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Weapons of Mass Destruction - Concepts and Information

 

The term “Weapons of Mass Destruction” encompasses chemical weapons, biological weapons, radiological weapons and nuclear weapons, as opposed to conventional weapons such as bombs and bullets that kill piecemeal rather than wholesale.

 

Since the news media and popular-audience writers use the term “weapons of mass destruction” often, I have created a resource to allow the media and those who rely on them for information to understand what it means.

 

Vance Frickey

 

National Homeland Security Knowledgebase

 

 

 

For information on chemical warfare, click on this link: Chemical warfare sites

For information on Polonium-210, other assassination poisons, and assassination with weapons of mass destruction, click on this link: Polonium-210, other assassination poisons, and assassination with weapons of mass destruction

FDA has found a poisonous chemical, diethylene glycol (DEG), in certain toothpastes imported from China. The agency increased its scrutiny and testing of imported toothpaste and dental products in late May 2007. Diethylene glycol is similar to the main chemical ingredient in antifreeze, and is a potent nerve, kidney and liver poison. It should never be taken internally.

The agency is warning consumers to avoid using tubes of toothpaste labeled as made in China and, through an import alert, is stopping all suspect toothpaste from entering the United States. This includes a counterfeit toothpaste illegally labeled as "Colgate" and offered for sale at discount or "dollar" stores which specialize in goods from overseas.

For information about which specific brands of toothpaste to look out for, click on this link: U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warning about poisoned toothpaste for sale in the US and abroad, imported from China.

For information on biological warfare, click on this link: Biological warfare sites

For specific information on anthrax, click on this link: Anthrax information sites

For information on radiological warfare (“dirty bombs”), click on this link: Radiological warfare sites

For information on nuclear warfare (“nuclear bombs”), click on this link: Nuclear warfare sites

For information on emerging diseases such as Ebola, mad cow disease and SARS, click on this link: Emerging disease sites

Chemical weapons are chemicals such as nerve gas (sarin or Agent VX), phosgene, carbonyl cyanide, mustard gas, chlorine, and other poisons or caustic chemicals used to deliberately cause injury.

 

US Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine Fact Sheets on Chemical Weapons contain detailed information on most of the chemical weapons with which the US Armed Forces deals. Generally, our armed forces are engaged in destroying the lethal chemicals in their arsenal - the nerve, blood, choking and blister agents. Each chemical is identified by name and type in this list.

Chemicals like chlorine and sulfuric acid aren’t usually thought of as chemical weapons, but chlorine was used for that in World War I, while sulfuric acid was poured from helicopters onto Kurdish villagers by Iraqi forces – in each of those cases, industrial chemicals were used as chemical weapons.

More recently, murderers working for political motives in Iraq (so-called "insurgents") have begun to use chlorine in car and truck bombs to increase the number of innocent people they kill.

Wikinews article on Iraqi terror bombing with chlorine in Diyala province, Iraq.

It is clear that chlorine has retained popularity as a chemical weapon, at least among those unprincipled enough to use it against wholly unprotected civilian populations.

 

As terrorists and other criminals increase the sophistication of their use of chemicals, we can expect them to take advantage of commercially-available chemicals as weapons. Because of this, I have added the following links for the convenience of law enforcers and other first responders, as well as interested citizens:

US DOT Hazardous Materials Transportation Placards on EnvironmentalChemistry.com - Hazardous materials placards (DOT placards) are required when shipping hazardous materials in the United States, Canada and Mexico. These pages provide pictures and US DOT definitions for each hazmat placard.

2004 ERG (Emergency Response Guidebook) on EnvironmentalChemistry.com - This is an online version of the 2004 ERG (Emergency Response Guidebook) which is produced by the USDOT for first responders during the initial phase of a Dangerous goods/Hazardous Materials incident.

EnvironmentalChemistry.com's Chemical Database - not a complete database of all chemical compounds or even all chemicals apt to be encountered on the roads, railways or open seas, but ought to be helpful in interpreting the information obtained with the aid of the two references above.

The references above can be used to identify (on a strictly informal and unofficial basis) potential toxic chemicals by the four-digit numbers ("UN numbers") and symbols on the placards mounted on the tanks, railcars or vehicles containing them.

 

In general, any chemical either used or developed specifically to hurt or kill is a chemical weapon.

 

Tear gas is an example of a non-lethal chemical weapon or incapacitant. Tear gas is exempt from many treaties and laws governing chemical weapons because, when used as intended, tear gas doesn’t usually inflict permanent damage on its victims.

 

Other non-lethal chemical weapons or incapacitants such as the US Army’s Agent BZ (a military hallucinogen) are often forbidden by chemical weapon treaties and laws because

-         they are unpredictable in their effects and/or

-         are thought to cause permanent injury or even, occasionally, death to those on whom they were used.

 

The Aum Shinrikyo Supreme Truth cult in Japan used several different chemical agents in terrorist acts – the most famous one being their leaving containers of sarin, a deadly nerve gas, on subway trains in Tokyo in 1996. Some experts say that this gave them the dubious distinction of being the first terrorist group to use a weapon of mass destruction.

Biological weapons are disease agents – bacteria, viruses and other micro-organisms – which are made and used to deliberately cause illness and death.

 

Before most bacteria and viruses can be used as biological weapons, they must be weaponized – treated or altered in some way so that they will remain active in storage, spread efficiently and infect as many people as possible. Diseases such as anthrax, glanders, plague and smallpox have been tested, weaponized, and stockpiled for use as biological weapons by several countries.

 

HealthCanada Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) on various biological warfare agents and diseases

 

However, weaponization is a fairly recent practice, while history records many instances since ancient times when sick animals or people, their bodies and even blankets or clothes contaminated by sick people were used by warring parties to make their enemies ill.

 

Terrorists used letters with apparently weaponized anthrax spores as a weapon in their offensive against the United States in mid-to-late 2001. Several news organizations and two United States Senators’ offices received letters with anthrax in them. Several people died from these attacks, including postal service workers who were infected when anthrax spores fell out of letters and entered the air in mail-sorting facilities, or who simply handled infected mail. “Copycat” hoaxes in which letters were mailed either claiming to contain anthrax or containing a suspicious brown powder which later turned out to be harmless caused much disruption in this same time period, as evacuations and even full head-to-toe decontaminations of people involved were required while it was determined whether anthrax or other disease agents were really involved.

 

The only other well-known terrorist attack in the United States involving biological weapons was the use of salmonella bacteria by the Rajneeshi cult in the state of Washington in the United States to make large numbers of people ill, in order that the Rajneeshis could win a local election aimed at allowing them to incorporate their cult’s farm as a city government.

 

More facts about biological weapons

 

Radiological weapons (also known as “dirty bombs” or “radiological dispersal devices”) use chemical explosives such as dynamite or gunpowder to spread radioactive materials over a large area. The idea behind this is that the radioactive materials will be carried from the explosion by the wind where their radiation can affect many people, either killing them or making them ill immediately or increasing their chances of getting cancer later on.

 

Radiological weapons are not the same thing as nuclear weapons (see below, or click on the term). Their explosive force is supplied by chemical reactions, not nuclear reactions.

 

While the consensus in the news media seems to be that radiological weapons/dirty bombs would be mainly used to cause panic and otherwise disrupt societies they are used against, it’s possible to conceive of at least one case in which mass casualties could result from a dirty bomb soon after the explosion – if powdered plutonium oxide were used as the radioactive material.

 

Experts have stated that a terrorist group which has plutonium could kill more people by releasing it in a dirty bomb as plutonium oxide than if they used the same amount of plutonium to build a crude nuclear weapon (see below). Since it’s much easier just to get plutonium oxide than to process it into plutonium metal and make a working nuclear weapon, if terrorists get their hands on plutonium they may be more likely to use it to make a dirty bomb than a nuclear weapon.

 

Recently, one particular radioactive isotope, Polonium-210, has figured prominently in at least one international assassination incident - the murder of Aleksandr Litvinenko in London, England, UK by a person or persons unknown (a suspect has been identified but has gone back to Russia and the Russian authorities are refusing to produce him to British police for investigation). Polonium-210 is very expensive and difficult to get in quantities large enough to cause immediate death as was the case with Litvinenko. It is produced in certain special types of nuclear reactors or as a by-product of uranium refining, or as a decay product of radium - all very complex and difficult production methods found in only a few countries - generally ones such as Russia with advanced nuclear weapons production industries. While part of the Soviet Union, Russia was also strongly suspected of having killed or tried to kill its enemies covertly by poisoning them with radioactive materials such as radioactive thallium.

For information on Polonium-210, other assassination poisons, and assassination with weapons of mass destruction, click on this link: Polonium-210, other assassination poisons, and assassination with weapons of mass destruction

 

Nuclear weapons use special types of radioactive materials (called fissionable isotopes or fissiles) to make explosions larger than anything possible with chemical explosives.

 

The largest chemical bomb publicly described is the MOAB (officially, MOAB stands for "Massive Ordnance Air Blast," unofficially, for "the Mother of All Bombs”) air-burst bomb recently announced by the U.S. Air Force to have 18,000 pounds (about nine tons) of tritonal explosive, which would detonate with a force equivalent to 12 tons of TNT.

This is a graphic of a MOAB, showing how it works. Please note the size of the bomb - it fills the space in the back of a cargo transport aircraft. MOAB is MUCH too large to be carried by a conventional bomber or fighter-bomber aircraft. By contrast, almost every nuclear weapon can be carried by a wide range of bomber and fighter-bomber aircraft - most aircraft can carry two or three nuclear weapons - large bombers such as the B-52 and B-2 can carry many of them.

 

The smallest standard nuclear weapons - nuclear artillery shells and special atomic demolition munitions (also known as SADMs or "suitcase nukes") - in the US nuclear arsenal have yields of from 100 to 2000 tons of TNT – between eight and 170 times greater than the explosive power of the MOAB – the biggest chemical bomb there is.

 

The Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by nuclear weapons over 1700 times as powerful as the MOAB chemical bomb.

 

The following film clip briefly shows which nations are believed to have nuclear weapons today, as well as the curious case of South Africa, which had nuclear weapons from the mid-1970s to the late 1980s, only to give them up not long before Nelson Mandela came to office (that's the official version, anyway). The film appears to have been made before Libya announced that it, too, had a nuclear weapons program and abandoned it (in order to get off the world's dirt list, apparently).

The film ends with a short, disturbing look at what would happen if a 150-kiloton yield nuclear weapon (probably a small thermonuclear weapon, or "hydrogen bomb," in that yield range) were detonated on New York's Manhattan Island, at Union Station.

Click on the arrow in the center of the picture to start the film. If the film does not play or you get no sound, check to see that your computer can play "Quicktime" movie files.

The average nuclear weapon on an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) has an explosive force (or yield) of over 150,000 tons (150 kilotons) of TNT, or over 12,000 times the power of the MOAB.

Nuclear weapons have been made and tested with yields of up to 50 million tons (50 megatons) of TNT – over 4.2 million times as big as the biggest chemical bomb made.

Nuclear weapons don’t just kill with explosive force. Intense heat created by the nuclear reactions which power a nuclear weapon also kills by vaporizing people, or burning them severely enough to kill or maim them. These same nuclear reactions create nuclear radiation that can kill people, make them sick for a long time, or give them cancer years later.

 

Some of this radiation affects people who aren’t crushed or burned by the explosion but are still close enough to be hurt immediately by the radiation from the nuclear explosion itself (called prompt nuclear radiation ). Some of the radiation comes from dirt, water and other material which is sucked up into the nuclear blast and made radioactive – this material falls back out of the sky, sometimes hundreds of miles away from the explosion. This material is called nuclear fallout and radiation from it can kill people, make them sick right away, or give them cancer later on.

 

More facts about nuclear weapons

 

 

HOW TO USE THIS SITE - Under "Edit" in your browser's tool bar,
click on "Find in Page"
enter the word you want information on (for example, "nerve gas")
then press "Find" (may be different in some Internet browsers) to get the information you need

New developments:

There are now separate pages on this site for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons/warfare:

 

For information on chemical warfare, click on this link: Chemical warfare sites

For information on Polonium-210, other assassination poisons, and assassination with weapons of mass destruction, click on this link: Polonium-210, other assassination poisons, and assassination with weapons of mass destruction

For information on biological warfare, click on this link: Biological warfare sites

For specific information on anthrax, click on this link: Anthrax information sites

For information on radiological warfare (“dirty bombs”), click on this link: Radiological warfare sites

For information on nuclear warfare (“nuclear bombs”), click on this link: Nuclear warfare sites

For information on emerging diseases such as Ebola, mad cow disease and SARS, click on this link: Emerging disease sites

As the news on Chronic Wasting Disease has grown, I've had to create a page devoted solely to CWD - click here for the details on this ominous development.

 

National Homeland Security Knowledgebase


Support freedom - FIGHT TERRORISM!

Notes to new users:

Anthrax information is available by clicking on this link to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's page on anthrax or by clicking on the word "anthrax " when highlighted as a hyperlink anywhere on this page – this will take you to my Anthrax page, which has many links to Web-based resources on anthrax.

-                     Under "Edit" in your browser's tool bar,
click on "Find in Page"
enter the word you want information on (for example, anthrax)
then press "Find" (may be different in some Internet browsers) to get the information you need.

The Homeland Security Alert graphics on this page were courtesy of Two Tigers Radiological, a company in South Carolina specializing in technology for rapid response to radiological health incidents. They also operate the National Homeland Security Knowledgebase. This amazingly broad and complete site covers a vast array of resources which exist for the defense of the United States from terrorist attack and other mass disasters. A lot of work went into that page, and it's definitely worth a look-see.

General nuclear/biological/chemical (NBC) information:

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute's Chemical and Biological Warfare Project site

Australia Group Export Controls on Materials Used In The Manufacture of Chemical And Biological Weapons, Control List of Dual-Use Chemicals: Commercial and Military Applications According to Dr. R. E. Hurlbert of Washington State University, most of the information in his "Biological Warfare 101" page (see under "Biological Weapons," below) was extracted from this site

Government-related or owned sites on biological, chemical and nuclear/radiological warfare and defense:

US Food and Drug Administration Bioterrorism Page: A comprehensive reference page containing recommendations for proper medication and dosage for the treatment of biological agents used in biological terrorism and biological warfare

HealthCanada Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) on various biological warfare agents and diseases: Material Safety Data Sheets for a wide selection of disease-causing bacteria, viruses and other organisms, many of which might be used by terrorists or enemy nations against civilian and military targets.

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Public Health and Preparedness & Response Site

Medical NBC Online Information Server, provided as a public service by the U.S. Army's Office of the Surgeon General.

In late 2003, the U.S. Department of Defense re-designated the U.S. Army Soldier, Chemical and Biological Chemical Command into several successor agencies, two of which concern us here:

- The U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency: the custodians of the U.S. Army's chemical weapons arsenal, which is steadily being destroyed in compliance with the Chemical Weapons Treaty (CMA is also in charge of destroying the U.S. military's chemical weapons), and

- The Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense, which (according to their Web site) "Develops, Tests, Acquires and Delivers the World's Most Effective Automated Chemical Biological Detection Systems, Medical Diagnostics and Countermeasures."

- US Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine Fact Sheets on Chemical Weapons contain detailed information on most of the chemical weapons with which the US Armed Forces deals. Generally, our armed forces are engaged in destroying the lethal chemicals in their arsenal - the nerve, blood, choking and blister agents. Each chemical is identified by name and type in this list.

Federal Department of Homeland Security Home Page

Other sites:

Harvard Sussex Program on CBW Disarmament and Arms Limitation: a comprehensive resource site on chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons and disarmament therefrom. Most of the existing (published) treaties, legislation, and proposed treaties and legislation governing weapons of mass destruction appear to be on this site. There is also some interesting technical information regarding special weapons on the site for students of the topic.

Mother Nature being a blabbermouth, chemical, biological, nuclear, and radiological weapons and warfare are always going to be around, despite all that is being done along the lines of disarmament.

Small countries and countries which
- face military threats from other countries with larger or more proficient armies or
- which may want to plausibly threaten such countries will resort to weapons of mass destruction because they are often cheaper and easier than raising and training large, competent armies.

Terrorists want these weapons because they generally have no armies with which to contend with their enemies; also, some groups are motivated by religion or ideology to wish to murder as many of their perceived enemies as possible, whether civilian or military.

Finally, weapons of mass destruction are perceived by conferring prestige on their owners - the Chechens claimed to own nuclear weapons, which seemed for a while to have forestalled Russia's entry of that area with its armed forces. The Chechens wound up using radiological weapons, if inefficiently, leaving radioactive materials in Moscow parks. (Aleksandr Litvinenko, before dying from ingestion of polonium-210, alleged that he had been involved in large, fatal explosions at a couple of apartment complexes in Moscow as an agent of Russian internal security, acts which were blamed on the Chechens and used as partial justification for an armed incursion into Chechnya.)

Some weapons of mass destruction (especially chemical, radiological and biological weapons) are as easy or easier to make than many hard drugs, and a multi-billion dollar (US) “war on drugs” hasn’t kept marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine from being both obtainable and affordable in this and most other countries.

You’d have to actually outlaw chemistry, biology and physics to prevent weapons of mass destruction from ever being made. The scary thing is that many politicians might think this would be a good idea - the same reasoning that led some state legislatures in the nineteenth-century United States to legally set the value of pi to 3.2 might one day appeal to desperate - if not numerate - world leaders.

All the treaties and criminal law in the world (literally) won’t stop some chemist, physicist or biologist from arming rogue countries and terrorist groups with weapons of mass destruction – although these same treaties and laws do give us useful tools in shutting malignant chemists, biologists and physicists and their employers down - as we are doing right now in starts and fits.

Technical data on biological, chemical and nuclear/radiological weapons:
"Emergency.com's" Hazardous materials site, including biological weapons

Articles in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) on biological, chemical and nuclear warfare:
Editorial: Domestic Preparedness for Events Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction ; JAMA. January 12, 2000; Vol. 283 No.2
(Review) Books/Biological and Chemical Weaponry: Medical Aspects of Chemical and Biological Warfare; JAMA. October 7, 1998; Vol. 280, No. 13

General nuclear science reference and isotope analysis tools:
NEW!! Interactive Chart of the Nuclides from Brookhaven National Laboratory! - this is just too cool - anyone who has ever taken a Nuclear Science class or worked with radioisotopes will LOVE this, it's the CHART OF THE NUCLIDES in a Web Page, complete with a "drill-down" format that gives you isomeric transition data, neutron capture cross-sections, decay schemes, half-lives, the whole nine yards!
NGATLAS - The IAEA's Atlas Of Neutron Capture Cross Sections If you're ever in a tearing hurry to work out a neutron activation analysis (and who isn't at sometime in their life?) you can go straight to this table and find capture cross-sections in seconds. Cool, huh? Where was this in 1976 when I could have really used it?

Emerging disease sites:

My new Emerging Disease sites page I have started a new page with up-to-date sites on emerging diseases such as Ebola, Marburg, mad cow disease, chronic wasting disease, and the new respiratory disease SARS which has spread by air travel from Hong Kong all over the world (as of 4/6/2003, about 2416 people are ill with it and 89 have died worldwide; 115 people in the United States have SARS and none of these patients have died yet.)

I have also tried to include reporting from reputable journalists familiar with the issue of emerging diseases, such as Newsday’s Laurie Garrett, author of the award-winning book on the subject, The Coming Plague.

NEW!!!!! The Official Mad Cow Disease Web Site: This site has a lot of good data, papers, resources and links concerning "mad cow disease" and similar diseases such as scrapie, kuru, and the newly publicized "chronic wasting disease" which are caused by the same strange mechanisms as mad-cow disease. Very helpful to people who want to know what all the fuss is about in Britain, France, and Germany... and maybe here soon.

If you haven't read about Chronic Wasting Disease, you may want to visit my page devoted solely to CWD - click here if you're interested in emerging diseases.

 

CWD is a "mad cow disease"-like illness afflicting deer, elk, and similar animals. It has been known to exist in the wild for some time, but controversy has arisen over whether chronic wasting disease, like mad cow, can cross the "species barrier" and infect man.

The deaths of two avid deer and elk hunters in an area where CWD is endemic in the deer and elk population have officially been diagnosed as being caused by Creutzfeld-Jacob disease, another brain disease which, like mad cow and chronic wasting disease, attacks the brains of its victims and which is caused by the same type of disease agent. The families and friends of these men, however, are concerned that the men died of chronic wasting disease contracted from the elk and deer they hunted, skinned, and ate.

New biological detection and defense technologies:

Affymetrix corporate web site: Visit this site to learn about current commercially-available biochips that can be used to electronically detect and identify biological weapons.

For information on chemical warfare, click on this link: Chemical warfare sites

For information on Polonium-210, other assassination poisons, and assassination with weapons of mass destruction, click on this link: Polonium-210, other assassination poisons, and assassination with weapons of mass destruction

For information on biological warfare, click on this link: Biological warfare sites

For specific information on anthrax, click on this link: Anthrax information sites

For information on radiological warfare (“dirty bombs”), click on this link: Radiological warfare sites

For information on nuclear warfare (“nuclear bombs”), click on this link: Nuclear warfare sites

For information on emerging diseases such as Ebola, mad cow disease and SARS, click on this link: Emerging disease sites

 

Updates:
- I'll try to keep this page updated and of maximum usefulness to all of you.
- A big "Thanks!" to those of you who've left positive feedback on this page and site!
- Again, everyone, thanks for the kudos!

And - as always - thanks for visiting! 

If you want to follow up on (or confirm – always check on what people tell you on the Web, people, always!) what you see in these links, check your public library.

All sorts of new books and videos are being published on chemical and biological warfare (for depressingly obvious reasons).

Examples of books or videos you might find at your library that I have found to be useful and/or informative are:
the book Biohazard by Ken Alibek - Dr. Alibek was second-in-command over the Soviet "Biopreparat" biological warfare agency before defecting to the United States and his recollections about what he did are very, very scary reading,

and

The "Plague War" episode of the PBS TV series "Frontline," which goes into considerable detail about modern biological warfare and terrorism. Tom Mangold, veteran journalist and author of the book Plague Wars wrote this episode. Mr. Mangold was remarkably thorough in his research and interviews of the personalities of the biological terrorism/counter-terrorism world (including a brief, chilling interview with Dr. Alibek, whom I mentioned above).

"Plague War" is available from PBS Video on VHS tape - if your local public library is like mine, you may be able to borrow a copy of it from yours;

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Now, if you're going to BUY a book or video - check amazon.com out (through my site, of course, heh heh... ) first through the new banner at the bottom of this page! Notice that the banner automatically suggests books on chemical, biological and nuclear weapons-related topics.

Amazon's prices are good, and you help me keep this page open when you order books or videos of ANY kind through this link (the one with the pictures just below this text).

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