This is the 31st issue of 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: January 29, 2018.

Topics covered in this threat assessment

* Stalemate about sanctions and prosecution of identified perpetrators of chemical attacks in Syria continues

* Better knowledge and effective emergency response capabilities necessary to mitigate the threat of lethal zoonotic pandemics

* New research reveals that atmospheric nuclear tests in the US in the 1950s may have resulted in up to 695,000 excess deaths

* Symbolic Doomsday Clock moved to two minutes to midnight to warn governments and citizens of impending dangers

* The 2013 EU precursor regulation had no effect in Spain as the Ripoll terror cell was able to acquire 500 liters of acetone without any problem

Chemical

Stalemate about sanctions and prosecution of identified perpetrators of chemical attacks in Syria continues

Summary

* The US and its major allies organized an international meeting in Paris on January 23, to push for sanctions and criminal charges against identified perpetrators of chemical attacks in Syria.

* Russia was excluded from the meeting as it had vetoed the renewal of the mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM). It has presented its own proposal for a new investigative body that was voted down in the UN Security Council.

* In advance to the meeting in Paris and a new round of international peace negotiations, two new chemical attacks were reported in January, that were blamed on the Assad regime.

On January 23, the International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons, was held in Paris. Several dozen countries participated in the meeting that was prepared in secret and excluded Russia, the country that had blocked the renewal of the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) last November. The tone of the Paris meeting was anti-Russian and the US indirectly blamed Russia for the chemical attacks in Syria. Several of the participating counties have issued sanctions on entities that belong to the supply networks of the Syrian Scientific Studies & Research Center (SSRC) and chemists and officials linked to the SSRC have been blacklisted. The SSRC has been identified as the institution that developed the sarin gas that was deployed in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in April 2017. The Syrian government has been blamed for this attack.

Russia’s main point of contention is that the JIM investigations did not honor the basic chain-of-custody principle, which requires the OPCW to obtain on-site biomedical en environmental samples. The security situation in Syria often does prohibit on-site investigations by OPCW employees. The JIM investigations, in the view of Russia, lacked hard evidence and the conclusions were drawn from statements by questionable sources. The Russian arguments are, according to the US, just an excuse to protect the Syrian regime.

In advance to the Paris meeting two new chemical attacks were reported on January 13 and 22 in Eastern Ghouta. The alleged chlorine attacks injured several dozen civilians. The attacks were reported by Syrian NGOs and were not independently verified.

Assessment

Low-level chemical attacks have in the past years often coincided with international meetings about the situation in Syria. Dramatic imagery of affected children are effective propaganda memes that can be used to step up the international pressure in support of military intervention or the reinforcement of demands that President Assad can no longer be part of a peaceful political solution for Syria. Opposition groups assumingly have a clear motive to orchestrate such attacks and know that the security situation will complicate independent investigations. While the attacks are often blamed on Syrian government forces, the government is unlikely to have a motive to obstruct international negations and the alleged chemical weapons that are used often have no strategic significance or impact on the battlefield.

As a renewal of the mandate of the JIM was vetoed in November 2017, it is only logical that a coalition of Western and like-minded countries organizes an alternative to push for sanctions and criminal charges against the identified perpetrators. Russia saw the Paris meeting as an attempt to de-facto replace the functions of the Chemical Weapon Convention and the UN Security Council. It has presented a proposal for a new investigative body to replace the JIM but the US and its major allies only want to re-establish the JIM.

After the Paris meeting a new round of international peace talks will be held in Vienna and in Sochi. As the Syrian opposition is extremely divided and does not have clear plans with sufficient popular support the prospects are bleak. In the mean time a Turkish military intervention in the Afrin enclave in the north complicates the situation on the battlefield.  It is highly unlikely that the stalemate situation will soon end and that prospects for a peace accord will improve. Despite the calls by international NGOs for a higher degree of cooperation, Russia is unlikely to let down President Assad after its military successes against Daesh.

Sources:

https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/syria0517_web.pdf

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-chemicalweapons/russia-casts-10th-u-n-veto-on-syria-action-blocking-inquiry-renewal-idUSKBN1DG31I

https://www.timeslive.co.za/news/world/2018-01-23-syrian-chemical-weapons-attacks/

https://www.rt.com/news/416794-un-syria-chemical-probe-nebenzia/

http://www.scmp.com/news/world/middle-east/article/2130324/russia-says-its-not-behind-syria-chemical-attacks-it-calls

https://aawsat.com/english/home/article/1155311/lebanese-firms-deny-syria-chemical-weapons-ties

http://uawire.org/kremlin-meeting-on-chemical-weapons-in-paris-directed-against-russia-and-syria

https://www.rt.com/op-edge/417181-chlorine-attacks-syria-responsibility/

Biological

Better knowledge and effective emergency response capabilities necessary to mitigate the threat of lethal zoonotic pandemics

Summary

* The emerging threat of a deadly zoonotic pandemic necessitates stepped up international and national efforts to improve early detection and optimization of emergency response capabilities.

* A series of research and international assistance projects have been launched to intensify research to expand our knowledge about viruses and build effective emergency response capabilities.

* In the Netherlands the Rijksinstituut voor Volksgezondheid en Milieu (RIVM) produces the annual State of Zoonotic Diseases report in which it describes trends and developments in the country.

In recent years there has been a growing awareness that a zoonotic pandemic may emerge that may spread to many countries and cause millions of deaths. Threat assessments indicate that modern conditions make the scenario of a global pandemic more likely as the movement of people and microbes around the globe is more efficient than ever. Terrorism experts have indicated how terrorists could exploit the new possibilities of biotechnology. Animal viruses could be deliberately modified to infect humans or a benign virus could be engineered to be lethal. To mitigate the emerging threat a series of research projects have been launched that aim to understand when and how the next human disease will emerge from wildlife and what can be done to minimize it when it does.

The goal of the international PREDICT-project is to find viruses with potential for zoonotic outbreaks before they become a pandemic. Of the more than 1,000 viruses that have already been identified the DNA is being sequenced and compared with known pathogenic viruses. About 5% of the newly discovered viruses have been selected for further study. A next step in the project will be to identify high-risk countries for a viral spillover. In the second phase of the project samples will be collected from livestock as well as humans and wildlife, with the goal to find out which viruses already made the jump and are shared by humans and other animals.

The Global Virome Project (GVP) (initiated in 2016), is a kind of atlas project with the aim to detect and sequence DNA of almost all viruses found in wildlife with the potential to cause a human pandemic. The project will cost about $3.6 billion over the next 10 years and aims to identify about half a million viruses. It is expected to result in a valuable reference database for future studies, focused on identifying the main drivers and other factors to better understand how zoonotic outbreaks may occur.

The Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) (launched in February 2015), assists governments, international organizations and non-governmental stakeholders in building their technical capacity to respond to infectious diseases in over 50 countries. International aid is used to establish laboratories with diagnostic capabilities and personnel trained in optimal emergency response to disease outbreaks.

Assessment

The US, by means of the CDC and USAID, has always been an important leading country and supporter of international efforts to mitigate health threats and improve health infrastructures in less developed countries. The new Trump administration is less forthcoming and had plans to significantly slash the budget. Congress has been able to reverse some of the proposed cuts. The budget for the next year is not available yet but the chances are that less money for assistance will be available than in previous years. This will mean that other countries and organizations possibly have to do more.

With the PROJECT and GVP research projects important steps have been made to expand our knowledge about viruses and prioritize our efforts on the most threatening situations.  The GHSA plays an important role in coordinating the assistance in improving response capabilities and health infrastructure at locations where it is most necessary. Through the combination of science, intelligence, medical and public health preparedness, diplomacy and smart governance, it will eventually be possible to reduce the threat of zoonotic pandemics.

Sources:

http://www.rivm.nl/Documenten_en_publicaties/Wetenschappelijk/Rapporten/2017/november/Staat_van_Zo_nosen_2016/Download/Staat_van_Zo_nosen_2016.pdf

http://www.gao.gov/assets/690/682707.pdf

https://ensia.com/features/pandemic/?utm_source=Solutions+Story+Tracker

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2017-11-21/ready-global-pandemic

Radiological

New research reveals that atmospheric nuclear tests in the US in the 1950s may have resulted in up to 695,000 excess deaths

Summary

* New research reveals that above ground nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site (NTS) in the US in the 1950s may have resulted in an estimated 385,000 to 695,000 excess deaths.

* The research illustrates that the health costs of domestic nuclear tests are both larger and more expensive than previously thought.

* The research also shows that the largest health effects appear in areas far beyond the scope of previous scientific and medical studies.

During the Cold War in the 1950s the US detonated hundreds of nuclear weapons at the Nevada Test Site (NTS). In the period of 1951 to 1963 100 atmospheric nuclear bombs were detonated at the NTS. It is estimated that these tests caused a fallout of 12 billion curies. The tests on US soil left millions of Americans exposed to tremendous amounts of radioactive pollution which made its way into the environment and the food supply. The fallout led to persistent and substantial increases in overall mortality for large portions of the country.

By regressing the fallout patterns and the consumption of irradiated dairy products with crude mortality figures on county level, it is possible to estimate the number of excess deaths. From 1953 to 1973 the radioactive isotopes from the tests contributed to as many as 395,000 to 695,000 excess deaths. The social costs of these numbers of excess deaths range between $463 billion to over $6.1 trillion dollars in 2016$.

These losses dwarf the $2 billion in payments the Federal Government has made to domestic victims of nuclear testing through the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act and are substantial relative to the financial cost of the US nuclear weapons program. On the basis of the new data it is possible to estimate that the social cost of excess deaths attributable to atmospheric testing at the NTS, ranges from approximately 5.3% to 68.4% of the total costs of the American nuclear weapons program.

A testing moratorium from 1958 to 1961 moved almost all tests underground. The signing of the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty ultimately ended all atmospheric nuclear tests by the US in 1963. It can be estimated that the moratorium saved between 212,000 and 435,000 lives. The Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty might have saved between 11.7 and 24 million American lives.

The research also showed that the areas where fallout had the largest impact on the crude death rate was not in the region surrounding the test site but rather in areas with moderate levels of radioactive fallout deposition in the interior of the country.

Assessment

The new research has shown that the health costs of domestic nuclear testing is both larger and more expensive than previously thought. The social costs of atmospheric nuclear tests were tremendous and can now be estimated more realistically. The number of excess deaths caused by the fallout of the tests is comparable to the actual mortality figures of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. By introducing the moratorium the lives of several hundred thousands of people were saved. The Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty may have saved the lives of almost 12 to 24 million people.

In the research only crude mortality rates were used for the regressions with fall out deposition and concentration of I-131 in dairy products. No estimates were made of the effects of less healthy people, negative affected human capital or increased costs of health services for affected populations. This means that the real costs probably exceed by far the crude estimated costs in the study.

Sources:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-5206799/US-nuclear-tests-killed-civilians-Hiroshima.html

https://qzprod.files.wordpress.com/2017/12/6043f-meyers-fallout-mortality-website.pdf

Nuclear

Symbolic Doomsday Clock moved to two minutes to midnight to warn governments and citizens of impending dangers

Summary

* The Doomsday Clock that symbolizes the threat of global apocalypse has been moved to two minutes to midnight, the most dangerous situation since 1953.

* As the world has not only become more dangerous, weakening institutions also resulted in a situation in which we are less capable of countering and diminishing the abuse of newly emerging threats, like killer robots or synthetic biology.

* The chances of rewinding the Doomsday Clock next year are limited as humanity appears to become less capable of keeping pace with the speed of technological innovation and public trust in institutions, media and science will not be restored soon.

The Doomsday Clock was established in 1947 as a simple way of demonstrating the danger to the Earth and humanity posed by nuclear war. Over time also other emerging threats were included like climate change, advances in biotechnology and artificial intelligence. Each year the handle of the clock is moved backward or forward. This year the handle was moved forward with 30 seconds to two minutes to midnight. The current situation is considered as dangerous as the situation in 1953.

The concerned scientists of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists point at a range of factors that have contributed to this deterioration. They point at the use of reckless language in international politics and the minimization of evidence-bases assessments of global challenges that are used to guide policy. In the nuclear field they emphasize that major nuclear actors are on the cusp of a new arms race, one that will be very expensive and will increase the likelihood of accidents and misperceptions. By increasing the types and roles of nuclear weapons in defence plans the threshold for their use is lowered.  In addition they describe a number of other factors that contribute to a more dangerous situation e.g. name calling in international diplomacy, the lack of coordination on nuclear risk reduction, the lack of arms control negotiations,

Particular mention is made of the growing loss of public trust in political institutions, the media and science and the speed of technological innovation, that challenges society’s ability to keep pace. There is also a need for better collective methods of managing technological advances in the hope that malign uses can be countered more effectively.

The statement concludes with a series of commonsense actions that could result in a less dangerous world. These include among others refraining from provocative rhetoric, the opening of multiple channels of communication, the cessation of nuclear and ballistic missile tests, abiding by earlier agreed accords, returning to the negotiation table, the limitation of modernization programs, and the adoption of measures to prevent peacetime military incidents.

Assessment

It is hoped that the Doomsday Clock warning and the accompanying statement will encourage governments and citizens to chose a trajectory that advances the health and safety of the planet. Hopefully next year the handle of the clock can be moved backward again to symbolize that the situation has improved and has become more safe.

Two common sense actions are of particular importance. The first one is the development of protocols to discourage and penalize the misuse of information technology to undermine public trust in political institutions, in the media and in science. The second one is the creation of institutions specifically assigned to explore and address potentially malign or catastrophic misuses of new technologies. The chances of moving the handle of the clock backward next year are bleak as we face a situation in which humanity can hardly keep pace with the speed of technological innovation and there is no guarantee that public trust can be restored soon.

Sources:

https://thebulletin.org/2018-doomsday-clock-statement

https://www.defensenews.com/space/2018/01/12/nuclear-posture-review-draft-leaks-new-weapons-coming-amid-strategic-shift/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Space&utm_term=Editorial – Military Space Report

http://www.newsweek.com/watch-live-doomsday-clock-scientists-announce-how-close-we-are-destroying-our-789273

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-5312099/Doomsday-Clock-moves-nearer-midnight.html

Explosives

The 2013 EU precursor regulation had no effect in Spain as the Ripoll terror cell was able to acquire 500 liters of acetone without any problem

Summary

* An investigation into the Barcelona/Cambrils terror attacks in August 2017 revealed that the terror cell had originally intended to cause a mass impact high-casualty attack with two vans with each more than 100 kg of TATP in a crowded urban area.

* The EU 2013 precursor regulation had no effect in Spain and the cell was able to acquire 500 liters of acetone without any problems.

* Due to a premature explosion of the bomb factory causing two dead and one injured, the terror cell decided to change their attack plan and used vehicles and knifes in attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils causing 16 deaths.

In August 2017, a jihadist terror cell was preparing a high-impact mass-casualty attack with two vans each loaded with more than 100 kg of triacetone triperoxide (TATP). In their bomb factory in Alcanar they had stored the precursor materials acquired over several weeks, including 120 canisters of butane and propane, 500 liters of acetone, 340 liters of hydrogen peroxide as well as bicarbonate. They also acquired nails to create shrapnel and push-buttons to initiate the devices. At least one viable suicide vest was found as well as fake ones. The precursor materials were enough to produce about 200 kg of TATP, perhaps up to 250 kg.

On August 16, the terror cell rented two vans for a week. It is assumed that they were planning to use the vans for a mass casualty attack in an urban area possibly near the Sagrada Familia cathedral or the FC Barcelona soccer stadium Noucamp. The accidental explosion took place as two cell members were drying and moving part of the extremely sensitive white crystalline powder. They had begun filling the metal cylinders with shrapnel and the TATP they had produced so far.  It is assumed that they had planned to produce the maximum amount of TATP possible based on the available precursors within a period of a week.

If the Spanish terror cell had succeeded in executing their original plan it possibly would have caused massive structural damage and a high number of casualties. The most lethal attack in 2017 globally, was a truck bomb in Mogadishu (in Somalia) that caused 512 dead and more than 300 injured, and reportedly was intended for a military target.  The bomb reportedly was based on a mixture of two tons of sophisticated military-grade explosives and homemade explosives. According to statistics of the Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) on an average day in 2017, 42 civilians were killed by explosive violence. During the first 11 months of the year a total of 15,399 civilians were killed, 58% by airstrikes, 11% by ground-launched weapons and 25% by IEDs.

Assessment

The Barcelona/Cambrils attacks in August 2017 illustrate that a terror cell in Europe that apparently had no direct links with an organized and trained organization, is capable of preparing a mass impact high-casualty attack in a provincial area, out of sight of the police and intelligence services. The production of a sensitive explosive is very dangerous for inexperienced bombmakers. It requires skills to prepare a functioning TATP device. Not following the right safety measures can have lethal consequences.

The case also illustrates that the EU 2013 precursor regulation had no effect on the Spanish cell. According to the reconstruction the cell was capable to acquire the necessary materials in a relatively short period in the region around the house they used as their bomb factory.

As the cell was under pressure after the premature explosion they had to abolish their plans or to change tactics. The use of vehicles and knifes causing the death of a total of 16 persons, had a significant impact on Spanish society. If they had succeeded in executing their original plan, the material damage would have been much bigger and the number of casualties much higher.

Sources:

https://ctc.usma.edu/spaniards-going-suffer-inside-story-august-2017-attacks-barcelona-cambrils/

https://aoav.org.uk/2018/2017-set-worst-year-civilian-fatalities-since-aoav-records-began/

http://news.trust.org/item/20180108164155-1wrm0/?cid=social_20180108_75231667&adbid=950437276999344128&adbpl=tw&adbpr=15762575

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/jan/08/civilian-deaths-from-airstrikes-almost-double-year

http://aa.com.tr/en/africa/military-homemade-explosives-in-somalia-truck-bomb/941230

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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.