March 3, 2017
Among the many global dynamics rising to the fore in the 21st century, two of the most prominent are the growth in the systemic influence of terrorists and other violent non-state actors, and the advent of a range of transformational technologies. In the context of national security, there is particular concern with respect to the nexus of these two forces, where it is feared that terrorists might adopt emerging technologies, such as synthetic biology or quantum computing, to magnify the threat that they pose. On the one hand, it is tempting to inflate the threat, painting terrorists as Bondian-supervillians capable of casually constructing doomsday weapons, while ignoring the multiple hurdles inherent in such enterprises and the empirical fact that in the past most terrorists most of the time have shown themselves to be conservative and imitative rather than innovative in their tactics and weapons.On the other hand, it may be even more hazardous to assume that terrorists will never be able to successfully adopt new technologies, when there exist several historical examples of terrorists doing just that. This talk will explore the threat of terrorists exploiting emerging technologies, highlighting the speaker's recent work in this area. It will also examine the policy ramifications of the threat and discuss how, at the policy and strategic levels, the threat can be understood and mitigated.
Gary Ackerman is the Director of the Unconventional Weapons and Technology Division at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). Prior to taking up his current position, he was Research and Special Projects Director at START and before that the Director of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism Research Program at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California. His research encompasses various areas relating to terrorism and counterterrorism, including terrorist threat assessment, radicalization, terrorist technologies and motivations for using chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons, and the modeling and simulation of terrorist behavior. He is the co-editor of Jihadists and Weapons of Mass Destruction (CRC Press, 2009), author of several articles on CBRN terrorism and has testified on terrorist motivations for using nuclear weapons before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security. He completed his PhD in War Studies at King’s College London, dealing with the impact of emerging technologies on terrorist decisions relating to weapons adoption.