The Ultimate Terrorists / Edition 1

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Overview

As bad as they are, why aren't terrorists worse? With biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons at hand, they easily could be. And, as this chilling book suggests, they soon may well be. A former member of the National Security Council staff, Jessica Stern guides us expertly through a post-Cold War world in which the threat of all-out nuclear war, devastating but highly unlikely, is being replaced by the less costly but much more imminent threat of terrorist attacks with weapons of mass destruction.

According to SternThe Ultimate Terrorists depicts a not-very-distant future in which both independent and state-sponsored terrorism using weapons of mass destruction could actually occur. But Stern also holds out hope for new technologies that might combat this trend, and for legal and political remedies that would improve public safety without compromising basic constitutional rights.

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Editorial Reviews

The Times - Sean O'Callaghan
[Stern's] research is breathtakingly thorough, and the prose, so often describing complex technological detail, surprisingly lucid. The era of 'the ultimate terrorists', implying nuclear, biological or chemical weapons may not yet have dawned in any real sense, but the potential and the danger, as this book illustrates, are all too obvious...[Stern] has written a valuable book that should serve as a timely warning about a potentially dreadful future.
Boston Book Review - Charles Davis
[A] thought provoking book...Stern's background in the security community, where she ran the Nuclear Smuggling Interagency Group, allows her to write with firsthand knowledge about the disturbing consequences of the breakup of the Soviet Union. Having directed the group for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian affairs, Stern places a particular emphasis on how volatile that region has become...Terrorism may always exist, but Stern's recommendation that we find ways to minimize its ability to cause horror, panic, and alarm might be the ultimate weapon against it.
Salon.com - Tim Cavanaugh
The ominous-sounding title The Ultimate Terrorists can't outweigh the balanced and blessedly concise arguments that Jessica Stern presents in the book itself. The threat of terrorism involving weapons of mass destruction (WMD) has given rise to a panic industry; Stern has emerged as one of the few influential voices of calm.
New Scientist - Debora Mackenzie
Jessica Stern examines why today's breed of clandestine bomb-throwers are actually more likely to use germs, chemicals or a bit of unguarded enriched uranium from Russia to make their point...[Terrorist] incidents have multiplied more than fivefold since the 1970s, and on average each terrorist now kills twice as many people. Where their old-fashioned counterparts wanted political concessions, many crazies not just want to kill people, or sow dread. There are few better ways to do the job than with germs and poisons. Stern shows how these, along with a simple nuclear device that scatters poisonous isotopes about, are ideal terrorist tools, to prey on humanity's fears.
American Diplomacy - David W. Thornton
This important volume is powerfully suggestive of what in all probability will be a potent and dangerous force in the international arena during the coming century--terrorists willing and able to employ weapons of mass destruction in pursuit of their political and ideological aims...Stern has opened a door into a complex realm of politics and policy that defies easy categorization and crosses traditional disciplinary boundaries. Explaining the development and deployment of weapons of mass destruction necessarily involves a substantial degree of scientific and technical expertise, and the author wields this knowledge effectively.
Foreign Affairs - Gideon Rose
[The Ultimate Terrorists] combine[s] serious scholarship with practical wisdom.
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists - Leonard A. Cole
This slender volume is largely free of hype, and is characterized by fair reporting and sober analysis...It presents an immensely valuable snapshot of where the world stands vis-à-vis the threat, and how the worst possibilities might be minimized.
Choice - E. Lewis
This brief but surprisingly thorough book deals with the means, modes, and the likely terrorist actors in several situations...This is a serious book by an author with an intimate knowledge of her subject. Though not a lofty academic treatise, this important policy text gives the reader a reasoned, careful, and thoughtful glimpse into a dark corner of science, politics, and war. Strongly recommended for all libraries.
Booklist - Gilbert Taylor
[Stern's] expertise should convince policymakers of [her proposals'] wisdom, as well as raise public awareness of the danger.
Walter Laqueur
Jessica Stern's study of terrorism is the most detailed and reliable at this time. It is particularly good with regard to the technical issues involved in biological and chemical terrorism. She acquired unrivaled knowledge, both in a responsible position in government and as an independent scholar. Her book should be widely read and is highly recommended.
William J. Perry
The Ultimate Terrorists is a timely book on a vitally important subject. Jessica Stern has done a thorough job of research and presents her arguments with clarity and force. This book should be a wake up call for Americans.
Anthony Lake
Jessica Stern sounds an important alarm in responsible fashion. A good read as well as good scholarship. I hope her alarm is widely heard.
Joseph S. Nye
What if the terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center had used a nuclear device or anthrax? Jessica Stern's account reads like a thriller, but is deadly serious. Fortunately, she also provides good advice.
Robert J. Art
Will terrorists soon obtain weapons of mass destruction--nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons? If they do acquire them, will terrorists actually use them for blackmail, retribution, or simply pure destruction? These are the questions that Jessica Stern addresses in this important, well-written, and sensible volume. The Ultimate Terrorists is an excellent introduction to a potentially frightful future.
The Times

[Stern's] research is breathtakingly thorough, and the prose, so often describing complex technological detail, surprisingly lucid. The era of 'the ultimate terrorists', implying nuclear, biological or chemical weapons may not yet have dawned in any real sense, but the potential and the danger, as this book illustrates, are all too obvious...[Stern] has written a valuable book that should serve as a timely warning about a potentially dreadful future.
— Sean O'Callaghan

Boston Book Review

[A] thought provoking book...Stern's background in the security community, where she ran the Nuclear Smuggling Interagency Group, allows her to write with firsthand knowledge about the disturbing consequences of the breakup of the Soviet Union. Having directed the group for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian affairs, Stern places a particular emphasis on how volatile that region has become...Terrorism may always exist, but Stern's recommendation that we find ways to minimize its ability to cause horror, panic, and alarm might be the ultimate weapon against it.
— Charles Davis

Salon.com
A balanced and blessedly concise examination of the potential for terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction. Written by a former fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations, this book was an early warning of the new threat.
New Scientist
Jessica Stern is part of America's security community, and tracking down nuclear smugglers is her specialty. It gives an edge to The Ultimate Terrorists, her analysis of modern terrorism that trawls through the whole horror show, from bioweapons to bombs.
American Diplomacy

This important volume is powerfully suggestive of what in all probability will be a potent and dangerous force in the international arena during the coming century—terrorists willing and able to employ weapons of mass destruction in pursuit of their political and ideological aims...Stern has opened a door into a complex realm of politics and policy that defies easy categorization and crosses traditional disciplinary boundaries. Explaining the development and deployment of weapons of mass destruction necessarily involves a substantial degree of scientific and technical expertise, and the author wields this knowledge effectively.
— David W. Thornton

Foreign Affairs

[The Ultimate Terrorists] combine[s] serious scholarship with practical wisdom.
— Gideon Rose

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

This slender volume is largely free of hype, and is characterized by fair reporting and sober analysis...It presents an immensely valuable snapshot of where the world stands vis-à-vis the threat, and how the worst possibilities might be minimized.
— Leonard A. Cole

Choice

This brief but surprisingly thorough book deals with the means, modes, and the likely terrorist actors in several situations...This is a serious book by an author with an intimate knowledge of her subject. Though not a lofty academic treatise, this important policy text gives the reader a reasoned, careful, and thoughtful glimpse into a dark corner of science, politics, and war. Strongly recommended for all libraries.
— E. Lewis

Booklist

[Stern's] expertise should convince policymakers of [her proposals'] wisdom, as well as raise public awareness of the danger.
— Gilbert Taylor

Salon
The ominous-sounding title The Ultimate Terrorists can't outweigh the balanced and blessedly concise arguments that Jessica Stern presents in the book itself. The threat of terrorism involving weapons of mass destruction (WMD) has given rise to a panic industry; Stern has emerged as one of the few influential voices of calm. | Salon | March 23,1999 |
Tim Cavanaugh

The ominous-sounding title The Ultimate Terrorists can't outweigh the balanced and blessedly concise arguments that Jessica Stern presents in the book itself. The threat of terrorism involving weapons of mass destruction (WMD) has given rise to a panic industry; Stern -- a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a former head of the National Security Council's Nuclear Smuggling Interagency group and an early WMD alarmist -- has emerged as one of a few influential voices of calm.

Her study is one of several recent books (including Bruce Hoffman's Inside Terrorism and Philip B. Heymann's Terrorism and America) that suggest a new consensus on the threat of terrorism. The Ultimate Terrorists lays out three main points. First, the threat of chemical, biological and nuclear terrorism is indeed significant, and the emergence of nontraditional terrorist groups -- religious fanatics, death cults and disturbed activists -- adds a shiver of uncertainty to the mix. Second, more fitting defense efforts -- assisting in the disposal of Russian "loose nukes," beefing up detection efforts at airports, preparing emergency health responses -- will bolster both U.S. and international security. ("Ballistic missiles are the least likely method of delivery," Stern writes, "and yet Congress regularly allocates more money to ballistic-missile defense than the Pentagon says it can use -- roughly ten times what is spent to prevent WMD terrorism.") Finally, the threat of WMD terrorism, real as it is, has been exaggerated to the point of needless panic.

In her examination of nontraditional terrorism, Stern points to a practical divide between will and ability. State-sponsored terrorists can do the most damage, but they're constrained by fear of retribution and of bad publicity. Fringe groups, on the other hand, may have the will to destroy, but they lack the money or the sponsorship to cause much damage. But the book's strongest chapter concerns the threat of loose Russian materials (the area that was Stern's metier at the NSC). Stern's knowledge of security in Russia -- and of how nuclear material could be (and may already have been) stolen -- gives these sections a punch that most reporting on this issue has so far lacked.

The same can't be said for sections in which Stern has to rely on secondary-source material. While her scheme of terrorist types is generally helpful, it raises some questions. How do we classify religious fanatics who are also state-sponsored political groups? For that matter, where do we put Japan's Aum Shinrikyo, a fringe cult that attracted massive funding and international membership (and whose Tokyo subway gas attack apparently represented a mere fraction of the hell it might have raised)? Stern considers Aum Shinrikyo an unusual case, which it certainly seems to be; but the group's success challenges her clear-cut distinction between traditional and nontraditional terrorism.

Since The Ultimate Terrorists gets much of its power from the assumption that terrorist activities are on the rise (although various data can be made to tell various stories), these aren't incidental points. You may find yourself occasionally wishing that the author would dispense with the overviews and get back to topics she has direct experience with. And in fact her anecdotes about encounters with fringe groups hint at the even more intriguing book she is working on now: a study of religious extremists at home and abroad. If any topic is subject to more Chicken Little mystification than the threat of weapons of mass destruction, it's the rise of extremist groups, and so no subject could better benefit from Jessica Stern's mix of clarity and caution. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In recent years, much has been made of the emerging post-Cold War threats posed by terrorist groups wielding devastating weapons. Stern, a former National Security Council staffer, explains with chilling lucidity why it is becoming more likely that those threats will materialize into a major terrorist incident featuring a weapon of mass destruction. Breaking her theory into numerous digestible parts, Stern begins by showing that terrorists themselves have changed. Whereas in the past they have been driven by political concerns (e.g., recognition of Palestinian national aspirations), terrorists now are motivated by a multitude of extremist causes, and some view terrorism not as a tactical tool but as an end in itself. The new terrorists are also better supplied and more highly educated than their precursors. Dangerous weapons--such as those previously owned by the former Soviet Union--are readily available on the black market. In addition, the Internet makes it easier for terrorists to recruit and communicate with comrades. In cool prose that never talks down to lay readers, Stern outlines the horrific effects of biological and chemical agents, making a thoroughly convincing case that a biochemical attack would be compounded by mass panic and a dangerous social breakdown. "Because they evoke such horror," Stern writes, "these weapons would seem to be ideal for terrorists, who seek to inspire fear in targeted populations." But even as Stern stokes fear, she also offers an extensive proposal for countering the new terrorism. Her proposals will not be for everyone but will surely provide substantial food for thought. (Mar.) FYI: Stern was portrayed by Nicole Kidman in the film The Peacemaker.
Library Journal
Stern, a former National Security Council staffer, reviews the current threat posed by terrorists possessing weapons of mass destruction (WMD)--nuclear, chemical, and biological--especially as directed against the United States. She discusses state-sponsored terrorism (Iraq), the risks of leftover materials from the former Soviet Union, and recommendations for combatting WMD terrorism, such as closer monitoring of domestic threats like political extremists and religious cults. In the post-Cold War world, the threat of terrorism is much greater than nuclear war, yet in Stern's opinion the United States is not sufficiently prepared to confront it. She hopes her policy suggestions will help reduce the likelihood and deadliness of terrorist acts. Geared to an informed audience, heavily footnoted, and with technical details of WMD components, this book is recommended for specialized collections on terrorism.--Gregor A. Preston, formerly with Univ. of California Lib., Davis
Sean O'Callaghan
[Stern's] search is breathtakingly thorough, and the prose, so often describing complex technological detail, surprisingly lucid. The era of the ultimate terrorists, implying nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, may not yet have dawned in any real sense, but the potential and the danger, as this book illustrates, are all too obvious...[Stern] has written a valuable book that should serve as a timely warning about a potentially dreadful future.
The Times(U.K.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674003941
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 10/2/2000
  • Edition description: First Harvard University Press Paperback
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 228
  • Sales rank: 1,428,735
  • Product dimensions: 0.48 (w) x 6.14 (h) x 9.21 (d)

Meet the Author

Jessica Stern teaches at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University and is a former member of the staff of the National Security Council, where she ran the Nuclear Smuggling Interagency group as director for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian affairs.
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Table of Contents

Terrorism Today

Definitions

Trojan Horses of the Body

Getting and Using the Weapons

Who Are the Terrorists?

The Threat of Loose Nukes

The State as Terrorist

What Is to Be Done?

Tables

Notes

Acknowledgments

Index

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2005

    In-Depth survey of conventional weapons

    A thorough review of the types of weapons of mass destruction available to terrorists and how they would gain access to and deploy them. However, a survey of known weapons fails to account for potentially more devastating types that can readily be developed.

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