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Statements on Potential Terrorist Use of CBRN Agents

Public Statements on Potential Terrorist Use of Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) Agents
since July 1997


DCI George J. Tenet, speech at Langley High School Commencement (June 14, 2001)

The reality that countries like North Korea, Iran, and Iraq are working on ballistic missiles. And that terrorists who fly no national flag are trying to acquire chemical and biological weapons.

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DCI Tenet to the Town Hall of Los Angeles (Dec. 7, 2000)

But that is not all. To individuals, groups, and countries, the vast information infrastructure of the United States itself is a rich and tempting target. Our national security and prosperity depend increasingly on the secure, unimpeded flow of data. Any foreign adversary that develops the ability to interrupt or halt that flow has the potential to weaken us dramatically with weapons of mass disruption.

That kind of thinking is at the heart of the many asymmetric threats we face today. The kind of thinking that asks: How can I negate the overwhelming military force of the United States? The kind of thinking that leads a terrorist group to seek a chemical or biological weapon. The kind of thinking that could lead a small nuclear power to blackmail us-not with the possibility of defeat, but with the threatened destruction of one of our cities.

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DCI Tenet before the SSCI on The Worldwide Threat in 2000 (Feb. 2, 2000)
[nearly identical remarks also delivered to Senate Foreign Relations Committee,  March 21, 2000.]

Mr. Chairman, we remain concerned that terrorist groups worldwide continue to explore how rapidly evolving and spreading technologies might enhance the lethality of their operations. Although terrorists we've preempted still appear to be relying on conventional weapons, we know that a number of these groups are seeking chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBRN) agents. We are aware of several instances in which terrorists have contemplated using these materials.

Among them is Bin Ladin, who has shown a strong interest in chemical weapons. His operatives have trained to conduct attacks with toxic chemicals or biological toxins.

HAMAS is also pursuing a capability to conduct attacks with toxic chemicals.

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John C. Gannon, Chairman of the National Intelligence Council, to the Smithsonian Associates "Campus Mall" (Feb. 1, 2000)

So, what, in shorthand, will the picture look like over the next fifteen years? My one sentence encapsulation would say the following: "Globalization will provide mankind with the unprecedented opportunity to improve the quality of human life across the planet; but progress will be hampered by economic volatility, by the political and security implications of sharpening inequalities in income, and by the growing threat from multiple, relatively small-scale programs of weapons of mass destruction." By contrast, with the massive but arguably contained Soviet threat, we now face a serious challenge from lesser developed-and less disciplined-states, well-financed international terrorist groups, and powerful individuals with increasingly easy access to conventional explosives and to biological, chemical, and to a lesser extent, nuclear weapons, along with the missile systems to deliver them. The bottom line is that these adversaries, who are often motivated by ideological rage or ethnic hatred, will have fewer and less powerful weapons than the Soviets, but are more likely to use them!
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Nonstate actors will pose a much greater threat to the US homeland than ever before. Aided by technology, terrorist groups, criminal organizations, and narcotraffickers are expanding their operations and sometimes forming "alliances" of convenience.

We are particularly concerned with the emergence of a new breed of terrorist has emerged that is skilled in conventional explosives, interested in weapons of mass destruction, and able to maintain international networks
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Terrorist incidents are likely to continue, at least at current levels, and may increase by 2015. Terrorists will be better armed with more sophisticated weaponry. Some groups are already pursuing chemical and biological weapons capabilities. In the future, terrorists will seek to cause more casualties per incident, the vast bulk of whom will be civilians.
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What if:

· ... Foreign terrorists foul our water supplies in a major metropolitan area or pollute the air our forces abroad breathe with toxic chemicals.

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DCI Tenet, Oscar Iden Lecture, Georgetown University (Oct. 18, 1999)

What are the threats that keep me awake at night?

International terrorism, both on its own and in conjunction with narcotics traffickers, international criminals and those seeking weapons of mass destruction. You need go no further than Usama Bin Ladin - the perpetrator of the East Africa bombings. He has declared the acquisition of weapons of a mass destruction a religious duty and identified every American as a legitimate target.

The proliferation of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, along with ever-longer range missiles capable of delivering them not just as far as our deployed forces in South Korea and the Persian Gulf, but to the continental United States as well.

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DCI Tenet, to the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner (June 28, 1999)

I will turn now to the issue of terrorism. This is one that keeps me awake at night. We are seeing a whole new breed of terrorist - terrorists who don't need to be tethered to state sponsors for financial or technical support. Terrorists who have their own international networks - Usama Bin Ladin exemplifies this new breed. He runs his own international web with operatives in at least 60 countries. I want you to think about that. He's not above blowing up our embassies with truck bombs, but he has also shown an active interest in chemical weapons. In fact, he has called the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction (quote) "a religious duty." Last December, Bin Ladin declared that every American taxpayer is a target.

Together with other members of the Cabinet, I was at Andrews Air Force Base last August as the flag-draped coffins came home from our embassies in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam. My colleagues and I vowed that their killers would be tracked down and brought to justice. Hard work by US intelligence and the FBI-and cooperation between us and our friends abroad-has led to the arrest of a number of Bin Ladin's proteges. Through this work we have averted additional bombings and saved lives. But make no mistake: Bin Ladin, his allies, and his sympathizers retain the will and the capacity to strike at us again. It is only a question of when, not if. He will hit us whenever and wherever he thinks we are vulnerable. This will be a long, relentless struggle. And all I can tell you is, we're doing everything in our power to stop more attacks from happening.

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Special Assistant to the DCI for Nonproliferation John A. Lauder on the Worldwide WMD Threat to the Commission to Assess the Organization of the Federal Government to Combat the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (April 29, 1999)

DCI George Tenet has emphasized in his appearances before Congress that no issue better illustrates the new challenges, complexities, and uncertainties that we in the Intelligence Community face than the proliferation of WMD and their delivery means. Over the past year, we have witnessed the nuclear tests in South Asia, continued concerns about Iraq's WMD programs, broader availability of technologies relevant to biological and chemical war-fare, and accelerated missile development in Iran, North Korea, and most recently in Pakistan and India. Particularly worrisome to the Intelligence Community is the security of Russian WMD materials, increased cooperation among rogue states, more effective efforts by proliferants to conceal illicit activities, and growing interest by terrorists in acquiring WMD capabilities.

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Special Assistant to the DCI for Nonproliferation John A. Lauder to HPSCI (March 3, 1999)

First, the preparation and effective use of BW by both potentially hostile states and by nonstate actors, including terrorists, is harder than some popular literature seems to suggest. That said, potential adversaries are pursuing such programs, and the threat that the United States and our allies face -is growing in breadth and sophistication.

Beyond state actors, there are a number of terrorist groups seeking to develop or acquire BW capabilities. This biological threat, to include some poisons, is growing. Some such groups-like Usama Bin Ladin's- have international networks, adding to uncertainty and the danger of a surprise attack.

There are fewer constraints on nonstate actors than on state actors. Adding to the unpredictability are the "lone militants," or the ad hoc groups here at home and abroad who may try to conduct a BW attack.
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And, we are enhancing cooperation within the Intelligence, Policy, Defense, Law Enforcement, and Public Health Communities to counter nuclear, biological, chemical, and even radiological terrorism.
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I believe that the changes we have made or are implementing will enhance the overall effectiveness of the Intelligence Community In managing and expanding our efforts to support US national nonproliferation goals. Although many steps have been taken to improve our understanding of the threat, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to anticipate or collect against every military action or terrorist act involving BW. There is more that needs to be done, and we will work with this Committee on the next steps. Although the growing BW threat cannot be met by US Intelligence alone, our work will be crucial to defending American interests and protecting American lives.

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DCI Tenet, Testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee (Feb. 2, 1999)

One of my greatest concerns is the serious prospect that Bin Ladin or another terrorist might use chemical or biological weapons. Bin Ladin's organization is just one of about a dozen terrorist groups that have expressed an interest in or have sought chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) agents.

Bin Ladin, for example, has called the acquisition of these weapons a "religious duty" and noted that "how we use them is up to us." Earlier I referred to state sponsorship of terrorism, so let me take this opportunity to say, with respect to Iran, that we have yet to see any significant reduction in Iran's support for terrorism. President Khatami took office in August 1997, but hardliners, such as Supreme leader Khamenei, continue to view terrorism as a legitimate tool of Iranian policy and they still control the institutions that can implement it.

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John C. Gannon, Speech to the World Affairs Council (June 4, 1998)
[identical speech also delivered by Gannon on Oct. 8, 1998]

The scenarios of the future world I have posited by and large are the most probable ones as we see matters today. We are realistic enough to understand, however, that in our business the only certainly is that there are no certainties. The world may well be a far more benign place than I have portrayed it. Economic growth may be more rapid, for example, or terrorism could wane if despite the odds peace breaks out in the Mideast. Alternatively, however, we could be in for a rockier ride than I have projected.

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DCI Tenet, SSCI Hearing on Current and Projected National Security Threat (Jan. 28, 1998)

Moreover, there has been a trend toward increasing lethality of attacks, especially against civilian targets. The most recent examples, of course, are the suicide bombings in Israel in 1996 and 1997 and the attacks on tourists in Luxor, Egypt last November. Perhaps most worrisome, we have seen in the last year growing indications of terrorist interest in acquiring chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.

In addition, a confluence of recent developments increases the risk that individuals or groups will attack US interests. Terrorist passions have probably been inflamed by events ranging from the US Government's designation of 30 terrorist groups to the conviction and sentencing of Mir Almal Kasi and Ramzi Ahmed Yosuf as well as the ongoing US standoff with Iraq and frustration with the Middle East peace process.

Among specific countries, Iran remains a major concern despite the election of a more moderate president. Since President Khatami assumed office in August, Iran has continued to engage in activities, such as support for Hizballah and its Palestinian clients, that would not require his specific approval.

Iraq, Sudan, and Libya also bear continued watching, both for their own activities and for their support of terrorist organizations.

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DCI Tenet, "Does America Still Need the CIA?"- Gerald R. Ford Library (Nov. 19,  1997)

As I look at the world today, it is clear to me that the potential for dangerous surprise is as great as ever.

That is true whether I look at terrorist groups whose sole purpose is to harm American interests, the biological weapons that Saddam Hussein is still trying to build and to hide in Iraq, or the programs Iran has for building intermediate range missiles and nuclear weapons.

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John Gannon, Speech to the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations (Nov. 13, 1997)

Let me say a few words about Israel's neighborhoods: a particularly dangerous neighborhood. Iran also is at the center of our analytical efforts, particularly its support for international terrorism, its efforts to develop a weapons of mass destruction program, and its obstruction of the peace process. We are carefully studying the moves of the new Iranian President Khatami. His focus, we expect, will be on the domestic issues that were at the heart of his campaign: less restrictive policies on social and cultural issues important to his constituencies of youth and women. We recognize that Khatami represents a change for the Iranians, but we cannot lose sight of our key concerns about continuity in Iranian policy abroad, particularly its backing of Hizballah and Islamic Jihad and its WMD programs.

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John Gannon, Speech in Syracuse, NY (Oct. 13, 1997)

For our adversaries, of course, technological inferiority will not mean acquiescence. Our enemies will attempt to blunt our military superiority in other ways: improving capabilities relative to their neighbors, and using unconventional and often asymmetric means-ranging from the increased use of terrorism to the possible use of weapons of mass destruction. Because of the high cost in developing a nuclear capability, these countries will focus more on chemical and biological weapons. Their aims will be to threaten our allies, undermine our presence in their respective regions, and weaken US public support for use of the US military abroad. In sum, our military technological prowess will not be enough to guarantee that our interests will be protected, and we may find what some would call a "doctrine of massive technological superiority" as limited in the future as the doctrine of massive retaliation was forty years earlier.

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DCI Tenet, Speech at The University of Oklahoma (Sept. 12, 1997)

Consider that: The communications revolution is adding 15 new web sites every minute. We live in an age where 10-year olds are creating web pages. Yet, just as the Internet has helped us to reach out to anyone with a telephone and a modem, new technology has also provided greater opportunities for terrorists, international criminals - and even hostile governments. Small wonder that these tools have been called "Weapons of Mass Disruption."

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Posted: Apr 09, 2007 11:07 AM
Last Updated: Feb 12, 2013 11:05 AM