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New Tools for New Terrorists
Thursday, April 22, 2003; Washington, D.C.
7:30 p.m.: Ed was not a basketball fan, but he did enjoy the hum of the gathering crowd in the MCI Center. And he most certainly enjoyed any time he could spend with his daughter, Samantha.
They were both overdressed for the indoor heat being pumped from a vent nearby. As Sam pulled her sweater over her head, static electricity caused her fine hair to float delicately toward the ceiling. Almost like a halo, Ed thought to himself, like an angel. He thought, for a moment, of the day he and Sarah brought Sam home from the hospital, remembering how impossibly tiny she looked in the brand-new crib. Nine years - of diapers, day care, finger paint, birthday cakes, bicycles - and now braces.
Sam spread the souvenir program on her lap and expertly thumbed the pages. Finding the Washington Mystics' photo, she launched into a practiced monologue. "Colleen, she runs really fast. Sharon's almost seven feet tall! Oh, and this one - Tamika Lewis - she has a daughter, too."
Ed draped an arm around his beautiful little girl and waited for the game to begin.
7:40 p.m.: Percy L. Bysshe had always thought of himself as a good man. So why was he here, approaching the seedy street that led to the arena, about to infect the thousands of people inside? And why was he still questioning himself, even at this moment?
Why, Percy wondered with irritation that bordered on revulsion, could he not act without observing himself, without analyzing every move? Did men of action, did heroes, simply act withouthesitation? Was this unceasing self-examination, what he privately called the eye in the sky that judged his every move, a result of his Blanche DuBois of a mother - his clinging, complaining, goddamn poetry-reading mother who had chosen his curse of a first name? Wasn't the last bad enough? "Percy Piss," the children had chanted in the sunny heat of the Alabama playground. He saw himself as an adolescent, painfully skinny and shy, alone in the lab after school - a miserable, friendless, frightened boy seeking refuge in the solitude of science. Did heroes just act? Well, this wasn't heroism. It was hatred. Screw them all.
G Street seemed remarkably empty, even for a Tuesday night. The gaudy facades of the Chinatown shops looked even more pathetic than usual. Not that Percy spent time here, of course. Not when he could help it. He noticed a street sign had Chinese characters. Even here! In "Our Nation's Capital." Our nation's capital. Jesus.
The sound of their footsteps was like a ticking clock, Percy thought with satisfaction. A ticking clock, to mark the moment his life would change for good. He and the Russian and Lawrence were like the horsemen of the apocalypse. He knew it should be four horsemen. This night, three would be enough. More than enough.
Percy felt the rage welling up again, and he encouraged it, embraced it, drew strength from it as they neared the enormous arena with its fanciful columns, waves, and lines - some overpaid architect's dream. Giant signs read "MCI Center" in English and Japanese neon.
What was this country coming to? No, where had it gone? Obscene taxation, overregulation, bloated bureaucracies, fake politics, and a government taking away our rights while black and brown thugs ruled the streets. Just like we let the United Nations run roughshod over America. And when foreigners weren't running things through the UN, they were coming to live here.
He flashed back, bitterly, to the memory of Dr. Sen in his office doorway, swimming in an ill-fitting lab coat, nervously twisting his small dark hands. It was years ago, but he could remember every moment. Sen awkwardly telling him about the grant (did he think Percy hadn't heard?); Sen acting so sorry to learn Percy's own had been denied. Yeah, right.
It seemed like more and more of his colleagues had foreign names and accents. Chao and Lee and Lin and Chin. Hernandez. Gutierrez. Andropoulou. Dark-haired, nearsighted scholars who spoke a funny, precise, accented English that drove him crazy. Yes, they worked hard. No wonder the Institute hired them. He imagined them plotting, with Sen at the helm, to ride on the American taxpayer's back to their own professional success.
And what was the point of being a real American himself if he never got a piece of the action? Why should he be expected to help every freeloading foreigner who crossed the border? Why? Because the politicians, the reporters, the bureaucrats, the regulators had decided. The kind of jerks who were inside there, watching the game after screwing up the country all day.
What America needs is a wake-up call, he thought. No warning. No demands. A silent assault so stealthy that even its victims won't know for days. An act that will force the public to see how powerless they have become. An act of violence whose purity pulls this country back to its senses.
A dilapidated Diamond cab trundled past, snapping Percy out of his reverie. Its headlights made their shadows loom before them like silent companions. Percy wondered, not for the first time, about the men beside him. Yuri was easy to read - a mercenary Russian, trading terrorist skills for the money. But Lawrence was trickier. Whom did he work for, and what made him tick?
Percy suspected Lawrence had some connection to an embassy or organization of some kind in Washington. How else to explain the funding or the knowledge of the MCI Center and how to attack it? Percy had dared to ask only once, as the project was getting started. They were standing outside at the Georgetown harbor, where they sometimes met to talk. Lawrence had neither removed his sunglasses nor bothered to respond; just given Percy a humorless smile that chilled him to the bone. He'd never been sure if Lawrence's silence had meant "I won't tell you" or "I don't know."
7:48 p.m.: "Go Tamika! Yes! Go!" Samantha shrieked, and in spite of himself, Ed found himself swept up in her enthusiasm. He'd never been much of an athlete, but his daughter, by some miracle, was a natural, her love of playing matched only by her love of her Mystics - and they were on a roll tonight, against all expectations. Ed rose from his seat as number four sank an impossible 3-point shot. "Way to go, Colleen!" he roared, hoping Sam would notice he'd learned the player's name.
7:58 p.m.: "It's only a block away," Lawrence said quietly. "Are you ready?" Percy knew that he was, yet could only nod in assent. His dry mouth tasted as if he had sucked on a piece of copper. Was Yuri nervous? Percy thought not. Lawrence, as always, was cool and controlled. "Soon they'll be like us," Lawrence murmured. "No power. No hope. Dead."
It all began the day he learned his grant had been refused, that six and a half years of devoted research - long nights, lonely weekends, with only the animals and plates of bacteria for company - had taken a backseat to Dr. Sen and his goddamn miracle microbe. He downed most of a bottle of gin that night, then logged on to his desktop computer in search of electronic relief.
In seconds, Percy found his way to one of his secret hangouts - a home page of right-wing diatribes and extremist propaganda. Icons next to hyperlinks looked like little twinkling Molotov cocktails. "Pow!" they read when you clicked on "The Anarchist's Cookbook" or "Silent Death." The page was managed by someone called "Raz" and sponsored by someone named "Ebenezer."
He stumbled on the link to the "Rant and Rave" - a message board with the subtitle "Save Our Homeland - Share the Hate." Normally, he wouldn't have gone to a site where his presence would be recorded. But gin and fury clouded his judgment. He was lonely and wanted to let go. Hastily, furiously, Percy typed out the saga of Sen, the way that Indian had stolen his grant and rubbed it in his face. He said how sick it made him feel to have to turn to the government he hated, the government that restricted our rights and made us beg for the money the government had taken away from us in the first place. He described the work he would have done with the dollars that should have been his. He railed at immigrants - leeches sucking America's blood. And though he knew better, he clicked the mouse and let the message fly.
The next morning, he woke with a splitting headache and waves of roiling nausea. As he staggered to the bathroom, he remembered Raz and Ebenezer and the home page. Curiously, Percy felt little regret at having posted the message. No one he knew would ever find out. It was an oddly empowering feeling. Still, he resolved to stay away from Raz's page for a while. By the time the phone call came from Lawrence, Percy had almost forgotten the incident.
"Is this Percy Bysshe, from Maryland Bio-Ag Institute? Is this Dr. Bysshe, who is doing such interesting work on large animal pathogens?"
"It is," he replied, curiosity piqued. "And who are you?"
"I am a great admirer of your work," a cool voice responded. It offered a name - a string of syllables Percy had not understood - before suggesting the simple name of Lawrence. Lawrence was interested, he said, in bioagricultural science, and then spoke credibly of new developments in pathogenic research. It wasn't until he mentioned Sen that Percy grew alarmed.
How do you know Dr. Sen?" he demanded, pacing the kitchen floor with his hand-held phone. Was this some spy dispatched by Sen to steal more of his ideas? Was he being paranoid to think so?
"Ebenezer," purred the voice in the phone, "told me all about that bastard."
Percy sank mutely into a chair as Lawrence proposed they meet. He knew he could end the phone call then and there, but something compelled him to listen. Was it fear? Or was it the unexpected thrill of the strange connection? Had he sent that message in the unconscious hope that someone would respond?
And so they had met. First Percy and Lawrence, then Yuri, the Russian, joined them as well. Of course, Percy was wary, but even so, their interest in him was exciting. At first, all they wanted to do was talk about his research. Week by week, they drew him out with deferential, admiring questions - probing hypothetically at first, and then with increasing precision - on what it would take to build a lab for manufacturing disease.
Percy understood, of course, the irony of the situation. He, who loathed and resented outsiders, was treating these two like colleagues, when one was a foreigner and the other was both colored and maybe a foreigner, too. Maybe Lawrence and Yuri were different because they weren't his rivals, because they weren't trying to take away what was his by birth. Maybe they made him feel special, respected. Or maybe it was the future they offered: the money, the lab, the revenge.
"We want you to help us," Lawrence said from behind his impenetrable sunglasses. "And we want to help you. We want you, Percy, to have what you deserve. Imagine a lab with new equipment, built to your specifications. A place where you and Yuri can work together. Percy, you won't ever have to ask for money again. All we ask is for you to work with us, with Yuri, in growing a bug. He knew a lot about it in Russia. The two of you can do this. All we need is some work in the lab." All they ask, Percy realized with a start, is for me to help them kill.
Lawrence leaned forward and lowered his voice. Somehow, it became more intense. "Help us. Show them how so many of us feel. No power. No hope. Dead."
It seemed to Percy as though time had stopped. He was about to decide not only what to do, but who he was. And he could do that by acting on his hate to overcome a life of humiliation. He would do this thing. "Okay."
Yuri explained the logic for building a biological weapon. It might be possible to acquire some nuclear waste from some people who knew some people in Russia, but using it in a conventional explosive was too complex and expensive. Chemical weapons were relatively cheap and easier to prepare, but releasing them at the target put the messenger at too much risk. You wouldn't know a bioassault had taken place until symptoms later appeared, so it would be harder to detect, investigate, and deal with. And ounce for ounce, bioweapons were far deadlier.
The challenge of a biological agent, he went on, was how to ensure its delivery. Poisoning the water supply was not an option; few germs could survive the chlorine. Dispersing the agent from an airplane or helicopter imposed too many constraints; they would have to attack under cover of darkness, because bacteria are susceptible to sunlight; and too much wind would risk disrupting the necessary concentrations. "That is why," Yuri informed him grimly, "we will carry them to the target ourselves."
Percy was not surprised to learn that anthrax was their chosen bacteria. While not contagious, it is highly lethal and relatively easy to make. And you wouldn't even know you were a victim until days later, when symptoms set in. The challenge of anthrax would be in transforming it from a liquid slurry to a powder. They'd need to be sure the dried particles were exactly .001 to .005 millimeters in diameter - small enough not to sink to the ground, yet big enough to be retained in their victims' lungs, where the anthrax spores would enter the bloodstream and begin the deadly process of replication.
Lawrence told Percy to make up a list of all the equipment he'd need. He would locate a space and foot the bill for setting up the lab. Then Percy was to steal a sample of anthrax from the Institute. Percy and Yuri would grow the bacteria, which Yuri and Lawrence would disperse.
Most of what they needed for the lab was easily accessible - equipment and solutions with commercial uses for products from pesticides to beer. Internet sites and mail-order catalogs presented a wide selection. Scores of scientists across the country ordered products like these every day. Percy prepared a shopping list of the biggest-ticket items: computer-controlled fermenter, centrifugal separator, freeze-dryer, high-efficiency particulate air filter. "And don't forget," he told Lawrence with a forced smile, "we'll need good surgical masks. At least until we can inoculate ourselves." Soon, Yuri sent word that the lab would be built in a "safe house" in Gaithersburg, Maryland. "Friends of Lawrence's," the Russian assured him. "Totally discreet."
Stealing the seed agent from the Institute proved much easier than expected. As in many labs, tough security standards were weakened by human carelessness. In Percy's department, where radioactivity, pathogenic bacteria, and biohazardous waste were part of the work environment, even the best scientists sometimes slipped in observing security protocols.
Percy knew that one of his colleagues was working with bacillus anthrax. He'd seen the delivery of the glass ampules from U.S. Bio Culture Source. But pocketing a vial was far too risky; it would be missed right away. Instead, Percy waited for Dr. Lin to start culturing the bacteria, carefully noting the time each day that he left the Bio-Containment Facility. This Bio-Containment Facility, ranked P-3, was for highly toxic materials. The doors were meant to be locked at all times, except to authorized users. But one afternoon, as Percy lingered nonchalantly in the hall, Dr. Lin exited the facility for a phone call and left the door ajar. Quickly, Percy slipped inside. The fermenter was right in front of him. Using a pipette, he transferred 1 milliliter of the culture to a plastic test tube. The entire procedure took a matter of seconds. Nobody noticed a thing.
Working evenings and weekends in the makeshift lab, Percy and Yuri were soon able to culture several kilos of concentrated anthrax slurry. At this stage, the surgical masks they wore were enough to protect themselves.
The second phase of the project was more difficult and more risky. They had to concentrate the slurry in the continuous-flow centrifuge, reduce it to a solid by careful freeze-drying, and mill the dried cake into dispersible powder - an extremely sophisticated procedure. Everything would need to be completely contained to avoid contamination, with hoods over the machines and arm-length gloves to guard against infection. Grinding the microscopic, amber-colored particles could take months to achieve the right size. Fifty to one hundred bioparticles in a row would be just the width of a human hair. Even after they had immunized themselves, they were very, very careful.
Percy was relieved, if a little jealous, when Yuri produced a detailed protocol. "I arranged a little 'gift' for a friend," the Russian told him with a shrug. "He used to work at Biopreparat. Now he makes pesticide in Ukraine. Do you think the Soviet Union wasn't building bioweapons? There are thousands of Russian scientists with this knowledge."
Within weeks, the powder was ready to be loaded into spraying devices. Lawrence resurfaced to check on their progress and fill Yuri in on the plan.
Percy felt an odd pang of regret that the project was almost over. His mouth was dry behind his mask as he looked around the lab. Was he a coward, to have worked only on manufacturing the microbe? Was this enough to be a man of action? What would it feel like to take another's life with his own hands? Remember, a small inner voice reassured him, no one will ever know. That's right. No one would ever know. Like the anthrax spores, unseen, unnoticed, yet filled with the power of death over life, he would reverse his pathetic life and strike an invisible blow. He would help the other two in the delivery, if they would let him. And they did.
8:02 p.m.: Halftime. Ed held Sam's hand as they made their way down the stands and out to the corridor. Her face was red with pleasure but also hot with sweat. The cooler air was refreshing after the heat being pumped inside. Throngs of cheerful Mystics fans paraded through the hallways as music blared from the loudspeakers and spirited vendors hawked their wares. "One beer and one large ginger ale," Ed said when they reached the counter. "Oh, yeah," he added as Sam tugged his hand. "Lots of ice in the ginger ale."
"Thanks, Daddy." His daughter had a mischievous look. She belched after the first sip. He was proud even of that.
8:03 p.m.: Down Ninth Street to a vacant lot just north of the MCI Center. A fence topped with barbed wire guarded the lot, but the gates at the ends of the fence nearest the Center were carelessly left open, as Lawrence had said. Crossing the lot, looking as natural as possible. Reaching the air intake at the darkened northeast corner of the building. Percy and Yuri standing on either side of Lawrence, watching the streets a few dozen yards away, blocking the vision of any passersby. Lawrence putting on a mask . . . taking the small container from his pocket . . . releasing the amber-colored powder, finer than talc. Percy glancing down behind him to see and experience the exact moment, disappointed he couldn't see his powder as it was sucked into the intake on its invisible, deadly voyage.
Walking away, now, across to Seventh Street and turning left back toward G Street, Chinatown, and the car. Looking natural. Two days, then, in which to get away. Where would the others go? He didn't want to know and hadn't told them his own plans. He hoped, but didn't really believe, they would never find him again.
Sunday, April 25, 2003; Washington, D.C.
4:17 a.m.: Ed woke up with a start and a groan. What time was it? He rubbed his temples. It felt like his head was burning up. His lungs constricted painfully. Maybe this was a heart attack. No. He was only thirty-seven. Why did it hurt so much to breathe? My God, he felt terrible.
Sarah was deep in sleep at his side. Whatever he had, she hadn't caught it. That was good - she was already stressed about the speech she was giving tomorrow. He brushed a hand over her fine blond hair, so similar to their daughter's. He wouldn't wake Sarah up just yet. No need for her to worry.
With effort, Ed pulled himself out of bed and made his way into the hallway. His T-shirt was soaked with sweat. Could it be an allergic reaction? Wheezing a little, he entered the den and picked up the phone. Dr. Murphy would know what to do. Now, where did they keep his number?
It was only when Ed went back into the hall that he heard Sam's labored breathing. "Sweetie....?" he asked, pushing open her door.
"Daddy," she gasped, "I don't feel so good."
Biological, Chemical, and Nuclear Weapons:
The Tool Kit of Tomorrow's Terrorists?
In case you are wondering, there is no ventilation duct within reach of the ground at the MCI Center. But federal and state authorities did hold an exercise on dealing with a chemical attack there. And yes, the production and effects of anthrax are as described.
The particles of a bioweapon are invisible to the human eye. Each is just 1 to 5 microns in diameter - a micron equaling 1/1000 of a millimeter, or one-fiftieth the width of a human hair.
There is no smell to alert you, no taste, no sight to warn an attack is under way. The first signal comes a few days later, as the symptoms begin to emerge.
These are the effects of inhaling a mere eight thousand spores of anthrax, a dose smaller than one of the dots of this colon: After entering your lungs, the spores travel to your lymph nodes, where they multiply and spread throughout your body. Within two to five days, you develop a high fever. Difficulty breathing. Chest pain. Vomiting. This progresses to acute respiratory distress, blood poisoning, and shock. Antibiotics can only delay the disease process. If you stop taking the antibiotics, anthrax may reappear. Your only hope of cure is to be immunized during the antibiotic treatment and pray your body is able to mount a protective immune response.
What are your chances of surviving such a tiny dose of inhaled, weapons-grade anthrax? Maybe 50 percent. That's why the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment concluded in a 1993 study that a single airplane delivering only 100 kilograms of anthrax - a mere .2562 cubic yards - over Washington, D.C., after dusk on a calm night could kill many hundreds of thousands of people.
Even worse could be the product of "black biology," such as a genetically engineered, antibiotic-resistant strain of anthrax, as reportedly developed by Russian scientists at the Soviet bioweapons conglomerate Biopreparat. Or a wildly contagious disease like smallpox, which can pass from person to person in a murderous microbial chain. (Only about 10 percent of our population is now inoculated against the disease.) Or incurable Ebola and pneumonic plague. Or bubonic plague, cholera, or botulism. Not to mention the nightmarish notion of chimeras - viruses that, like their mythological namesake, are monsters made up of different parts. Scientists dispute whether chimera viruses already have been developed, such as an Ebola-smallpox hybrid that combines the worst aspects of both. But as genetic engineering continues to advance, so does the frightening likelihood that someone, somewhere will try to create them.
Terrorists who lack the scientific expertise to develop biological agents could turn more easily to chemical weapons, including nerve agents like sarin or VX. Sarin, also known as GB, was discovered in 1938 by a German company doing research on new pesticides. Inhalation of sarin's colorless, odorless fumes leads to difficulty breathing, headache, chest pain, choking cough, vomiting, impaired hand-eye coordination, and loss of control over body functions. Within minutes, it can result in convulsions and death by respiratory paralysis.
VX entered popular culture in the 1996 movie The Rock, in which a disgruntled brigadier general leads a team of renegade commandos in stealing VX from a military compound, taking tourists hostage on Alcatraz, and threatening to launch the VX on missiles aimed for San Francisco. (I liked the movie, but found its missile scenario more credible than its portrayal of instant communications in our government, even at high levels. In fact, during a number of crises, we had trouble reaching each other at all, much less instantly - and were never able satisfactorily to fix the problem.)
VX has never been used since it was first developed by the United States in the 1950s - and this is a merciful thing. VX, which is ten times more lethal than sarin, can kill either by being inhaled or by contact with skin. With its mineral oil-like consistency, it can persist on the ground for a period of several weeks, posing a longer-term contamination hazard than more volatile chemical substances. As with sarin, VX attacks the nervous system and causes an ugly death by suffocation.
The most familiar weapons of mass destruction (WMD) are nuclear devices. We like to think that nuclear weapons are the exclusive property of a few governments. But if terrorists choose the nuclear course, they need not rely on possession of sophisticated nuclear devices - though such a prospect is by no means impossible. Former Director of Central Intelligence John Deutch has warned of the terrible damage that a mixture of radioactive waste and conventional explosives could do in one of our cities.
HOW REAL IS THE THREAT?
Why would such terrible weapons appeal to terrorists? Aren't terrorists traditionally drawn to the bomb and the gun - weapons that are more "heroic" than a stealthy, silent killer like anthrax? Wouldn't it be easier to use such familiar means? Wouldn't the use of a weapon of mass destruction so revolt the public that the cause for which the terrorists had acted would be undermined, not advanced? Wouldn't any government supporting such an attack be subject to overwhelming retaliation? And, in any case, isn't the number of terrorist attacks in decline?
The good news is that it is apparently possible both to deter some state sponsorship of terrorism and to lessen the likelihood that such a state would use a weapon of mass destruction. In 1991, President Bush's warnings seem to have dissuaded Saddam Hussein from using Iraq's arsenal of chemical and biological weapons during the Gulf War. Similarly, Saddam's use of terror beyond Iraq's borders has apparently subsided since President Clinton launched military strikes against targets in Baghdad in 1993. We cannot know with certainty that the strikes deterred him. But it is better to be uncertain about why he has refrained than to be investigating why he has not. It may be instructive briefly to tell the story of this exercise in punishment and deterrence.
Some have written that we had insufficient reason for the attack. That, I believe, is nonsense.
On April 14, 1993, the same day that former President Bush arrived in Kuwait for a visit to the country he was primarily responsible for saving from the Iraqis, police there arrested a group of Iraqi terrorists and their Kuwaiti collaborators. The ten Iraqis had infiltrated across the border the night before with plans for three different ways of killing Bush on the fifteenth - and the explosives and weapons with which to carry them out. Their bomb, which contained approximately 80 kilograms of explosives, would have killed not only our former leader. It had the power to murder anyone standing within 400 yards, or farther than Tiger Woods can drive a golf ball.
On April 27, the Kuwaiti government announced that two of the Iraqis had confessed to the plot. Our own CIA was convinced that the Iraqi government was implicated. If so, it was clear to all of the President's senior national security advisors, and to the President, that an American response was required. To make sure that the Kuwaiti case for the plot was solid, we asked the Justice Department, which had the technical resources to best evaluate the evidence, to work with the Kuwaitis, and give the President their judgment. While it did so, the Joint Chiefs of Staff developed their plans for a retaliatory strike. The planning soon focused on the headquarters in Baghdad of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, a large, six-story building with three wings. As my deputy and friend Sandy Berger and I met with Secretary of Defense Les Aspin and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Colin Powell, and their planners, it became clear to us that it was the right target. It would send a clear message to the Iraqi officials actually involved in conducting the plot and disrupt their ability to act in the future.
I soon came to regret that the Justice Department was given more than a technical role in deciding the issue. While we needed their expert help, they brought to their recommendation a standard of proof that would later hold up in an American court - and on this and other foreign terrorist incidents, especially when the government with whom we are working may not be completely forthcoming, gaining such evidence is no easy task. Finally, in early June, the trial of the accused began in Kuwait City. Two weeks or so later, the Justice Department joined the CIA in concluding that Baghdad was behind the plot.
On the evening of June 24, in the President's family quarters, the President and Vice President heard from the President's senior advisors on the issue: Aspin, Powell, Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Director of Central Intelligence James Woolsey, Attorney General Janet Reno, Berger, and me. The President, who had followed the planning during the previous weeks, gave his final approval to the target. His major concern was the possibility - indeed, likelihood - that there would be civilian casualties from the Tomahawk missiles that might miss the building and land in the adjacent neighborhood. Once assured by Powell that they would be kept to a minimum, the President gave his approval for an attack - to take place after sunset following the Muslim Sabbath.
After the meeting broke up, the President and I walked down the corridor toward the exit from the family quarters. I told him that I admired the way he had frontally addressed the question of casualties. This takes more courage than shying away from the human reality of such decisions. It is all too easy for government officials in Washington to numb themselves to the fact that they are forced to recommend or issue orders that will result in the deaths of American and foreign human beings. Government memoranda are replete with the abstractions designed to allow such numbing. In such language, the President in this case was concerned about "collateral damage." In fact, he was concerned about innocent human beings.
When I think of President Clinton, this very human figure, I often recall his hands as they pulled apart his morning bagel at the national security briefings that began his working days. They are surprisingly delicate hands for such a substantial figure, with long fingers most suited to a concert pianist. But as with his surprising hands, he is an immensely complicated as well as talented person who defies simple description. A very tough politician, he hates to offend even his enemies. Genuinely warm and capable of extraordinary friendship, he has not always rewarded the loyalty of his subordinates (although I never had any complaints on that score). Extremely intelligent, his thinking is as much intuitive as linear. He loves jokes but can miss irony. He is one of the most generous and empathetic people I have ever known, but, like so many of his predecessors, also self-absorbed. Yes, he cares about himself. But he also cares, as much as any leader we have seen in generations, about the welfare of the people he has led. It is one reason I have retained a genuine affection for him.
The charge that President Clinton is a cynic who believes in too little is flatly wrong. My first extended time with him was in Little Rock in late 1991, working with him on a campaign speech on national security. As we talked through each paragraph, he did not react as other candidates I have seen in similar situations. He did not ask how the listeners might react to what he would say, although that, of course, was an unspoken criterion. Quite unconsciously, I thought, at the end of almost every section he had approved, he said, "Yes. I believe that."
Indeed, I think that his tendency has always been to believe too much, not too little. And, immensely talented, throughout his life he was able to have it all, to avoid making truly hard choices. But I saw, over the four years I worked with him, how he moved ever more confidently in making such choices, beginning with the attack on Baghdad in the spring of 1993.
Some critics of the President's decision alleged that he acted out of political calculation. In fact, that couldn't be farther from the truth. The next day, I happened on the President and two of his senior White House aides as they sat in a little garden off the West Wing. His two advisors were questioning the attack on the grounds that the inevitable pictures on CNN of civilian casualties would create a negative public backlash in the United States. I argued, with some heat, that the President could not now go back on the decision that he had made. Yes, we would see casualties on CNN. But while we would never know how many people would be saved by deterring further Iraqi terrorism nor ever see their faces, their lives were real as well. And they hung in the balance. The President dismissed these last-minute hesitations.
The attack took place as scheduled at 4:22 EDT on June 26. Since it was the middle of the night in Baghdad, we would have no photographic evidence of the results for some hours. We had hoped that there would be immediate CNN coverage of the results, but their correspondents had gone from Iraq to Amman, Jordan. The President, Vice President, and a few others gathered in the little dining room off the Oval Office some minutes before the President was due to go to his desk to televise an address to the nation. We heard that CNN had received confirmation that the headquarters had, indeed, been hit - the report coming to a CNN employee from a relative living in Baghdad. The President asked if we could be sure of this report. I told him that we could have only "relative" certainty. He seemed only moderately amused.
The intelligence headquarters was, in fact, badly damaged. There were civilian casualties in the immediate vicinity. Years later, the President was to remember the name of one of those who died, with concern for the loss of life but not, I believe, with regret for having ordered the attack. For it probably has helped deter further Iraqi terrorism. This suggests that deterrence of such state-sponsored terrorism remains possible. It is also a positive fact that the number of terrorist attacks was lower in the late 1990s than it was a decade earlier. Total terrorist attacks in 1987 numbered 666; in 1998, there were 273.
So much for the good news. There is bad news, too. While the number of terrorist incidents has decreased, they have become more destructive, with many claiming more victims. The casualty rates of recent attacks against Americans form a tragic litany of loss: the World Trade Center bombing (six dead, more than a thousand injured); Oklahoma City (168 dead, more than 500 injured); Khobar Towers (19 dead, some 500 wounded); U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (more than 250 dead and upwards of 5,000 wounded).
Moreover, the profile of the terrorists is changing in ways that make them harder to deter. And access to weapons of mass destruction is easier in a world of globalization.
These factors do not conclusively mean that America will suffer a WMD terrorist attack on our soil within the next five years. But given the consequences and the increasing probability, our society needs to act, not out of hysteria, which is neither warranted by the facts nor useful as a spur to effective action, but out of prudence. If such an attack occurs, we must be able to say, looking back on this period, that we did everything we could to prevent it and to deal with its devastating consequences.
The hard truth is that we are not doing so.
The Changing Face of Terror
According to a 1998 government study commissioned by Attorney General Reno, "the single most significant deficiency in the nation's ability to combat terrorism is a lack of information, particularly regarding domestic terrorism." The report expressed major concerns over "increased activity by small cells of terrorists or individuals who are inspired by, but not affiliated with, terrorist groups, thus making them harder to identify and stop."
This is true as well, though perhaps to a lesser extent, with international terrorists. They more often act in organized groups, but the ties of such groups to each other - and to foreign governments - are increasingly murky. As New York Times reporter Tim Weiner observed in the wake of the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa,
The networks are by nature almost impossible to unravel. The chain of command in a sophisticated group connects the intellectual author of the terror to the attackers who carry out his will. But that chain has many links, and no one person in the chain may know the identity of the next. The man who builds the bomb may know nothing of the man who pays him, or the man who drives the bomb to its target. So locating a bomber or his car may lead nowhere.
Most important, the aim of both domestic and foreign terrorists seems to be changing. While political terror remains a reality, as in the case of Hamas, more and more, the postmodern terrorist is motivated simply by hate. Hatred of the West. Hatred of the United States Government as the destroyer of liberties at home and of traditional values abroad. Hatred of modern technology and a modern, godless, global society. Hatred of "them": other men, women, and children who, because different in belief or ethnic heritage, are seen as less worthy, less good, less human. Hatred inspired by religious feeling, in contradiction to the tenets of all major religions. Hatred, and, thus, revenge. As Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, who killed three people and injured almost thirty before his capture in 1995, wrote in his diary in April 1971, "I act merely from my desire for revenge... I believe in nothing." (Kaczynski was in the class behind me at college. I do not recall him. I'm grateful he did not recall me.)
For such people, the murder and maiming of innocents is an existential act that is driven by the very worst angels of their nature. Acting alone or in shadowy groupings like those of Usama bin Ladin, these terrorists are harder to identify before they strike and to apprehend after they do. Acting without clear ties to foreign governments, they cannot be stopped by threats or retaliation against those governments. Acting without clear political goals, they are not self-deterred by concerns about popular reaction to their acts. Religious fanatics, whose only constituent is God, believe they answer to a higher authority. Brian Jenkins writes, "Whether that god speaks through the mouth of some angry sheik, extremist rabbi, fundamentalist preacher, or mad guru in Tokyo, if he says that it is permissible to kill indiscriminately, then the constraints of conventional morality fall away." As "Meggie," a member of the antisemitic and racist Christian Identity movement, explains in an essay on the World Wide Web,
The Bible is chock full of things we are to hate. I think Solomon, known as the wisest man, said it best. If anyone respects and fears God, he will hate evil. For wisdom hates pride, arrogance, corruption, and deceit of every kind (Proverbs 8:13, TLB). This includes people who hate God....
Is there a thinking person in this country that would say we have justice anymore? Can they really not say this country is going to hell in a hand basket at breakneck speed? Can they say that Yah reigns supreme here? I don't think so. Could our problems stem from our refusing to hate? What does Yahweh say? HATE EVIL... (Amos 5:15, TLB).
Such messages contribute to an atmosphere of intolerance and divisiveness that, at the extreme, could be used to justify violence.
Acting against the symbols of the global technological, economic, and cultural forces the new terrorists like McVeigh hate - whether federal buildings, corporate headquarters, military bases, abortion clinics, or U.S. embassies - they put at increasing risk the nation, citizens, and businesses seen as at the heart of those global forces: America and Americans.
It follows that while these criminals are drawn to traditional means of destruction - guns and explosives - they will turn also to weapons of mass destruction. The bullet and bomb were seen as "heroic" by traditional, politically motivated terrorists. The new terrorists are haters, not self-anointed heroes. Their aim is to lash out, to kill. And how better to kill than using weapons of mass destruction?
Global World, Global Weapons
Gaining access to weapons of mass destruction is not a simple task.
While biological agents are relatively easy to grow or obtain, transforming them into substances that can be spread effectively is a far more complex procedure. And once a terrorist has a weaponized agent, he still faces the challenge of delivery. Poisoning a water supply is much harder than it sounds, as sunlight and chlorine kill waterborne organisms. To launch aerosolized pathogens successfully indoors, a terrorist would need knowledge "on the rate at which the air is exchanged in a building being attacked, the number of cubic feet of space serviced by the air handling system, and the dosage required to inflict a human casualty with the agent being used" in order for mass casualties to result. Outdoor dispersal depends heavily on the weather; ultraviolet rays destroy most pathogens, and wind can blow a bioweapon far from its intended target. Moreover, production of bioweapons is risky. According to Karl Lowe:
Even the best vaccines can be overpowered by large doses of agent, a problem that makes most laboratories so concerned with safety. Because a biological agent's producers and deliverers are likely to come into contact with very high doses, they would be at extraordinary risk unless wearing a properly fitted mask whenever they are exposed (making it hard to remain unobtrusive when attempting to disseminate the agent). This is particularly true if the terrorist group wants to produce a dry agent since an electrostatic charge is imparted to particles during drying and humans attract them quite readily.
Similarly, the manufacture of chemical weapons can be unpredictable and dangerous. Making sarin, for example, involves high temperatures and the use of a highly corrosive chemical that is difficult to handle. Moreover, if the terrorists aim to stockpile the sarin, they must distill excess hydrochloric acid from the product, which is an extremely hazardous procedure. Because handling and storing the virulent chemicals is so dangerous, terrorists might be attracted to binary chemical weapons, in which two relatively safe precursors are mixed together at short notice to produce the toxic agent. But manual mixing would be enormously perilous. On the other hand, obtaining or developing an automated mixer would require significant resources and expertise.
A lump of plutonium the size of an apple is big enough to build a nuclear bomb. There are, however, numerous obstacles involved in manufacturing even a small amount of weapons-grade material. Stealing or diverting such material, while possible, would likely demand extensive resources. Even assuming a nation or terrorist group could acquire sufficient enriched fissile material, additional high-explosive components would need to be developed and tested in order to make the material into a weapon. Handling the plutonium or highly enriched uranium would pose serious safety hazards. And the weapons would need a delivery system - itself a complex undertaking.
But the end of the Cold War and the rising tide of globalization are eroding these technical barriers. Terrorists are exploiting global forces to gain access to the keys of mass destruction.
The Internet has enabled societal fringe groups, religious cults, and extremist political organizations, traditionally geographically confined, to build large organizational networks, exchange information, and combine resources. For example, Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, the mastermind of the World Trade Center bombing, used the Internet to send encrypted messages. Subcomandante Marcos, the leader of a rebel movement in the Chiapas region of Mexico, used his organization's Web site to spread propaganda for its cause.
The Internet also is an easily accessible resource of manuals for mayhem and murder. Uncle Fester's Silent Death includes recipes for botulism, shellfish toxin, and ricin. The Jolly Roger Cookbook covers topics like making fertilizer bombs and buying explosives and propellants. The Terrorist Handbook and Anarchist's Cookbook offer similar "how-to's" for destruction. It takes a matter of minutes to track down such texts using popular Internet search engines.
The globalization of the chemical industry has led to a rise in international flows of precursor chemicals - and makes such flows increasingly hard to monitor. Many chemicals that could be used to make chemical weapons have legitimate commercial and even medical uses. For example, some of the ingredients used to make sarin are consumed by commercial industry in millions of tons per year. Even more specialized sarin precursors are legitimately employed to make products like pesticides and fire retardants. And because trade flows are so extensive, would-be terrorists have a greater ability to order weapons components in a piecemeal fashion, thus mitigating suspicion.
The collapse of the USSR, combined with the wholesale transformation of Russia's society and market, has exposed the nuclear security system of the former Soviet Union to unprecedented risks. In November 1998, William C. Potter, director of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California, who had visited ten Russian nuclear-materials sites that year, reported that, "many of the storage buildings which contain approximately 70,000 nuclear weapons equivalents of highly enriched uranium and plutonium.... have no perimeter fences, armed guards, vehicle barriers, operational surveillance cameras and metal and radiation detectors at entrances." In September 1998 one building at an institute in Moscow had been found completely unguarded although it contained 100 kilograms of highly enriched uranium. The institute could not afford a $200-per-month guard.
Along with the problem of Russian "loose nukes" are what might be termed "loose geeks" and "loose spooks" - former Soviet scientists and KGB operatives with WMD expertise. These individuals, once privileged members of the elite, now may find themselves unemployed or struggling to provide for their families. Economic vulnerability could lead such persons to sell their savvy on the WMD black market.
Globalization has dramatically multiplied the flows of goods across borders, making it effectively impossible to check what comes in and goes out of our country. Referring to the drug trade, one U.S. official noted, "A lot is hidden in plain sight." In 1996, 75 million cars, 3.5 million trucks and railroad cars, and 254 million people crossed from Mexico into America. At some of the thirty-eight official border crossings, fewer than 5 percent of the vehicles were searched.
And as modern societies become more dependent on integrated, highly technical infrastructures - the systems that run our banks, our airways, our telecommunications, our utilities - we become more vulnerable to new forms of attack, especially cyberterror.
This is not futurology or science fiction or nail-biting fiction. It is not scare-mongering or hysteria. It is not deductions from the present time, extended to the future. This is the present. It is now. It is here. We have crossed the threshold to the era of high-tech terror, including the use of weapons of mass destruction.
At 8:05 a.m. on March 20, 1995, members of the Aum Shinrikyo (Supreme Truth) launched a WMD terrorist attack on the crowded Tokyo subway. Five two-person teams disguised as businessmen placed eleven sarin-filled plastic bags on trains headed for a central hub station. As the trains neared the station, one member of each team punctured the bag with the tip of an umbrella while the other cult member kept watch. The clear puddles of sarin evaporated slowly, giving all but one of the terrorists sufficient time to escape. As the poisonous fumes spread throughout the packed cars and onto the rush-hour platforms, hundreds of commuters were overcome - staggering and collapsing in sixteen stations along the three subway lines. The final toll was twelve people dead and more than five thousand injured. Had the Aum used better-quality sarin and a more sophisticated method of dispersal, the incident could have been even worse - with casualties in the tens of thousands.
This attack could just as well have taken place in the United States, or against American citizens. Indeed, in April 1990, the Aum - which was also experimenting with biological agents - sent a convoy of trucks armed with botulism microbes on a mission to attack U.S. bases. The trucks sprayed clouds of invisible mist at American Navy installations at Yokohama and Yokosuka. Fortunately, no one got sick as a result; the strain may have been weak, or Aum's delivery methods flawed. But the Aum continued trying to cultivate bacteria - including anthrax, Ebola, and Q fever - testing their weapons, always unsuccessfully, from rooftops and trucks throughout Tokyo.
It may have been because making germ weapons proved so hard that the Aum resorted to sarin in their March 1995 assault. In fact, the cult had originally planned to release the nerve gas in the United States in June 1994. For reasons that remain unclear, they attacked the Japanese city of Matsumoto instead; 7 people died as a result and more than 150 were injured.
The Aum is not the only group to have pursued WMD capabilities.
In 1984, members of an Oregon cult led by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh contaminated restaurant salad bars with homegrown salmonella bacteria in an effort to affect the outcome of a local election. As a result 750 people became ill and 45 were hospitalized.
In 1993, the terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center allegedly laced their weapon with cyanide. U.S. District Court sentencing judge Kevin Duffy said, "Thank God the sodium cyanide burned instead of vaporizing [or] everybody in the north tower would have been killed."
In August 1994, reportedly as part of a sting operation, German officials seized 363 grams of plutonium from a Lufthansa flight arriving in Munich from Moscow.
In December 1994, Czech police arrested a Czech, a Russian, and a Byelorussian with ties to the nuclear industry and seized 2.72 kilograms of weapons-grade highly enriched uranium.
In March 1995, Douglas Baker and Leroy Wheeler of the right-wing Minnesota Patriots Council were convicted of unlawful possession of biological weapons - specifically ricin - with the apparent intent to poison Internal Revenue Service agents and a deputy U.S. marshal.
In May 1995, Larry Wayne Harris, who had ties to the white supremacist group Aryan Nation, was arrested for misrepresenting himself in ordering three vials of freeze-dried bubonic plague bacteria from American Type Culture Collection in Maryland.
In 1993, Thomas Lewis Lavy, an American with ties to survivalist groups, was stopped by Canadian border officials while he was attempting to smuggle 130 grams of ricin from Alaska into Canada.
In addition, the reported actions of governments demonstrate the dangers:
In 1941, the British government conducted experiments at Gruinard Island off the coast of Scotland to see whether anthrax could be successfully delivered by bombs. The result: Yes, it could. And Gruinard was uninhabitable for decades since anthrax spores survived in the soil.
In 1968, the United States conducted an extensive strategic test of a bioweapon powder. Enough ships to have made the world's fifth-largest independent navy were positioned around the Johnston Atoll, 1,000 miles southwest of Hawaii. At sunset, a Marine jet flew a "line-source laydown," releasing small amounts of weaponized particles with every mile of flight. The particles traveled over the ocean, where barges loaded with hundreds of rhesus monkeys were stationed. The monkeys were taken back to Johnston Atoll. Within days, half the monkeys had died. Military analysts concluded that a similar laydown over an American city would likely kill more people than a 10-megaton hydrogen bomb.
On April 2, 1979, a plume of anthrax leaked from a secret Soviet research facility on the outskirts of Sverdlovsk (now called Yekaterinaburg), 850 miles east of Moscow. This facility, known as Compound 19, was a bioweapons factory. As the poisonous cloud made its way downwind, unsuspecting villagers and livestock breathed its lethal fumes. Within days, a serious outbreak had begun. Doctors were baffled; first they thought it was pneumonia, then the severity of patients' chest pain led them to diagnose heart attacks. Eventually, specialists from Moscow arrived and confirmed the disease was anthrax. Antibiotics were largely ineffective. Some people died outside the hospital, at home, or even in the streets. While the incident continues to be shrouded in secrecy, an estimated ninety-six people lost their lives.
Since 1992, more fissile material is known to have been stolen from the former Soviet Union than the United States was able to produce in the first three years of the Manhattan Project.29 This is especially alarming when you keep in mind that producing or acquiring fissile material presents the hardest and most time-consuming aspect of developing a nuclear bomb - not constructing the device itself. I recall that the usual estimate of our government experts was generally ten years or so for another nation to build the bomb. Most of that period was required for production of weapons-grade fissile material. If it could be stolen or bought, the estimate of a decade would be radically shortened.
As of 1998, twenty-seven nations were known to have nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons. Russia alone has a declared arsenal of forty thousand tons of chemical weapons that it promised by treaty to destroy but now cannot afford to do.30 These weapons states pose a double danger: not only of using their arsenals themselves, but of increasing - intentionally or otherwise - the weapons' availability to terrorists.
Iraq has declared that it possessed the following in the 1990s: 2,245 gallons of anthrax, enough to kill billions; 5,125 gallons of botulinum toxin, enough to wipe out the population of the Earth several times; and 4 metric tons of VX, a nerve agent so deadly that a single drop can kill.31 After Saddam Hussein turned away United Nations weapons inspectors in December 1998, these substances remained unaccounted for, along with dozens of other WMD components, including at least 157 aerial bombs filled with germ agents, at least 25 missile warheads containing germ agents, more than 30,000 munitions filled with chemical weapons, 4,000 tons of precursor chemicals, and design drawings and materials for building nuclear weapons and ballistic materials.
Which weapon of mass destruction are we most likely to see in a terrorist assault in the United States or against our citizens and interests abroad?
Chemical weapons are certainly the easiest to use and the cheapest to develop. Nuclear weapons are the most dramatic, but they are expensive and difficult to acquire and deploy. Many experts lean toward biological weapons, which are easier to make than nuclear devices and far more lethal than their chemical cousins. This gruesome combination of availability and killing capacity could render bioweapons irresistible. "It is really a matter of time," microbiologist Raymond Zilinskas of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute has concluded. "I don't understand why it hasn't happened already."
Whatever the likelihood of such an attack, the consequences could be so catastrophic that we must do what we can to forestall one. At the same time, on top of all you have just read about the dangers of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists, there is another instrument that could wreak widespread havoc. One that is still more likely to be used against us - and soon. Thus, the nightmare in the next chapter.
Table of Contents
|Introduction: The Locusts Munching||ix|
|Chapter 1||New Tools for New Terrorists||1|
|Chapter 2||eTerror, eCrime||33|
|Chapter 3||Ambiguous Warfare||66|
|Chapter 4||Peacekeeping As Permanent Band-Aid||107|
|Chapter 5||The Perils of Weakness||175|
|Chapter 6||The Sixth Nightmare: Washington, D.C.||235|
|Epilogue: The Big Dog Threatened||274|