Pyro-Terrorism: The Threat of Arson Induced Forest Fires as a Future Terrorist Weapon of Mass Destruction   [open pdf - 1MB]

"While America orients on the readily apparent scenarios of smuggled nuclear weapons and radiological bombs, Al Queda and other terrorist organizations, are adapting to avoid our security and screening systems. Instead of using expensive, complex, and readily detectable nuclear or radiological bombs, a future terrorist could easily ignite several massive wildfires to severely damage our regional economies, impact our military forces, and terrorize the American population. This phenomenon is defined as pyro-terrorism; the use of arson attacks to terrorize the civilian population and coerce the government to advance political or social objectives. Arson, which destroys property with fire for profit or revenge, is the tactic. It is the political and psychological effect that differentiates pyro-terrorism from arson. This paper will describe pyro-terrorism, discuss how existing terror tactics and future intent define the threat, assess the vulnerabilities in America today, and identify various actions the US government must take to mitigate those vulnerabilities. The potential destructive energy already exists in our nation's forests. An opportunistic terrorist can unleash multiple fires creating a conflagration potentially equal to a multi-megaton nuclear weapon. If terrorist organizations use arson as a tactic, and publicly assume responsibility for these massive fires, the perception of Homeland Security among the people would drastically erode. The fire's devastation could overwhelm suppression resources, weaken regional economies, destroy critical infrastructure, effect readiness in military forces, and put political pressure on national leadership for policy change."

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