Authored by a former U.S.
intelligence veteran, the report argued that Al Qaida was refraining from conducting
anything but a spectacular attack in the United States that would exceed that in 2001.
"It would surely be hard for Al Qaida to lower the bar they set on
9/11: what would constitute a worthy follow-up to 9/11, on their terms?" the
report asked. "What would they achieve through another attack? There are few
weapons that would meet their expectations in this regard."
Titled "Al Qaida Weapons of Mass Destruction Threat: Hype or Reality?"
the report cited the prospect of Al Qaida's use of anthrax or biological
pathogens. Another attack option was the use of a nuclear weapon acquired by
"To complicate matters further, an attack on the scale of 9/11 is more
difficult to accomplish in an environment of heightened security and
vigilance in the U.S.," the report by Harvard University's Belfer Center for
Science and International Affairs said.
Author Rolf Mowatt-Larssen spent about 25 years in the U.S.
intelligence community, including the CIA and Energy Department. In 2001,
following the suicide air strikes in New York and Washington,
Mowatt-Larssen was directed to launch a study to determine whether Al Qaida
could acquire or develop nuclear weapons. Two years later the U.S.
intelligence community intercepted communications by Al Qaida operatives in
Saudi Arabia that spoke of the acquisition of several nuclear weapons.
The report stressed that Al Qaida's intentions to use weapons of mass
destruction did not constitute mere rhetoric. Osama Bin Laden was said to
have made the acquisition of biological weapons a priority of the
"Al Qaida's patient, decade-long effort to steal or construct an
improvised nuclear device flows from their perception of the benefits of
producing the image of a mushroom cloud rising over a U.S. city, just as the
9/11 attacks have altered the course of history," the report, released on
Jan. 25, said. "This lofty aim helps explain why Al Qaida has consistently
sought a bomb capable of producing a nuclear yield, as opposed to settling
for the more expedient and realistic course of devising a 'dirty bomb,' or a
radiological dispersal device."
Mowatt-Larssen said Al Qaida deputy chief Ayman Zawahiri, who at one
point hired two Asian scientists, has been responsible for the development
of the movement's anthrax program. The report said anthrax marked an
alternative to a nuclear attack should Al Qaida determine that an atomic
bomb could not be assembled.
The report said the Al Qaida leadership was not believed to have been
involved in chemical weapons strikes, such as a plot to emit cyanide gas in
the New York City subway system in 2003. Such attacks, the report said, were
not regarded as strategic.
"On the contrary, Zawahiri canceled the planned attack on the New York
City subway for 'something better,' suggesting that a relatively easy attack
utilizing tactical weapons would not achieve the goals the Al Qaida
leadership had set for themselves," the report said.