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obtainable materials. We believe that terrorist organisations could also readily obtain and handle without insurmountable difficulty,suitable bacteria,viruse s and certain toxins.

Although CBW proliferation undoubtedly increases the risk that CBW agents could be stolen by or even supplied to terrorists by state sponsors . . . this prospect must be viewed against a background where many suitable agents can be manufactured in small quantities using easily available materials. So as far as terrorism is concerned,proliferation (if it comes about) may not necessarily be much a ffected by the actions of States with the relevant capability.

[JIC, 26 June 1989]


The main strands in this assessment set the standard for the next few years. There was no credible evidence of terrorist interest in nuclear, biological or chemical weapons; hoaxes and threats might be more disuptive than actual use; terrorists were very unlikely to be able to acquire nuclear devices; and the fact that some states possessed nuclear, biological or chemical weapons was unlikely to affect the risk of their use by terrorists.


In April 19922, in its first assessment specifically on the threat of attacks by terrorists using chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons, the JIC considered the technical options, but emphasised the difficulties which were thought likely to render such methods unattractive options for terrorist groups:

They may be deterred by the danger to their own members,or by the risk of alienating the public and especially their own supporters. They may also fear that an attack would cause international outrage leading to determined efforts on an international scale to bring them to book. By contrast,conventional weap ons are

cheaper,easier to procure,and offer traditional targets (such as prominent government buildings).

equal or greater effectiveness individuals,members of the secur

agai nst ity forces,

[JIC, 23 April 1992]

This, too, was to become a feature of JIC assessments:for most terrorist us es, conventional weapons were better.


By October 1994, there had been a number of media reports – some correct – of fissile material being available on the black market. In the first of several such studies, the JIC did not consider that these affected its overall assessment:

Despite the possibility which now exists of obtaining fissile material,it is extremely unlikely that a terrorist group could produce even a crude nuclear device; nor is there any evidence that any group has contemplated the use of nuclear weapons. A more plausible scenario might be the dispersal of radioactive materials by conventional explosives or other means to achieve radiological contamination. The actual danger to the public from radioactivity would probably be small – smaller in some cases than to the terrorists. But such an attack (or its threat) could be highly effective in causing panic and public concern.


It was also in 1992 that a Kurdish terrorist group tried to poison the water supply of a Turkish airbase using cyanide.

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