September 16, 2001
10:19 PM   Subscribe

Bioterror? Nukes? Don't bet on it. Buried in this Washington Post article about the possibility of further terrorist attacks is a piece of information that I had been thinking was probably true myself: The fact that they went to all this trouble to hijack planes and use them as giant bombs is "enormously illustrative" that they probably do not have anything worse to use on us, like biological, chemical or nuclear weapons.
posted by aaron (35 comments total)
For now. Tuesday's intricate attack was so well thought out and executed that it makes me think that terrorists with nukes is just a matter of time. Bin Laden has the cash and Russia is desperately poor with thousands of nuclear bombs on its hands.
posted by drunkkeith at 10:31 PM on September 16, 2001

I doubt this. I think the reason that they used planes was because they knew that they only had one shot to use this option. They knew that if they came into the US with Biological weapons then there would be a security clamp down even bigger then there is now. The terrorists are looking to put fear into the US. The plane hijackings did just that.

Remember: Justice != Revenge.
posted by DragonBoy at 10:31 PM on September 16, 2001

i beg to differ.
the attackers are illustrating a message

that's why they're using civilian planes from the US's most prominent airlines, not a cruise missile. comparing to the fatalities a bio weapon would produce, the deaths from the towers, though the its toll is mind-blowingly devastating, would not compare. it does not disprove if whoever did it has worse or not.
posted by elle at 10:39 PM on September 16, 2001

The real problem is the assumption that there is just one group at work, here. The absolute range and scope of the attackers is still unknown.
posted by dong_resin at 10:43 PM on September 16, 2001

But do they not also realize that the use of bio or nuke weapons would likely result in an overwhelming military response that would, at the very least, put much of the Islamic under US military control where we could take out almost all of them one by one over time? (Even if they do have such weapons.) These people aren't insane. Only their theology is.
posted by aaron at 10:51 PM on September 16, 2001

You lot have also got the luxury of a nice big moat for nukes to have to traverse before they can sting your arses. Here in Europe we've only got that trusty old supa-dupa magic forcefield of hope.

When the rockets go up who cares where they come down that's not my department says Werner Von Braun.
posted by Kino at 10:54 PM on September 16, 2001

The planes were a double whammy. Nukes wouldn't have American civilians aboard.
posted by mirla at 11:08 PM on September 16, 2001

Ahhh, but I do recall a report somewhere along the line (NBC I think?) that Osama's crew was actually testing some sort of biological weapon. Will post if I can find it again. But if true - I don't doubt that it's possible - personally gives me the heebeejeebees.


Here's yet another thing that Shrubya's missle defense plan doesn't account for, and in my personal opinion is just another pile of steaming right-wing Republican poo.

posted by PeteyStock at 11:09 PM on September 16, 2001

I've also read that their bio/chem weapons are likely not WELL developed. Not what you'd use for a dramatic, catastrophic first strike. That does NOT mean that they are not useful for small, limited, rampant local strikes. Just because their weapons might not be perfected does not meanthat they are not useful for the follow-up, insidious small scale terror strikes.
posted by HTuttle at 11:21 PM on September 16, 2001

the key here is using or not using an actual 'weapon' designed for destruction. the perpretrators did not use a weapon; they're testing the limits of the US national defence's patience toward insult and injury.

regardless, the authorities have immediately deemed this an act of war even in the absence a weapon. so was this within the attackers' calculations? probably, considering the low frequency of terror attacks in the US, hence, the american public's sensitivity to them, let alone one of this magnitude and graphic nature. like you said, aaron, they're not illogical. so they probably have something up their sleeve when the US does retaliate.
posted by elle at 11:22 PM on September 16, 2001

I have to agree with aaron. as Die Hard w/ a Vengance goes, "YEs, i'm zeus. the God of lightning who is about to shove a lightning rod up your ass" (or something like that)...well, we the USA would be Zeus and Afghanastan and the rest of the known middle east would be the ass. As horrid as the attacks were, if they had tried to attack us w/ a nuke or some biochemical weapon, we'de have pressed that little red button used during the cold war were every weapon in our arsenal is launched.
posted by jmd82 at 11:25 PM on September 16, 2001

What I've read is that they apparently haven't solved the 'mass dispersal' element of these weapons. That does not keep them from having useful, limited scope bio/chem weapons. With enough terrorists, small releases can be catastrophic enough, once the worlds attention is focused.
posted by HTuttle at 11:26 PM on September 16, 2001

And let's not forget the infiltration factor. How many are enlisted and working in our armed forces!

A small release in the confines of a carrier could be devasting.
posted by HTuttle at 11:29 PM on September 16, 2001

---the key here is using or not using an actual 'weapon' designed for destruction.---

They've proven in '93 that they are perfectly willing to use their own weapons. This incident was a brainstorm for using your opponents own power against them, classic martial arts.

That does NOT mean, again: '93, that they are in any way against doing so.
posted by HTuttle at 11:38 PM on September 16, 2001

we'de have pressed that little red button used during the cold war were every weapon in our arsenal is launched.

not likely, because once those buttons were pressed, every nuke-posessing nation would get scared and press theirs; then we'd all be in a nice long nuclear winter. i wouldn't like it, i kind of want my skin, and our UN friends probably wouldn't condone that. zeus, is immortal; the US, on the other hand, needs its friends and its population (along with the world's, since we're the self-proclaimed police of earth) alive.
posted by elle at 11:39 PM on September 16, 2001

htuttle: i was addressing aaron's question. sorry i didn't make that clear.
posted by elle at 11:42 PM on September 16, 2001

elle: understood. But I feel the need to express my fears regarding the multisided aspects of this 'unkown' war we're entering into.

Especially infiltration. They've shown their preference for that tactic. We MUST be wary of that. And I HOPE the military IS being wary of that.

These guys just spent years situating and educating themselves for just this one final act. Surely some have considered joining OUR armed forces.
posted by HTuttle at 11:48 PM on September 16, 2001

Though no expert when it comes to such matters, I've read that creating and implementing a biological weapon is extremely difficult. The toxins necessary to make such a weapon feasible are, quite obviously, hazardous to work with, and are tough to transport, or to dispurse in an effective manner.

Despite this, we're all under the impression that a terrorist could simply "dump" a bunch of Anthrax (or some similar unpleasantness) off the Empire State observation deck. It's my impression - and please correct me if I'm terribly wrong - that this is simply not the case.

Nuculear weapons are even more difficult to create and transport - a weapon with a destructive force on the order of Hiroshima isn't exactly an easy thing to lug around unnoticed. While a smaller weapon is conceivable (something that could take out a city block for example) it wouldn't be at all easy to engineer - almost certainly beyond the means of even the most well organized terrorist organizations.

Hence, the careful planning that these terrorists put in to finding an alternative. Though utterly evil, those who planned this attach were most certainly not stupid - on the contrary, the were nothing short of brilliant.

Had they the means to release a biological or nuculear weapon, they most certainly would have done so.

This, however, does not mean that we shouldn't prepare for such attacks. While they may beyond the means of terrorists now, they may not be for long. If and when they're able to attack with such weapons of mass destruction, they probably will.
posted by aladfar at 12:02 AM on September 17, 2001

aladfar: Please look into that further. As far as I've read, one of the biggest problems is the mass dispersal. Apparently most of these agents do not naturally disperse well. And most degrade or die rapidly. This was the problem (?) with the Japanese nerve gas releases. However, killing a few dozen can have a catastrophic effect if you choose the right(?) dozen to release it upon.
Hence, infiltration.
posted by HTuttle at 12:19 AM on September 17, 2001

a report somewhere along the line (NBC I think?) that Osama's crew was actually testing some sort of biological weapon

NYT: Holy Warriors Escalate an Old War on a New Front

in which we learn:
Beyond that, administration officials who most closely monitor Mr. bin Laden's activities warn that the next round of terror could even involve weapons of mass destruction. Satellite pictures of dead animals on test ranges show that militants have been experimenting with various poisons at a terrorist training camp that Mr. bin Laden runs in eastern Afghanistan.
posted by Zurishaddai at 12:36 AM on September 17, 2001

What I've read is...
I've read that creating...
I've also read that their bio/chem weapons...

Just an opinion...I don't think it really matters what "they" have. Spreading suspicion and fear can be a weapon as powerful as any gun or bomb. Combine this with a lack of knowledge as to what "they" have or don't have, will or will not do, even who they are, and you have the beginning of a panic situation that spreads like a smouldering mattress fire, then explodes.
posted by ashbury at 12:47 AM on September 17, 2001

Regarding the disbursement of a biological weapon:
Under good meteorological conditions and with a light wind (12 km/h) from the southeast, a small boat could make the 32 km run from Battery Park (the southern tip of Manhattan) to City Island (the entrance to Long Island Sound) in about 3 hours at 6 knots. With a culture containing 109 spores/ml and producing aerosol at the rate of about 500 ml/min, a total of 90 liters (24 gallons) of agent are required....If only half the target personnel are actually exposed; if only half of those develop pulmonary anthrax; if only half the cases result in mortalities (all conservative assumptions), more than 600,000 deaths will ensue.

Regarding the viability of Anthrax once disbursed:
Nearly all microorganisms die quickly when exposed to sunlight. They are adversely affected by high temperatures and succumb easily to desiccation. Simply put, they are fragile. This is not the case for anthrax. It is a hardy organism. In spore form it can live for decades, withstanding wide variations in environment.

Source: The Canadian Security Intelligence Service Report on Biological Terrorism.

It would appear, despite my previous assertions to the contrary, that we do indeed have much to fear. Indeed, the paper makes mention of the 1995 biological attack on Tokyo's subway system - an act of terrorism I'd all but forgotten about. Hence, biological terrorism is not without precedent.

Still, the microbiology equipment, and the specialists required to employ that equipment are difficult to locate in such impoverished nations as Afghanistan, et al. While we do have much to be concerned about, I still feel somewhat comfortable in saying that a biological attack would be extremely difficult for a terrorist organization to organize.

Again, those responsible for attacking the world trade center were brilliant - had they the ability to release a biological or nuculear agent, I firmly believe that they would have. Clearly, however, there is a need to prepare safeguards in the event of such an attack.
posted by aladfar at 12:59 AM on September 17, 2001


Voicing opinions based on limited, non-validated facts on a bulletin board! You're right! Stop the presses! This is an outrage!
posted by HTuttle at 1:04 AM on September 17, 2001


So we must. And be wary of ALL the various insidious ways one might release such an attack.

RE: An aside regarding the Sarin attacks
How come we haven't bombed Japan recently? They have fanatic terrorists with active, funtioning nerve gas. So why not?
Oh, that's right, because the Japanese ARE seeing to the destruction of their own fanatic elements.
So it goes for Islam. THEY need to eliminate these terrorists themselves. Lip service doesn't cut it! Else someone else will do it....
posted by HTuttle at 1:09 AM on September 17, 2001

9.11 was bin Lauden's equivalent of a three cushion bank shot. I don't think he is going to continue with this kind of showboating now that we have put our money down. He's just going to try to run the table.
posted by username at 1:33 AM on September 17, 2001

Lol username, I loved the showboating part!
posted by HoldenCaulfield at 4:23 AM on September 17, 2001

Let's get things straight...The attackers on Tuesday did not aim at first to kill a ton of people. They aimed to destroy a symbol of American dominance, and second kill a whole bunch of people.

Anthrax doesn't get the message across as well as levelling a national symbol.
posted by dogmatic at 4:53 AM on September 17, 2001

A few hundred tons of people. They actually mentioned the wieght of dead bodies expected to be involved on tv yesterday when talking of the rescue/cleanup operation and it was obviously a horrific figure to hear. This wasn't just about taking out an American symbol, not with that many people involved; It was about striking a blow to the nation, and the international community, on many, many levels. Symbols included.
posted by Kino at 5:30 AM on September 17, 2001

Then again, you more or less said that anyway. I'm just not sure there can be a definite order of attackers priorities struck between casualties and symbols - the two are interwoven in this unique, disgusting event and must go hand in hand. If they could take out a million Americans even without touching any structures the evil fuckers would have jumped at the chance.
posted by Kino at 5:38 AM on September 17, 2001

You know what, if they would have smashed the Statue of Liberty in the middle of the night, and if there was no people in it, that would have been almost honourable relative to the direction they could have flown in. Upsetting for many, yes. But all said and done - just a statue, bricks, gold, plaster - a symbol. An important one. It would have been a much more acceptable act of terrorism bringing attention to their cause, if such a thing can exist. What more of a symbol of the United States and the American way can you get? But no, they wanted death, suffering, pain and destruction on a mass scale and they could only get that by killing a lot of people. That's why the world needs to stop everything and concentrate it's efforts on the huge issue of this era we've moved into. This war. Because if big things aren't acheived, if the kind of people who carry out such destruction arent shown it won't do them or their causes any good - we're fucked.
posted by Kino at 6:06 AM on September 17, 2001

The planes were a double whammy. Nukes wouldn't have American civilians aboard.

But a nuke would have wiped out all of Manhattan. You think two buildings was a statement? Imagine if we woke up Tuesday morning and there was no New York City?
posted by glenwood at 6:58 AM on September 17, 2001

I did a doubletake at that line myself. I suppose the person who wrote it didn't think too hard about what they were saying. They wouldn't have meant it, but just got sidetracked by the graphic memories. A temporary lapse of reason. Doubtless when they see it again they'll realise and agree it's absurd.
posted by Kino at 8:04 AM on September 17, 2001

i think nukes woulkd leave a much more recognizable trail than a terrorist attack from inside the us. so, weapons launched from offshore would command a pinpoint retaliation, whether or not the force's leader is necessarily at the launch station. with this attack, not only does the u.s. not know where the leader is, they're not even positive where to begin.

terrorists want to strike fear. they used our planes, our fuel, and our loved ones as weapons. that's pretty scary. lobbing nukes from halfway around the world, though horrifying, doesn't result in the same feeling of helplessness.
posted by mich9139 at 10:28 AM on September 17, 2001

weapons launched from offshore

mich9139, this is assuming, of course, that there's anything launched to begin with. Who's to say they wouldn't just load a small nuke into a steamer trunk, pack it into a Ryder truck, drive it over to the Empire State Building, light the fuse, and get the hell out?
posted by 40 Watt at 1:40 PM on September 17, 2001

The tangos may not have had to *develop* bio/chem/nuclear weapons, you know - bin Laden surely has enough money to just buy some off the black market.

Regarding "launched" weapons - no reason for them to be launched. A suitcase nuke needs no missile, hence the name.
posted by Spirit_VW at 8:26 AM on September 18, 2001

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