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National Infrastructure Protection Center



Information Bulletin 03-003
February 12, 2003

National Threat Warning System-Homeland Security Information Update-HSAS Threat Level Orange (High); joint guidance from the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI.

As recipients were advised, the Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS) was raised to High (Orange) from Elevated (Yellow) on 2/7/03. This communication provides critical infrastructure owners/operators suggested guidance on potential indicators of threats involving weapons of mass destruction and protective measures based on this heightened threat condition.

Al Qa'ida and affiliated groups continue to enhance their capabilities to conduct effective mass-casualty chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) attacks. Presently, al Qa'ida and associated groups possess at least a crude capability to use chemical, biological, and radiological agents and devices in their attacks. Several al Qa'ida-affiliated cells have attempted to carry out attacks in Europe with easily produced chemicals and biological toxins. While these attacks are best suited for assassinations and small-scale dispersal, they can potentially cause hundreds of casualties and widespread panic if used in multiple, simultaneous attacks.

Al Qa'ida also is interested in radiological dispersal devices (RDDs) or "dirty bombs." Construction of an RDD is well within the group's capabilities, as radiological materials are widely available and acquisition relatively easy. Al Qa'ida operatives also may attempt to launch conventional attacks against the U.S. nuclear/chemical-industrial infrastructure to cause contamination, disruption, and terror. Based on information, nuclear power plants and industrial chemical plants remain viable targets.

Spray devices disbursing biological or chemical agents could potentially contaminate a wide area. Before the September 11, 2001 attacks, al Qa'ida operatives expressed interest in crop dusters, raising concerns that al Qa'ida has considered using aircraft to disseminate biological and chemical agents.

Information indicates the group has experimented with procedures for making blister (mustard) and nerve (sarin and VX) chemical agents.

CBRN Countermeasures

  • Planning may begin months or years before an actual terrorist attack. Consider previous unusual incidents--such as possible surveillance--when evaluating potential targets.

  • Recipients should consult information that is readily available regarding a facility or potential target, particularly on the Internet, and consider how that information might assist terrorists interested in planning an attack. Operatives will likely research potential targets extensively prior to an attack.

  • Recipients should vary security routines and should recommend that potential target facilities take similar steps. Terrorists, like criminals, look for routines they can exploit.

  • Recipients should consider the potential for threats from "insider" personnel employed at target facilities, as terrorist groups may attempt to infiltrate a facility or potential target.

Most CBRN threats represent an inhalation or contact hazard. To minimize further contamination, individuals who come in contact with an unusual substance should cover their mouths with a cloth while leaving the area, avoid touching surfaces, and wash their hands thoroughly.

The Chemical, Biological, Radiological (CBR) Incident Handbook is intended to supply information to first responders for use in making a preliminary assessment of a situation when a possible chemical, biological agent or radiological material is suspected. The CBR Incident Handbook can be downloaded from the Central Intelligence Agency Public Interest Site at http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/cbr_handbook/cbrbook.htm

The NIPC encourages individuals to report information concerning suspicious activity to their local FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) office, http://www.fbi.gov/contact/fo/fo.htm, the NIPC, or to other appropriate authorities. Individuals can reach the NIPC WATCH AND WARNING UNIT at (202) 323-3205, toll free at 1-888-585-9078, or by email to nipc.watch@fbi.gov.