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

Bureau of Counterterrorism

Nonproliferation efforts have been a top U.S. national security priority for decades. The past decade has seen a growing recognition that our strategic counterterrorism posture is strengthened by counter and nonproliferation programs that aim to reduce the amount of chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBRN) material produced and stored by states; restrict the diversion of materials and expertise for illicit use; and prevent the trafficking of CBRN weapons and related material. Yet CBRN materials and expertise remain a significant terrorist threat as demonstrated 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 those materials that have fallen outside of regulatory control. We must remain vigilant to prevent terrorist groups from obtaining the means and methods to develop and deploy CBRN weapons.
A number of international partnerships have either the explicit or the implicit purpose of countering the CBRN threat from terrorists and other non-state actors. 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 to regulate trade of specific goods. International nuclear and radiological initiatives and programs focus on promoting peaceful uses of nuclear material and energy, safeguarding materials and expertise against diversion, and countering the smuggling of radioactive and nuclear material. The United States routinely provides technical and financial assistance and training 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, 2013, 102 states have endorsed the PSI Statement of Interdiction Principles, by which states commit to take specific actions to support efforts to halt the trafficking of WMD and related materials.
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 60 multilateral activities and eight senior-level plenary meetings in support of these nuclear security goals. In 2013, there were eight multilateral 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 to secure smuggled nuclear material, prosecute those involved, and develop information on smuggling-related threats including potential links between smugglers and terrorists. The U.S. Department of State chairs the NTRG, which includes representatives from the U.S. government’s nonproliferation, law enforcement, and intelligence communities.
Preventing Nuclear Smuggling Program (PNSP): Continuing seizures of nuclear and radioactive material suggest these dangerous materials remain in illegal circulation. Securing these materials before they reach the hands of terrorists or other malicious actors is critical to U.S. national security, and that of U.S. allies. Using PNSP funds, the U.S. Department of State utilizes outreach and programmatic capabilities to partner with key governments to broadly enhance capabilities to prevent, detect, and respond effectively to nuclear smuggling attempts. PNSP funds enable the U.S. Department of State to develop joint action plans with partner governments to specify priority steps to be taken to improve counter-nuclear smuggling capabilities. As a result, the U.S. Department of State has developed donor partnerships to assist with joint action plan implementations, resulting in foreign contributions of more than US $72 million to anti-nuclear smuggling projects. To date, 15 countries have developed joint action plans and the U.S Department of State has programmatically engaged 12 countries using PNSP-funded projects to enhance nuclear smuggling response procedures, improve nuclear forensics capabilities, and enable the successful prosecution of smugglers. The U.S. Department of State also uses PNSP funds to lead a U.S. effort to develop specialized counter-nuclear smuggling capabilities for foreign partners that integrate law enforcement, intelligence, and technical reach-back capabilities. All PNSP-funded efforts advance the objectives in the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit Work Plan and the 2010 and 2012 Nuclear Security Summit Communiqués.
Export Control and Related Border Security Program (EXBS): Through the EXBS Program, the U.S. 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 WMD, WMD-related items, and advanced conventional arms in over 60 countries. EXBS delivered over 200 information sharing and training activities in 2013, 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 2013, the EXBS program oversaw over 200 bilateral and regional training activities involving 77 countries, and delivered detection and identification equipment to bolster border security in over 25 countries. EXBS works in harmony with and complements the DHS Container Security Initiative, the U.S. 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 fulfill important U.S. and international commitments, including under UNSC Resolution 1540 (2004), the National Security Strategy, and adherence to the guidelines of multilateral export control regimes.
Second Line of Defense (SLD): Under its SLD Program, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration 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 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 2013, GTR was actively engaged in countries and regions at 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.
Biological Weapons Convention Inter-Sessional Work Program (BWC): The December 2011 BWC Review Conference adopted a program of work aimed at strengthening international capacities to prevent, detect, and respond to the proliferation or use of biological weapons, whether by state or non-state actors. In 2013, the United States continued efforts in this forum to: acquire better information about BWC parties’ implementing measures, and enhance such measures; promote sustainable, effective approaches to laboratory biosecurity; raise international awareness of the need for appropriate, balanced oversight of dual-use life science research with significant potential for harm; and identify and address impediments to international coordination and response in the event of a bioterrorism attack or a significant disease outbreak of unknown origin.