A Global Picture of Non-State Actors and CBRN


Editor’s note: We’ve partnered with the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) to publish a series of infographics. Each week we’ll release a new set of graphics that depict trends in global terrorism activity. Sign up for the War on the Rocks newsletter to make sure you don’t miss any of them!

These graphics were designed by Marcus Boyd.


The “Profiles of Incidents involving CBRN by Non-state actors” database (POICN) is a forthcoming START dataset that has been developed over the past four years to exclusively examine the characteristics of CBRN events. It is restricted to ideologically motivated CBRN incidents occurring anywhere in the world over the period 1990 to 2013. Incidents arising out of criminal or personal/idiosyncratic motives are not included in this dataset (but are included in other START databases). The dataset includes events ranging from actual use of an agent all the way down to plots. We’ve created three graphics that combine to provide a visualization of this data.

The first graphic illustrates the global distribution of CBRN events by agent type. To be highlighted on the map, a country must have been the location of at least one event of the particular agent type. Included events are plots, successful acquisitions, and actual attacks with CBRN agents. The chart breaks out incidents by both agent and event type. Plot/pursuit includes all events ranging from a group discussing the possibility of seeking or using a CBRN agent all the way up to unsuccessful attempts at acquisition. Possession encompasses successful acquisition that did not result in actual use of an agent. Any event entailing use of an agent is listed as an attack and presumes successful completion of the lower activity levels.

START CBRN Events and Agent Type
CBRN Events and Agent Type, 1990-2013 (click to enlarge)

The next graphic illustrates the number of events by country. For each country the total number of events is a combination of plots, acquisitions and actual attacks with CBRN agents. As an example, 88 events have occurred in the United States: 47 were attacks; six were events involving the possession of a CBRN agent without an actual attack; and 35 were events encompassing plots or unsuccessful attempts to acquire a CBRN agent.

START CBRN Events Worldwide
CBRN Events by Country, 1990-2013 (click to enlarge)

The final chart illustrates the breakdown of incidents by the perpetrator’s dominant ideological component, across each agent type. This allows the user to see if there are associations between agents and ideologies, for example if some ideologies have reluctance to seek or use biological agents relative to other agent types.

START CBRN Agent and Perpetrator Type
CBRN Agent and Perpetrator Type (click to enlarge)


**NoteThis dataset is part of an ongoing project and is not yet publicly available.


Gary Ackerman is the director of the Special Projects Division of START and acting director of START’s Unconventional Weapons and Technology Research Program.  Markus Binder is a project manager and senior researcher at START.  Emily Iarocci is a senior researcher at START within the Unconventional Weapons and Technologies and Technology Research Program.


Photo credit: New York National Guard