Wednesday, May 03, 2006


Two very mysterious things happened after 9/11. One is that Osama bin Laden got away. The other is the lack of progress in the FBI investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks.

In case anyone has forgotten... in the weeks following 9/11, several letters were mailed that all contained the same strain of anthrax. Some, containing a relatively unrefined form that was not deadly, were sent to New York news agencies. Some, containing a more refined and deadly version (some call it "weaponized"), were sent to a tabloid in Florida and two Democratic senators. All in all, five people died and about 20 were sickened.

There has been a lot of speculation about who sent the anthrax and why:

- Arab terrorists sent it to terrorize the country.
- An Anthrax bioresearcher sent it to make the country aware of the threat.
- A US extremist group sent it to get in on the terrorizing of the country.
- Bush supporters sent it to gain access to Democratic offices during their evacuation.
- Bush/Republican/right wing supporters sent it to gain support for the Patriot Act and war in Iraq.

Who knows what the truth is. When al Qaeda bombed the World Trade Towers in 1993 the attempt seemed mammothly incompetent; it may just take them a while to go from prototype to production. Likewise, it's conceivable that a researcher with access to the chemical might have done it, although you'd think that the FBI would have checked out that angle pretty carefully. None of the other theories seem credible.

What is a lot clearer is the effects of the anthrax attack. Coming so quickly after 9/11, it put the country into a state of panic. It created the war-time climate that made it possible for Bush to sell the war in Iraq, and that (in part) got Bush re-elected. It made many Democrats feel that they couldn't oppose Bush's plans in Iraq. It is only in the last few months that the country seems to be emerging from that war-time mindset.

Richard Cohen wrote in the Washington Post, "The terrorist attacks coupled with the anthrax scare unhinged us a bit -- or maybe more than a bit. We eventually went into a war that now makes little sense and that, without a doubt, was waged for reasons that simply did not exist. We did so, I think, because we were scared. You could say we lacked judgment. Maybe. I would say we lacked leadership."


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