In a speech on security policy a couple weeks ago, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama signaled that a change in administration probably wouldn't change the way the establishment views threats.
"In a globalized world, the power to destroy can lie with individuals - not just states," the man said. This was supposed to show some unique vision setting him apart from Republican rule, but it indicated quite a bit of the opposite.
Nuclear, biological and cyber threats - "three 21st Century threats that have been neglected over the last eight years," Obama said. "It is time to break out of Washington's conventional thinking that has failed to keep pace with unconventional threats," he added. Obama's breaking out, however, really means the opposite - adhering to groupthink that views apocalyptic attacks as only a matter of when, not if.
Anthrax needs more attention, he said, lest an attack kill "tens of thousands" and smash the economy. Keep in mind the quoted part, because it's a specific part of a well-used script.
"To protect against bioterrorism we need to invest in our analysis..." Obama added. So what analysis is that?
Father of all Fearmongers
If one had Toto to tug at the curtains, Richard Danzig would have been revealed, pulling levers. As Secretary of the Navy in the Clinton administration, Danzig led the fearmongers on bioterror. And, of course, he stands to be part of the presidential cabinet if Obama is elected.
Milton Leitenberg, a biological arms expert who has been regularly critical of the fear agenda, addressed two Danzig-penned position papers in 1997 and 1999. In these, a kilogram of anthrax was said to able to kill hundreds of thousands, while biological weapons were potent and cheap, and the technology everywhere. While there were nuggets of truth in these claims, the critical caveats and qualifiers were obscured or skipped.
According to Leitenberg: "The years between 1995 and 2000 were characterized then, by - spurious statistics (hoaxes counted as biological events); unknowable predictions, gross exaggeration of the feasibility of successfully producing biological agents, except in the case of recruitment of highly experienced professionals, of which there was still no evidence as of 2000; the apparent continued absence of a thorough threat assessment; and thoughtless, ill-considered, counter-productive and extravagant rhetoric".
The change in party control, the arrival of the Bush administration and the anthrax attack itself didn't change the rhetoric. Bipartisan in nature, the national security advisors to both parties were playing the same tune, only more loudly. Attempts to inject thoughtful analysis of bioterrorism potential into the discussion, or even evaluations of what terrorists might be able to do based upon objective scrutiny of their documents and materials, were set aside in favor of what Leitenberg called "fact-free analysis."
Take two - even scarier
In 2003, Danzig repackaged the Nineties rhetoric in a pamphlet called Catastrophic Bioterrorism: What Is To Be Done? Charitably, Amazon resellers offer it for over a hundred dollars, or about four bucks a page. However, one can view it much more reasonably here.