This report describes current civilian capabilities as well as ongoing and planned research and development (R&D) programs. It identifies some areas in which innovative R&D is clearly needed and assesses current R&D work for its applicability to coping with domestic terrorism.
Pre-incident intelligence about specific agents will always be important, for it is not possible to be prepared for all possible agents in all possible circumstances. As a practical matter, the committee has taken as its reference point the relatively short list of chemical and biological agents that are discussed in the U.S. Army's handbooks for the medical management of chemical and biological casualties: nerve agents, cyanides, phosgene, and vesicants such as sulfur mustard; the bacteria-produced poisons staphylococcal enterotoxin B and the botulinal toxins; the plant-derived toxin ricin; the fungal metabolite T-2 mycotoxin; and the infectious micro-organisms causing anthrax, brucellosis, plague, Q-fever, tularemia, smallpox, viral encephalitis, and hemorrhagic fever. As the body of the report notes, some are clearly more of a threat than others, and Appendixes C and D provide longer lists of potential chemical and biological agents, respectively, that have been assembled by other groups.
For the above agents, a particularly threatening means of delivery, on which both military offensive and protective programs and the committee's considerations have concentrated, is as vapors or aerosols designed to cause poisoning or disease as a result of inhalation. Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to assume that terrorists will not be able to use other agents, even novel ones, or other means of delivery, including contamination of food or water supplies.
As a practical measure, the committee chose to frame analyses of the possible utility of technology and R&D programs within three general scenarios. At one extreme is an overt attack rapidly producing significant casualties at a specific time and placesomething similar to the Oklahoma City bombing, but involving a chemical or biological agent rather than, or in addition to, high explosives. Near the other extreme is a covert attack with an agent (for example, any of the bacteria or viruses alluded to in the previous paragraph) producing signs and symptoms in those exposed only after an incubation period of days or weeks, when the victims might be widely dispersed. The third scenario involves attempts at preemption, such as full-time monitoring of high-risk targets (e.g., the White House), deployment for specific events (Olympic Games, or the State-of-the-Union address), or simply dealing with a suspicious package.
The committee recognizes that for nearly any specific locale, a terrorist attack of any sort is a very low-probability event, and for that reason