Horror or Hype: The Challenge of Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Terrorism

Lasha Giorgidze, James K. Wither
Content Type
Working Paper
George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies
Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) materials attract the attention of terrorists motivated to inflict mass casualties and create mass panic. CBRN includes a wide array of materials, some of them very difficult to acquire, although others are of a dual-use nature. Dualuse materials can be used to construct CBRN weapons, but also have licit civilian applications. Though not all CBRN weapons are weapons of mass destruction, they can still cause massive disruption and fear in a targeted society. The goal of this paper is to evaluate the potential threat from terrorists’ use of CBRN weapons. It discusses the technical opportunities and constraints of each type of weapon and presents relevant historical and contemporary examples and case studies involving terrorist use of CBRN. The paper also assesses the contemporary threat. It examines how CBRN-related information is shared via terrorist propaganda on the internet and messaging applications, why terrorists might be motivated to use CBRN materials, and the constraints on their ambitions.
Nuclear Weapons, Terrorism, Internet, Biological Weapons , Chemical Weapons, Radiological Weapons
Political Geography
Global Focus