While terrorism, whether against individuals, groups,
nation-states, has been around since the beginning of history, the tools
of terrorism were generally limited in their ability to inflict injury or
death. In the past it
required an army, a state of anarchy, or a group of citizens acting in
unison to cause significant death or injury to a segment of the population
and to cause a state of fear or panic to prevail. Inhuman acts of
terrorism can and do occur today, using knives/swords/machetes,
supplemented by explosives, automatic rifles and grenades as happened in
Communist Cambodia where millions were slaughtered and hundreds of
thousands died in Rhwanda. It
took a state-supported army and an insurrection to successfully perpetrate
these acts of terror.
issue today is that with development of new technology, tools of warfare
and terrorism are merging and their effectiveness is improving
dramatically. In the past the
primary targets of terrorism were direct attacks on people and while that
is still true today, the new technologies of nuclear, biological and
chemical weapons which in some cases are available to terrorists today,
allow a few individuals to achieve levels of destruction that even armies
could not inflict in the past.
the terrorist group is not an entity that can be negotiated with or be
held accountable and often is anonymous,
there are potentially no limits to acts of terrorism.
Today the limiting factors to terrorism appear to be self
preservation, (i.e. the risk factor associated with acts of terrorism),
any self imposed moral or political constraints, which may be non existent
and are generally not visible to outside observers and the ability of
terrorist groups to obtain, understand and know how to use the most
destructive tools of terrorism (nuclear,
biological and chemical) which fall into the Weapons of Mass Destruction
would contend that today, the “Threshold of Use” has not been
successfully crossed by terrorists into the area of weapons of mass
destruction. Whatever we may
say about terrorists, they are most likely motivated by mission success
and self preservation. They
would like to be assured that whatever tools they use
will lead to a successful achievement of their goals and to their
survival, unless it's a suicidal mission such as often perpetrated by the
Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka. To succeed at their goal terrorists want to
stay in familiar territory, use tools they understand, i.e. explosives and
that they know will work. This premise sets up a line which has to be
crossed when attempting to use new techniques, tools or to cross into the
area of Weapons of Mass
potential of massive damage and large psychological impact, may tempt them
to move across the threshold into the Weapons of Mass Destruction area.
Because it may be difficult to obtain a nuclear weapon or to build
their own and to deal with
the complexity of use, these
first attempts to cross the threshold are likely to be made by well
financed and well organized, state sponsored terrorist groups that have
the resources to acquire and use nuclear devices. Although biological and chemical agents are easier to obtain,
the same issues apply in dealing with the complexity of effective use and
avoidance of self- contamination. Then
there is the issue of traceability and
retaliation. Even Osama
bin Laden might think twice about the risks of a nuclear, biological, or
chemical attack where
potentially the rewards for capture or efforts to destroy his organization
may reach astronomical levels and that there might not be a place
on the earth to hide. After
all, his attacks against the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya were
effective using conventional means. For
a terrorist group, the prospect of massive destruction and death may be
enticing, but the threshold to use Weapons of Mass Destruction is high. The problem with these assumptions is that they sound
rational and while they may apply to many terrorists, there are
exceptions, they are real and they are dangerous.
plan to cross that threshold using chemical warfare agents was being
prepared by the Aum Shinrikyo Cult in Japan.
It had the resources, scientific talent and an organization that
could carry out an extensive attack that would kill tens to hundreds of
thousands of people throughout the world.
Simply stated, their plan was to shake up the world, start
insurrections, wars and conflicts so they could rise to the top.
Their plan might have succeeded in killing large numbers of people,
had it not been for their attempt to rush into the attack mode by staging
the Tokyo subway attack, using sarin gas, a nerve agent, which killed 12
people and injured some 5000. It
also blew the cover off their organization, caused widespread arrests and
seizure of some of their assets. In
effect, Aum Shinrikyo hurriedly crossed the threshold into chemical
warfare area against a civilian population without achieving its
objectives for a dispersed well coordinated attack.
Aum Shinrikyo, in terms of its financial backing, resources,
organization and scientific talent today could be equated to the resources
available to a narco cartel, crime syndicate or other transnational or
state sponsored organization. It is important to consider that if Aum
Shinrikyo was planning to
kill a hundred thousand people, why not a million or ten million given the
opportunity . Aum Shinrikyo
took the world and terrorism watchers by surprise with its great potential
for causing massive deaths and injuries.
It was a wake-up call to the world.
There are predictions that attempts to cross the threshold will be
made against the United States and the issue appears to be not if but
when. Even Secretary of
Defense William Cohen talked about how simply an anthrax attacks could be
carried out against U.S. cities, causing massive casualties. Justifiably
there are major efforts under way to prevent, mitigate and prepare for
these types of attack.
Because of the high threshold and associated risks to
move into the WMD area, I believe many individual terrorists, terrorist
groups and even state-sponsored terrorism is looking for easier and less
direct ways to attack the U.S. and its interests.
Recently Chinese military writers proposed the use of strategic
indirect warfare against
powers like the U.S. rather than direct confrontation.
This can take the form of political and economic manipulation,
disruption of infrastructures, intimidation, various forms of economic
warfare, etc. This is an
area, where knowledge and tools are expanding rapidly through the internet
and where the internet has become the main means for launching the
attacks. It is also an area
where it is possible to have unwitting surrogates do your work by
proliferating powerful tools that on the surface may appear as innocent
pranks or play things. In addition, Indian Brigadier Nair wrote a book
(1992) on lessons learned from the Gulf War in which he details U.S.
military vulnerabilities, with much emphasis on electronic warfare.
His audience is third world nations that may confront the U.S.
of our growing dependency on computers, there is a new target set for
terrorists that includes our infrastructures which are vulnerable to
cyber, radio frequency and other forms of attack.
Some of our cyber experts testified to Congress almost a year ago,
that through a cyber attack they could bring the U.S. power grid down and
keep it down. If that can be
done these types of cyber attacks would have to be classified as weapons
of mass destruction attacks. It
could be argued that we have deep and extensive infrastructures that could
not be attacked in any significant way.
The problem is that if you take the power grid down, the rest of
them crumble because of interdependencies.
Our almost total dependence on our infrastructures for power, food,
water, fuel, telecommunications, transportation, etc. and a general lack
of reserves brought about by just in time manufacturing, makes us
particularly vulnerable to infrastructure disruption.
The cities typically have a three
day supply of food on supermarket shelves, the rest is on trains
and trucks from the processing plants.
the internet cyber attacks are starting to play a significant role in what
could be considered indirect economic warfare.
It is a form of warfare that is economically attractive, where a
simple virus like the love bug or new love can cause 10 billion dollars
worth of damage throughout the world.
The new emerging area of radio frequency weapons, or non nuclear
EMP, which is proliferating, will also play a significant role in this
type of warfare.
POTENTIAL TERRORIST USE OF NUCLEAR AND NON
EMP, which is generated by high altitude nuclear detonations (typically 30
to 300 km. ) produces a fast-rising, high-amplitude, short- duration
electromagnetic pulse amplitude, (few to tens of thousands of volts per
meter) followed by a much
lower amplitude, gradually decreasing long duration pulse that lasts for
minutes. EMP couples to all
conductors including power lines, telephone lines, pipelines, conductors
within buildings down to direct interaction with electronic circuits and
chips. It can couple enough
electrical energy to cause upset and burn out
in electronic circuits on a wide scale.
It was considered a
serious cold war threat that potentially could disable our weapons
systems, communications, power grid and other electronically dependent
infra structures. The Department of Defense conducted major programs to
harden military systems against EMP effects and in some cases built their
own EMP hardened infrastructures to insure that their capability to
respond to a nuclear attack would be affected minimally by the potential
failure of the power grid or other critical infrastructures.
With the end of the
Cold War many consider that the EMP threat has gone away and that the
intent to use it is no longer there.
Some even imply that the hardening of our military systems is no
longer necessary. Given this
assumption, at least in the case of Russia
there are three areas
of concern. The capability to use this type of attack against our
infrastructure by nuclear-capable nations has not changed and other
nations are likely to gain that capability in the future.
As long as nuclear warheads and the means to deliver them exist,
the EMP threat still exists! Intent
to use can change in a week or a month, and it takes us years of effort to
harden our systems to EMP. This
possibility for change of intent was implied in a meeting in Vienna
between our Congressional delegation, which included Congressmen Curt
Weldon and Roscoe Bartlett and their counterparts from the Russian Duma
over tensions between U.S. and Russia with regard to our conflict in
Kosovo. In summary, the
message was – do not push Russia around, we have a responsible
government now, but there are factions that could surface and push for an
EMP attack against the U.S. that would shut your country down without
directly causing physical damage or death.
The vulnerability of our infrastructure and our society has
increased with the increased use and dependence on electronics. When people consider that at the end of the Cold War the
intent to use EMP has gone away, what they tend to ignore is that the
purpose and use of EMP outside the
context of the Cold War may have changed.
During the Cold War the EMP attack was considered a precursor to a
nuclear attack. Today it
could be considered as an intimidating threat, show of intent, coercion or
a form of economic warfare.
capability to launch this type of attack against the U.S. or a region of
the U.S. rests primarily with Russia and to a lesser extent other major
nuclear powers that design, produce, and test their nuclear weapons.
It is not enough to have a nuclear weapon, you need a delivery
system that will detonate it at high altitude over or in close vicinity of
question is -- what about a
terrorist group using a SCUD
or a similar missile from a ship
off the East coast of the U.S. to launch an EMP attack? EMP is a
sophisticated form of attack.. The adversary needs to determine the EMP
output of a bomb to match it to a delivery vehicle,
in order to figure out how best to use it.
If a terrorist group built its own nuclear weapon, or got hold of a
Former Soviet Union (FSU) tactical nuclear weapon,
put it on a SCUD or a similar missile, launched it and detonated it
at altitude, it is unlikely that they would be able to know whether the
EMP output would be comparable in terms of damage as compared with
explosive power of a small bomb, a grenade or a firecracker.
That is a lot of effort for an outcome that is uncertain,
particularly since understanding the
effects of EMP on the infrastructure is a complex task.
The possibilities of inflicting damage improve when you consider
rogue states or a well financed organized state sponsored terrorist
organization, particularly if it acquires
the support of FSU
scientists who have worked in this area.
Today the real capability and threat of EMP is posed by the
established nuclear powers and it diminishes quickly both in capability
and EMP output as you move down the scale to terrorist groups, rogue
states, narco cartel, crime
syndicate and transnational organizations.
It is a job for our intelligence
community and the terrorist watchers to continuously assess not only the
capability, but also the intent of use of nuclear EMP as a threat against
the U.S. It is not an easy
task considering that in 1992 Alexander Lebed, national security adviser
to Boris Yeltsin, told a U.S. congressional delegation that 84 out of 132
Russian suitcase nuclear bombs are missing.
In my opinion, these bombs are too small for effective EMP
are our options to deal with this threat?
There are no fast or easy solutions, but the following approaches
should help. Continue with
the National Missile Defense Program and include the EMP attacks from close in SCUD like launches as a threat to the U.S. This
should also cover potential nuclear, chemical, biological and other
similar attacks against our cities. The other area that needs to be
addressed is the vulnerability and the interdependencies of our
infrastructures. There are
certain key infrastructures which we either need to harden or back up to
some extent. The hardening would have to include EMP, cyber, radio
frequency weapons , etc. If
the Power Grid fails other key infrastructures likely would
crumble. I do not know if
anyone has addressed hardening the power grid to cyber attacks.
EMP assessment of the
power grid vulnerability has not been completed and assessment to damage
caused by radio frequency weapons or devices has not been started.
Considering its size and complexity, hardening the power grid is
not a simple option. Building
even a limited backup to the power grid is also
a very costly option. However,
commercialization of fuel cell generating plants, not as back up,
but as primary power sources, is going to happen.
There are predictions that in the near future new homes, and
businesses will be powered by fuel cells which produce
electricity and heat and they will not be connected to the power
grid. The government should
consider using this trend
might as a means to build a limited
backup to the power grid to meet critical national needs in case of power
The main difference when considering the effects of
nuclear and non nuclear EMP is that effects from a nuclear EMP can be
induced hundreds to a few thousand kilometers
from the detonation. Radio
frequency weapons have ranges from tens of meters to tens of kilometers.
The advantage of radio frequency weapons is that they can be hidden
in an attache case, suitcase, van or aircraft.
The attack can result in computer upsets or burnouts,
but generally the computer users would attribute the failures to
internal problems. Basically
radio frequency weapons require a larger investment in hardware than
cyber and attacks are limited to local area effects rather than
world wide as in the case of Cyber attacks.
indicated that nuclear generated EMP is not something I expected terrorist
groups to start using, that is not the case with radio frequency weapons.
Both the U.S., FSU as well as other nations have been working in this area
for tens of years and with the fall of the FSU, the technology is
proliferating and being commercialized.
The commercialization is occurring because there are legitimate
uses of this technology like stopping cars at ranges up to 3000 feet as
the Swedes have demonstrated. These devices can also be useful in direct
and indirect warfare, antiterrorism, terrorism, economic competition, etc.
Today Russia, China, France, Great Britain, Germany, Sweden, Japan,
U.S. and, I am sure, others have
radio frequency weapons programs.