WMD Terrorist Strike in U.S. ‘Simply a Question of Time’

The State Department’s top counterterrorism official says it is only a matter of time before terrorists use nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons on U.S. soil.

There is a “very high” probability that a terrorist group will strike using nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, a senior U.S. counterterrorism official said in comments published Tuesday. “I rate the probability of terror groups using (weapons of mass destruction) as very high,” U.S. State Department counterterrorism coordinator Henry Crumpton was quoted as saying by the Daily Telegraph newspaper. “It is simply a question of time.”

Crumpton said a biological attack was potentially the most troubling scenario. He said evidence from Afghanistan suggested al-Qaeda had been seeking to develop anthrax before the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001. “It is not just the nuclear threat that bothers me,” he was quoted as saying. “I think, if anything, the biological threat is going to grow.” “As catastrophic as a nuclear attack would be, it would be self-contained. But if you look at a worst-case scenario for a biological attack, it would be difficult to determine whether or not it was a terrorist attack, and it would be far more difficult to contain.”

Crumpton is almost certainly right. Terrorists are no doubt trying to obtain WMD and they will eventually be successful. That some groups, notably al Qaeda, would actually use these weapons once acquired is also a virtual certainty. Such proclamations are hardly new. CIA chief Porter Goss and Yosef Bodansky, former director of the US Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, made similar statements quite some time ago.

Aside from laying the ground for failure, however, the value of these pronouncements is unclear. While academics and think tank analysts have the luxury of intellectual detachment on such issues, the government should take the stance that failure is not an option.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Intelligence, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. LJD says:

    Any one arguing against things like wiretaps, because of the supposed ‘erosion of civil rights’ knows absolutely nothing about the horrors of a chemical or biological attack. I wonder when they’ll stop helping the enemy achieve their goal.

  2. Anderson says:

    LJD, kindly show me an example of “arguing against wiretaps,” as opposed to “arguing against illegal and warrantless wiretaps.”

    I think the president should obey the law, asking that the law be changed if it impairs national security. You have a problem with that?

  3. LJD says:

    No surprise that you are again missing the point. The GWOT is a unique challenge requiring creative solutions. The terrorists ability to operate independently, swiftly, and with sensational effect requires that we respond in kind.

    Other Americans (not G.W.’s SS) are working fervently to locate these terrorist SOBs. They don’t care about one individual’s perverted phone conversations or e-mails. Frankly, they simply do not have the time or resources. So sleep well at night Anderson, no one gives a crap about your conversations.

    I suppose you can provide a long list of people, whose ‘civil rights’ have been horribly violated because of this?

  4. Anderson says:

    So the answer is yes, you do have a problem with the president’s obeying the law?

    The $64,000 question here, the one that should have any real “conservative” worried, is: given how easy it was to (1) comply with FISA and (2) get the law changed if necessary, why didn’t Bush do either or both, if it was really necessary to national security?

    Instead, AG AG has said that the White House’s best guess was that the Republican-controlled Congress wouldn’t vote to change the law to let Bush do what he’s doing.

    Why not?

  5. LJD says:

    My intent was not to open a debate unrelated to the original post, as it seems you have taken this tangent somewhere distant…
    To briefly address your question, I would have to say it all depends on your interpretation of the law, and when or how you think the President violated it. I would say that is yet TBD.
    You illustrate my point perfectly though. The lawyers will have us all killed- Tying the hands of our law enforcement and DHS officials while debating the procedures used to fight the GWOT, distracting from the hunt for the enemy.
    The $64k question is, do you know what it’s like to die from exposure to a nerve agent? Anthrax?
    It is only a matter of time… I would think this would have even the ACLU lawyers seriously considering the harm done to our rights. Amazingly (or maybe not so), you have failed to demonstrate it, maintaining your pre-9/11 mentality. You probably don’t even think there IS a threat.

  6. Barry says:

    “…the government should take the stance that failure is not an option. ”

    IIRC, the administration’s ‘strategy’ for Iraq says that specifically. This doesn’t prevent failure, and probably helps failure. If a pilot says ‘crashing ain’t an option’, while conducting rigorous pre-flight inspections and preparations, I’d be reassured. If the pilot says that while screwing up/preventing such inspections and preparations, I’d be worried.

  7. Herb says:


    Now, don’t argue with Anderson. Everyone as well as himself knows that he is the authorty and last word on the law. If he says that Bush broke the law, then thats it. If you don’t think Anderson knows more than the Attorny General, The Supreme Court and even knows more than what the Constitution says, Then, just ask him.

    Amderson is the God among us and knows all.

    He doesn’t say “Oh My God”, he says “Oh My Me”

  8. Patrick McGuire says:

    “…the value of these pronouncements is unclear…

    Perhaps the value, and more to the point, the timing, of these pronouncements is to drum up support for Bush’s spying program?

    Personally, I want all restraints removed from this program so that we can catch the SOB’s that much faster. There is no way that you can fight a war while having to constantly refer to a rule book to see if it’s okay to do something. Whatever happened to the saying “All is fair in love and war”?

    But you can bet the farm that some liberal weenie is going to demean Crumpton’s comments as nothing more than scare tactics by the Bush Administration.

  9. anjin-san says:

    Does anyone really think terrorists are saying things like “the anthrax has arrived, we are ready to strike” on open lines? My guess is that they are sneaky enough to use pretty sophisticated codes to avoid “data mining”.

    As for data mining, or wiretapping or whatever you want to call it, I think most people object to the effort to bypass FISA. The WOT may well last for decades as did the cold war. I simply don’t trust our leaders (of either party) with a blank check to do anything they wish in the name of fighting the war. If we are no longer a nation of laws, then we have already lost in a very meaningful way.

    As for hysterical shrilling like “You probably don’t even think there IS a threat”, well it would probably get laughed out of a middle school debate club…

  10. anjin-san says:

    Well we are on the subject of possible future attacks against our country, how about a discussion of the administration’s dismal failure on homeland security?

  11. Jack Ehrlich says:

    Anderson, your failure to understand the term Commander in Chief shows in your post. The President does not prosecute crimes, he is defending the country. The constitution does not require a committee to decide defensive measures. For the President to not use the full power of the technology we have developed would be derelict. Anjin-san, you are no pilot. What you should study is the number of attacks on US interests from 1992 to 2000 and those after 9/11. Notice anything? History did not start with the election of George Bush as President. There are idiots out there that forget that for any action, or lack there of, there is a reaction.

  12. Herb says:

    Jack Enrich

    You are wrong, Anjin San is a pilot

    He piles it here and piles it there. and tries to plie it everywhere.

  13. anjinSan says:


    How far back in history do you want to go? Our incursioin into Lebanon? Gulf of Tonkin? Crassius adventuring into Parthia? (Kind of reminiscient of GW in Iraq). Look it up on Google Jack, I will wait…

  14. LJD says:

    I’m still waiting for some one, any one, to show me how the future of our country is at stake because the Federal Government is screening communications made by foreigners?

    ‘…dismal failure on homeland security?’

    I suppose it’s just good luck, then. So why not spit in the faces of the thousands of police and DHS people, your fellow Americans, putting in long hours to ensure your right to shoot your mouth off.