04.30.13

Industry of Fear

Posted in Bioterrorism, Culture of Lickspittle, Ricin Kooks at 2:38 pm by George Smith

On display in USA Today, a journalist ropes together a bunch of experts from the academy, all attached to bioterrorism studies departments that arose in the wake of 9/11.

They express varying views on both sides of the line. None of them say anything I didn’t almost a decade ago, from the critical thinking side. None have been involved in any bioterrorism cases.

It’s important to remember nothing could get into the media that counteracted the idea that bioterrorism was easy and you could just make stuff from downloading instructions from the Internet.

The J. Everett Dutschke incident has been convenient in that it shows, in an almost comically elegant manner, the badness of many of the arguments used by the national fear industry.

No one could possibly believe that such a fellow could make a WMD.

And, indeed, it took a journalism professor at Ol’ Miss, not a terror expert to put it in perspective over the weekend:

Curtis Wilke — “I’ve thought, ‘God, I wish I were still a reporter; it’d be fun to cover this story … Neither of them seems very sophisticated. Make a weapon of mass destruction from a bunch of beans?”

Yet this fool’s belief has been the gospel for the last 12 years.

To which I add this wire quote, from today, for emphasis:

The 41-year-old Dutschke also made two eBay purchases in late 2012 for a total of 100 red castor beans, which can be used to make ricin …

One hundred red castor beans! Get your WMD from eBay! (Horselaugh.)

For USA Today, there’s now recognition that something is off, but no one is willing to let go of it entirely:

Homemade and improvised biological weapons, such as ricin, pose a slimmer risk to national security than the mind-set needed to carry out such attacks, security and bioterrorism experts say.

Despite the interest in ricin that was amplified by the recent letters sent to President Obama and other government officials, it is a more specialized and targeted weapon, said Joel Selanikio, a Georgetown University epidemiologist.

“Ricin is more easily produced but more difficult to distribute to large numbers of people than, say, botulinum toxin or tetanus,” Selanikio said in an e-mail. “So it has really been more of an assassin’s weapon than a mass-attack weapon.”

There have been ZERO homemade biological weapons during the war on terror. Failed attempts and wishes do not count.

There was Bruce Ivins, from the heart of the bioterror defense research establishment, and anthrax.

And there was production and sale of purified botulinum toxin to the unscrupulous by a small US private sector research laboratory whose business was dependent on the national biodefense
effort. And I examined it in great detail here.

So who profits from the idea that homemade biological weapons might be a really serious threat despite their total absense? The industry that’s set up to defend against them. And the mainstream media that profits from scary stories, as the need arises.

In 2005, well before the USA Today story, the industry of fear cranked up the idea that it might be easy to make enough homemade botulinum toxin from instructions in trivial documents and that this had the potential to fatally poison hundreds of thousands.

And I and Milton Leitenberg critiqued it in detail for an essay mounted at the Federation of American Scientists.

What the Stanford scientist who came up with mass death botulinum toxin scenario did not know at the time was that it wasn’t terrorists who were disseminating botox, it was List Labs, an an American firm just down the road from him in the Silicon Valley. And the incident I linked to above, one in which this was uncovered after a cosmetic surgery salesman administered it to himself and some friends, putting them all on the slab and on ventilators after they suffered near lethal botulism.

This is the scary clown show the US became during the war on terror. Lots of terror experts saying be afraid of this and that because it’s all so easy to do. That was the national line. Period.

In the meantime, the real world told us quite other things. It was untrustworthy professionals, highly trained in the art and science, who caused two problems.

But back to USA Today:

Potent materials, such as the castor plants used to make ricin, could be siphoned and processed from nature with basic microbiology kills, said Leonard Cole, director of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey’s Program on Terror Medicine and Security.

But others … argued that complex scientific knowledge and access to more sophisticated laboratory environments with built-in safety precautions would be necessary to carry out an attack of worrisome scale.

For the newspaper one man acknowledges that “homemade weapons” are not going to bring down the United States.

However, then the piece shows a certain lack of self-awareness:

“The psychological ramifications are hard to measure and they could be pronounced,” he said. “If you had, you know, an event and then another event, another event on a small scale… that would be more of a psychological issue – you know, loss of faith in how things are done by government, that kind of thing.”

In this sense, said Moran, terrorists achieve a sort of victory.

“That’s what the terrorists’ goal is – is just to create fear in the population and make people worried and make people change what they do,” Moran said.

But who has played one of the central roles in creating an environment in which incidents are blown out of proportion?

Who has been telling everyone, for years, that ricin is easy to make?

If anything, the story of J. Everett Dutschke tells us the opposite.

Dutschke was a strange fellow who held grudges, one who indulged one of his weird obsessions in an entirely unique way, not with the obvious aim of terrorizing a populace but with the desire to frame an acquaintance!

And it is in just the way that we can see how the industry of fear works. It twists reality around with what-ifs and hypotheticals proffered by people whose livelihoods depend either wholly or partially on the national security megaplex.

In lending so much power and influence to this structure and process, and now pardon my vulgar reference, we’ve jumped up our own assholes. It’s a dependency that is sickness, one that has done far more harm to the national reputation and character than any good.

There’s no lesson about bioterrorism and its potentials to be had from the J. Everett Dutschke episode. Only that the FBI would have been better off had it not jumped so fast on an initial arrest.

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