cover image Ultimate Terrorists

Ultimate Terrorists

Jessica Stern, Michael Stern. Harvard University Press, $22.95 (224pp) ISBN 978-0-674-61790-2

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.