Human nature dictates that we don't like to think about mistakes we have made, but as societies we often do so in public discourse anyway. To refuse is to guarantee that the mistakes will be repeated in the future. Americans put this selective amnesia to good use after Vietnam, which we apparently lost because we didn't stick around long enough (or because of Jane Fonda, I can't remember). But the run-up to the Iraq War is taking denial to another level; there appears to be no end to our desire to avoid learning how deep, broad, and unsettling the deception was. "How did this happen?" is a question we have little interest in answering.
Bruce Ivins, the person most likely responsible for the 2001 anthrax terrorist attacks, is dead. He committed suicide before he could be charged in Federal court with executing the plot. As usual, the media and the nation have shown absolutely no inclination to recall and reflect on what this means or to question how these facts compare to our contemporaneous interpretation of the events. That is an understatement; far from just passively ignoring the truth, the media and public are going out of their way to avoid recognizing how badly they were duped.
Bruce Ivins was a research scientist at Fort Dietrick, Maryland, home of USAMRIID, the U.S. military chemical and biological warfare facility. He attacked American citizens with anthrax manufactured by the American military. He made a rather ham-handed attempt to commit his crime behind a canard of Islamic terrorism. He needn't have bothered, for the media and political system were ready to make that leap regardless.
The military-political complex could not have been more unanimous and decisive in its response to the attacks: this anthrax came from – and in fact could have come from no other source than – Sadaam Hussein's bio-chemical weapons programs. John McCain was on Letterman within days stating "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." Surprisingly, the "may" qualifier was rapidly scrubbed from the discourse surrounding the event. Professional sniveling cocksucker Joe Lieberman went on Meet the Press shortly thereafter and described the anthrax as so complex and potent that "there's either a significant amount of money behind this, or this is state-sponsored, or this is stuff that was stolen from the former Soviet program." For once, Joe was right. It was state-sponsored.
It took almost no time or effort to bring the media to a frenzy, as this contemporary piece from The Nation noted. On October 18, 2001 the Wall Street Journal noted "By far the likeliest supplier is Saddam Hussein." James Woolsely concurred in a WSJ editorial, riffing on Iranian involvement before concluding, "But by far the more likely candidate for involvement with al Qaeda is Iraq." In the 10/18/01 edition of the New York Times, former UN inspector Richard Butler stated "If the scientific path leads to Iraq as the supporter of the anthrax used by the terrorist mailers, no one should be surprised." It was irrelevant that, as early as the very next day, FBI investigators were pointing out that this was more likely a domestic attack. What are facts in the face of hysteria?
But ABC took the cake, as Greenwald notes, leading for days on end with a story they "broke." They claimed (according to "three well-placed sources" – use your imagination) that the anthrax used in the attacks was revealed to contain a substance called bentonite, and "only one country, Iraq, has used bentonite to produce biological weapons." This was the definitive proof linking Sadaam and the anthrax. It simply couldn't have come from any other source. If Iraq was not directly responsible for the attacks, they provided the anthrax to those who were. On 10/26/01, ABC's Peter Jennings stated:
We're going to begin this evening with what we believe is a meaningful lead in the most sensitive anthrax case so far, despite a very recent denial by the White House.
ABC News has learned what made the anthrax so dangerous in the letter to Senator Tom Daschle was a particular additive which only one country, as far as we know, that's a very important caveat, only one country as far as we know, has used to produce biological weapons….The discovery of bentonite came in an urgent series of tests conducted at Fort Detrick, Maryland, and elsewhere. This is what bentonite looks like under a microscope, a substance which helps keep the tiny anthrax particles floating in the air by preventing them from sticking together. It's possible other countries may be using it, too, but it is a trademark of Saddam Hussein's biological weapons program.
Tests at Fort Dietrick. Where the fucking attacker worked, and may even have been the person responsible for conducting the "tests." ABC and Jennings went on to note – less than 8 weeks after the 9/11 attacks and long before the Iraq invasion:
This news about bentonite as the additive is being a trademark of the Iraqi biological weapons program is very significant. Partly because there's been a lot of pressure on the Bush administration inside and out to go after Saddam Hussein. And some are going to be quick to pick up on this as a smoking gun.
Note significantly that even the White House wouldn't accept this story. They understood that nothing so flimsy and demonstrably false – and make no mistake, every single claim made by ABC has been repeatedly proven false – would stand up under scientific scrutiny. There was no "bentonite" and no evidence that the anthrax was in any way unique or "weaponized." It is crucial to understand that the bentonite claims were not the result of an error in an early test – they were simply made up. Completely and utterly fabricated out of whole cloth. The "three well-placed sources" made up a story and ABC uncritically repeated it.
Without even delving into the Case Closed rantings of the far right, the mainstream media shelved all skepticism and accepted the word of government sources as gospel truth – what could go wrong? Why would the government lie? And in doing so, as Richard Cohen noted in his pitiful mea culpa, they set the stage for the entire run-up to the Iraq War.
Avoiding the more extreme conspiracy theories given weight by Bruce Ivins' apparent guilt, such as that the White House or military establishment ordered the attacks and used Ivins as a patsy, the story remains deeply, profoundly disturbing. An American, an unspectacular one at that, set out to commit an act of terrorism and make it look like Islamic fundamentalists did it. And it worked. It worked. It fooled ABC News, the WSJ, and the rest of the MSM. It fooled the vast majority of the public. The media's unthinking, unquestioning role – writing down what government sources say and reporting it unedited – is so dangerous that one single person was able to shift the vulnerable post-9/11 public toward the course of war.
Of course ABC will barely admit that they made an error and the Ivins story is reported as a footnote. Americans would likely prefer to remain confident that, if they were duped, they were duped by conspiracy at the highest levels. Billion-dollar James Bond movie stuff. No, no one wants to recognize that one goddamn person is all it takes to play the entire media, government, and public like a fiddle so long as the tune is a march to to war.