The World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings signaled a change in the character of terrorism in the U.S. Most of the previous acts of domestic terrorism have not involved mass casualties. However, recent incidents indicate an apparent desire of terrorists to injure or kill large numbers of innocent people--six people were killed and more than 1,000 injured in the World Trade Center bombing, and 168 people died in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. As horrifying as these acts of terrorism were, damage and casualties could have been much greater if the terrorists had used weapons of mass destruction (WMD)--nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. In March 1995, the Aum Shinrikyo cult demonstrated that terrorists can acquire WMD with its sarin nerve gas attacks in the Tokyo subway that killed 12 people and sickened more than 5,000. An open society like ours in the U.S. is particularly vulnerable to WMD terrorism. Information on nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons is readily available on the Internet and in many how-to books. There is increasing evidence of illegal trafficking in nuclear materials. In addition, a number of countries hostile to the U.S. are known to be developing WMD capabilities, and some of them are known to support terrorist groups. The Livermore Study Group concluded that the U.S. is ill-prepared to respond to a terrorist attack that uses WMD.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory: http://www.llnl.gov
Science and Technology Review (January 1998 / February 1998), v.8 no.1/2, p.24-26