The ingredients for a chemical attack are available off the shelf at a crumbling military base in south-central Russia, says the Washington Post. There is a collection of 1.9 million artillery shells filled with nerve agents such as VX, an oily yellow liquid so deadly that a single drop on the skin can kill. Russia insists that the weapons are secure and that none is missing. Still, the Post says in the conclusion of a series, many experts believe the odds for a chemical attack are relatively high, compared with biological or nuclear terrorism. “A crude chemical attack is within the reach of any reasonably professional terrorist group,” said Jeffrey Bale of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, Ca. “With a sufficiently toxic substance, you will succeed in killing some people.”
“There are few groups that have both the motivation and the capability to acquire and effectively use chemical weapons,” said Jonathan B. Tucker of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies and author of a forthcoming history of chemical weapons. “Al Qaeda appears to have the motivation but not the capability — not yet.” U.S. and European intelligence agencies have documented the group’s failed attempts to master the art of chemical weaponry. Still, groups like al Qaeda could obtain powerful chemical weapons –ones with proved ability to inflict large numbers of casualties — by buying or stealing them from military stockpiles. Thousands of tons of nearly pure mustard agent, sarin and VX exist in military depots in such countries as the United States, Russia, and Libya. The use of such weapons has been banned since 1925, and the existence of chemical stockpiles was outlawed in 1997. Yet they have never gone away.