Top Government Methods for Detecting Weapons of Mass Destruction

By: Trbrian Jenkins

The term "weapon of mass destruction" has been used a lot in the last ten years. Part of the attention they have garnered recently has been due to the fact that is increasingly easy for rogue sects to maintain the kind of firepower once reserved for large nations. These developments have pushed the United States Government forward in their research on weapon detection.

Today, the National Security Agency, Homeland Security, and even local police departments have the technology to detect and test weapons of mass destruction. This brand new technology is constantly updated and finding weapons has become easier than ever.

What are Weapons of Mass Destruction?

Though the term may be used frequently, few people are aware of what weapons other than nuclear devices are considered weapons of mass destruction. United State law defines them as "any explosive, incendiary, poison gas, bomb, grenade, or rocket having a propellant charge of more than four ounces (113 g), missile having an explosive or incendiary charge of more than one-quarter ounce (7 g), or mine or device similar to the above." These may release "poison gas, ...a disease organism, [or] ...radiation at a level dangerous to human life."

They are classified according to the following categories:


  • Chemical
  • Biological
  • Radiological
  • Nuclear
  • Explosive


Techniques for Finding These Weapons

Under the definition of weapons of mass destruction agreed upon by Congress, almost any medium to large incendiary could fall under this term. Since violence by rogue groups has become more pervasive, inspectors and professionals at home and abroad are trained to study suspicious devices and determine whether they could be one of these weapons.

The reason for detection technology is a very practical one. As soon as agencies determine the danger of the device, they can start planning an evacuation. Similarly, being able to quickly determine a false threat can cut down on public hysteria.

Because missiles are often used to launch explosives into an area, detection of airborne attack has been a top priority of the government. Today sophisticated unmanned drones patrol the skies and gather photos and data of possible launching sites. These small robots are aided in their task by satellites that constantly monitor areas of interest. Even underground bunkers and chemical storage facilities can be found using radar that penetrates the ground.

Identifying a non-descript package planted in a public place needs to be done quickly, so there are may devices used by government officials that test for hazardous materials. A Dual-Use Analyzer measures the eddy waves given off by metals. Currents that are common to alloys used in making weapons are automatically highlighted by a computer analysis. This is useful for recognizing weapons that may be hidden inside something innocuous. The advances use of lasers and ultra-violet light can identify invisible gas cloud from miles away, making it unnecessary to send humans into a poisonous environment. United Nations inspectors even employ advanced portable machines that can detect radioactive materials with more efficiency than a Geiger counter.

Testing Chemical Weapons

Foreign chemical compounds places in water or other resources can be effectively tested using many of the same techniques learned in high school chemistry. Officials use reactive test strips to check for reactions. If the initial test is inconclusive or positive, then is further tested. Many local agencies have the tools to test for chemical agents so they may quickly respond to contaminations.

Testing for Biological Weapons

Biological weapons are difficult to identify, because they use microscopic bacteria of which symptoms may not be immediately apparent. Mass spectroscopy using lasers and ionization can now be used to automatically find proteins in a given sample. Analysis of the proteins present can be alert the inspector to the presence of common bioterrorism agents like anthrax.

Handheld Advanced Nucleic Acid Analyzers are carried by United Nations weapons inspectors. This brick-sized machine can analyze the genetic material of bacteria and discern it from other common microorganisms. This process used to take a whole lab of equipment.

Other Uses

Many of the same devices that are used to enforce United Nations rules and protect citizens are also put to work by United States solders each day. The same drones that can approach suspected weapons when it is unsafe for humans are hard at work checking vehicles for IEDs while on patrol in Iraq.

As the weapons technology develops, so does the science that keeps us safe. The last decade has seen an enormous leap forward in the techniques for finding weapons. Inspectors and other government employees continue to strive to find better ways to single out the weapons and save lives.

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