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START workshop gives better understanding of CBRN technologies

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS), in conjunction with the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), led a workshop this month aimed at better understanding CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) attacks. FAS's Charles Blair and Kelsey Gregg detailed the science and history behind biological, chemical, radiological and nuclear weapons and attacks. Blair and Gregg also explored the threats violent non-state and state actors pose with these technologies.

A senior FAS fellow on state and non-state threats, Blair emphasized the evolving nature of CBRN in the international system and the often-misused terminology of "weapons of mass destruction."

"Only nuclear weapons should be considered weapons of mass destruction," Blair said, "WMD is great attention-getting terminology, but CBRN is a more comprehensive and accurate categorization."

Blair is a former START research associate, who helped manage the Global Terrorism Database (GTD).

Gregg, the project manager of the Virtual Biosecurity Center at FAS and a member of its biosecurity program, focused primarily on the history of biological weapons and their impact on the international system. She provided detailed background on the science of biological weapons and emphasized their easy accessibility and relatively low cost to state and non-state actors.

Both Blair and Gregg also said that the 21st century is the "century of biological weapons," as their usage has risen in recent years. The workshop, attended by 25 START and FAS student and staff members, is part of START's summer enrichment program. START's summer enrichment program includes both internal and external discussions and presentations tailored to the interests of START staff. START staff members were able to ask questions and explore areas of interest within CBRN through the workshop.

"The material presented stuck with me because Blair brought up facts that will be useful in our terrorism studies," special projects intern Hannah Monroe-Morse said. "For example, he explained which agents would be the easiest to weaponize and how weaponization works. Overall, I think the training was very useful."