Glenn Greenwald has a fascinating, and mildly paranoia-inducing, article over at Salon.com: "Vital unresolved anthrax questions and ABC News" (Salon.com 8/1/08). Remember the 2001 "anthrax through the mail" scare? As you may have heard last week, the FBI was about to arrest one of America's top bio-warfare specialists for those attacks, USAMRIID's Bruce Ivins, when he committed suicide. (See Matt Apuzzo and Lara Jakes Jordan, "Dead Army vaccine scientist eyed in anthrax probe," Associated Press, 8/1/08.)
It turns out that he had a reason to think he wouldn't be caught. As the Army's top expert on anthrax, he was the guy that they were going to send the evidence to for analysis, and they did. So when he wanted to "prove" that somebody other than him did it, he tainted the samples with a particular chemical, bentonite, that was only used by Iraqi biowarfare specialists. What undid him, ultimately, was better-quality DNA analysis showed that even if the bentonite was Iraqi, the actual anthrax spores were the descendants of ones that were in his lab. Glenn Greenwald's point is this: during the run-up to the Iraq War, lots of politicians and journalists were citing anonymous high-ranking government sources about the evidence linking the 2001 anthrax attacks to Iraq. Some of them were doing so long before this guy had released his "official" analysis, the one with the bentonite in it. Greenwald even cites one reporter as saying he'd been warned by his anonymous high-ranking government source that Iraq might try an anthrax attack on US journalists, before any such attacks had happened. And Greenwald is asking all of those people to answer one question: was Ivins your source? Was this one guy the one who spread all the anthrax rumors, as well as all the anthrax? Because if he wasn't? If somebody else was doing this too? We've either got one heck of a creepy coincidence on our hands, or one heck of an even creepier conspiracy.
I brought this up with teflonspyder when he dropped by for dinner. And in passing, I showed him, from Greenwald's article, one of the hand-written notes that accompanied the anthrax spores:
... and I mentioned that, at the time, I wasn't buying the foreign terrorist story. As soon as I saw the notes and the envelopes, I was pretty sure that we were dealing with an American who wanted us to believe it was a Muslim. The date format is wrong; no Muslim country, even the ones that use our calendar, writes it as MM-DD-YY. Hardly any countries anywhere in the world do, the normal format almost anywhere other than the US is DD-MM-YY or YY-MM-DD. The use of boldface in lieu of capitalization in an all-upper-case block of text is a largely US typographic convention, not least of which because most non-European languages don't use capitalization the way we do. The translation of Allahu akbar, at the end, seems off to me, too. TeflonSpyder also pointed out that someone whose native language used non-Latin lettering would still use Arabic numbering, but the carefully shaky hand-writing is the same for the date and the text. He also expressed doubt that someone literate in Arabic would write something with the baseline as sloppy as the baseline in that note. So, between us, in a matter of seconds, we came up with 5 bits of evidence just from this one note suggesting a US source.
And that's the point at which he came up with something so obvious, in hindsight, that I'm embarrassed I didn't think of it myself first. One set of evidence (the bentonite) "proves" it came from Iraq, the other set of evidence (trivial handwriting analysis, if nothing else) "proves" it came from the US. How was it not obvious that the guy handling the evidence was crooked? As he put it, "anyone with above a high school education" who would have examined this note should have been in a position to contradict the Iraq link -- where were they? In TeflonSpyder's opinion, this has to have been looked at by at least three or four whole layers of such people before, as he just put it to me, "it got obfuscated to the point where people stopped looking at it." How did this pass as long as it has?