Nonstate Actors Pose Growing Proliferation Threat: U.S.

(Aug. 19) -U.S. military personnel decontaminate a mock victim during a June anti-WMD drill in Wisconsin. Extremists have become more likely to acquire WMD-related materials through independent organizations tied to states, the U.S. State Department said on Thursday (U.S. Army photo).
(Aug. 19) -U.S. military personnel decontaminate a mock victim during a June anti-WMD drill in Wisconsin. Extremists have become more likely to acquire WMD-related materials through independent organizations tied to states, the U.S. State Department said on Thursday (U.S. Army photo).

Terrorist organizations and smuggling networks with links to national governments have posed an increasingly potent proliferation danger in the last few years, boosting the likelihood that extremists could acquire difficult-to-obtain WMD-related knowledge and components, the U.S. State Department said on Thursday in its annual terrorism report (see GSN, Aug. 17).

"Although terrorist organizations will continue to seek a [WMD] capability independent of state programs, the sophisticated [WMD] knowledge and resources of a state could enable a terrorist capability," according to the "Country Reports on Terrorism 2010.'

The document addresses the threat of terrorism involving chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons and Washington's response to those dangers (see GSN, Aug. 6, 2010).

The increasing availability of sensitive data has bolstered the threat of an extremist strike involving an improvised nuclear device, the report warns. "The complete production of a nuclear weapon strongly depends on the terrorist group's access to special nuclear materials as well as significant engineering and scientific expertise."

Meanwhile, the "widespread use" of radiological substances for medicine and other purposes "in nearly every country makes these materials much more accessible for deployment in a radiological dispersal device, often referred to as a 'dirty bomb,' than the fissile materials required for nuclear weapons," according to the report.

The State Department said Washington was "very pleased" with the results of the 2010 Global Nuclear Security Summit, "which helped develop a common understanding of the threat posed by nuclear terrorism and achieved broad political agreement on effective measures to secure nuclear material and prevent nuclear smuggling and nuclear terrorism" (see GSN, June 16).

The State Department said that heading off acts of terrorism involving chemical agents posed a notable difficulty given the easy access to toxic materials used in industry.

"Today’s chemical terrorism threat ranges from the potential acquisition and dissemination of chemical warfare agents with military delivery systems to the production and use of toxic industrial chemicals or improvised dissemination systems for chemical agents," the report says. "The growth and sophistication of the worldwide chemical industry, including the development of complex synthetic and dual-use materials, makes the task of preventing and protecting against this threat more difficult."

There is also cause for concern regarding extremists' access to dangerous biological materials, Foggy Bottom said.

"Developing a mass-casualty bioterrorism capability presents some scientific and operational challenges," though "motivated scientists with university-level training" could provide the requisite knowledge for such a capability, the report states.

The document warns that "international laboratories that store and work with dangerous pathogens are often not adequately secured," and "many select agent pathogens, such as anthrax, are widely available in nature. Equipment suitable for cultivating and disseminating such materials is almost entirely dual-use and is widely employed for legitimate purposes."

Extremists have demonstrated interest in acquiring "sophisticated dual-use technologies to advance their own weapons programs and are taking advantage of the availability of such material and expertise and diverting it to illicit end-uses," the State Department said.

Among the programs used to reduce the WMD terror threat, the report says, are the Proliferation Security Initiative, which is intended to interdict smuggling of WMD materials; the Global Threat Reduction Initiative to secure or eliminate vulnerable nuclear and radioactive materials; and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, "a cross-cutting strategic framework of 82 partners and four observers who are determined to strengthen individual and global capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to a nuclear terrorist event" (U.S. State Department report, Aug. 18).

Last year, there were in excess of 11,500 terrorist strike that killed more than 13,200 people in 72 nations, the State Department found. The number of people killed in such strikes fell for a third year in a row, however, and has decreased by 12 percent since 2009.

The greatest quantity of strikes for the second year in a row was reported in South Asia and the Near East, which accounted for more than three-fourths of incidents and people killed, according to the report (U.S. State Department release, Aug. 18).

August 19, 2011
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Terrorist organizations and smuggling networks with links to national governments have posed an increasingly potent proliferation danger in the last few years, boosting the likelihood that extremists could acquire difficult-to-obtain WMD-related knowledge and components, the U.S. State Department said on Thursday in its annual terrorism report (see GSN, Aug. 17).