While terrorism, whether against individuals, groups, nation-states, has been around since the beginning of history, the tools of terrorism were generally limited in their ability to inflict injury or death.  In the past it required an army, a state of anarchy, or a group of citizens acting in unison to cause significant death or injury to a segment of the population and to cause a state of fear or panic to prevail. Inhuman acts of terrorism can and do occur today, using knives/swords/machetes, supplemented by explosives, automatic rifles and grenades as happened in Communist Cambodia where millions were slaughtered and hundreds of thousands died in Rhwanda.  It took a state-supported army and an insurrection to successfully perpetrate these acts of terror. 


The issue today is that with development of new technology, tools of warfare and terrorism are merging and their effectiveness is improving dramatically.  In the past the primary targets of terrorism were direct attacks on people and while that is still true today, the new technologies of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons which in some cases are available to terrorists today, allow a few individuals to achieve levels of destruction that even armies could not inflict in the past.


Because the terrorist group is not an entity that can be negotiated with or be held accountable and often is anonymous,  there are potentially no limits to acts of terrorism.  Today the limiting factors to terrorism appear to be self preservation, (i.e. the risk factor associated with acts of terrorism), any self imposed moral or political constraints, which may be non existent and are generally not visible to outside observers and the ability of terrorist groups to obtain, understand and know how to use the most destructive tools of terrorism  (nuclear, biological and chemical) which fall into the Weapons of Mass Destruction category.


I would contend that today, the “Threshold of Use” has not been successfully crossed by terrorists into the area of weapons of mass destruction.  Whatever we may say about terrorists, they are most likely motivated by mission success and self preservation.  They would like to be assured that whatever tools they use  will lead to a successful achievement of their goals and to their survival, unless it's a suicidal mission such as often perpetrated by the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka. To succeed at their goal terrorists want to stay in familiar territory, use tools they understand, i.e. explosives and that they know will work. This premise sets up a line which has to be crossed when attempting to use new techniques, tools or to cross into the area of  Weapons of Mass Destruction.   The potential of massive damage and large psychological impact, may tempt them to move across the threshold into the Weapons of Mass Destruction area.   Because it may be difficult to obtain a nuclear weapon or to build their own  and to deal with the  complexity of use, these first attempts to cross the threshold are likely to be made by well financed and well organized, state sponsored terrorist groups that have the resources to acquire and use nuclear devices.  Although biological and chemical agents are easier to obtain, the same issues apply in dealing with the complexity of effective use and avoidance of self- contamination.  Then there is the issue of traceability  and retaliation.   Even Osama bin Laden might think twice about the risks of a nuclear, biological, or chemical  attack where potentially the rewards for capture or efforts to destroy his organization  may reach astronomical levels and that there might not be a place on the earth to hide.  After all, his attacks against the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya were effective using conventional means.  For a terrorist group, the prospect of massive destruction and death may be enticing, but the threshold to use Weapons of Mass Destruction is high.   The problem with these assumptions is that they sound rational and while they may apply to many terrorists, there are exceptions, they are real and they are dangerous.               


A plan to cross that threshold using chemical warfare agents was being prepared by the Aum Shinrikyo Cult in Japan.  It had the resources, scientific talent and an organization that could carry out an extensive attack that would kill tens to hundreds of thousands of people throughout the world.   Simply stated, their plan was to shake up the world, start insurrections, wars and conflicts so they could rise to the top.  Their plan might have succeeded in killing large numbers of people, had it not been for their attempt to rush into the attack mode by staging the Tokyo subway attack, using sarin gas, a nerve agent, which killed 12 people and injured some 5000.  It also blew the cover off their organization, caused widespread arrests and seizure of some of their assets.  In effect, Aum Shinrikyo hurriedly crossed the threshold into chemical warfare area against a civilian population without achieving its objectives for a dispersed well coordinated attack.   Aum Shinrikyo, in terms of its financial backing, resources, organization and scientific talent today could be equated to the resources available to a narco cartel, crime syndicate or other transnational or state sponsored organization. It is important to consider that if Aum Shinrikyo was  planning to kill a hundred thousand people, why not a million or ten million given the opportunity .  Aum Shinrikyo took the world and terrorism watchers by surprise with its great potential for causing massive deaths and injuries.  It was a wake-up call to the world.  There are predictions that attempts to cross the threshold will be made against the United States and the issue appears to be not if but when.  Even Secretary of Defense William Cohen talked about how simply an anthrax attacks could be carried out against U.S. cities, causing massive casualties. Justifiably there are major efforts under way to prevent, mitigate and prepare for these types of attack.


Because of the high threshold and associated risks to move into the WMD area, I believe many individual terrorists, terrorist groups and even state-sponsored terrorism is looking for easier and less direct ways to attack the U.S. and its interests.  Recently Chinese military writers proposed the use of strategic indirect  warfare against powers like the U.S. rather than direct confrontation.  This can take the form of political and economic manipulation, disruption of infrastructures, intimidation, various forms of economic warfare, etc.  This is an area, where knowledge and tools are expanding rapidly through the internet and where the internet has become the main means for launching the attacks.  It is also an area where it is possible to have unwitting surrogates do your work by proliferating powerful tools that on the surface may appear as innocent pranks or play things. In addition, Indian Brigadier Nair wrote a book (1992) on lessons learned from the Gulf War in which he details U.S. military vulnerabilities, with much emphasis on electronic warfare.  His audience is third world nations that may confront the U.S.


Because of our growing dependency on computers, there is a new target set for terrorists that includes our infrastructures which are vulnerable to cyber, radio frequency and other forms of attack.  Some of our cyber experts testified to Congress almost a year ago, that through a cyber attack they could bring the U.S. power grid down and keep it down.  If that can be done these types of cyber attacks would have to be classified as weapons of mass destruction attacks.  It could be argued that we have deep and extensive infrastructures that could not be attacked in any significant way.  The problem is that if you take the power grid down, the rest of them crumble because of interdependencies.  Our almost total dependence on our infrastructures for power, food, water, fuel, telecommunications, transportation, etc. and a general lack of reserves brought about by just in time manufacturing, makes us particularly vulnerable to infrastructure disruption.  The cities typically have a three  day supply of food on supermarket shelves, the rest is on trains and trucks from the processing plants. 


Through the internet cyber attacks are starting to play a significant role in what could be considered indirect economic warfare.  It is a form of warfare that is economically attractive, where a simple virus like the love bug or new love can cause 10 billion dollars worth of damage throughout the world.    The new emerging area of radio frequency weapons, or non nuclear EMP, which is proliferating, will also play a significant role in this type of warfare.





Nuclear EMP, which is generated by high altitude nuclear detonations (typically 30 to 300 km. ) produces a fast-rising, high-amplitude, short- duration electromagnetic pulse amplitude, (few to tens of thousands of volts per meter)  followed by a much lower amplitude, gradually decreasing long duration pulse that lasts for minutes.  EMP couples to all conductors including power lines, telephone lines, pipelines, conductors within buildings down to direct interaction with electronic circuits and chips.  It can couple enough electrical energy to cause upset and burn out  in electronic circuits on a wide scale.


It was considered a serious cold war threat that potentially could disable our weapons systems, communications, power grid and other electronically dependent  infra structures.   The Department of Defense conducted major programs to harden military systems against EMP effects and in some cases built their own EMP hardened infrastructures to insure that their capability to respond to a nuclear attack would be affected minimally by the potential failure of the power grid or other critical infrastructures.


With the end of the Cold War many consider that the EMP threat has gone away and that the intent to use it is no longer there.  Some even imply that the hardening of our military systems is no longer necessary.  Given this assumption, at least in the case of Russia  there are three  areas of concern.  The capability to use this type of attack against our infrastructure by nuclear-capable nations has not changed and other nations are likely to gain that capability in the future.  As long as nuclear warheads and the means to deliver them exist, the EMP threat still exists!  Intent to use can change in a week or a month, and it takes us years of effort to harden our systems to EMP.  This possibility for change of intent was implied in a meeting in Vienna between our Congressional delegation, which included Congressmen Curt Weldon and Roscoe Bartlett and their counterparts from the Russian Duma over tensions between U.S. and Russia with regard to our conflict in Kosovo.  In summary, the message was – do not push Russia around, we have a responsible government now, but there are factions that could surface and push for an EMP attack against the U.S. that would shut your country down without directly causing physical damage or death.  The vulnerability of our infrastructure and our society has increased with the increased use and dependence on electronics.  When people consider that at the end of the Cold War the intent to use EMP has gone away, what they tend to ignore is that the purpose and use of EMP outside  the context of the Cold War may have changed.  During the Cold War the EMP attack was considered a precursor to a nuclear attack.  Today it could be considered as an intimidating threat, show of intent, coercion or a form of economic warfare. 


The capability to launch this type of attack against the U.S. or a region of the U.S. rests primarily with Russia and to a lesser extent other major nuclear powers that design, produce, and test their nuclear weapons.  It is not enough to have a nuclear weapon, you need a delivery system that will detonate it at high altitude over or in close vicinity of the U.S.


The question is --  what about a terrorist group using  a SCUD or a similar missile from a  ship off the East coast of the U.S. to launch an EMP attack? EMP is a sophisticated form of attack.. The adversary needs to determine the EMP output of a bomb to match it to a delivery vehicle,  in order to figure out how best to use it.   If a terrorist group built its own nuclear weapon, or got hold of a Former Soviet Union (FSU) tactical nuclear weapon,  put it on a SCUD or a similar missile, launched it and detonated it at altitude, it is unlikely that they would be able to know whether the EMP output would be comparable in terms of damage as compared with explosive power of a small bomb, a grenade or a firecracker.  That is a lot of effort for an outcome that is uncertain, particularly since understanding the  effects of EMP on the infrastructure is a complex task.  The possibilities of inflicting damage improve when you consider rogue states or a well financed organized state sponsored terrorist organization,  particularly if it acquires  the support of  FSU  scientists who have worked in this area.  Today the real capability and threat of EMP is posed by the established nuclear powers and it diminishes quickly both in capability and EMP output as you move down the scale to terrorist groups, rogue states,  narco cartel, crime syndicate and transnational organizations.  It is a job for our  intelligence community and the terrorist watchers to continuously assess not only the capability, but also the intent of use of nuclear EMP as a threat against the U.S.  It is not an easy task considering that in 1992 Alexander Lebed, national security adviser to Boris Yeltsin, told a U.S. congressional delegation that 84 out of 132 Russian suitcase nuclear bombs are missing.  In my opinion, these bombs are too small for effective EMP generation. 


What are our options to deal with this threat?  There are no fast or easy solutions, but the following approaches should help.  Continue with the National Missile Defense Program and include the EMP attacks  from close in SCUD like launches as a threat to the U.S. This should also cover potential nuclear, chemical, biological and other similar attacks against our cities. The other area that needs to be addressed is the vulnerability and the interdependencies of our infrastructures.  There are certain key infrastructures which we either need to harden or back up to some extent.  The hardening would have to include EMP, cyber, radio frequency weapons , etc.  If  the Power Grid fails other key infrastructures likely would crumble.  I do not know if anyone has addressed hardening the power grid to cyber attacks.  EMP assessment  of the power grid vulnerability has not been completed and assessment to damage caused by radio frequency weapons or devices has not been started.   Considering its size and complexity, hardening the power grid is not a simple  option. Building even a limited backup to the power grid is also  a very costly option.  However,  commercialization of fuel cell generating plants, not as back up, but as primary power sources, is going to happen.   There are predictions that in the near future new homes, and  businesses will be powered by fuel cells which produce  electricity and heat and they will not be connected to the power grid.  The government should consider  using this trend might as a means to build a  limited backup to the power grid to meet critical national needs in case of power grid failure. 


The main difference when considering the effects of nuclear and non nuclear EMP is that effects from a nuclear EMP can be induced hundreds to a few thousand kilometers  from the detonation.   Radio frequency weapons have ranges from tens of meters to tens of kilometers.  The advantage of radio frequency weapons is that they can be hidden in an attache case, suitcase, van or aircraft.  The attack can result in computer upsets or burnouts,  but generally the computer users would attribute the failures to internal problems.  Basically radio frequency weapons require a larger investment in hardware than  cyber and attacks are limited to local area effects rather than world wide as in the case of Cyber attacks.


 While I indicated that nuclear generated EMP is not something I expected terrorist groups to start using, that is not the case with radio frequency weapons. Both the U.S., FSU as well as other nations have been working in this area for tens of years and with the fall of the FSU, the technology is proliferating and being  commercialized.  The commercialization is occurring because there are legitimate uses of this technology like stopping cars at ranges up to 3000 feet as the Swedes have demonstrated. These devices can also be useful in direct and indirect warfare, antiterrorism, terrorism, economic competition, etc.  Today Russia, China, France, Great Britain, Germany, Sweden, Japan, U.S. and, I am sure, others have  radio frequency weapons programs.