons, and gamma rays emitted by the decay of highly radioactive isotopes to kill or incapacitate. In general, the latency period between exposure to high doses of radiation and the onset of symptoms is long (hours to weeks, depending upon dose), but it may be as short as minutes if neutron doses on the order of several thousand rads (whole body dose) can be delivered22".
Plutonium, uranium, depleted uranium23, caesium and cobalt are only a few of the substances that can be used for these types of weapons. The difficulty, in terms of their effectiveness, lies in finding and transporting them in the quantities necessary to cause sufficient damage. The MCTL (1998) states that:
"There is no practical way to transport enough radioactive material to provide doses this high (to kill in a short time span) because the amounts of isotopes necessary to inflict reasonably prompt casualties (hours to days) over a large area (square kilometres) on a foe may produce so much heat that it melts even steel bomb cases."
The MCTL thus concludes that "radiological weapons are more apt to cause civil disruption than destruction".
- To the difficulty of obtaining large enough quantities of radioactive materials is added that of the method of their dispersal. As with chemical and biological weapons, dispersal by air is the most effective (contamination by inhalation). But methods involving aerosols or spraying from aircraft present technical problems and tend to be undertaken only by specialists. Although they serve to generate panic, unless they are deployed in large quantities, they are less destructive than conventional explosives. The risks involved even with one of the more dangerous radioactive substances - plutonium - are usually tolerable. According to one public briefing given in 1995 by researchers of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory24 in the United States:
"(...) the claims of dire health consequences from the introduction of plutonium into the air or into a municipal water supply are greatly exaggerated. The combination of rapid and almost complete sedimentation, dilution in large volumes of water, and minimal uptake of plutonium from the gastrointestinal tract would all act to preclude serious health consequences to the public from the latter scenario. And although the dispersal of plutonium in air (as the result of a fire or explosion, for example) would cause immense concern and cleanup problems, it would not result in widespread deaths or dire health consequences, as terrorists might hope. Dissipation due to wind and air turbulence would rapidly dilute any respirable aerosol. Only people within a few metres of the source could receive a prompt lethal dose. Delayed effects in the form of fatal cancers outside this region would probably not appear in affected individuals until years later. For a vast majority of the population of any city, the increase in cancer risk arising from exposure to plutonium aerosol would be a fraction of that arising from other, more common health hazards.
None of the above discussion should be taken to mean that the diversion and illicit use of plutonium is not a serious international problem. Such illicit use does have the potential for serious physical and psychological impacts on the public. We are concerned, however, that erroneous and exaggerated statements in the media may actually promote a market for stolen and smuggled nuclear material for the purpose of nuclear terrorism. Ignorance and fear should not play major roles in deciding how to deal with such potential threats"25.
III. Preventing and reacting to attacks
- From 1-2 December 2001, Oklahoma City in the United States became the target of a biological attack using the smallpox virus. By 9 December, between one and 20 suspected cases of contamination had been identified and were subsequently confirmed. Other smallpox cases were recorded in Atlanta and Philadelphia over the same period. In total, 50 people in the three cities had been contaminated at that date. The three States involved, Oklahoma, Georgia and Pennsylvania, have a total population of some 23.8 million. By 15 December there had been 300 deaths, and the number of cases had risen to several thousand. The hospital services in the towns concerned were saturated while people moving around from place to place increased the risk of the illness spreading throughout the entire country (2 000 cases in 15 states).
- By 20 December, 14 000 further cases had been diagnosed across 25 states. Over 1 000 had died (200 of those deaths being due to the effects of anti-smallpox vaccine). It was estimated that, in the space of two weeks, victims would number more than 5 000. By 22 December, the number of recorded cases had risen to over 16 000. Estimates put the number of those contaminated at 30 000 at the beginning of January, 300 000 by 20 January and three million in February. The mortality rate for those catching the disease is roughly 30% and the estimated number of smallpox deaths for February stood at a million. Smallpox has an incubation period of 9-14 days and a high airborne contagion rate. The only "cure" is vaccination and the only way of preventing the disease from spreading is isolation. Children are particularly vulnerable.
- Such was the disaster scenario for "Dark Winter"26, an exercise carried out in the United States, at the Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, on 22-23 June 2001. It took place in the context of international tension in Asia and the Persian Gulf and the terrorist attack was said to be the work of the al-Qa'ida network. The origins of smallpox are unknown and there is a worrying shortage of available vaccine. The destabilising effect on economic, political and social life is very great. This simulation exercise served to sensitise politicians and managements of the various services (defence, homeland security and the health and environmental services) to the danger of a bioterrorist attack. The exercise took place only two and a half months before the 11 September 2001 attacks and the lessons learned served to achieve a heightened state of alert and preparedness among US authorities after the attacks on New York and Washington.
1. A major challenge for European security
- The position in the various European Union member states faced with the threat of widespread chemical, biological or radiological terrorist attack is very uneven. Some countries, like the Czech Republic, France, Germany and the United Kingdom have acknowledged expertise in the area of CBRs - a legacy of the cold war - and their resources and capabilities are most useful today when it comes to dealing with such problems. After the 11 September 2001 attacks, general mobilisation of the population against what came to be known as "new threats" led to attention being focussed on such extreme cases, of which the 1995 Tokyo attack provided an all too real example.
- The European Security Strategy adopted by the European Council in Brussels on 12 December 2003 suggests in reference to major threats that "the most frightening scenario is one in which terrorist groups acquire weapons of mass destruction. In this event, a small group would be able to inflict damage on a scale previously possible only for States and armies". The Declaration on Combating Terrorism" adopted by the Council of the European Union on 25 March 2004 also makes several references to the dangers of the CBRN threat.
- Since 2001, EU member states have passed measures to improve coordination and protect the population at large in the European Union area, for the effects of a large-scale attack or highly dangerous form of contamination, such as with smallpox, will cross borders. The EU's neighbours will also be affected, and, with enlargement, virtually the entire continent could come under threat. In the absence of a federal structure to pull things together, as in the United States, it will be up to individual states to take the necessary measures within their own territory, pending help from outside.
- For that help to be effective, coordinating machinery, centralised planning and joint exercises prior to the event are all essential. Intervention doctrines and concepts of use, also the technology and procedures employed, must be standardised and made interoperable as far as possible. Interoperability between civilian resources is even more difficult to achieve than in the military sphere, and in the years to come this is one aspect which will need developing further. In the event of a real attack like "Dark Winter", the lack of a common coordinated approach would have dire consequences for the people of Europe as a whole.
(a) Protection of civilians
- Contrary to popular belief, the threat of a "terrorist" attack with CBR agents, toxins and substances did not suddenly appear with the 11 September 2001 attacks. During the cold war, on both sides, NATO and the Warsaw Pact, the possibility of acts of sabotage or attacks calculated to destabilise using such means was catered for in defence planning. The attack in the Tokyo underground in 1995 caused the authorities to take a new look at the issue. In March 2000, the UK Department of Health published a paper on the subject entitled "Deliberate Release of Biological and Chemical Agents - Guidance to help plan the health service response" and the United States held its "Dark Winter" simulation exercise in summer 2001.
- Following the 11 September 2001 attacks, and the letters laced with anthrax, there was a public outcry for more preventive and response measures to such threats. In Europe also some contaminated letters had been reported, although they proved to be no more than hoaxes. They nevertheless raised a degree of concern among the population at large, especially as the media tended for the most part to blow such incidents out of all proportion. It seems clear from the American cases that the attacks were targeted, rather than examples of mass terrorism, contrary to those on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York.
- Following such events, all the European states revised their rescue plans in the event of incidents or attacks where the use of CBR substances might be involved. In some instances, existing measures were revised, while for others specific responses were designed. Thus France set up "Piratox" (to deal with chemical substances) and "Biotox" (for biological toxins). Awareness campaigns were run among health workers and surveillance of vulnerable areas (reservoirs, the drinking water system, the food chain, commercial and business centres in larger towns, government buildings, industrial plants and installations, urban transport networks systems, etc.) was stepped up. In parallel, talks were held about whether it would be appropriate to lay in stocks of vaccines and undertake mass immunisation, particularly against the threat of a smallpox attack.
- This was done initially on a national scale. In Europe, each government takes sole responsibility for its own population, with the European Union merely having a subsidiary role in such matters. The effect was to highlight inequalities in the face of the threat, depending on the resources and capacities of particular states. For targeted threats, or attacks along the lines of that in Tokyo, national resources were ample, especially since, when it came to health infrastructure and civilian protection services, capital cities and major urban centres were particularly well-endowed. Civil defence resources were quite adequate to combat the effects of a CBR attack, other than where a weapon of mass destruction was employed or where there was widespread use of large quantities of toxic substances over an extensive area. Such at any rate were the conclusions drawn from national simulation exercises undertaken at national level in the United Kingdom (on 7 September 2003) and in France (on 22-23 October 2003), where the scenario was one of attacks in underground transport systems.
- A major difficulty at national level is training for staff involved in the front line (health service workers and the police and fire services, for example). Information on CBR weapons is invariably regarded as "sensitive" and procedures for detecting and dealing with them often fall within the defence sphere and smack of secrecy. What used to be a cold war scenario is now a real terrorist or criminal threat. Seminars and presentations do not go far enough; vaccination or specific protective measures may be needed, depending on the type of attack under consideration.
- To be effective, the protection given to the civilian population must extend over as wide an area as possible of a nation's territory. This means thousands of people are involved, in terms of preparedness training and the use of equipment for detecting and protecting against such threats (protective suits, masks, antidotes, vaccines, decontamination equipment and procedures, and so on). Such measures cost money and some of their implications, for instance vaccinating against smallpox or anthrax, can themselves cause the pool of available personnel to dry up. Unless there is a state of war or emergency, recourse must be had to volunteers.
- There is also a need to ensure an adequate stock of vaccine and medicines and to acquire and maintain fixed and mobile detection and decontamination facilities. All these facilities need to be regularly renewed or replenished, and reviewed over time, as new threats emerge. This implies funding for research into CBR security measures as part of a global healthcare research and investment policy. It is important too that health services are able to deal with the enormous demand for emergency care, hospital beds and patient transport that might be required in the event of a devastating CBR attack.
- The lessons learned from the heat wave that overpowered Europe, especially France, during the summer of 2003 are also useful when considering action to be taken in the face of the threat of a major CBR attack. They point to the need for every state to have a "healthwatch" system on round-the-clock alert, able to pick up very quickly on any signs of health problems that suddenly manifest themselves among the population at large. Biological or radiological contamination may not be immediately obvious but could become widespread in the medium and longer term. The system should cover a wide range of possible circumstances and forms of contamination from different sources, both natural and artificial.
- However, a positive factor is that the perception of a common threat causes countries to share their experiences, and lessons learned from their own simulation exercises, more readily and thus continually improve and adapt response measures to their own particular national settings. The most difficult part is coordinating the means available in the event of an attack taking place close to a border or with consequences that transcend borders. It is important in such cases that exercises should be open to representatives of the relevant services in other countries, so that they can observe or participate as appropriate.
(b) Coordinating action and pooling resources
- The European Union, unlike the United States has no federal structure. Civil defence against the CBR threat is in the first instance the responsibility of the various nation states. However, population density and geographic proximity, the degree of openness of borders and transport systems are important factors to consider. An attack taking place in a border district involving even limited contamination with biological agents will impact on surrounding countries. The protection a nation can provide may not be sufficient and will need to be supplemented by joint action. For this to be truly effective, as many countries as possible should be included. In Europe two institutional frameworks: the European Union and NATO, have the necessary powers and resources to coordinate cooperation between states for preventing and dealing with the threat from CBR terrorism.
- The September 2001 attacks in the United States, and the "anthrax letters", have to an extent conditioned Europe's perception and response in the fight against terrorism. Up until then, Europe had fought terrorism at home through what were essentially police and paramilitary methods (Northern Ireland, where the British army was directly involved in anti-terrorist measures being an exception). Thereafter, European countries were quick to follow the American line of a (total) war on global terrorism - a form of terrorism that could attack with weapons of mass destruction and terror. The threat of a large-scale bioterrorist strike, blown up by the media, became the concern of governments everywhere who were trying to reassure their peoples. As the problem had no boundaries, joint action was the inevitable strategy.
European Union action
- On 19 October 2001, the Heads of State and Government of the 15 EU nations, meeting in Ghent, Belgium, issued a declaration on the fight against terrorism, which stated:
"5. The European Council has examined the threats of the use of biological and chemical means in terrorist operations. These call for adapted responses on the part of each Member State and of the European Union as a whole. (...). The authorities will maintain increased vigilance and cooperation between the intelligence, police, civil protection and health services will be stepped up.
In tandem with the measures already taken, the European Council asks the Council and the Commission to prepare a programme to improve cooperation between the Member States on the evaluation of risks, alerts and intervention, the storage of such means, and in the field of research. The programme should cover the detection and identification of infectious and toxic agents as well as the prevention and treatment of chemical and biological attacks. The appointment of a European coordinator for civil protection measures will be part of the programme."
- On 15 November 2001, the EU Health Council27 took a series of decisions implementing the guidelines set out in Ghent:
"1. The Presidency notes the cardinal role of public health bodies in the fight against bioterrorism.
2. It desires a strengthening of the EU's response capacity by means of more effective cooperation and coordination between Member States with the support of the Commission, (...) in cooperation with the relevant international organisations.
3. The Presidency welcomes the concrete steps already taken to strengthen the European communicable diseases network and the early warning system (Decision 2119/98/EEC), and it invites the Member States and the Commission to develop a comprehensive programme of cooperation.
4. The following guidelines could be followed:
- Develop a mechanism for consultation in the event of a crisis linked to the risk of bioterrorism and a capacity for the deployment of joint investigation teams;
- Set up a mechanism for information on the capacities of European laboratories with respect to the prevention of and the fight against bioterrorism;
- Set up a mechanism for information on the availability of serums, vaccines and antibiotics, including concerted strategies for developing and using those resources;
- Set up a European network of experts responsible for evaluating, managing and communicating risks;
- Promote the development of vaccines, medicines and treatments.
5. These initiatives, which are already under way, must be closely coordinated with those linked to the setting up of a Community coordination mechanism for civil protection measures and must take account of confidentiality requirements in the case of sensitive data (...)".
- On 17 December 2001, the Commission published a "Programme of Cooperation on Preparedness and Response to Biological and Chemic Agent Attacks", whose principal aims were to:
"A. Set up a mechanism for information exchange, consultation and coordination for the handling of health-related issues related to attacks in which biological and chemical agents might be used or have been used;
B. Create a EU-wide capability for the timely detection and identification of biological and chemical agents that might be used in attacks and for the rapid and reliable determination and diagnosis of relevant cases, in particular by building on systems already available and aiming at long-term sustainability;
C. Create a medicines stock and health services database and a stand-by facility for making medicines and health care specialists available in cases of suspected or unfolding attacks;
D. Draw-up rules and disseminate guidance on facing-up to attacks from the health point of view and coordinating the EU response and links with third countries and international organisations".
- Four areas of action were identified:
"Objective A: EU coordination mechanism
Setting up a Health Security Committee at EU level which will meet regularly and will be on stand-by to:
- address at short notice and coordinate together with the Commission all responses in terms of public health related to attacks in which biological and chemical agents might be used;
- exchange information on plans and arrangements for preparedness and response;
- consider and provide advice on all aspects of public health preparedness for emergencies related to such attacks, and help in the implementation at Member State level of arrangements and strategies that may be agreed at EU level.
Objective B: Rapid detection and identification of agents and cases
Elaboration of an agreed updateable list of biological and chemical agents that are susceptible to be used in attacks or threats of attack (...).
Drawing up inventories of such biological and chemical agents in the Member States and agreed guidelines for their surveillance and notification of production, movement and processing (...).
Establishment of detection methods and classifications of unusual events/attacks (...).
Definition of the minimum requirements for resources that need to be deployed in the Member States to provide mutual reassurance as to the timely detection, identification, risk assessment and control of biological and chemical agents that might be used in attacks (...).
Elaboration and or dissemination of common methods and protocols for environmental sampling, investigation and assessment and for field and clinical investigations (...).
Drawing up for each agreed class of biological and chemical agents of a directory of experts that have duties in the field of communicable disease surveillance, control and treatment (...).
Definition of procedures to be used for the setting-up of joint investigation teams with identification of the liaison and contact points for logistical support (...).
Reviewing and updating the inventory of EU laboratory facilities (...).
Objective C: Inventory and use of medicines and services
Evaluation of existing stocks and production capacities of preventive, prophylactic and therapeutic medicines for the biological and chemical agents identified.
Elaboration of concerted stockpiling, siting, availability and recycling strategies and arrangements for creation and use anywhere in the EU of stand-by stocks of such medicines in emergencies (...).
Elaboration of strategies and instruments to allow the development of such medicines in sufficient quantity, acceptable cost and enhanced effectiveness and safety (...).
Objective D: EU rules and guidelines and international links
Elaboration of arrangements that can be made (...) on the coordination of special measures concerning the movement and residence of persons which are justified on grounds of public policy, public security or public health, and WHO's International Health regulations, in case of nationals of other Member States that might have been affected or come into contact with those affected in an attack in a Member State in which biological agents are used (...).
Establishment of a rapid consultation and clearance procedure with agreed anchor points at the appropriate level of authority in each health administration for public communications and announcements.
Drawing up of training modules in respect of the use of the networks and the procedures that are to be developed and delivered under this programme and arrange for the reliable transfer of the relevant duties to those entities that will be designated for this purpose."
- This programme, referred to as BICHAT28 was followed by a timetable for implementation up to 2003-2004. The three documents referred to were the basis of the EU response to chemical and biological terrorism. In May 2002, alongside the "Health Security Committee", consisting of representatives of the Health Ministries of the EU member states, the European Commission set up a taskforce of national experts29, appointed by the HSC, and Commission representatives within the Health and Consumer Protection Directorate-General (SANCO). This task force was responsible for carrying out the programme, a practical outcome of which was the establishing and activating of an early warning system (RAS-BICHAT) in June 2002.
- On 2 June 2003 the Commission issued a Communication30 to the Union Council and the European Parliament on the state of play in regard to BICHAT and other initiatives in this sphere. In its conclusions the Commission emphasised two aspects: "Of utmost importance in countering bioterrorism is [sic] speedy detection of a release and immediate transmission of alert and relevant information to those charged with mounting the appropriate response", and noted:
"It is essential that Member States are in a position to consult each other and coordinate their preparation and responses to the highest degree possible (...).
Adequate capacity in public health and health services will be crucial in deciding on counter-measures or switching to different ones (...).
Shielding people against agents and mitigating the effects of exposure to them requires recourse to suitable medicines. But the European Union's pharmaceutical armamentarium against pathogens and chemicals that can be used in attacks is incomplete and insufficient. (...) Member States have shown preference for and are developing national stockpiles only.
The implementation of the European Union's programme on health security helped to drive action on bioterrorism forward. (...) From the experience gained so far, it has become apparent that more time is needed fully to accomplish the objectives of the programme and fulfil the Member States' requirements for EU cooperation than was initially foreseen."
- At the EU summit on 12 December 2003, the European Council decided to create a European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). The Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control31 identified five major tasks for the ECDC:
- epidemiological surveillance and networking of laboratories
- scientific opinions
- early warning and response
- technical assistance
- emergencies and communication.
The Centre, based in Sweden, will become operational in 2005 and will also have responsibilities in the areas of preventing and responding to biological and chemical terrorist threats.
- The Atlantic Alliance has always had collective defence by the member states as its central task and its responsibility for civil defence derives from this. By invoking Article 5 of the Washington Treaty in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks, NATO became directly involved in the war against international terrorism. CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) threats were already a matter of concern to the organisation but in the context of military conflict between states. Cold war concepts needed to be adapted to the new 21st century environment.
- The Atlantic Alliance's Prague Summit defined strategic guidelines in the fight against terrorism, some of them reflecting concerns over the prevention of and response to CBRN threats where civilians were involved:
"Recalling the tragic events of 11 September 2001 and our subsequent decision to invoke Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, we have approved a comprehensive package of measures, based on NATO's Strategic Concept, to strengthen our ability to meet the challenges to the security of our forces, populations and territory, from wherever they may come (...)
We, the Heads of State and Government of the member countries of the North Atlantic Alliance, (...) have therefore decided (...) [and] individual Allies have made firm and specific political commitments to:
- improve their capabilities in the areas of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defence (...)
- endorse the agreed military concept for defence against terrorism. The concept is part of a package of measures to strengthen NATO's capabilities in this area, which also includes improved intelligence sharing and crisis response arrangements
- fully implement the Civil Emergency Planning (CEP) Action Plan for the improvement of civil preparedness against possible attacks against the civilian population with chemical, biological or radiological (CBR) agents. We will enhance our ability to provide support, when requested, to help national authorities to deal with the consequences of terrorist attacks, including attacks with CBRN against critical infrastructure, as foreseen in the CEP Action Plan
- endorse the implementation of five nuclear, biological and chemical weapons defence initiatives, which will enhance the Alliance's defence capabilities against weapons of mass destruction: a Prototype Deployable NBC Analytical Laboratory; a Prototype NBC Event Response team; a virtual Centre of Excellence for NBC Weapons Defence; a NATO Biological and Chemical Defence Stockpile; and a Disease Surveillance system (...)."
- The Civil Emergency Planning Action Plan was also extended to the Partnership for Peace Council (applicant states and Partnership for Peace (PfP) countries. Some elements of this plan and the measures envisaged are complementary to what the European Union is doing and there is cooperation between the two in the event of a CBR threat. However, the NATO programme is based on national resources and voluntary effort on the part of states, which tends in some ways to slow things down, as NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary-General, Civil Emergency Planning and Exercises, Steve Orosz32, pointed out one year on from Prague:
- "(...) we have compiled and are continuously updating an inventory of national capabilities, assets that we might be able to draw upon in the event of an actual attack. (...) We're working on developing minimum standards for training, for exercises, for planning, for equipment. We are working on trying to develop stockpiles, possibly at a regional level, of some of the more critical items that might be needed. We're working at improving border crossing procedures so that assistance in an emergency can arrive and assist a nation as quickly as possible. And of course we are exercising to make sure that the ability of nations to operate with each other in response to a common problem is as effective as it possibly can be.
- (...) the major impediment [in reaching the goals of the action plan] is one of resources. For many years, this is an area that has not received a great deal of attention in capitals. Most countries have put most of their civil protection effort into dealing with floods, natural disasters. And while some of that capability can be utilised in the event of a weapon of mass destruction event, the reality is there's an awful lot of specific things that need to be done, and a lot more in general has to be done to make up for a number of years where this was not one of the priorities".
- One of the key actors in the NATO programme is the "Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC33). Set up in 1998, to coordinate responses to natural disasters or those occurring by human agency (such as pollution), the Centre extended its field of action, in 2001, to the after-effects of a CBR accident or incident. It has a non-permanent, multinational operational structure, the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Unit (EADRU)34 with civilian and military elements. EADRCC organises exercises on a regular basis, the scenarios of the last two of which were terrorist attacks using or involving CBR agents.
- On 7 October 2003, EADRCC ran an exercise in Romania, jointly with the Romanian authorities, which simulated a terrorist attack using a radiological bomb35. Under this scenario, 20 000 people were affected by the explosion and Romania requested help from NATO. Emergency aid teams from 12 countries36 took part in "day one" operations, which brought to light one of the recurrent problems with this type of exercise: widely differing procedures, equipment and languages of communication.
- On day two a second explosion was supposed to have taken place. This time emergency help was better coordinated. The combined effects of working together and the previous day's experiences also produced better interaction between detection, rescue and decontamination teams (from 13 different countries). According to an official spokesman from the Local Emergency Management Authority (LEMA) "the success of such a multinational exercise clearly relies on (...) very good organisation, from the beginning as well as clear mechanisms for communication". The third and final day of the exercise served to improve on the procedures implemented during the previous two days and to identify shortcomings and inadequacies, particularly in respect of:
- "Deployment of various civil or military disaster response elements to the stricken nation; (...)
- Training in radiological detection and decontamination, and clean-up operations;
- Cooperation between international relief elements and [national] relief elements;
- Public information aspects of dealing with terrorist attacks;
- Logistic support (...) during operations; (...)
- Regional cooperation among neighbouring countries; (...)
- Interoperability of communication equipment and procedures;
- Cooperation with relevant international organisations"37.
- From 28-30 January 2004, NATO organised a conference in Trondheim, Norway, on protecting the civilian population against the risk of a terrorist attack involving the use of CBRN weapons. The participants were experts or those in charge of civil defence in the member states of the organisation and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. Norway, Sweden and Finland put forward a package of measures at the meeting, for adoption by the Alliance. Emphasis was placed on the first reaction phase which essentially concerned civil defence forces and the fire fighting, health and police services. The problem of cross-border assistance was also an important point for discussion.
2. The importance of prevention
- There is no way of protecting an entire population, including all the urban centres and the entire industrial and economic infrastructure of a country, against criminal or terrorist acts. However, it is possible to try and forestall them or failing that, prevent them or at least make them harder to carry out. Preventive work can be of two kinds: recourse to civilian and military intelligence and the enactment of appropriate legislation (laws, regulations, etc.) either nationally or in an international framework. This last is essential in a world where millions of people each day cross national borders and where all kinds of goods (including dangerous or pollutant substances) are transported between all continents overland or by sea or air.
(a) Anti-terrorist legislation as a priority
- Intelligence is the first line of defence against new and old-style terrorist threats. It is not infallible, as the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States and those of 11 March 2004 in Spain go to show. The fact they succeeded stems directly from serious shortcomings on the part of both the US security services and those of their European allies. Some of the "team" of terrorists involved in the attacks in the United States were able to make their way there via Europe and lived there before entering the US. The only person so far tried and found guilty in the United States in relation to that act is a French citizen. Among those arrested in Afghanistan and detained at Guantanamo Bay are a number of people of European nationalities. In Spain, a Moroccan Islamist cell is suspected of having carried out the attacks on the trains and railway stations in Madrid.
- These events have served to highlight the gaps and shortcomings in civilian and military security systems intended to protect states and their peoples and, as far as global security in the United States and Europe is concerned have led to progress in terms of intelligence in regard to terrorism, particularly relating to funding channels, support networks and "sleepers". However, at the same time such capabilities are being overwhelmed by an increasing and never-ending flow of information, accurate or otherwise and the need to cover a wide spread of circumstances, arising from internal and external causes, all at the same time38.
- The Madrid attacks on 11 March 2004 also had a destabilising effect on the sitting government. An action on a similar scale, involving CBR weapons would probably have had a more devastating effect in terms of public confidence in the government and security services. An aspect to which security services must give high priority is the potential such weapons have for human and material destruction and causing widespread panic. Thus, on 5 January 2003, a group of Algerian nationals were arrested in a UK anti-terrorist police operation in London. Traces of ricin and equipment used in its manufacture were found in their flat. Neither the quantity nor the quality of the substance was sufficient for a massive terrorist attack, but of concern to the authorities was the intention to produce and make use of it. In April 2004, arrests of those frequenting Islamic circles brought to light a plan for an attack involving osmium tetroxide, a an industrial chemical toxin39.
- France has also come across cases where attacks using non conventional means were in preparation. An attempted chemical attack, apparently directed against the Russian embassy, was foiled40 in December 2002. Police discovered a list of chemicals for making a "dirty" bomb which would have released hydrogen cyanide (fatal if inhaled). Investigations revealed links with those involved in the London bomb factory. In January 2004, members of a family were arrested and instructions and equipment for the home manufacture of ricin and botulin toxin were discovered at their address. One of those arrested seems to have had "training" in the use of chemicals during a spell in an Islamic training camp in Afghanistan. The main target again was the Russian embassy41.
- The publicity that surrounds such "coups" on the part of the intelligence services is intended to calm public opinion. As a French counter-terrorist expert, quoted in L'Express, put it: "Our worst fear is not a large-scale attack - control over all the parameters governing dispersal would be needed to mount that kind of attack - but an explosion caused by a conventional bomb laced with a few bacteriological or chemical agents. The number of victims would probably not be very great but its psychological impact would be42".
- The similarities and the links between the operations carried out in France and the United Kingdom also serve to demonstrate the importance of international cooperation in the intelligence sphere, invariably under tight state control. Exchanges of information between services, with the usual safeguards for reasons of national security, have become more frequent since the 11 September 2001 attacks, and at the time of the various operations in Afghanistan and, doubtless, throughout the crisis in Iraq. After the attacks in Madrid on 11 March 2004, the EU member states decided to intensify cooperation in this field and appointed a European counter-terrorism "coordinator", Gijs de Vries (Netherlands).
(b) International cooperation43
- In an age of globalisation, where terrorism unfortunately also has its place, cooperation between states within or outside international organisations is a prerequisite. National resources alone cannot guarantee security, except in closed totalitarian systems. Interdependence, whether for European nations or the American superpower, is a fact of life. The 11 September 2001 attacks and the attention drawn to the CBR terrorist threat by the letters containing anthrax had the effect of mobilising international organisations and multilateral cooperation systems in the fight against terrorism. The control regimes governing CBRN weapons and so-called "dual-use" technologies, both civilian and military, have therefore been to an extent strengthened and more tightly implemented.
The United Nations
- The United Nations Security Council and General Assembly have frequently taken positions and put forward proposals for fighting international terrorism. Following the 11 September 2001 attacks, the Security Council adopted two important instruments: Resolution 1373 (28 September 2001) on international cooperation over anti-terrorism action and Resolution 1377 (12 November 2001) which took the form of a declaration in favour of a global effort to fight terrorism. The first of these gave rise to the Counter-Terrorism Committee (known by its acronym, CTC), made up of all 15 members of the Security Council44. The CTC monitors the implementation of Resolution 1373 and other UN initiatives in this sphere.
- In October 2001, at the behest of United Nations Secretary-General a Policy Working Group on the United Nations and Terrorism was set up. Made up of senior UN officials and external (national) experts, it established a number of subgroups, one of them to consider "Weapons of mass destruction, other weapons and technology". In a progress report published on 6 August 2002 the Group noted: "There is no reliable assessment of the quantity and quality of weapons, dual-use and related materials, devices and technologies in the possession of groups and individuals associated with terrorism. It is clear, however, that as long as stockpiles of any kinds of weapons-related materials, devices or technologies exist, terrorists may seek to obtain them".
- It therefore proposed:
"Consideration should be given to the establishment of a mechanism (...) that would produce a biennial public report on the potential use of weapons of mass destruction in terrorist acts. This mechanism would make use of existing United Nations resources and specialised databases, as well as information received from Member States (...).
The development of the technical capabilities of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the World Health Organization to provide assistance to States in the event of the threat or use of weapons of mass destruction, other weapons and technologies should be encouraged.
Arrangements through which specialised agencies or related organizations can provide assistance and advice to States on how to develop and maintain adequate civil defence capability against the use of weapons of mass destruction, other weapons or technologies should be facilitated.
Relevant United Nations offices should be tasked with producing proposals to reinforce ethical norms, and the creation of codes of conduct (...) to prevent the involvement of defence scientists or technical experts in terrorist activities and restrict public access to knowledge and expertise on the development, production, stockpiling and use of weapons of mass destruction or related technologies".
The World Health Organisation (WHO)
- When it comes to CBRN terrorism, the WHO is involved in the front line. The public health consequences of a terrorist attack of this kind would not only directly impact on its immediate victims, it would also affect the population at large (if only in terms of the psychological distress it would cause) and might have disastrous consequences for a country's health services (for example, overload and breakdown of healthcare structures and the economic cost entailed). Providing early warning of the dangers of a CBR attack forms part of WHO's remit.
- WHO's response to the problem covers different areas of its activity45: "international preparedness", "global alert and response", "national preparedness", "preparedness for selected diseases and intoxications". In September and November 2001, the WHO published a reference document on the "Public health response to biological and chemical weapons" addressed to member states. The WHO Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network, established in 2000, also widened its responsibilities to cover chemical and biological terrorist attack. A working group on chemical and biological weapons was set up following the 11 September 2001 and "anthrax letter" attacks.
- In March 2002, the WHO organised an informal meeting in Rome on "Strengthening national preparedness and response to biological weapons". On 18 May 2002, the WHO General Assembly adopted a resolution on a "Global public health response to natural occurrence, accidental release or deliberate use of biological and chemical agents or radionuclear material that affect health46". This stated as follows:
"Underlining that the World Health Organisation focuses on the possible public health consequences of an incident involving biological and chemical agents and radionuclear material, regardless of whether it is characterized as a natural occurrence, accidental release or a deliberate act;
Noting that such agents can be disseminated through a range of mechanisms, including the food- and water-supply chains, thereby threatening the integrity of public health systems;
Acknowledging also that the local release of biological, chemical and radionuclear material designed to cause harm could have serious global public health implications and jeopardize the public health achievements of the past decades;
Recognizing that one of the most effective methods of preparing for deliberately caused disease is to strengthen public health surveillance and response activities for naturally or accidentally occurring diseases,
1. URGES MEMBER STATES:
(3) to treat any deliberate use, including local, of biological and chemical agents and radionuclear attack to cause harm also as a global public health threat, and to respond to such a threat in other countries by sharing expertise, supplies and resources in order rapidly to contain the event and mitigate its effects;
II. REQUESTS THE DIRECTOR-GENERAL:
(2) to provide tools and support for Member States, particularly developing countries, in strengthening their national health systems, notably with regard to emergency preparedness and response plans, including disease surveillance and toxicology, risk communication, and psychosocial consequences of emergencies;
(3) to continue to issue international guidance and technical information on recommended public health measures to deal with the deliberate use of biological and chemical agents to cause harm, and to make this information available on WHO's web site;
(4) to examine the possible development of new tools, within the mandate of WHO, including modelling of possible scenarios of natural occurrence, accidental release or deliberate use of biological, chemical agents and radionuclear material that affect health, and collective mechanisms concerning the global public health response to contain or mitigate the effects of natural occurrence, accidental release or deliberate use of biological, chemical agents and radionuclear material that affect health".
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
- Until 2001, the IAEA's main task was to monitor civilian nuclear programmes throughout the world, especially in high-risk countries or those in the process of acquiring nuclear weapons under cover of civilian research or energy production programmes. Thus the Agency normally works at the level of the state. The IAEA is also concerned with radiological or nuclear terrorism. It takes, broadly, a twofold approach to these issues: protection of sites and installations and security of nuclear materials; and dealing with the proliferation of nuclear technologies and the traffic in radioactive materials (for civilian or military use).
- The 45th IAEA General Conference, held in September 2001, adopted a series of resolutions on military security to take account of the terrorist threat. The Agency's Director-General was tasked with initiating "a thorough review of the Agency's activities and programmes relevant to preventing acts of terrorism involving nuclear and other radioactive materials47". Following that decision the IAEA adopted an 8-point strategy for action48, as follows:
"(1) physical protection of nuclear material and nuclear facilities;
(2) detection of malicious activities (such as illicit trafficking) involving nuclear and other radioactive materials;
(3) strengthening of State systems for nuclear material accountancy and control;
(4) security of radioactive sources;
(5) the assessment of safety and security related vulnerabilities at nuclear facilities;
(6) response to malicious acts or threats thereof;
(7) the adherence to international agreements and guidelines; and
(8) coordination and information management for nuclear security related matters".
- On 20 August 2003, at its 47e Conference, the IAEA Director-General released a report on "Nuclear Security - Measures to Protect against Nuclear Terrorism". This represented a round-up of IAEA action in this field. The 47th Conference also adopted a resolution on "Nuclear and Radiological Security - Progress on Measures to Protect against Nuclear and Radiological Terrorism49", as follows:
"The General Conference,
(d) Considering the need to continue to devote attention to the potential implications of terrorist acts for the security of nuclear materials, nuclear facilities, radioactive sources and other radioactive materials, and emphasising the importance of physical protection, measures against illicit trafficking and national control systems for ensuring protection against nuclear terrorism and other malicious acts, including the use of radioactive material in a radiological dispersion device, (...)
(f) Conscious in particular of the necessity to ensure appropriate security of radioactive sources to avoid their use in acts of terrorism, (...)
(h) Mindful that every Member State might face the threat of nuclear and radiological terrorism and would bear serious consequences if any were attacked, (...)
(o) Recalling that other international agreements, negotiated under the auspices of the Agency, are relevant to nuclear security and the physical protection of nuclear material and other radioactive materials, including radioactive sources against the threat of nuclear and radiological terrorism, those agreements including the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident, the Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency, the Convention on Nuclear Safety and the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management,
(p) Noting also the contribution of Agency safeguards agreements and additional protocols, and also of States' Systems of Accounting for and Control of Nuclear Materials, to preventing illicit trafficking, deterring and detecting diversion of nuclear materials, and
(q) Stressing the essential importance of ensuring the confidentiality of information relevant to nuclear and radiological security that might be of interest to terrorists, (...)
3. Calls upon all Member States to continue to provide political, financial and technical support, including in-kind contributions, to improve nuclear and radiological security and prevent nuclear and radiological terrorism, (...);
5. Welcomes the activities in the physical protection of nuclear materials and facilities and the prevention and detection of and response to illicit activities involving nuclear material and other radioactive materials undertaken by the Agency to improve nuclear and radiological security and prevent nuclear and radiological terrorism ; (...)
8. Welcomes also the activities undertaken to provide for an exchange of information with Member States, including continued maintenance of the Illicit Trafficking Database programme, as well as to improve the exchange of information by making the best use of the modernised database, invites all States to participate in the Illicit Trafficking Database programme on a voluntary basis, and further invites all States to consider the potential of illicit trafficking across their borders and within their countries ; (...)
11. (...) to continue to implement, in consultation and coordination with Member States, and subject to the availability of resources, Agency activities relevant to nuclear and radiological security and protection against nuclear and radiological terrorism (...)".
Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)
- The OPCW is tasked with implementing and monitoring the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) This international treaty, which was opened for signature on 13 January 1993, in Paris, and came into force on 29 April 1997, is a key document in the system for controlling armaments by means of legal instruments. Under the CAC, the states parties undertake never to "develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile or retain chemical weapons, or transfer, directly or indirectly, chemical weapons to anyone; [never] to use chemical weapons; (...) engage in any military preparations to use chemical weapons; [or] to assist, encourage or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a state party under this Convention"50.
- The CWC today has an important role in the prevention of terrorism using chemical agents - thanks to its control and supervision machinery. These are two aspects that are lacking in the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction of 10 April 1972 (which entered into force on 26 March 1975). Stricter application of the latter, together with stronger provision, would have doubtless contributed to lowering the threshold of biological terrorism51.
- The OPCW's activities cover verification and inspections, assistance, protection and information exchange between states. These measures, in which all the 160 CWC signatory states are involved, have had the following practical outcomes:
"All declared chemical weapons production capacity has been inactivated. Two-thirds of the declared chemical weapons production facilities have been either verifiably destroyed or converted to peaceful purposes. The remainder of the facilities awaits their destruction or conversion.
All declared chemical weapons stockpiles have been inventoried and verified.
Almost one-quarter of the declared eight million chemical weapons, in the form of munitions, has been verifiably destroyed.
Over twelve percent of the seventy thousand metric tonnes of declared chemical weapons agent has been verifiably destroyed.
More than 1,600 inspections have been conducted at military and industrial sites of 59 State Parties.
Over 4,000 industrial facilities are inspectable worldwide" 52.
- Following the 11 September 2001 attacks, OPCW introduced a series of measures on chemical terrorism. In October 2001, a workshop put on by the organisation, in Vienna, had as its central theme "mobilising and coordinating the international response to requests for assistance in case of use or threat of use of chemical weapons53" including in the event of a terrorist attack. In December 2001, the OPCW's Executive Council set up a special working group on the problem of chemical terrorism, the seriousness of which was explicitly recognised at the CAC First Review Conference in 2003.
"The First Review Conference noted with concern that, along with the continued threat of possible use of chemical weapons by States, the international community faces a growing danger of the use of chemical weapons by terrorists. The First Review Conference took cognisance of the request of the UN Security Council that international organisations evaluate ways in which they can enhance the effectiveness of their action against terrorism, in particular those organisations whose activities relate to the control of the use of or of access to chemical and other deadly materials. The First Review Conference reaffirmed in this context the decision of the Council on the OPCW's contribution to the global struggle against terrorism, and noted that work was progressing in the Council's working group on terrorism."
The Australia Group
- This informal grouping of states54 was set up in June 1985, when it was realised that countries could obtain chemical and biological weapons, in violation of the existing international regulations, through technologies available in the civilian sphere. Export monitoring and control are central to the Australia Group's activities. Australia, the country which took the initiative, holds the Presidency. The Group consists of 33 countries plus the European Commission55. The Australia Group's main goal is:
"To ensure, through licensing measures on the export of certain chemicals, biological agents, and dual-use chemical and biological manufacturing facilities and equipment, that exports of these items from their countries do not contribute to the spread of CBW. The Group does this through consultation and harmonisation, thus maximising the effectiveness of participants' national licensing measures. The Group's activities are especially important given that the international chemical and biological industries are a target for proliferators as a source of materials for CBW programmes".
- Since 2001, the terrorist threat from chemical and biological agents has been a central concern of the Australia Group which does important work in preventing proliferation of such technologies to unsafe states or those suspected of having undercover weapons' development programmes. In 2002, the Australia Group states decided "to adopt tougher export controls aimed at preventing the spread of chemical and biological weapons (CBW), including to terrorist groups".
"The thirty-three participating countries from Europe, the Asia-Pacific and the Americas, plus the European Commission, have agreed to:
- adopt formal guidelines governing the licensing of sensitive chemical and biological items. These guidelines are public, consistent with the Group's strong commitment to transparency. All countries are encouraged to adhere to these guidelines in the interest of international peace and security.
- include a `catch-all' provision in its [sic] guidelines. This is the first time that an export control regime has agreed to include a `catch-all' clause in its public guidelines, reflecting the resolve of participating national governments to use all means at their disposal to fight the spread of CBW.
- apply more rigorous controls to the export of fermenters, lowering the volume threshold from 100 litres to 20 litres. This offers a substantial increase in security against terrorists seeking equipment for CBW attacks.
- add eight new toxins to the Group's biological control list, raising to 19 the total number of controlled toxins.
- control technology associated with dual-use biological equipment which could be used to manufacture biological weapons.
- control, for the first time, the intangible transfer of information and knowledge which could be used for CBW purposes".
- In 2003, further restrictions were adopted by participating states:
"Addition of 14 biological agents (human pathogens) to the Biological Control List.
Endorsement of a cooperative program of action for more effectively engaging countries in the Asia-Pacific region on CBW-related export control issues - a response, in part, to specific requests from several countries in that region.
Approval of a practical guide for compliance and enforcement officers to help them more efficiently detect, identify and prevent illegitimate transfers of items controlled by the Australia Group.
New procedures for improving transparency and enhancing information sharing among members."
- G8 - namely Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union (Council Presidency and Commission) - adopted an initiative in Kananaskis, Canada, in 2002, for a "Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction", constituting a direct contribution to the fight against terrorism, as the statement issued by G8 on the occasion makes clear56:
"The attacks of September 11 demonstrated that terrorists are prepared to use any means to cause terror and inflict appalling casualties on innocent people. We commit ourselves to prevent terrorists, or those that harbour them, from acquiring or developing nuclear, chemical, radiological and biological weapons; missiles; and related materials, equipment and technology. We call on all countries to join us in adopting the set of non-proliferation principles we have announced today".
- The commitments of the 6-point Global Partnership (GP) are as follows:
"1. Promote the adoption, universalisation, full implementation and, where necessary, strengthening of multilateral treaties and other international instruments whose aim is to prevent the proliferation or illicit acquisition of such items; strengthen the institutions designed to implement these instruments.
2. Develop and maintain appropriate effective measures to account for and secure such items in production, use, storage and domestic and international transport; provide assistance to states lacking sufficient resources to account for and secure these items.
3. Develop and maintain appropriate effective physical protection measures applied to facilities which house such items, including defence in depth; provide assistance to states lacking sufficient resources to protect their facilities.
4. Develop and maintain effective border controls, law enforcement efforts and international cooperation to detect, deter and interdict in cases of illicit trafficking in such items, for example through installation of detection systems, training of customs and law enforcement personnel and cooperation in tracking these items; provide assistance to states lacking sufficient expertise or resources to strengthen their capacity to detect, deter and interdict in cases of illicit trafficking in these items.
5. Develop, review and maintain effective national export and transhipment controls over items on multilateral export control lists, as well as items that are not identified on such lists but which may nevertheless contribute to the development, production or use of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and missiles, with particular consideration of end-user, catch-all and brokering aspects; provide assistance to states lacking the legal and regulatory infrastructure, implementation experience and/or resources to develop their export and transhipment control systems in this regard.
6. Adopt and strengthen efforts to manage and dispose of stocks of fissile materials designated as no longer required for defence purposes, eliminate all chemical weapons, and minimize holdings of dangerous biological pathogens and toxins, based on the recognition that the threat of terrorist acquisition is reduced as the overall quantity of such items is reduced."
- The Global Partnership has focussed essentially on Russia and management of the military chemical, biological and nuclear complex it inherited from the Soviet Union. The G8 countries have pledged to invest some 20 billion dollars in the project, over a 10-year period at least. The initiative is also directed towards other former USSR states (such as Ukraine et Kazakhstan) and other countries that agree to adhere to the project guidelines.
- The 2003 G8 summit held in Evian, France, gave a prominent place to issues relating to terrorism and weapons of mass destruction and terror (7 declarations and action plans). An initial progress report on the Global Partnership was received but there was also recognition of the fact that "for practical implementation of projects to progress as fast and as effectively as expected, sustained and broadened efforts will be needed". G8 also announced that Finland, Norway, Poland, Sweden and Switzerland had become contributors to the Global Partnership. At Evian, a G8 action group on fighting terrorism was also set up.
- The GHSI was launched in Ottawa, Canada, in November 2001, by the health ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the United States and the European Commissioner with health responsibilities. Its primary raison d'etre is to strengthen security in regard to healthcare protection, in particular in the face of the threat of chemical and biological terrorism. Its main objectives at the time of its being launched are57:
"To explore joint cooperation in procuring vaccines and antibiotics;
To engage in a constructive dialogue regarding the development of rapid testing, research in variations of vaccines, and our respective regulatory frameworks for the development of vaccines and in particular smallpox vaccines;
To further support the World Health Organisation's disease surveillance network and WHO's efforts to develop a coordinated strategy for disease outbreak containment;
To share emergency preparedness and response plans, including contact lists, and consider joint training and planning;
To agree on a process for international collaboration on risk assessment and management and a common language for risk communication;
To improve linkages among laboratories, including level four laboratories, in those countries which have them;
To undertake close cooperation on preparedness and response to radio-nuclear and chemical events; and
To share surveillance data from national public health laboratories and information on real or threatened contamination of food and water supplies, along with information on risk mitigation strategies to ensure safe food supplies."
- The states belonging to the Global Health Security Initiative - along with the European Union and the WHO - organised an international health service exercise "Global Mercury", held on 8-10 September 2003, which had for a scenario a terrorist attack using biological agents. The objective was "to evaluate the communications protocols between and among GHSAG members in the face of an outbreak of an infectious disease58". The starting point was the dissemination of smallpox in several countries by contaminated "kamikaze" terrorists. One problem encountered was understanding the various languages and the different interpretations of terminology59. Six recommendations were put forward as the outcome of the evaluation of the exercise:
"Recommendation 1 - Members of the GHSI recognized the mandate of WHO places the Organization in a strong position to undertake information collection, dissemination and effective coordination of action in the event of a public health emergency of international concern and urges the Director General to keep under review the priority and resourcing of this activity.
Recommendation 2 - The GHSAG (Global Health and Security Action Group) should establish a mechanism for rapid international communications between the exercise participants. Future tests should be scheduled (on an ongoing basis) to assure that technical challenges do not hinder communications between the countries/organizations likely to be involved in an international public health emergency.
Recommendation 3 - National smallpox plans should be reviewed and the critical international aspects enhanced.
Recommendation 4 - GHSAG members are encouraged to share emergency response guidelines, functions and structures to facilitate international communication.
Recommendation 5 - The GHSAG should refer discussions on common terminology to the Field Epidemiology Working Group.
Recommendation 6 - The Exercise Planning Group recommends that member countries/ organizations periodically evaluate their infrastructure and systems for international information exchange during public health emergencies."
- In the general area of monitoring and control of nuclear weapons, the "Nuclear Threat Initiative", launched in 2001 by former US Senator Sam Nunn and former CNN Television President Ted Turner, has as its objective "to strengthen global security by reducing the risk of use and preventing the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. NTI seeks to raise public awareness, serve as a catalyst for new thinking and take direct action to reduce these threats"60. By means of publications and research programmes the NTI continues to sensitise public opinion and decision makers on matters relating to the terrorist threat, where recourse may be had to weapons of mass destruction and terror.
- This long list of multilateral institutional initiatives, both formal and informal, is not exhaustive. Such actions contribute towards strengthening global security and on the whole make it very difficult for terrorists (apart from the perpetrators of state or state-sponsored terrorism) to have access to weapons of mass destruction or components thereof. The fact that these are difficult to get hold of, and complicated to assemble and employ, makes it unlikely that they will be used in a CBRN terrorist attack on any major scale, although the possibility cannot be entirely ruled out. This circumscribes the risk so that it becomes "manageable" within the framework of the existing prevention and response machinery.
IV. Conclusions: myths and realities
- In 2003 the AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) virus killed more than 3 million people across the world, 500 000 of them children. Five million people to date have been infected, against a total of 40 million carriers of the virus61. The death toll each year from the influenza virus is reckoned to be between 250 000 and 500 000 for a total of 3-5 million people infected. In the United States, the annual cost to the nation of the 'flu virus is estimated at some US$ 71-167 billion (depending on the strength of the epidemic)62. This applies to the common 'flu, not the bird 'flu virus (which appeared for the first time in Hong Kong in 1997) which spreads by contact with infected poultry or pigs (the 2003-early 2004 epidemic resulted in 22 deaths) or the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus from which there have been 800 deaths since the epidemic first broke out in Asia in 200263.
- These figures attest to the reality of a state of biological "warfare" between man and nature. To the above examples, one might add dozens of other lethal ailments and viruses with destabilising effects on modern societies. Public health resources and medical and pharmaceutical research need to be concentrated in these areas. The likelihood of an act of biological terrorism is real but the effects are largely unforeseeable and far too random for any terrorist group to make this method their first choice.
- The persistence of high infection rates from AIDS (HIV) virus in central and eastern Europe, particularly in Ukraine and Russia and the appearance of new, more antibiotic-resistant strains of tuberculosis have consequences of greater concern in the long run in terms of Europe's security64 than a possible sarin gas attack in the Moscow underground. We should not minimise the threat of chemical, biological and radiological terrorism, but rather put it in a wider strategic context, where the risks are of quite another order.
- The risk is a real one; the probability of a CBR attack is there and it is simply a matter of time before it happens. The issue is not whether it will take place, but when, and under what circumstances. Throughout this report possible scenarios have been set out and discussed, including some on the basis of events that have actually taken place, but which show the difficulties inherent in this form of action. The very difficulty of the attempt is in itself, indirectly, a form of deterrence which currently limits its scope. Take Iraq as an example. Attacks against the coalition are solely by conventional means, even though one of the arguments advanced for the country's invasion and occupation was the risk that its "arsenal" of weapons of mass destruction and terror could fall into the hands of (Islamist-inspired) terrorist groups.
- Such groups have struck constantly everywhere in the world, from Bali to Madrid, but almost always using conventional means. The exception has been the recent attempted "chemical attack" which occurred in Amman in Jordan in April 2004. On that occasion, approximately 20 tonnes of explosives and chemical substances were seized by the Jordanian security forces. The number of victims and probable extent of the damage was estimated by the Jordanian authorities to be some 80 000 over a 2-km radius. However, doubts about those estimates have been expressed by American and French specialists.
- According to the US news channel CNN65 "US intelligence officials expressed caution about whether the chemicals captured by Jordanian authorities were intended to create a `toxic cloud' chemical weapon, but they said that the large quantities involved were, at a minimum, intended to create `massive explosions'". The official in charge of counter-terrorist measures within that country said, in an interview66, that "the substances seized could have been used to make explosives, not a chemical weapon, which requires a means of dispersal over a wide area". Indeed, large quantities of sulphuric acid were found among the chemicals "haul" which, apart from its toxic properties, could be used to magnify the power of a conventional explosion.
- Still more seriously, following the disclosure of transfers of nuclear technology and material between Pakistan and Libya over the previous decade, the media have revealed that al-Qa'ida may possess a nuclear warhead (of indeterminate origin). Whether the information67 is true or not, it has inevitably attracted attention from all the intelligence services involved: in the United States, Europe, Russia and Asia, for, as noted earlier, they are our societies' first line of defence.
- The intelligence services have a key part to play in any current policy for preventing CBR terrorism. They must therefore be given, within the framework of compliance with the legal and democratic principles of our advanced societies, the material means and judicial instruments needed to prevent disasters like the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States and those of 11 March 2004 in Spain, and many other acts of terrorism besides.
- Civil society must also be informed and mobilised. The temptation to resort to manipulating information should be avoided. Transparency is an essential condition nowadays for maintaining public trust in the institutions of state. In the first place, national political leaders and senior administrators must be aware of and trained (through regular exercises) in the procedures to be followed in the event of a major CBR attack. Members of the security, health and civil protection services (police, fire, ambulance, etc.) must be trained, equipped and drilled to deal with such situations. Last but not least, the general public must be involved in this universal effort. The success in evacuating the World Trade Centre twin towers in New York (and similarly the Pentagon) was due to this practical preparation.
- The media today, both traditional and electronic (television, internet) are important vehicles for informing society and must be involved in prevention. While it is true that instructions on how to make weapons and bombs can be found there, and that through them it is possible to acquire dangerous substances illegally, there are, for the reasons described above, major obstacles to be overcome when it comes to moving from theory to practice. The WHO, for example, is able today, from its headquarters, to manage an epidemic from its inception (as in the case of SARS or bird 'flu), maintaining contact with the authorities in the countries affected and health workers on the spot.
- Information on preventive health measures can also be circulated, countries can be informed quickly about epidemics and pharmaceutical companies can swing into action to make vaccines and antibiotics. The exchange of medical and research data through such means of communications is a vital element in this process of prevention and response. To restrict it might provide national reassurance but at international level could be disastrous. Without such continual exchange, conducted freely, but in an organised way, the AIDS epidemic, or the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or outbreaks of swine fever, SARS or bird 'flu, whose spread around the world is "helped" by the export trade or human travel, would have far more serious consequences for our societies.
- Giving the public information also serves to reduce levels of panic and any psychological impact68. The people of Madrid responded well, and supportively, by doing their civic duty, once the initial shock of the explosions had passed. Taxi drivers and private car owners offered to ferry the wounded to hospital when it became clear that there were not enough ambulances on the spot. This raises another important problem: that of human and material resources. At a time of cutbacks across the board in health expenditure, and a shortage of medical staff and hospital beds, the question arises of how to prepare for a major attack or large-scale contamination from a biological agent. The same applies when it comes to government-funded scientific research.
- Multi- and bilateral institutional cooperation between the nations of Europe, by pooling resources and through harmonisation of concepts and doctrines and interoperability is an essential strategy for overcoming what are basically national problems. The experience gained in the military sphere is instructive and it is important for civilian life to take a leaf out of this book. Doing so would help eliminate costly duplication which, at the end of the day, leads to shortcomings that can have grave consequences for citizens in general. If Belgium were contaminated by small-pox, France, Germany Luxembourg and the Netherlands would inevitably be affected - hence the importance of cross-border and, beyond that, European and international cooperation.
- Science and technology are evolving at great speed and, in future, CBR agents may prove a greater threat than was supposed at the time of the cold war. Biotechnology, nanotechnology and genetic engineering offer promising prospects for human health but also raise the lid of a real Pandora's Box if used in warfare or by terrorists. Proposals and initiatives on the part of the European Union, the United States, G8, the Australia Group, the International Chemical Weapons Organisation and the World Health Organisation - to mention only the most influential players in the attempt to create a global system for averting and eliminating the dangers posed by CBRN weapons - are designed to address today's threats.
- Nevertheless, it is in the interests of all nations for control regimes and preventive and reactive measures to be extended to the new "bio" technologies (human, animal and plant kingdoms). The task is a difficult one in an area where political, economic and military interests come together, and at times conflict. The biotechnology industry and research circles have a particular responsibility in this area; however, it is up to governments, and especially parliaments, to set out policy guidelines and instructions. The future threats in the realm of biotechnology are in the making today.
Glossary of terms - toxic chemical, biological and radiological agents
Agroterrorism: bioterrorism against the agricultural and food system.
Anthrax: an acute infectious disease caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis. Anthrax occurs most commonly in wild and domestic lower vertebrates, but it can also occur in humans who are exposed to it. Anthrax is considered a potential agent for use in biological warfare.
Anthrax "Ames" strain: a virulent anthrax bacteria named for the Iowa city where it was originally isolated. A natural or "wild" strain, "Ames" was recognized relatively early for its virulence and for its ability to resist vaccines.
Biological Agent: a microorganism, or toxin derived from it, which causes diseases in animals, humans and plants, or deterioration of materials.
Biological warfare: the use in war of micro-organisms to injure or destroy people, animals, or crops; also called germ or bacteriological warfare.
Biosafety levels: specific combinations of work practices, safety equipment, and facilities, designed to minimise the exposure of workers and the environment to infectious agents.
- Biosafety level 1 applies to agents that do not ordinarily cause human disease.
- Biosafety level 2 is appropriate for agents that can cause human disease, but whose potential for transmission is limited.
- Biosafety level 3 applies to agents that may be transmitted by the respiratory route which can cause serious infection.
- Biosafety level 4 is used for the diagnosis of exotic agents that pose a high risk of life-threatening disease, which may be transmitted by the aerosol route and for which there is no vaccine or therapy.
Biotechnologies: the use of living organisms or their products to modify human health and the human environment.
Bioterrorism: the use, or threatened use, of biological agents to promote or spread fear or intimidation upon an individual, a specific group, or the population as a whole for religious, political, ideological, financial, or personal purposes.
Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE): widely known as "mad cow disease", a chronic, degenerative disease affecting the central nervous system of cattle. BSE belongs to the family of diseases known as the transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), caused by a transmissible agent which is yet to be fully characterised. A similar disease in humans is Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
Chemical Weapons (CW): toxic chemicals and their precursors (other than where intended for purposes not prohibited under the Chemical Weapons Convention) used in munitions and devices, specifically designed to cause death or other harm; any equipment specifically designed for use directly in connection with them.
Cholera: acute, diarrhoeal illness caused by infection of the intestine with the bacterium vibrio cholerae. It can be severe. The disease can spread rapidly in areas with inadequate treatment of sewage and drinking water.
Classical swine fever: highly contagious viral disease of swine. Countries that experience outbreaks may suffer heavy losses.
Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD): a fatal, human brain illness with genetic or unknown causes, appears in one person in a million per year.
Dirty Bomb: also known as a radiological weapon, it is a bomb that combines conventional explosives, such as dynamite, with radioactive and/or chemical materials in the form of powder or tiny pellets packed around the explosive material. A dirty bomb kills or injures through the initial blast of the conventional explosive and by airborne radiation and contamination - hence the term "dirty".
Ebola Haemorrhagic Fever: severe, often-fatal disease caused by infection with the Ebola virus that has appeared sporadically since its initial recognition in 1976.
Foot and mouth disease (FMD): a devastating disease of livestock. All species of cloven-hoofed animals are susceptible and the disease is extremely contagious. Financial losses as a result of FMD can be significant.
Human Immuno-deficiency Virus (HIV): the virus that causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). By killing or damaging cells of the body's immune system, HIV progressively destroys the body's ability to fight infections and certain cancers.
Pandemic: a disease that afflicts many people over a vast area.
Phytotoxin: a toxin produced by a microorganism and active against a plant cells ; a toxin produced by a plant. Ricin is a phytotoxin.
Radioactive materials: may have military, industrial or medical applications. The most deadly are weapons-grade plutonium or uranium and medical supplies, such as radium or certain cesium isotopes, used in cancer treatments.
Radiological dispersion devices (RDDs; "dirty" bombs): a combination of conventional explosives and radioactive material designed to scatter dangerous and sub-lethal amounts of radioactive material over a general area. Terrorist use of RDDs is considered far more likely than use of a nuclear device because they require very little technical knowledge to build and deploy compared to that of a nuclear device. RDDs also appeal to terrorists because certain radiological materials are used widely in medicine, agriculture, industry and research and are much more readily available compared to weapons grade uranium or plutonium. (see also Dirty Bomb).
Radiological terrorism: terrorist use or threat of use of radioactive materials.
Ricin: protein toxin, readily produced from castor beans which acts as a cellular poison.
Sarin: volatile liquid used as a nerve gas. It is more toxic than tabun or soman. A gas mask provides adequate protection against the vapour, but the liquid form can also be absorbed through the skin.
Smallpox: variola is a member of the poxvirus family and is very contagious in humans, the only natural reservoir. Smallpox has been eradicated as an endemic disease. However, if variola is delivered as a biological weapon agent, it could result in the reemergence of smallpox.
Spanish 'flu: 'flu is an infection of the respiratory tract caused by the influenza virus. Spanish 'flu (1918-1919) caused the highest known influenza-related mortality (25 million deaths).
Toxic Chemical: any chemical which through its chemical action on life processes can cause death, temporary incapacitation or permanent harm to humans or animals. This includes all such chemicals, regardless of their origin or of their method of production, and regardless of whether they are produced in facilities, in munitions or elsewhere.
Toxin: any poisonous agent, especially a poisonous substance produced by one living organism that is poisonous to other organisms.
Tuberculosis (TB): disease caused by bacteria (Mycobacterium tuberculosis). The bacteria can usually attack the lungs. TB is spread through the air.
Weapons of mass destruction technologies: technologies used in weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery.
Weapons Systems Technologies (WST): technologies critical to the development and production of superior weapons.
1 Adopted unanimously and without amendment by the Assembly on 3 June 2004 (3rd sitting).
2 According to information posted on the internet site devoted to the disaster: www.bhopal.net.
3 Sarin poisoning on Tokyo subway", Southern Medical Journal (United States), June 1997, www.sma.org.
4 "Analysis of the Anthrax attacks", Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, Federation of American Scientists, 2002; www.fas.org.
5 In 2001 the WEU Assembly adopted a report on this subject: "Chemical and biological weapons control - new challenges". Assembly Document 1758, 5 December 2001;
6 The Aum sect had previously been responsible for a sarin attack at Matsumoto (north of Tokyo) in June 1994. The sect had also experimented unsuccessfully with anthrax. The Japanese police failed to investigate these attacks thoroughly.
7 "Cleanup of anthrax will cost hundreds of millions of dollars"; Baltimore Sun (US), 18 December 2002; www.sunspot.net.
8 After the name of an area in the state of Iowa (United States). In point of fact the strain originated in the State of Texas; "One anthrax answer: Ames strain not from Iowa"; The Washington Post, 29 January 2002; www.washingtonpost.com.
9 This programme was wound up in 1969, during Richard Nixon's presidential term; "Chemical and biological weapons control - new challenges", Assembly Document 1758, 5 December 2001; www.assembly-weu.org.
10 "Analysis of the anthrax attacks", Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, Federation of American Scientists, 2002; www.fas.org.
11 "New York nuclear bomb scare kept secret for months", Space Daily, 3 March 2002; www.spacedaily.com.
12 Naturally occurring uranium is a mixture containing only 0.7% uranium 235. Enrichment has the effect of increasing that percentage (99.3%) starting from uranium 238. "Le cycle du combustible nucléaire", Société française d'énérgie nucléaire, www.sfen.org. The uranium used in nuclear weapons contains on average 90% uranium 235.
13 "Nuclear and radiological weapons: What's what?" United Nations Office on drugs and crime, www.unodc.org.
15 "Militarily Critical Technologies List (MCTL) - Part II: Weapons of mass destruction; Section 5 - Nuclear Weapons Technology". US Department of Defense, February 1998; www.dtic.mil/mctl.
16 United States Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), 1988 Report, Annex D - Exposures from the Chernobyl accident; www.unscear.org.
17 "Third International Conference on the Health Effects of the Chernobyl Accident: Results of 15-year Follow-Up Studies"; Kyev (Ukraine) 4-8 June 2001; www.unscear.org.
18 A random process used in statistical measurement.
19 Gray: Unit of measurement of the quantity of radiation absorbed by an organism or an object exposed to radiation. A standard dose throughout the body of 2.5 to over 5 Gy is fatal; Commissariat à l'énergie atomique (France), www.cea.fr.
20 Their number is estimated at over 600 000; UNSCEAR 1988 Report, Annex J - Exposures and effects of the Chernobyl accident; www.unscear.org.
21 MCTL - Part II: Weapons of mass destruction; Section 5 - Nuclear Weapons Technology" US DoD, February 1998, updated 2002; www.dtic.mil/mctl.
22 "Militarily Critical Technologies List (MCTL) - Part II: Weapons of mass destruction; Section 5 - Nuclear Weapons Technology", US Department of Defense February 1998; www.dtic.mil.
23 Uranium 238 containing less than 0.7% uranium 235. This form of uranium is widely used in a large range of munitions, such as anti-tank missiles and ordnance. "Depleted uranium (DU) munitions", Col. J. Edgar Wakayama, US Department of Defence, 2002; www.dtic.mil.
24 The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) is a US Department of Energy national laboratory operated by the University of California. Founded in September 1952, it is one of the major centres in the United States for the development of nuclear weapons.
25 "A Perspective on the Dangers of Plutonium", W. G. Sutcliffe, R. H. Condit, W. G. Mansfield, D. S. Myers, D. W. Layton, and P. W. Murphy ; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, 14 April 1995; www.llnl.gov.
26 "Dark Winter", Bioterrorism Exercise Andrews Air Force Base; June 22-23, 2001. John Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense, Center for Strategic and International Studies, ANSER & Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism (United States).
27 The Health Council is made up of the Health Ministers of the member states and a representative of the European Commission.
28 "Biological and Chemical Agent Attacks".
29 The "pool" of national experts is made up of members of the Robert Koch and Paul Erhlich Institutes (Germany) the Institut Scientifique de Santé Publique (Belgium), the Smittskyddsinstitutet (Institute for Infectious Disease Control) (Sweden), the Rijkinstituut voor Volksgezondheid en Milieu (RIVM, National Institute of Public Health and the Environment) (Netherlands), the Institute for Infectious Disease Control (Greece), the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (Italy) and the l'Hôpital de la Pitié-Salpêtrière (France).
30 Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on cooperation in the European Union on preparedness and response to biological and chemical agent attacks (Health Security); COM (2003) 320 FINAL, 2 June 2003; www.europa.eu.int .
31 European Commission, COM (2003) 441 Final; 8 August 2003; www.europa.eu.int
32 On 2 September 2003; www.nato.int.
33 French title: "Centre Euro-Atlantique de coordination des réactions en cas de catastrophe".
34 French title: "Unité de réaction Euro-atlantique".
35 Exercise "Bogorodsk 2002", organised in conjunction with Russia, took place from 25-27 September 2002. It simulated a terrorist attack against a chemical plant, and the ensuing destruction and contamination of buildings and people.
36 A total of 16 countries took part in "Dacia 2003": Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Italy, Moldova, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Turkey, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
37 NATO, EADRCC, "Exercise Dacia 2003"; www.nato.int.
38 In both the United States and in Spain the terrorist threat is not solely from al-Qa'ida. The Oklahoma City attack in 1995 was perpetrated by an American citizen and in Spain, murderous attacks are committed regularly by ETA.
39 Those arrested had not been able to obtain this particular chemical agent which irritates the eyes, lungs, nose and throat and can cause death by asthma attack.
40 Interview with Pierre Bosquet de Florian, Head of the Direction de surveillance du territoire (DST, France), L'Express, 27 November 2003, www.lexpress.fr.
41 Le Monde (France), 10 January 2004, www.lemonde.fr.
42 "Ce que risquent la France et l'Europe", L'Express, 27 November 2003, www.lexpress.fr.
43 International cooperation is very wide indeed and takes place through international organisations, multilateral and bilateral treaties, informal cooperation and non-governmental organisations (NGOs). This section deals with just a few of the forms of cooperation most relevant to the subject of the report.
44 The UN Security Council has five permanent members and 10 non-permanent members. (These change every year.)
45 "Preparedness for deliberate epidemics" WHO, www.who.int.
46 Fifty-Fifth World Health Assembly; WHA55.16-18 May 2002; www.who.int.
47 "Comment on the First Anniversary of the Terrorist Attacks in the United States of America; Dr Mohamed ElBaradei, IAEA Director-General, 11 September 2002; www.iaea.org.
49 IAEA, General Conference; GC (47)/RES/8, 19 September 2003; www.iaea.org.
50 Chemical Weapons Convention, Article I, General Obligations; Paris 13 January1993.
51 The two conventions, their provisions, implementation and evolution were the subject of a WEU Assembly report in 2001: "Chemical and biological weapons control: New challenges" Rapporteur Mr Schloten (Germany), Assembly Document 1758, 5 December 2001; www.assembly-weu.org.
52 "The chemical weapons ban, facts and figures"; OPCW, 2004; www.opcw.org.
53 "Combating Chemical Terrorism"; OPCW, 15 October 2001; www.opcw.org.
54 On the subject of the Australia Group and other similar forms of cooperation see: "Monitoring international discussions on arms control and disarmament", Assembly Document 1784, Rapporteur, Mr de Puig (Spain), 5 June 2002; www.assembly-weu.org.
55 www.australiagroup.net. It should be noted that Russia, which has one of the largest stockpiles of chemical weapons in the world and probably of biological weapons as well is not yet a member of the Australia Group.
56 "The G8 Global Partnership against the spread of weapons and materials of mass destruction"; Declaration by G7 Leaders Kananaskis (Canada), 26-27 June 2002 ; www.g8.gc.ca.
57 G7 Health Ministers declaration, Ottawa (Canada), 7 November 2001; www.g8.utoronto.ca.
58 "Exercise Global Mercury - post exercise report"; UK Department of Health, November 2003; www.dh.gov.uk.
59 "The bioterrorism exercise revealed critical weaknesses in communication", The London Free Press News, 31 December 2003; www.lfpress.com.
60 "Nuclear Threat Initiative, Working for a safer world"; www.nti.org.
61 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (United States); www.cdc.gov.
62 Source: World Health Organization (WHO); www.who.int.
64 HIV in Russia likely to accelerate democratic decline; STRATFOR, 5 December 2000.
65 "Jordan says major al-Qa'ida plot disrupted", 26 April 2004, www.cnn.com.
66 "Terrorisme: Les Français apprennent à vivre sous la menace"; Le Parisien, 28 April 2004.
67 "Experts doubt al-Qa'ida nuclear claim"; United Press Internatinal (UPI), 22 March 2004 www.upi.com
68 "Reazioni psicologiche e misure di intervento di fronte ad un attacco non convenzionale di tipo bio-chimico (Psychological reaction in the face of non-conventional biochemical attack and intervention measures); Antonio Zuliani, "Emergency Oggi" (Italy), October 2003; www.emergencyoggi.it
© 2004, Assembly of WEU