While researching and writing the news everyday for unknowncountry.com, I've read a lot of conflicting information (and disinformation) about the anthrax mailings. Now that things seem to have quieted down (probably because the terrorist, whoever he is, has run out of anthrax), I want to follow the trail of our recent news stories in order to track down the truth.
When the first anthrax was discovered in Florida, and in New York shortly afterwards, we were told it was the Ames strain, which was developed here in the U.S. and sent around the world to scientists working on an anthrax vaccine for cattle. That made it seem pretty easy for U.S.-based al-Qaeda cells to get their hands on it, and we never considered it could be anyone else who was doing the mailings. We all expected to receive an anthrax-laced letter in our own mail boxes any day.
Our government then began to release vast amounts of information?and disinformation?about the kind of anthrax that could effectively be used as a weapon. By slogging through all the conflicting statements, it eventually became clear that in its natural form, anthrax tends to clump together and fall to the ground. For anthrax to spread through the air, it has to be weaponized, which means it is turned into a powder and infused with an anti-clumping agent. Different countries have used different agents for this, so we were told we could identify which country the anthrax originally came from by analyzing its ingredients. We were assured there was no way this complicated process could have been pulled off by an amateur. It had to be a professional operation.
We were first told it must have come from Iraq, although the UN inspectors who were last there before Saddam Hussein kicked them all out said that Iraq had not progressed beyond the liquid form of weaponized anthrax. The Iraq theory almost reached the boiling point when Senator Joseph Lieberman suggested we should go ahead and attack Iraq as soon as we got through with Afghanistan, or maybe we should have gone after them first.
Then we were told that the former Soviet Union had continued working with anthrax and other biological weapons, despite signing a treaty with us promising we would both destroy our bioweapons stockpiles and discontinue this kind of research. This meant the anthrax could have come from some disaffected, out-of-work former Soviet scientist.
After we were thoroughly indoctrinated to this way of thinking, the tables were turned on us when government officials started talking about an amateur Unabomber type, working alone in a basement laboratory. It was as if all the things we had been told about how hard it was to turn anthrax into a powder, etc. had never been said. What was up? Was the government trying to diffuse the anti-Iraq sentiment that was building up, so that we wouldn't demand an invasion? It just didn't make sense.
There were even rumors out of Germany that the lone terrorist had been identified and was the Harvard molecular biologist, whose rental car had been found abandoned in mid- November on a Memphis bridge. With our new wartime laws, he could be arrested and in jail right now and we wouldn't have to be told a thing about it.
Around this time it became obvious that all the anthrax had gone through a single post office in Trenton, New Jersey and that only a small number of letters were involved. The terrorists, whoever they were, had run out of energy, or supplies, or both. Even the death of a little old lady in Connecticut was traced to the mail sorting machine in New Jersey. We all began opening our mail again, and it did begin to seem like a less than professional assault. We're still waiting for the other shoe to drop with regard to new terrorist attacks, but so far that hasn't happened. But somehow we can't believe this is it, because we know there's plenty of hate left.
Now the government spokesmen have finally let the cat out of the bag and explained what all this anthrax obfuscation has been about. Oh, they haven't told us directly, but we can put the pieces together. It's a local job and yes, the terrorist did use government-created, weaponized anthrax. And where did he get it? Why, right here in the U.S.A., because it turns out we didn't follow the rules of the treaty any more than the Soviets did and we kept right on making weaponized anthrax ourselves. And the fact that somebody got hold of it and mailed some of it out revealed that nasty little secret.
And maybe that's exactly what the anthrax terrorist, whoever he is, meant to do all along, although it would have been better if he'd alerted "60 Minutes" rather than killed innocent people in order to make his point. We seem to be living in a time when innocent lives can easily be sacrificed in pursuit of a political or ideological goal (or maybe this time is no different from any other in that regard).
This revelation wakes us up to how hypocritical we must seem to the rest of the world, when we break our own treaties against bioterrorist research, while punishing Iraq for doing the same. While I have no doubt that Saddam Hussein needs to be reigned in and would have no hesitation in using his nasty weapons on innocent Israeli civilians or on us, if he could find a way to export them that far, I still wish we could truly say our own hands are clean. I also doubt that we would ever use anthrax as a weapon, since we have too many other, more efficient weapons of war.
When we follow the anthrax trail to its logical conclusion, we gain some clarity on that eternal question of "Why do they hate us?" This was what so many of us asked ourselves as those terrible events unfolded on our TV sets on September 11. And I suspect that many of you feel the same way I do: While we have the right to defend our country and our civilization, it would be nice if we could take more pride in our past actions, especially those which were done in the darkness of government secrecy and are just now coming out into the light.
NOTE: This Diary entry, previously published on our old site, will have any links removed.