Cover image for The ultimate terrorists
The ultimate terrorists
Stern, Jessica, 1958-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge, MA : Harvard University Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
214 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


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Material Type
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HV6431 .S74 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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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 Stern Written from an insider's perspective, The 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.

Author Notes

Jessica Stern teaches at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Mass destruction weapons, unpleasant to ponder, must nevertheless be faced up to. Haselkorn investigates their underreported influence on the Persian Gulf War and the difficulty of disgorging them from Iraq; Stern describes how such weapons work and analyzes America's vulnerability to them. Intellectually gussied up as "deterrence," guessing how to out-terrify one's enemy without actually resorting to anthrax, nerve gas, or nuclear bombs was a critical subtext in the Gulf War. Haselkorn describes this vital but arcane interaction of threat and belief in detail, with data about what has since become known about Iraq's preparation for germ warfare and Israel's straining at the U.S. bit to combat Iraqi missile attacks. The author's theory that Saddam Hussein's posture of "terroristic deterrence" indeed deterred Bush from marching on Baghdad challenges most views and should prolong the debate about the ragged conclusion to that war. In addition to the technical angles on how terrorists could acquire (and have, in the case of the Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikiyo) mass destruction weapons, Stern's survey explores the psychological dread terrorists want to create. Dread is the aim common to such differently motivated groups as certain Islamic groups, white super-patriot gangs, and even fringe environmental and animal-rights activists. They want the targeted society to become uneasy. To allay such anxieties, Stern assembles a roster of preventative actions that a government should take. Most of the proposals involve more money, but her expertise should convince policymakers of their wisdom, as well as raise public awareness of the danger. --Gilbert Taylor

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

This brief but surprisingly thorough book deals with the means, modes, and the likely terrorist actors in several situations. The discussion of chemical, biological, and nuclear formulas, devices, and delivery systems is more than adequate to inform laypersons, and the use of anecdotes keeps it from becoming arid. Stern clearly outlines the meaning of terrorism from philosophical, psychological, and political perspectives, and her discussion of strategy and tactics, particularly of those terrorists who might use weapons of mass destruction(WMD), is effective. Once terrorist states are described and analyzed in reasonable depth, the author turns to what can be done now to cope with chemical and biological attacks likely to occur in the future. There are a number of strategies that, if followed, are likely to minimize the loss of life WMD are intended to bring. This is a serious book by an author with 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 New College of the University of South Florida

Table of Contents

1. Terrorism Todayp. 1
2. Definitionsp. 11
3. Trojan Horses of the Bodyp. 31
4. Getting and Using the Weaponsp. 48
5. Who Are the Terrorists?p. 69
6. The Threat of Loose Nukesp. 87
7. The State as Terroristp. 107
8. What Is to Be Done?p. 128
Tablesp. 163
Notesp. 169
Acknowledgmentsp. 203
Indexp. 205