Lessons from Aum Shinrikyo bioterror attack detailed

A team of researchers with the Center for a New American Security have interviewed former members of Aum Shinrikyo, a Japanese apocalyptic cult, to learn future prevention methods for bioterrorist acts.
Sixteen years ago, Aum Shinrikyo dispersed the chemical weapon sarin in the Tokyo subway system, killing 13 people and causing 6,000 others to seek hospital treatment. Before that attack, the cult developed other weapons and used or tried to use biological and chemical agents against multiple targets.
The report, titled "Aum Shinrikyo: Insights into How Terrorists Develop Biological and Chemical Weapons," uses information from former Aum members to enrich the understanding of policymakers when assessing risks that terrorists could use and develop weapons of mass destruction.
The researchers found that while Aum's biological program was a failure, its chemical program was actually more capable than was evident from its successful release of sarin in 1995. This suggests that chemical weapons are likely to be more accessible than biological capabilities for terrorist groups. Accidents, however, did recur in both Aum's chemical and biological programs, though they did not deter pursuit of these weapons.
The effective dissemination of biological and chemical agents was challenging for Aum and the difficulty of the process would be likely to burden other groups as well. The report found that even intermittent or anticipated enforcement actions were highly disruptive to the cult's efforts to develop biological and chemical weapons.
When the top members of the organization transitioned to using violence, they had little resistance to persuading other leaders down the path of moving from conventional weapons to pathogens and chemicals. While Aum's hierarchical structure facilitated the initiating and resourcing of biological and chemical programs, it distorted their development by focusing power and resources in the hands of some with poor judgment about the programs. The researchers anticipate similar issues in other terrorist organizations.
There were multiple significant failures preceding or accompanying Aum's failures. Despite the group's commitment to multiple bizarre ideas, numerous operational failures and the misallocation of resources, Aum displayed impressive persistence and produced successes.
Finally, the researchers pointed out that even a retrospective assessment of chemical and biological programs like this one is complex and is burdened with uncertainties and gaps. The report said that similar uncertainty is likely to be common when assessing other terrorist groups.