PRISM Volume 7, no. 3

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The chances of a successful nuclear terrorist attack in the decade that began in 2015 are better than even. - Graham Allison (iStock photo)

Nuclear Terrorism: Did We Beat the Odds or Change Them?

By Dr. Graham Allison

Preventive actions taken since 2004, both in counterterrorism and in counterproliferation, have been extraordinary. From the decimation of al-Qaeda to the Iran Deal and the Nuclear Security Summits, difficult actions taken by courageous and hard-working Americans and others have prevented the future we feared. For all of these successes, however, there have been a matching number of failures and structural shifts that are increasing the risk of successful mega-terrorist attacks. To put it metaphorically, while there can be no doubt that we have been running faster, we have also been falling further behind. I still believe that the chance of an attack during the next decade is slightly greater than even. But there is a lengthy agenda of actions that the United States and other nations could take today to reduce this risk and even reverse trend lines moving in the wrong direction.

During the 1990s the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo unsuccessfully experimented with anthrax, botulinum toxin, cholera, Ebola, and Q fever. (Image of Coxiella burnetti/ National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases).

WMD Terrorism: The Once and Future Threat

By Dr. Gary Ackerman and Ms. Michelle Jacome

The specter of terrorists and other violent non-state actors acquiring weapons of mass destruction is perhaps an even greater concern than acquisition of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by states. This over-magnification, however, ignores the hurdles inherent in such malignant enterprises. Despite clear interest on the part of some non-state adversaries, a true WMD is at present likely out of their reach in all but a select set of scenarios. Changes in technology, however, could augur a dramatic shift in the WMD terrorism threat picture.

New Jersey National Guard members participate at a Homeland Response Force (HRF) External Evaluation in 2012. HRFs help provide the initial military response to a CBRN incident. (U.S. Air Force/ Mark C. Olsen)

Improving Our CWMD Capabilities: Who Will Lead?

By Mr. Al Mauroni

The current DOD CWMD strategy positions the Department to meet national policy objectives for which it is not resourced, reflecting a failure at the national level to scope the challenge as something other than a technical issue and to oversee the execution of WMD-related tasks throughout the whole-of-government. In part, this is because the term “WMD,” which once had specificity in the arms control community, has been reduced to a political buzzword. This further reflects the need to define what DOD sees as important CWMD activities.

A Spanish patrol boat escorts the USG- owned MV Cape Ray through the Strait of Gilbraltar en route to the Mediterranean Sea. The USG modified and deployed the Cape Ray to dispose of Syrian chemical agents. (U.S. Navy/ Desmond Parks)

The CWMD Strategy Gap

By Dr. Margaret Kosal

During the past 15 years, countering–WMD (CWMD) has been a top priority as expressed throughout multiple national and department-level strategy and policy documents, to include the National Security Strategy (NSS); the National Military Strategy (NMS); the National Defense Strategy (NDS); the Defense Strategic Guidance (DSG); and Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). While a prevention strategy is laudable and important, the disparity between strategy and the required operational capabilities and capacities needed for securing, interdicting, and eliminating WMD reveals potential gaps that must be recognized and accounted for to ensure a credible deterrent posture. Future threats, especially biological, are likely to be more complicated than current or past conceptions.

In September 2011, the crew of the USS New York, upper right, man the rails and present honors while passing the National 9/11 Memorial.  On board are family members of victims and first responders from 9/11 and Marines from Camp Lejeune. The ship was built with steel recovered from Ground Zero. (U.S. Marine Corps/Randall A. Clinton)

The State of the Art in Contemporary CWMD Thinking

By Ms. Amy Frumin, Major Tracy Moss, USAF (ret.), and Dr. David C. Ellis.

To effectively counter-WMD networks, the USG must bring to bear its full arsenal of capabilities, authorities, and permissions in a coordinated manner. As A.Q. Khan's story and September 11 demonstrate, exclusive use of the old tools—analysis, planning, functionally-organized sector-based agencies—in a complex environment has proven not only inadequate, but dangerous.

Preserving the integrity of CBRN forensic samples is administratively and logistically burdensome.-Kaszeta (iStockPhoto)

The Forensic Challenge

By Mr. Dan Kaszeta

The suspected use of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons or materials adds complexity to any international or internal conflict. It is critical that responses to such use are based on good information. The relatively new field of CBRN forensics, which is emerging out of domestic terrorism investigations, seeks to establish scientific facts through analysis of rigorously collected evidence. CBRN forensics are important to establishing actual facts, but are inherently difficult for a variety of reasons. The question of whether military forces, particularly Special Operations Forces (SOF), can conduct CBRN forensics in an adequate fashion is debatable; however, there are numerous pathways to improve the status quo.

In 1998, People's Army guards from North Korea march in formation to their appointed posts during a repatriation ceremony in the Panmunjom Joint Security Area. (U.S. Air Force/James Mossman)

North Korea's CBW Program: How to Contend with Imperfectly Understood Capabilities

By Mr. John Parachini

Biological weapons programs tend to be among the most closely guarded weapons programs in a country’s arsenal. By contrast, extensive documentation and histories of nuclear weapons programs exist for virtually all the known weapons states as well as those that abandoned such programs. In recent years, while North Korea (formally the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or DPRK) has gone to great lengths to demonstrate to the world its nuclear and missile programs, the country has hidden whatever CBW it may possess. As the international community grapples with how to reduce tension on the Peninsula, re-assessing what is known about North Korea’s CBW program and considering options to minimize their role in the regime’s security calculous is an important addition to the complex set of issues that U.S. civilian and military leaders must consider. This article attempts to put in context what little is known about North Korea’s capabilities and offer some measures that might be taken to help curtail those capabilities.

A U.S. Air Force C-17 prepares to depart Iraq with U.S. Marine Corps General, Joseph F. Dunford Jr., Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Jan. 8, 2016. During the trip, Dunford met with the U.S. and coalition leaders in Germany, Iraq, and Turkey to assess the progress of counter-ISIL efforts. (DOD/Dominique Peneiro)

"The Irreducible Minimum" An Evaluation of Counterterrorism Operations in Iraq

By Dr. Richard Shultz

Surprise is a constant in war. But the surprise experienced by TF–714 in Iraq proved to be a major challenge even for an organization comprised of units that excelled at tactical adaptation. Consequently, TF–714’s initial response was to do more of what it already did extremely well. “The initial response,” explained General McChrystal in a 2014 interview, was that “we will just do more of what we are already very good at and then we would have done our part.” What became evident to the task force leadership, however, was that a “more of the same” response was not going to have a meaningful impact on AQI. To be sure, those operations that TF–714 executed were highly successful. The problem was there were not enough of them. They had, at best, only a limited impact on AQI’s operational tempo. The Task Force was facing an enemy it had never envisaged and could not degrade through its existing ways of operating.

The Chinese People's Liberation Army-Navy is establishing a network of enhanced reefs enabling China to exert control over the South China Sea. (SatelliteImage©2018DigitalGlobe)

Perils of the Gray Zone: Paradigms Lost, Paradoxes Regained

By Dr. John Arquilla

There is a world war under way, waged in hot, cold, and cool modes. The aggressors see no gray zone “between war and peace.” They see all as war. So must we.


Congressman James R. Langevin

An Interview with Congressman James R. Langevin

By Ms. Patricia Clough

When I first came into Congress, we were still in that transition phase of going from a relatively calm and stable, bipolar world with the United States and the Soviet Union as chief adversaries. We were just entering the multi-polar world in which we live and the world became much more paradoxically unstable and the threats became more involved and grew. I came in around 2000—before 9/11—and none of us could have anticipated how the world would change so dramatically, on that date in particular, and later morph into other threats and challenges.

Book Reviews

The Age of Lone Wolf Terrorism (Book Review)

By Mr. James Mis

The Age of Lone Wolf Terrorism by Mark S. Hamm and Ramon Spaaij provides the national security professional with an exceptional overview and appreciation of this growing problem facing the United States and its partners. Detailed in their compilation of the 123 incidents of lone wolf terrorism from 1940–2016, the authors examine the incidents against 20 variables to help identify trends in backgrounds, modus operandi, and motivations. Hamm and Spaaij, a professor of criminology and a sociologist respectfully, then devise a radicalization model that provides an evidence-based explanation for select case studies of lone wolf terror incidents.

Dirty War: Rhodesia and Chemical Biological Warfare 1975-1980 (Book Review)

By Dr. Seth Carus

Glenn Cross’s Dirty War: Rhodesia and Chemical Biological Warfare 1975–1980 is a welcome addition to the small, but growing scholarly literature on the history of chemical and biological warfare. In 1965, the minority white community in the British territory of Rhodesia (officially Southern Rhodesia) rejected demands that it transfer political power to the majority black population. By the mid-1970s, white Rhodesians found it increasingly difficult to counter the growing power of native African nationalists fighting the government. As with many insurgencies, the guerrillas lacked the resources to defeat government security forces in direct combat, but Rhodesian forces were stretched too thin to suppress the insurgents, especially once they had established base camps in neighboring countries. Amidst the conflict, Rhodesian military and intelligence services employed what would now be considered chemical and biological agents against the guerillas with unknown results.

The Darkest Sides of Politics, II: State Terrorism, "Weapons of Mass Destruction," Religious Extremism, and Organized Crime (Book Review)

By Mr. Brendan Melley

In this companion to his first volume on Postwar Facism, Covert Operations, and Terrorism, Jeffrey Bale explores the influence of some of the world’s most pressing security concerns through a review of global case studies on weapons of mass destruction (WMD), violent extremism, and organized crime. Bale is thorough in his selection and treatment of the cases, using primary sources whenever available and delivering an “intentionally robust” text to provide an alternative to what he describes in the volume’s preface as often unqualified opinions taking the guise of academic works. Based on decades of research in violent extremism, Bale reviews select works and either updates their findings, or acknowledges their currency. State Terrorism, "Weapons of Mass Destruction," Religious Extremism, and Organized Crime is dense with explanations and structured expositions, but the volume offers a good model for how to convey conclusions that are framed by evidence.

The Politics of Weapons Inspections: Assessing WMD Monitoring and Verification Regimes (Book Review)

By Dr. Margaret Sloane and Dr. Justin Anderson

Nathan E. Busch and Joseph F. Pilat in their book The Politics of Weapons Inspections: Assessing WMD Monitoring and Verification Regimes draw attention to the important role that politics can play within weapons of mass destruction (WMD) verification, but the title promises more than the authors deliver. The authors analyze three cases of disarmament using inspections (South Africa, Iraq, and Libya); examine how the verification of global nuclear disarmament might or might not work; and apply the book’s lessons to what they term difficult cases, which may be subject to future inspections (North Korea, Iran, and Syria). The studies provide a useful survey and side-by-side comparison of the successes, pitfalls, and likely future challenges of efforts to verify individual state compliance with WMD agreements. The authors on occasion fail to place the case studies within a broader geopolitical context, leaving important gaps in their analysis, which makes for an uneven read. As an example, the authors point to shortfalls in multilateral verification regimes without fully assessing how these regimes are limited and sometimes hamstrung by the external and internal politics of sovereign states.