Chapter 4: The Global Challenge of Chemical, Biological, Radiological, or Nuclear (CBRN) Terrorism

Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism
May 30, 2013

Chapter 4.

The Global Challenge of Chemical, Biological, Radiological, or Nuclear (CBRN) Terrorism

Nonproliferation efforts have been a top U.S. national security priority for decades – reducing the amount of chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBRN) material produced and stored by states; restricting the diversion of materials and expertise for illicit use; and preventing the trafficking of CBRN weapons and related material. Yet CBRN materials and expertise remain a significant terrorist threat as evidenced by: terrorists’ stated intent to acquire and use these materials; the nature of injury and damage these weapons can inflict; the ease with which information on these topics now flows; and the dual-use nature of many relevant technologies and material. While efforts to secure CBRN material across the globe have been largely successful, the illicit trafficking of these materials persists, including instances involving highly enriched uranium in 2010 and 2011. These examples suggest that caches of dangerous material may exist on the black market and that we must complement our efforts to consolidate CBRN materials and secure facilities with broader efforts to detect, investigate, and secure CBRN materials that have fallen outside of regulatory control. We must remain vigilant if we hope to prevent terrorist groups from obtaining the means and methods for obtaining CBRN weapons.

A number of international partnerships have either the explicit or the implicit purpose to combat the CBRN threat from terrorists. Organizations and initiatives concerned with chemical and biological weapons use international conventions and regulations to reduce stockpiles of material, regulate the acquisition of dual-use technology, and regulate trade of specific goods. Nuclear and radiological initiatives and programs focus on promoting peaceful uses of nuclear material and energy, safeguarding against diversion, and countering the smuggling of radioactive and nuclear material. The United States also provides technical and financial assistance to ensure that partner nations have the ability to adequately protect and secure CBRN-applicable expertise, technologies, and material. U. S. participation within, and contribution to these groups, is vital to ensure our continued safety from the CBRN threat.

The Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI): Launched in 2003, the PSI has increased international capability to address the challenges associated with stopping the trafficking of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), their related components, and their means of delivery. The PSI remains an important tool in the global effort to combat CBRN material transfers to both state and non-state actors of proliferation concern. As of December 31, 2012, 102 states have endorsed the PSI Statement of Interdiction Principles, by which states commit to take specific actions in support of efforts to halt the trafficking of WMD and related materials. In 2012, PSI participants engaged in the following activities: 

• U.S. Africa Command-sponsored maritime security Exercise Phoenix Express.

• U.S. Africa Command-sponsored maritime security Exercise Saharan Express.

• U.S. Southern Command-sponsored Panama Canal security exercise PANAMAX.

• Bilateral Air Interdiction tabletop exercise with the United States and Panama in Panama City.

• Germany hosted a PSI outreach workshop in Frankfurt.

• Poland hosted a Critical Capabilities and Practices Workshop in Warsaw.

• Japan hosted an air interdiction exercise, Pacific Shield 2012, in Hokkaido.

• The Republic of Korea hosted a Global Operational Experts Group meeting in Seoul.

• The Republic of Korea hosted a maritime interdiction exercise, Eastern Endeavor 2012, in Seoul.

• U.S. European Command co-hosted an Eastern European Interdiction Workshop with Moldova in Chisinau.

The Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT): The GICNT, which is co-chaired by the United States and Russia, is an international partnership of 85 nations and four official observers dedicated to strengthening individual and collective capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to a nuclear terrorist event. Partners engage in multilateral activities and exercises designed to share best practices and lessons learned on a wide range of nuclear security and terrorism issues. To date, partners have conducted over 50 multilateral activities, and seven senior-level meetings, in support of these nuclear security goals. In 2012, there were seven activities to promote the sharing of best practices on the topics of nuclear forensics, nuclear detection, and emergency preparedness and response.

Nuclear Trafficking Response Group (NTRG): The NTRG is an interagency group focused on coordinating the U.S. government response to incidents of illicit trafficking in nuclear and radioactive materials overseas, including radiation alarms. The NTRG works with foreign governments, and the international facilities where diversions occurred, to secure smuggled nuclear material, prosecute those involved, and develop information on smuggling-related threats including potential links between smugglers and terrorists. The Department of State chairs the NTRG, which includes representatives from the nonproliferation, law enforcement, and intelligence communities.

Preventing Nuclear Smuggling Program (PNSP): Through the Preventing Nuclear Smuggling Program (PNSP), the United States utilizes outreach and programmatic capabilities to partner with key governments to broadly enhance capabilities to prevent, detect, and respond effectively to nuclear smuggling attempts. The PNSP develops joint action plans with partner governments to specify priority steps to be taken to improve capabilities. It has developed donor partnerships to assist with joint action plan implementations, resulting in foreign contributions of more than $64 million to anti-nuclear smuggling projects. To date, 14 countries have developed joint action plans and PNSP has programmatically engaged 10 countries to enhance nuclear smuggling response and nuclear forensics capabilities. PNSP also leads a U.S. effort aimed at developing specialized counter-nuclear smuggling capabilities for foreign partners that integrate law enforcement, intelligence, prosecution, and technical capabilities. All PNSP efforts advance the objectives in the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit Work Plan and 2012 Communiqué.

Export Control and Related Border Security Program (EXBS): Through the EXBS Program, the Department of State leads the interagency effort to strengthen export control systems to improve national capabilities to detect, deter, interdict, investigate, and prosecute illicit transfers of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), WMD-related items, and advanced conventional arms in over 60 countries. EXBS delivered over 400 information sharing and training activities in 2012, promoting the adoption, implementation, and enforcement of comprehensive strategic trade controls. These activities improve the capability of partner states to prevent transfers of dual-use items to end-users for purposes of proliferation or terrorism. EXBS is also actively involved in efforts to combat WMD smuggling through enhanced border security and has provided equipment and training to develop the ability to detect, deter, and interdict illicit smuggling of radioactive and nuclear materials, WMD components, and other weapons-related items at ports of entry and across borders. In 2012, EXBS conducted 98 bilateral and regional training activities, and delivered detection and identification equipment to bolster border security in 27 countries. EXBS works in harmony with, and complements, the Department of Homeland Security Container Security Initiative, the Department of Energy International Nonproliferation Export Control Program, the Second Line of Defense Program, the Megaports Initiative, and other international donor assistance programs. EXBS programs improve the ability of partner nations to combat WMD proliferation threats and fulfill important U.S. and international commitments, including UNSCR 1540, the Proliferation Security Initiative, and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism.

Second Line of Defense (SLD): Under its SLD Program, the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (DOE/NNSA) cooperates with partner countries to provide radiation detection systems and associated training to enhance their capabilities to deter, detect, and interdict illicit trafficking of special nuclear and radiological materials across international borders. The SLD Program provides mobile radiological detection equipment to selected countries for use at land borders and internal checkpoints and includes two components: the Core Program and the Megaports Initiative. The Core Program began with work in Russia, and has since expanded to include former Soviet states in the Caucasus, Eastern Europe, and other key regions, providing equipment for land border crossings, feeder seaports, and international airports.

Global Threat Reduction (GTR): GTR programs work to prevent terrorists from acquiring CBRN expertise, materials, and technology across the globe. By engaging scientists, technicians, and engineers with CBRN expertise, GTR seeks to prevent terrorist access to knowledge, materials, and technologies that could be used in a CBRN attack against the U.S. homeland. In 2012, GTR was actively engaged in countries and regions where there is a high risk of proliferation and terrorism. GTR programs have expanded to meet emerging CBRN proliferation threats worldwide and focus on promoting biological, chemical, and nuclear security in those countries where there is a high risk of CBRN proliferation.

National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats: In November 2009, President Obama approved a new national strategy to provide greater policy cohesion and coordination for U.S. efforts to prevent state or non-state actors from acquiring or using biological weapons. While efforts to mitigate the consequences of the use of biological weapons are dealt with through other policy and strategic frameworks, federal agencies have developed detailed implementation plans and are actively coordinating efforts in support of the Strategy’s seven key objectives:

1. Promote global health security

2. Reinforce norms of safe/responsible conduct

3. Obtain timely/accurate insight on current/emerging risks

4. Take reasonable steps to reduce potential for exploitation

5. Expand our capability to prevent, apprehend and attribute

6. Communicate effectively with all stakeholders

7. Transform international dialogue on biological threats

Biological Weapons Convention Inter-Sessional Work Program: A work program was developed at the December 2011 Five-Year Review Conference to restructure work for the next five years to include:

• Standing agenda items on strengthening national implementation measures, which are critical to nonproliferation, promoting public health, and combating bioterrorism;

• Identifying and responding to relevant developments in science and technology and steps to guard against the misuse of science; and

• Promoting greater cooperation and assistance, particularly in countering and responding to outbreaks of infectious disease.