As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Saturday, August 02, 2008

We Have The Worst Conspiracy Theorists

So imagine that you have two incidents. Both are considered terrorism, both are connected by the policymakers to an Iraq war they desire, and both are used as a casus belli to gin up support for that war.

One is a dynamic attack with documentary evidence of planes crashing into large buildings, 3,000 people dead, a terror group which takes responsibility for it, evidence of the hijackers boarding the planes and taking control of them, audio of the cockpits during the hijacking, etc., etc.

The other is this strange series of biochemical agents delivered through the mail, most of them are sent to media and leading Democrats in Congress, nobody takes responsibility, the mystery of who sent them is not solved for years, the notes enclosed in the envelopes crudely say things like "We have this anthrax, take penacillin now, Death to America, Death to Israel, Allah is great," and nobody can completely figure out the motive or who would have the means to pull this off, although the speculation is typically focused on government research labs.

You mean to tell me the cottage industry of conspiracy theories is over the FIRST one?

And before labeling me as making a false equivalence between 9/11 and the anthrax attacks, in their own way they were just as scary. I remember weeks of palpable fear, especially with their timing right after the WTC attack. Everyone in the country gets mail; not everyone gets on an airplane or works in a national landmark. The random death of the old lady in Connecticut, taking it outside the realm of postal workers and media/political figures, was particularly frightening. And there's no doubt that the recipients of the letters looked extremely calculated, designed to provoke a response of fear in the corridors of power, an upset of the social order.

Now we have thrown into this mix the strange suicide of Bruce Ivins, who reportedly was about to be charged with the anthrax mailings (he was informed of the investigation and subsequent talks with his lawyer acknowledged that charging was imminent).

Ivins, whose name had not been disclosed publicly as a suspect in the case, played a central role in research to improve anthrax vaccines by preparing anthrax formulations used in experiments on animals.

Regarded as a skilled microbiologist, Ivins also helped the FBI analyze the powdery material recovered from one of the anthrax-tainted envelopes sent to a U.S. senator's office in Washington.

Ivins died Tuesday at Frederick Memorial Hospital after ingesting a massive dose of prescription Tylenol mixed with codeine, said a friend and colleague, who declined to be identified out of concern that he would be harassed by the FBI.

This is after the government had to pay almost 6 million dollars to Stephen Hatfill, another government scientist originally tabbed as a "person of interest" in the case. That had to happen before they could charge Ivins, apparently. Ivins worked at AMRIID, the Army's institute for infectious diseases. His brother spoke to his mentality.

The eldest of his two brothers, Thomas Ivins, said he was not surprised by the events that have unfolded.

"He buckled under the pressure from the federal government," Thomas Ivins said, adding that FBI agents came to Ohio last year to question him about his brother.

"I was questioned by the feds, and I sung like a canary" about Bruce Ivins' personality and tendencies, Thomas Ivins said.

"He had in his mind that he was omnipotent."

There is a trail of strange and almost wingnutty letters to his local paper. But Ivins was one of those stereotypical quiet scientists, not the profile of a bioterrorist, and subsequent reporting shows that he was found unconscious in his home months ago, was admitted to a psychiatric facility recently after threatening co-workers, and seemed to have a mental breakdown from the strain of the investigation.

Despite the allegations -- and even after Ivins's apparent plunge into mental illness -- longtime friends and colleagues say it is inconceivable that Ivins could have been a bioterrorist. Many contend that he was driven to depression and suicide because of months of hounding by federal investigators.

"He just looked worried, depressed, anxious, way turned into himself," recalled W. Russell Byrne, an infectious-disease specialist who last saw Ivins on a recent Sunday at St. John the Evangelist, the Roman Catholic church in Frederick to which they both belonged. "It would be overstating it to say he looked like a guy who was being led to his execution, but it's not far off."

The "official story" continues today with an implication that he stood to make money off of his inventions of bioterror vaccines, but the story gets the timelines all wrong (the vaccines were sought even before 9/11 and well before the anthrax attacks) and even inside the story there's an admission that Ivins' take would have been in the tens of thousands.

There's a possibility that Ivins wanted more resources to go to bioterror and so he sent these mailings without expecting anyone would die, but that doesn't answer all the questions raised. In a seminal post, Glenn Greenwald asks about ABC News' breathless assertion at the time that Iraq was surely involved in the dispensing of anthrax based on this new information.

If the now-deceased Ivins really was the culprit behind the attacks, then that means that the anthrax came from a U.S. Government lab, sent by a top U.S. Army scientist at Ft. Detrick. Without resort to any speculation or inferences at all, it is hard to overstate the significance of that fact. From the beginning, there was a clear intent on the part of the anthrax attacker to create a link between the anthrax attacks and both Islamic radicals and the 9/11 attacks.

During the last week of October, 2001, ABC News, led by Brian Ross, continuously trumpeted the claim as their top news story that government tests conducted on the anthrax -- tests conducted at Ft. Detrick -- revealed that the anthrax sent to Daschele contained the chemical additive known as bentonite. ABC News, including Peter Jennings, repeatedly claimed that the presence of bentonite in the anthrax was compelling evidence that Iraq was responsible for the attacks, since -- as ABC variously claimed -- bentonite "is a trademark of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's biological weapons program" and "only one country, Iraq, has used bentonite to produce biological weapons."

ABC News' claim -- which they said came at first from "three well-placed but separate sources," followed by "four well-placed and separate sources" -- was completely false from the beginning. There never was any bentonite detected in the anthrax (a fact ABC News acknowledged for the first time in 2007 only as a result of my badgering them about this issue). It's critical to note that it isn't the case that preliminary tests really did detect bentonite and then subsequent tests found there was none. No tests ever found or even suggested the presence of bentonite. The claim was just concocted from the start. It just never happened.

That means that ABC News' "four well-placed and separate sources" fed them information that was completely false -- false information that created a very significant link in the public mind between the anthrax attacks and Saddam Hussein. And look where -- according to Brian Ross' report on October 28, 2001 -- these tests were conducted:

And despite continued White House denials, four well-placed and separate sources have told ABC News that initial tests on the anthrax by the US Army at Fort Detrick, Maryland, have detected trace amounts of the chemical additives bentonite and silica.

That's where Ivins worked.

Like I said, we have terrible conspiracy theorists. Because it's not much of a leap, when you consider that the very lab from which the attacks are now alleged to have originated is the same one that leaked false intel to ABC News linking the attacks to Iraq; when the attacks were designed to scare media and political elites into believing that Muslims could reach them through the postal system; when one of the signature pieces of evidence shown by Colin Powell at the UN for war with Iraq was a small vial of anthrax; when you read this incredible admission from elite pundit Richard Cohen:

Anthrax. Remember anthrax? It seems no one does anymore -- at least it's never mentioned. But right after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, letters laced with anthrax were received at the New York Post and Tom Brokaw's office at NBC. . . . There was ample reason to be afraid.

The attacks were not entirely unexpected. I had been told soon after Sept. 11 to secure Cipro, the antidote to anthrax. The tip had come in a roundabout way from a high government official, and I immediately acted on it. I was carrying Cipro way before most people had ever heard of it.

For this and other reasons, the anthrax letters appeared linked to the awful events of Sept. 11. It all seemed one and the same. Already, my impulse had been to strike back, an overwhelming urge that had, in fact, taken me by surprise on Sept. 11 itself when the first of the Twin Towers had collapsed. . . .

...when you recognize that politicians like John McCain set to linking anthrax to Iraq almost immediately; when you learn that, despite Ivins repeatedly being linked to leaked anthrax spores and residue, the government sought to blame it on Stephen Hatfill, a separate fall guy...

I mean there's a rich amount of material here for any "Truther" to make use of. And in this case, the questions are very real and very vital. There must be a full investigation.

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