Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Those unsolved anthrax attacks of 2001

I haven't checked for the most popular conspiracy theories about the 2001 anthrax attacks. Presumably, there are some.

But the real-life mystery of those attacks, which killed five people and added considerably to the US national fright over terrorism in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, remains unsolved. The FBI, whose record on investigating this thing has been less than sterling, most recently tried to close the case by pinning it on government scientist Bruce Ivins, who committed suicide while under heavy pressure from the FBI investigation.

As Glenn Greenwald explains in this summary of the current status of the case, Serious doubt cast on FBI's anthrax case against Bruce Ivins Salon 02/16/2011, the FBI commissioned a special independent study from the National Academy of Sciences of what they considered the strongest piece of their case against Ivins, the genetic trail that supposedly led back to a batch of anthrax under Ivins' control, in order to forestall a broader Congressional or independent investigation. As Dan Vergano reports for USA Today in Panel can't rule out other sources of deadly anthrax spores 02/15/2011, the study wound up raising a serious question even on the FBI's scientific case.

Meryl Nass maintains a blog that deals with issues related to anthrax, Anthrax Vaccine, including the 2001 case and the broader issue of defending against anthrax being used in bioterror attacks. Here is the text of a presentation she did last November on the FBI's case against Bruce Ivins, The FBI's Anthrax Letters Investigation: Points to Consider 11/30/2010.

Thomas Maugh II and Richard Serrano report for the Los Angeles Times on bipartisan calls for further investigation of the larger case (Evidence linking anthrax to Bruce Ivins 'not as definitive as stated,' panel says 02/16/2011):

Rep. Rush D. Holt, a Democrat from New Jersey, the site of the postal box where the letters were mailed, reintroduced legislation Tuesday to establish an 11-member commission to study the anthrax attacks.

"There are still questions to be answered and still lessons to be learned," Holt said. "It would take a credulous person to believe the circumstantial evidence that the FBI used to draw its conclusions with such certainty. The FBI has not proven to me that this is an open-and-shut case."

Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, also called for further investigation of the anthrax scare, saying the new report "shows that the science is not necessarily a slam dunk."
I would much prefer to see a thorough Congressional investigation. One of my big criticisms of the Democratic Party in Congress is that they don't make nearly good enough use of their investigative powers. But it's good to see members of Congress keeping this issue alive. It shouldn't be allowed to disappear down the now-proverbial memory hole. The information in the public record indicates that the anthrax used came from high-security US government supplies. The public needs to know what happened. The people responsible for the murders need to be identified.

Greenwald reminds us why the case is significant beyond the direct murder of five people:

It is hard to overstate the political significance of the anthrax attacks. For reasons I've described at length, that event played at least as much of a role as the 9/11 attacks in elevating the Terrorism fear levels which, through today, sustain endless wars, massive defense and homeland security budgets, and relentless civil liberties erosions. The pithy version of the vital role played by anthrax was supplied by Atrios here and here; in essence, it was anthrax that convinced large numbers of Americans that Terrorism was something that could show up without warning at their doorstep -- though something as innocuous as their mailbox -- in the form of James-Bond-like attacks featuring invisible, lethal powder. Moreover, anthrax was exploited in the aftermath of 9/11 to ratchet up the fear levels toward Saddam Hussein, as ABC News' Brian Ross spent a full week screeching to the country -- falsely -- that bentonite had been found in the anthrax and that this agent was the telltale sign of Iraq's chemical weapons program, while George Bush throughout 2002 routinely featured "anthrax" as one of Saddam's scary weapons. [my emphasis]

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