If you can recall shortly after 9/11, many were pinning the blame for the anthrax attacks on Iraq. After the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon, the anthrax letters
- the first one sent on September 18, just one week after 9/11 – stoked the fear levels and helped to created the climate that has been prevalent in the United States for the past several years.
The letters sent to then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT), NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, and other media outlets created a mindset that western society itself was threatened by Islamic radicalism. John McCain was among the first politicians to link the anthrax letters to Iraq. On October 18, 2001, one month after that first letter was sent McCain appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman.
LETTERMAN: How are things going in Afghanistan now?
MCCAIN: I think we’re doing fine. I think we’ll do fine. The second phase - if I could just make one, very quickly - the second phase is Iraq. There is some indication, and I don’t have the conclusions, but some of this anthrax may - and I emphasize may - have come from Iraq.
LETTERMAN: Oh is that right?
MCCAIN: If that should be the case, that’s when some tough decisions are gonna have to be made.
Later in the interview McCain joked, that Congress members should “bring out their dead!” This was in reference to the House adjourning in order for the Capitol to be cleared of the anthrax threat. Less than a week later, two US Postal Service employees, Joseph P. Curseen, 47 and Thomas L. Morris Jr., 55, both of Washington, DC and both workers in a mail sorting facility in the district would actually be dead. That joke was extremely tasteless because almost a month before that Robert Stevens, 63, of West Palm Beach, Florida had died of anthrax inhalation. As a Senator, he must have known that before his Letterman appearance. Two more American citizens, Kathy Nguyen, 61, of the Bronx, NY and Ottilie Lundgren, 94, of Oxford, CT. would soon be dead.
At the time, those deaths appeared to be somehow linked to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. It seemed logical because the first letters containing anthrax spores were mailed around that time of the attacks, but more to the point, the authorities at first told us so.
The following is an excerpt from the White House press briefing
of October 23, 2001.
QUESTION: Ari, when Representative Gephardt came out of the breakfast meeting today, he said that we all believe, he said, that the anthrax was linked to September 11th. But he did not say what led him to believe that. Over the course of this meeting, or other meetings you're aware of, has there been a new linkage developed? He said there wasn't any hard evidence, but I'm wondering whether there is a developing line of intelligence? He did make reference to the milled nature of the anthrax.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it remains the same suspicions that you've heard articulated from several people in the White House for several weeks now. There is a suspicion that this connected to international terrorists. Having said that, the investigators also do not rule out that it could be something domestic, that it could be a lone person operating, doing this, or it could be terrorism. The suspicion is that it's terrorism, but there is no hard evidence yet at this point to lead anybody who is investigating these matters to reach a conclusion on any of those sources.
ABC news, not known to be of a conservative tilt, also did its part to stoke our national fear and to link the anthrax attacks to Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Perhaps they wanted someone to pay for the letters mailed to their New York offices.
During the last week of October, 2001, the ABC nightly News continually ran as its top story that government tests conducted on the anthrax -- tests conducted at the Ft. Detrick Military Bases’ Bio-Weapons facility -- revealed that the anthrax sent to Daschele contained the chemical additive known as bentonite. ABC News’ reporters including the late Peter Jennings and Brian Ross 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, whose claim that they had information from "three well-placed but separate sources, followed by four well-placed and separate sources” -- was completely false from the beginning. No tests ever found or even suggested the presence of bentonite. The claim was just concocted from the start. It just never happened. It can be concluded that "four well-placed and separate sources" fed them information that was completely false to create a very significant link in the public mind between the anthrax attacks and Saddam Hussein.
After the FBI and Justice Department zeroed in first on Dr. Steven Hatfill and later on the Late Dr. Bruce Ivins, ABC News still has never offered an explanation
of its apparent false reporting.
President Bush did not deviate from attempting to make Iraq the culprit of the attacks. In his 2002 State of the Union speech
, President Bush continued to invoke the anthrax link to Iraq:
“Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade. This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens -- leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children. This is a regime that agreed to international inspections -- then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world”
This speech had phenomenal rhetoric
that was later proven to be fill of holes.
President Bush failed to point out, however, that it was American companies
, with U.S. government support
, that exported the first anthrax and botulinum strains
to Iraq in the early 1980s under Ronald Reagan and the elder George Bush. They also supplied key components
for Iraq's conventional, chemical and nuclear weapons
program. Furthermore, all evidence indicates that Iraq's chemical
and nuclear weapons program was destroyed during the Gulf War and subsequent inspections regime and there is no clear evidence that it has since been resurrected.
Furthermore, the inspection protocol was imposed by the United Nations following Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Gulf War. The UNSCOM inspectors were not kicked out, but were withdrawn under strong U.S. pressure in 1998. In response to a series of heavy air strikes against Iraq soon afterwards, the Iraqis decided not to allow them back in. Was this true or false?
What is clear is that the U.S government and others deliberately used the tension generated by the September 11th attacks and coupled that with the anthrax mailings create an element of fear that was pervasive throughout America. This helped lead many in the press
and the general public to follow the drumbeat for an invasion and occupation of a country with a heinous dictator that the U.S. is responsible for propping up in the first place.
Now in 2008 nearly a full seven years after the 9/11 attacks and the anthrax mailings we are still in Afghanistan fighting al-Qaeda, we still have no conclusion to the anthrax case, and we are mired in an occupation of a country that had nothing to do with either.