Monday, August 4, 2008

President Bush Responsible for Lax Security at Bioterrorism Labs

It must be true: I read it in Pravda.

And Salon.com. And FOXNews, for that matter.

What Went Wrong at Fort Detrick?

Now that a new technique for identifying DNA led the FBI to Ivins, it's obvious that he shouldn't have been working at the Fort Detrick bioweapons research center.

And, since this is a presidential election year in America, interesting and odd things are going to be said. In this case, there's a grain of truth in this post's headline.

The Pravada, Salon, and Fox articles are each lightly edited versions of the same Associated Press story. And, all three reveal that President George W. Bush was responsible for the anthrax letters. Sort of.

A Rutgers University chemistry professor named Richard Ebright, who's been really interested in the increase in bioterrorism research lately, says that President Bush was wrong.

Dr. Ebright's logic seems to be this:
  • The biological warfare agents that terrorists might use are very dangerous
  • People who have access to these bugs might use them to kill other people
  • The more people having access to these bugs means more chances that someone will use them to kill other people
  • Scientists are people
  • Therefore, the number of scientists allowed to study these bugs should have been decreased
I see his point.

It might have been better to have assembled a smaller, better, cadre of scientists working on how to deal with a doomsday bug attack.

Dr. Ivins, after all, was an utter outsider: he earned his PhD in microbiology from some place called the University of Cincinnati. It's pretty obvious that if access to bioweapons had been limited to Harvard and Yale grads, the anthrax letters would never have been mailed.

America Hires Mad Scientist!

Dr. Ivins seems to have had an assortment of screws loose. One of today's news tidbits is that he had a weird thing about the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority. That would explain the case's Princeton connection, it seems.

I wouldn't say that I'm skeptical: but I'm reserving judgment on this. I remember wild stories in the news after the 9/11 attacks: some may even have been true.

And, maybe Dr. Ivins sent the nation into a panic, killed five people, and finally killed himself, just because he just couldn't get over a Kappa Kappa Gamma girl.

Ivins is Dead: Now What?

It's almost inevitable that there's going to be a full-press Congressional investigation into bioweapons, national security, and sorority girls. It's even possible that some useful information may come out of the hearings, interviews, photo ops, and sound bites.

I hope, that in addition to the political hoopla, someone takes a good look at what the facts are. And, how to lower the odds that biological weapons will get used like that again.

Anthrax Letters, Congress, and the Next Few Years

Here's what I think:
  • Should there be a thorough review of how security screening is done: at all weapons labs?
    • Obviously.
  • Is America spending too much on figuring out how to stop bioterrorism?
    • That's debatable, and I don't know enough.
      Offhand, I'd say "no."
  • Have we heard the last of the anthrax letters?
    • In an election year?! Obviously not.

In the news:
  • " 'Anthrax Killer' Suspect Had Sorority Obsession"
    FOXNews (August 4, 2008)
    • " The Army scientist believed to have committed the 2001 anthrax killings exhibited classic "offender behavior," sources told FOX News on Monday as officials said he had an obsession with a sorority less than 100 yards away from the New Jersey mailbox where the toxin-laced letters were sent.
    • "Officials tell FOX News that in the days following the mailings of anthrax-laced letters, Bruce Ivins exhibited erratic behavior such as mood swings, pronounced anxiety and a preoccupation with the media...."
  • "Officials say sorority obsession may link suspect to N.J. anthrax-laced letters in 2001"
    Minneapolis Star Tribune (August 4, 2008)
    • "...U.S. officials said Bruce Ivins' fixation with Kappa Kappa Gamma could explain one of the biggest mysteries in the case: why the anthrax was mailed from Princeton, N.J., 195 miles from the lab it's believed to have been smuggled from...."
    • "...Multiple U.S. officials told The Associated Press that Ivins was obsessed with Kappa Kappa Gamma, going back as far as his own college days at the University of Cincinnati when he apparently was rebuffed by a woman in the sorority. The officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case publicly...."
  • "'Anthrax Killer' Obsessed With Sorority, Exhibited Classic 'Offender Behavior'"
    FOXNews (August 4, 2008)
    • " The Army scientist believed to have committed the 2001 anthrax killings exhibited classic "offender behavior," sources told FOX News on Monday as officials said he had an obsession with a sorority less than 100 yards away from the New Jersey mailbox where the toxin-laced letters were sent.
    • "Officials tell FOX News that in the days following the mailings of anthrax-laced letters, Bruce Ivins exhibited erratic behavior such as mood swings, pronounced anxiety and a preoccupation with the media.
    • "Authorities also confirmed reports Monday that Ivins was obsessed with the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, which may indirectly explain one of the biggest mysteries in the case: why the anthrax was mailed from Princeton, N.J., 195 miles from the Army biological weapons lab the anthrax is believed to have been smuggled out of...."
  • "Another Bruce Ivins may lurk in biodefense laboratory anywhere in America
    Pravda (August 4, 2008)
    • "Source: AP © There could be another Bruce Ivins lurking in a biodefense laboratory anywhere in America.
    • "There could be another Bruce Ivins lurking in a biodefense laboratory anywhere in America.
    • "These research facilities have expanded so quickly since the anthrax attacks in 2001 that the U.S. government cannot keep close tabs on the sites or their thousands of scientists. At most labs, security procedures are designed to prevent accidents, not weed out people like Ivins who work with deadly toxins while privately battling dark psychological problems....
    • "...'You cannot persuade me there are not more disturbed or disgruntled persons with a political agenda in such a large group,' Richard Ebright, a chemistry professor at Rutgers University who has closely followed the lab expansion, said in an interview Sunday.
    • "Ebright said President George W. Bush's response to the 2001 anthrax cases increased the risk of further attack. While a biodefense program is needed, he said the president should have reduced - not increased - the number of scientists with access to potential biological weapons. Yet the administration pumped billions of dollars into the program, swelling the number of labs to nearly 1,400.
    • "Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Democratic member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the Ivins case revealed a potential security flaw in the biological defense system. He said it would be irresponsible for Congress not to investigate...."
  • "Experts: Security at Bioweapons Labs a 'Nightmare'"
    FOXNews (August 4, 2008)
    • " There could be another Bruce Ivins lurking in a biodefense laboratory anywhere in America.
    • "These research facilities have expanded so quickly since the anthrax attacks in 2001 that the U.S. government cannot keep close tabs on the sites or their thousands of scientists.
    • "At most labs, security procedures are designed to prevent accidents, not weed out people like Ivins who work with deadly toxins while privately battling dark psychological problems....
    • "...'You cannot persuade me there are not more disturbed or disgruntled persons with a political agenda in such a large group,' Richard Ebright, a chemistry professor at Rutgers University who has closely followed the lab expansion, said in an interview Sunday.
    • "Ebright said President Bush's response to the 2001 anthrax cases increased the risk of further attack.
    • "While a biodefense program is needed, he said the president should have reduced — not increased — the number of scientists with access to potential biological weapons.
    • "Yet the administration pumped billions of dollars into the program, swelling the number of labs to nearly 1,400....
  • "Is another Bruce Ivins lurking in a biolab?"
    Salon.com (August 3, 2008)
    • "Aug 3rd, 2008 | WASHINGTON -- There could be another Bruce Ivins lurking in a biodefense laboratory anywhere in America.
    • "These research facilities have expanded so quickly since the anthrax attacks in 2001 that the U.S. government cannot keep close tabs on the sites or their thousands of scientists. At most labs, security procedures are designed to prevent accidents, not weed out people like Ivins who work with deadly toxins while privately battling dark psychological problems.
    • "Military laboratories have policies intended to spot mentally troubled scientists. But those policies apparently weren't enough to flag Ivins, with his reported history of homicidal and sociopathic behavior. He killed himself Tuesday, knowing prosecutors were about to charge him with murder.
    • "At private and academic labs, the policies are even more lax.
    • "An estimated 14,000 scientists are cleared by the government to work with the most dangerous substances known as 'select agents.' Nearly all of them have access to potential biological weapons....
    • "...'You cannot persuade me there are not more disturbed or disgruntled persons with a political agenda in such a large group,' Richard Ebright, a chemistry professor at Rutgers University who has closely followed the lab expansion, said in an interview Sunday.
    • "Ebright said President Bush's response to the 2001 anthrax cases increased the risk of further attack. While a biodefense program is needed, he said the president should have reduced — not increased — the number of scientists with access to potential biological weapons. Yet the administration pumped billions of dollars into the program, swelling the number of labs to nearly 1,400.
    • "Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the Ivins case revealed a potential security flaw in the biological defense system. He said it would be irresponsible for Congress not to investigate...."
About Dr. Ivins:

4 comments:

Brigid said...

I still think it's pretty stupid to blame Bush for all this. The man's not omniscient.

The Mad Celt said...

It's pointless to blame anyone...and it's far too easy to blame a dead man.

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...

Brigid,

Neither omniscient, nor omnipotent.

Honestly, the blame-Bush angle wasn't being played up in the new media that I read. I expect that we'll be seeing some of that argument made, though, as the election draws near.

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...

The Mad Celt,

Okay: although I'm not sure where you're going with "far too easy to blame a dead man."

Dr. Ivins had means and opportunity: and several possible motives.

Although I'm quite sure that there will be stories about how They framed him, there does seem to be rather solid evidence against Dr. Ivins - in a different class from the 'I saw him at a bar with some guys' case against Hatfill.

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Blogroll

Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.