Bruce Edwards Ivins, a top anthrax researcher at the U.S. Government’s biological weapons research laboratories, died of an apparent suicide last Tuesday, just as the Justice Department was about to charge him with responsibility for the September 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five people in the United States. Glenn Greenwald has written an important piece for Salon.com in which he demonstrates, with copious evidence, that a major government scandal lurks behind the anthrax story.
Ivins may have acted alone in carrying out the anthrax attacks. (I don’t want to presume his guilt or anything else about this case until we see further details about the government’s evidence against him.) However, Ivins most certainly did not act alone in falsifying information so the attacks could be used as a pretext for war.
"If the now-deceased Ivins really was the culprit behind the attacks," Greenwald writes, "then that means that the anthrax came from a U.S. Government lab, sent by a top U.S. Army scientist at Ft. Detrick. Without resort to any speculation or inferences at all, it is hard to overstate the significance of that fact. From the beginning, there was a clear intent on the part of the anthrax attacker to create a link between the anthrax attacks and both Islamic radicals and the 9/11 attacks."
Greenwald continues: "Much more important than the general attempt to link the anthrax to Islamic terrorists, there was a specific intent — indispensably aided by ABC News — to link the anthrax attacks to Iraq and Saddam Hussein."
ABC claimed it had been told by "four well-placed and separate sources" that the anthrax used in the September attack contained bentonite, which therefore suggested it was produced in Iraq. As Greenwald points out, "That means that ABC News’ ‘four well-placed and separate sources’ fed them information that was completely false." In all likelihood, "the same Government lab where the anthrax attacks themselves came from was the same place where the false reports originated that blamed those attacks on Iraq. … Surely the question of who generated those false Iraq-anthrax reports is one of the most significant and explosive stories of the last decade."
Greenwald goes on to provide details about the psychological impact that the anthrax fabrications played in influencing journalists and propagandizing the American public to support the invasion of Iraq. He also notes that John McCain and Joe Lieberman were among the first people to claim publicly, during an appearance on the David Letterman Show, that the anthrax came from Iraq. (Interestingly, the Bush White House repeatedly denied this claim, despite its overall tendency to exaggerate and fabricate evidence linking Iraq to weapons of mass destruction.)
Of course, ABC News knows the identity of the "well-placed sources" who fed this false information to them and, through them, to the American public. I’ll leave it to Greenwald to explain the implications:
And yet, unbelievably, they are keeping the story to themselves, refusing to disclose who did all of this. They’re allegedly a news organization, in possession of one of the most significant news stories of the last decade, and they are concealing it from the public, even years later.
They’re not protecting "sources." The people who fed them the bentonite story aren’t "sources." They’re fabricators and liars who purposely used ABC News to disseminate to the American public an extremely consequential and damaging falsehood. But by protecting the wrongdoers, ABC News has made itself complicit in this fraud perpetrated on the public, rather than a news organization uncovering such frauds. That is why this is one of the most extreme journalistic scandals that exists, and it deserves a lot more debate and attention than it has received thus far.
If indeed Ivins was the person who carried out the anthrax attack, there is one possible scenario that Greenwald does not seem to have fully considered. Perhaps Ivins himself was the person who fabricated the claim that the anthrax contained bentonite. ABC’s sources might have been merely repeating what he told them. If so, however, that is an important story in itself and needs to be reported. Just as the FBI has a responsibility to share publicly its evidence linking Ivins to this crime, ABC has some explaining to do about the disinformation that it helped disseminate to the American people.
The anthrax attack of September 2001 was an act of terrorism that killed five innocent people. At the time, and for years thereafter, many people were led to believe that the perpetrators were Islamic extremists in service to a hostile foreign power. The FBI is now claiming that the perpetrator was a Roman Catholic and an employee of the U.S. army who held a position of trust that gave him access to biological weapons — even though he was, according to his counselor, "homicidal, sociopathic." This is a major scandal by any measure. The public deserves to know how American institutions — including the U.S. Department of Defense as well as the news media — could have failed them this badly.
SHELDON RAMPTON is a reseracher at the Center for Media and Democracy (where this essay originally appeared) and co-author of two books about the war: Iraq: Weapons of Mass Deception and The Best War Ever.