Published February 12, 2003
NEW YORK – As the United States and its allies continue the fight against international terrorist groups and the countries that may support them, there is increasing fear Americans at home will one day face the threat of weapons of mass destruction.
Such weapons include biological, chemical, nuclear and radiological devices, and range from the silent threat of a poison gas attack to a cataclysmic nuclear explosion. Those who would launch such attacks know thousands could die, of course, but their fundamental motive would be to strike fear and panic in tens of millions more.
In his State of the Union address on Jan. 28, President Bush instructed leaders of the FBI, CIA, Homeland Security Department and the Department of Defense to develop a Terrorist Threat Integration Center to merge and analyze all types of threat information in a single location so that the "right people are in the right places to protect our citizens."
In an effort to better inform our audience on the threat to America, Fox News offers this Weapons of Mass Destruction Handbook. The package presents an overview of the general threat of biological, chemical, nuclear and radiological weapons, along with much more specific and detailed information on the history, proliferation, delivery mechanisms and treatment/prevention options for such weapons.
Terrorism involving biological weapons — referred to along with chemical weapons as "the poor man's nuclear weapon" — can range from putting deadly substances in the nation's food supply to the aerosolized release of a contagious virus over a city the size of New York or San Francisco.
The Biological Weapons Convention, signed in 1972, prohibits the manufacture, stockpiling and use of biological weapons. But there are several countries that continue to make and study them. Some countries' stockpiles are unaccounted for, as is the case with Iraq.
Former President Nixon banned the production and use of biological warfare agents in 1969, ending the U.S. biowarfare program. The Soviet Union's biowarfare program, Biopreparat, lasted until the 1990s.
The United States in January announced a bioterrorism detection system that would provide early warning if smallpox, anthrax or other deadly germs are released into the environment. The system was tested throughout 2002, including at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.
On Jan. 28, Bush announced that he will ask for $6 billion in his fiscal 2004 budget to launch "Project Bioshield," a major research and production effort to make sure effective vaccines and treatments against bioterrorism agents are available.
Anthrax, botulinum toxin, plague, ricin, smallpox, tularemia and viral hemorrhagic fevers are on the top of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's list of biological weapons, considered "Category A" weapons most likely to be used in an attack.
"Category B" weapons are second-highest priority to the CDC, because they are fairly easy to disseminate, cause moderate amounts of disease and low fatality rates. But these weapons require specific public-health action such as improved diagnostic and detection systems. These agents include: Q fever, brucellosis, glanders, ricin, Enterotoxin B, viral encephalitis, food safety threats, water safety threats, meliodosis, psittacosis and typhus fever.
"Category C" weapons, described by the CDC as "emerging infectious disease threats," are fairly easy to obtain, produce and disseminate and can produce high rates of disease and mortality. These include the Nipah virus and Hantavirus.
Other agents some nations may use as weapons include: aflatoxin, trichothecene mycotoxins, multi-drug tuberculosis, bacteria such as trench fever and scrub typhus, viruses such as influenza and various forms of hemorrhagic fever, fungi and protozoa.
Agricultural bioterrorism could produce famine or widespread malnutrition. These include foot-and-mouth disease, mad cow disease, swine fever and karnal bunt of wheat.
Biological weapons can be aerosolized, meaning they can be easily spread into the air and inhaled by humans. These weapons can also be put into food or water supplies, where they would be ingested. Many will also cause harm if they contact human skin.
Symptoms can include flu-like symptoms, exhaustion, pneumonia, weight loss, stomach pain, diarrhea, respiratory failure and shock.
Biological weapons often take weeks or months to take their toll. Public health systems often can't pinpoint bioterrorism right away, because symptoms often mirror ones exhibited by a person with the common cold or the flu.
Treatments include antidotes, antibiotics, vaccines and pumping of the stomach.
Who Has It:
Russia is known to have stockpiles of various biological weapons. The United States studies some substances, such as anthrax, in laboratories. Iraq, North Korea and Syria are a few nations thought to still possess biological weapons.
The first major use of chemical weapons in modern times came when Germany launched a large-scale poison gas attack against French troops on the battlefield of Ypres in 1915. Allies responded with their own chemical weapons.
By the end of the war, chemical warfare had inflicted over 1 million casualties, of which around 90,000 were fatal.
Hydrogen cyanide and carbon monoxide were used by the Germans to murder millions of people in extermination camps during World War II.
During the Vietnam War, the United States used tear gas and several types of defoliants, including Agent Orange.
The 1925 Geneva Protocol prohibits "the use in war of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and of bacteriological methods of warfare." But it didn't prohibit the manufacturing and stockpiling of these weapons. About 40 countries ratified the protocol.
More than 140 nations signed the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993, which bans the development, production and possession of chemical weapons. Nonetheless, a number of nations are believe to have the weapons.
Other forms of chemical agents include: blood agents, including arsine, cyanogens chloride and hydrogen chloride; choking agents, including chlorine, diphosgene and phosgene; other nerve agents; and vesicants, such as distilled mustard, ethyldichloroarsine, mustard-lewisite mixture and forms of nitrogen mustard.
There are also "harassing agents," such as riot control chemicals and vomiting agents.
Toxic weapons are made from readily available material used in various industrial operations. The most common types of hazardous materials used in toxic weapons are irritants, choking agents, flammable industrial gas, water supply contaminants, oxidizers, chemical asphyxiates, incendiary gases and liquids, industrial compounds and organophosphate pesticides.
Various forms of toxic waste, such as petroleum spills, smoke, refuse, sewage and medical waste also can be used in toxic warfare. Toxic warfare has been used often in recent years.
Skin contact, inhalation or eye contact are possible delivery systems. Chemicals can also be deployed via commercial handheld agricultural sprayers, crop dusters, spray tanks on aircraft or ships, via munitions delivered in gravity bombs, or in warheads on ballistic or cruise missiles. Water and food contamination is also possible.
Symptoms can range from burning or blistering of the skin and eyes, coughing, respiratory disease, dizziness, nausea, drowsiness, headache, convulsions, involuntary defecation and urination, twitching, jerking and miosis, which is the excessive contraction of eye pupils.
Methods used to relieve suffering include antibiotics, antidotes, painkillers, dressings for skin burns, rinsing of eyes and skin and scrubbing of the skin with bleach or other household cleaning agents.
Who Has It:
There are reports the Al Qaeda terror network has tried to make various chemical weapons. Russia and the United States have known stockpiles of sarin. It is also thought India, South Korea and Syria, among others, also have supplies of various nerve agents.
It is not clear how secure such nations can keep these supplies. Such weapons are attractive to terrorist groups because they are easily accessible, the parts to make them are generally legal and cheap to obtain.
As a result, many military and terrorism experts believe there will be an increasing trend in the use of such weapons.
Nuclear weapons produce devastating and long-term effects on human and animal life, as well as the environments in which they live. These are the hardest of all types of weapons to make because the critical nuclear elements — plutonium and/or highly enriched uranium — are hard to come by, and are very expensive.
The United States dropped one atomic bomb each on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, bringing and end to World War II. The Soviet Union became the next country to develop atomic weapons, igniting an arms race and a global interest in nuclear fission devices.
Traditional nuclear weapons are not the only threat. Officials are concerned terrorists might also target the world's nuclear power plants and supplies.
One worst-case scenario simulation estimated a one-megaton explosion in Detroit — equivalent to a million tons of TNT — could kill 250,000 people, injure half a million more, and flatten all buildings within a 1.7-mile radius.
Decades of arms control negotiations have greatly reduced the number of nuclear weapons around the world. Since 1991, the U.S. Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program has deactivated 6,032 nuclear warheads and has destroyed 491 ballistic missiles, 438 ballistic missile silos, 101 bombers, 365 submarine-launched missiles, 408 submarine missile launchers, and 25 strategic missile submarines. It has sealed 194 nuclear test tunnels.
On May 1, 2000, five nuclear weapon states — China, France, Russia, Britain and the U.S. — issued a 23-point joint statement pledging their "unequivocal commitment to the ultimate goals of a complete disarmament under strict and effective international controls."
Other nations known or believed to have nuclear weapons have not signed such agreements, however. Among those nations are India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.
These weapons are most likely to be delivered in the form of ballistic missiles or bombs dropped by fly-over bombers. Terrorists could also cause accidents involving nuclear power plants, nuclear medicine machines in hospitals and vehicles used in the transportation of nuclear waste.
The size of an actual nuclear weapon can be quite small, however, and could easily fit into a large car or truck. That has sparked a fear among many experts that a nuclear warhead could simply be driven into a large city by terrorists and detonated by either a suicide bomber or by remote control.
If people don't die from the initial impact of the blast, depending on the dose of radiation received, victims may experience vomiting, headache, fatigue, weakness, thermal burn-like skin effects, secondary infections, recurring bleeding and hair loss and long-term effects such as cancer or birth defects.
Clothing is to be taken off immediately and sealed in an airtight container. Victims should wash themselves off completely with soap and water or with bleach, if necessary. Treatment may also include stomach pumping, laxatives and giving patients various substances to decrease the absorption of radiation in the body's cells and tissue.
Who Has It:
The United States has a stockpile of 12,500 nuclear weapons and 103 power plants. Russia has a similar supply. The United Nation's International Atomic Energy Agency oversees 900 of the world's nuclear facilities. Pakistan and India have both exploded nuclear devices in test blasts. Israel and North Korea are two countries believed to possess nuclear weapons.
Nuclear weapons continue to be a proliferation concern, particularly when North Korea recently announced it was continuing its nuclear arms program, and withdrew from the international Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
One worry of the United States is not so much that North Korea itself will use what weapons it has, but that it will have no qualms about selling them to the highest bidder, whether that bidder be a nation such as Iraq, which sponsors terrorism, or individual terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda.
Radiological weapons are thought by many to be the likely choices for terrorists. Unlike nuclear weapons, they spread radioactive material, which contaminates equipment, facilities, land and acts as a toxic chemical, which can be harmful, and in some cases fatal.
A "dirty bomb" is the likely choice for terrorists and can kill or injure people by exposing them to radioactive materials, such as cesium-137, iridium-192 or cobalt-60. Atomic experts say the explosion of a dirty bomb containing one kilogram of plutonium in the center of Munich, Germany, could ultimately lead to 120 cancer cases attributable to the blast.
Methods of detonating a dirty bomb include devices — such as bombs or artillery shells — used to disperse harmful radioactive material. This weapon can be used to contaminate livestock, fish and food crops. Most radioactive material isn't soluble in water, so that virtually rules it out as a way for terrorists to contaminate reservoirs or other water supplies.
Terrorists could launch a systemic attack on a nuclear power plant by venting or overloading a reactor so it acts as a radiological weapon.
Symptoms can range from mild effects, such as skin reddening, to cancer and death.
Acute radiation syndrome — radiation sickness — is usually caused when a person gets a high dose of radiation in mere minutes and can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea; later, bone marrow depletion may lead to weight loss, loss of appetite, flu-like symptoms, infection and bleeding.
Radiation victims should take off their clothes and wash themselves with soap and water — using bleach if necessary. Hospital workers will provide treatment depending on the amount of radiation received.
Who Has It:
Iraq and Al Qaeda are just two of the countries and/or terrorist groups believed to have dirty bombs. Virtually every country, however, has the materials to make them. Insecure nuclear facilities throughout the world compound the problem.
There are various weapons - many of which are still under development - that may not fall into the category of a "biological," "chemical," "radiological" or "nuclear weapon."
An "E-bomb" most likely would be delivered via unmanned cruise missiles, fired from a long-range 155 mm artillery gun or MLRS rocket launcher.
An E-bomb knocks out electronic devices and communication systems, and melts or fuses electrical wiring together. Home computer or personal digital assistants would be warm to the touch, and their data would be destroyed. Lights would flicker on and off and phones would be scrambled. If a human were directly hit by high-powered microwaves and is near electrical equipment or has a pacemaker, he or she may suffer from serious burns or brain damage.
Humans would receive treatment as needed for burns or other injuries.
Who Has It:
The United States may try to use an E-bomb to seize the Iraqi airwaves if a war is launched on that country. The e-bomb will knock out Saddam Hussein's ability to communicate with his military and the Iraq people.
In the Case of a Biological or Chemical Attack:
In case of a biological or chemical attack, listen to your radio for instructions from authorities on whether to remain inside or evacuate. If instructed to stay inside, turn off all ventilation and seek shelter in an internal room, preferably one without windows. Seal the room with plastic sheeting and duct tape. Remain in protected areas where toxic vapors are reduced or eliminated and take a battery-operated radio with you.
Seek medical attention immediately if you suffer from symptoms of exposure. Pay close attention to all official warnings and instructions on how to proceed. If exposed, remove clothes and seal in plastic bag, wash off with soapy water immediately. For more information, visit the CDC Web site at www.bt.cdc.gov.
If you believe that you have been exposed to a biological or chemical agent, or if you believe an intentional biological threat will occur or is occurring, please contact your local health department and/or your local police or other law enforcement agency.
• For more information on how to respond to an attack, consult FEMA's "Are You Ready? A Guide to Citizen Preparedness"
• For information on state and local health departments: www.cdc.gov/other.htm#states
• Health agency contact directories: www.statepublichealth.org
• For questions about smallpox, visit www.bt.cdc.gov/agent/smallpox/index.asp, or call the CDC public response hotline at (888) 246-2675 (English), (888) 246-2857 (Español), or (866) 874-2646 (TTY).
• Contacts for use by state and local health officials and healthcare providers: CDC Emergency Response Hotline (24 hours) 770-488-7100, program questions: 404-639-0385.
In the Case of a Nuclear or Radiological Attack:
If there were a threat of a nuclear or radiological attack, people living around potential targets such as military bases and chemical plants, may be advised to evacuate. Protection from radioactive fallout would require taking shelter in an underground area, or in the middle of a large building. Blast shelters offer some protection, but cannot withstand a direct hit from a nuclear detonation. Fallout shelters can be any protected space where the walls and roof are thick and dense enough to absorb radiation. The more distance and time you put between you and the fallout particles, the better. Some fallout shelters are designated by yellow and black shelter signs, although many were removed at the end of the Cold War.
During a nuclear attack, do not look at the flash or fireball. Take cover as quickly as possible — below ground, if possible — and stay there until instructed otherwise. If you can't get inside a building, take cover behind anything, lie flat on the ground and cover your head. Fallout may not arrive for 20 minutes or so after the blast but can be carried by wind for hundreds of miles, so seek a shelter that will offer a strong shield against harmful material that is farther away from where the device was detonated.
After a radiological or nuclear attack, people shouldn't leave their shelter until officials say so. The length of your stay can range from a day to two to four weeks, depending on the extent of contamination. People who are allowed to come out of hiding may be evacuated to unaffected areas within a few days. While in hiding, people are encouraged to use water and food prudently and cooperate with shelter managers.
Before returning to a home within range of a bomb's shock wave, check for signs of collapse or damage before entering. Immediately clean up spilled medicines, drugs or flammables. Listen to your battery-powered radio for instructions and information about community services. Do not turn gas back on in house and turn water back on only after you're sure the water system is working properly and isn't contaminated. Stay away from damaged areas and areas marked "radiation hazard" or "HAZMAT."
• For more information on how to respond to an attack, consult FEMA's "Are You Ready? A Guide to Citizen Preparedness"
• For more information on radiation, go to www.cdc.gov/nceh/radiation/response.htm.
• The Red Cross also has information available on how citizens can prepare for a terrorist attack www.redcross.org/services/disaster/keepsafe/unexpected.html.
Emergency Alert System:
In case of an emergency, such as some type of terrorist attack, state or local emergency officials would issue an emergency alert system message to the local media to tell citizens what actions to take. The Emergency Broadcast System is used for this. This sytem is used by local officials almost every day in cases of natural disasters, hazardous material spills and similar emergencies.
A national emergency alert system can be activated by FEMA at the direction of the White House. This would cause an emergency message to be sent out to a national network of radio stations, coast to coast. That message then filters down to smaller radio, TV and cable stations. This system has never been used.
WMD Handbook Sources:
- Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute
- "Bioterrorism: A Journalist's Guide to Covering Bioterrorism," Radio and Television News Directors Foundation
- Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
- Center for Defense Information
- Center for Nonproliferation Studies
- Center for Strategic and International Studies
- Council on Foreign Relations
- Defense Threat Reduction Agency
- Federal of American Scientists
- National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements
- Nuclear Threat Initiative
- "Nuclear Weapons Basics," by Professor Richard Mueller
- Popular Mechanics Magazine, Sept. 2001
- "Radiological Weapons as Means of Attack," by Anthony H. Cordesman, CSIS
- RAND Corporation; RAND reports entitled "Strategic Appraisal; U.S. Air and Space Power in the 21st Century," and "Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction and Ballistic Missiles"
- United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency
- U.S. Army Institute of Infectious Diseases
- U.S. Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command
- U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission