Anatomizing Radiological and Nuclear Non-State Adversaries
September 2008 through October 2009
The initial phase of the project sought to identify the non-state actors posing the greatest radiological or nuclear (RN) threat within a five-year period. The following provides a summary comparison of the results obtained from the various research streams.
The top radiological threat that emerged from all three analytical streams was al-Qa'ida Central. Indeed, jihadist actors dominated all the threat rankings, with nine of the seventeen groups in the qualitative analysis, seven of the first thirteen positions in the quantitative analysis and eight of the top ten ranked groups in the elicitation being identified as being driven by jihadist ideology. The qualitative analysis and quantitative modeling also identified secular far-right groups and non-jihadist religious groups as prominent threats. These included several amorphous and putatively callow groups and individuals, for example, extreme right-wing racist loners, home-grown American millenarian groups, mentally unbalanced individuals and severely disgruntled nuclear scientists. The quantitative modeling was the only research stream to include as prominent threats those terrorist groups that have a predominately ethno-nationalist gloss—three of the top ten groups—and also identified the only perceived threat from an ostensibly Marxist-Leninist inspired organization in all the rankings: the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC).
The nuclear threat rankings were also dominated by various jihadist groups, with al-Qa‘ida central being listed as the number one threat in two of the research streams and the number two threat in the third. However, one top ranking is striking: the elicitation listed U.S.-based unidentified disgruntled scientists (who possess access to nuclear agents and/or weapons) as the highest threat. Owing to the fact that the quantitatively derived results could not disaggregate radiological and nuclear threats, these rankings are less relevant in the nuclear context.
The results of the analysis served as the baseline for follow-on research investigating the likely behavioral patterns of RN adversaries with respect to RN weapon acquisition, deployment and use. Detailed behavioral profiles, including discussion of such aspects as target and weapon selection, were created for three known terrorist groupings: al-Qa'ida, the Pakistani Neo-Taliban and Hizb'allah.
The initial phase of the project employed a multi-methodological approach aimed towards identifying the non-state RN actors posing the greatest threat within a five-year period, as well as discerning salient characteristics of RN adversaries in order to develop a collection of indicators that reflect an increased probability that a particular actor will pursue RN weapons downstream. Based on a consolidated set of framework parameters and underpinned by a threat equation that emphasized non-state actor motivation, capability and opportunity, the study differentiated clearly between radiological and nuclear weapons, except regarding some motivational aspects and by necessity in certain statistical calculations. Data for the analyses were drawn from multiple unclassified (primary and secondary) sources, including perpetrator statements, trial transcripts, news reports, journal articles and scholarly book, as well as existing terrorism databases.
1. The development of profiles of all former non-state users and attempted users of RN weapons, recorded and coded in the form of the Radiological and Nuclear Non-State Adversaries Database (RANNSAD) [presented as a stand-alone deliverable].
2. A review and qualitative analysis of the pertinent literature pertaining to nuclear and radiological terrorist and criminal events, including identifying dominant theoretical paradigms.
3. Quantitative analysis of prior nuclear and radiological perpetrators and would-be perpetrators using statistical modeling techniques to identify salient characteristics of these past RN adversaries.
4. Rigorously controlled expert elicitation of outside subject matter experts (SMEs), using both semi-structured and formal probabilistic elicitation.
5. Internal and external quality control procedures.
6. The development of lists of over 130 positive and negative indicators drawn from the analysis, to be used by practitioners.
The second phase of the project, involving the creation of behavioral profiles of three organizational actors, utilized a modified form of the DECIDe (Determinants Effecting Critical Incident Decisions) Framework adapted for this project. Drawing on extensive open-source research, a series of general influences on actor behavior (such as ideological, organizational, historical, and environmental) were considered and then applied to the possible use of RN weapons by the actor.