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Gulf War Syndrome and the Anthrax Letters

By medham in News
Mon Dec 24, 2001 at 10:07:34 PM EST
Tags: Politics (all tags)

As this New York Times article details, investigation into the anthrax mailings has shifted towards domestic origin despite political pressure to focus on Iraq. Barbara Rosenberg's (of SUNY-Purchase and the Federation of American Scientists) analysis of the anthrax source suggests that the culprit is an American working for a U.S. government or contractor lab.

Rosenberg's ascribed motive is that the perpetrator wanted to call attention to anthrax and BW issues generally, rather than commit mass-murder. I will consider "Gulf War Syndrome" (GWS) as a potential motivating factor.

GWS: Theories of Origin

There are, broadly, two competing theories: the more common view--and the one mostly endorsed by the government--is that GWS is a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. Elaine Showalter, Tina Brown Professor of Profitable Writing at Princeton, even likened it to Victorian hysteria in her Hystories.

The other view is that GWS is a result of exposure to chemical, biological, and/or radiological agents. The majority of people suffering from the illness believe this to be the case. A recent study bolsters this claim by demonstrating a correlation between incidents of Lou Gehrig's disease and Gulf War service.

This is not meant to be a comprehensive overview, nor am I suggesting that the two theories above are necessarily mutually exclusive.

Anthrax Mailer: Theories of Motivation

As Dr. Rosenberg notes, the most puzzling clue available is why the mailer chose Daschle and Leahy as targets. Some have speculated, contra Rosenberg's thesis, that the mailer wanted to precipitate a massive national crackdown on civil liberties as a pretext for a militia-led revolution. Daschle and Leahy, Senate Majority Leader and Judiciary Chairman respectively, would thus seem logical targets. Leahy, who has been slightly critical of Ashcroft's policies since 9/11, might seem a crucial convertee of any right-wing immiseration strategy.

One of the problems with this theory is the lunacy it implies seems incommensurable with the expertise needed to acquire the anthrax. Recent reports that the Capitol Hill anthrax is identical to that manufactured by the Army in recent years. The U.S. military, controversially, began its anthrax vaccination program in 1998. Rosenberg notes that the mailer had to have a vaccine to handle the material safely. These factors point towards a military source.

The letters themselves, while handled with apparent forensic care, do not seem too sophisticated. FBI investigators determined very quickly that it was likely the writer of the letters was attempting to portray himself (almost certainly a man, according to FBI behavioral profile) as Middle-Eastern.

Assume that the mailer was an Army microbiologist or lab technician with access to anthrax. He likely had the material stockpiled before 9/11. The first letters were postmarked on 9/18. Were the letters themselves written during this time? The Capitol letters vary slightly from the media letters (and are more ill-tempered) and have not (to my knowledge) yielded any further forensic clues. The target of the misdirection would have to be Iraq, mainly, as it is known to the mailer (who addressed one of the letters to NY Times bioterror expert Judith Miller) that they would be the prime suspects for foreign origin.

Why Iraq? While a number of possible explanations could be offered, the most fitting is that the mailer either has GWS or is deeply disturbed by those who do. He blames Iraq for exposing U.S. troops to whatever it was, and the U.S. govt. for attempting to cover it up. The anthrax mailings would force the government to come to terms with biological terrorism and the potential epiphenomenon of Iraq's destruction would also be welcome.


If, as the FBI believes, a lone person was responsible for the mailings, the only hope of locating him would be the necessarily restricted access to materials the crime involved. A Kaczynski-style family tip is also possible. Considering GWS as a motivational factor may yield important clues.


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Which character from the Dune saga would be most likely responsible?
o Lady Jessica 34%
o Stilgar 6%
o Bijaz 3%
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o Alia 20%
o Teg 10%
o Althusser 3%
o Muzzafar 10%

Votes: 29
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Related Links
o New York Times article
o analysis
o study
o reports
o anthrax vaccination
o behavioral profile
o Also by medham

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Gulf War Syndrome and the Anthrax Letters | 28 comments (17 topical, 11 editorial, 0 hidden)
Seems wrong (3.75 / 4) (#3)
by sigwinch on Sat Dec 22, 2001 at 04:04:19 PM EST

Rosenberg notes that the mailer had to have a vaccine to handle the material safely. These factors point towards a military source.
Why? The common bacillus anthracis strains respond readily to antibiotics. The particular strain used in the attacks doesn't even require exotic antibiotics: it's susceptible to a flavor of penicillin. Start taking the antibiotics before you begin culturing the bacteria, keep taking them for 60 days after the last deployment to let the spores clear from your body, and you're pretty safe. No vaccines or antibodies are needed.

I don't want the world, I just want your half.

virulence (4.50 / 2) (#5)
by medham on Sat Dec 22, 2001 at 04:19:19 PM EST

The Ames strain is used, unless you believe that the U.S. is actively cultivating a BW capability, because of its resistance to many antibiotics. The mailer must have risked massive exposure, considering how finely-milled the substance was (the Capitol envelopes were leaking like sieves).

The vaccine hypothesis is not the strongest piece of evidence to suggest a military or government employee, true. I believe that antibiotic prescriptions are a lead that has been pursued for a while now.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

in case you missed it (3.00 / 4) (#6)
by dr k on Sat Dec 22, 2001 at 04:57:51 PM EST

There has been an ongoing anthrax threat against abortion clinics for the past 2 or 3 years. Right before thanksgiving there was a mass mailing of 200+ "anthrax letters" sent to clinics around the US. As far as I have heard, all of these threats were fake. It seems unlikely that someone unaffiliated with anti-abortionists would copycat the crime using real anthrax, because "someone else is already doing that."
Destroy all trusted users!
Meaning? (3.50 / 2) (#8)
by medham on Sat Dec 22, 2001 at 05:07:34 PM EST

It seems unlikely that someone unaffiliated with anti-abortionists would copycat the crime using real anthrax, because "someone else is already doing that."

I can't parse this, exactly. Are you implying that the anthrax mailer is or is not associated with anti-abortionists?

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

is (4.00 / 2) (#16)
by dr k on Sun Dec 23, 2001 at 06:17:02 AM EST

The odds are in favor that the anthrax mail has some connection to anti-abortion groups.
Destroy all trusted users!
[ Parent ]
Six degrees (none / 0) (#25)
by fluffy grue on Tue Dec 25, 2001 at 04:40:32 AM EST

Technically, everyone has some connection to anti-abortion groups. Everyone has some connection to neo-nazis. Everyone has some connection to every mass-murderer on the planet.

Six degrees of separation.

"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

quibble (none / 0) (#28)
by dr k on Thu Dec 27, 2001 at 04:29:46 PM EST

When we engage in a dialogue, we have a tacit agreement to accept mutually understood definitions - definitions that have useful [functional] meanings.

If a "connection" includes, as you say, up to six degrees of separation, then indeed everyone has a connection to [almost] everyone else. We are all part of the same collective group. But since this definition of "connection" is so broad, it is effectively useless; - it does not allow me to distinguish a particularly close relationship between two people. We need either a better definition or a different word for what I meant, or I could simply ask you to not be so facetious.
Destroy all trusted users!
[ Parent ]

Haven't you been keeping up with the news? (4.25 / 4) (#7)
by Wing Envy on Sat Dec 22, 2001 at 05:04:48 PM EST

It's Chandra Levy ;)

You don't get to steal all the deficiency. I want some to.
D'oh (none / 0) (#9)
by medham on Sat Dec 22, 2001 at 05:23:27 PM EST

I was going to copy that for my follow-up, hoping no one would notice.

Sources close to Gary Condit report that he's been seen reading Ruritaniana and is quite generally fey.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

Washington Post Article (4.00 / 3) (#15)
by medham on Sun Dec 23, 2001 at 06:04:25 AM EST

From today's WP:

Perpetuator, Motive Remain Elusive

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.

"Perpetrator," rather (3.00 / 1) (#19)
by medham on Sun Dec 23, 2001 at 10:24:10 AM EST

Please change that.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

Sources for Gulf War Syndrome Info? (3.50 / 4) (#17)
by Electric Angst on Sun Dec 23, 2001 at 08:56:33 AM EST

Last I heard talking to some vets I know, they were saying that GWS was the result of taking the anti-chemical weapons medicine when you didn't actually need it. (Given the way everyone was panicing over the Chemical Weapons Saddam had, some GIs did jump this proverbial gun.) Apparently the stuff will really fuck you up if it is taken when it's not needed...
"He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster." - Nietzsche
Mainly (5.00 / 1) (#18)
by medham on Sun Dec 23, 2001 at 09:39:44 AM EST


And listening to itinerant ravings.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.
[ Parent ]

Heh (none / 0) (#27)
by trhurler on Wed Dec 26, 2001 at 08:34:28 PM EST

First off, if you look at honest studies, there IS NO GWS. Second, those NBC antidotes ARE nasty, but they are nasty in the short term; if you survive them for a day(an hour even,) you generally will be ok. Probably the antidote in question is atropine. It is a muscle relaxant. Your eye doctor might well use it to dilate your pupils, but in very, very dilute solution. The atropine in the autoinjectors the military uses is fairly concentrated by comparison, and is a larger dose to boot. It literally can kill you by preventing your heart and diaphragm from operating. Of course, if you've been exposed to nerve gas, which causes muscle convulsions, it will very possibly save your life, but if you die, nobody will probably ever know whether you died because of the nerve gas or the atropine used to treat it. (Survival rates w/ atropine are projected to be considerably higher than without it, but some would still die of atropine overdose.)

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Conspiracy Theory (3.66 / 3) (#21)
by n8f8 on Sun Dec 23, 2001 at 09:52:02 PM EST

I love this. Just weird enough to be plausible.

Sig: (This will get posted after your comments)
The Wall St. Journal and Reason both have articles (4.00 / 2) (#23)
by Anatta on Mon Dec 24, 2001 at 12:48:14 PM EST

today pertaining to anthrax and gulf war syndrome. Both contain a great deal of interesting information not found in this post.

Here is the Reason article.

And here is the Wall St. Journal article.

My Music

A real conspiracy theory. (4.00 / 1) (#26)
by Alarmist on Wed Dec 26, 2001 at 01:20:24 PM EST

Thesis: that the anthrax letters were mailed with the knowledge of some elements of the United States government, and done explicitly to provide the public atmosphere necessary to enact legislation that would further restrict civil liberties in the United States. It has seemed obvious from the beginning to me that the anthrax letters were very effective at creating public fear and distrust, but not very useful as an actual weapon. In this, it might be perfect if one's only aim was to sow fear and distrust. The threat is largely past, and many people now have no more fear of the mail than they did before, but what the anthrax letters did do is create a window of opportunity through which ordinary people would let hostile legislation pass without a murmur. Recent findings - that the strain used is the same that the U.S. has used in biological warfare studies, for instance - seem to support that someone with a connection to some government body (be it armed forces or intelligence services, or some other entity) was responsible for mailing the letters. The likely conclusion of all of this is that either a scapegoat will be found (an angry lone nut), or that the case will never be solved.

Gulf War Syndrome and the Anthrax Letters | 28 comments (17 topical, 11 editorial, 0 hidden)
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