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August 18, 2008

New Tomdispatch


Double Standards in the Global War on Terror
Anthrax Department

By Tom Engelhardt

Oh, the spectacle of it all -- and don't think I'm referring to those opening ceremonies in Beijing, where North Korean-style synchronization seemed to fuse with smiley-faced Walt Disney, or Michael Phelp's thrilling hunt for eight gold medals and Speedo's one million dollar "bonus," a modernized tribute to the ancient Greek tradition of amateurism in action. No, I'm thinking of the blitz of media coverage after Dr. Bruce Ivins, who worked at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Maryland, committed suicide by Tylenol on July 29th and the FBI promptly accused him of the anthrax attacks of September and October 2001...

For a nation already terrified by the attacks of September 11, 2001, the thought that a brutal dictator with weapons of mass destruction (who might even have turned the anthrax over to the terrorists) was ready to do us greater harm undoubtedly helped pave the way for an invasion of Iraq. The President would even claim that Saddam Hussein had the ability to send unmanned aerial vehicles to spray biological or chemical weapons over the east coast of the United States (drones that, like Saddam's nuclear program, would turn out not to exist).

Today, it's hard even to recall just how terrifying those anthrax attacks were. According to a LexisNexis search, between Oct. 4 and Dec. 4, 2001, 389 stories appeared in the New York Times with "anthrax" in the headline. In that same period, 238 such stories appeared in the Washington Post. That's the news equivalent of an unending, high-pitched scream of horror -- and from those attacks would emerge an American world of hysteria involving orange alerts and duct tape, smallpox vaccinations, and finally a war, lest any of this stuff, or anything faintly like it, fall into the hands of terrorists.

And yet, by the end of 2001, it had become clear that, despite the accompanying letters, the anthrax in those envelopes was from a domestically produced strain. It was neither from the backlands of Afghanistan nor from Baghdad, but -- almost certainly -- from our own military bio-weapons labs. At that point, the anthrax killings essentially vanished… Poof!... while 9/11 only gained traction as the singular event of our times.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at August 18, 2008 12:00 PM

What I find most interesting about the allegations that Bruce Ivins was responsible for the anthrax mailings is the evidence that they don't show us. For instance, it should be easy--and it should not reveal any so-called "classified methods"--to present the DNA evidence that the anthrax spores that were mailed were identical to those in Ivins's lab and were not present in any other laboratory that was examined. It should also be easy to show that there was some trace of those spores that could be uniquely linked to Ivins--some spores in his home, in his car, in his gym locker, or some place else that even the most careful person might leave traces. Finally, they should be able to tell us how Ivins, of all people, was selected out of the HUNDREDS of people in his lab alone who had access to anthrax.

Instead, we have seen only the FBI's character assassination: the guy was weird, he liked porn, he had an unhealthy obsession with a sorority. We have already seen the FBI revise their circumstantial case for Ivins guilt when it turned out that the timeline they constructed for his supposed drive to Princeton to mail the anthrax would actually have exonerated him.

It is still possible that Ivins indeed was the guilty party. But after Hatfill, Wen Ho Lee, Richard Jewell, and Brandon Mayfield, I say that they have to show us a lot more for us to be convinced.

Posted by: emmet jay at August 18, 2008 01:04 PM