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"The anthrax overreaction" 10/25  Saul Singer
 Oct 29, 2001 03:59 PST 
Dear all,

Despite the title, this editorial actually argues that part of the
public is overreacting while governments are underreacting.

Since this was written, ABC has reported that bentonite was found in the
anthrax, and that Iraq is the only country that treats its anthrax with
bentonite (so the particles don't stick together and can float through
the air). The White House at first denied the ABC story than said that
the tests are not yet conclusive.



OCTOBER 25, 2001

The anthrax overreaction


    Terrorism is about making people feel vulnerable. The   
terrorists know that for every person that they kill, they   
can plant fear in the hearts of millions. This lopsided   
ratio between actual casualties and fear sown is most   
pronounced in the case of the latest scare: anthrax.

    By turning four passenger aircraft into human-guided   
missiles, the terrorists of September 11 have caused   
millions of Americans to avoid aircraft altogether. Many   
have also been avoiding high buildings, malls, and other   
public places. Despite the need for vigilance and prudence,   
much of this behavior is not rational.

    It is most certainly safer to fly in America and most   
other places today than it was before September 11, because   
security on and around aircraft has been tightened   
exponentially. There are grounds to fear that there will be   
other terrorist attacks in the United States and elsewhere,   
since the West is only now joining the fight against terror   
in earnest and has a long way to go. But as the anthrax   
incidents indicate, the next attack will probably take a   
completely different form than that of September 11.

    Preventing the next large-scale attack will take an   
almost complete overhaul of US internal security agencies,   
the hardest part being preventing terrorists from taking   
advantage of America's freedoms and legal safeguards.

    But it is important to distinguish between the role of   
individuals confronting the threat of terrorism and that of   

    Though governments sometimes show signs of panic,   
individuals tend to be overconcerned, while governments   
remain too calm and wedded to business-as-usual.

    It is not rational, for example, for the average   
American or the average Israeli to fear receiving an   
anthrax-laced letter. As Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel pointed out in   
The Wall Street Journal, the chance of receiving such a   
letter is about one in a billion, much less than the chance   
of being struck by lightning and less than the risks faced   
in driving one mile in a car.

    The run on Cipro, one of a number of antibiotics that   
can be used to treat anthrax, does not make sense and could   
actually damage America's public health system. What does   
make sense is for governments to take the real implications   
of the anthrax mailings seriously.

    The first step is to recognize, as President George W.   
Bush has, that sending anthrax through the mail is   
terrorism. The second is to face the fact that anthrax of   
the kind that infected Senate employees and killed two   
postal workers was likely produced by a government, not a   
terrorist group.

    Richard Spertzel, who led the bioweapons inspections   
by UNSCOM in Iraq, points out that producing the form that   
can float through the air and cause inhalation anthrax is   
"extremely difficult." Only five people in the US,   
according to Spertzel, know how to produce it, and only   
four countries have: the US, Britain, Russia, and Iraq.

    The working hypothesis of any investigation, then, has   
to be that fine powder that has killed and terrorized   
Americans was produced in Iraq. Yet there seems to be a   
decided reluctance to finger Iraq, or even to suggest the   
possibility of state-sponsorship. A State Department   
spokesman said that there is "no clear linkage" between the   
anthrax found and Iraq, and homeland security chief Tom   
Ridge said the anthrax was not "weaponized." But the fact   
that the anthrax was in some cases inhaled shows that this   
was not the work of amateurs.

    As former CIA director James Woolsey points out, also   
in The Wall Street Journal, "Government bureaucracies do   
have a way of getting into comfortable ruts and staying   
there through inertia." The rut the State Department and   
the CIA are stuck in, according to Woolsey, is the "malady   
of backward reasoning," whereby the investigation - or lack   
of it - is driven by the desired conclusion that no state   
was involved.

    If Western intelligence agencies are still shying away   
from implicating Iraq in September 11 or the subsequent   
anthrax terrorism, we are witnessing something much more   
serious than the overconcern of the public.

    While the threat of anthrax sent through the mail may   
be exaggerated, the threat from full-scale biological,   
chemical, or nuclear weapons is not. If Saddam Hussein was   
involved in anti-American terror, as seems likely, he knows   
he was and can see that the West is avoiding blaming him   
for it. The lack of a systematic American response to major   
terror attacks, such as the 1998 attacks on the US   
embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, led to September 11. The   
reluctance to take on Saddam now may lead to even bolder   
attacks in the future.

(c) Jerusalem Post
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