Combating Terrorism:

Observations on the Threat of Chemical and Biological Terrorism

T-NSIAD-00-50: Published: Oct 20, 1999. Publicly Released: Oct 20, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed its observations on the threat of chemical and biological terrorism, focusing on the: (1) ease or difficulty for a terrorist to create mass casualties (defined as at least 1,000 deaths or illnesses) by making and using chemical or biological agents without the assistance of a state-sponsored program; and (2) need to use intelligence estimates and risk assessments to better guide and prioritize appropriate countermeasures and programs.

GAO noted that: (1) according to the experts GAO consulted, in most cases terrorists would have to overcome significant technical and operational challenges to successfully make and release chemical or biological agents of sufficient quality and quantity to kill or injure large numbers of people without substantial assistance from a state sponsor; (2) with the exception of toxic industrial chemicals such as chlorine, specialized knowledge is required in the manufacturing process and in improvising an effective delivery device for most chemical and nearly all biological agents that could be used in terrorist attacks; (3) moreover, some of the required components of chemical agents and highly infective strains of biological agents are difficult to obtain; (4) finally, terrorists may have to overcome other obstacles for a successful attack, such as unfavorable environmental conditions and personal safety risks; (5) the President's fiscal year (FY) 2000 budget proposes $10 billion for counterterrorism programs--an increase of more than $3 billion over the requested funding of $6.7 billion for FY 1999; (6) to assess whether the government is spending appropriate levels on counterterrorism and spending these funds on the most appropriate programs, policymakers need the best estimates of the specific threats the U.S. faces; (7) the intelligence community has recently produced estimates of the foreign-origin terrorist threat involving chemical and biological weapons; (8) however, the intelligence community has not produced comparable estimates of the domestic threat; and (9) in GAO's report, it recommended that the Federal Bureau of Investigation prepare these estimates and use them in a national-level risk assessment that can be used to identify and prioritize the most effective programs to combat terrorism.

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