Using materials available at stores, on the Internet or through mail-order firms, terrorists could make cyanide compounds, grow salmonella bacteria and botulinum toxin, or distill the poison ricin from castor beans, the FBI said Wednesday in its weekly bulletin.
The memo, sent to 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies, said there is no specific threat or indication that an attack is imminent. But it detailed several past attacks using such weapons, including an Oregon cult's contamination of local restaurant salad bars with salmonella bacteria that sickened 751 people in 1984.
Yeast, infant formula, sugar, Epsom Salts, cheesecloth, blenders, masks and gloves are among the items widely available that terrorists could use to set up a laboratory to make crude chemical and biological weapons, the bulletin said. Some are available in grocery stories; others must be obtained from a medical supply house.
A key tool is the agar plate, which is used by scientists and doctors to grow cultures.
"Large numbers of agar plates can be inoculated and harvested by an individual possessing minimal training," the FBI bulletin says. "These agar plates could produce sufficient quantities of bacteria to sicken or kill large numbers of people."
Detection of these home-made labs is often difficult because so many household products can be used in production, reports CBS News Correspondent Stephanie Lambidakis, and the recipes are readily available on the Internet.
The FBI last week warned that terrorists could make simple chemical and biological weapons with materials available nationwide. That bulletin noted that the capture of al Qaeda operations chief Khalid Shaikh Mohammed has provided fresh evidence of the terror network's experiments with such weapons.
"Little or no training is required to assemble and deploy such a device due to its simplicity," the FBI said then.
Officials at the National Institutes of Health are also worried about the threat from botulinum toxin, which occurs naturally.
War with Iraq has underscored those fears because of past acknowledgment by President Saddam Hussein that Iraq had made 5,000 gallons of the toxin and loaded it onto bombs and missiles.
In addition, the Agriculture Department and Food and Drug Administration are urging the food industry to increase security because of the heightened risk of terrorist attack.