WMD hype and hope

botulinum

Now you see 'em, now you don't

Before the war with Iraq, the Bush administration went out of its way to scare the bejeezus out of the American people. Now they hope to find something, anything to justify the hype.

"Saddam has biological and chemical weapons," they told us, "and he's used them on his own people." Colin Powell did show-and-tell before the United Nations, showing satellite photos of just where the weapons were and telling us that just the amount of botulinum toxin in a small vial he held up was enough to kill hundreds, perhaps thousands of people.

And they played the nuke card. Condi Rice went around to morning talk shows, belittling those who wanted a bit more proof by saying that we couldn't wait because "we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud," a line echoed by W and Rummy and others.

Congress bought it: they gave W carte blanche to make war. The American people bought it: they gave W sky-high approval ratings and later cheered lustily as the tanks rolled up the desert. (Yes, I too applauded the military's prowess while remaining deeply sceptical about the wisdom of going to war.)

Only thing is, those WMD weren't used against "the coalition" forces, and those WMD haven't been found, months of searching notwithstanding.

Finally David Kay, employed by the CIA to hunt for the weapons, issued a preliminary report. While Kay forthrightly declared that no weapons had been found, he did cite lots of things they did find.

Predictably, the Bushies seized on the report as vindication. "See, we told you so," they said.

Predictably, the sceptics seized on the same report as vindication. "See, we told you so," they said.

Vial. One of the more intriguing things mentioned in Kay's report was the finding of a vial of the dread botulinum toxin hidden in the home of a scientist. The relevant paragraph of the report reads:

97 vials
A very large body of information has been developed through debriefings, site visits, and exploitation of captured Iraqi documents that confirms that Iraq concealed equipment and materials from UN inspectors when they returned in 2002. One noteworthy example is a collection of reference strains that ought to have been declared to the UN. Among them was a vial of live C. botulinum Okra B. from which a biological agent can be produced [emphasis added]. This discovery - hidden in the home of a BW scientist - illustrates the point I made earlier about the difficulty of locating small stocks of material that can be used to covertly surge production of deadly weapons. The scientist who concealed the vials containing this agent has identified a large cache of agents that he was asked, but refused, to conceal. ISG is actively searching for this second cache.

The picture on the White House website shows "97 vials" recovered, but the text says a vial — one.

The Los Angeles Times reported in a story today that according to experts, the botulinum in question "probably was purchased legally from a U.S. organization in the 1980s and is a substance that has never been successfully used to produce a weapon."

The way the WMD story is unfolding, who will be surprised if it one day revealed that the scientist was just hanging on to the last vial from a botox party!

But seriously, folks. There's no doubt that Saddam was a bad guy. But right now it looks like the story of weapons of mass destruction was greatly hyped. How ironic, and how tragic, if it turns out the supreme weapon of mass destruction was the Bush administration's marketing of the war, and the true casualty is the further destruction of the American people's trust and confidence in their government — any government.