The actual threat does not match the media hype. Almost all the available intelligence refers to terrorist interest in CB materials,rather than to specific attack plans. There is no credible intelligence that any terrorist except UBL has the capability or serious intent to explore the use of weapons-grade nuclear materials – nor,except for Chechen extremists,radiological material. Terrorists i nterested in CB are generally those least constrained by public opinion or their members’ or supporters’ sensitivities. Their resources and targets tend to be abroad rather than in Britain,so the risk of attacks using toxic materials has always been great er overseas.
UBL has sought CBRN materials for use as terrorist weapons . . . . From his public statements and interviews it is clear that he believes it is legitimate to use them as weapons and his wealth has allowed him to fund procurement,experimentati on and training. There is plentiful intelligence that this interest is sustained,mostly relating to toxic materials.
In 1999 he sought equipment for a chemical weapons lab in Afghanistan,and claimed already to have . . . experts working there.
[JIC, 10 January 2001]
3.6 THE AFTERMATH OF 9/11
In an important paper shortly after the attacks of 11 September 2001, the JIC made clear the way in which Usama bin Laden’s philosophy, combined with suicide attacks, had changed the calculus of threat. This assessment summarised the new security challenge which, as we describe further in the context of Iraq at Chapter 5, was to become dominant in the thinking of British Ministers – the desire of terrorists and extremists to cause casualties on a massive scale, undeterred by the fear of alienating the public or their own supporters that had been noted as a constraining factor in JIC assessments in the early 1990s or by considerations of personal survival. To this fundamental shift in the JIC’s judgement on the likely motivation and goals of terrorists and extremists was added a corresponding shift in its conclusions about the attractiveness of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons. Thus, in September 2001 the JIC noted that:
Many defensive and preventive measures taken against terrorism (such as ensuring that passenger and luggage travel together) still presuppose that the terrorist will want to survive the attack. But suicide attackers,especially those backe d by
sophisticated planning and pursuing non-negotiable objectives,negate s many e c u r i t y m e a s u r e s a n d w i d e n s o c i e t y ’ s v u l n e r a b i l i t y . N e w s t r a t e g i e s a r e r e q u i r e d t o counter the threat of terrorists willing,or even eager,to sacrifice their lives as martyrs in Islamic extremist or other causes – although there can be no complete protection against them.
In the context of UBL’s jihad,casualties and destruction could be an end in themselves as much as a means to an end (Footnote: UBL’s stated objective is to secure US withdrawal from the Middle East or,failing that,to provoke a rea ction which would further demonise the US in the eyes of Muslims and destabilise moderate Arab states that he perceives as un-Islamic). He has no interest in