Today I read this article by Christopher Caldwell about the origins of the recent anthrax outbreak. (For those of you who don’t read much of the conservative press, Caldwell is one of the sharpest conservative writers around today — and well worth your reading.) In any case, I think he’s a bit too critical of those who’ve raised the possibility that the outbreak had domestic origins. He views it as wishful thinking, pointing out the admitted shallowness of some of the pro-domestic source arguments.
Before discussing some new developments from tomorrow’s papers, let me just make the following point. As someone who’s cautiously been in the pro-domestic source camp, the point is not that there’s anything definitively pointing to a domestic source. It’s only that there are problems with the international/Al Qaeda explanation that I don’t believe have been adequately answered or resolved.
For my part, the really telling problem is the content of the letters themselves and, more particularly, the very fact that the letters say they contain anthrax. From everything I’ve seen about the Al Qaeda MO, they’d let you find out they’d sent anthrax when people starting showing up at the hospitals. They wouldn’t warn you. They’d want as high a body count as possible. Frightening as it may be to imagine, think about what would have happened if the Daschle letter would have been the first letter and it would have contained what looked like a quaint letter from a fourth grader.
(Here, some might say: but the whole point of terrorism is to terrorize. And the letter has spread a lot of terror. But I think we in the West have a an over-articulated theory of terrorism. I don’t think this is how the Al Qaeda folks think. This is a topic I hope to return to later.)
In any case, I think the honest answer, as I said the day before yesterday, is that there’s good evidence against both a domestic and an international source.
At least until today, that is. According to this article in the Post, a letter sent from within Pakistan to a US Consulate in Lahore, Pakistan has tested positive for anthrax.
(If you just said yikes, you’re damn right.)
That really does sound like the other shoe dropping. I know there have been several cases of anthrax contamination in Pakistan over the last few days. But, frankly, a lot of these international cases have proven to be false alarms. So I’ve kept an open mind. But the State Department seems to have done the testing on this one. So this looks like the real deal.
What it all comes down to now is whether it turns out to be the same strain. Presumably we’ll know the answer soon.