Search Results

Why Physicists Have a Responsibility to Society

Presentation to the March Meeting of the American Physical Society, February 27, 2012, Boston, MA. The debate and controversy over the National Science Foundation (NSF) criterion on broader societal impacts of NSF-funded research have served the important function of challenging the physics community to reexamine why public money should support pure and applied physics research and what is the role of physicists in society. I will argue that the criterion, while well intentioned, appears ill informed and runs the risk of creating a check list of activities that will seemingly fulfill physicists' responsibility to connect their work to larger societal issues.

Read more

Norway’s Anders Brevik: Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Politics of Cultural Despair

ABOUT THIS REPORT (click to show) At some point, most security analysts face the dilemma of balancing expediency with analytical thoroughness. Such is the case with Norway’s Anders Breivik. As his victims await burial, Breivik's treatise—the 1500 page, 2083: A European Declaration of Independence (click here for PDF link)—became available only a few days ago. While some researchers, mindful of the value of analytical completeness, patiently plod through this massive manifesto, analysts at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) conclude that the nature of Breivik’s attacks, compounded with the extraordinary content of his treatise, raise questions of such immediate concern that the formulation and release of initial analyses are prudent. We present such an effort here as both a highly formatted blog post and as a preliminary report. The former allows for a quick delivery of our preliminary investigation amid a platform for open discussion of a threat that remains, we believe, largely inchoate. The latter conforms to our professional dedication to robust research and application of various relevant analytical methodologies. While Breivik’s unprecedented attacks alone warrant profound study, his treatise seeks to portend far greater acts of terror and destruction than those visited upon Norway on July 22nd. However, to date, no substantive effort addresses the document’s detailed exposition of the fabrication, delivery and general merits of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons (CBRN). The paucity of concern and immediacy revolving around Breivik’s assertions of forthcoming CBRN attacks likely result from two interrelated issues. First, Breivik is incarcerated and will likely remain so for the rest of his life; Breivik himself is no longer a threat. Second, some question his technical acumen with regard to CBRN; even if he were free, according to one putative CBRN expert, “Breivik’s WMD idea is not realistic.”[1] We largely agree with such conclusions. However, any proper risk assessment must conduct a so-called “assumptions check.” Such an exercise has two primary elements: 1) explicitly identifying conclusions that rely, in part or in whole, on assumptions and 2) identifying and evaluating the consequences should such assumptions prove false.[2] Application of an assumptions check to the Breivik case, we believe, precipitates the need for serious and immediate analyses of the treatise’s content for two primary reasons. First, Breivik has made claims, through his writing as well as to Oslo District Court Judge Kim Heger, that he is in league with extremist cells and that some of these co-conspirators “are already in the process of attempting to acquire chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear materials.”[3] While it is likely that Breivik acted alone, we are not comfortable assuming that this is the case. Moreover, given the operational sophistication of his attacks, and, among other salient components in the case writ large, the overall operational security that he maintained for years, it is axiomatic that Breivik’s threats should be considered in great detail. Indeed, as renowned terrorism expert Gary Ackerman has warned, “History is replete with cautionary tales warning against basing threat assessments on static analyses of an opponent’s motivations and capabilities.”[4] In short, it is possible that subsequent attacks—some perhaps even utilizing CBRN—may be forthcoming, and it is therefore prudent for the intelligence communities to carefully consider Breivik’s writings. Second, our initial analyses of Brevik’s comprehension of the relevant issues surrounding the fabrication and employment of CBRN concludes that he was motivated and capable of credibly pursuing low-end CBRN attacks—specifically those likely to result in mass effect as opposed to mass destruction . As our report details, this is specifically the case with some biological and radiological agents. Should Breivik be part of a cell of violent extremists, it is possible that his confederates share an equal, if not greater, understanding of the technologies underlying certain CBRN. Moreover, they may have access to the necessary agents and technologies necessary to actualize Breivik’s more ambitious stratagems for the employment of CBRN. We are presently inclined to conclude that Breivik acted alone. Consequently, his warnings of forthcoming CBRN events are likely invalid. However, given the nature of his attacks and the content of his treatise we urge the security community to seriously consider the possibility that cells of violent extremists are linked to Breivik; the pursuit of a CBRN capability—as well as the possibility of radiological and/or biological use—are a possibility. Blog posts and reports from the FAS Terrorism Analysis Project are produced to increase the understanding of policymakers, the public, and the press about threats to national and international security from terrorist groups and other violent non-state actors. The reports are written by individual authors—who may be FAS staff or acknowledged experts from outside the institution. These reports do not represent an FAS institutional position on policy issues. All statements of fact and expressions of opinion contained in this and other FAS-published reports are the sole responsibility of the author or authors. [1] See “Alleged Norway Shooter Considered WMD Attack, Jihadi Alliance,” ABC News, July 24, 2011. Available at: http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/anders-breivik-alleged-norway-shooter-considered-wmd-attack/story?id=14148151 [2] Whether we are conscious of it or not, most of us frequently conduct an assumptions check. For example, imagine that as you are about to lie down in bed for a night of sleep you suddenly realize that you cannot be sure if you locked your car doors. You might temporarily assume you did; however, you mind quickly assesses the consequences of a faulty assumption. Whether or not you get up, get dressed, and trudge out to your car is largely the result of the risk assessment you make should the car be unlocked. [3] Andrew Berwick [pseudonym for Anders Behring Breivik], 2083 A European Declaration of Independence, July 2011, 1022. [4] United States Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Hearing on “Nuclear Terrorism: Assessing the Threat to the Homeland.” Testimony of Gary A. Ackerman, April 2, 2008, 3. Available at: http://hsgac.senate.gov/public/_files/040208Ackerman3.pdf Norway's Anders Brevik: Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Politics of Cultural Despair CHARLES P. BLAIR, KELSEY GREGG, AND JONATHAN GARBOSE[ref]The authors thank Rebecca A. Remy for her valuable research assistance.[/ref]  July 27, 2011 Ten years after the events of 9/11, it is often forgotten that high fatality terrorist incidents remain a rarity. Indeed, prior to 9/11 the single deadliest terrorist attack was the 1978 Iranian theatre firebombing perpetrated by Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK: People’s Majahedin of Iran) with 470 fatalities. Since 1970, only 118 incidents of terrorism have killed more than 100 people—0.12 percent of the 98,000 terrorist events encompassing that four decade span. As the death toll of the July 22 attacks in Norway approaches 100, it is useful to appreciate this fact. In addition to recognizing their uncommonly deadly outcomes, two other features related to the attack are salient. First, significant elements of Anders Breivik’s treatise—the 1500 page 2083: A European Declaration of Independence [ref]Andrew Berwick, pseudonym for Anders Behring Breivik, 2083 A European Declaration of Independence, July 2011, hereafter referred to as The Declaration.[/ref] (click here for PDF link)—address the acquisition, weaponization, and use of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) agents or devices against Breivik’s perceived enemies. Second, his ideological platform, said by Breivik to represent his role as “Justiciar Knight Commander for Knights Templar Europe and one of several leaders of the National and pan-European Patriotic Resistance Movement,” is largely informed by European racist ideology that first emerged in the nineteenth century and continues to this day. This report principally evaluates the CBRN elements of Breivik’s treatise. A subsequent report (schedule for release in late 2011) will orient Breivik's ideological underpinnings within the broader historical milieu of European racist thinking. First, however, it is useful to place Breivik’s attack in perspective.  

Read more

Norway’s Anders Breivik: Biological Weapons

Oslo, Norway Below is an except from "NORWAY’S ANDERS BREIVIK: WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION AND THE POLITICS OF CULTURAL DESPAIR," a preliminary analysis written by Charles P. Blair, Kelsey Gregg, & Jonathan Garbose. Please visit the full report for further analysis of the treatise and the CBRN weapons discussed within. Overview Along with other CBRN, Breivik calls for the use of biological weapons (BW) and toxins against the “cultural Marxist/multiculturalist elites,” stressing that “Efforts must be made to obtain [them].”36

Read more

Nukes in Europe: Secrecy Under Siege

By Hans M. Kristensen The Cold War practice of NATO and the United States refusing to confirm or deny the presence of nuclear weapons anywhere is under attack in Europe.

Read more

The Pentagon’s 2019 China Report

[Updated] The Pentagon has released its 2019 version of its annual report on China’s military developments. The report describes a Chinese military in significant modernization. There is much…

Read more

Speaking at the CSIS Global Security Forum

By Hans M. Kristensen Clark Murdock and John Warden with the Center for Strategic and International Studies invited me to speak today at their Global Security Forum. My co-panelists were General Larry Welch (USAF, ret.) and Morton Halperin. The question posed to us was whether the United States should, in a proliferated world, continue to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in its national security strategy. There were different views on how much and for what reasons the role could be reduced, but at least no one could envision a need to increase the role. CSIS will probably make the video available online soon, but in the meantime here are my prepared remarks:

Read more

Nuclear Non-Proliferation Act is Good Policy 30 Years On

It is impossible to entirely separate a civilian nuclear power program from a potential nuclear weapons program. President Bush knows this, which is why he is so concerned about Iran’s nuclear energy program. And this is why our country should not undercut nonproliferation goals by restarting a domestic reprocessing program, now called the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP). After putting the effort aside three decades ago, GNEP would reprocess plutonium from civilian nuclear power reactors. Reprocessing is dangerous -- creating more fissile material that can be sabotaged or stolen by terrorists from storage or during transportation. But most importantly, a renewed U.S. reprocessing effort will set precisely the wrong example for the rest of the world.

Read more