Did the Anthrax Attacks Kick-Start the Iraq War?


Secretary of State Colin Powell went to the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003, to make the case for war in Iraq. A central plank of his presentation: the anthrax attacks that killed five people and helped send the United States into a panic in the days after 9/11.

Less than a teaspoonful of dry anthrax in an envelope shut down the United States Senate in the fall of 2001. This forced several hundred people to undergo emergency medical treatment and killed two postal workers just from an amount just about this quantity that was inside of an envelope,” Powell said. “Saddam Hussein could have produced 25,000 liters [6,600 gallons]. If concentrated into this dry form, this amount would be enough to fill tens upon tens upon tens of thousands of teaspoons.”

By the end of the following month, the invasion of Iraq was underway.

The debate over Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (or lack thereof) has been endlessly rehashed in the eight years since. Less discussed — and less understood — is the role that the largest bioterror attack in American history played in launching the march to Baghdad.

The anthrax attacks “made it possible to manufacture the argument that there was WMD in Iraq and links to Al-Qaeda,” Rep. Rush Holt (D-New Jersey), a leading congressional critic on the anthrax investigation, tells Danger Room.

And long after any links between Iraq and the killer spores were disproven, the Bush administration used the mystery surrounding the anthrax mailer to press its case for war.

I point out the anthrax example just to remind everybody that it is very hard sometimes, especially when we’re dealing with something like a biological weapon [to] know who launches the next attack,” Dick Cheney said in September 2002. “And that’s why it’s so important for us when we do identify the kind of threat that we see emerging now in Iraq… we have to give serious consideration to how we’re going to address it before he can launch an attack, not wait until after he’s launched an attack.”


By the time the anthrax letters began arriving the fall of 2001, the public — and public officials — had been thoroughly conditioned to be terrified by a biological strike. Books like the The Hot Zone: A Terrifying True Story and Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World scared the hell out of audiences. Movies like Outbreak didn’t exactly calm their nerves.

In June of 2001, a simulated smallpox attack on Oklahoma City killed nearly 6,000 during Dark Winter, a biodefense exercise later criticized for overhyping the threat. On Oct. 2, Simon & Schuster released Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War, co-authored by controversial reporter Judith Miller.

Two days later, Robert Stevens tested positive for anthrax. The attacks — and the panic — only grew.

Perhaps the most unnerving case was that of Ottilie Lundgren, a 94-year-old widow who lived by herself in the small, rustic town of Oxford, Connecticut. She didn’t leave the house much, except to go to the hairdresser and to collect her mail. Yet in mid-November, she somehow became infected with anthrax, and passed away.

No one was really sure how she got sick. Investigators never found a spore-laden letter addressed to Lundgren. Their best guess was that one of the anthrax letters might have brushed against one of hers somewhere along its route and left some spores behind.

The country was only starting to come down, ever so slightly, from its 9/11 panic. What happened to Ottilie Lundgren confirmed, and rekindled, everyone’s worst fears.

Lundgren didn’t get on a plane or go to a job at a known extremist target, like the World Trade Center or the Pentagon. She didn’t live in New York or Washington or some big city. She just stayed at home in her small town, opening her mail. And she still became a victim, anyway. If that could happen to Ottilie Lundgren, it meant that no one was safe.

“It was the second and confirming incident that a worldwide network had penetrated the United States, that the country was under widespread attack — and that anything was possible,” Holt says. “The enemy could be anywhere and everywhere and use any means to attack.”

That was the view inside the Bush Administration, where the “bioterror attacks had a larger impact than is generally appreciated — one in many ways bigger than 9/11. Without the anthrax attacks, Bush probably would not have invaded Iraq,” wrote Newsweek’s Jacob Weisberg.

‘I think the seminal event of the Bush administration was the anthrax attacks,” someone close to the president told me. “It was the thing that changed everything. It was the hard stare into the abyss.’

In the days that followed, a few government officials — most notably, Sen. John McCain (R – Arizona) — publicly suggested the Saddam Hussein regime may have been behind the anthrax letters. ABC News trumpeted a bogus claim that the attack spores contained the chemical additive bentonite, a hallmark of the Iraqi anthrax program. “Some are going to be quick to pick up on this as a smoking gun,” anchor Peter Jennings said.

In November, microbiologist Paul Keim was able to prove that wasn’t the case. An FBI agent gave Keim a sample of Iraq’s anthrax — obtained by an undisclosed “U.S. government agency.” Keim used a series of DNA tests to identify the sample’s strain. It didn’t match the anthrax found in the lethal letters. The investigation for the anthrax mailer turned inwards, to domestic scientists, while the Iraq war drums quieted, ever-so-briefly.

“I tell people: I didn’t stop the Iraq war,” Keim says. “I just delayed it for two years.”

  1. #1 by frank on 03/30/2011 - 9:34


  2. #2 by restinpieces on 03/30/2011 - 9:34

  3. #3 by Jennifer Lake on 03/30/2011 - 9:34

    The fraudulent nature of the anthrax attacks and a breakdown analysis of events fills this blog: http://www.thirdring.wordpress.com ; timeline, victims, letters, site contamination, interested parties, etc.
    An interesting place to start is http://www.thirdring.wordpress.com/case-by-case-2/

  4. #4 by Jennifer Lake on 03/31/2011 - 9:34

    I was surprised when I systematically dug into the anthrax attack record to find it was ‘low-hanging fruit’ of the greater 9-11. By 2003, most everything from the media about the actual attack had been posted to the net. The real surprise was how little “truther” currency was spent on anthrax other than rhetoric. News reports convince me that the loaded letters were all hoaxes, bearing little if any anthrax. Of course, that means the victims were individually targeted. Back in 1953, Frank Olson was working on a pocket-sized aerosol for anthrax when he was infamously drugged with LSD and plunged from a high-rise. It could happen.
    Thousands were predicted to die, and should have according to the test scenarios of mailed anthrax; but the Leahy letter, last and deadliest, left not one single spore in Leahy’s senate office where it was delivered and unattended for up to 3 days (from Oct.12 to Oct.15) before being swept up in the collection bins after Daschle’s letter was opened Oct.15. Leahy’s letter was supposed to have contaminated Ottilie Lundgren’s distant neighbor’s mail, and caused a State Dept mail clerk to hover near-death. It was found more than a month after it was collected from Leahy’s office in “undelivered mail” quarantine with a pinhole, leaking super-weaponized spores such as no known technology could create –at least, that was the word from Fort Detrick where the letter was opened robotically after special containment had been devised for it.
    But every one of the four letters has a story that doesn’t add up, and Post Office forensics experts stated they were sure no more than three letters could have passed in the mail– this after three letters had been recovered. No one even attempted to explain why spores were found in the first mail-sorters where the letters came in to the system in New Jersey and then found at the destination/delivery end but not in between (and not in all cases)! But if I hadn’t researched this story, I’d have missed the opening salvo of the anthrax attacks –the 1997 anthrax package hoax sent to the Wash D.C. headquarters of B’nai B’rith which launched a two-year spree of unprecendented anthrax hoax mayhem. The ADL made a loud comment on the hoax terror, saying America had shown the world how vulnerable it was. For a while, between 1999 and 2001, the hoax volume declined, but the seriousness of each new incident increased as many of them evolved into evacuations and decontaminations. In post-9/11 October, the country at large registered about 3,500 anthrax letter hoaxes– genuine powder-bearing stamped envelopes that required attention from law enforcement.
    And then there was Florida, American Media Inc. and the first death. Two days after Bob Stevens died on Oct.5, the U.S. declared war on Afghanistan. Bob’s workplace, HQ of the National Enquirer, was swarming with spores dispersed by aerosol, but none in the air ducts of the mailroom– the “hottest” place in the building! Regular employees were barred from the premises, but executives in hazmat suits were free to come and go and participate in the clean-up. The FBI didn’t investigate or take samples until the following year. Rudy Giuliani’s company got the long-term contract for the site after ‘successfully’ cleaning up in D.C.–took them more than five years to decon AMI– but the one-of-kind hard-copy archives of six tabloid papers that had only just been collected a few months before the attack, and not backed up by company logs, was forcefully destroyed. A lesser company than AMI could have been wiped out, but it’s well-seated owners, Evercore Partners (Altman, Beutner, Pritzker, etc) were up-and-comers in boutique investing, seasoned at Blackstone and the U.S.Treasury and easily took the hit. AMI had been Evercore’s second-ever purchase in 1999. They later sold off the building worth 3.9 million for $40,000, which was turned again for more than $6 million.
    I came very late to this story, but it was mostly all there on the internet before Powell held up his vial for the cameras.

  5. #5 by Massimo on 03/31/2011 - 9:34

    They had an Israeli plan since 1980 to divide the whole Arab world to help & put Israel in control of the Middle east.
    If anyone is interested to know about what’s going on in the Middle east and what’s going to happen next please read :

    http://www.antikriegsforum eidelberg.de/palest/hintergrund/shekhinah_blitzkrieg.htm
    Watch on You Tube :

  6. #6 by B.A.Frémaux-Soormally on 04/01/2011 - 9:34


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