Creating the Anthrax Crisis His Career Needed
The crisis was that there was no crisis.
The patents that Bruce Ivins held with co-inventors were never going to make him any real money or give him the star attention he deserved unless the Army became convinced that his new-generation anthrax vaccine had to be given to seventy-five million service men – without delay.
But, the Army wasn’t any longer paying any attention to anthrax.
Yes, a spike of fear in the early 1980s over the Soviet anthrax deaths at Sverdlovsk, and then the greater opportunity in 1990-91 that presented itself when it was thought that Saddam Hussein might use anthrax in the first Gulf War had worked well earlier in making Ivins a microbiologist star. Yes, his salary had risen from $27,000 in 1980 to $59,000 right after 1991. Those incomes, however, were pittances compared to the $150,000 each year that he could be allowed to receive from steady patent royalties, plus the glorious psychic rewards of being at the very epicenter of a critical military science project, if only the Army would demand his vaccine.
What were needed were fears. What were needed were massive waves of gut-chilling fears. Fears that near-invisible weapons of mass destruction were being unleashed and only one new anthrax vaccine could save lives. What was needed was a crisis. So, Ivins created it.
How can a man do what Ivins so deliberately did? This was not insider trading for profit, this was murder for power. In retrospect, a body of literature that includes The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek confirms that a shift in a man’s moral fiber occurs when a state becomes super nationalistic, an enemy such as terrorism is created, and a scientist is employed in a military project. That certainly describes the U.S. by 2001 and Bruce Ivins in Fort Detrick, Maryland, employed by USAMRIID (United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases).
Hayek observed that
….where a few specific ends dominate the whole of society, it is inevitable that occasionally cruelty may become a duty; that acts which revolt all our feeling, such as the shooting of hostages or the killing of the old and sick, should be treated as mere matters of expediency…There is always in the eyes of the collectivist a greater goal which these acts serve and which to him justifies them because the pursuit of the common end of society can know no limits in any rights or values of any individual.
There is no need to invent excuses, such as mental illness, for Ivins’ behavior when he had a greater goal. Or excuses for FBI director Robert Mueller’s years-long vilification of a long-shot suspect, when he had a greater goal. Or excuses for media’s disinformation, while having access to accurate facts, when they had a greater goal. Power becomes the goal in itself.
As Hayek understood
…information which might suggest failure on the part of the government to live up to its promises or to take advantage of opportunities to improve conditions – all will be suppressed. There is consequently no field where the systematic control of information will not be practiced and uniformity of views not enforced. This applies even to fields apparently most remote from any political interests and particularly to all the sciences, even the most abstract.
Military authority had taken favorable notice of Ivins’ penchant toward obeisance. Bruce Ivins had the skill, the opportunity and the motives to single-handedly produce the crisis he needed for fame and fortune. And, the state had its own uses to make of his crisis.
Persuasive circumstantial evidence of Ivins’ guilt as the creator of his crisis exists, but Bruce Ivins died by apparent suicide in 2008 before the FBI was able to formally charge him in the affair and before any conviction of him as the killer was obtained. David Willman in The Mirage Man: Bruce Ivins, the Anthrax Attacks, and America’s Rush to War presents the full circumstantial case against Bruce Edwards Ivins. Details and evidence pile up page upon page.
The obligatory dysfunctional family, homicidal thoughts, fixations on female colleagues, conservative façade, genuine scientific achievements, and cunning manipulative skills all played their roles in Bruce Ivins’ unexamined life of fifty-six years and his close-to-perfect anthrax letter crimes in 2001. This perpetrator had created a mirage that misled almost everyone he met.
Death and destruction, however, were no mirage. Over the next nine years, the manufactured crisis can be credited with murder, The Patriot Act and war with Iraq. Five people were killed by inhalation anthrax spread by the mail system via Ivins’ anthrax letters. Seventeen additional people were infected. Senator Tom Daschle in the Hart building was spared, but he has acknowledged that the anthrax letters galvanized passage of The Patriot Act which has been no friend to American individual civil liberties. Daschle refers to that Act’s passage in the aftermath of September 11 as a rush to judgment on policy that was regrettable. The Patriot Act has since been found to have impeded scientific knowledge of anthrax and Ebola.
Several factors helped manufacture America’s rush to war in Iraq. Among them were: 1) unsupported claims that anthrax had been used in 9/11, 2) Ivins deliberately stated that Bin Laden terrorists had anthrax and sarin gas when they did not, 3) each anthrax letter was a photocopy with the inflammatory text listing that THIS IS NEXT, TAKE PENACILIN NOW, DEATH TO AMERICA, DEATH TO ISRAEL, ALLAH IS GREAT, 4) Secretary of State Colin Powell encouraged the public to make the connection between the letter attacks and Iraq, and 5) the Bush administration amplified fears of bioweapons and continued to suggest Iraq’s complicity.
The media ran with rumors that there was an additive, perhaps bentonite, to the anthrax spores which could prevent clumping. Such deliberate preparation, had it been true, would have lent credibility to the possibility that this anthrax had been weaponized and was the product of biohazard terrorists. The newly created Homeland Security did make this false claim, while they disregarded data from Sandia National Lab that disproved it. Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were a myth, but war fever needs few facts. The Bush administration simply believed that the anthrax letters were linked to Iraq.
Deaths have mounted. Over 100,000 Iraqi civilians and over 5,000 American have been killed so far since the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Costs have mounted. $1.5 billion each year was authorized to build a dozen bio containment labs. VaxGen began developing Ivins’ anthrax vaccine by the spring of 2002. They won two contracts totaling $101.2 million to begin making the vaccine. By 2003 they had an exclusive worldwide right from the Army to develop, manufacture and sell the rPA vaccine (Recombinant Protective Antigen anthrax vaccine for which Ivins held two patents). From 1998 through mid-2010 anthrax vaccine was given to 2.4 million U.S. service personnel. Ivins did not live long enough, nor innocently enough, to collect on his desired $150,000 yearly royalty share, but he did receive a few patent-related fees that totaled $12,100 through VaxGen. High revenues could have been anticipated because 11,457 scientists were licensed to be working on these biological agents by 2010.
By late 2008, the investigation of the anthrax letters, called the Amerithrax case, had totaled more than ten thousand interviews, executed eighty searches, and expended more than 600,000 investigator hours. The investigation itself was only completed in August 2010. The FBI and the media learned late two facts that could have prevented some hysteria had they been acknowledged earlier. They were that bloodhounds do not provide reliable evidence and that one cannot be exposed to inhalation anthrax by drinking water from a stream.
Senior FBI officials, toward the greater goal of unquestioned government response to an enemy, fixated on one innocent suspect, Steven Hatfill. They consequently destroyed Hatfill’s career. Then, they had to pay him a $5.82 million settlement, but they admitted to no error. It was not until the spring of 2008 that Bruce Ivins was finally seen as the guilty scientist. Genetics, DNA and signature mutations of the spores led less-fixated investigators to the one man who had the skill, the opportunity and the motive for these murders. Ivins sought to implicate seven of his own colleagues, but ultimately the FBI concluded that it was solely American citizen Bruce Ivins who was responsible for the anthrax attacks.
Whatever the substance and legal outcome of an Ivins trial would have been (they are imagined in Willman’s APPENDIX) it is obvious that Ivins did not operate in a vacuum. The anthrax letter attacks presented too many with too much opportunity to further other larger aims.
A crisis really is too good an opportunity for collectivists to waste.
June 29, 2011
Floy Lilley [send her mail] is an adjunct faculty member at the Mises Institute. She was formerly with the University of Texas at Austin's Chair of Free Enterprise, and an attorney-at-law in Texas and Florida.
Copyright © 2011 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.