Planning a Terrorist Attack

Planning a clandestine attack using a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) is not simple. First, in order to promote an attack, the target needs to be viewed to have violated some ideology, policy, or other deeply held belief (“Terrorism, definition and history of,” 2002). Usually, a symbol of the offense will be chosen as either a specific target, such as the case of the World Trade Center, or as a vehicle or vector for the attack, as in the case of the U.S. Postal Service anthrax attacks (“Biological terrorism,” 2002; Marshall, 2002; “Weapons of mass destruction,” 2002). The dollar is an international symbol of capitalism and the might of the United States. In the current climate, especially with the declining U.S. economy, I would expect the money supply, itself, to be a viable vector for disseminating some sort of substance capable of causing terror. A dollar bill has a circulating life of 42 months and changes hands, on average, twice a day, and by impregnating paper money with a chosen substance, a single dollar bill could potentially harm more than 2,500 people during its circulation (U.S. Department of the Treasury, Bureau of Engraving, n.d.).

Almost as important as the vehicle is the impregnating substance. Chemical and radiological substances would be too easy to eventually detect, and the amount dispersed on each dollar bill might not be enough to cause harm. A live biological agent suspended in an aqueous nutrient solution could easily coat a dollar bill without detection and easily transfer to hands, surfaces, and other bills. According to Winfield and Groisman (2003), Salmonella enterica might prove to be a hardy pathogen capable of existing in such a solution for months. S. enterica is responsible for typhoid fever in humans. Escherichia coli, though a highly pathenogenic mycobacterium, does not have the same persistance outside of a living host. Both S. enterica and E. coli have detrimental health effects, especially for those with deficient immune systems.

Delivery and dispersion of the weapon would be the next consideration. This would have to be accomplished using a number of distribution points, geographically distant, that transfer small denomination bills easily both in and out, such as gasoline stations, convenience stores, fast food restaurants, and liquor stores. Using a website designed to track dollar bills (, a single bill has been tracked in about two and a half years, as follows: Florida, Georgia, Florida, Indiana, Arizona, Oregon, New York, Tennessee, and South Carolina. Another has been documented as travelling from Ohio to Michigan via Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Texas, and Utah in a mere 212 days. This is evidence that general dispersion techniques will work well if initially geographically distributed.

Additionally, as the Salmonella bills are being dispersed, I would encourage a technological attack on various credit card networks. If the hacking results in increased network downtime, the American citizenry would be encouraged to use paper money more often, potentiating the transfer of the Salmonella bills. As a final coup de grace, when the American populace finally begin to realize that the money supply, itself, is tainted, I would encourage conventional attacks on banking institutions to include random bombings, shootings, and threats of the same. This would further drive the message against the U.S. money supply and could crash the economy.

This plan was developed in about twenty minutes. The terrorists of the day have had decades to consider such plans, and I for one am glad that they tend to be grandiose. When the terrorists realize the simplicity required of causing terror in the U.S., we need to be very wary.


Biological terrorism. (2002). Encyclopedia of terrorism. Retrieved from

Marshall, P. (2002, February 22). Policing the borders. CQ Researcher, 12, 145-168. Retrieved from

Terrorism, definition and history of. (2002). Encyclopedia of terrorism. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of the Treasury, Bureau of Engraving. (n.d.). FAQ library. Retrieved from

Weapons of mass destruction. (2002). Encyclopedia of terrorism. Retrieved from

Winfield, M. D. & Groisman, E. A. (2003). Role of Nonhost Environments in the Lifestyles of Salmonella and Escherichia coli. Applied Environmental Microbiology, 69(7), 3687-3694. doi:10.1128/AEM.69.7.3687-3694.2003