Sunday, March 08, 2009


Today the Los Angeles Times published a feature on something regular readers of this blog already know about -- the explosion in hoax anthrax powder mailers since 9/11.

Like the demography of ricin kooks -- those who download recipes for it from the Internet and commence to puttering around with castor seeds -- the anthrax powder hoaxers are generally all stupid white men from the fringes, almost always on the extreme right and with some story or grievance to vent. (One of the men recently convicted apparently thought of hoaxing as revenge over having lost his shirt in a recent bank collapse.) In the LA Times article, an FBI man labels them "knuckleheads." And like the ricin kooks, the powder hoaxers, when caught, all get sent over with little delay.

The Times story is notable for extending the tale of one of the latest, a man named Marc Keyser who has apparently been mailing hoaxes around for years, trying to explain it off as an attempt to gain publicity for a book -- "Anthrax Shock & Awe Terror" -- and his blog. (The government indictment is here. An earlier story on Keyser, at the Sacramento Bee is here.)

And Keyser's message? It's not so fresh: Anthrax terror is a really big menace and not enough attention is being paid to the threat.

Using this fractured illogic requires one to believe there's been some shortage of spending on bioterror defense in this country. And that people wishing to write bioterror novels and articles warning of the danger aren't a dime a dozen nuisances, the opposite of reality. And that sending anthrax hoaxes to a 120 or so media outlets is a way to lift the scales from the nation's eyes concerning the gravity of the bioterror problem.

The Times' story on anthrax hoaxers is one of few sources. By the end of it, there's a brief quote from Milton Leitenberg explaining how we came to be in this state of affairs.

"I think all of our screaming about bioterrorism has been counterproductive," Leitenberg told reporter Bob Drogin.

Paradoxically, the USA newsmedia has not been without fault in this matter. It has always been easy for experts peddling imminent and catastrophic bioterrorism to get their views publicized. Scare sells and experts ready to tell us what must be done and spent to keep safe are thick on the ground. However, until recently, it's been virtually impossible to hear more moderate and critical voices.

By way of example, as late as 2005, Milton Leitenberg and I worked at countering a very damaging opinion in the New York Times on the ease with which bioterrorists could kill hundreds of thousands of American by making milk a vehicle for botulism. In the evidence and indications gathered from actual terrorists, there simply was nothing to support it. The NY Times would not consider a rebuttal. And the Washington Post, which had requested a brief letter to the editor on the matter, spiked our contribution after it had been submitted.

Eventually, the critique was published by Steven Aftergood's Secrecy Project here.

So, in fact, more reasonable views have always been around. And the long-time lack of reason in this matter -- a by-product of predator state security policy and actions -- certainly contributed to an atmosphere of fear in which powder hoaxing could flourish.

The White Male Crank's Burden, warning about bioterrorism -- fresh and piping hot from the letters page of the Washington Post.

". . . [Vice president] Dick Cheney's warning last month of the 'high probability' of terrorists attempting a nuclear or biological attack missed the most probable half of that threat assessment," opines a letter writer named, wait for it, Chuck Woolery. "The biological threat, either from terrorists or nature's pandemics, deserves far more media coverage and public attention.

"Biological weapons are infinitely cheaper and easier to make than nuclear weapons, and they are infinitely easier to deliver anonymously to their target. We can barely protect people from contaminated peanut butter, and most Americans have no idea of the human and economic catastrophe that a weaponized strain of smallpox could create. Intentionally inserted into a nationally distributed batch of ice cream, it would kill more Americans than a limited nuclear exchange ... Mass death in America from a bioterrorism attack, natural pandemics or a bioweapons lab accident seems inevitable."

Note: One might reasonably regard large parts of the bioterror defense industry like AIG's Financial Products division. That is, in the business of selling 'bad paper' insurance policies for poor loans -- the terror widget/research equivalent of credit default swaps. And it's not backed up by any collateral so when the taxpayer money is exhausted, there will be little or nothing to show for it, zero to claw back.

LA Times original here.

Predator state security -- from the archive.


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