Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Terrorism Activity

from the CIA’s biannual “Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions” report to Congress, January-June 2001. Released January 2002.

The threat of terrorists using chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) materials appears to be rising—particularly since the 11 September attacks. Several of the 30 designated foreign terrorist organizations and other non-state actors worldwide have expressed interest in CBRN—although terrorists probably will continue to favor proven conventional tactics such as bombings and shootings.

* CBRN information and technology is more widely available, especially from sources like the Internet and the former Soviet Union.

* Increased publicity surrounding the anthrax incidents since the 11 September attacks has highlighted the vulnerability of civilian and government targets to CBRN attacks.

* Usama Bin Ladin and groups aligned with him have shown interest in staging unconventional attacks and Bin Ladin has sought CBRN materials and resources to further this goal. Bin Ladin and his organization continue to make public statements about unconventional weapons, which could be an attempt to justify the use of such weapons.

* Since the early 1990s, Bin Ladin has pursued the development of chemical and biological weapons within his organization as well as demonstrating a longstanding interest in nuclear materials.

* A senior Bin Ladin associate on trial in Egypt in 1999 claimed his group had chemical and biological weapons. He also admitted that various plans for terrorist acts were contained on a computer seized by authorities.

Among CBRN materials, terrorist groups are most interested in chemicals such as cyanide salts to contaminate food and water supplies or to assassinate individuals. Terrorist groups also have expressed interest in many other toxic industrial chemicals—most of which are relatively easy to acquire and handle—and traditional chemical agents, including chlorine and phosgene and some groups have discussed nerve agents.

* We see lesser interest in biological materials that appears focused on agents for use in small-scale poisonings or assassinations.

* Although the potential devastation from nuclear terrorism is high, we have no credible reporting on terrorists successfully acquiring nuclear weapons or sufficient material to make them. Gaps in our reporting, however, make this an issue of ongoing concern.

In 1988, Osama Bin Ladin stated that he considered acquiring weapons of mass destruction a “religious duty”, and recent press reports claim that Bin Ladin has nuclear weapons to use as a deterrent against the United States. A government witness—Jamal Ahmad Fadl– in the trial of four men recently convicted of supporting the al Qa’ida bombings of the American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya testified last February that al Qa’ida had been trying to acquire fissile material since the early 1990s. More recently, we have uncovered rudimentary diagrams of nuclear weapons inside a suspected al Qa’ida safehouse in Kabul. These diagrams, while crude, describe essential components—uranium and high explosives—common to nuclear weapons.

Key Suppliers:


Despite improvements in Russia’s economy, the state-run defense, biotechnology, and nuclear industries remain strapped for funds, even as Moscow looks to them for badly needed foreign exchange through exports. We remain very concerned about the proliferation implications of such sales in several areas. Monitoring Russian proliferation behavior, therefore, will remain a very high priority.

Russian entities during the reporting period continued to supply a variety of ballistic missile-related goods and technical know-how to countries such as Iran, India, China, and Libya. Iran’s earlier success in gaining technology and materials from Russian entities has helped to accelerate Iranian development of the Shahab-3 MRBM, and continuing Russian assistance likely supports Iranian efforts to develop new missiles and increase Tehran’s self-sufficiency in missile production.

Russia also remained a key supplier for civilian nuclear programs in Iran, primarily focused on the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant project. With respect to Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, Russian assistance enhances Iran’s ability to support a nuclear weapons development effort, even though the ostensible purpose of most of this assistance is for civilian applications. Despite Iran’s NPT status, the United States is convinced Tehran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program. The Intelligence Community will be closely monitoring Tehran’s nuclear cooperation with Moscow for any direct assistance in support of a nuclear weapons program.

In January 2000, Moscow approved a draft cooperative program with Syria that included civil use of nuclear power. Broader access to Russian scientists and Russia’s large nuclear infrastructure could provide opportunities to solicit fissile material production expertise and other nuclear-related assistance if Syria decided to pursue nuclear weapons. In addition, Russia supplied India with material for its civilian nuclear program during this reporting period.

President Putin in May 2000 amended the presidential decree on nuclear exports to allow the export in exceptional cases of nuclear materials, technology, and equipment to countries that do not have full-scope IAEA safeguards. The move could clear the way for expanding nuclear exports to certain countries that do not have full-scope safeguards, such as India.

During the first half of 2001, Russian entities remained a significant source of dual-use biotechnology, chemicals, production technology, and equipment for Iran. Russia’s biological and chemical expertise makes it an attractive target for Iranians seeking technical information and training on BW and CW agent production processes.

Russia continues to be a major supplier of conventional arms. Following Moscow’s abrogation of the Gore-Chernomyrdin agreement in November 2000, Russian officials stated that they see Iran to be a significant source of potential revenue from arms sales, and believe Tehran can become Russia’s third largest conventional arms customer after China and India. In early 2001, Russia was the primary source of ACW for China, Iran, Libya, and Sudan, and one of the largest sources for India.

Russia continues to be the main supplier of technology and equipment to India and China’s naval nuclear propulsion programs. In addition, Russia has discussed leasing nuclear-powered attack submarines to India.

The Russian Government’s commitment, willingness, and ability to curb proliferation-related transfers remain uncertain. The export control bureaucracy was reorganized again as part of President Putin’s broader government reorganization in May 2000. The Federal Service for Currency and Export Controls (VEK) was abolished and its functions assumed by a new department in the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade. VEK was tasked with drafting the implementing decrees for Russia’s July 1999 export control law; by the end of the reporting period, seven of these decrees had been approved, and four—including two control lists—were still awaiting presidential signature. However, the enacted legislation will have little impact on several of the export control system’s key shortfalls, including weak enforcement and insufficient penalties for violations.

Export enforcement continues to need improvement. In February 2000, Sergey Ivanov, then Secretary of Russia’s Security Council, said that during 1998-99 the government had obtained convictions for unauthorized technology transfers in three cases. The Russian press has reported on cases where advanced equipment is simply described as something else in the export documentation and is exported. Enterprises sometimes falsely declare goods to avoid government taxes.

North Korea

Throughout the first half of 2001, North Korea continued to export significant ballistic missile–related equipment, components, materials, and technical expertise to countries in the Middle East, South Asia, and North Africa. P’yongyang attaches a high priority to the development and sale of ballistic missiles, equipment, and related technology. Exports of ballistic missiles and related technology are one of the North’s major sources of hard currency, which fuel continued missile development and production.


During this reporting period, Beijing continued to take a very narrow interpretation of its bilateral nonproliferation commitments with the United States. In the case of missile-related transfers, Beijing has on several occasions pledged not to sell Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) Category I systems but has not recognized the regime’s key technology annex. China is not a member of the MTCR.

In November 2000, China committed not to assist, in any way, any country in the development of ballistic missiles that could be used to deliver nuclear weapons, and to enact at an early date a comprehensive missile-related export control system.

During the reporting period, Chinese entities provided Pakistan with missile-related technical assistance. Pakistan has been moving toward domestic serial production of solid-propellant SRBMs with Chinese help. Pakistan also needs continued Chinese assistance to support development of the two-stage Shaheen-II MRBM. In addition, firms in China have provided dual-use missile-related items, raw materials, and/or assistance to several other countries of proliferation concern—such as Iran, North Korea, and Libya.

In the nuclear area, China has made bilateral pledges to the United States that go beyond its 1992 NPT commitment not to assist any country in the acquisition or development of nuclear weapons. For example, in May 1996 Beijing pledged that it would not provide assistance to unsafeguarded nuclear facilities.

With respect to Pakistan, Chinese entities in the past provided extensive support to unsafeguarded as well as safeguarded nuclear facilities, which enhanced substantially Pakistan’s nuclear weapons capability. We cannot rule out some continued contacts between Chinese entities and entities associated with Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program subsequent to Beijing’s 1996 pledge and during this reporting period.

In October 1997, China gave the United States assurances regarding its nuclear cooperation with Iran. China agreed to end cooperation with Iran on supply of a uranium conversion facility and undertake no new cooperation with Iran after completion of two existing projects—a zero-power reactor and a zirconium production plant. The Chinese appear to have lived up to their UCF pledge, but we are aware of some interactions between Chinese and Iranian entities that have raised questions about its “no new nuclear cooperation” pledge. According to the State Department, the Administration is seeking to address these questions with appropriate Chinese authorities.

Prior to the reporting period, Chinese firms had supplied dual-use CW-related production equipment and technology to Iran. The US sanctions imposed in May 1997 on seven Chinese entities for knowingly and materially contributing to Iran’s CW program remain in effect. Evidence during the current reporting period shows Iran continues to seek such assistance from Chinese entities.

China is a primary supplier of advanced conventional weapons to Pakistan and Iran, among others. Beijing and Islamabad also have negotiated the sale of an additional 40 F-7 fighters for delivery to Pakistan.

Western Countries

Western countries continue to be a less important source of WMD- and missile-related goods and materials. Iran and Libya continued to approach entities in Western Europe to provide needed acquisitions for their WMD and missile programs. Increasingly rigorous end effective export controls and cooperation among supplier countries have led the other foreign WMD and missile programs to look elsewhere for many controlled items. However, proliferators and associated networks continue to seek machine tools, spare parts for dual-use equipment, and widely available materials, scientific equipment, and specialty metals. In addition, several Western countries announced their willingness to negotiate ACW sales to Libya.


The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction continues to change in ways that make it more difficult to monitor and control, increasing the risk of substantial surprise. Countries determined to maintain WMD capabilities and the systems to deliver them are demonstrating greater proficiency in the use of denial and deception efforts.

As in previous reports, proliferators have been placing significant emphasis on increased self-sufficiency. In bolstering their domestic production capabilities, and thereby reducing their dependence on others, they are better able to insulate their programs against interdiction and disruption. Although these indigenous capabilities may not always be a good substitute for foreign imports—particularly for more advanced technologies—in many cases they may prove to be adequate.

In addition, as their domestic capabilities grow, traditional recipients of WMD and missile technology could emerge as new suppliers of technology and expertise to other proliferators. We are increasingly concerned about the growth of “secondary proliferation” from maturing state-sponsored programs, such as those in India, Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan. These countries and others are not members of supplier groups such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group, Australia Group and the Missile Technology Control Regime and do not adhere to their export constraints. In addition, private companies, scientists, and engineers from countries such as Russia, China, and India may be increasing their involvement in WMD- and missile-related assistance, taking advantage of weak or unenforceable national export controls and the growing availability of technology.

Some countries of proliferation concern are continuing efforts to develop indigenous designs for advanced conventional weapons and expand production capabilities, although most of these programs usually rely heavily on foreign technical assistance. Many of these countries—unable to obtain newer or more advanced arms—are pursuing upgrade programs for existing inventories.


[2] Although the information contained in this section falls outside the parameters of the current reporting period, the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon and subsequent fears about possible terrorist use of a chemical or biological agent against the United States or its allies prompted us to include a section on non-state actors.

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