This is the 33rd issue of the feature called the IBC Threat Assessment (IBC-TA) that was initiated in November 2014. It is intended to inform our readers about ongoing and emerging CRBNe-threats that need the attention of policymakers, experts and ordinary citizens. If left unattended these threats may result in grave consequences for different sectors of our societies and/or the security of ordinary citizens. As the threat environment is constantly changing existing regulations, crisis plans or security protocols are often insufficient and in need of adaptation or review. Every TA will cover a threat for each CBRNe category. The TA’s are based on open sources.

End date of collection: April 4, 2018

Topics covered in this issue

* On request of Russia the OPCW held an emergency meeting to discuss the Skripal-poisoning case

* New call for the reduction of the consumption of antibiotics in order to prevent massive pandemic event

* At 7th anniversary of Fukushima disaster the decommissioning and clean-up efforts still look very bleak

* Israel releases intelligence related to the destruction of an alleged nuclear reactor in Syria on September 6, 2007, as a clear warning to Iran.

* Iran most likely supplier of components for RCIEDs concealed as rocks used by the Houthis in Yemen

Chemical

On request of Russia the OPCW held an emergency meeting to discuss the Skripal-poisoning case

Summary

* The OPCW held an emergency meeting to discuss the Skripal-poisoining case

* On March 4, Sergei Skripal (66) and his daughter Yulia (33) were poisoned in the town of Salisbury with a military-grade Novichok nerve agent.

* One month after the poisoning incident it appears that the official British narrative is slowly collapsing. This may create political problems for the These May government.

On March 4, Sergei Skripal (66) and his daughter Yulia (33) were poisoned with a military-grade Novichok nerve agent in the town of Salisbury. They were hospitalized. One month later Miss Yulia is conscious and talking while her father still remains critically but stable. There is no known antidote against this type of nerve agent to negate the effects.

The name Novichok means ‘newcomer’ in Russian and applies to a group of nerve agents developed in the 1970s and 1980s. The agent is said to be more dangerous and sophisticated than Sarin and VX and is harder to identify. Novichok are in liquid, solid or in binary form. Novichoks are made by reacting two molecules which are not on the CWC-list. There’s never been a recognized definition of Novichoks. Experts disagree about exactly which molecular structures  should classify , and there have been no peer reviewed studies. There is also a lack of evidence about which  ones are effective and which are not. No government has ever offered up information about them,  nor admitted making them.

The poisoning incident has resulted in a severe international crisis as the UK succeeded in mobilizing 29 countries to expel Russian diplomats. In a tit-for-tat retaliation Russia will expell diplomats of these countries. On request of Russia the OPCW held an Executive Council emergency meeting on April 4. While Russia is held accountable by the UK for the poisoning, Russia wants the UK to share the evidence. The British chemical laboratory Porton Down has been able to identify the type of nerve agent but is not able to say where it was manufactured. The OPCW expects to receive the results of its own laboratory tests within a week. The agency does not have the power to put blame.

London’s reluctance to share information on the March 4 poisoning led Russia to belief that London authorities actually perpetrated the crime. Russia has suspicion that British intelligence was behind the incident although it has no proof. It says that British behaviour constitutes circumstantial evidence in support of the theory. Russia has handed the UK a list of 14 detailed questions  about the incident. Some of them are expected to be discussed at the OPCW meeting.

Colonel Skripal is a retired Russian military intelligence officer who was convicted of passing the identities of Russian intelligence agents working undercover in Europe to the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service MI6. He was jailed for 13 years by Russia in 2006. In July 2010, he was one of four prisoners released by Moscow in exchange for ten Russian spies arrested by the American FBI. He was later flown to the United Kingdom. Since then his daughter Yulia travels regularly to the United Kingdom to visit her father.

Assessment

There are still many open-ended questions about the Skripal-case. Before even a serious investigation could have been started the British government was jumping to conclusions and holding Vladimir Putin personally accountable for the attack. The British government deviated from standard protocols and was reluctant to share information. The OPCW meeting may clear things up. But even if the OPCW finds that Novichok was used will that be sufficient evidence who carried out the attack on the Skripals? Would more evidence be needed given that other countries clearly have the capability to produce such substances.

The British media created an unprecedented wave of Russophobia. And after that the British government succeeded in mobilizing its allies to show solidarity and also expel Russian diplomats. It also promised additional measures, especially the seizing of assets of Russian oligarchs. The whole media and political campaign following the poisoning incident has all the characteristics of a false flag operation. If the official narrative collapses it may cause problems for the Theresa. May government.

Sources:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-43636726?ocid=socialflow_twitter

https://mobile.reuters.com/article/amp/idUSKBN1GH2UX?__twitter_impression=true

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-43429152

https://russia-insider.com/en/30-questions-journalists-should-be-asking-about-skripal-case/ri22851

https://www.rferl.org/a/timeline-deny-distort-novichok-russia-changing-stories-poisoning/29113561.html?ltflags=mailer

https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/sshd-v-skripal-and-another-20180322.pdf

https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2018-03-29/20-more-questions-journalists-should-be-asking-about-skripal-case

https://www.fort-russ.com/2018/04/russia-delivers-list-of-questions-to-london-about-skripal-case/

https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2018-03-31/russia-has-14-questions-fabricated-skripal-case

http://www.moonofalabama.org/2018/03/she-is-risen-last-act-of-novichok-drama-revealed-the-skripals-resurrection.html

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/long_reads/deadly-story-behind-the-nerve-agent-in-sergei-skripal-spy-attack-russia-uk-salisbury-a8266856.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWSMTHYE5gA

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/01/world/europe/russia-sergei-skripal-uk-spy-poisoning.html

https://www.channel4.com/news/factcheck/long-read-does-the-uks-case-against-russia-stack-up

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5574077/Experts-confirm-nerve-agent-used-poison-spy-Russia.html?ito=social-twitter_dailymailUK

Biological

New call for the reduction of the consumption of antibiotics in order to prevent massive pandemic event

Summary

* A new study indicates that without significant changes antibiotics use in 2030 could be up to 200 percent higher than when first estimated in 2015.

* It is estimated that the spread of antimicrobial drug resistance (AMR) could claim 10 million of lives a year by 2050 if left unchecked.

* The global response needs a radical rethinking as it has been too slow and inadequate until now.

A few years ago IB Consultancy dedicated attention to the problem of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) as estimates were available about the trends in consumption of antibiotics. A new study indicated that antibiotics use in the world is still increasing. The latest figures show global antibiotics use has soared 40 percent in 15 years, raising fears of a tipping point beyond which routine operations could become deadly. The antibiotics taken worldwide have leapt from 11.3 daily doses per 1,000 people in the year 2000 to 15.7 daily doses in 2015. The greatest leap was seen in poorer countries where the consumption rate rose by 56 percent compared to 15 percent in high-income countries. Without significant changes antibiotics use in 2030 could be up to 200 percent higher than when first estimated three years ago. The unrestrained use of antibiotics is the main driver for the rise of drug-resistant infections which now kill more than half a million people a year worldwide, including 50,000 in Europe and the US combined. Left unchecked, the spread of drug resistance could claim 10 million lives a year by 2015. In the United Kingdom the growing problems of AMR has been added to the national risk register of civil emergencies.

The latest study is meant to raise awareness and present countermeasures to reduce the consumption of antibiotics. Public education is important in countries where antibiotics do not require prescriptions. It is hoped that it will stimulate new research that will result in tests and devices. Currently a portable device is in development that will allow for a rapid determination of the pathogenic level of resistance to antibiotics. That will make it possible to determine the minimum level of antibiotics to prevent additional bacterial growth. This may reduce the unnecessary use of antibiotics significantly. In the past healthcare providers were relying too much on prescribing by symptoms alone. With new diagnostic tests it will become possible to assure that only patients with viral infections receive the antibiotics.

A promising initiative is the Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria Biopharmaceutical Accelerator (CARB-X) that is meant to accelerate antimicrobial development in the next 25 years and to reduce to barriers to market entry. The program supports start-ups and small companies that have discovered new antimicrobial products but can’t afford the human testing to bring them to the market.

Assessment

All of the numbers that are currently available justify to place the AMR problem in the category of an ongoing global catastrophic biological event. This threat challenges prevention and control efforts across multiple sectors and industries with no clear-cut solution. It is hoped that the new study will contribute to a greater awareness and will stimulate a whole series of novel approaches and countermeasures. If the use of antibiotics on a global scale is not significantly reduced in the near term the risk of triggering a massive pandemic event will only increase. As the new study emphasized the differences between high and low income countries, it should be ensured that all countries, no matter their GDP, have access to the education and tools to tackle the crisis.

Sources:

http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2018/03/20/1717295115

https://amr-review.org/Publications.html

https://thebulletin.org/antimicrobial-resistance-underrated-biological-threat11289?utm_content=buffer68334&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/mar/26/calls-to-rein-in-antibiotic-use-after-study-shows-65-increase-worldwide

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/29/antibiotic-resistance-rich-world-infection-virus-bacteria

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-5547321/Global-use-antibiotics-risen-40-CENT-15-years.html

https://www.dvidshub.net/news/269511/resistance-futile-defeating-antibiotic-overuse

Radiological

At 7th anniversary of Fukushima disaster the decommissioning and clean-up efforts still look very bleak

Summary

* On March 11, the Japanese people commemorated the victims of the Fukushima tsunami disaster. Seven years after the event an estimated 50,000 people are still waiting to return to their homes they had to evacuate due to radioactive contamination following the explosion of several nuclear reactors at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant.

* The discovery of solid particles with long-lived radionuclides contradicts the long held view that only gaseous radionuclides were emitted during the explosion of the nuclear reactors.

* Seven years after the event TEPCO still has not been able to find the location of the melted fuel and to determine its condition in three of the exploded reactors.

On March 11, the 18,520 victims of the Fukushima disaster were commemorated. It is estimated that about 49,500 people are still waiting to return to their homes in the areas that were evacuated. While the government is pretending that the area is sufficiently decontaminated and safe for return, there is uncertainty about radiation levels. Critics say the radiation levels are still too high for a return. A Greenpeace study found that in some communities the radiation levels had risen since the last measurement in 2016, despite the claim of the government that these areas had been decontaminated.

The Japanese government has launched an extensive decommissioning and clean-up operation that is expected to last half a century and will cost more than €150.87 billion. This figure is double the initial estimate that was provided by TEPCO in 2013. It is highly likely that the figure has to be upgraded again in the coming years as new complications are expected. As the Japanese government and TEPCO prefer that they have everything under control and that things are going according to plan, there are numerous indications and the situation is not returning to normal and that there will be a number of complex challenges to face in the coming years.

It was always assumed that the explosions of the nuclear reactors only emitted gaseous radionuclides. But now solid particles with long-lived radionuclides have been discovered. The likely impact is unknown. More analysis is necessary before conclusions can be drawn.

TEPCO is still faced with the problem of contaminated water. It has built an expensive ‘ice wall’ to prevent more groundwater seeping into the basement levels. It has managed to slow the flow by half but 95 tons of water still gets through every day. The contaminated water that is leaking at the site could end up in the ocean if the ongoing treatment project fails and could cause a global disaster. The IAEA has admitted that one third of the world’s oceans may already have been contaminated with Fukushima radiation.

TEPCO is currently experimenting with the Remote Intelligent Survey Equipment for Radiation (RISER) to inspect the three exploded reactors and trying to locate the fuel debris. Radiation levels in the reactors are too high for humans to operate. RISER is equipped with cameras and dosimeters to measure radiation levels. After the fuel debris have been located a plan can be made for the safe removal of the melted fuel. That process is scheduled to begin in 2021 and experts believe it may take several decades before the site is rendered completely safe.

Assessment

As the scheduled Olympics for 2020 are approaching it is understandable that the Japanese government would like to pretend that the situation is back to normal. But those who are involved in the decommissioning and decontamination efforts are still faced with many almost unsolvable problems. The Fukushima disaster illustrates the enormous difficulties in dealing with nuclear waste. Clean-up actually means moving nuclear waste from one place to another. Decontamination actually means collecting and repackaging, but not eliminating. Volume reduction actually means concentration of radioactivity to a smaller space. And nuclear waste disposal is abandoning nuclear waste ‘somewhere.’  In short the Fukushima case illustrates that there is no such thing as getting rid of nuclear waste. Seven years after the event the scale of the problem is still not clear and more complications are expected. Politicians should become more aware of the fact that the production of additional nuclear waste should be stopped.

Sources:

http://www.scmp.com/week-asia/politics/article/2136176/7-years-later-why-hasnt-japan-learned-fukushima

http://www.ccnr.org/EDWARDS_NYC_2017.pdf

https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/04/02/fukushima-jitters/

http://yournewswire.com/new-radiation-leak-fukushima/

https://www.newstarget.com/2017-02-06-unimaginable-radiation-levels-detected-at-fukushima-mox-fuel-melts-through-reactor-floor.html

http://www.dw.com/en/japans-tepco-nuclear-plant-restarts-fear-of-new-fukushima/a-40812930

https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/worst-hit-reactor-at-fukushima-may-be-easiest-to-clean-up/

https://sputniknews.com/environment/201802041061337934-global-consequences-fukushima-leak/

Nuclear

Israel releases intelligence related to the destruction of an alleged nuclear reactor in Syria on September 6, 2007, as a clear warning to Iran.

Summary

* The release of intelligence related to the alleged destruction of a Syrian nuclear reactor in September 2007 resulted in detailed reconstructions in the Israeli media of the intelligence collection, military preparation, the execution, the diplomacy and information campaign following the operation.

* The publications can be seen as part of an ongoing campaign against Iran that began in January as Israel issued an ultimatum concerning a permanent Iranian military presence in Syria. Israeli politicians express the view that Israel will never allow nuclear weaponry to be in the hands of those who threaten its existence.

* The latest publications could also have been an attempt to debunk an investigation in November 2017, in which it was argued that for a series of technical reasons the facility in al-Kibar could never have contained a nuclear reactor and that it had been a deception operation.

In March, the Israeli military released previously classified cockpit footage, photographs and intelligence documents about its September 6, 2007, airstrike on the al-Kibar facility in Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria. Israel claimed that the reactor was built with help from North Korea and that the facility had been months away from activation. The operation was carried out by 4 F-16s and 4 F-15s, dropping sixteen tonnes of bombs.

Israel became convinced that North Korea was helping Syria to construct a nuclear reactor at the al-Kibar facility after the MOSSAD broke into the Vienna hotel room of Ibrahim Othman, the director of Syria’s Atomic Energy Commission. The MOSSAD agents found a digital device with information and photographs of Othman in the company of North Korean scientists and the interior of the al-Kibar facility clearly showing that it was a nuclear reactor to produce plutonium. These photographs were the smoking gun that corroborated Israeli suspicions. Israel began preparing a military operation ‘Operation Out of the Box’ that was eventually executed on September 6, 2017. The operation was approved unanimously and at the army’s recommendation the limited air attack option was chosen.

In 2008, IAEA inspectors found traces of radioactive substances at the al-Kibar site. The agency said there was a probability that a nuclear reactor had been in operation at the site. The IAEA concluded in 2011 that the site was ‘very likely’ to have been a nuclear reactor. Former IAEA officials have said later that standard protocols had been violated and that the final judgments made were questionable.

US President Donald Trump has threatened to pull out of the nuclear agreement with Iran in May. Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has called for a ‘fix or nix’ the deal. He may be motivated to show resolve against Iran in order to deflect attention from himself. Four Israeli former military chiefs have said that they were opposed to nixing the nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton, the newly appointed US national security adviser, has in the past tried to convince Israel to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Assessment

The release of the intelligence material related to the alleged destruction of a nuclear reactor in Syria in 2007 must be seen in the light of the a more aggressive Israel and US attempting to counter Iranian ambitions in Syria and the rest of the Middle East and the upcoming debate on the possible nixing or fixing of the nuclear deal. Iran has already indicated that it would re-embark on its nuclear endeavor with renewed vigor if the deal is nixed. The destruction of Iran has been a longstanding goal of the neocons in the US, and part of military planning, preparations and exercises. A scrapping of the nuclear deal would dramatically increase the risk of a direct military military confrontation.

International agencies like the IAEA often are a play ball of major powers when they are confronted with highly sensitive situations. High-raking officials have to deal with extreme political pressures. The IAEA concluded in 2011 that the al-Kibar facility ‘very likely’ had been a nuclear facility, based on laboratory tests of ground samples. There are, however, serious questions about how the IAEA handled the physical evidence gathered from the site, as well as the characterization of the evidence in its report. Some even speak of a cover-up.

Sources:

https://www.lawfareblog.com/al-kibar-strike-what-difference-26-years-make

https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/MAGAZINE-no-longer-a-secret-how-israel-destroyed-syria-s-nuclear-reactor-1.5914407

http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/why-israel-struck-syrian-nuclear-reactor-decade-ago-1175340479

http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/israel-admits-bombing-suspected-syrian-nuclear-reactor-2007-warns-iran-276358536

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-43481803

https://globalriskinsights.com/2018/03/israel-iran-conflict/

https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/four-israeli-former-military-chiefs-oppose-nixing-iran-nuclear-deal-1.5940117

https://consortiumnews.com/2017/11/18/israels-ploy-selling-a-syrian-nuke-strike/ – comment-296974

https://consortiumnews.com/2017/11/19/how-syrian-nuke-evidence-was-faked/

Explosives

Iran most likely supplier of components for RCIEDs concealed as rocks used by the Houthis in Yemen

Summary

* Strong indicators suggest Iran provides Houthi forces in Yemen with technology and material necessary for the manufacture of remotely-controlled improvised explosive devices (RCIEDs).

* The design and construction of devices recovered in Yemen show strong resemblances to devices recovered in Iraq and Lebanon, which were linked forensically to Iran.

* Iran uses identical components in a number of improvised weapon systems that were clandestinely supplied to the Houthis in Yemen.

Since late 2016, Houthi forces have emplaced synthetic rock-concealed IEDs along motorways in Yemen. A field team of Conflict Armament Research (CAR) investigated a recovered device and came up with the following findings. The recovered device contained three explosively formed projectiles (EFPs) (120 mm main charges), detonating cord and an electronics kit. The latter included an antenna and PIR used to arm and initiate the RCIED. All of the components were secured, using expanding foam, within the body of a thin-walled fiber glass resin container. The container had been sculpted and painted to resemble a large rock. The type of explosive used appears to be a cast of ground TNT or similar military-grade explosive. The electronics kit generally consists of a power source (eight ‘C’ cell batteries and one PP3 9-volt battery), an RC receiver (contained in a plastic covering), antenna and an arming switch with electrical lamp (two rocker switches). The RC receiver is connected directly to an antenna and to the PIR sensor with a wire, which runs into the body of the RCIED. The wire coverings are manufactured by a Chinese company and are a constant feature of Iranian-origin material recovered in Yemen.

The CAR field team was able to compare its findings with the findings of the UN  investigation into the intercepted cargo vessel Jihan 1 in January 2013.  The cargo vessel was loaded with weapons and other equipment, including components used in the manufacture of RCIEDs. The comparison of their own photographs of IED components with confidential unpublished photographs of the electronic components found on the Jihan 1, shows that they are identical. The hand-annotated serialization on internal and external components may be an indication that the electronics kits were constructed in bulk and potentially in the same workshop. It is widely assumed that Iran has made more of these illegal shipments to Yemen since 2013.

Assessment

The findings of the CAR field team indicate that the Iranian advanced explosives expertise gained in Iraq and Lebanon is proliferating to other theaters of war, especially Yemen. The bulk production of components of RCIEDs and their illegal shipment to Yemen may have an escalatory effect on the war between the Houthis and the armed forces of Yemen and the forces of the international coalition. A more effective border control especially in harbor cities may prevent the illegal shipment of components for RCIEDs.  For the time being the destructive RCIEDs concealed as rocks will remain a major challenge for bomb-detection squads.

Sources:

http://www.conflictarm.com/publications/

https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/iran-provides-yemen-s-houthis-material-for-explosives-report-says-1.716078

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Berto Jongman (1955) majored in western sociology at the University of Groningen in 1981. He began his academic career at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in Sweden. From 1982 to 1987 he worked as a researcher at the Polemological Institute of the University of Groningen where he participated in a project on early warning of armed conflict and political violence. In 1987 he moved to the University of Leiden where he acted as data-manager of the Project on Interdisciplinary Research on the Root Causes of Gross Human Rights Violations (PIOOM). In 2002 he moved from academia to government. From early 2002 to late 2012 he worked as a senior terrorism analyst for the Dutch Ministry of Defence. During this period he participated in a number of Advanced Research Working Groups of NATO, e.g. on radicalization, cyber crime/terrorism and the use of Internet by terrorist organizations. A large part of his work at the Ministry involved terrorist threat assessments, including the quarterly assessment of the terrorist threat to the Netherlands for the NCTV. He left the Ministry of Defense in late 2012 and is currently active as a consultant in the area of CBRNe.