February 27, 2002

The anthrax mystery deepens and the implications are ominous

In my last column, I pointed to the probable genesis of the mysterious anthrax letters a clique of former US scientists, including one in particular who had been fired from his US government job at Fort Detrick's biowar research lab – and complained that a government cover-up was in the works. The piece was posted on Friday. On Monday, a Washington Times story announced that the authorities had focused on a former US government scientist who had once worked at Ft. Detrick and had been fired twice. I'm not assuming cause-and-effect, but then again: that's pretty quick results, wouldn't you say? Now if only I could get the same kind of action on the Fox News story about a certain foreign intelligence agency that had foreknowledge of 9/11.


The Washington Times also reveals that the chief suspect is "employed as a contractor in the Washington area." Curiouser and curiouser. Is his contract with a government agency? If so, which one would have use for a maker of mass murder? As a libertarian, I am naturally for privatization: but there are some government-owned and operated assets that just can't or, rather, shouldn't be privatized: that is, if one could even define germ warfare as an "asset" in any meaningful sense of the term. As my friend Lew Rockwell said to me recently: "If you want to see the real evil of government, then ask yourself: what other entity would unleash something so monstrous?"


Citing law enforcement sources, the Washington Times reports that the suspect's reaction to the events of 9/11 was to make a threat to use anthrax. His home was searched, where "numerous chemicals" were found – but no anthrax. The story cites Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a microbiologist with the Federation of American Scientists, whose fascinating analysis of the anthrax mystery is must reading but only for those who don't scare all that easily. Because what she reveals about this grotesque case is unsettling in the extreme, leading to the undeniable conclusion that the US government has something to hide. As to just what that might be, I almost don't want to go there....


Rosenberg says that she can't understand the FBI's lethargy in this matter. After all, they've been working on a very short list of suspects: not that many people have both the scientific knowledge and the access to vital materials necessary to the making of such highly weaponised anthrax as was delivered to the offices of Senators Daschle and Leahy. The FBI, Rosenberg contends, has finally narrowed it down to "a particular person ... a member of the biochemical community." This person, it seems, has been questioned more than once, but no one is pressing any charges. Why not? "Is the FBI dragging its feet?" Rosenberg asks. Her answer gives law enforcement the benefit of a doubt: "I just don't know. And, if so, I don't know why." If the FBI is our only protection against anthrax-wielding terrorists, then I don't think I want to know. God help us all.


Naturally, the FBI has denied the Washington Times story, and Ari Fleischer, the President's spokesman, averred that the number of suspects is more than one: "I wish it were that easy and that simple right now," he said. Yet they're still sticking to their "lone nut" theory, with Van Harp, assistant director of the FBI's Washington office, writing in a letter to microbiologists nationwide that this person has "a clear, rational thought process and appears to be very organized in the production and mailing of these letters." Oh, now I get it: instead of arresting him, they're going to make him a job offer. But just how credible is this brilliant-but-mad scientist scenario?


Both the FBI and the Washington Times assume that we are dealing with a single perpetrator, a lone nut who, for some reason, and with remarkable efficiency, managed to pull off a feat many at first attributed to state-sponsored terrorism. I don't buy it. As Dr. Meryl Nass puts it in Red Flags Weekly:

"I am referring here to the anthrax attacker in the singular and using the male gender, although I suspect that, for logistical reasons, it is unlikely that one person acted alone, or was even a loner, as the FBI profile has suggested."


Dr. Nass asks some very interesting questions that give us some insight into the possible motives of the attacker(s):

"Why had the anthrax been sent in letters, rather than released in ventilation systems, tunnels or subways? The (estimated) two trillion spores per letter could have caused a lot more mischief in another setting."


A true terrorist would want to spread death, and not just fear. Aside from that, however:

"Something else was odd. The attacker had actually warned the recipients that the letters contained anthrax, and suggested they take penicillin. Then a light-bulb went off: someone was sending these letters to create an effect, not to cause damage. The letters were sealed with tape, presumably to further prevent the escape of spores. The point was to frighten, not to kill. And the targets were chosen with an eye to getting publicity and making an impact on Congress."

Making an impact on Congress to do what? It's the political aspect of this curious case that argues against the "lone nut" theory, and gives the whole affair a rather ominous cast. For the achievement of a particular political goal conjures up a picture of an ideologically-motivated cabal, a lobbying group that was willing to go to unusual lengths in order to impress the US government with the urgency of its agenda.


The key issue here is motive. The "lone nut" scenario would have it that a single disgruntled scientist may have released the pathogens in order to get more funding for biowar research. But the extreme thoroughness with which these crimes were carried out suggests that the renegade scientist may not have acted alone. As Dr. Nass puts it:

"The attacker also had familiarity with forensic investigations. He avoided using saliva on the letters, used a form of printing that is most difficult to analyze, and otherwise left a paucity of evidence. Did he have professional help?"

As to what profession would be most helpful, it seems clear that this is the work of some government agency – but which government are we talking about?


Dr. Nass seems to imply, at times, that the US government is somehow involved. She theorizes that filling the envelope with such a highly weaponised form of anthrax would be almost inevitably fatal unless the perpetrator prepared his deadly missive within the confines of a special facility used for experimental purposes and available in the US only at a few carefully monitored government sites. With vague references to "the biowarfare establishment," and allusions to the CIA, clearly Dr. Nass is at least highly suspicious that the US government unleashed anthrax on its own people: perhaps in order to ratchet up the level of fear and make the populace more tractable. But the good Doctor, I believe, should stick to her own field science and leave the speculation as to motive to others. For this "the government was behind it" scenario makes no sense at all: the level of fear, and of funding for "anti-terrorist" programs, was already high in the wake of 9/11. Putting anthrax in letters to US Senators and other high profile targets seems like overkill, if you'll pardon the expression.

The evidence indicates that unauthorized research and entry into supposedly secure facilities occurred at Fort Detrick over an extended period of time, and that the culprit (or culprits) got away not only with anthrax but with a wide variety of deadly pathogens, some so virulent and top secret that slides of samples were labeled "unknown" security at these facilities being so lax at the time as to be practically nonexistent. A former chief of the Ft. Detrick lab suspects that an elaborate system of deception was employed in the record-keeping department, so that many specimens were not even entered in inventory before they disappeared. But how could a "lone nut" have pulled off such a feat unaided? In order to cover his tracks, he would've needed the cooperation of allies in key positions at the lab. This militates against the "lone nut" theory, and reinforces the idea that the perpetrators of the anthrax attacks had some "professional help."


It is certain in a sane world, that is – that the US government could not have facilitated the release of such horrors as Hanta-virus, ebola, and god knows what other unknown plagues into the general population: the consequences of such an action would be so heavy as to outweigh any conceivable benefit. Yes, yes, I can just hear the tinfoil hat crowd objecting: "But we aren't living in a sane world, as you yourself have pointed out recently." We may be living in Bizarro World, at least in certain respects, but the axiom that our rulers will always act in order to preserve their own power is one of those pre-9/11 truisms that has survived intact: indeed, the eternal truth of it has been demonstrated by the alarming alacrity with which the government used the tragedy to aggregate more power to itself. That they would endanger this power by doing something so stupid, or allowing it to happen, defies belief.


The ideological angle of this strange case has, so far, been completely overlooked: in her list of possible beneficiaries of the anthrax scare, Dr. Nass lists "the biowar establishment," whatever that is, which certainly was not that desperate for extra funding, as well as the makers of antibiotics. However, she neglects to mention the likeliest possibility. What is all too believable is that some foreign intelligence agency with substantial assets in the US penetrated a government lab and recruited a clique of scientists and other insiders, initially for purposes of routine spying but eventually launching a full-scale terrorist operation designed, not to kill, but to frighten everyone out of their wits and provoke an anti-Arab reaction.


In my last column on this subject, I detailed the story of Dr. Ayaad Assaad, an Egyptian microbiologist who used to work at Ft. Detrick, where he attracted the hostile attention of a clique known as the "Camel Club": they put obscene missives in his mailbox and otherwise tirelessly harassed him, until one of their number, Lt. Col. Philip Zack, was fired because of this hate campaign. Zack was also videotaped entering the lab after hours, without authorization, with the cooperation of one of his fellow Camel Club members.

So we have a viscerally anti-Arab clique at a biowar lab that might have been the cat's-paw of a foreign government now which foreign government could that be?


The other day I was talking with my webmaster, Eric Garris, about this story, and remarking that the way it's being treated in the media is remarkably similar to the way the Fox News story on Israeli spying in the US was treated: i.e. in relation to its importance, and possible implications, the amount of attention it is receiving is negligible. Fox News reporter Carl Cameron's FBI sources told him that not only had Israel compromised supposedly secure US communications systems the phone system of the Departments of Defense and State, as well as the White House – but they had also launched an effort to physically penetrate important US defense facilities in the months prior to 9/11. Surely this would include such facilities as the bioweapons lab at Ft. Detrick, and others around the country.


Israel not only has the means, but also the motive: certainly an anti-Arab backlash in the US would aid their cause, and make the American public much more amenable to wiping out their Arab enemies. Indeed, Israel's supporters in the US were quick to suggest that Iraq was behind the attacks, and such a prominent Israel Firster as Andrew Sullivan lost no time in calling on Bush to at least consider nuking Iraq in retaliation. Indeed, it seems as though the "Camel Club" at Ft. Detrick must have been reading some of Sullivan's more virulent anti-Arab postings, and those of his fellow "war-bloggers," whose hostility to all things Arab was eerily echoed in this repulsive bit of doggerel attached to a rubber camel, a "gift" to Assaad from the "Camel Club":

"In (Assaad's) honor we created this beast;
It represents life lower than yeast."

Some denizen of the extreme Israeli right-wing couldn't have said it better. So perhaps earlier speculation that the anthrax letters were the work of right-wing extremists was essentially right only they got the wrong country.

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adj