Photograph of anthrax

Do you remember the Anthrax Scare? Envelopes with strange notes and mysterious white powder were showing up in various mailboxes. In many cases the white powder was “weaponized anthrax” … anthrax (bacterial) spores processed in such a way to enhance the spread of the spores by air and infection via lung tissues.

A total of five people died in that incident, which occurred shortly after the September 11th attacks.

US Government Scientist Bruce Ivins had been under suspicion for a number of reasons, and on learning that prosecutes were about to charge him with having a role in this case, he committed suicide. He took an overdose of painkillers earlier this week. We cannot be sure, but it looks like the Anthrax Attack, widely thought at the time to be an attack by a group such as Al Qaeda (which did take credit at the time, allegedly) was in fact the work of a diabolical evil scientist working for the government. But, in the larger picture, the effects of the Anthrax Murders and the way it was handled at the political and social levels, are an indictment of George Bush and his administration.

As a refresher, the BBC has compiled the following summary of events related to the 2001 event:

  • First anthrax-laced letter is mailed on 18 Sept, 2001
  • Florida sees first of five deaths, three weeks later
  • Panicked Americans try to stock up on antibiotic Cipro
  • Postal depots shut for de-contamination
  • Senate offices shut for weeks
  • Hoaxes become an almost daily occurrence
  • Plans to deal with a biological weapons attack updated
  • Mail irradiated to kill anthrax spores

According to the BBC:

Dr Ivins worked for the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in Fort Detrick, Maryland.

As a microbiologist he helped the FBI investigate the anthrax-tainted envelopes.

The mail was sent to legislators in Washington and media offices in New York and Florida.

Those killed were two postal workers in Washington, a New York hospital worker, a Florida photo editor and an elderly woman in Connecticut.

Last week, FBI director Robert Mueller told CNN “great progress” had been made in the investigation and he was confident it would be resolved.

Associated Press news agency has quoted unnamed officials as saying an indictment was planned that would seek execution.

The agency said the authorities were investigating whether Dr Ivins had released the anthrax to test the vaccine he was developing.

Dr Ivins died in hospital on Tuesday. In a statement on Friday, USAMRIID said it “mourned the loss of Dr Bruce Ivins, who served the institute for more than 35 years as a civilian microbiologist… We will miss him very much”.

Dr Ivins’s lawyer, Paul Kemp, said: “We assert his innocence in these killings, and would have established that at trial.”

Let’s look at the bigger picture.

From the moment that it became apparent that terrorists (criminals) had taken over a handful of US based airliners, to use them as giant human-filled deadly missiles, it was probably inevitable that the United States would rush into a state of war that it would maintain for the next decade or more. Why was it inevitable? Because of the nature and character of the Republican Party, of George Bush, and of Bush’s handlers, those who shall no be named (by me, now, but who will increasingly be named in various indictments).

A criminal act .. a well executed one as it turns out … by a gang of misguided miscreants became on that day an excuse to convert what was at the time a relatively free society into something increasingly resembling a police state. At the same time, select corporations and families were given access to a huge and unstoppable fear-generated flow of government money. By shifting the flow of money in this manner, and pulling away from a number of progressive economic policies, decreasing tax rates on the very wealthy while maintaining high taxes for everyone else, and shirking responsibility for such essential services as health care, the Bush government also widened the rich-poor gap to a level not seen in a couple of generations.

The Bell Curve was no longer merely a racist excuse for the persistent but curable “achievement gap” in schools, but it became a formula for ensuring an increased separation between haves and have-nots, with strong racial overtones. The idea that there is only just so much to go around (in terms of resources, etc.) was translated into a government run systematic program to deepen poverty and build impassable barriers to individual progress except for the wealthiest and most privileged.

This all has been done at the same time as the Christianization of the nation, facilitated by the exploitation of anti-Muslim sentiment and well funded in part by government underwriting of so called faith-based programs.

In the end, far more Americans have died at the hands of misguided and mercenary (not to mention poorly executed from the criminal justice and military standpoints) government policy than as a result of Osama Bin Laden’s insanity.

I have one question regarding the Anthrax murders: Why is it that so much time has passed since these murders occured without a fairly clear statement that this was not a terrorist act?


  1. #1 Virgil Samms
    August 1, 2008

    I have one question regarding the Anthrax murders: Why is it that so much time has passed since these murders occured without a fairly clear statement that this was not a terrorist act?

    How do you imagine it was not a terrorist act? Do you mean that it wasn’t carried out by A-rabs?

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    August 1, 2008

    That is a very good question and very much requires clarification. To cut to the quick, there is no need to distinguish between criminals and terrorists when we are labeling bad guys .. Ivins is a criminal and a terrorist, so is Osama bin Laden. (No relation).

    I have previously made very clear that I think the US government should have treated the 911 event as a criminal act (see 911 Reverberates in Boston).

    I am making a distinction between how to treat criminal acts and terrorist acts because from a legal, police, and security point of view, terrorism is nothing other than an excuse to implement a set of laws that the Right Wing has been trying to implement for many decades, and does nothing to serve the real goals of catching the bad guys and making it harder to carry out these insane activities.

  3. #3 Matt Hussein Platte
    August 1, 2008

    Thought experiment.

    Take the basic facts of this story and transplant them into post-Soviet Russia. Make a few necessary changes to let the story work in that context. Substitute Polonium for Anthrax, for example; Chechnya for Saudi Afghiraniraqia.

    When the various domestic and foreign media, blogs, governments &c. talk and write about the situation, what parts make you suspicious that you’re still not getting the facts, the truth? Are there still parts of this awesomely-convenient-for-the-Administration story that are still just a bit too convenient?

    This story has reeked of bullshit from day one and that hasn’t changed much lately.

  4. #4 Virgil Samms
    August 1, 2008

    Ivins is a criminal and a terrorist, so is Osama bin Laden. (No relation).

    I’d be willing to give Ivins the benefit of a doubt. He’ll never go on trial, what with being dead and all, but I’d at least like to see some examination and discussion of the case against him by competent people. I certainly would not make the mistake of presuming that our government could not hound the wrong suspect.

  5. #5 Virgil Samms
    August 1, 2008

    Thought experiment…

    Hmm. Polonium, like weaponized anthrax, is very difficult to get except through government sources. As I recall, the genetic testing and weaponization of the anthrax spores pointed to a Ft. Detrick origin. Since Ivins was probably involved in that testing (does someone have the info on this?), I might want to see some reconsideration and retesting.

    Look at all it did for our economy though, sales of plastic sheeting, Cipro and duct tape went through the roof.

  6. #6 Arj
    August 1, 2008

    Actually, the FBI spent a LONG time assuming this was domestic terrorism, in a misguided goose chase after Steven Hatfill. Ivens had a lot of problems in his life that may have contributed to suicide — I wouldn’t assume our ‘intelligence’ services now have it right and the anthrax scare is solved. Maaaaybe it is, but much more needs to come out for a convincing case (so far, a lot still doesn’t make sense).

  7. #7 Warren
    August 1, 2008


    Dick Cheney is not a moron!

  8. #8 Virgil Samms
    August 1, 2008

    Details emerge:

    (Ivins) was a musician at St. John’s the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Frederick.

    Not conclusive, but probably a theist.

    His oldest brother, Thomas, said he was short and slight as a child and grew up with a fascination for books and science. “He was like a wuss,” he said.

    Ivins grew up in a family unappreciative of science.

  9. #9 Greg Laden
    August 1, 2008

    Virgil: You are right. I meant to say, assuming he is guilty as presumed. (I suppose th came could be said for Osama bin, but he has made a few video confessions)

    Regarding his background, yes, typical for Mad Scientist.

  10. #10 Agricola
    August 1, 2008

    Wow! I see a lot of scientific principles at work here….what a load of claptrap. The president as moron, Christians everywhere, world domination by a select few fatcats and their political friends…..all with the goal of eliminating ‘progressives’. Wow……..

  11. #11 Rob Jase
    August 1, 2008

    Awfully convenient fot the Bushies. Gives them someone to build a nice case against even if they have to fake the evidence.

    Having been fired from the local health department on trumped up charges because I refused to do political favors for the mayor I make it a point not to trust the government. I’ve seen too much corruption on every level.

  12. #12 Joel
    August 1, 2008

    Ivins grew up in a family unappreciative of science.

    Or unappreciative of wussies, assuming there are manly scientists. 🙂

  13. #13 Stephanie Z
    August 1, 2008

    Agricola, how precisely does one test “claptrap” or “wow”? You could put forward another hypothesis for comparison if you wanted to be more scientific.

  14. #14 Martin
    August 1, 2008

    “This all has been done at the same time as the Christianization of the nation, facilitated by the exploitation of anti-Muslim sentiment and well funded in part by government underwriting of so called faith-based programs.”

    I’ve posted yesterday about activities that appear to be related to a network of lobbyists in Britain intent on spreading IslamophobiaL. I plan to investigate them further, but this sudden growth of the extreme right into the mainstream of politics, made possible largely because of 9/11, scares me.

  15. #15 Anne Gilbert
    August 1, 2008

    Greg is hardly the only person who thought that, at the time, there wee criminal laws that would cover the criminals who planned the 9/11 attacks. I believe the late Molly Ivins(no relation to Bruce, I think) said much the same thing. As far as what has happened to civili liberties, and the things the US is supposed to stand for, the neocons have been working at these things for a long, long time. They certainly have spent a lot of their time, and not just in the current administration, pushing for things like tax cuts and “privatizing” everyting they can get their hands on. 9/11 just gave them a free pass to do it faster. But I have a feeling a lot of people are finally waking up to this. That’s one reason why the President’s approval rating is so low, among other things. Plus people are losing their jobs and their houses, thanks to some of these policies.
    Anne G

  16. #16 Colugo
    August 1, 2008

    “it looks like the Anthrax Attack, widely thought at the time to be an attack by a group such as Al Qaeda (which did take credit at the time, allegedly) was in fact the work of a diabolical evil scientist working for the government.”

    Steven Hatfill, a US biodefense researcher, had been investigated by the federal government in the 2001 anthrax attacks since 2002, publicly since at least 2003. (He is no longer a suspect.) So there is nothing novel about the US government indicating that the 2001 anthrax attacks were the work someone within US biodefense circles rather than Islamist terrorists.

  17. #17 Charlie
    August 1, 2008

    Polonium is readily available. Of course, anthrax is readily available everywhere too, but it would take more time and effort to “weaponize” the anthrax you could extract from a dead animal than it would take to extract the polonium from a case of anti-static brushes.

  18. #18 Jim Lippard
    August 1, 2008

    Colugo: They knew fairly early on that the strain of anthrax used in the attacks was one from USAMRIID.

    E.g., New Scientist, 24 October 2001:

  19. #19 Greg Laden
    August 1, 2008

    Jim: Right, there was never any doubt of that from the point in time to which you refer.

  20. #20 The Science Pundit
    August 1, 2008


    A couple points.

    First: “A criminal act .. a well executed one as it turns out”
    If by ‘well executed’ you mean successful, then I agree. Otherwise, I’d have to say that their operation was poorly executed and you can chalk up American incompetence as the reason for heir success. Remember, these are the same people who botched the 1993 World Trade Center bombing job. Everyone made fun of Mr. Salame for trying to get his money back for the rental truck. But how is that any more clumsy than taking flying lessons and saying that you’re not interested in taking off or landing?

    Second: As I recall things, there was less of an effort to tie the anthrax mailings to al Quaeda as there was to tie them to Saddam. I remember hearing stories about how the particular strain of anthrax used in the mailings was unique to labs in Baghdad. With my background, I knew that that claim was bullshit because even if it was true, there’s no way they could have determined that as quickly as the rumors started flying around. Anyway, the moral of the story is that al Quaeda was always a distraction from the true goal of Iraq. (Q for ‘911 truthers’ So why the hell didn’t the Bush administration just frame Saddam from the start?)


  21. #21 themaditwasacrimenotanactofwarlolscientist, FCD
    August 2, 2008


    Dick Cheney is not a moron!

    You’re right. He lacks the necessary intelligence.

  22. #22 Greg Laden
    August 2, 2008

    Javier, I think you are right about the attempts to tie anthrax to Sadam, etc.

    As to well executed, this will be argued forever. A friend who was in a US intelligence agency at the time told me this was being thought of as dumb luck. In an interview with Osama bin Laden, he indicated that he was surprised as to how much (i.e., total) damage was done to the WTC towers.

    But the point is that there as a plan to hijack five or so planes and fly them into public buildings one (or two?) were never hijacked becuase of problems early in that plan. One was never flown near its destination but insead it was intentionally crashed and all on board killed. So the fallback plan (I assume) was a success. The other three hit their targets, and of two that hit their targets (WTC) the results were greater than expected.

    A few on the ground (surviving) operatives were arrested but on only one convicted so far. The masterminds remain at large.

    Now, compare that to the analagous descriptions of, say Bush’s invasion of Iraq…..

    Is Polonium really readily available? I’m shocked.

  23. #23 iRobot
    August 2, 2008

    This whole thing stinks to high heaven of a CIA-type operation. It came from a gov lab, was spilled and cleaned up with no one noticing and they guy died from a huge dose of a prescription medicine. It was very suspicious timing to scare the US into further giving up the last bit of rights we have. I know it sounds tin-foil hat, but after 8 years of stolen elections, torture, law-breaking, wars, etc. it really isn’t that far fetched. The Bushies are true believers who think anything is justified in the name of furthering W’s rule because he was appointed by god!

  24. #24 Andrew
    August 2, 2008

    It disturbs me that crazy conspiracy theories like iRobot has become increasingly likely. The idea to start with that the anthrax was sent out by a Hot Zone scientist who wanted to test his own vaccine is nuts. Who would ever think such a thing. But then it happens…

  25. #25 Dunkleosteus
    August 2, 2008

    This comment by Glenn Greenwald is worth reading — http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2008/08/01/anthrax/index.html

  26. #26 guthrie
    August 5, 2008

    Cam someone explain how the US system works?
    Here in the UK, if they suspect you of terrorism (i.e. wanting to kill people for political or other aims) they’ll shoot you dead, or imprison you and everyone you know without charge for as long as possible, then drop the charges when it turns out they don’t have enough evidence to prosecute.

    Whereas in the US, they tell a suspected terrorist that he’s going to be charged.
    Fictional illustration:
    “Mr Smith, we’re phoning to advise you that next week we will charge you with murdering your wife.”
    Of course it stinks.

  27. #27 tincture
    August 5, 2008

    I always thought it was strange that it was only sent to two Democratic senators and to “The Liberal Media” w/ rather convenient timing.

  28. #28 travc
    August 5, 2008

    Jim, yeah we suspected a domestic (military even) source by mid Oct 2001, with very good reason. However, at the exact same time we had…

    The bentonite (Iraq) story being pushed to (and by) ABC

    McCain, Lieberman, and several other politicians saying that there is evidence Iraq ‘may’ have been behind the anthrax attack

    And various editorial boards, pundits, and other talking heads belittling the FBI for not focusing on the obvious perps, those evil A-rabs.

    Don’t underestimate the ability of the current Admin (and their noise machine) to talk out of both sides of their mouths and keep a straight face.

  29. #29 scrabcake
    August 6, 2008

    This is a bit of a brain dump here.
    -The bush administration is too incompetent to be able to pull off a conspiracy of this magnitude if it’s a conspiracy.
    -It seems like when the bush admin wants to get away with murder, they first get outed, and then they pull the strings to get away with it anyway, the whole time flaunting the fact that they’re guilty.
    -Why the hell would a guy who wanted to test his own vaccine or boost sales want to pose as a terrorist, signing his litters with Allah is Great? It seems like Ivins didn’t really have good enough motivation to open this particular bottle. If he wanted to infect people for the hell of it, he could have just included a blank piece of paper. He specifically wanted to ratchet up fear of muslims!
    -Apparently Ivins was a psychopath. Does that rule out him committing suicide out of guilt?