Friday, July 31, 2015

Emerging Technologies: Lowering the threshold for ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) Mass Casualty Terrorism

Emerging technologies are those technologies that are innovative and competitive both in terms of function and accessibility. When we consider emerging technologies, one of the primary novel technologies is 3D printing and its application to weapon and weapon systems development. What sets 3D printing apart however, from other emerging technologies is the lowering of a technical threshold which makes it user friendly to a much wider population. In so doing, it lowers the technical and economic threshold of weapon production.

3D printing has already been used in drone construction and the potential that terrorist organizations either supported by states (Hezbollah/Iran) or with vast financial resources such as the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, could acquire the means to mass produce disposable weapons at a low cost point is a counter-terror concern. Not only would 3D printing of weapons increase the potential for mass casualty terrorism but standoff weapon systems could well increase this threat replacing the need to even arm terrorist surrogates.  3D printed disposable drones could deliver conventional and unconventional payloads. The ability to swiftly replace captured or destroyed drones would significantly impact methods we currently use in counter-terrorism and warfare.  In an article by Yochi Dreazen entitled: The Next Israeli-Arab War will be Fought with Drones, Mr. Dreazen contends, “In October, near the West Bank city of Hebron, Palestinian  security personnel arrested a team of operatives preparing to launch a drone packed with explosives. The events have set off alarms within the Israeli Defence Forces, which last April released a statement declaring unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s) to be a serious threat to the country. Hezbollah’s drones represent the next evolution of warfare by remote control, when weaponized robotic planes give terrorist groups de facto air forces.” See:

As if this were not concerning enough, the 3D printing of drone technology will likely rapidly increase the ability of terrorist organizations, such as Hamas, Hezbollah and ISIS specifically, to deploy disposable drones, reprint them and rapidly replace lost drones or even program them to destruct after the mission. Moreover suicide drones could easily be employed to take out infrastructures and used in mass casualty attacks against civilians. 3D mass production disposable drones would be a game changer for weapons of mass destruction and future terrorist methods and tactics allowing incredible versatility. Smaller 3D produced drones and those designed with swarming technology are likely to evade current counter measures. In a scenario where mixed drones are used, some with conventional payloads, some with un-conventional payloads, multiple strikes would be possible and while the conventional attack would be considered immediate, there could well be long term casualties either from loading the payloads with low level radiological material (small aerial dirty bombs) or biological and chemical weaponized agents.  Such agents could well create multiple rolling outbreaks of pandemic disease or be used as stealthy force reducers/force multipliers. 4D technology, developed at MIT, could mean that printed payloads using biological agents could be weaponized based on target specific data. This would obscure identification and remove some of the barriers which previously served to make this type of weaponization process the domain of state military labs. Essentially making it user friendly to terrorists.

While Israel is one of the best placed nation, both technically and in terms of experience, in countering potential future terrorist weapons, the use of 3D printed technology in a European scenario, would offer ISIS real advantages. With the possible exception of France, most European governments are not quite as well prepared to counter this threat, nor do they believe it is remotely on the horizon. This gap in assessment and experience, combined with general arrogance, greatly advantages ISIS and other terrorists, even lone terrorists who might access 3D printing technology within Europe. To understand how real and how close this technology is and it's accessibility to terrorists, we need only look at a recent article by Adam Clark Estes wherein he notes: “A team from the Advanced Manufacturing Research Center at the University of Sheffield, built their disposable drone, a five foot wide guy made of just nine parts that looks like a tiny stealth bomber, using a technique called fused deposition modeling. This additive manufacturing technique has been around since the 1980’s but has recently become faster and cheaper thanks to improved design processes. The ultimate vision, as UAS describes it, is for ‘cheap and potentially disposable UAV’s that could be built and deployed in remote situations potentially within as little as 24 hours. Forward operating teams equipped with 3D printers could thus generate their own semi-autonomous micro air force squadrons or airborne surveillance swarms, a kind of first strike desktop printing team hurling disposable drones into the sky.” (

Hezbollah and Hamas both have sophisticated intelligence collection capabilities, what we will likely see with 3D printable drones is the ability to drop disposable surveillance equipment into theaters where previously they would not have access. If the surveillance equipment can be mass produced, and cost effective (disposable) we are likely to see its use by terrorist organizations; a risk assessment of this emerging technology and terrorist applications, could not be undertaken too soon. 

Turning our attention to ISIS, recent reports note that ISIS has increased its use of chemical weapons (see: Several biological agents which are within the purview of ISIS could be well suited for drone deployment. ISIS taking of Palmyra, an area known for its phosphates, is worrying but more so because ISIS possess the technical sophistication to arms drones with CW and BW. Lacking effective in threatre counter measures advantages them in ways which are probably best left to the imagination.  

As breathtaking as this seems it is now reality and one few European governments are planning effectively to counter. Unfortunately there is a technological gap between disposable 3D printed drones and counter technologies to identify, evade and destroy such technology in civilian situations. An advantage our enemies are likely to exploit and in the very near term, not two years or five years down the road.  

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Ending Transmission in Guinea: The French and Russian Contributions

"France has been mobilized since the beginning of the crisis, in conjunction with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the authorities of the countries concerned. It is providing technical support and expertise to contain the epidemic. Our embassies, particularly in Guinea (which also has jurisdiction for Sierra Leone) and Liberia, are in close contact with the health monitoring and care facilities established in each of those countries. France particularly supports the high-security mobile laboratory project implemented by Inserm in partnership with the Pasteur and Mérieux Institutes. This laboratory makes it possible to safely and more accurately diagnose outbreaks. It will supplement the facilities already in place, particularly the Pasteur Institute’s laboratory in Dakar as well as a European laboratory. It receives funding from the European Commission." Source: 

While headlines on ending the Ebola crisis in West Africa seem to take a 'first in' approach as if this were a competition, the 'last out' will surely be the determining factor which brings the Ebola epidemic to an end. Both France and Russia have made impressive contributions toward ending this outbreak and their long term approach to building a public health infrastructure across West Africa will no doubt protect local and global populations for years to come. The low key approach taken by the French, Russians and the disaster medicine organization Medicines sans Frontieres, in contrast to rushing in (usually with press in tow) and pulling out swiftly once the media has moved on to a different calamity, by some governments, should well be noted for future outbreaks of emerging and re-emerging disease. It is the opinion of this author that attitudes toward war bear a striking resemblance to fighting a war on disease. The first in, while making headlines don't always factor into the longer term solutions.

The quiet contributions of the French and Russians, combined with the highly resolute Medecins sans Frontieres, has probably been one of the most enduring efforts which will bring Ebola to an end while simultaneously supporting a devastated public health infrastructure. According to France Diplomatie, the French contribution in Guinea involves several pillars which provide long term solutions: 

"In 2014, France launched an emergency response plan based on the following pillars: medical treatment (funding equipping and setting up Ebola Treatment Centres (ETC's), setting up of laboratories); training and protecting those combating the crisis (training centres, a health-care worker treatment centre, medical evacuations); supporting local communities (awareness-raising activities, safe and dignified burials). This plan has proved effective in the countries concerned but the battle against the epidemic has not yet been won. In 2015, France is adapting its plan to respond appropriately as the epidemic develops. It is pursuing three main objectives: controlling and eradicating the epidemic; tackling other health emergencies that are not related to Ebola; anticipating future crises." ( In addition to this the French Government has a longer term support plan in place. 

"The Agence Française de Développement (French Development Agency - AFD) is providing €4 million for the creation of an Institut Pasteur in Conakry. To complement this, France is funding the Institut Pasteur and Fondation Mérieux to build laboratory capacities in Guinea. The aim is to provide:
- equipped laboratories that meet international standards, offering permanent on-site diagnosis facilities;
- trained staff to support the actors combating infectious diseases and viral haemorrhagic fevers at both local and regional levels;
- national quality control capacities.
Strengthening the primary health care system which is critical to long term public health infrastructure in Guinea, AFD is providing €10 million, over three years, for a cooperation project with the European Union and the Guinean Ministry of Health to improve the health facilities in Guinea’s forest region (prevention, maternal and child care). Some of this support has been channelled into the fight against Ebola." (see: 

The long term planning and investment of the French government eclipses the short term efforts of some EU/NATO states who sent a warship for three months, with no real long term value added to the patients and people of West Africa. Superficial and short term solutions like this, designed with media photo ops in mind, is not helpful to the long term and very serious work which must occur in order to end transmissions and to rebuild public health infrastructures. When the media leaves its interesting who is still on the ground, who is in it for the long term and for the greater good of the West African public. 

Russia too is a major contributor to the fight against Ebola who've made significant contributions in Guinea. "The Russian government gave the government in Conakry, Guinea, a mobile diagnostic laboratory equipped to work with the lethal virus." ( ) In an article posted by Robert Herriman in Outbreak News Today, Herriman notes: According to the Russian head of immunological and virological laboratory Alexander Semenov, “In addition to the equipment of the latest generation we are a group of a dozen Russian scientists came to work in Guinea to stop the chain quickly spread of the virus and see extent available locally a vaccine against the disease. This means that we are heart with our brothers and sisters Guinean whose cooperation between our two states date back over 50 years.” The report notes this demonstrates the excellent relations of friendship  between the two countries. President of the Republic Professor Alpha Condé sent a special thanks to the people and Government of Russia and especially the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, according to the news report. " ( 

According to a report from Russia Beyond the Headlines, " A center for microbiological research and medical treatment of patients infected with epidemic diseases was dedicated in a ceremony in Kindia, Guinea [ ] as part of Russia's effort to assist the fight against Ebola and to strengthen the local healthcare system, the Russian Foreign Ministry said." "The center is intended to diagnose, treat and prevent infectious and highly contagious diseases, and ranks among the most advanced medical centers of its kind to be set up in Western Africa.""The Centre was built and equipped by RUSAL, a leading global aluminium producer with active assistance from the Russian embassy in Conakry. Investment amounted to over 10 million dollars. The Centre's premises include an infection hospital, a provisional hospital, a mobile laboratory and a blood and plasma transfusion department with a laboratory. The Centre will initially serve as a hospital for the treatment of those infected with the Ebola virus. The Russian operator, that has been working in Guinea since 2002 and is one of the largest investors in the local economy, is the world's only public health company to have implemented such a large-scale project to check the global spreading of the Ebola virus." ( Again, these are deep and long term investments which no doubt will serve to protect the local community as well as the greater global health community. 

Russia and France offer a model of how investment in public health care infrastructures in fragile states will end transmission of the worst outbreak of Ebola in history. These efforts should well be considered by the EU and other states, specifically those with short term agenda's. Ending transmission will require continued investment in every technology related to public health security from diagnostics to vaccines and everything in between. A sustainable financial package should be considered which will provide graded increases over at least a ten year period. if not longer. Failure to do this will bring not only cyclical outbreaks of Ebola as we've seen in Uganda, South Sudan, the DRC, Congo and Gabon, but higher mortality rates from a range of preventable diseases, endemic diseases (malaria) and child birth related deaths as well. 

NATO's Role in Biological Defence: Vigorous Warrior 2015

surgery team

Vigorous Warrior (VW15), a multinational NATO military medical exercise was run in June,2015 in Hradec Kralove, the Czech Republic. The primary aim of this excercise was to assess gaps in multinational medical deployments in areas such as diagnostics, decontamination, treatment and evacuation for casualties of biological and chemical exposure.The NATO Centre of Excellence for Military Medicine (MILMED COE) combined forces with the Czech Armed services to run this exceptional exercise. (see: In addition to this NATO has published several reports and updates on Ebola. These reports can be accessed on line (

Clearly NATO has a role in and consensus support for deploying forces to counter the threat of epidemic and pandemic disease. An article in Foreign Policy entitled: "The Ultimate Ebola Fighting Force" by Jack Chow which was actually published back in Sept. of 2014 long before the death tolls reached 11,00, lays out a substantial argument for NATO's involvement in the often contentious field of health security. Chow notes: 

"[  ] those brave people fighting the virus are doing so without the backing of any substantial medical reserve force that could come in with fresh supplies and trained personnel. Neither the cluster of industrial countries that gives health aid to poor countries, such as those in the G-7, nor international bodies like the World Health Organization (WHO) possess an at-the-ready, deployable battalion with trained health care teams, protective gear, and ample supplies of medicines." 


One of the immediate issues which NATO must address if it is to put up a battalion under a NATO command is that of strategic stockpiling. NATO thus far has not created a strategic stockpile of its own and relies on a virtual stockpile and contribution from its Member States. This structure so far has met with success but future epidemics and even those which might be deliberate may see widening gaps particularly if the contributing Member States must protect their own forces and nationals in country. This could change the dynamics and NATO surely must be flexible to deal with such changes. The Foreign Policy article notes: 

"Ebola's surprise attack against fragile countries, including Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, demonstrates the compelling need for a new international epidemic response corps that can go straight to a hot zone when needed. This 'medical NATO,' so to speak, would consist of a coalition of countries that would recruit specialty teams- comprised of doctors, nurses, and others--from respective national health agencies and systems. The alliance would appoint a doctor-in-chief, and all participating countries would jointly develop operational plans and conduct rehearsal exercises." (see full article here: 

On both counts I would argue NATO already has an established medical corps and the expertise certainly of developing furthe such a force. COMEDS, the medical branch of NATO has a leader, the leadership is rotating and currently it is the French Surgeon General who oversees COMEDS, and MILMED COE has just conducted VW15 (this military medical exercise is run every two years). 

While Chow envisions these teams being deployed under a WHO declaration of an international health emergency, if NATO acquired a robust strategic stockpile with a composition of medical supplies and technologies at its disposal, the hot zone team could effectively engage where asked and avoid possible conflicts, which would arise legally if such deployments were made outside a NATO command structure. That 'teams would be deployed upon the WHO's declaration of a global health emergency [and] could be mobilized to suppress a disease either completely or to such a level that a country could then handle the crisis" is certainly a worthy goal, but as Chow goes on to explain "They would have the authority to directly provide treatment drugs and implement prevention measures without political interference from a a country in which an outbreak was happening." 

This, in my view, would not be possible under current NATO mandates and under  UN law.  While the author's concept that "The corps would be equipped with airlift capacity for rapid insertion into disease zones, and would receive support from a robust supply chain that could immediately push mobile hospitals, equipment, and essential drugs into areas in need. Corps members could follow WHO treatment guidelines and access that organization's disease-tracking systems"  (ostensibly GOARN), although NATO has its own disease tracking system (ASTER) and due to restrictions it would be unlikely NATO would integrate or coordinate with GOARN. At the minimum this would present problems within the classification and STANAG systems not to mention UN mandates. Its the opinion of this author that it would not be necessary, although its a tempting civil-military inter-operational concept model.

To addess the articles' contention that a NATO corps could simply go into a hotzone presents all kinds of security, policy and legal issues. Medecines sans Frontieres and I would imagine WHO as well, would be unlikely to shift their views and policy on military involvement, even in medical response. MSF in particular is sensitive to this issue and has vast experience with conflict medicine. While it would be nice to think NATO medical personnel would be welcome in a conflict zone where there is also an outbreak of a potentially pandemic disease, this clearly is not the case and they would have no mandate do so.  

While a 'global public health emergency corps" is absolutely needed and NATO, with its well established medical command has a role to play in health security, it is one which will require consensus to restructure and investment from its Member States. Creating a NATO strategic stockpile of medical supplies, and the acquisition of advanced technologies, which could be pushed within 24 hours to a hot zone, would serve well to augment the future capabilities of WHO, NGO's, MSF, CDC, but it is not a replacement, nor should it be under the command of any other civil institutions. 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Europe at Risk: Assessing ISIS' Current Chemical and Biological Weapon Capabilities

Following the announced destruction of Syria's chemical weapon stockpiles, Syria declared it retained four clandestine instillation. To date, Assad has maintained command and control over Syria's chemical and biological weapon programs (the BW located primarily at the SSRC in Damascus with a couple branches in the North), but should Assad's position become more tentative there is no assurance this will continue to be the case. The fall of Palmyra to IS should be a wake up call to those who believe a change of regime in Syria would represent a positive outcome.

IS thus far has not hesitated with the small CW stockpile they currently control, to use this against the Kurds and Syrian civilians. With significant numbers of European nationals (particularly from the Netherlands, France and the UK), fighting for IS in Syria,  returning fighters will likely have acquired novel CW deployment and explosive skills. Such skills could well be turned on the capitals of Europe. While CW could be deployed in limited operations by IS in Europe, it's unlikely they would be able to produce mass casualties, although should they acquire VX this could well change the playing field substantially. Beyond chlorine barrel bombs, the primary objective to terrorize and threaten is definitely an achievable goal for IS. In Europe, outside very small circles with access to classified intelligence, not much is known nor disclosed about IS CW and BW capability. The US, Russia and Israel are a different story but for European governments, even the UK, access is limited at best. The threat to Assad and to Syria is not a minor one and we should not forget that ISIS has none of the ethical or moral issues Western governments have with the use of CBW. Before discussing CBW capabilities, we should note that its been reported that ISIS has nuclear medical isotopes. This too is not yet a direct threat to Europe, but it could be over time, keeping in mind that ISIS has moved incredibly swiftly, not only with their use of various tactics and media prowess, from burning people alive in cages to beheadings, the list of atrocities is a long one, but how close is IS to acquiring a real WMD capability?

On June 20th, 2015, The Independent ran an article entitled: ISIS Dirty Bomb: Jihadists have Seized Enough Radioactive Material to build their First WMD." Adam Withnall reports: "The ISIS militant group has seized enough radioactive material from government facilities to suggest it has the capability to build a large and devastating "dirty" bomb, according to Australian intelligence reports. ISIS declared its ambition to develop weapons of mass destruction in the most recent edition of its propaganda magazine Dabiq, and Indian defence officials have previously warned of the possibility the militants could acquire a nuclear weapon from Pakistan. According to the Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop, NATO has expressed deep concerns about the material seized by ISIS from research centers and hospitals that would normally only be available to governments." Withnall goes on to report in his article that: "The threat of ISIS's radioactive and biological weapon stockpile was so severe that the Australia Group, a 40 nation bloc dedicated to ending the use of chemical weapons, held a session on the subject at its summit in Perth last week." See full article here:

According to a post on Nuclear Security Matters, a Harvard University site, Nate Sans posits in his article entitled: How much of a Nuclear, Chemical or Biological Threat Might ISIS Pose (Part II)? "ISIS may have the monetary means and the necessary equipment to organize and carry out a sophisticated attack in another count; therefore there is a real danger that they might be able to seize CBRN materials or tech, or inflict catastrophic damage to a facility such as a nuclear power plant. It is worth noting that ISIS includes hundreds of fighters from Europe and North America, who can travel in Europe and the United States without needing a visa." See:

BW is an entirely different kettle of fish. If IS should overrun the SSRC in Damascus, which is not entirely out of the realm of reality, Europe would face epidemics and pandemics they are not prepared in any way to counter or control. What are the current CW and BW capabilities of IS? It is the position of this author that discussions on whether or not IS would use such weapons is a mute point so I will not take time to discuss the 'what ifs.'

National Defence published an article recently which, if true, provides a bit of insight on IS biological weapon aspirations and capabilities. In "ISIL Determined to Acquire Biological Weapons," Sara Sicard writes: "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," quoting Brig. Gen. Maria Gervais, Gervais is head of the Army's Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear School." See: Although this concept that IS is working on plague appears to be pulled from a supposed laptop which ISIS apparently had allowed to fall into enemy hands, I find this particularly difficult to believe and the rudimentary data on the laptop would also suggest they do not have a grasp of BW in any stretch of the imagination, IS has shown interest in CBW. Apparently one of the statements in the laptop was "“Use small grenades with the virus, and throw them in closed areas like metros, soccer stadiums, or entertainment centers,” the 19-page document on biological weapons advises. “Best to do it next to the air-conditioning. It also can be used during suicide operations.”

If this were the case we have nothing to fear from IS. Any biological weapons experts knows that using explosives to deploy BW kills it. It is the least suitable way to deploy and plague, like anthrax is treatable. We should ignore the laptop information altogether. It would appear given ISIS, like Al Qaeda's quest for BW is underway. The difference with ISIS is they have the financial means to attract and acquire higher level scientists and control areas where they could test it possibly on human subjects, thereby forgoing the need to waste money on developing animal models and could effectively deploy it in a mass casualty scenario.

The capability issue is a concern should they overtake the SSRC in Damascus and install a scientific team with knowledge of synbio. Much of the research undertaken at the SSRC is research into novel pathogens and deployment techniques. This would give ISIS a state warfare capability. I believe they are currently interested but not capable.  With chemical warfare agents they are already using it and should they acquire VX or sarin both in Assad's former declared stockpiles they could easily transport this over land to Europe and deploy it around a city center.  Governments generally downplay the ease of use but in fact CW in smaller quantities transported by several couriers with EU passports would be doable. BW is even easier as the quantity doesn't matter as much as the quality of pathogenic agent and some agents don't need to be weaponized.  The first deployment of a biological warfare agent in Europe will be a wake up call to all states who continue to believe they are for some reason exempt from such attacks. The real risk any ISIS WMD program posses to Europe is the dismissal by European governments that such an attack would ever occur. It is the denial and disbelief that ISIS could possess such a capability and their intent to use it which is the biggest threat to European populations.