A senior FBI official said there is a 100 percent chance that the United States at some time will be attacked with a weapon of mass destruction, Newsmax reported on Monday (see GSN, Feb. 14).

"The notion of probability of a WMD attack being low or high is a moot point because we know the probability is 100 percent," FBI Assistant Director for the WMD Directorate Vahid Majidi said. "We've seen this in the past, and we will see it in the future. There is going to be an attack using chemical, biological or radiological material."

Majidi said the expected WMD attack could be carried out by an international terrorist group, a lone actor or a criminal operation. An incident would be expected to feature a weapon less devastating than a nuclear bomb due to the difficulty in preparing and transferring such as device.

"While the net probability [of a terrorist nuclear strike] is incredibly low, a 10 kiloton device would be of enormous consequence," Majidi said. "So even with those enormously low probabilities, we still have to have a very effective and integrated approach trying to fight the possibility."

When the U.S. military entered Afghanistan in 2001, personnel discovered al-Qaeda had established a "nascent" project to produce biological and chemical warfare agents, Majidi said. The U.S. intelligence community receives hundreds of reports annually of international extremists acquiring weapons of mass destruction, Majidi said. While such reports are consistently found not to be credible, Majidi's office yearly probes more than 12 cases in which there was a goal of launching an unconventional weapons strike.

Newsmax cited the case of Roger Bergendorff, who in 2008 was sentenced to 42 months in prison for possession of the lethal toxin ricin (see GSN, Nov. 18, 2008).

A WMD event with limited casualties could still produce terrible psychological effects, Majidi said.

"A singular lone wolf individual can do things in the dark of the night with access to a laboratory with low quantities of material and could hurt a few people but create a devastating effect on the American psyche," he said.

A would-be attacker working alone remains a major concern, while intelligence agencies in the United States and abroad have established strategies for identifying schemes developed by terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda, according to Majidi.

Majidi said his office is pursuing strategies for identifying preparation of novel bioterrorism materials.

"We are not sitting on our hands waiting to predict what will happen based on what happened yesterday," Majidi said. "You can design an organism de novo that never existed before. While there is no known articulated threat, this is something that we feel is a technology or science that potentially can be misused, either accidentally or on purpose."

The amount of loose nuclear material from the former Soviet Union is unknown, according to Majidi.

"I know there is a hobby of guessing, and different folks give you a different number," he said. "All I can tell you is that from the interdictions that we have had in the past decade, the quantities have been sufficient of highly enriched uranium that I clearly worry about this material on a global scale. How much is there? Any amount is too much."

A terrorist who stole a nuclear weapon from a country that has one would have an easier time than if he tried to make one. "One of the things you have to understand is that nuclear markets are very ambiguous markets," Majidi added. "There are as many bad guys trying to sell material as there are good guys trying to make sure that that doesn't happen" (Ronald Kessler, Newsmax, Feb. 14).