One theory has long been that whoever committed the anthrax outrages was intent on drawing attention (and probably funding) to further research and development of U.S. bio-war "defenses." If so, then, what a remarkable success! In the years since the attacks occurred, funding has flooded into such labs, whose numbers have grown strikingly. On September 11, 2001, reports the Washington Post, "there were only five 'biosafety level 4"² labs — places equipped to study highly lethal agents such as Ebola that have no human vaccine or treatment — a Government Accountability Office report stated last fall. Fifteen are in operation or under construction now, according to the report. There are hundreds more biosafety level 3 labs, which handle agents such as Bacillus anthracis, which does have a human vaccine."
The few hundred people at work in the U.S. bio-defense program before 9/11 have swelled to perhaps 14,000 scientists who have "clearances to work with 'select biological agents' such as Bacillus anthracis — many of them civilians working at private universities" where, according to experts, "security regulations are remarkably lax." And don't forget the Army's own billion-dollar plan to "build a larger laboratory complex as part of a proposed interagency biodefense campus at Fort Detrick." We're talking about the place where, as Ivins's crew was evidently nicknamed, "Team Anthrax" worked and whose labs are reputedly "renowned for losing anthrax." In these same years, according to the New York Times, "almost $50 billion in federal money has been spent to build new laboratories, develop vaccines and stockpile drugs." Some of this money was pulled out of basic public health funds which once ensured that large numbers of people wouldn't die of treatable diseases like tuberculosis and redirected into work on the Ebola virus, anthrax, and other exotic pathogens.
In these years, not to put too fine a point on it, the Bush administration has exponentially expanded our bio-war labs, increasing significantly the likelihood that a new "mad scientist" will have far more opportunity and far more deadly material available to work with. It has, in other words, increased the likelihood not just that terror will come to "the homeland," but that it will come from the homeland.
August 18, 2008 11:14 am
Tomgram: Six Questions about the Anthrax Case