Terrorists attacking a major city with nuclear or biological weapons is “more realistic” than ever, British officials warned Tuesday as they lifted the secrecy from six years of counter-terrorism efforts.
Called “Contest,” the U.K. anti-terror strategy contends that new technologies and lawless nations boost the odds of a WMD attack leading to massive death and destruction.
Titled “Pursue, Protect, Prevent, Prepare: The United Kingdom’s Strategy for Countering International Terrorism,” the 176-page report presents an updated British strategy for combating terrorism.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith describes Contest as “one of the most comprehensive and wide-ranging approaches to tackling terrorism anywhere in the world.”
Dr. Marvin Cetron, the futurist and founder of Forecasting International, a firm that advises U.S. counter-terrorism agencies, tells Newsmax that British authorities have every reason to be concerned.
“The terrorists are getting better qualified, more technically trained people as we’ve seen in Britain,” Cetron says. “And they’re trying to get the capability. They’re still working on getting nuclear fissionable material. That’s a low probability, but it is a high-impact event.”
Since 2001, the report reveals, British authorities have thwarted over a dozen terrorist attacks. One measure of officials’ concern: U.K authorities have trained and equipped over 7,000 police officers to respond to WMD incidents. They have also built facilities for mass decontaminations, should a WMD attack occur.
"Contemporary terrorist organizations aspire to use chemical, biological, radiological and even nuclear weapons," the report states. "Changing technology and the theft and smuggling of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear and explosive (CBRNE) materials make this aspiration more realistic than it may have been in the recent past."
A letter from Prime Minister Gordon Brown accompanying the Contest report states: “This new form of terrorism is different in scale and nature from the terrorist threats we have had to deal with in recent decades. It is intent on inflicting mass casualties without warning, motivated by a violent extremist ideology, and exploits modern travel and communications to spread through a loose and dangerous global network.”
One question counter-terror experts will no doubt be asking: Why after six years is the British government lifting the veil of secrecy over its counter-terrorism strategy and assessments?
Smith said the government seeks to “provide the people of the UK and our partners overseas with as full and as open an account as possible of why and how we are tackling this threat.”
The new report lists four main terror threats facing the U.K., all of them linked to al Qaida: The current al-Qaida organization.Al-Qaida-affiliated terrorist organizations.“Self-starting” terror groups, or individuals, seeking to emulate an al-Qaida style attack.Groups unaffiliated with al-Qaida, that, broadly speaking, have a similar agenda.
According to the report, al-Qaida is under such intense pressure around the globe that is unlikely to survive in its current form, and will likely splinter into many smaller groups. But like a hydra that sprouts two heads for each one killed, U.K. counterintelligence predicts the evolution of many smaller organizations -- sharing a similar ideology and working toward goals similar to al-Qaida’s -- may actually prove more dangerous to civilization.
The report attributes the growing danger in part to development of technologies that enable small cells of violent fundamentalists to communicate and plan.
Cetron agrees that al-Qaida is breaking into smaller parts, and concurs that in some ways this actually complicates matters.
“Al-Qaida is finding out they can do better with small groups, people who are raised in the country itself, not people who are coming from Islamic lands.” Such “home-grown” terrorists are better able to fit in, and can move freely among the local population, Cetron says.
Another worrisome concern, the Contest report states, is that terrorists could steal the materials they need to fashion a weapon of mass destruction.
The findings of the Contest report reinforce the conclusions of “Securing the Bomb 2008,” a report released in November by the U.S.-based Nuclear Threat Initiative (Nti.org).
That report predicted the Obama administration would “face a world in which the danger that terrorists could get and use a nuclear bomb remains very real.”
Among that report’s chilling findings: “If a technically sophisticated terrorist group could get the needed nuclear materials, it might well be able to make at least a crude nuclear bomb -- capable of turning the heart of a modern city into smoldering ruins. The horror of a terrorist nuclear attack, should it ever occur, would transform America and the world -- and not for the better.”
The NTI report added that some overseas stockpiles of bomb-grade material remain “dangerously insecure.”
Also highlighting the very real danger of terrorists using WMD was the July 2007 National Intelligence Estimate stating that al-Qaida “will continue to try to acquire and employ chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear material in attacks, and would not hesitate to use them if it develops what it deems is sufficient capability.”
The British report cites several factors it says contribute to an unprecedented level of danger from a WMD terrorist attack: Unresolved regional disputes in Afghanistan, Palestine, Bosnia, Chechnya, Lebanon, and Kashmir.Extremists associated with al-Qaida who tout violence as the “religious duty” of all Muslims. Radicalization, or the recruitment of disaffected citizens who join terrorist groups to carry out attacks.The phenomenon of failed states, which is expected to continue indefinitely. The evolution of technologies “which facilitate terrorist propaganda, communications, and terrorist organizations.” Innovations by terrorists quickly spread around the globe.
As an example of how terrorists are learning from other terrorists, the Contest report cites the evolution of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which were employed with brutal effect against American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The report states IED technology “evolved rapidly in a series of conflicts over the past 15 years,” adding, “Al-Qaida, its affiliates, and groups inspired by al-Qaida have demonstrated intent to experiment with novel explosives to maximize their capabilities and, in some cases, to deliberately circumvent protective security measures.”
An advanced understanding of explosives is considered one key element in building a sophisticated “dirty bomb” or other nuclear device.
Cetron tells Newsmax the United Kingdom is No. 1 on al-Qaida’s list of targets. “It is the prime target. France is next, Europe in general is third, and the United States is fourth on that list.”
The reason England is more vulnerable: “They have more people who are trained and angry,” Cetron says.
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