A Realistic View Of Terrorism?

terrorism (w/tanks) CBS

The U.S. government's has a $10 billion plan to stop terrorists from obtaining weapons of mass destruction.

CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart investigates whether it's money well spent or a huge expenditure on a terrorist scenario threat that isn't real.
It's the scenario that scares counter-terrorism experts the most - that somehow, someone figures out a way to load a helicopter or plane with nerve gas and sprays a plume of death over America. It happened on a smaller scale in Japan, after all. Imagine the effect if a plane load were dumped on Times Square, say planners.

"You'll see panic, I believe. I think people will be running and wanting to break through and get away, get out of there," says G. Kemble Bennett, director of the emergency training center at Texas A&M University.

But consider this: It took the Japanese cult that attacked a Tokyo subway with nerve gas in 1995 millions of dollars, a sophisticated lab and years of research to finally produce a few plastic bags of the stuff. It was a terrible thing, say experts; but keep it in perspective.

Click here for more on weapons of mass destruction from an interview with Paul Bremer.
"They killed 12 people. But you can kill 12 people with a pipe bomb so this did not rise to the level of mass casualties," says Paul Bremer of the Advisory Panel on Weapons of Mass Destruction.

In fact, here's a question that often gets lost as Congress prepares to spend $10 billion on counter-terrorism this year: Do you know how many people have died in chemical or biological terrorist attacks in America in the last 100 years?

The answer is one. He was Oakland School Superintendent Marcus Foster, who was shot by the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1973. His case counts only because the bullet was tipped with cyanide. The fact of the matter is that making a weapon of mass destruction from scratch is extraordinarily difficult.

"It simply is not a matter, as the popular press has sometimes said, 'Well, you just go in your garage and mix up some things, and you've got a wonderful chemical weapon. Or go into a dark cellar and grow Anthrax and throw it around,'" says Bremer.

Take sarin nerve gas, for example. A Pentagon study found it would take 220 pounds of the stuff to kill even 500 people in an open area. Remember that it took 80 scientists in the Japanese cult $30 million to manufacture less than an ounce of it. And Anthrax, the most likely biological weapon, is no less difficult to deal with, say experts, because it requires special equipment to grow and disperse it.

Click here for more on the threat f terrorism from an interview with Jonathan Tucker.
Jonathan Tucker of the Monterey Institute for International Studies is co-author of a critically acclaimed study that claims the threat of weapons of mass destruction is overplayed and that terrorists are far more likely to use plain old fertilizer and fuel oil bombs, as they did at Oklahoma City, and that Washington has overreacted.

"This is not off-the-shelf equipment," Tucker says. "This is specialized military equipment that would not be available, for example, to domestic terrorists."

"It seems that every agency is developing its own response teams - the military, the FBI, Health and Human Services - so there's enormous redundancy," he adds.

This is a reality that seems unlikely to change. Name one public official who would ever say out loud, "Oh, that'll never happen here."

For more information, read Jim Stewart's prior report: Fighting Back Against Terrorism.

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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