Index

Combating Terrorism: Observations on the Threat of Chemical and
Biological Terrorism (Testimony, 10/20/1999, GAO/T-NSIAD-00-50).

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed its observations on
the threat of chemical and biological terrorism, focusing on the: (1)
ease or difficulty for a terrorist to create mass casualties (defined as
at least 1,000 deaths or illnesses) by making and using chemical or
biological agents without the assistance of a state-sponsored program;
and (2) need to use intelligence estimates and risk assessments to
better guide and prioritize appropriate countermeasures and programs.

GAO noted that: (1) according to the experts GAO consulted, in most
cases terrorists would have to overcome significant technical and
operational challenges to successfully make and release chemical or
biological agents of sufficient quality and quantity to kill or injure
large numbers of people without substantial assistance from a state
sponsor; (2) with the exception of toxic industrial chemicals such as
chlorine, specialized knowledge is required in the manufacturing process
and in improvising an effective delivery device for most chemical and
nearly all biological agents that could be used in terrorist attacks;
(3) moreover, some of the required components of chemical agents and
highly infective strains of biological agents are difficult to obtain;
(4) finally, terrorists may have to overcome other obstacles for a
successful attack, such as unfavorable environmental conditions and
personal safety risks; (5) the President's fiscal year (FY) 2000 budget
proposes $10 billion for counterterrorism programs--an increase of more
than $3 billion over the requested funding of $6.7 billion for FY 1999;
(6) to assess whether the government is spending appropriate levels on
counterterrorism and spending these funds on the most appropriate
programs, policymakers need the best estimates of the specific threats
the U.S. faces; (7) the intelligence community has recently produced
estimates of the foreign-origin terrorist threat involving chemical and
biological weapons; (8) however, the intelligence community has not
produced comparable estimates of the domestic threat; and (9) in GAO's
report, it recommended that the Federal Bureau of Investigation prepare
these estimates and use them in a national-level risk assessment that
can be used to identify and prioritize the most effective programs to
combat terrorism.

--------------------------- Indexing Terms -----------------------------

 REPORTNUM:  T-NSIAD-00-50
     TITLE:  Combating Terrorism: Observations on the Threat of
	     Chemical and Biological Terrorism
      DATE:  10/20/1999
   SUBJECT:  Terrorism
	     Strategic planning
	     Emergency preparedness
	     Domestic intelligence
	     Biological warfare
	     Chemical warfare

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Rev-LG logo.eps GAO United States General Accounting Office

Testimony Before the Subcommittee on National Security, Veterans
Affairs, and International Relations, Committee on Government
Reform, House of Representatives

For Release on Delivery at 10: 30 a. m., EDT Wednesday, October
20, 1999 COMBATING TERRORISM

Observations on the Threat of Chemical and Biological Terrorism

Statement of Henry L. Hinton, Jr., Assistant Comptroller General,
National Security and International Affairs Division

GAO/T-NSIAD-00-50

  GAO/T-NSIAD-00-50

Page 1 GAO/T-NSIAD-00-50

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: I am pleased to be
here to discuss our report, Combating Terrorism: Need for
Comprehensive Threat and Risk Assessments of Chemical and
Biological Attacks (GAO/NSIAD-99-163, Sept. 7, 1999), issued last
month to you, the Chairman and the Ranking Minority Member of the
Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, and the Ranking Minority
Member of the

House Armed Services Committee. My testimony today summarizes the
two principal messages of that report. First, it discusses the
ease or difficulty for a terrorist to create mass casualties
(defined as at least 1,000 deaths or illnesses) by making and
using chemical or biological agents without the assistance of a
state- sponsored program. Second, it addresses

the need to use intelligence estimates and risk assessments to
better guide and prioritize appropriate countermeasures and
programs.

Because of the technical nature of the topic, we consulted
numerous experts in the course of our work. For example, we
obtained from intelligence agencies, the Federal Bureau of
Investigation (FBI), military medical experts, and others lists of
specific chemical and biological agents

that might be used by terrorists. Experts formerly with U. S. and
foreign government warfare programs provided detailed information
on the production, weaponization, and delivery of chemical and
biological agents. In addition, we interviewed experts in the
fields of science, medicine, law

enforcement, intelligence, and terrorism. We spoke with and
obtained documentation from a number of federal agencies,
including the U. S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious
Diseases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.
S. Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command, and the Defense
Threat Reduction Agency. We also analyzed manuals, handbooks,
texts, reports, and studies on infectious diseases and

on biological and chemical casualties. Summary According to the
experts we consulted, in most cases terrorists would have to
overcome significant technical and operational challenges to
successfully make and release chemical or biological agents of
sufficient quality and quantity to kill or injure large numbers of
people without

substantial assistance from a state sponsor. With the exception of
toxic industrial chemicals such as chlorine, specialized knowledge
is required in the manufacturing process and in improvising an
effective delivery device for most chemical and nearly all
biological agents that could be used in terrorist attacks.
Moreover, some of the required components of chemical agents and
highly infective strains of biological agents are difficult to

Page 2 GAO/T-NSIAD-00-50

obtain. Finally, terrorists may have to overcome other obstacles
for a successful attack, such as unfavorable environmental
conditions and personal safety risks. The President's fiscal year
2000 budget proposes $10 billion for

counterterrorism programs an increase of more than $3 billion over
the requested funding of $6.7 billion for fiscal year 1999. To
assess whether the government is spending appropriate levels on
counterterrorism and spending these funds on the most appropriate
programs, policymakers need the best estimates of the specific
threats the U. S. faces. The intelligence community has recently
produced estimates of the foreignorigin terrorist threat involving
chemical and biological weapons. However, the intelligence
community has not produced comparable estimates of the

domestic threat. In our report we recommended that the FBI prepare
these estimates and use them in a national- level risk assessment
that can be used to identify and prioritize the most effective
programs to combat terrorism. The FBI agreed.

Production and Delivery of Chemical and Biological Agents
Generally Requires Specialized Knowledge

Terrorists face serious technical and operational challenges at
different stages of the process of producing and delivering most
chemical and all biological agents. The Special Assistant to the
Director of Central Intelligence for Nonproliferation testified in
March 1999 that the preparation and effective use of BW
[biological weapons] by both potentially hostile states and by
non- state actors, including terrorists, is harder than some
popular literature seems to suggest. 1 We agree. A

number of obstacles exist for terrorists. Figure 1 shows the
stages involved in making and using chemical or biological agents.
It also illustrates some of the other impediments that terrorists
may have to overcome such as obtaining source materials, risks to
the terrorists, and environmental challenges. 1 Unclassified
statement on the worldwide biological warfare threat to the House
Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, March 3, 1999.

Page 3 GAO/T-NSIAD-00-50

Figure 1: Stages and Obstacles for Chemical and Biological
Terrorism

Source: GAO, on the basis of analysis of technical data and
discussions with chemical and biological warfare experts.

Some chemical agents are commercially available and require little
sophistication or expertise to obtain or use, but other chemical
agents are technically challenging to make and deliver. Toxic
industrial chemicals such as chlorine, phosgene, and hydrogen
cyanide are used in commercial manufacturing and could be easily
acquired and adapted as terrorist weapons. In contrast, most
chemical nerve agents such as tabun (GA),

sarin (GB), soman (GD), and VX are difficult to produce. To begin
with, developing nerve agents requires the synthesis of multiple
chemicals that, according to the experts we consulted, are very
difficult to obtain in large quantities due to the provisions of
the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, which has been in force
since April 1997. In addition, a 1993 Office of Technology
Assessment report on the technologies underlying weapons of mass
destruction indicated that some steps in the production process of
these nerve agents are difficult and hazardous. For example,
although

tabun is one of the easier chemical agents to make, containment of
the highly toxic hydrogen cyanide gas that is produced during the
process is a

Page 4 GAO/T-NSIAD-00-50

technical challenge. In general, production of chemical nerve
agents could be technically unfeasible for terrorists without a
sophisticated laboratory infrastructure because their production
requires the use of high temperatures and generates corrosive and
dangerous by- products. On the other hand, chemical blister agents
such as sulfur mustard, nitrogen mustard, and lewisite can be
manufactured with little to moderate difficulty; but again,
according to experts, purchasing large quantities of certain
chemicals needed to make blister agents is difficult due to the

Chemical Weapons Convention. Even if chemical agents can be
produced successfully, they must be released effectively as a
vapor, or aerosol, for inhalation exposure, or they need to be in
a spray of large droplets or liquid for skin penetration. To serve
as terrorist weapons, chemical agents require high toxicity and
volatility (tendency of a chemical to vaporize), and need

to maintain their strength during storage and release. Causing
mass casualties with biological agents also presents extraordinary
technical and operational challenges for terrorists without the
assistance of a state- sponsored program. For example, highly
infectious seed stock for nearly all biological agents is
difficult to obtain, particularly since controls over the stocks
have improved. The only known sources of the smallpox

virus, for example, are within government- controlled facilities
in the United States and Russia. Ricin, a biological toxin, is
easy to obtain and produce but requires such large quantities to
cause mass casualties that the risk of arousing suspicion or
detection prior to dissemination would be great.

Although most biological agents are easy to grow if the seed stock
can be obtained, they are difficult to process into a lethal form
and successfully deliver to achieve large scale casualties.
Processing biological agents into the right particle size and
delivering them effectively requires expertise in a

wide range of scientific disciplines. Since the most effective way
to deliver a biological agent is by aerosol (to allow the
simultaneous respiratory infection of a large number of people),
the particles need to be small enough to reach the small air sacs
in the lungs and bypass the body's natural filtering and defense
mechanisms. Terrorists can try to process biological agents into
liquid or dry forms for release, but both forms pose

difficult technical challenges. Experts told us that although
liquid agents are easy to produce, it is difficult to effectively
deliver them in the right particle size without reducing the
strength of the mixture. Further, a liquid

agent requires larger quantities, which can increase the
possibility of raising suspicion and detection. Dry biological
agents are easier to deliver, but they are more difficult to
manufacture than liquid agents, are less stable, and are dangerous
to work with. Other important technical hurdles

Page 5 GAO/T-NSIAD-00-50

include obtaining the right equipment to generate properly sized
aerosols, calculating the correct output rate (i. e., speed at
which the equipment operates), and having the required liquid
composition.

Terrorists have additional hurdles to overcome. For example,
outdoor delivery of chemical and biological agents can be
disrupted by environmental (e. g., pollution) and meteorological
(e. g., sun, rain, mist, and wind) conditions. Once released, an
aerosol cloud gradually dissipates over time and as a result of
exposure to oxygen, pollutants, and ultraviolet rays. If wind
conditions are too erratic or strong, the agent might dissipate
too rapidly or fail to reach the desired area. Indoor
dissemination of an agent could be affected by the air exchange
rate of the building. In addition, terrorists risk capture and
personal safety in acquiring and processing materials, disposing
byproducts, and releasing the agent. Many agents are

dangerous to handle. In some cases the lack of an effective
vaccine, antibiotic/ antiviral treatment, or antidote poses the
same risk to the terrorist as it does to a targeted population.

National- Level Assessment of the Risk of Chemical and Biological
Terrorism Is Needed to Focus

Resources A national- level assessment of the risk of chemical and
biological terrorism, based on analyses of both the foreign- and
domestic- origin

threats, could help determine the requirements and priorities for
combating terrorism and target resources where most needed. Much
of the intelligence information that can be incorporated into a
national- level risk assessment already exists. The U. S. foreign
intelligence community has issued classified National Intelligence
Estimates and Intelligence Community Assessments that discuss the
foreign- origin chemical and biological terrorist threat in some
detail. These intelligence assessments identify the agents that
would more likely be used by foreign- origin terrorists. The FBI
is responsible for assessing domestic- origin threats. However,
FBI

analysts' judgments concerning the more likely chemical and
biological agents that may be used by domestic- origin terrorists
have not been captured in a formal assessment. The FBI has not
specified or ranked individual chemical or biological agents as
threats, but instead ranked groups of agents according to the
likelihood that a category of chemical or biological agent would
be used. The FBI analysis was based on law

enforcement cases where chemical or biological agents were used or
their use was threatened, including hoaxes. The FBI's categories
are:

Page 6 GAO/T-NSIAD-00-50

 Biological toxins: any toxic substance of natural origin produced
by an animal or plant. An example of a toxin is ricin, a poisonous
protein extracted from castor beans. (Ricin, due in part to the
ton quantities required to cause mass casualties, is more
appropriate for attacking individuals or small numbers of people
and is not generally considered to be useful as a mass casualty
weapon.)  Toxic industrial chemicals: chemicals developed or
manufactured for

use in industrial operations such as manufacturing solvents,
pesticides, and dyes. These chemicals are not primarily
manufactured for the purpose of producing human casualties.
Chlorine, phosgene, and hydrogen cyanide are industrial chemicals
that have also been used as chemical warfare agents.

 Biological pathogens: any organism (usually living) such as a
bacteria or virus capable of causing serious disease or death.
Anthrax is an example of a bacterial pathogen.  Chemical agents: a
chemical substance that is intended for use in military operations
to kill, seriously injure, or incapacitate people. Excluded from
consideration are riot control agents and smoke and

flame materials. Two examples of chemical agents are sarin (nerve
agent) and mustard gas (blister agent).

By combining an FBI estimate of the domestic- origin threat with
existing intelligence estimates and assessments of the foreign-
origin threat, analysts could provide policymakers with a better
understanding of the threat from

terrorists' use of chemical or biological weapons. A national-
level risk assessment based in part on the threat estimates would
better enable federal agencies to establish soundly defined
program requirements and

prioritize and focus the nation's investments to combat terrorism.
For example, in March 1999 we testified 2 that the Department of
Health and Human Services is establishing a national
pharmaceutical and vaccine stockpile to prepare medical responses
for possible terrorist use of chemical or biological weapons. We
pointed out that the Department's effort was initiated without the
benefit of a sound threat and risk

assessment process. We also found that some of the items the
Department plans to procure do not match intelligence agencies'
judgments of the more likely chemical and biological agents that
terrorists might use and seem to be based on worst- case
scenarios. We questioned whether stockpiling for the items listed
in the Department's plan was the best approach for 2 Combating
Terrorism: Observations on Biological Terrorism and Public Health
Initiatives (GAO/T-NSIAD-99-112, Mar. 16, 1999).

Page 7 GAO/T-NSIAD-00-50

investing in medical preparedness. A sound threat and risk
assessment could provide a cohesive roadmap to justify and target
spending for medical and other countermeasures to deal with a
chemical or biological terrorist threat. We recommended that the
FBI sponsor a national- level threat and risk assessment, and the
FBI agreed to do so. Mr. Chairman, Members of the Subcommittee,
that concludes my prepared remarks. I would be happy to answer any
questions you may have.

Lett er

Page 8 GAO/T-NSIAD-00-50

Related GAO Products Combating Terrorism: Need for Comprehensive
Threat and Risk Assessments of Chemical and Biological Attacks
(GAO/NSIAD-99-163, Sept. 7, 1999). Combating Terrorism:
Observations on Growth in Federal Programs (GAO/T-NSIAD-99-181,
June 9, 1999).

Combating Terrorism: Analysis of Potential Emergency Response
Equipment and Sustainment Costs (GAO/NSIAD-99-151, June 9, 1999).
Combating Terrorism: Issues to Be Resolved to Improve
Counterterrorist Operations (GAO/NSIAD-99-135, May 13, 1999).

Combating Terrorism: Observations on Biological Terrorism and
Public Health Initiatives (GAO/T-NSIAD-99-112, Mar. 16, 1999).

Combating Terrorism: Observations on Federal Spending to Combat
Terrorism (GAO/ T- NSIAD/ GGD- 99- 107, Mar. 11, 1999). Combating
Terrorism: FBI's Use of Federal Funds for CounterterrorismRelated
Activities (FYs 1995- 98) (GAO/GGD-99-7, Nov. 20, 1998).

Combating Terrorism: Opportunities to Improve Domestic
Preparedness Program Focus and Efficiency (GAO/NSIAD-99-3, Nov.
12, 1998). Combating Terrorism: Observations on the Nunn- Lugar-
Domenici Domestic Preparedness Program (GAO/T-NSIAD-99-16, Oct. 2,
1998). Combating Terrorism: Observations on Crosscutting Issues
(GAO/T-NSIAD-98-164, Apr. 23, 1998). Combating Terrorism: Threat
and Risk Assessments Can Help Prioritize and Target Program
Investments (GAO/NSIAD-98-74, Apr. 9, 1998).

Combating Terrorism: Spending on Governmentwide Programs Requires
Better Management and Coordination (GAO/NSIAD-98-39, Dec. 1,
1997).

Related GAO Products Page 9 GAO/T-NSIAD-00-50

Combating Terrorism: Federal Agencies' Efforts to Implement
National Policy and Strategy (GAO/NSIAD-97-254, Sept. 26, 1997).
Chemical Weapons Stockpile: Changes Needed in the Management

Structure of Emergency Preparedness Program (GAO/NSIAD-97-91, June
11, 1997).

(702025) Lett er

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