Author Topic: New Bin Lauden Threats  (Read 67 times)

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New Bin Lauden Threats
« on: September 28, 2001, 07:58:37 AM »
CIA Director George J. Tenet has warned repeatedly about the threat of a terrorist attack involving chemical or biological weapons.

        BUT THE CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies acknowledge that they have little hard evidence that bin Laden’s network, al Qaeda, has acquired or developed chemical or biological agents or successfully created weapons from the materials that could kill large numbers of people.
     
NUCLEAR MATERIAL
      One intelligence official, however, said this week that bin Laden “has the capability to conduct a crude chemical or biological weapon attack. I don’t know what the lethality of his agent would be, but he would know how to get it together.” Another intelligence official said this assessment is based on “intelligence that shows they have tried to obtain information and material that would be useful in that kind of attack.”  

   
   
     
 
 • America attacked special report  
 

 

      Testimony from the trial of four bin Laden operatives convicted earlier this year in the August 1998 bombing of two U.S. embassies in East Africa leaves little doubt that bin Laden has been serious about acquiring chemical weapons and nuclear material, officials said.
      At the trial, the government’s star witness, Jamal Ahmed Fadl, a former al Qaeda member, testified that he received a $10,000 bonus for negotiating with a Sudanese military officer who offered to sell uranium to al Qaeda for $ 1.5 million. Fadl said he did not know whether the deal was consummated.
      He also testified that a fellow al Qaeda member told him the group was trying to help Sudan’s ruling National Islamic Front manufacture chemical weapons for use in a civil war against Christian forces in the country’s south.
      CIA Director George J. Tenet has warned repeatedly about the threat of a terrorist attack involving chemical or biological weapons. He has testified before Congress over the past two years that bin Laden has declared the acquisition of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons a “religious duty” and trained his operatives to conduct attacks with toxic chemicals and biological toxins.
      Gordon C. Oehler, former director of the CIA’s Nonproliferation Center, called the chemical and biological threat “a grave concern.” But he said that any such attack by al Qaeda would probably be no more effective than the crude sarin gas attack staged by Aum Shinrikyo, an apocalyptic Japanese cult, that killed a dozen commuters on the Tokyo subway in 1995.
      “You don’t have to cause a lot of damage to create a lot of panic,” Oehler said. “I used to get reports about this country or that country was getting hold of [nuclear] material. Your first tendency is to dismiss it, but you can’t. And the same thing is true of what’s going on now.”
      Other experts on chemical and biological weapons, while hardly dismissive of the threat, said this week in interviews that they remain skeptical about al Qaeda’s chemical and biological capabilities, given the enormous technical and scientific hurdles that must be cleared to “weaponize” chemical or biological agents.
      Those hurdles, the experts said, would have made it very difficult for the terrorist hijackers who attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon to have carried out chemical or biological attacks using crop-dusting airplanes.
     
QUESTION OF QUANTITY
      Federal officials have discovered that some of the hijackers had studied crop-dusting and downloaded a significant amount of information on the topic from the Internet. They have also charged 20 people with fraudulently obtaining licenses to haul hazardous materials, including some who may have had links to the hijackers.
      Raymond A. Zilinskas, a microbiologist and senior scientist at the Monterrey Institute of International Studies, questioned whether al Qaeda or other terrorist possess the scientific capability to produce virulent pathogens or nerve gas in sufficient quantities to kill large numbers of people.
      Even if they could, he said, they would still need to possess formidable engineering capability to modify a crop duster’s spray nozzles and air pressure equipment to produce a mist fine enough to be lethal.  
 
 



        Zilinskas said that al Qaeda conceivably could recruit scientists capable of producing a small quantity of a nerve agent such as Sarin or VX. It could also conceivably obtain a virulent strain of anthrax from Iraq, which is known to possess the biological agent, or somehow steal or acquire it from one of 400 cell culture collections known to exist outside the United States, he said.
      But if anything, Zilinskas and other experts said, the Aum Shinrikyo experience in Tokyo shows just how difficult it would be for al Qaeda to do either — even before it took on the challenge of weaponizing chemical or biological substances.
      In a recent report, “Ataxia: The Chemical and Biological Terrorism Threat and the U.S. Response,” Amy E. Smithson, who directs the Chemical and Biological Weapons Nonproliferation Project at the Henry L. Stimson Center, writes that Aum Shinrikyo was by almost any standard “a terrorist nightmare.” It recruited graduate students and scientists and spent $30 million on its chemical weapons program, she writes, but despite its efforts, the group never succeeded in mastering spraying technology and ended up dispersing the impure sarin that it finally did create by poking holes in plastic bags.
      In his recent book, “Terrorism and U.S. Foreign Policy,” Paul R. Pillar, former deputy chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, writes that the chemical and biological capabilities of bin Laden and other terrorists are “impossible to gauge with anything approaching precision.” He concludes that they have most likely been overstated, given the inherent difficulties in producing so-called weapons of mass destruction.
      But Pillar, now the CIA’s national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia region, calls the threat real and dangerous, partly because information about how to construct such weapons is “exponentially expanding” on the Internet.

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