National Security

ISIS and Chemical Weapons – An Undeniable Threat

The danger is real, a 50-kg aerosol cloud of plague bacteria over a city the size of London could cause at least 72,000 deaths…

Not long ago, OpsLens published two articles that are of significance regarding the menace of ISIS.  One article dealt with the use of drones by ISIS, and the other article discussed the weaponization of diseases.

With the defeat of ISIS on the battlefield, it is a shared understanding the organization will return to more terrorist activity. We already see evidence of this in Europe, the U.K., Australia, and the U.S.

As coalition troops regained control of Mosul, research papers were found hidden at Mosul University detailing experimentation using chemical weapons by ISIS on human beings.  British and US forces have verified the records as bona fide ISIS papers.  They documented experiments on prisoners using pesticides and nicotine.  The nightmarish scenario is reminiscent of trials conducted by Nazi physician Josef Mengele on concentration camp inmates during World War II.

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a British chemical weapons expert, described ISIS testing on humans as “almost holocaust type.”  He said, “This is a horrifying throwback to the Nazis who would test nerve agents on live humans.”

The fear is the terrorists could weaponize deadly diseases and release them as a cloud above cities killing thousands. The plague, or “Black Death” as the disease was known in the Middle Ages, could once again wipe out millions if terrorists were able to spray an antibiotic resistant strain above a city, according to bioterrorism experts. The plague killed a third of Europe’s population in the Middle Ages – but scientists and governments fear it could return.

With ISIS imploding in Iraq and Syria, it is feared the terrorists could step-up any clandestine bio-weapon development and wreak revenge on the West.

The danger is real, and World Health Organization (WHO) researchers estimate that releasing a 50-kg aerosol cloud of plague bacteria over a city the size of London, and its surrounding areas, could cause at least 300,000 to become infected with 72,000 deaths from the attack.

In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believe plague is a major concern along with anthrax, smallpox, and viral fevers like Ebola and Marburg.

The cost of this type of attack is relatively minimal.  The amount mentioned by the WHO organization could easily be distributed by any small plane.

The means of distribution would be akin to crop dusting.  Unfortunately, the means of distribution of the material gets even easier than that.  ISIS is already very adept at using small drones in large numbers to drop small bombs on targets.  That same method could be used in this case as well.  Splitting the payload into small amounts and loading it on dozens of small and commercially available drones would make the attack viable and extremely difficult to stop.

How easy would it be to obtain a bio-weapon?  Ricin can be weaponized as an aerosol. With an average lethal dose of 1/5,000th of a gram, it remains a potent bio weapon.  Under the 1972 United Nations Biological Weapons Convention, it is defined as a “schedule one” controlled substance.  Unfortunately, the worldwide processing of over 100,000,000 metric tons of castor beans results in a 5 percent, or 5 million metric tons, of ricin toxin.  No antidote exists for ricin poisoning.

This type of warfare is not new.  War has been waged against enemies through bio-weapons for centuries.  From poisoning wells, to launching the infected bodies over the walls of a castle under siege, to the more modern use of bio weapons in Vietnam, the Middle East and elsewhere — bio-weapons are real, available, and a genuine threat.

Jon Harris

Jon Harris is a Senior OpsLens Contributor and former Army NCO, Sergeant Morales Club member, civilian law enforcement officer, and defense contractor with over 30 years in the law enforcement community. He is published in Army Trainer Magazine, authored regular columns in several newspapers, and is the author of the Cold War novel Breakpoint. His adventures as a security contractor in Afghanistan and Iraq can be found on He holds a B.S. in Government and Politics and an M.S. in Criminal Justice and is currently completing his Juris Doctor degree.

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