ISIL Determined to Acquire Biological Weapons (UPDATED)

By Sarah Sicard

The U.S. military has evidence that Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria are seeking biological weapons, an Army official said Oct. 7.

"Intelligence has recently discovered that ISIS intends to pursue biological agents and also is trying to figure out how to weaponize bubonic plague through the use of infected animals," said Brig. Gen. Maria Gervais, head of the Army's Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear School.

That threat — and those posed by improvised explosive devices, bulk chemical agents, the deadly Ebola virus and continued development of weapons of mass destruction — point to the need for an effective CBRN defense, she said Oct. 7 at a roundtable discussion in Washington, D.C.

She cited several presidents as having said, "The greatest threat to this country is at the intersection of technology and radicalism."

"The chemical … regiment is more important than ever," she added.

But amid continued budget constraints and downsizing, the Army's chemical biological, radiation and nuclear defense force faces concerns about whether it can adequately handle threats faced abroad and in the homeland, Gervais said.

"We must ensure that we are prepared to bring our unique CBRN capabilities to the fight, and we must continue training the Army and the joint force to not only survive, but also to win in the CBRN environment," she said.

The United States will continue to encounter improvised weaponry that exploits weaknesses in the structure of armed forces, she said.

"The enemy will employ a hybrid strategy in order to gain an asymmetrical advantage over U.S. forces," Gervais added.

CBRN must address the threats head-on instead of defensively, she said.

"We have been reliant on reactionary measures to protect the force for as long as I can remember, and we really need to change that," Gervais said.

"We lack capability in bio-detection and early warning in general," she said.

Not only are improvised biological and chemical weapons an issue, there is also the threat of natural disasters and weapons of mass destruction, she said.

"Ebola has dominated news over the past three or four months," Gervais said.Additionally, "there still exists the ever-present threat from state actors such as North Korea and Iran and the use of WMD," she said.

Further exasperating the force is the fact that CBRN defense has no ability to detect biological or chemical threats in real-time, making the process of assessing and addressing them unsuitable.

"We cannot afford to wait for technology to provide us a silver bullet solution to these complex problems," she said. "We have to develop agile and adaptable methods that can be technologically supported now and into the future."

CBRN has to readjust its focus from specialized technical forces into a more general-purpose force with broader abilities, she said.

Despite confidence that CBRN defense will be able to continue making necessary structural changes with its current budget, "all bets are off with sequestration," she said.

Should funding remain untouched, Gervais said CBRN defense will focus on rebuilding leadership, establishing strategic communications capabilities and joint combat development.

The hope is that by 2025, CBRN defense will be on track and have the military technology and internal structure it needs to adequately handle all chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats, she said.

"If you ask me, 'What is the future of the CBRN regiment?' I will tell you it has neverbeen as bright as it is now," Gervais said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story cited Brig. Gen. Gervais as saying, "The greatest threat to the country is at the intersection of technology and radicalism."

Topics: Chem Bio Protection, Homeland Security

Comments (0)

Retype the CAPTCHA code from the image
Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Please enter the text displayed in the image.