- The Washington Times - Monday, February 17, 2003

HONOLULU Ten years ago, the risks of terrorist or military assault with chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear weapons was considered to be one of low probability but serious consequences if it happened.
Today, that risk has become one of high probability and enormous consequences. "Uncertainty," said a specialist in such weapons, "has become a certainty." Much of that risk is in Asia, notably from Iraq, North Korea, and terrorists in South and Southeast Asia. Beyond that, said Capt. Joseph Hughart of the U.S. Public Health Service, "we know that the threat from CBRNE exists world-wide, not just in the Middle East."
CBRNE, the acronym that lumps together chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high explosive weapons, is the new buzz word on the block and is sometimes pronounced "see-burn." It seems to be taking over gradually from WMD, or weapons of mass destruction.
Specialists in CBRNE gathered in Honolulu last week to address representatives of humanitarian and disaster relief agencies that might be operating near "hot zones" where CBRNE attack had taken place. They included Save the Children, International Medical Corps, Church World Service, United Nations High Commission on Refugees, International Committee on the Red Cross, and Catholic Relief Services.
The specialists had several messages for the relief agencies: protect your staff so that they can continue functioning; don't rush into the hot zone to add to the confusion; and prepare to minister to thousands of refugees.
A rule of thumb says that for every person killed in CBRNE attack, ten will be injured, and a thousand more will be displaced from their homes, often fleeing with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.
In its preparation for war with Iraq, the Pentagon assumes that Saddam Hussein will employ chemical and possibly biological weapons, or that chemical or biological agents will be released by the U.S. bombing of storage depots. The U.S. would seek to burn off poisonous agents with napalm but cannot be sure all would be destroyed.
Therefore, Pentagon is planning to handle tens of thousands of refugees, to decontaminate them, to provide basic food, water, shelter, and medical care.
The conference here was arranged by the Center of Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance, with headquarters in Hawaii, in conjunction with the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance in Washington, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, and the American Council for Voluntary International Action.
Under the ground rules for the conference, speakers may not be identified. Capt. Hughart, who began his career as a Navy corpsman serving with the U.S. Marines, was an exception who agreed to be quoted.
Hughart pointed to assaults mounted by Al Qaida the terrorist network led by Osama Bin Laden that are well known, such as the aircraft that slammed into the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11, 2001.
He added other assaults not so well known such as an attempt to poison the water supply at the U.S. embassy in Rome, a biological attack in London, and the failed attempt to train an American named Jose Padilla in making a "dirty bomb" with radiated material.
North Korea, Hughart said, "has an advanced chemical warfare capability that includes cyanide, and blister, nerve, and vomiting agents." The North Koreans have targeted South Korean food and water supplies with anthrax, cholera, plague, and yellow fever biological agents.
No one paid much attention when North Korea agreed to accept 20,000 tons of radioactive waste from Taiwan. Hughart said, however, that had been turned into a radiological threat buried just north of the demilitarized zone that divides North and South Korea.
In Southeast Asia, there have been high explosive bombings near U.S. forces in the Philippines and the recent bombing of a night club in Bali that killed scores of tourists including many Australians.
Elsewhere in the Pacific, a letter filled with cyanide arrived at the U.S. embassy in New Zealand, and a threat of using nerve agent was uncovered in Guam.
Then there are nuclear dangers in the 476 nuclear reactors around the world either from terrorists seizing one or attacking it to release radiation. About 100 of those reactors are in Asia, with 23 more under construction and 39 planned.
In addition are 56 research reactors in 14 countries in the Asia-Pacific region that might be vulnerable to terrorist assault.

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