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Hey, remember when I was finishing up Rhetorical Occasions and What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts and I took some time out of my busy schedule to share with you some juicy footnotes and asides?  Those were good times, huh?  Well, it occurred to me while I was citin’ works for The Left At War yesterday that I should let you in on some of the fun again. 

OK, so you know how that Atrios fellow is always saying that everybody has forgotten about anthrax, and that in the fall of 2001 it made people even scardier and crazier than 9/11 itself?  It just so happens that I largely agree with him about that, and I agree as well that the anthrax episode has been stuffed down the memory hole so that the Bush dead-enders can chant “he kept us safe, he kept us safe” for the rest of their lives (except for that, you know, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” memo).  And as I was workin’ and citin’ in my post-postmodern, Internets kind of way, I was checking all my urls to make sure all the tubes were working right, and I took the opportunity to re-read this Wall Street Journal editorial of October 15, 2001.  Its title is “The Anthrax Source:  Is Iraq unleashing biological weapons on America?” and its answer is “it sure as hell is”:

Several circumstantial links to Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network are already known. Some of the World Trade Center hijackers, including suspected ringleader Mohamed Atta, visited an airfield near the site of the Boca Raton, Florida, anthrax mailings.

The anthrax package sent to a Microsoft office in Reno, Nevada, was mailed from Malaysia, another al Qaeda haunt. One of the September 11 hijackers, Khaled Almihdhar, visited Malaysia earlier this year, appearing in a surveillance tape with another suspected associate of bin Laden. The terrorist’s followers also met in Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, in January 2000 as part of the plot to bomb the USS Cole in Yemen later the same year.

As for the package sent to NBC in New York, it was postmarked on September 18 from Trenton, New Jersey. That state, especially Jersey City, was the home of the first attempt to destroy the World Trade Center in 1993, a plot also linked to bin Laden associates.

More generally, as Dick Cheney said last Friday on PBS’s “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” “We know that [bin Laden] has over the years tried to acquire weapons of mass destruction, both biological and chemical weapons.” Mr. Cheney added that the U.S. has obtained “copies of the manuals” that al Qaeda “actually used to train people” in how “to deploy and use these kinds of substances.”

Which brings us to who might have supplied bin Laden’s gang. The likeliest answer is some government. Growing your own anthrax isn’t difficult but turning it into a useful weapon is.  Terrorist bands have in the past tried to use anthrax as a weapon, notably in Japan, but failed. Liquid anthrax is useless for terror and keeping airborne anthrax spores in the proper form to kill isn’t easy.

The U.S. cases have apparently all involved a powdered form of the disease. And this weekend’s left-wing British Guardian newspaper cites intelligence sources as saying that, “Making powder needs repeated washings in huge centrifuges, followed by intensive drying, which requires sealed environments. The technology would cost millions.” Bin Laden couldn’t be doing all this in Afghan caves.

The leading supplier suspect has to be Iraq. Saddam Hussein used weapons-grade anthrax against his own Kurdish population with lousy results, before turning to more efficiently lethal chemical weapons. U.S. intelligence sources believe Saddam has stockpiled thousands of pounds of biological agents, including anthrax. U.S. officials let Saddam know during the Gulf War that if he used such agents against U.S. forces he would get a destructive response.

But that doesn’t mean he, or his agents, might not want to unleash the weapon from a deniable distance, or via third parties. His anti-American animus hasn’t lessened since his Gulf defeat. And Czech government sources have reported that Atta, the hijacking mastermind, met at least once with Iraqi diplomat Ahmad Samir Al-Ani in Prague.

We rehearse all this because the best defense against anthrax attacks isn’t passing out Cipro to every American. It is to go on relentless offense against the terrorist sources.

Q.E.D.!  That’s how the professionals do it, folks.

From there it was just a short distance to Richard Cohen’s op-ed in the Washington Post, when, in the course of getting everything wrong, he wrote,

Richard Perle, the former Reagan administration official and the Zelig-like character who appears over the shoulder of countless op-ed writers, makes a good point (over my shoulder) when he says that the danger is not merely that Iraq will go nuclear but also that it will hand off the device to some terrorist with a suitcase. Then, as with anthrax, we will not be able to find the source.

Cohen, Richard.  “. . . And Now to Iraq.” Washington Post 30 Nov. 2001: A41.  (Sorry.  I can’t help myself.  That essay isn’t available on the Internets any more.) And yes, that bit is in the book too.  Ah, those were the days, my friend.  We thought they’d never end.

Posted by on 01/24 at 11:23 AM
  1. I find it amazing how consistently right Atrios has been.  About everything.  Yet even on the lefter side of the blogging spectrum some people seem to scorn him as too simplistic, or something.  Puzzling.

    Posted by Rich Puchalsky  on  01/24  at  01:19 PM
  2. McConnell!

    It still never ceases to amaze me (yeah, yeah, I know) that those who were so wrong about all this stuff actually get away with “But everybody thought...”.  Because how could anyone with two cerebral hemispheres to rub together read that Journal bit and not think, “What bullshit”?  Of course, many Journal readers might have indeed thought that, but stood to benefit from panicking the rubes into war.  At what point does it change from genuine imbecilic hysteria into a Straussian waltz?

    Posted by  on  01/24  at  01:24 PM
  3. "At what point does it change from genuine imbecilic hysteria into a Straussian waltz? “

    Really mds, Strauss?  I hear Wagner--no that’s too predictable.  How about an Alvin and the Chipmunks song, or something really trendy but annoying like Bon Iver, looped endlessly until we are all frothing at the mouth anyway.  No need for Anthrax then.  But there I go, giving the terroristas new ideas…

    Thanks for the flashback Michael...I was just a lowly graduate student in 2001, so I wasn’t reading anything that was printed in this century.  I especially like the first line of the excerpt you gave above, “several circumstantial links...” As in, bin Laden’s family dog breeder once visited his sister’s cousin in Nova Scotia...a well known Al Qayeeeda haunt.  Can I throw some other Latin out there?  Non sequitur!!!! As in, “Non Sequitur,” the new hit single from Bon Iver and the Chipmunks.

    Posted by Derek T.  on  01/24  at  01:44 PM
  4. I had forgotten or blocked out that Richard Cohen column. Mercy, but the image of Richard Perle hovering over the shoulders of “countless op-ed writers” is a repulsive one. It explains an awful lot though.

    Posted by  on  01/24  at  02:31 PM
  5. That essay isn’t available [for free] on the Internets any more.
    Highbeam has it.
    </unnecessary pedantry>

    I think it was still Robert Bartley at the WSJ in 2001. And of course Glenn Greenwald has been all over ABC’s role with the “bentonite” stories (although this WSJ editorial precedes those reports by a couple of weeks). And it was via Greenwald earlier this year that I came across Cohen’s 2004 mea culpa on anthrax and Iraq.

    Well, I did. I’m not sure if panic is quite the right word, but it is close enough. Anthrax played a role in my decision to support the Bush administration’s desire to take out Saddam Hussein. I linked him to anthrax, which I linked to Sept. 11. I was not going to stand by and simply wait for another attack—more attacks. I was going to go to the source, Hussein, and get him before he could get us. As time went on, I became more and more questioning, but I had a hard time backing down from my initial whoop and holler for war.

    (But I’m sure that bit is in the book as well.)

    I certainly recall that anthrax helped add to the sense that we were “under attack"*, as opposed to having suffered ”an attack”.

    *And in my computery world the Nimda variant of Code Red added fuel to that fire. Although any link was quickly put to bed, initial reports focused on that possibility, There appears to be a denial of service attack going on now and timed for the one week anniversary of the attack on NY and Washington.

    Posted by  on  01/24  at  02:45 PM
  6. I find it amazing how consistently right Atrios has been.

    It’s kinda shocking, isn’t it?  Not to mention the fact that he gave us the terms Dirty Fucking Hippies® and Villagers® long before Jon Chait wrote, “I can’t quite root for Lieberman to lose his primary. What’s holding me back is that the anti-Lieberman campaign has come to stand for much more than Lieberman’s sins. It’s a test of strength for the new breed of left-wing activists who are flexing their muscles within the party. These are exactly the sorts of fanatics who tore the party apart in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They think in simple slogans and refuse to tolerate any ideological dissent. Moreover, since their anti-Lieberman jihad is seen as stemming from his pro-war stance, the practical effect of toppling Lieberman would be to intimidate other hawkish Democrats and encourage more primary challengers against them.” I mean, it’s almost as if this Atrios guy could see that one coming!

    Hey, remember back in 2002-03 when the Villagers thought he knew too much about how things worked in Washington and simply had to be a Beltway insider—say, Sidney Blumenthal?  Those were the days, too.

    Posted by  on  01/24  at  05:09 PM
  7. I don’t think you can ignore the effect of The Beltway Sniper, John Muhhmad had in the denizens if the Villiage. At the same time Sally Quinn was pratlling on about Cipro and gas masks in the pages of the WaPo. Some guy In a Crown Vic was blowing people off lawnmowers in Wheaton. People were convinced AlQ was gunning people down in strip mall parking lots.

    It got so crazy that people were phoning in tips about the infamous “White Box Truck” and ducking and making serpentine runs down the sidewalk to the Metro

    I’ve always been convinced that was when the madness took hold

    Posted by  on  01/24  at  06:56 PM
  8. I find your a-droppin’ of them g’s there charming! What voice do you hear in your head when you hit the apostrophe?

    1. The Folksmen discussing their back catalogue?

    2. Val Kilmer as Nick Rivers in Top Secret!, when he explains how he had a song creepin’ and crawlin’ in his head?

    3. Sarah Palin’?

    My money’s on Neek.

    Posted by David J Swift  on  01/24  at  07:28 PM
  9. Well, David, it was Val Kilmer’s best role.  But—honestly?  The voice I hear is quite clearly that of Dusty Springfield.

    Posted by  on  01/24  at  07:55 PM
  10. I took the opportunity to re-read this Wall Street Journal editorial of October 15, 2001.

    And to think, Rupert didn’t even own it yet.  Now i can only imagine the floating heads of RP, DF, PW, et al, are firmly up and locked the asses of that board for Murdock puppets.

    These are exactly the sorts of fanatics who tore the party apart in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

    Yes, we few, we paltry few, who, in our purple hazes and with blue cheer, tore the party asunder (or was that LBJ?).  Of course, some of us might have been too busy worrying about the ‘other’ (captcha) one.

    Posted by  on  01/24  at  09:29 PM
  11. So if I’m reading this correctly, the invasion of Iraq stopped the anthrax attacks. Is it safe enough to get rid of the plastic sheets and duct tape?

    Posted by  on  01/24  at  09:34 PM
  12. For whatever reason googling: anthrax, sestina turns up the following…

    http://www.mcsweeneys.net/links/sestin/jcummins.html

    Coincidence? I think not.

    Posted by  on  01/24  at  10:18 PM
  13. http://www.mcsweeneys.net/links/sestinas/jcummins.html

    corrected link

    Posted by  on  01/24  at  10:20 PM
  14. I forgot about HOW there DEFINITELY was ANTHRAX in that letter in RENO!!!!!!*

    *no anthrax

    Captcha=press.  Ironic, no?

    Posted by Pinko Punko  on  01/25  at  12:22 AM
  15. As time went on, I became more and more questioning

    What universe was that in again, Mr. Cohen? And what color IS the sky there?

    Posted by  on  01/25  at  12:38 AM
  16. 7. The snipers were one year later in fall of 2002, but I can understand how they contributed to the general sense of unease. My youngest’s soccer team was scheduled to play in a tournament in the Fairfax area during that time. The tournament folks (and our team) stayed with the plan through the first several weeks, but then the week before it was to take place there was a shooting practically across the street from the hotel that would have served as tournament HQ and that was that.

    I experienced an interesting mix of emotions and rationalizations both before and after the cancellation.

    Posted by  on  01/25  at  12:54 AM
  17. The U.S. cases have apparently all involved a powdered form of the disease.

    It’s rarely stopped me in the past, but I almost don’t know what to say about this ontological miracle. Not quite a transubstantiation, perhaps, but quite possibly a metabasis eis allo genos.

    Posted by John Protevi  on  01/25  at  10:39 AM
  18. I find your a-droppin’ of them g’s there charming! What voice do you hear in your head when you hit the apostrophe?

    Fafnir (but without the unnecessary apostrophe, natch).

    Posted by  on  01/25  at  10:58 AM
  19. But as a full-fledged conspiracy theorist (and remember, evolution is also a theory so theories aren’t just guesses, there’s meat on those fossil bones), shouldn’t someone point out that the anthrax letters originated within our national security apparatus, were sold through “official” sources (hey, bentonite!) as coming from Saddam and/or the Madman and was part of both justifying the war, justifying spying on citizens and justifying the curtailing of people’s civil rights.

    So, since anyone with “two lobes to rub together” knows that Bruce Ivins couldn’t have done it on his own and probably didn’t do it at all, and we eliminate the “lone nut scientist at Fort Detrick” FBI theory, then that kinda leaves us with a lying, murderous bunch of folks who are in our law enforcement and intelligence agencies who get away with multiple murders, eh?

    Getting snarky about douchebag mouthpieces for the establishment is one thing, but let’s not lose sight of the big picture.

    Just saying.

    Posted by Bob In Pacifca  on  01/26  at  05:07 PM
  20. Richard Cohen outperforms even the hick conservatives in terms of clever deception. Cohen chanted war prayers along with the neo-cons, the Rush and Coulter crew, did he not, until about 2004 or so, when public opinion, or at least blogland, had definitely turned against Buscho, and then like many a demopublican mugwump, Cohen started, in his usual bland urban-cynic manner, to question the wisdom of some of Bush’s decisions, or somethin’.

    By 2006 and the rise of Kid Obama, Cohen was predictably calling Bush a militarist, and doing the recanting BS along with like Edwards, and Didi Feinstone. 2008, Cohen was representin’ on the BO Bus, callin’ for the heads of the cracker-mutha-f-ers.

    Posted by Ezra Hound  on  01/26  at  10:44 PM
  21. Don’t forget the Beltway Sniper hysteria of 2002 either.  That did a whole lot to spook people too, maybe even more than the anthrax attacks.

    Posted by gmoke  on  01/29  at  03:24 PM
  22. Why was Malaysia also dragged into this conspiracy theory? American never ceased to amaze me with their lied and slanders.

    Posted by pamie@ Malaysian Insider  on  02/05  at  08:59 PM

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