Saturday, January 24, 2009
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.