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Combating Terrorism: Assessing the Threat of Biological Terrorism

NCJ Number
John Parachini
Date Published
October 2001
14 pages
This testimony assessed the feasibility of terrorist groups using biological and chemical weapons, a terrorist group’s engagement in attacks using biological and chemical weapons, and the Government’s response in combating biological and chemical threats.
The fear over biological terrorism is seen as greater than the fear of conventional forms of terrorism. Therefore, it is important to maintain some perspective of the relative dangers. This paper conducted an assessment of the threat of biological terrorism and what the U.S. Government can and should do to address biological and chemical threats. States are seen as more likely to have the resources, technical capabilities, and organizational capacity to organize the people, know-how, material, and equipment to produce biological and chemical weapons and secretly deliver them to their targets. However, history shows there has been difficulty in acquiring and delivering biological weapons, as well as disincentives to doing so. The probability of a major biological attack is seen as remote. The threat of retaliation is believed to deter states from using biological weapons against other states. The use of conventional explosives could inflict many more fatalities than unconventional weapons. Reflections on prior biological weapon incidents worldwide were presented to put relative dangers in their proper perspective and deal with the threat accordingly. The Government has the responsibility to prevent, protect against, and respond to events that seem probable. One challenge is to determine how much to prepare for a possible attack. However, a proactive stance is considered essential in responding and combating biological and chemical threats.