New report sheds light on Al Qaeda's biological attack capabilities

Years of work by Al Qaeda terrorists to acquire weapons of mass destruction and concoct the deadliest methods of using them have been assessed by a retired Central Intelligence Agency officer in a newly released research paper.

Rolf Mowatt-Larssen's study, titled "Al Qaeda Weapons of Mass Destruction Threat: Hype or Reality?", provides a detailed chronology of the terrorist group's efforts from 1988 to 2003 to acquire biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.

Mowatt-Larssen, a senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government, served as Director of Intelligence and Counterintelligence at the U.S. Department of Energy. Prior to that, he served for 23 years as a CIA intelligence officer in both domestic and international posts.

According to Mowatt-Larssen's study, Al Qaeda would not hesitate to launch attacks that could result in the deaths of tens or even hundreds of thousands of Americans if such an attack were possible for them.

Mowatt-Larssen's report, however, in noting that no such attack has happened, questions if that is a result of counter-terrorism efforts or a tactical decision by Al Qaeda.

"There are many plausible explanations for why the world has not experienced an al Qaeda attack using chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons, but it would be foolish to discount the possibility that such an event will occur in the future," Mowatt-Larssen says. "To date, al Qaeda’s WMD programs may have been disrupted. This is in fact one likely explanation, given a sustained and ferocious counterterrorist response to 9/11 that largely destroyed al Qaeda as the organization that existed before the fateful attack on the US. If so, terrorists must continue to be disrupted and denied a safe haven to reestablish the ability to launch a major strike on the US homeland, or elsewhere in the world.