Do You Think Terrorists Would Use WMD (CBRNE) If They Could?
The Department of Homeland Security works every day to prevent terrorists and other threat actors from using these weapons to harm Americans.
A weapon requires the pairing of a harm agent with a delivery system; this can be termed “weaponization.” The scale of the harm from toxic chemicals, pathogenic microbes, and ionizing radiation is almost wholly dependent on the efficiency with which the harm agent is delivered to the intended target(s). Delivery systems can range from the decidedly crude (the use of sharpened umbrella points to poke holes in plastic bags filled with sarin nerve agent by the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo cult in 1995) to the extremely sophisticated (the M34 cluster bomb, a U.S. Army munition designed to cover a broad area with sarin). The distinction between agent and weapon is less important in the context of state-level WMD programs since countries rarely invest in the production of a CBRN harm agent without simultaneously developing an effective means of delivery, as seen in the recent parallel development of North Korea’s nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile programs. For non-state actors, the delivery mechanism often presents technical obstacles and resource requirements above and beyond those associated with the harm agent itself. A terrorist might successfully acquire a harmful radioisotope like cesium-137 or a pathogen like bacillus anthracis, but this does not necessarily mean that the terrorist can deliver it to a target with enough efficiency to inflict damage meeting the WMD threshold.
However, nerve agents, such as tabun, sarin, and VX, require a more advanced level of expertise to ensure safety during the manufacturing process and maximum effectiveness when deployed. Terrorist groups may acquire nerve agents when unstable states lose control of chemical weapons. Although IS is believed to have gained access to nerve agents when it captured territory in Syria and Iraq in 2014, there is no evidence that it used these weapons.
Paul Cruickshank, “A View from the CT Foxhole: An Interview with Hamish De Bretton-Gordon, Former Commander of U.K. CBRN Regiment,” CTC Sentinel 11, no. 7 (August 2017): 5-9
Breaking Bad fan jailed over Dark Web ricin plot,” BBC News, September 18, 2015, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-34288380.
Europol, “European Union Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2015,” 2015, 12, https://www.europol.europa.eu/activities-services/main-reports/european-union-terrorism-situation-and-trend-report-2015.
Columb Strack, “The Evolution of the Islamic State’s Chemical Weapons Efforts,” CTC Sentinel 10, no. 9 (October 2017): 19-23, https://ctc.usma.edu/the-evolution-of-the-islamic-states-chemical-weapons-efforts.
Jerrold M. Post, "Differentiating the Threat of Chemical and Biological Terrorism: Motivations and Constraints." Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology 8, no. 3 (2002): 187-200.