Al Qaeda terrorists and related groups are set to use chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in deadly strikes, according to a new CIA report.
“Al Qaeda’s goal is the use of [chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons] to cause mass casualties,” the CIA stated in an internal report produced last month.
“However, most attacks by the group — and especially by associated extremists — probably will be small-scale, incorporating relatively crude delivery means and easily produced or obtained chemicals, toxins or radiological substances,” the report said.
Islamist extremists linked to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden “have a wide variety of potential agents and delivery means to choose from for chemical, biological and radiological or nuclear (CBRN) attacks,” said the four-page report titled “Terrorist CBRN: Materials and Effects.”
The unclassified report was produced by the CIA’s intelligence directorate, and a copy of it was obtained by The Washington Times.
The report identifies several deadly toxins and chemicals that al Qaeda could use to conduct the attacks, including nerve gases, germ and toxin weapons anthrax and ricin, and radiological dispersal devices, also known as “dirty bombs.”
Disclosure of the CIA report comes as the agency is under fire over its reports on Iraq’s chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, none of which has been uncovered. Several lawmakers from both parties, including Sens. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, and John McCain, Arizona Republican, have called for hearings into the intelligence about Iraq that the Bush administration received.
In the latest report, the CIA said terrorist success would depend on planners’ technical expertise. However, one likely goal of any attempted attack would be “panic and disruption,” the agency stated.
Several groups of al Qaeda tried to conduct “poison plot” attacks in Europe using chemicals and toxins in assassinations and small-scale attacks, the CIA said.
“These agents could cause hundreds of casualties and widespread panic if used in multiple, simultaneous attacks,” the report said.
Also, al Qaeda is developing bombs with radioactive material from industrial or medical facilities, and an al Qaeda document obtained in Afghanistan revealed that the group had sketched out a crude device capable of causing a nuclear blast, the report said.
“Osama bin Laden’s operatives may try to launch conventional attacks against the nuclear industrial infrastructure of the United States in a bid to cause contamination, disruption and terror,” the report stated.
Al Qaeda’s plans for chemical arms were revealed in a document obtained in summer 2002 that “indicates the group has crude procedures for making mustard agent, sarin and VX,” the report said.
Mustard is a blistering agent, and sarin and VX are nerve agents that can kill humans in small amounts.
The report also states that Mohamed Atta, ringleader of the September 11 attacks, and Zacarias Moussaoui, who is on trial in Virginia on charges related to the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, studied methods of delivering biological weapons.
Both men “expressed interest in crop dusters, raising our concern that al Qaeda has considered using aircraft to disseminate [biological warfare] agents,” the report said.
According to the report, al Qaeda and other terrorists also could produce what the CIA calls an “improvised nuclear device” capable of causing a nuclear blast.
Such a bomb is “intended to cause a yield-producing nuclear explosion,” the report said.
Terrorists could produce a nuclear device in three ways, including a bomb made from “diverted nuclear-weapons components,” a nuclear weapon that had been modified, or a new, indigenously designed device, the report said.
A homemade nuclear bomb would be one of two types: either an implosion device that uses conventional explosives to create a nuclear blast, or a “gun-assembled” device. Making a nuclear bomb would require that terrorists first obtain fissile material such as enriched uranium or plutonium as fuel for creating a nuclear blast.
A more likely type of terrorist attack is the use of such nuclear material with conventional explosives to create a “dirty,” or radiological, bomb, the report said.
“Use of a [radiological dispersal device] by terrorists could result in health, environmental and economic effects as well as political and social effects,” the report said. “It will cause fear, injury, and possibly lead to levels of contamination requiring costly and time-consuming cleanup efforts.”
Among the materials that are available to terrorists for this type of bomb are cesium-137, strontium-90 and cobalt-60 — materials used in hospitals, universities, factories, construction companies and laboratories.
A security notice made public by the State Department yesterday stated that “al Qaeda and sympathetic terrorists groups continue to demonstrate their interest in mass-casualty attacks using chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons.”
The notice said no information proves the group now is planning an attack in the United States with a weapon of mass destruction, but noted that “such an attack cannot be ruled out.”
The FBI also distributed a bulletin recently to law-enforcement agencies identifying the chemical, biological and nuclear weapons available to al Qaeda and other terrorists.
The CIA report contains photographs of a training video obtained in Afghanistan from an al Qaeda training camp showing chemical agents being tested on dogs.
Agents available to the group include toxic cyanides that can kill in high doses and less-lethal industrial chemicals such as chlorine and phosgene.
Biological agents al Qaeda could use include anthrax, a bacteria that can cause mass casualties, and botulinum toxin. The CIA stated that methods for producing botulinum have been found in terrorist training manuals.
Another toxin weapon, ricin, “is readily available by extraction from common castor beans,” the report said.
“There is no treatment for ricin poisoning after [the toxin] has entered the bloodstream,” the report said. “Terrorists have looked at delivering ricin in foods and as a contact poison, although we have no scientific data to indicate that ricin can penetrate intact skin.”