Recent and emerging advances in a variety of areas from synthetic biology 3 to

Recent and emerging advances in a variety of areas

This preview shows page 135 - 137 out of 321 pages.

Recent and emerging advances in a variety of areas, from synthetic biology 3 to nanoscale engineering , 4 have opened doors not only to new medicines and materials, but also to new possibilities for malefactors to inflict harm on others . What is most relevant in the context of lone actors and small
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autonomous cells is not so much the pace of new invention, but rather the commercialization and consumerization of CBRN weapons-relevant technologies . This process often entails an increase in the availability and safety of the technology, with a concurrent diminution in the cost, volume, and technical knowledge required to operate it . Thus, for example, whereas fifty years ago producing large quantities of certain chemical weapons might have been a dangerous and inefficient affair requiring a large plant, expensive equipment, and several chemical engineers, with the advent of chemical microreactors , 5 the same processes might be accomplished far more cheaply and safely on a desktop assemblage, purchased commercially and monitored by a single chemistry graduate student . The rapid global spread and increased user- friendliness of many technologies thus represents a potentially radical shift from the relatively small scale of harm a single individual or small autonomous group could historically cause . 6 From the limited reach and killing power of the sword, spear, and bow, to the introduction of dynamite and eventually the use of our own infrastructures against us (as on September 11), the number of people that an individual who was unsupported by a broader political entity could kill with a single action has increased from single digits to thousands . Indeed, it has even been asserted that over time … as the leverage provided by technology increases , this threshold will finally reach its culmination—with the ability of one man to declare war on the world and win .” 7 Nowhere is this trend more perceptible in the current age than in the area of unconventional weapons . These new technologies do not simply empower users on a purely technical level. Globalization and the expansion of information networks provide new opportunities for disaffected individuals in the farthest corners of the globe to become familiar with core weapon concepts and to purchase equipment —online technical courses and eBay are undoubtedly a boon to would-be purveyors of violence . Furthermore, even the most solipsistic misanthropes , people who would never be able to function socially as part of an operational terrorist group, can find radicalizing influences or legitimation for their beliefs in the maelstrom of virtual identities on the Internet . All of this can spawn , it is feared, a more deleterious breed of lone actors , what have been referred to in some quarters as “ super-empowered individuals .” 8 Conceptually, super-empowered individuals are atomistic game-changers, i.e., they constitute a single (and often singular) individual who can shock the entire system (whether national, regional, or global) by
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