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Does al Qaeda Have Chemical Weapons?

Aired June 10, 2003 - 19:20   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER: Welcome back.
The U.S. report to the United Nations seems to warn of a serious and impending threat from the al Qaeda terrorist organization.

Now, one line in the April 17 report says, quote, "We judge that there is a high probability that al Qaeda will attempt attack using a CBRN" -- now that's chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapon -- "within the next two years.

Now, U.S. diplomats say too much is being made of that sentence, and the report does not suggest the U.S. has specific intelligence on such a threat.

Still, the report still calls al Qaeda the biggest terrorism threat facing the U.S. So the question, is forewarned forearmed?

In Boston, international security expert Jim Walsh from Harvard's Kennedy School if Government joins me now. Jim, good to see you again. What in -- for your opinion, what sort of weaponry does al Qaeda have?

JIM WALSH, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EXPERT: Well, obviously, al Qaeda focuses on conventional weaponry, as was used in 9/11 and has been used since 9/11. Conventional weapons, truck bombs, guns for assassination.

But it's also clear that they have some interest in exotic weapons. We know from CNN tapes, for example, that they were doing experimentations on dogs with chemical weapons.

COOPER: And let me interrupt you there. We're going to show that video in a little bit. I just want to warn people. It is a very disturbing video. We're only going to show you a part of it. This, of course, a tape CNN obtained exclusively showing what appears to be some sort of a chemical experimentation on an animal.

WALSH: And that tape, Anderson, as we all watch it, it actually shows in some ways how crude al Qaeda is in its level of sophistication with respect to chemical and biological weapons.

COOPER: Crude because of the delivery process?

WALSH: Well, look around. As you see on the screen there, this is an open area. It's not a sealed area. There are no safety precautions. People are walking around in sandals. Essentially, what we have here is a poisoning. Not really the development of a chemical weapon.

But suffice it to say that I think the videotape and there's other documentary evidence that would suggest that al Qaeda has at least an interest in chem and perhaps other types of weapons.

COOPER: Nuclear?

WALSH: Well, you know, they did talk with three Pakistani nuclear scientists about nuclear weapons.

COOPER: You believe, though, that there's something about the makeup of al Qaeda which makes nuclear less likely that they're able to develop it themselves.

WALSH: You're right, Anderson. My own view is that, if you're going to build your own nuclear weapon, what you need is a lot of different folks working together and problem solving. And all knowing each other and sharing information.

That's not what you have with a terrorist cell organization. In cells, only a few people know the other people in the cell. It's a defensive mechanism so the organization isn't put at risk. But when only a few people know each other, you can't engage in complex, scientific, technological projects like building a nuclear weapon.

But I do think that al Qaeda does have the capability of executing an attack with a radiological weapon. That is a conventional weapon that is married with radiological material so that it spreads...

COOPER: Dirty bomb?

WALSH: A dirty bomb. Exactly.

COOPER: Now you say this because, I mean, I guess when you look at al Qaeda, they're insidiously smart in that they're -- a lot of their operations are designed for psychological affect as much as physical affect. And certainly a dirty bomb, though it might not be able to kill massive amounts of people, psychologically would have an enormous impact.

WALSH: Well, you're absolutely right about the impact of a dirty bomb.

I chair a group here at Harvard on radiological weapons and our conclusion from a report that we've been working on all year, is that the folks who would likely die from a radiological attack would die from the conventional blast, from the conventional explosive. That would be the vast majority of people who would be affected.

But the real impact would be economic, social and psychological. And one of the things we learned from 9/11, the psychological costs are real. People don't go outside. They have an exacerbation of whatever psychological traumas they're already experiencing. It affects children. These have to be taken...

COOPER: Are we prepared for radiological attack?

WALSH: No. We are not prepared -- as prepared as we should be for a radiological attack. I think we have the government, who's up here waging wars in foreign lands to stop terrorism. And then at the level of the citizens down here, we're told to buy duct tape and plastic. And in between, there's a whole set of things that we are not doing that we ought to be doing.

COOPER: And what is that? Training personnel?

WALSH: Well, it's more than training personnel. It's also who you include in the conversation.

So for example, if psychological affects are what we're concerned about, social health professionals should be involved. Social workers, counselors and others need to be part of the conversation in preparation for an attack.

We need to involve private physicians. A lot of folks after an attack, after Oklahoma city or after Aumshoriko (ph) in Japan, showed up on their private doctor's doorstep. These folks had no idea what to tell their patients and they're going to tell them to go to the hospital, which is probably going to be the wrong advice.

COOPER: This is no doubt a conversation we're going to be having a lot in, no doubt, in the coming years. This thing is not going away any time soon.

WALSH: Absolutely.

COOPER: Jim Walsh, thanks for being with us. Appreciate it.

WALSH: Thank you, Anderson.

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