The Anthrax Scare Wasn’t

Chemical & Engineering News Brief It is a good time to harken to the postal anthrax scare that besieged the country soon after September 11, 2001. As if the hysteria created by the 9/11 disaster needed to be fueled any further, many FBI experts asserted that the anthrax spores found in the tainted letters were weapons grade, of the highest lethality, and composed of materials that assured maximum dispersal. From this Chemical & Engineering News brief in late 2006:

But FBI scientist Douglas J. Beecher refutes that description (Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 2006, 72, 5304). He writes that “a widely
circulated misconception is that the spores were produced using additives and sophisticated engineering supposedly akin to military
weapon production.” On the contrary, he writes, the anthrax powders in the letters “were comprised simply of spores purified to
different extents.” The FBI would not make Beecher available for interviews.

What are we to make of this? Certainly, this revelation lends credibility to all the conspiracy theorists who have been proselytizing since 9/11. So, why would the FBI refuse to allow its scientist, Beecher, speak?

The conspiracy theorists, of course, have plenty of answers for this question, and it is perhaps in the interest of the FBI and the “powers that be” for conspiracy theorists to push these answers in the absence of any legitimizing response from the government. “Divide and conquer” was the Roman motto, and the American government seems to be evading accountability by dividing up its own constituents into two classes of gullible people–the theorists and the reactionaries to the theorists.

And, this is precisely the sort of recklessness that reduces a government’s legitimacy. Ronald Reagan was wrong. The problem with government is not that it wastes money. The problem is that our government is sowing the seeds of mistrust and, thus, undermining the trust in government that is vital and fundamental to democracy. If people cannot have faith that a government that they elect is going to act on their behalf, they will have no reason to participate in the system. A system with no participants is by definition not a democracy.

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