Emerging CBRN Technology: A Homeland Security Horizon Scan

Gary Ackerman, SUNY, University at Albany
Anna Wetzel, SUNY, University at Albany
Jenna LaTourette, SUNY, University at Albany
Hayley Peterson, SUNY, University at Albany
National Counterterrorism Innovation, Technology, and Education Center

Anticipating Terrorist Technology Adoption to Secure the Homeland (ATTASH)

The Center for Advanced Red Teaming (CART) is an interdisciplinary Research Center within the College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity at the University at Albany (SUNY). As the first academic center devoted to advancing the art and science of red teaming, CART seeks to develop research, practice, and education in this growing area of security studies. Additional information can be found at: https://www.albany.edu/cehc/cart


Emerging technologies in the hands of malevolent non-state actors like terrorists are recognized as a particularly concerning threat to the security of the United States homeland. This concern was articulated at least as far back as the 2002 National Security Strategy, which declared that the “gravest danger our Nation faces lies at the crossroads of radicalism and technology”. Over two decades later, despite substantial efforts to anticipate how terrorists and other violent non-state actors (VNSAs) might use and misuse emerging technologies to achieve their aims, such concerns have not abated. Indeed, several recent reports have identified gaps in the government’s ability to account for emerging technologies in national security. It is thus little wonder that the 2019 DHS Strategic Framework for Countering Terrorism and Targeted Violence repeatedly expresses a need for a greater understanding of emerging technology threats.

The Anticipating Terrorist Technology Adoption to Secure the Homeland (ATTASH) Project starts from the proposition that a proper understanding of the threat requires that one cannot separate the technical aspects of emerging technologies from the social, organizational and strategic context in which they might be utilized. It therefore explicitly integrates analysis of the technologies themselves with that of the malicious actors who could employ them. The first step in this process, however, is to identify a set of emerging technologies with potential implications for homeland security. These technologies can then be assessed, not only for how much harm they could cause in practice, but also for the likelihood that terrorists would pursue them and the success of any adoption attempts.

The current report represents the results of the first step listed above – a horizon scan that was conducted with the objective of identifying those emerging technologies of potential homeland security concern. While it can take many forms, a horizon scan generally seeks to identify both strong and weak signals (any pieces of information with potential relevance to the strategic landscape) that indicate trends or discontinuities, and then attempts to synthesize these disparate signals into a cogent picture of the future strategic landscape in which decisions will be made.