Blogs > Liberty and Power > Self-Inflicted Terrorism

Feb 27, 2004 3:37 pm

Self-Inflicted Terrorism

The NYT reports that a Japanese court has sentenced Shoko Asahara, leader of the Aum Shinrikyo cult, to death.

He won't be missed. But his sentence is as good an occasion as any to ponder whether we haven't worked ourselves up into an unnecessary frenzy over the chem/bio threat.

I'm as guilty as anybody of that. Go far back enough in the archives of my blog and you'll find me talking about ordering a gas mask and staying off the metro in the run-up to the Iraq war. But the popular view of chem/bio as these sort of James-Bond-supervillain weapons is much overblown.

As wacky as the Aum cult was and is, they had over a billion dollars to work with and access to some highly competent scientists. Their biggest hit was the sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway in 1995, which killed a total of 12 people. Their anthrax was a complete dud. Thus far, fertilizer bombs and car bombs are more worthy of the name weapons of mass destruction than chem/bio.

What we know of Al Qaeda's chem/bio capabilities does little to suggest that they'd do any better. Their programs seem to be entirely a homemade affair, capable of poisoning a few dogs, but little more. And there was never any evidence to suggest that Saddam Hussein contemplated passing off whatever he had to them.

It’s almost certainly not true despite what the president argued in his pre-Iraq state of the union, that “one vial smuggled in could bring a day of horror like none we have ever known.”

This isn't a counsel of complacency. It's a call for balance. Al Qaeda's in the business of terror. Terrorize yourself, and you're doing their job for them.

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