Ebook: The Risk of Skilled Scientist Radicalization and Emerging Biological Warfare Threats
killed scientists are not immune to the appeal of terrorist groups, indeed recent studies indicate that engineers and medical doctors are over-represented within terrorist organizations. Also of particular concern with regard to the potential radicalization of scientists is the issue of the ‘lone wolf’; an individual who prepares and commits violence alone, outside of any command structure and without material assistance from any group.
This book presents papers from the NATO Advanced Research Workshop (ARW) entitled ‘The Risk of Skilled Scientist Radicalization and Emerging Biological Warfare Threats’, held in Como, Italy, from 29 November to 2 December 2016. The aim of this ARW was to assess the risks surrounding the ability of radical terrorist groups to recruit highly skilled scientists. The ARW was unique in that it brought together acknowledged experts from the social science community and the scientific technical community to discuss their perspectives on the risk of radicalization of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) skilled scientists.
Countering terrorist organizations requires a comprehensive approach characterized by international cooperation across the military, intelligence, policy-making and scientific communities. The book provides an overview of the situation, as well as recommendations for how such cooperation can be achieved, and will be of interest to all those involved in the counter-terrorism process.
The main objective of this Advanced Research Workshop titled “The Risk of Skilled Scientist Radicalization and Emerging Biological Warfare Threats” was to assess the risk and ability for radical terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State, to recruit highly-skilled scientists. Indeed, over the past years, it has become increasingly clear that the Islamic State is both willing and capable of online recruitment of Westerners to their cause. Through Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, the Islamic State has been able to attract recruits previously thought unlikely to espouse jihad.
This workshop was one-of-a-kind in that it brought together unique perspectives from the social science community and the scientific technical community to discuss the risks of the radicalization of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) skilled scientists.
Skilled scientists are not immune to the appeal of terrorist groups. Indeed, terrorist groups not only consist of combatants but also consist of leaders, financiers, ideologues, military trainers, and scientists, all of whom are part of a complex eco-system. The split between al-Qaeda (AQ) and the Islamic State (IS) can be thought of as an outcome of a community of jihadis made up of bourgeois and thugs. AQ promotes an inclusive ideology among its members, avoiding sectarianism. It values meritocracy and rigorous training (military and education). This translates into large scale sophisticated operations whose main objective is to target political, military, and economic targets. On the other hand, the Islamic State has promoted a sectarian ideology and ‘equal opportunity’ among skilled and unskilled jihadis, which translates into indiscriminate attacks against civilians and non-civilians alike. In assessing the risk of radicalization of highly-skilled scientists, this is a key difference must be taken into account.
With respect to the potential radicalization of scientists outside of organized terrorist organizations, of particular concern is the issue of “lone wolves” (i.e. an individual who prepares and commits violence alone, outside of any command structure and without material assistance from any group).
In drawing on lessons learned from past cases, A.Q. Khan is an important example of scientist radicalization. His motives were rooted in nationalism. However, he was not a frustrated young student, but rather an established scientist with familial, community, and professional ties. Another example is Bruce Ivins, who was the alleged perpetrator of the Amerithrax attack against government and media officials post 9/11. Scientists like A.Q. Khan and Bruce Ivins not only shed light on the challenges posed by “lone wolf actors” but also highlight the potential consequences of a better executed plan by an organized group.
If the objective is to undermine the Islamic State, then the physical and digital caliphates must also be considered and combated simultaneously. Digital propaganda facilitates a physical caliphate by attracting fighters to the Islamic State's territory, and the existence of a physical caliphate facilitates digital propaganda by allowing the Islamic State (IS) to create and disseminate an organized narrative. While it is often mistaken that all IS propaganda is overwhelmingly violent and militaristic, much of their produced visual media focuses on themes like governance, religion, commerce, regulation, policing, and helping the poor. Through this narrative, the Islamic State is attracting people to the caliphate with the promise of a new kind of society.
Recent studies indicate the over-representation of engineers and medical doctors within terrorist groups. This phenomenon was present also in the first Intifada between the Palestinian authority and Israel. To prevent the radicalization of highly-skilled scientists and engineers, communities and societies must better integrate these individuals into the broader global scientific enterprise and reward and promote science as a peaceful and diplomatic tool to improve the conditions of their countries.
Many assessments of IS access to potentially dangerous resources seem often to over-emphasize material resources (i.e. critical materials, infrastructure, and human resources) and underestimate immaterial factors such as knowledge, skills, capital, and time. Although there is basic CBRN knowledge available in the open literature, history has shown that the deployment of an effective CBRN weapon requires more than basic skills and a considerable amount of so-called “tacit knowledge”. The acquisition of tacit knowledge takes time and requires sustained team work. With IS losing its territory and its safe haven, the short-term prospects that IS might resort to a complex CBRN operation is decreasing while the risk of “low-tech” operations with vehicles or knifes is increasing.
Of particular concern is the “DoItYourself (DIY) Bio” community, which is a growing global movement thanks to easy access to materials and equipment that can be ordered online. However, despite the de-skilling of biotechnology and the easy acquisition of equipment and raw materials, working with living (micro)organisms requires a certain level of expertise and DNA manipulation aimed to create more virulent pathogens remains a challenge (highlighted by Aum Shinrikyo's attempt in the 90s). To prevent both unintentional and nefarious events, community self-regulation could help. This includes creating a monitoring mechanism, educating the DIY-bio community, and creating codes of conduct for DIY-bio. External controls such as DNA synthesis and strain repository regulations, custom control, and law enforcement have an important role to play as well.
While the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) addresses the risk of biological proliferation by state actors, it is limited. The BWC needs to be strengthened to reduce the risk of non-state actors. Non-state actors may develop low level biological weapons (BW) using commercially available and naturally-occurring zoonotic agents targeting animal health and the food supply. Scientists need to be involved in the policy discussion if biotechnology advances will make it easier for non-state actors to develop a BW. The question is if the need for tacit knowledge will start to disappear as biotechnology moves forward.
Overall, an intentional biological attack seems to be the most consequential of challenges among the whole spectrum of CBRN events because, even if it might have a low probability of occurring, its consequences could be catastrophic. However, history showed that this risk of intentional misuse is lower than the risk natural and accidental outbreaks. Whether intentional or unintentional, robust public health systems (specifically infectious disease prevention, detection, and response infrastructure) is by far the best preparation for a possible biological event.
On the chemical side, the Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) is an efficient tool for the detection of alleged use of chemical weapons because it provides time sensitive and actionable information. Evidence suggests that IS has attained crude chemical weapon capability, in the form of sulfur mustard and chlorine, and has developed homemade rockets for delivery. It also suggested that IS has the ability to conduct chemical weapon attacks on a wide geographical area. However, their capability at present is rather limited and the real danger is long term.
The issue of the WMD delivery systems, meaning not only CBRN materials, but also CBRN devices, IEDs, etc., needs to be taken into account because there is no international mechanism to deal with dual/multi-use items nor any chemical-biological terrorism convention or non-proliferation treaty (the Biological and Chemical Weapons Conventions are just disarmament treaties).
Strategic trade control systems' main objective is to rule sensitive trade exchanges between states, but not between states and non-state actors. This means that WMD proliferation activities within a state by individuals or organisations not involving cross-border movements are not under the scope of strategic trade control regimes or systems. A way ahead could be developing verifications systems especially for bio, defining guidelines/MoU to counter/reduce the risk of license shopping, raising operators' awareness, and increasing exchanges of information between state authorities on WMD-related operators and activities. A reference entity in this framework is the UN1540 Committee, which should be strengthened in order to counter IS's activities. In addition, a robust bio-surveillance system at the border should be set up in critical areas, such as the Hindu Kush, Central Asia, Mesopotamia, etc.
As a preventive measure, returning foreign fighters need to be closely monitored, as they are likely to end up in many places, especially in countries with weaker links and law-enforcement systems. Some recommendations include:
i. Bolster the role of scientific communities (specifically academic institutions, scientific societies/associations, and other non-governmental scientific entities) in the countries of concern in order to avoid scientists' potential dissatisfaction and consequent radicalization;
ii. Strengthen values around culture of responsibility and safe/secure science for peace, starting from the level of lower education institutions (not limited only to the level of the academic and professional associations);
iii. Better intelligence sharing, especially between Europe and Arab countries, since the returning fighters may end up as refugees in other counties or in any place where they can seek refuge;
iv. Protect high risk bio and chemical facilities as they are easy targets;
v. Strengthen potentially vulnerable areas: capacity building in areas potentially under threat, including detection capabilities & border security; and
vi. Develop a strategy to monitor disruptive technologies.
Countering terrorist organizations requires a comprehensive approach, both inside the area of their operations as well as in the home countries of foreign fighters, with strong cooperation among the members of the international community across the military, intelligence, policy-making, and scientific communities. The key to mitigating and combating radicalization is two-fold: governance and youth empowerment. Dissatisfaction with local politics was necessary for groups like IS to take root. Preventing radicalization of scientists requires intervention at an early stage in their education and careers, including providing trans-national and global opportunities for professional development as well as technical training on topics such as culture of responsibility and dual-use reach of concern. An enduring end to political violence and terrorism of the kind represented by IS will require reconciliation, participation, and ultimately representation of the relevant political communities.
Maurizio Martellini, Ph.D.a Corresponding author. Landau Network Fondazione Volta, Como, Italy; E-mail: email@example.com.
Corresponding author. Landau Network Fondazione Volta, Como, Italy; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
a Landau Network Fondazione Volta (Como, Italy)
b Health Security Partners (Washington, DC, USA)
The efforts of preventing the spread of WMD expertise are often labeled as “scientists' redirection” are essential to redirect the scientists' skills and expertise to peaceful civilian activities. Such redirection efforts have historically boosts these activities for securing WMD materials. Human expertise in WMD science and technology poses as high a risk as acquires WMD materials. Thus, states should strengthen their efforts on ensuring personnel reliability to prevent unauthorized access to WMD-related materials. Delays in securing WMD expertise can be more alarming than comparable delays in securing WMD materials. In this paper, the efforts of the Iraqi government to reduce the threat of proliferation of dual-use expertise and materials have presented.
Men have always tried to improve their own lifestyle taking advantage of and adapting natural resources to their needs. This happened also with living organisms. Starting from farming and breeding, developments brought about the ability of knowingly modifying the organisms' DNA that contains the instructions to grow and develop every living organism, arising genetic engineer, biotechnology and synthetic biology. Synthetic biology, in particular, is a multidisciplinary area that allows the creation of artificial living organisms starting from synthetically produced DNA material. This ability could be used for good or malicious purposes, rising dual use issues. This scenario has been complicated by the DoItYourself-biology (DIY-Bio) movement's birth, because this is spreading the use of biotechnology beyond the traditional academic and industrial institutions and into the lay public, increasing concerns about biosafety, biosecurity and ethics, even though it has been shown that working with living organisms, especially to create a biothreat, is not that effortless. The continuous improvements of synthetic biology and DIY-bio should be strictly monitored and regulated in order to guarantee a safe and secure world.
This chapter explores mutually reinforcing steps that governments in the United States and Europe have taken to counter the Islamic State (IS) on- and offline. It argues that while operations since 2014 have significantly reduced the group's attractive power and military capacity, additional measures against the digital and physical caliphates can and should be taken. The chapter outlines strategies that would build on recent successes against IS, recognizing that the group's ultimate demise will be a long-term project requiring measures beyond what Western states can or should do alone.
Countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to non-state groups has been a crucial goal for the international community in preserving global peace and stability. Nevertheless, recent allegations suggest that radical jihadi groups have gained access and used unconventional weapons in the Middle East. Namely, there are statements and reports by intelligence officers, politicians and experts that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has gained access to internationally prohibited weapons. By systematically using open source intelligence (OSINT) this paper will assess Islamic State's weapons of mass destruction capability. It will look at allegations in relation to the possession and use of weapons of mass destruction. It will argue that open source information reveals that the group has produced and employed crude forms of sulphur mustard. Moreover, it will show, based on two case studies that OSINT provides valuable information in examining incidents where chemical weapons have likely been used. Before presenting its arguments and findings the paper briefly defines open source intelligence and analyses areas where it provides value. It also examines ISIL's intentions to develop and utilize weapons of mass destruction.
Responsibility in science is not a new requirement. The very practice of science requires a good deal of responsibility to ensure the integrity of research findings and transmission of knowledge. But there are issues where scientific practice may come into conflict with either individual conscience or a more collective view. These conflicts are considered against a backdrop of increasing discussion in both academic and industrial circles about what it means to practice responsible science.
A.Q. Khan was at the center of a multinational nuclear proliferation program, responsible for two successful nuclear weapons programs (those of Pakistan and North Korea), one nascent program (Iran's) and one dismantled program (Libya's). In contrast to more recent terrorists, he was intelligent and educated in a serious technical subject (metallurgy). Nor was he radicalized by external agents. His motives appear to have been personal and nationalist rather than religious. Measures designed to detect Islamist radicalization are unlikely to be effective against future A.Q. Khans; traditional counter-espionage vigilance is required. Even more important, we must recognize that technical training is a strategic good, and its export must be controlled; without a corpus of technically trained people, even the fruits of successful espionage are of little effect.
The split between al-Qa‘ida (AQ) and the Islamic State may partly be attributed to a clash between two worldviews, one developed by AQ's elites, the other by thugs within jihadism, seeking to oust AQ. The differences testify to the importance of elites in engendering terrorism, but also to the fragile ideological nature of jihadism that prevents unity among those who profess the cause of jihad. Nevertheless, while dissent within jihadism may lead to its self-destruction in the long term, the fractures are likely to generate more violence in the short-term.
This chapter examines the narratives of radical Islamists and other extremely violent groups. In particular, the focus is on groups that rely, partially or exclusively, on terrorism to achieve their political ends. Terrorism can be seen as a combination of violence and communication. Narratives are often a crucial part of this communication activity. A useful perspective to approach this question is represented by framing theory. This well-established and sophisticated perspective has been widely used to study, in particular, social movements. However, it can also be fruitfully applied to the analysis of terrorist organizations and militants. A key element in this line of research is the distinction of three “core framing tasks”: “diagnostic” framing (concerning the problem), “prognostic” framing (concerning the solution), and “motivational” framing (concerning the “call to arms”). On the basis of this tripartition, the work explores the narrative of the so-called Islamic State (IS), the more influential and dangerous terrorist organisation of our age.
While maintaining a crucial position within the jihadi discourse, since 9/11 the debate on the creation of a “truly” Islamic State has been partially obscured by the struggle against the far enemy, an objective which was given primary importance by al-Qa‘ida. Especially from 2011 onward, the situation gradually changed and the theme came back to the fore. In a context marked by the stiffening of the authoritarian regimes spared by the Arab Spring, the crisis of the liberal models invoked against them, and the collapse of the Islamist alternatives dominating in the immediate “post-Spring order”, the jihadist galaxy passed through a significant ideological and methodological shift embodied by the proclamation of the “Islamic State” (IS) in 2014. The essay aims to analyze this phenomenon focusing on the different approaches adopted by IS and al-Qa‘ida as well as on the implications this shift may have on the broader jihadi galaxy.
This article introduces the main principles and the design of a system for identifying terroristic indicators and predicting terroristic actions based on processing of information from social media and the dark web. The presented system (which is conveniently called VIGILANT) is aimed at responding to recent challenges stemming from the increased exploitation of the internet by terroristic groups, as a means of conducting psychological warfare, gaining publicity, spreading propaganda, mining/collecting information about their targets, raising funds for their activities, recruiting and mobilizing supporters, as well as planning and coordinating their attacks. The article is not confined to the presentation of the technical design of a platform for social media and dark web information processing, but discusses legal and privacy aspects as well.
Radicalisation of the scientifically well-educated is of concern, as these people may use their knowledge against society by being part of an illegal weapons development programme working on behalf of terrorists or an extreme Cult. A study of the Aum Shinrikyo Cult has been undertaken to understand better how they recruited scientists and to examine what the recruits contributed. Many become radicalised or join cults because they are unemployed, may lack social interaction or a stable family structure, this leading to a sense of frustration, hopelessness and alienation. There is also a similar sense of dissatisfaction and disillusionment amongst some newly graduated scientists, in part due to the falling number of job opportunities for them. The Aum Cult offered a sense of belonging, special privileges and a promise of unlimited research funds in extensive facilities. Although the cult is best known for its chemical weapon attack on the Tokyo underground, they had a nuclear programme and the most extensive non-state biological weapons programme discovered to date. There was a distinct lack of tacit knowledge amongst the recruited scientists and it was in part this ineptitude that contributed to the fact that following an investment of millions of dollars; the cult failed to deliver a true weapon of mass destruction. Although there are programmes of educational outreach related to the dual use aspects of chemistry and biology, they are predominately in English and are to be found in the United States and Europe. More active engagement through outreach needs to be carried out, focusing primarily on the young but also encompassing the educators themselves, with the material translated locally and made available on the Internet. The International Community and, in particular, the educational community has a responsibly to educate and inform scientists as to the dual nature of their work and the consequences to society if they choose to misuse this knowledge.