Terrorism is the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government or civilian population, in furtherance of political or social objectives.
Of the 25 terrorist incidents reported by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) from January 1990 through December 1997, four occurred in Washington State. Two of these incidents were in Tacoma in July 1993. The American Front Skinheads detonated pipe bombs in Tacoma on July 20 and July 22. The Phineas Priesthood exploded a pipe bomb at the Valley Branch offices of The Spokane Spokesman-Review newspaper on April 1, 1996, and robbed a branch of the US Bank in Spokane ten minutes later. The Phineas Priesthood repeated this mode of operation three months later when they placed a pipe bomb at a Planned Parenthood office in Spokane on July 12. They then robbed the same branch of the US Bank using an AK-47, a 12-gauge shotgun, a revolver, and a 25-pound propane tank bomb.
In addition to reported terrorist incidents, the FBI and Bellingham police prohibited a group of terrorists affiliated with the Washington State Militia from carrying out their plans in July 1996. The group planned to bomb various targets, including a radio tower, bridge, and a train tunnel, while the train was inside. More recently, the FBI and Seattle police and fire responded to a hoax, bio-terrorism incident on September 19, 1999. The incident involved an Internet company that received a letter containing white power and claiming the powder was anthrax.
More recently, the spectrum of international terrorism surfaced in Washington State in December 1999 when a 33-year-old Algerian man was arrested by U.S. Customs officials while entering the United States in Port Angeles, Washington, aboard a ferry from Victoria, British Columbia. The man was charged with smuggling explosive material into the United States. A former chief of counter-terrorism at the Central Intelligence Agency said the timing devices and nitroglycerine in his possession were the "signature devices" of groups affiliated with Afghan-based Osama bin Laden, an Islamic militant. Because it was highly unlikely the explosive materials could be smuggled onto the commercial aircraft the suspect was scheduled to depart on the next day and he was booked into a motel blocks from Seattle Center, law-enforcement officials investigated the possibility of a terrorist bombing during the Year 2000 New Year's Eve celebration at the Space Needle. New Year's Eve celebrations at the Space Needle traditionally draw tens of thousands of revelers.
Hazard Identification and Vulnerability Assessment
Washington State is vulnerable to terrorist activity. Terrorism can be state sponsored or the outgrowth of a frustrated, extremist fringe of polarized and/or minority groups of people. Extremists have a different concept of morality than the mainstream society. They see issues in terms of black and white. Terrorists groups include:
- Ethnic, separatists, and political refugees
- Left wing radical organizations
- Right wing racists, anti-authority survivalist groups
- Extremist issue-oriented groups such as animal rights, environmental, religious, anti-abortionists
Communities are vulnerable to terrorist incidents and most have high visibility and vulnerable targets. These critical facilities, sites, systems, and special events in the community are usually located near routes with high transportation access. Examples include:
- Government office buildings, court houses, schools, hospitals, and shopping centers
- Dams, water supplies, power distribution systems
- Military installations
- Railheads, interstate highways, tunnels, airports, ferries, bridges, seaports, pipelines
- Recreational facilities such as sports stadiums, theaters, parks, casinos, concert halls
- Financial institutions and banks
- Sites of historical and symbolic significance
- Scientific research facilities, academic institutions, museums
- Telecommunications, newspapers, radio and television stations
- Chemical, industrial, and petroleum plants; business offices, and convention centers
- Law, fire, emergency medical services and responder facilities, and operations centers
- Special events, parades, religious services, festivals, celebrations
- Planned Parenthood facilities and abortion clinics
- Residential properties
Critical facilities, sites, and special events become more appealing during visits by high profile personalities and dignitaries. Sporting events such as the Olympic Games and World Cup increase the probability of terrorist targeting. Additionally, international meetings and conventions provide terrorists an excellent environment in which to articulate their cause through violence. Terrorists have introduced two new wrinkles, which are of growing concern: targeting first responders with secondary devices and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) hoaxes. Terrorists will go to great lengths to ensure an event produces the intended impact, even if it means destroying an entire structure or killing thousands. Commercially available materials agents can be developed into WMD. Science and the Internet have made information relating to WMD technology available to an ever-widening audience, and terrorists and other would-be criminals are using it for WMD experimentation. Experts generally agree that there are five categories of terrorist incidents: biological, chemical, nuclear, incendiary, and explosive.
Biological agents pose a serious threat because of their accessible nature and the rapid manner in which they spread. These agents are disseminated by the use of aerosols, contaminated food or water supplies, direct skin contact, or injection. Several biological agents can be adapted for use as weapons by terrorists. These agents include anthrax (sometimes found in sheep and cattle), tularemia (rabbit fever), cholera, the plague (sometimes found in prairie dog colonies), and botulism (found in improperly canned food). A biological incident will most likely be first recognized in the hospital emergency room, medical examiners office, or within the public health community long after the terrorist attack. The consequences of such an attack will present communities with an unprecedented requirement to provide mass protective treatment to exposed populations, mass patient care, mass fatality management, and environmental health clean-up procedures and plans.
Chemical agents are compounds with unique chemical properties that can produce lethal or damaging effects in humans, animals, and plants. Chemical agents can exist as solids, liquids, or gases depending on temperature and pressure. Most chemical agents are liquid and can be introduced into an unprotected population relatively easily using aerosol generators, explosive devices, breaking containers, or other forms of covert dissemination. Dispersed as an aerosol, chemical agents have their greatest potential for inflicting mass casualties.
Nuclear threat is the use, threatened use, or threatened detonation of a nuclear bomb or device. At present, there is no known instance in which any non-governmental entity has been able to obtain or produce a nuclear weapon. The most likely scenario is the detonation of a large conventional explosive that incorporates nuclear material or detonation of an explosive in close proximity to nuclear materials in use, storage, or transit. Of concern is the increasing frequency of shipments of radiological materials throughout the world.
Incendiary devices are either mechanical, electrical, or chemical devices used to intentionally initiate combustion and start fires. Their purpose is to set fire to other materials or structures. These devices maybe used singularly or in combination.
Explosive incidents account for 70 percent of all terrorist attacks worldwide. Bombs are terrorist's weapon of choice. The Internet and local libraries provide ample information on the design and construction of explosive devices. The FBI reported that 3,163 bombing incidents occurred in the United States in 1994, 77 percent were due to explosives. Residential properties are the bombers' most common targets.
Cyberterrorism is a relatively new phenomenon used to potentially disrupt our society and exploit our increasing reliance on computers and telecommunication networks. Cyberterrorism threatens the electronic infrastructure supporting the social, health, and economic well being of Washington's citizens. Interlinked computer networks regulate the flow of power, water, financial services, medical care, telecommunication networks, and transportation systems. The public and private sectors' unprecedented dependence on information and communications systems, computers, and networks, demonstrate three realities:
Our networks are vulnerable to attack from any source, whether it is a foreign intelligence agency or a teenager with a new Macintosh. The result of a youthful hacker could be as devastating as that of a sophisticated terrorist group seeking to intentionally disrupt our way of life. The ability to distinguish a singular hacker-type incident from a cyberterrorist attack may not be readily evident.
The tools for conducting cyberterrorism are widely available, broadly advertised, and easily used. There are entire web sites devoted to the identification and use of hacking tools. Potential attackers only require access to a computer and a telecommunications network.
Only with sophisticated methods and efforts can the source of the attack potentially be identified and tracked. As with any terrorist activity, the use of intelligence to uncover potential threats is the best means to avoid the disruption and chaos that could result from a cyber attack. Increased network security can significantly help users avoid less sophisticated attacks.
Terrorism is a deliberate strategy with persons' objectives obscured by the fact their acts seem random and indiscriminate. Terrorism is discriminate since it has a definite purpose, but indiscriminate in that the terrorist has neither sympathy nor hate for the randomly selected victim. Communities should use the existing processes and methodologies developed for the successful management of other hazards. Usually, the plans and systems developed for other problems can serve as templates for developing a comprehensive counter-terrorism program. Hazardous material emergency response plans and procedures are helpful in this arena. First responders must remember they are targets and that proactive steps need to be taken to protect the crime scene and the evidence.
- Emergency Resource Guide (PDF 5 MB)
- Ohio Emergency Management Agency
- United States Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
- United States Attorney General
- United States Department of State
- Department of Homeland Security
- California Office of Emergency Services