Author Biography

Andrea Nehorayoff currently works as a Risk Analyst at the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) Consulting. Prior to ABS, she served as a Research Assistant with the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), where her research primarily focused on identifying radiological/nuclear threats and analyzing gaps and vulnerabilities in the global nuclear detection architecture. She received a M.S. in Justice, Law and Criminology from American University’s School of Public Affairs and a B.A. in Political Science from the George Washington University.

Benjamin Ash is currently a researcher at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), with a focus on CBRN terrorism. Prior to START, he interned at the Partnership for Global Security as a Biological Proliferation Prevention Research Assistant, reporting on biosecurity issues and the Cooperative Threat Reduction initiative. He holds an M.S. in Biodefense from George Mason University's School of Policy, Government, and International Affairs and a B.A. in Political Science from Christopher Newport University.

Daniel Smith is a research associate at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), where he works with colleagues on projects related to radiological and nuclear threats to national security. His research interests include insurgencies, civil wars, terrorism, and political violence, writ large. He received a B.A. and M.A. in Comparative Politics from the University of Virginia.




This article details the terrorist activities of the Japanese cult, Aum Shinrikyo, from the perspective of its complex engineering efforts aimed at producing nuclear and chemical weapons. The experience of this millenarian organization illustrates that even violent non-state actors with considerable wealth and resources at their disposal face numerous obstacles to realizing their destructive aspirations. Specifically, Aum’s attempts at complex engineering were stymied by a combination of unchecked fantastical thinking, self-imposed ideological constraints, and a capricious leadership. The chapter highlights each of these mechanisms, as well as the specific ways in which they constrained the decision-making process and the implementation of the complex engineering tasks associated with their unconventional weapons development.


Editor’s Note: This article forms part of a series of related case studies collected in this Special Issue and should be viewed in the context of the broader phenomenon of complex engineering by violent non-state actors. Readers are advised to consult the introductory and concluding papers for a full explanation and comparative analysis of the cases.


This work was supported by Sandia National Laboratories, Contract #1525332. Any opinions, findings, conclusions and recommendations in this issue are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect views of Sandia National Laboratories or the U.S. Department of Energy.