Jonathan Tucker On Terrorist Weapons

The following are excerpts from the CBS News interview with Jonathan Tucker who co-authored a study on the threat of weapons of mass destruction.

Regarding the threat of Anthrax:

"It is increasingly difficult now to acquire highly virulent strains, and even one would then have to mass produce the agent."

"And when we're talking about mass casualty attacks, we're talking about very significant quantities of agent that would have to be converted into a concentrated cloud in the appropriate particle size to be inhaled and retained in the lungs."

What kind of equipment are we talking about?

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

Regarding chemical weapons:

"The terrorists would be at enormous risks when handling these materials. They would have to be quite sophisticated to work with these deadly materials."

"In the case of Aum (the Japanese group that released sarin in a Tokyo subway), they used probably the lowest-tech delivery mechanism one could think of. They had plastic bags filled with a solution of sarin which they punctured with umbrella tips; it leaked out and formed a puddle, which then evaporated and exposed people in the immediate vicinity but that is not a very efficient."

Do you think that attack had a disproportionate impact on U.S. planners?

"It definitely did. There's no question it seemed at the time that some taboo was broken, that terrorists had resorted to these weapons. But since the Aum (Shinriko) attack we have not seen any similar attack over the past. It's been five years now, and you would think that, if in fact a taboo had been broken, we would see some copycat."

"In a sense we've made the terrorist's job easier because whenever there's even a small scale incident of chemical or biological terrorism, I think there will be a disproportionate response.

"(And) I think there'll be an exaggerated response that will serve the interest of the terrorist but not our society."

"The great irony is that we've made these weapons more attractive to terrorists by our exaggerated fear about them."

"We can influence the future. I think we can make it more difficult for terrorists to acquire these technologies and we can devalue these weapons by talking less about them by making people less concerned about them. Of course it's a delicate balance,you want people to have some level of concern. But I think we've gone to the extreme of hysteria about these threats, and in a way that's vastly disproportionate to the threat that one would deduce from the historical record."

"The question is: Are we spending that money in the most effective and sustainable way?"

"It seems that every agency is developing its own response teams - the military, the FBI, Health and Human services - so there's enormous redundancy. Someon has to make the hard decisions because bureaucracy left to its own devices - every agency will get a piece of the pie."

"The problem with the post-Cold War era is that it's much more unpredictable. The international security situation is much more fluid. There is the spread of weapons from the former Soviet Union but we don't know exactly where it's going; there are a lot more states acquiring or attempting to acquire weapons of mass destruction, so I think the security environment has become much less predictable. And that makes it very difficult to deal with these new threats."

"Because of that uncertainty there has been a tendency to assume the worst."

"If Osama bin Laden got a highly virulent strain of Anthrax, produced 100 kilograms, disseminated it highly efficiently with military-grade delivery systems, what would that produce and how would we respond in that case? Even though that is perhaps a 1percent probability."

"I think we need to focus on much more likely incidents."

"Much more likely scenarios are food contamination."

"The most probable threat is food or drug tampering as we've seen in the past."