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Saturday, May 13, 2006

Curveball Extra Innings

I was thinking about pre Iraq war intelligence and, in particular, about curveball and the mobile biological weapons laboratories. Much has been written about how Mr Ball was not a credible source and how warnings to that effect were ignored. There is another aspect of the whole idiocy. Even if the alleged mobile Anthrax fermentors had actually existed, they would not have been biological weapons laboratories.

Consider my Mom (just google this anonymised non identifier 301-946-6253) and what she did in the war on terror. Back when there was this envelope with weaponised Anthrax in it sent to Tom Daschle people actually died. They didn't work in the Senate they worked at the post office (the DC mail sorting facility I think). That put my mom, the infectious disease coordinator of the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services (not to be confused as it always is with the large office of Federal Department of Health and Human services in Montgomery County) one narrow district line away from the front lines of the war on Terror. My mom spent days working non stop distributing antibiotics to Montgomery county postal workers. She did not go postal, although she was a bit peaved about how the people who had laid off almost all of her MD colleagues insisted that an MD be present to count up to two pills or whatever she was doing.

Anyway, the point is that the weaponised Anthrax was ground into a very fine powder which could leak out of a sealed envelope. At the time it was explained that this meant that the bioterrorists had access to sophisiticated weaponised anthrax, because it is not easy to grind a mass of Anthrax spores into a very fine powder without killing them. Turns out the Anthrax definitely came from the USA (I thought Saddam had dodged the bullet silly me). Very fine is a relative term. I'm pretty sure that each grain of the very fine powder contains thousands or perhaps millions of spores.

So it is universally agreed that the hard part about making weaponised Anthrax is not getting some anthrax (fairly easy to find as it caused death and suffering for millions of years before people thought of using it as a weapon) nor growing it (easy) nor drying it out without killing it (very easy it "sporulates" that is goes into hybernation as a very tough dried out anthrax bacterium which is the reason it can be used as a weapon). The hard part is grinding the dried out stuck together Anthrax spores into a very fine powder without killing them (or yourself).

Thus the key point in bioweapons production is not the fermentor (which is so small cheap and simple that you can put one on a truck) but the mill. Basically even if Iraqis had been driving around growing Anthrax, the resulting stuff would not be useful as a weapon unless they had some very sophisticated grinding equipment somewhere else. Curve ball's story was not just false, it was also irrelevant.

I think that anyone who really knows much of anything about biological weapons would have to know that. The Bush administration line was not just wrong it was clearly silly.

Now why didn't I think of that before the war ?

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