FBI Says Army Insider Responsible for 2001 Anthrax Attacks

According to today's New York Times, the terrorist behind the 2001 anthrax attacks was an Army insider named Bruce E. Ivans who was one of a few dozen American bioterrorism researchers working at high-security military laboratories and who committed suicide last week when he learned he would soon be indicted for murder.

(Note: See this update on how poor the FBI's case against Ivans' appears to be.)

Today, there are hundreds of such researchers in scores of laboratories. FBI agents had long speculated that if an insider carried out the attacks, it may have been to raise awareness of the important issue of bioterrorism in order to stimulate research.

NYT points out a less "noble" motivation on page two: Ivans and one of his colleagues held two patents for anthrax vaccines related to an $877 million deal between the military and VaxGen, a company poised to pay royalties to vaccine inventors in amounts up to $150,000, in accordance with Army policy. Since the 2001 attacks, federal spending on bioterrorism research has amounted to $50 billion.

According to the article, many believe that the increased government research on bioterrorism is making us less safe, rather than more:

"We are putting America at more risk, not less risk," said Representative Bart Stupak, Democrat of Michigan and chairman of a House panel that has investigated recent safety lapses at biolabs.[. . .]

And Congressional investigators recently warned that the proliferation of biodefense research laboratories presents real threats, too.

More people in more places handling toxic agents create more opportunities for an accident or intentional misuse by an insider, Keith Rhodes, an investigator with the Government Accountability Office, said at a Congressional hearing in October.

The NYT article is seriously underestimating the magnitude of the threat, however. The least of our problems would be if the 2001 attacks were engineered by pharmaceutical companies and their connections in government merely for the sake of profit. Congressional spending has already increased through the roof, and though tragic, the damage was on a small scale compared to every-day natural causes of death.

A much greater concern, however, should be the fact that a large portion of the scientific establishment in this country is convinced that the world is overpopulated. Consider, for example, the case of Eric Pianka, a University of Texas at Austin ecology professor who believes that the world would be much better off if 90 percent of its people were eliminated. Pianka delivered a speech saying exactly that in 2006, and was given a standing ovation by many within the Texas Academy of Science (TAS), who awarded him the 2006 Distinguished Texas Scientist award.

According to Forrest Mims III, the Chairman of the Environmental Science Section of the TAS, Pianka had the audio and video recordings turned off before his speech, saying that the public was not ready to hear his message, and then explained that it was imperative for the health of the earth for 90 percent of its population to be eliminated. The most "efficient" way of achieving this, he said, would be a mutated air-borne form of the ebola virus.

Since the public controversy ensued following Mims' comments, Pianka has claimed that he never meant to say it would be good if 90 percent of the population were eliminated, just that it would happen by the forces of nature whether we wanted it or not.

Even before Mims went public, however, a senior biology student at the university who was an admirer of Pianka and his views wrote about his speech on her blog, which strongly implied that Pianka had expressed a positive value judgment on this theoretical mass extermination:

Dr. Pianka's talk at the TAS meeting was mostly of the problems humans are causing as we rapidly proliferate around the globe. While what he had to say is way too vast to remember it all, moreover to relay it here in this blog, the bulk of his talk was that he's waiting for the virus that will eventually arise and kill off 90% of human population. In fact, his hope, if you can call it that, is that the ebola virus which attacks humans currently (but only through blood transmission) will mutate with the ebola virus that attacks monkeys airborne to create an airborne ebola virus that attacks humans. He's a radical thinker, that one! I mean, he's basically advocating for the death of all but 10% of the current population! And at the risk of sounding just as radical, I think he's right.

The student echoed the famous 18th century essay of Thomas Malthus, On Population, writing that through misguided compassion we are destroying nature's built-in mechanisms for limiting population growth by keeping people alive when they should otherwise be dead:

It's the harsh reality that many people alive right now should be dead. And even harsher to think that the world would be better off with them dead too.

According to Pianka, all that needs to happen is that a virus evolve that shares the characteristics of Ebola Zaire, which kills nine out of ten of its victims, and those of Ebola Reston, which is airborne. According to the Seguin Gazette-Enterprise, Pianka stated the following:

Good terrorists would be taking [Ebola Roaston and Ebola Zaire] so that they had microbes they could let loose on the Earth that would kill 90 percent of people.
To read more about the controversy over Pianka's comments, here is a list of articles approaching the issue from different angles.

Pianka as an individual is not very important here. The question is, why is most of the Texas Academy of Science so sympathetic to his views, and if the scientific establishment is so supportive of these views, how many of them are involved in the federally funded bioterrorism research programs?

The New York Times notes that Al-Qaeda has expressed interest in bioterrorism. But destruction on the scale Pianka is talking about requires access to genetic engineering, something the American scientific establishment has and something that the caves of Afghanistan don't. And the only bioterrorist attacks to date have been traced to the US Army.

So far, no one is reporting any evidence that Ivans operated on anyone else's orders. While we should not run away with conspiracy theories without hard evidence, we should of course realize that the CIA has used the doctrine of plausible deniability since the 1950s. The concept, investigated extensively by the US Senate's Church Committee in the 1970s, is a means whereby the CIA and other government agencies could engage in illegal activity by delegating it through loose and informal commmand networks to a lower-level officer or a third party so that the order could never be traced to the higher-level officer or agent who authorized the operation.

Thus, at the moment there is no particular reason to believe that Ivans was operating under orders from higher up, nor any particular reason to believe that he was not.

Ironically, the Times article refers to Ivans as a "biodefense" scientist working as part of the federal "biodefense" effort, when, in reality, the FBI now says that Ivans was a bioterrorist.

The idea that the government needs to engage in $877 million vaccine contracts to protect us from bioterrorism, meanwhile potentially enabling the nutcases who believe the world is overpopulated to have access to genetically engineered viruses, is rather absurd.

I have a $25 air filter in my room that I made using a MERV-11 filter and a box fan. I got the idea from a book called Mold Illness Made Simple by James Schaller and Gary Rosen. Unfortunately this only effectively captures microbes 0.3 microns and larger and Ebola is apparently 0.2 microns, but if something that cheap can come that close, that suggests to me that effective filtering technology for home use or emergency face masks should be just around the corner.

The government seems to have very little interest in encouraging responsible levels of self-sufficiency. Instead, it places our safety in the hands of pharmaceutical companies with billion-dollar research programs that endanger us. Obviously we would be safer if we just put a moratorium on genetic engineering and used the laboratories for gentler research like which foods and nutritional supplements can be used to maximize immune system efficiency.

Basic levels of self-sufficiency like keeping a garden; establishing relationships with local farmers and being part of a local community; keeping an emergency kit with things like activated charcoal in case of food poisoning, iodine or hydrogen peroxide in case of superficial infection, and whatever type of respiratory devices one can afford to use for cleaning household mold or in the very unlikely but possible event of a bioterrorism attack; are things that anyone can put into place with minimal expense, even while the government and pharmaceutical companies make life more dangerous for us.

Thankfully, God is watching over us, and the internet still allows us to spread basic common sense.

Update: Many Believe Ivans is Innocent

In all fairness to Ivans, I should post this Salon.Com article by Glenn Greenwald arguing that the FBI's case against Ivans appears to be built on sand - or, more precisely, very bad circumstantial evidence.

Speaking of circumstantial evidence, it certainly seems convenient for whoever within the FBI and Department of Justice wants Ivans targeted that Ivans, who according to his lawyer was prepared to defend his innocense in court, ended his life just days before the public campaign declaring his guilt began.

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