2005 March 21 Monday
Terrorist Attack Scenarios Report Accidentally Released

The US Department of Homeland Security has written up 12 terrorist attack scenarios and 3 natural disaster scenarios in a document entitled National Planning Scenarios which showed up on a Hawaii state government web site.

WASHINGTON A truck driven by terrorists goes down the streets of five large cities over two weeks quietly spraying anthrax spores, ultimately exposing 328,000 people and killing 13,300 while costing the economy billions of dollars.

It's a chilling possibility, one of 15 doomsday scenarios that Homeland Security authorities developed at the request of President Bush to better focus funding and to help state and local officials plan for terrorism and natural disasters.

The three most deadly scenarios outlined iin this report are explosion of a liquid chlorine tank (17,500 dead), a truck that sprays anthrax in 5 cities (13,500 dead - that is the NY Times figure), and the obvious nuclear bomb. Note that out of those three the one that is most avoidable is probably the attack on the chlorine tank. If chlorine processing plants were sited in very low population density areas and heavily automated to boot then blowing one up couldn't kill very many people. So what is the cost of moving a chlorine processing plant?

The problem with avoiding deaths from anthrax is that a lot of people would develop advanced infections before even a single patient was properly diagnosed. That would give the anthrax in their bodies time produce a lot of toxins. If anthrax diagnoses can be made earlier then very few people would have to die. The pathogen is easily killed off by a wide range of antibiotics and antibiotics delivered in the first few days of infection would prevent the bulk of the toxin production. The ability to detect an attack in its early states could greatly reduce the death toll. Though if a truck was driving from city to city to spray anthrax the challenge would become to figure out for which cities to do massive administration of antibiotics and to have enough drugs to use for this purpose. Obviously, sensors developed to detect an anthrax attack and deployed in cities would make that job much easier. The death toll from an anthrax attack could be greatly reduced by development of drugs that neutralize anthrax toxins and some promising preliminary work to develop anti-toxins has been done. Another possibility is the development of a really cheap and fast test that could be easily performed in emergency rooms. That would likely lead to detection of an attack at an earlier stage.

There are lots of ways to kill people and generate huge economic costs.

By contrast, terrorists using a small aircraft to spray chemical blister agent over a packed college football stadium would leave 150 dead and 70,000 taken to hospital, costing $500 million (261 million).

...

If terrorists released sarin gas into the ventilation systems of three large office buildings, it would kill 6,000 and cost $300 million.

Note that so far Al Qaeda has been a combination of too dumb and too damaged by US and allied intelligence and law enforcement operations to carry out any big attacks post-9/11.

The report also included 3 natural disaster scenarios.

To ensure that emergency planning is adequate for most possible hazards, three catastrophic natural events are included: an influenza pandemic, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake in a major city and a slow-moving Category 5 hurricane hitting a major East Coast city.

I am personally worried more about getting killed in the outbreak of a new deadly strain of flu than I am about any of the terrorist scenarios. If avian flu establishes itself in human populations we'd all be in danger of dying.

Oops, release of the report was a mistake.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Wednesday it was a mistake for Hawaii to post a confidential report on its Web site, but the department will continue to communicate openly with state and local authorities about potential terror threats.

The released report was on Hawaii's web site for over three months before it was noticed by the mainstream press. My guess is there are enough radical Islamic hot heads out there trolling the internet that they managed to get a copy before it got pulled. There is an obvious lesson from all this: We ought to try harder to keep terrorists from crossing our borders.

State officials claim the report was not marked as secret or confidential or anything that suggested it not be released to the public. But Chertoff makes it sound like the report was pulled simply because it was not a finished product.

''My understanding is that this was an error,'' Chertoff said.

Noting the report was still in draft stages, Chertoff said Homeland Security wanted ''a finished product out there. So that's unfortunate. But it's not going to deter us from working closely with our state and local partners in fashioning these plans.''

Any discussion of our greatest vulnerabilities and what to do to lessen those vulnerabilities inevitably tips off our enemies as to what those vulnerabilities are and how best to exploit them. But in most cases the public discussion seems necessary. In the cases where reducing vulnerabilities will cost a lot of money a public airing is necessary to be able to form a consensus on whether some cost must be incurred. Also, some of the outlined methods of attack are pretty obvious and have been discussed publically on other occasions.

One reason terrorism is so attractive to terrorists is that terrorist attacks can be so visually dramatic. Fear of a chlorine tank's exploding and killing tens of thousands of people is a small thing compared to the threat of natural mutations in influenza viruses producing a strain that could kill tens or perhaps hundreds of millions of people. Yet there are far smallers effort under way to develop protections against a killer flu strain than against various terrorist attack scenarios.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 March 21 12:06 AM  Terrorists Western Response


Comments
noone said at March 21, 2005 5:10 AM:

Al Quaeda isn't dumb,they just have big egos.100 DC style snipers and a few dozen handgrenade level bombs in the right places would cause huge economic losses and throw our leadership into chaos.

Luckily,they think anything less than a spectacular 1 ton car bomb or an airliner into a skyscaper is beneath them,unluckily,the armies of ethnic street gangs forming in our cities almost certainly won't consider such tactics beneath them.

Rick Darby said at March 21, 2005 8:08 AM:

If the federal government is warning states about these terrorist scenarios, they represent a clear -- if not yet present -- danger.

The best hope of preventing any of these scanarios from coming to pass is serious border security, which is currently nonexistent.

crazy arab said at March 21, 2005 12:38 PM:

Cryptome.org apparently has posted a copy of the document.

John Joe said at December 5, 2005 2:00 PM:

They will just use a 60,000 pound truck bomb to bring down the Sears Tower. A bomb is so easy to make. A 60,000 pound bomb would cost 30,000 dollars to make, which is last then the september 11 attacks cost. The attack on the Sears tower after 10:00 am central time would kill over 25,000 people and put the United States into a pit fall.

mr scott said at August 9, 2015 4:10 PM:

So... where are all these big thinkers now, while ISIS is busy massacring people all over the Iraq we recently left blowing in the wind? Oh that's right, they're not getting PAID to fix THIS problem.


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