Monday, February 13, 2012


All of us older than high schoolers remember September 11, 2001 very well. Growing less clear by the years is the immediate aftermath, the rest of 2001, when the nation went to war in Afghanistan and the seeds of the later Iraq fiasco were sown. Somewhat forgotten in the haze and cataloging of memories of that time is the great anthrax scare, when five people died and seventeen others were hospitalized when anthrax-laden spores were mailed to media personalities and Senators. The Mirage Man is Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Willman's exhaustive story of the anthrax incident, the investigation--and its almost-certain perpetrator, the now-dead Bruce Ivins.
The book takes the form of a biography of Ivins; the first hundred pages or so is an account of his life up until September 2001, and the rest of it details the investigation and Ivins' actions and the process of how he became the main suspect. But more disturbing than the man's story is the parallel narrative of a bungled, horrible FBI investigation, scared people holding the reins of power at a time of crisis that fit reality into preconceived notions in order to create a reality divorced from needs and legitimacy, and a look at how hysteria ultimately overrules reason when those in leadership positions succumb to the hysteria. To take the latter two points first, there is more than enough evidence to hang the Bush Administration on the gallows of history for their response to 9/11--but it can be argued that it was the anthrax attacks that pushed them over the edge. Despite rather persuasive evidence very early in the investigation that pointed at the true source of the letters--the Army's biowarfare lab--scared and clueless people seized on the notion that Iraq was responsible, and it become a chain-reaction clusterfuck that led to the deployment of troops there and the eight-year nightmare that just concluded. It is heartrending--and intensely maddening--to read of one rigid-minded neo-con after another hearing what they wanted to hear and making wild leaps of logic in order to justify the preferred view they held that Saddam Hussein needed to be removed via American action.
But even this disgusting tale of stupidity tinged with evil pales with the story of the investigation, when the FBI somehow ignored the presence of a bacteriologist who stood to gain from the need for a new anthrax vaccine, who was vigorously pointing the finger at others, who had a long history of unstable behavior and obsessions, and who had been alone in the "hot zone" where the lethal microbes were kept at Fort Detrick for three weeks immediately prior to the anthrax letters being mailed. Instead, the FBI focused on a virologist (anthrax is a bacterium) who had not been in the building for two years as the main suspect, and then fingered him in the press and media as the culprit for years, eventually resulting in a lost $5 million lawsuit for defamation and other charges against the agency. It wasn't like the FBI was totally bent on railroading the guy, either, but there were a few people convinced that the guy was the guilty party who overrode their own investigation units that told them in no uncertain terms that he wasn't. Another instance, in other words, of Bush appointees who refused to let facts and reality make them deviate from what they "knew" to be "true." Frightening stuff, and all a matter of record.
And this ties into today's world, too. The phenomenon of Republicans who refuse to let facts and reality get in the way of ideological belief is a big reason why Obama, despite his many failures, is likely to win reelection. The just-concluded war in Iraq was completely and totally unnecessary, just a waste of lives and money and good will that will cripple this country for decades to come (and all this after Al Fucking Gore didn't have the balls to resist for more than a few seconds an election being stolen from him).  I sat after finishing this book silent with outrage, and with a new determination to give right-wing morons no slack at all any longer. These people are not only stupid, but a significant number are evil, and they need to be stopped and beaten back before they end up doing even more irreversible damage. How have we gotten to this point, where up is down, where the innocent are hounded and the guilty looked to as experts? How can we be so willingly stupid?
The mirage in the title referred to the mask Ivins put up in his life. But it can equally serve as a metaphor for the line of crap we've allowed ourselves to buy into in part or in whole about the "War on Terror." What a fiasco and a crime against humanity, perpetrated by many who knew they were peddling bullshit and lying about their motives. I hope some country, somewhere, has the balls to pull what Spain did to Pinochet if people like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Powell ever leave the country--and puts them in the docket for crimes against humanity. Because as time passes, it is clear that they were guilty of them, on small  scale and large, and that as much as they would like to plead ignorance and stupidity, it was a conscious choice to embroil us all in their mess. And they should be held accountable. Period.
Ivins committed suicide when the net was finally closing in him. If only some of those his crimes allowed to justify evil acts committed as a reaction to them would also fall on their swords.
As always with books reviewed in this space, click on the title in the post and go to to see more reviews and/or purchase the book. 

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