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With Jeb Bush and Donald Trump arguing over whether George W. Bush failed to stop 9/11, it’s worth going to the videotape (47:28) of the second Presidential debate of 2000. On 10/11/2000, the Texas governor denounced heightened scrutiny of Arab airline passengers by airport security. Bush said on national TV:

Secondly, there is other forms of racial profiling that goes on in America. Arab-Americans are racially profiled in what is called secret evidence. People are stopped, and we have to do something about that. My friend, Senator Spencer Abraham of Michigan, is pushing a law to make sure that Arab-Americans are treated with respect. So racial profiling isn’t just an issue at local police forces. It’s an issue throughout our society. And as we become a diverse society, we’re going to have to deal with it more and more. I believe, though — I believe, as sure as I’m sitting here, that most Americans really care. They’re tolerant people. They’re good, tolerant people. It’s the very few that create most of the crises, and we just have to find them and deal with them.

Note that when the future President said “we just have to find them and deal with them,” the “them” he was referring to as having to be dealt with were not Arab skyjackers but airline and airport employees worried about stopping Arab skyjackers.

In accordance with this statement, Bush appointed Democrat Norman Mineta Secretary of Transportation and directed him to root out profiling of Arabs at the airport.

In 2005, airport counter clerk Michael Tuohey told Oprah Winfrey of his encounter early on 9/11/2001 with the leader of the terrorists:

“I got an instant chill when I looked at [Atta]. I got this grip in my stomach and then, of course, I gave myself a political correct slap…I thought, ‘My God, Michael, these are just a couple of Arab businessmen.’”

By the way, on a personal note, this may have been when I started to realize I was the world’s least viral journalist. I’m not sure if the word “viral” had that meaning on 9/11/2001, but if it did, I was sure that the President’s 11-month-old denunciation of anti-terrorism efforts would soon go viral. I vividly recalled watching Bush say this to a huge television audience less than a year before. Back then you couldn’t post video, but it was easy to find a transcript. So I stayed up late that night writing up “Bush had called for laxer airport security” so I wouldn’t get scooped too badly by all the other pundits.

In all the rush, it didn’t get published for about a week. Yet by then, nobody else had brought it up. When my piece didn’t get any attention, well, lots of stuff was happening.

Every few years since then, I’ve brought up Bush’s statement, but it never seems to register on anybody other than my core readers. It’s an interesting example of the Sapir-Whorf effect in action. We are given categories to file facts away in: e.g., Republicans Are Racist; Bush Protected Us from Terrorism, etc. It’s very hard to remember anything that doesn’t fit in the right slots.

This is the first time I’ve posted video of Bush saying this. We’ll see if this makes any difference in the impact, although by now, after 14 years, I doubt it.

Similarly, the big Bush Push of 2002-2004 to ease traditional credit standards, such as down payments and documentation, that have disparate impact on black and Hispanic mortgage-seekers is practically impossible for most people to remember because it doesn’t fit in the categories: Republicans Are Racist; Bush Protected Us from Liberalism, etc.

Here’s a video of Bush telling his federal regulators that down payment requirements are keeping minorities from achieving the American Dream:

But I’ve posted this before with negligible impact.

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I don’t have any inside information on Huma Abedin, Hillary Clinton’s close personal advisor, so let me speculate irresponsibly.

Abedin is a rich South Asian-ancestry but Saudi-raised woman who is also (amusingly enough) the wife of disgraced ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner. 

Michelle Bachmann got herself in all sorts of trouble with Respectable Washington by pointing out that Abedin’s family has had lots of ties over the decades to the now-ascendant Muslim Brotherhood, such as her father founding the Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs, a Saudi outreach program. (Her Pakistani mother is a professor in Saudi Arabia.)

John McCain, for example, was apoplectic at Bachmann’s effrontery.

Washington insider Ed Rollins, Bachmann’s own former campaign manager, went berserk on Fox News:

Shame on you, Michele! You should stand on the floor of the House and apologize to Huma Abedin and to Secretary Clinton and to the millions of hard working,loyal, Muslim Americans for your wild and unsubstantiated charges. As a devoted Christian, you need to ask forgiveness for this grievous lack of judgment and reckless behavior.

Wow, sounds like Bachmann struck a nerve …

My guess would be that Ms. Abedin is not some sort of radical Islamist Manchurian Candidate who has had a baby with her Jewish politician husband just to cover her Islamist tracks. 

But, I suspect that Bachmann struck a nerve with the Bipartisan Establishment because Abedin has so many Saudi ties. The Fourth Rail of Washington imperial politics is the Saudi Lobby (the Third Rail is the Israeli Lobby). 

The Saudis have more money than God, but, like the Kuwaitis in 1990, they are too lazy and cowardly too defend their unearned oil wealth. But, unlike the Kuwaitis, who were too arrogant to even pretend to like America before Saddam’s invasion, the Saudis have long been using their oil money prudently to buy themselves friends in Washington. 

One way they do it is by doing actual favors for the United States of America. Most notably, at the Reagan Administration’s request, the Saudis pumped so much oil in 1986 that it drove oil prices low enough to pound the last nail in the Soviet Union’s economic coffin. That was a big one, and I am grateful. 

Currently, the Saudis appear to be funding the Sunni uprising in Syria. Is that at the request of the Obama Administration? (I haven’t been following the news out of Syria.) Obviously, this is wildly hypocritical after the Saudis sent tanks in to Bahrain to crush democracy protests there last year, but such is the way of the world.

Unfortunately, the Saudi rulers aso have interests not at all aligned with America’s. Most notably, the Royal Family buys off local hotheads by subsidizing them to stir up Muslim hotheads abroad.

On the other hand, while occasionally the Saudis will do a genuine expensive favor for the U.S. like cutting the price of oil to hurt a mutual foe, most of the time they find it more cost effective just to do favors for members of the American ruling class. 

Consider the amazing career of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi ambassador to America from 1983-2005. The illegitimate son of a royal prince and a part black slave girl, Bandar never had a hope of rising to the throne himself, but he made himself the most valuable servant of Saudi state by insinuating himself into almost every crack in Washington with his charm and money. For example, when George W. Bush told his dad that he really ought to finally learn something about American foreign policy if he were going to run for President, George H.W. Bush sent him to Bandar for tutoring.

Personally, I’ve always admired Bandar as a patriot who did much for his country. But, I would have kicked him out of the U.S. for being too good at his job. (His mental health finally broke under the stress and he went home in 2005.)

What does all this say about Huma Abedin’s rise to power within the American government? I’m not sure. It may just be personal. But, the principle matters to the Important People in Washington, and the principle is that the public isn’t supposed to think about how chummy they are with the Saudis. So, no thinking about Huma!

• Tags: Terrorism 
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From the NYT:

But Mansour J. Arbabsiar, 56, the man at the center of an alleged Iranian plot to kill a Saudi diplomat in Washington, seems to have been more a stumbling opportunist than a calculating killer. Over the 30-odd years he lived in Texas, he left a string of failed businesses and angry creditors in his wake, and an embittered ex-wife who sought a protective order against him. He was perennially disheveled, friends and acquaintances said, and hopelessly disorganized. 

Mr. Arbabsiar, now in custody in New York, stands accused by federal prosecutors of running a global terrorist plot that stretched from Mexico to Tehran, and that was directed by the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Many of his old friends and associates in Texas seemed stunned at the news, not merely because he was not a zealot, but because he seemed too incompetent to pull it off.

Somebody should ask an economist what we should do about the poor quality of terrorist recruits. Being an economist, he’ll probably suggest: more immigration!

This guy reminds me of the mastermind of the sales tax fraud when I was a juror: both were Iranian used car dealers. (Also, here’s my review of the British comedy about inbred Pakistani suicide bombers, Four Lions.)

• Tags: Terrorism 
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Ironically, Pvt. Naser Abdo, who was arrested last week after buying guns and explosives at the same gunshop outside of Fort Hood where Maj. Hassan bought his gun for his spree killing in 2009, was profiled in 2010 by ABC News: “Devout Muslim Soldier Hopes to Avoid Deployment to Afghanistan.” Here are some great quotes from that year-old article:

Although Fort Campbell employs an imam on base, Abdo prefers instead to seek counsel from his personal circle of Islamic advisers, he said. “In my experience, they don’t know their religion,” he said of base imams. “They don’t know their faith.” … 

Now, he said, he wants out of the Army so he can spend his life combating what he called Islamaphobia and advocating Islam as a peaceful religion. … 

“I want to use my experience to show Muslims how we can lead our lives,” he said. “And to try and put a good positive spin out there that Islam is a good, peaceful religion. We’re not all terrorists, you know?”

• Tags: Terrorism 
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I’ve got a 4,000-word article up at American Conservative on Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist. I think you’ll find that it explains more about this whole horrible event than you’ll find elsewhere. First, here are a few random observations:

Breivik, a smug egomaniac who boasts, “I have an extremely strong psyche (stronger than anyone I have ever known),” looks rather like a 1975 Chevy Chase signing off from Weekend Update on “Saturday Night Live” with the catchphrase, “I’m Chevy Chase … and you’re not.” …

Breivik’s weightlifting and narcissism—“I’m in the middle of another steroid cycle at the moment … I have a more or less perfect body”—call to mind Yukio Mishima, the bisexual militarist novelist and bodybuilder who attempted to overthrow Japanese democracy in 1970. Mishima then committed ritual seppuku, stabbing himself and having an acolyte behead him. (But notice the “more or less” in Breivik’s boast; Breivik is always tempted by the Norwegian urge to try to appear reasonable.)

The Norwegian killer’s assault is reminiscent of the 1997 shootout in North Hollywood, in which two steroid-using, body-armor-wearing bankrobbers fired 1,101 rounds of ammunition at the LAPD. At the time, they were assumed to be the first of an inevitable wave of unstoppable Terminator-like criminals. Fortunately, 14 years later, they remain the American high-water mark for criminals who could have appeared in a Michael Mann movie like “Heat.” Hopefully, Breivik will remain an outlier.

And here’s a summary of my main argument in Breivik’s Brain: The Norwegian killer is no Christian fundamentalist but a right-wing imitator of Marx and Lenin:

Among terrorist monsters, Breivik is perhaps the most lucid since the Unabomber, whom he plagiarizes in the 1516 page “compendium” he posted online just before his crimes. So I undertook the unpleasant task of trying to understand what motivates him. Is he a Christian fundamentalist fanatic, as has been widely assumed by the U.S. press? Or is there something else going on here that won’t make sense from an American perspective? 

Having thought about this rotten person longer than I’ve wanted, I have finally grasped that Breivik only makes sense when viewed on his own terms, which are those of the bloody history of continental European ideology. Breivik, I’ve come to realize, is a Marxist heretic. 

Breivik’s hundreds of pages of planning 72 years of conflict in his manifesto 2083: A European Declaration of Independence reflects a Marx-like confidence in his own science of history. His turn to terrorism to begin the recruitment of a revolutionary vanguard is reminiscent of the urge of the first major Marxist heretic, Lenin, to hurry history along with violence. Like the second world-historical Marxist heretic, Mussolini, who substituted for Marx’s emphasis on class his own emphasis on nation, Breivik wants to substitute “culture.” He argues that white leaders influenced the Frankfurt School of “cultural Marxism” import Muslims to deconstruct the indigenous conservative culture they hate. In response, he will set off an (oxymoronic) “conservative revolution.”

Read the whole thing (there’s lots more) there.
• Tags: Terrorism 
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The New York Times reports that Osama bin Laden’s courier’s cell phone has lots of interesting phone numbers on it. This article focuses on that of Harakat, a Pakistani militant group that fights in Kashmir and elsewhere, which sounds like a cutout organization for the Pakistan’s CIA, the ISI. The NYT reporters have a couple of old Harakat insiders speaking off the record:

He and the other commander, who spent 10 years with Harakat, offered no proof of their belief that Bin Laden was under Pakistani military protection. But their views were informed by their years of work with the ISI and their knowledge of how the spy agency routinely handled militant leaders it considered assets — placing them under protective custody in cities, often close to military installations. 

The treatment amounts to a kind of house arrest, to ensure both the security of the asset and his low profile to avoid embarrassment to his protectors. 

A friend writes:

OK, so ISI was caching Bin Laden, probably using him when convenient, for example when [former Pakistan president] Musharraf wanted to knock off Benazir Bhutto. It already looked like that, now it seems almost certain. 

Well, that might be hard to prove. Presumably, the ISI is reasonably professional in its spycraft. And then there’s the next line of conceptual defense: it’s not the ISI, it’s “rogue elements” within the ISI. And then there’s the argument that the ISI is a rogue element within the government of Pakistan. (Or is the government of Pakistan more a front for the ISI?)

Remember when the Warren Commission was shared that the Soviets had ordered JFK murdered? Like, what were they supposed to do if they found that to be the case and it got out? Push the button? This is the real deal: hiding Bin Laden for years IS a casus belli. Even the Israelis couldn’t get away with _that_.

Pakistan is more of an enemy than Iraq ever was, more than Iran. Of course neither of them ever did much to us. More even than Libya (I’m counting Lockerbie).

Pakistan is more of an enemy than anyone we’re whacking in Afghanistan. But we’d have to admit that we were PAYING the people sheltering Bin Laden for the past six years: the Fools at the Top would have to admit that were wrong. That won’t happen. We may continue to pretend to get along with Pakistan for years more, so that they will allow our logistics for Afghanistan, a pointless and expensive war. And, of course, to avoid admitting what utter, poisonous damn fools our leaders are.

And I wonder if this goes deeper yet. A real fair chance that Musharraf was in on it. And might they have been involved with Bin Laden earlier? Involved in 9-11 itself? You have to wonder. With friends like these…. 

• Tags: Terrorism 
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A person writes:

The Israeli security model is (as noted in the article) more about the passenger than their baggage. This approach is both effective, time-consuming, and “racist”: the profilers have a conversation with each passenger; as I’m an Israeli Jew, I always get the abbreviated treatment — focusing more on where my bags have been since I’ve packed them. As a foreigner, you get a much more in-depth grilling. As a Muslim? They want to know your shoe size, and then a whole ‘nother screener comes over and asks you everything all over again, just to see that you keep your story straight. Like they say in the article, the conversations they have are not so much about what you say as how you say it. The screeners are taught to iterate a few levels deep into your story and see that it doesn’t break down under scrutiny.

Naturally, this process supposes that A) the threat is foreign and mostly limited to one ethnic/religious group, and B) screeners have this sort of time.

In the US, racial profiling is… unpalatable, and if each passenger / family got even a perfunctory 1-minute Q&A session with a TSA security officer, the system would crash. The US is dealing with a larger threat profile, and a whole different order-of-magnitude of traffic.

A lot more domestic travel in the U.S., whereas a high percentage of flights out of Ben Gurion are international, which can afford higher quality security people.

2. The security screener’s job: manpower, training, history

Normally these are intelligent men and women, usually students or twentysomethings, who pass a series of exams and then pass a several-month course. The hours are craptastic but the pay is decent, and a lot of students prefer it to shiftwork or waitressing. Passing the course is difficult but not arduous, and in the end you are really being taught guidelines on interrogation and then set loose to use your judgment — if you have a red flag to raise, then you just call over a senior screener who has more years of experience.

The reality is that there are few enough openings that the program can be selective. I’d say, as a generalization, screeners here possess above-average intelligence, whereas your average TSA screener seems to be a working stiff, blindly following some not-too-complex screening algorithm in a three-ring binder. The number of screeners requisite for staffing all of the US airports precludes the TSA from exclusively employing screeners with the ability to make “judgment calls”. There just aren’t enough smart people with the desire to work a screener’s job in the US.

Of course, that’s exactly why computerized profiling is more necessary in the U.S.

Bush’s Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta crusaded in 2001 (and after!) to drive ethnicity and religion out of the computerized profiling systems, and to make sure that airport personnel weren’t even unconsciously more suspicious of Arabs and Muslims.

We’d be safer if we just went back to how the Clinton Administration did it: include “Arab” and “Muslim” in the profiles.

…. In the end, the system here relies on quality manpower, trained to employ their judgment of whether or not a given person constitutes a risk. In the US, “subjective” is merely a synonym for “pending lawsuit”.

It also helps that Israel self-consciously exists for the benefit of the majority, while in the U.S. over the last 50 years, the tendency has been to automatically suspect the majority.

Reader Thomas comments:

Of course we don’t look at the person. The belief that one person is somehow any different from any other person is the gravest sin in our civic religion.

• Tags: Terrorism 
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Basically, Israeli airline security consists of Larry David-style suspicious staring into everybody’s eyeballs (although that never seems to work for Larry, because everyone else on Curb Your Enthusiasm is even stronger willed than he is).

Commenter Cordelia points to this excellent article from the The Star of Toronto:

What Israel can teach us about security
At Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, screening is done in 30 minutes. The key? Look passengers in the eye

… “It is mind boggling for us Israelis to look at what happens in North America, because we went through this 50 years ago,” said Rafi Sela, the president of AR Challenges, a global transportation security consultancy. He has worked with the RCMP, the U.S. Navy Seals and airports around the world.

“Israelis, unlike Canadians and Americans, don’t take s— from anybody. When the security agency in Israel (the ISA) started to tighten security and we had to wait in line for – not for hours – but 30 or 40 minutes, all hell broke loose here. We said, `We’re not going to do this. You’re going to find a way that will take care of security without touching the efficiency of the airport.’”

Despite facing dozens of potential threats each day, the security set-up at Israel’s largest hub, Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport, has not been breached since 2002, when a passenger mistakenly carried a handgun onto a flight. How do they manage that?

The first layer of actual security that greets travellers at Ben Gurion is a roadside check. All drivers are stopped and asked two questions: How are you? Where are you coming from?

“Two benign questions. The questions aren’t important. The way people act when they answer them is,” Sela said.

Once you’ve parked your car or gotten off your bus, you pass through the second and third security perimeters.

Armed guards outside the terminal observe passengers as they move toward the doors, again looking for odd behaviour. At Ben Gurion’s half-dozen entrances, another layer of security is watching. At this point, some travellers will be randomly taken aside, and their person and their luggage run through a magnometer.

“This is to see that you don’t have heavy metals on you or something that looks suspicious,” said Sela.

You are now in the terminal. As you approach your airline check-in desk, a trained interviewer takes your passport and ticket. They ask a series of questions: Who packed your luggage? Has it left your side?

“The whole time, they are looking into your eyes – which is very embarrassing. But this is one of the ways they figure out if you are suspicious or not. It takes 20, 25 seconds,” said Sela.

Lines are staggered. People are not allowed to bunch up into inviting targets for a bomber who has gotten this far. …

Five security layers down: you now finally arrive at the only one which Ben Gurion airport shares with Pearson – the body and hand-luggage check.

“But here it is done completely, absolutely 180 degrees differently than it is done in North America,” Sela said.

“First, it’s fast – there’s almost no line. That’s because they’re not looking for liquids, they’re not looking at your shoes. They’re not looking for everything they look for in North America. They just look at you,” said Sela. “Even today with the heightened security in North America, they will check your items to death. But they will never look at you, at how you behave. They will never look into your eyes … and that’s how you figure out the bad guys from the good guys.”

The goal at Ben Gurion is to move fliers from the parking lot to the airport lounge in 25 minutes tops.

And then there’s intelligence. In Israel, Sela said, a coordinated intelligence gathering operation produces a constantly evolving series of threat analyses and vulnerability studies.

“There is absolutely no intelligence and threat analysis done in Canada or the United States,” Sela said. “Absolutely none.”

But even without the intelligence, Sela maintains, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab – who allegedly tried to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day – would not have gotten past Ben Gurion’s behavioural profilers.

So. Eight years after 9/11, why are we still so reactive?

Sela first blames our leaders, and then ourselves.

“You can easily do what we do. You don’t have to replace anything. You have to add just a little bit – technology, training,” Sela said. “But you have to completely change the way you go about doing airport security. And that is something that the bureaucrats have a problem with. They are very well enclosed in their own concept.”

So, airport security in Israel is handled much like immigration in Israel: for the benefit of the majority.

• Tags: Terrorism 
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… of travelers from 14 countries (13 of them heavily Muslim), will progressives retract all the dumb arguments they’ve made over the years about how profiling can’t even work in theory?

Probably not.

The New York Times hosts a debate over profiling:

The Obama administration has announced that it will subject citizens of 14 countries, including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, to intensive screening when flying to the United States (the rule will also apply to those passing through those countries). This means treating people differently depending on where they come from or what passports they hold.

Does it make sense to concentrate security efforts on more limited populations — through profiling, behavioral or otherwise? Is profiling effective, compared to other strategies?

The first contributor says:

Bruce Schneier is a security technologist and author of several books on computer security, including “Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World.”

Terrorists can figure out how to beat any profiling system.

There are two kinds of profiling. There’s behavioral profiling based on how someone acts, and there’s automatic profiling based on name, nationality, method of ticket purchase, and so on. The first one can be effective, but is very hard to do right. The second one makes us all less safe. The problem with automatic profiling is that it doesn’t work.

Terrorists don’t fit a profile and cannot be plucked out of crowds by computers. They’re European, Asian, African, Hispanic, and Middle Eastern, male and female, young and old. Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab was Nigerian. Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, was British with a Jamaican father. Germaine Lindsay, one of the 7/7 London bombers, was Afro-Caribbean. Dirty bomb suspect Jose Padilla was Hispanic-American. The 2002 Bali terrorists were Indonesian. Timothy McVeigh was a white American. So was the Unabomber. The Chechen terrorists who blew up two Russian planes in 2004 were female. Palestinian terrorists routinely recruit “clean” suicide bombers, and have used unsuspecting Westerners as bomb carriers.

In reality, as sportswriter Damon Runyon said, “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet.”

Without an accurate profile, the system can be statistically demonstrated to be no more effective than random screening.

Actually, the link says the opposite, as I’ll show below.

And, even worse, profiling creates two paths through security: one with less scrutiny and one with more. And once you do that, you invite the terrorists to take the path with less scrutiny. That is, a terrorist group can safely probe any profiling system and figure out how to beat the profile. And once they do, they’re going to get through airport security with the minimum level of screening every time.

Sure, as long as Al-Qaeda can recruit Mexican grandmothers to be suicide bombers as readily as it can recruit young men with Muslim names.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, we’re all more secure when we randomly select people for secondary screening — even if it means occasionally screening wheelchair-bound grandmothers and innocent looking children. And, as an added bonus, it doesn’t needlessly anger the ethnic groups we need on our side if we’re going to be more secure against terrorism.

A recurrent theme of mine is how the demand for denial of average IQ differences spills into seemingly unrelated issues, like airline security, causing widespread intellectual stultification. The modern liberal mind thinks in black-and-white Manichean terms, rendering it unarmed for dealing with a probabilistic universe.

It’s hard to deal with liberal arguments because they tend to be so Gladwellian in their mental rigidity. Here we are, more than eight years after 9/11, and this “expert” picked by the NYT for his wisdom can’t imagine any profiling system smarter than he is.

Schneier seems to be assuming that profiling means that 100% of attention would be devoted to people in category X and 0% to people in category Y. The weird thing is, that’s common among progressives. They really just don’t get it. The conventional wisdom is a form of unilateral cognitive disarmament.

He’s like a pitching coach who tells a baseball pitcher, “Your fastball is above average, your slider average, and your change-up below average, but if you only throw your fastball, they’ll expect it, so you should choose your pitches randomly, throwing one-third of each.”

Obviously, when stated in those terms, it’s easy to see the fallacy: there are superior methodologies in-between all fastballs and total randomness. If your fastball is relatively more effective than your other pitches, you want to throw relatively more fastballs. But you still want to “mix ‘em up,” as every pitching coach from Babe Ruth League onward as told pitchers.

Why can’t Americans be as smart about public policy as they are about sports?

Thus, if you read the article Schneier links to behind his phrase “statistically demonstrated,” you’ll find it’s merely a debunking of a braindead “100% fastballs” profiling method:

Press then examines the effect of what he terms a strong profiling strategy, one in which a limited set of screening resources is deployed solely based the risk probabilities identified through profiling. It turns out that this also works poorly as the population size goes up. “The reason that this strong profiling strategy is inefficient,” Press writes, “is that, on average, it keeps retesting the same innocent individuals who happen to have large p j [risk profile match] values.”

The very next paragraph of the article linked to by Schneier explains that non-braindead profiling is the best method:

According to Press, the solution is something that’s widely recognized by the statistics community: identify individuals for robust screening based on the square root of their risk value. That gives the profile some weight, but distributes the screening much more broadly through the population, and uses limited resources more effectively. It’s so widely used in mathematical circles that Press concludes his paper by writing, “It seems peculiar that the method is not better known.”

Peculiar, indeed. But as Napoleon supposedly said, “Never ascribe to malice that which can be explained by incompetence.”

• Tags: Terrorism 
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In yet another example of the workings of the bipartisan wisdom that “Because we must invite the world (it’s unthinkable not to), we therefore must invade the world to be safe,” Washington has responded to Nigerian Underwear Bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s fizzled attempt to blow up a plane headed to Detroit on Christmas by escalating American involvement in Yemen.

Senator Joe Lieberman declaimed, “Iraq was yesterday’s war, Afghanistan is today’s war. If we don’t act preemptively, Yemen will be tomorrow’s war.”

President Barack Obama sent General David Petraeus to Sana, the medieval capital city of Yemen, more than 7,000 feet up in the densely populated but isolated highlands of that remote country, to help coordinate America’s role in the Yemeni government’s war on its rebels.

The logic of invite the world, invade the world is simple: Because we are so helplessly vulnerable to Muslim terrorists flying to the U.S. and blowing stuff up, we must tighten American hegemony over the entire Muslim world, even unto the highlands of Yemen, until they learn to stop resenting us.

The bombings of Muslim countries will continue until Muslim morale improves!

Yet, before getting bogged down in another high altitude, tribal Muslim country, one of even more negligible strategic significance than Afghanistan, perhaps we could step back for a moment and ask: Do we really have to invite the world? Did we have to wave Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab onto that Detroit-bound plane with a friendly, non-discriminatory smile?

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From the Washington Post:

Under a slide titled “Comments,” he wrote: “If Muslim groups can convince Muslims that they are fighting for God against injustices of the ‘infidels’; ie: enemies of Islam, then Muslims can become a potent adversary ie: suicide bombing, etc.” [sic]

The last bullet point on that page reads simply: “We love death more then (sic) you love life!”

Under the “Conclusions” page, Hasan wrote that “Fighting to establish an Islamic State to please God, even by force, is condoned by the Islam,” and that “Muslim Soldiers should not serve in any capacity that renders them at risk to hurting/killing believers unjustly — will vary!”

The final page, labeled “Recommendation,” contained only one suggestion:

“Department of Defense should allow Muslims (sic) Soldiers the option of being released as ‘Conscientious objectors’ to increase troop morale and decrease adverse events.”

Of course, conscientious objection status is only granted to pacifists, not to people who would rather hurt us than the enemy.

• Tags: Terrorism 
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Peter Brimelow points to this Telegraph article:

Fort Hood gunman had told US military colleagues that infidels should have their throats cut

By Nick Allen in Fort Hood

Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the gunman who killed 13 at America’s Fort Hood military base, once gave a lecture to other doctors in which he said non-believers should be beheaded and have boiling oil poured down their throats.

He also told colleagues at America’s top military hospital that non-Muslims were infidels condemned to hell who should be set on fire. The outburst came during an hour-long talk Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, gave on the Koran in front of dozens of other doctors at Walter Reed Army Medical Centre in Washington DC, where he worked for six years before arriving at Fort Hood in July.

Colleagues had expected a discussion on a medical issue but were instead given an extremist interpretation of the Koran, which Hasan appeared to believe.

It was the latest in a series of “red flags” about his state of mind that have emerged since the massacre at Fort Hood, America’s largest military installation, on Thursday. …

Fellow doctors have recounted how they were repeatedly harangued by Hasan about religion and that he openly claimed to be a “Muslim first and American second.”

One Army doctor who knew him said a fear of appearing discriminatory against a Muslim soldier had stopped fellow officers from filing formal complaints. [Emphasis added]

Meanwhile, Dennis Mangan points to an NYT article that begins:

KILLEEN, Tex. — Leaders of the vibrant Muslim community here …

Here’s the UPI article, “Bush had called for laxer airport security” that I wrote on the evening of September 11, 2001 pointing out that George W. Bush had denounced airport security personnel for paying more attention to Arabs and Muslim fliers, and then had had Norman Mineta’s Transportation Department start a program to stomp out airport profiling.

Also, we now know that the airport ticket agent who checked in Mohammed Atta on the morning of 9/11/2001 said to himself, as he told Oprah in 2005:

“I got an instant chill when I looked at [Atta]. I got this grip in my stomach and then, of course, I gave myself a political correct slap.”

Michael Touhey told a reporter:

Then Tuohey went through an internal debate that still haunts him.

“I said to myself, ‘If this guy doesn’t look like an Arab terrorist, then nothing does.’ Then I gave myself a mental slap, because in this day and age, it’s not nice to say things like this,” he said. “You’ve checked in hundreds of Arabs and Hindus and Sikhs, and you’ve never done that. I felt kind of embarrassed.”

It wasn’t just Atta’s demeanor that caught Tuohey’s attention.

“When I looked at their tickets, they had first-class, one-way tickets – $2,500 tickets. Very unusual,” he said. “I guess they’re not coming back. Maybe this is the end of their trip.”

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From my new column:

It was a busy week for Invite the World / Invade the World / In Hock to the World news:

First, Gallup announced the results of polling 259,542 adults in 135 countries during 2007-2009:

700 Million Worldwide Desire to Migrate Permanently
U.S. tops desired destination countries

“… Gallup finds about 16% of the world’s adults would like to move to another country permanently if they had the chance. This translates to roughly 700 million worldwide — more than the entire adult population of North and South America combined.”

Second, a U.S. Army major / Palestinian terrorist shot two score soldiers at Fort Hood. Texas. President Barack Hussein Obama rushed to warn that there must be no rush to stereotype Major Nidal Malik Hasan. The New York Times played along, running a five-part red herring discussion on “Combat Stress and the Fort Hood Gunman.” Presumably, Major Hasan, who had never seen combat, was suffering from PTSD: Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Third, the government announced that the unemployment rate had exceeded 10 percent for the first time in 26 years. But discussion of the role of immigration in unemployment was simply nonexistent in the Main Stream Media.

When things go very wrong, as they have, the most likely causes are ones that Nobody who is Anybody expected. Their conceptual framework leaves them unable to cope with unthinkable reality.

In contrast, my alternative Invite / Invade / In Hock analysis of the Bush-Obama Era’s dominant approach helps point out linkages behind events that baffle those brainwashed by the conventional wisdom.

For example, if you stop and think about it, you’ll notice that Hasan, whose mother was born in Jerusalem, was following in the tradition of Palestinian terrorist Sirhan Sirhan, who shot Sen. Robert F. Kennedy on June 5, 1968.

Few conceive of Sirhan as a Palestinian terrorist because nobody in American thought much about Palestine or terrorism before George Habash masterminded the skyjacking of four jetliners in 1970. Hence, most Americans mentally lump Sirhan in with the 1960s domestic assassins Lee Harvey Oswald and James Earl Ray.

Yet, Sirhan certainly saw himself as a Palestinian terrorist. Sirhan murdered Bobby Kennedy on the first anniversary of Israel’s June 5, 1967 attack on its Arab neighbors because RFK promised to send 50 fighter jets to Israel.

That there’s an inevitable conflict between “Invade” and “Invite” in terms of domestic terrorism is something that the Kennedy brothers never figured out.

Read it there and comment about it here.

• Tags: Immigration, Terrorism 
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If he survives, the Ft. Hood shooter will of course be charged with murder, but it’s reasonable to inquire whether treason should also be charged. After all, for a major in the U.S. Army, trained at taxpayer expense in the use of weapons, to shoot 40 unarmed comrades-in-arms would seem like a reasonable example of waging war on the United States.

However, the Constitution’s delineation of treason might not cover this:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court. The Congress shall have power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.

What does “levying war” mean? Although “levying” is sometimes today said to be the same as “waging,” that doesn’t appear to be the legal definition. In one of the the treason cases (Bollman) growing out of the still mysterious Aaron Burr conspiracy, the Chief Justice John Marshall of the Supreme Court ruled in 1807, “But there must be an actual assembling of men for the treasonable purpose, to constitute a levying of war.” In other words, “levying” means raising a body of warriors. Therefore, whether Major Hasan plotted solely alone or was conspiring with others, and if so, did they in some fashion “assemble,” would appear to be relevant.

On the other hand, the second type of treason, “or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort” would appear to be an easier hurdle to leap. The first time the Supreme Court upheld a treason conviction was in the 1947 Haupt case in which naturalized citizen Hans Mark Haupt was sentenced to life in prison for sheltering in his Chicago home his son, a German spy (one of the eight saboteurs landed by a German sub in a semi-farcical failed infiltration). The son was convicted by military tribunal and executed. In the father’s case, noted civil libertarian Justice William O. Douglas wrote the majority opinion upholding the father’s conviction, while Justice Jackson wrote a lonely dissent arguing that the father’s intentions were filial rather than treasonous.

Since the elder Haupt was legally guilty of treason for merely helping his son, then Hasan’s shooting two score American soldiers in cold blood would appear to be an even better example of “adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” However, that does raise the issue of who exactly our Enemies are, a question that has been left rather ambiguous by Congress’ refusal to issue a Declaration of War since 1942.

• Tags: Terrorism 
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Adrian Blomfield of the neocon Daily Telegraph does a great job of giving the Ft. Hood shooter’s Palestinian cousins in Ramallah in the West Bank (Ramallah is the capital of the Palestinian National Authority) enough rope:
Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan: Fort Hood shooting: profile of Nidal Malik Hasan Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan is the suspected shooter at Fort Hood U.S Army Post where according to authorities 12 people were shot and killed and 31 other were wounded Photo: EPA

Speaking from their home in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Hasan’s relatives painted a picture of a man cornered into an act of “lunacy” by the repeated discrimination of his peers and an attempt by the army to force him to serve in Afghanistan.

“They discriminated against him because he was a Muslim,” Mohammed Mohammed, one of Hasan’s cousins, told the Daily Telegraph. “We’re not trying to make excuses for him but what we were told was that he was under a lot of pressure.

“What we imagine is that he could not take this bad treatment and gave vent unfortunately.” …

In the house next door, Hasan’s brother Anas had locked himself indoors with his wife, refusing to speak to anyone, including his relatives.

According to his cousins, Hasan was badly scarred by the deaths of his parents in 1998 and 2001. Along with his two brothers, he became increasingly devout, they said.

“They became very religious after their mother died,” Mohammed Hasan said. “They were very observant. They prayed a lot.”

Yet the two cousins insisted that the major’s religion was not tinged with political fanaticism, although they said he had become increasingly withdrawn and uncommunicative in recent years.

Even so, they had little reason to believe that he was a man on the edge.

“Nidal is a very stable minded person,” Mohammed Mohammed said. “Why would he kill? He was against violence.

“His actions could have been in self defence – we don’t know. Maybe they angered him to the point of cornering him and he felt he had no option.”

They angrily rejected suggestions that their cousin’s shooting spree had been motivated by a hatred for America or as an act of terrorism.

“My cousin is not a terrorist,” said Mohammed Hasan. “He was born in America, he graduated from Virginia (Tech) University. He was proud to be graduate. He was always preaching about the US education system. He was an optimistic person. He loved life.”

Although he had always wanted to follow other members of his family into the army, Hasan was shocked that he was never accepted as a true American, the cousins said.

He was constantly taunted and provoked until six months ago, he hired a lawyer to sue the army, the cousins said, explaining they kept in touch with developments in Hasan’s life either through telephone calls to him and his family or from Hasan’s brother, who returned to the West Bank four years ago.

They heard that he had become increasingly unhappy, both at the treatment of his peers and also because he had been ordered to deploy “in Iraq and Afghanistan”. But the two cousins insisted that Hasan’s opposition to being sent abroad was as much because he was planning to marry. [Whom?]

The two men also denounced the attention being given in the media to Hasan’s religion.

“Had Hasan been a pure American, there wouldn’t have been such a fuss about it,” said Mohammed Mohammed. “There has been a lot of stress in the media about how he was an Arab, a Palestinian, a Muslim.”

“If he had been someone else, he would immediately been identified by the government as a lunatic and the subject would have been closed.”

“Our religion does not support violence, as the West believes.”

• Tags: Terrorism 
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A point that’s often overlooked in the anthrax case is that mad scientist Bruce Ivins had at least two counselors over the years who were disturbed enough by what he said during therapy sessions to alert the authorities that he was likely to murder somebody.

His 2008 counselor, who led a group therapy session for substance abusers, had to get a judge to issue a restraining order against Ivins after he threatened to murder her, along with his colleagues at work. This poor woman has had her dirty laundry aired all over the Internet by people trying to discredit her. Of course, Ivins made threats in front of his therapy group, so if you don’t believe the group leader, you could just ask the other members of the group. But, I guess, the theory then would be that they are all drunks and pill-poppers too, so you can’t believe them either … or something.

Tellingly, Ivins’ therapist in 2000 went to the cops, too, because Ivins had told her he intended to poison a young woman if she lost a soccer match. Fortunately, her team won.

That’s like Anton Chigur demanding the that gas station clerk in “No Country for Old Men” flip a coin to see if he lives or dies. It’s just not sane.

For me, that evidence that he was homicidally loony many years before the FBI had ever heard of him is, more than anything else, what caused me to change my evaluation of the case against Ivins from Plausible to Highly Probable. When a suspect kills himself, that’s usually a sign of guilt. Perhaps, though, the FBI badgered an innocent man into suicidal depression?

But, it now turns out that Ivins had boasted about much of the modus operandi of the 2001 attacks in 2000 — poisoning people and taking long drives to anonymously mail things without anybody noticing.

Moreover, it appears that the FBI was not in contact with his 2000 counselor until this summer. Evidently, they had settled upon him as the main suspect before talking to his 2000 counselor.

Strangely enough, it was Ivins himself who set in motion the surfacing of his 2000 therapist. Why did he do it? The Washington Post reported on August 7 about his 2000 counselor, who has had the good sense to stay anonymous and not endure the kind of abuse to which his 2008 counselor has been subjected:

The counselor had not heard from Ivins for years until he called out of the blue about two months ago. Politely, “he asked whether I remembered him,” she said. And he asked whether she could give him his records for his attorney.

When FBI agents called her late last month [July] — near the day [July 29, 2008] Ivins swallowed a lethal dose of Tylenol — she replied, “In all my 25 years of counseling, there is only one client the FBI would call me about.”

So, why did Ivins’ attorney want Ivins’ psychiatric records from 2000?

The only rational explanation that I can come up with is that his attorney was considering, with Ivins’ cooperation, a not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity plea in the anthrax terrorism case.

Ivins would have been crazy not to plead insanity!

Judging from what we’ve seen of Ivins emails, you could make a decent argument that he was close to legally insane in 2000. My vague impression is that he wasn’t quite as crazy in 2001, perhaps due to the medication he’d been prescribed: I haven’t heard about as many deranged emails from 2001 as from 2000.

In summary, we should have a national commission to investigate the anthrax terrorism. Put on it non-politicians who could master the genetics and the criminal investigation — Henry Harpending, Vincent Bugliosi, Richard Posner, people of that caliber. My guess would be that Ivins will turn out to be the killer.

By the way, Science has a helpful article on the genetic side of the FBI’s case.

• Tags: Terrorism 
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As Testing99 has commented, the idea that a lone mad scientist could have pulled off the 2001 anthrax attacks is, in one way, much scarier than the idea that it was a conspiracy using special weaponized anthrax. If Ivins, whose anthrax specialty was defense, not offense, could have done it all by himself, then anthrax terrorism isn’t that hard to do. Not easy — Ivins had 20 years experience at the bioweapons lab — but not dauntingly hard, either.

That would be bad news.

We were frequently told in 2001 that the terrorist’s anthrax had been weaponized using sophisticated techniques to make it especially dangerous, but, did that turn out to be true?

Greg Cochran emails:

I’m pretty sure that the FBI doesn’t think there was any super-special ‘weaponization’ at all. From Wiki:

” The August 2006 issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology contained an article written by Dr. Douglas Beecher of the FBI labs in Quantico, VA.[30] The article, titled “Forensic Application of Microbiological Culture Analysis to Identify Mail Intentionally Contaminated with Bacillus anthracis spores ,” states “Individuals familiar with the compositions of the powders in the letters have indicated that they were comprised simply of spores purified to different extents.” The article also specifically criticizes “a widely circulated misconception” “that the spores were produced using additives and sophisticated engineering supposedly akin to military weapon production.” The harm done by this misconception is described this way: “This idea is usually the basis for implying that the powders were inordinately dangerous compared to spores alone. The persistent credence given to this impression fosters erroneous preconceptions, which may misguide research and preparedness efforts and generally detract from the magnitude of hazards posed by simple spore preparations.” However, after this article had appeared the editor of Applied and Environmental Microbiology, L. Nicholas Ornston, stated that he was uncomfortable with Beecher’s statement in the article since it had no evidence to back it up and contained no citation. ”

I’ve never seen any evidence of any coating, either, just a lot of people say that there must have been some. Finding silicon with a mass spectrometer doesn’t mean a there was any coating. This discussion is complicated by a natural reluctance to talk about the exact methods of preparing weapons-grade anthrax. I suspect that one point they’d really like to skip over would be that its fairly easy.

More on this from the Washington Post, 2006:

” The FBI would not allow Beecher to be interviewed about his article. But other scientists familiar with the forensic investigation echoed his description. Whoever made the powder produced a deadly project of exceptional purity and quality — up to a trillion spores per gram — but used none of the tricks known to military bioweapons scientists to increase the lethality of the product. Officials stressed that the terrorist would have had to have considerable skills in microbiology and access to equipment.

“It wasn’t weaponized. It was just nicely cleaned up,” said one knowledgeable scientist who spoke on the condition he not be identified by name because the investigation is continuing. “Whoever did it was proud of their biology. They grew the spores, spun them down, cleaned up the debris. But there were no additives.”

Like I said. This simplifies the situation considerably.

• Tags: Terrorism 
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The unmasking of Bruce E. Ivins as a mad scientist who, with a high degree of likelihood, carried out the 2001 anthrax attacks, most likely singlehandedly, has not proven popular. People want to hear that Bush did it, Saddam Hussein did it, the cigarette-smoking man did it, whatever. Personally, I think the idea that a mad scientist at the government’s bioweapons lab did it is pretty interesting, but apparently that’s not good enough. Everybody wants a conspiracy that goes all the way to the Top! (Which Top is a matter of dispute, but that’s not the point; the point is that a mere mad scientist just isn’t good enough.)

One thing to keep in mind is that everybody failed in the case of Ivins. The FBI overlooked him for years; his bosses let him continue to work on deadly toxins despite homicidal ideation about “mixing poisons” to murder some poor soccer-playing girl in 2000; the war-bloggers never gave him a moment’s thought; the Bushitler crowd never did either; the conspiracy theorist hobbyists did a terrible job too.

The guy who did the best job, amateur analyst Edward G. Lake, still didn’t come close to Ivins. In fact, he admitted last week,

“Bruce Ivins is a name I don’t recall ever hearing before (but I’m told his name appears in several articles on this site).”

That’s fascinating, because Lake was generally considered the best informed amateur analyst in the country.

Last week, Lake was highly skeptical that Ivins did it at first, but said after yesterday’s FBI news conference:

“The FBI certainly has a better case against Ivins than I’ve seen against anyone else.”

Here’s Lake’s list of his conclusions from several years ago, with his brand new updatings as of 86/08:

1. Dr. Steven Jay Hatfill is innocent of any connection to the anthrax attacks, and his life was ruined by a band of politically-motivated conspiracy theorists who conned the media, the public and government officials into forcing the FBI to publicly investigate him. Links: 1234567

2. The culprit almost certainly used a child to write the anthrax letters and to address the anthrax envelopes. Links: 12

3. In the tense and panicky first few days of the investigation, mistakes were made at USAMRIID and the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) which were unfortunately leaked to the media. The result was that the silly mistakes and false assumptions were turned into false headlines which misled the world and continue to mislead the world about the nature of the attack anthrax to this day. Links: 123

4. Despite all the erroneous media headlines and made up theories, the attack anthrax did not contain any visible additives as so many scientists and media people believe. That basic misconception has caused much of the scientific community and the media to look in the wrong direction for the culprit. Links: 1234567891011121314151617

5. The cause of Kathy Nguyen’s anthrax exposure was never properly investigated because the investigators were caught up in the thinking of the moment and didn’t look at the “whole picture”. Link: 1

6. The common belief that Bob Stevens was exposed to anthrax as a result of examining the so-called “J-Lo letter” is total nonsense and just more of the thinking of the moment. It doesn’t stand up against facts. Link: 12

7. The anthrax powder in the attack letters was a “garden variety” powder and was most likely made in either a commercial lab, a university lab or a hospital lab in Central New Jersey that is still in use. Link: 1 Partially wrong.

8. The anthrax mailer most likely lives and works in Central New Jersey and has not been arrested because the FBI has not yet obtained sufficient evidence to make an arrest. It is hoped (and possibly expected) that the new science of microbial forensics will produce the evidence that is lacking for a conviction. Link: 12 Partially wrong.

9. The motivation for the attacks was almost certainly to awaken America to the danger of a bioweapons attack by Muslim terrorists – particularly any Muslim terrorists that might be living or staying in Central New Jersey. Link: 1 Partially wrong.

10. The anthrax mailer probably had no direct connection to any source of the Ames strain of anthrax and probably never worked for any government lab. Link: 1 Totally wrong.

11. The person who removed the Ames anthrax from the lab where it was being used for medical research is almost certainly not the same person who refined and mailed the anthrax. Link: 1 Totally wrong.

12. Al Qaeda was not involved with the anthrax attacks in any way. Link: 1

So, Lake wasn’t close at all to identifying Ivins, but he got much of the big picture right — it wasn’t Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, Stephen Hatfill, Dick Cheney or that other Fr. Detrick scientist whom I looked into but resolved not to publish his name. But congratulations to Lake for publicly grading himself like this.

• Tags: Terrorism 
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The weight of evidence is rapidly approaching the threshold of “beyond a reasonable doubt” that government bioweapons defense researcher Bruce E. Ivins was the 2001 anthrax terrorist. As Greg Cochran pointed out to me during a long conversation Wednesday evening, Occam’s Razor is pointing right at Ivins. He had the means (he was the custodian of the anthrax used in the attacks) and he had motives that, while they remain uncertain, appear explicable (he likely wanted to focus attention and funding on his field of expertise — anthrax vaccines).

What’s indisputable is that Ivins, who killed himself on July 29, was a mad scientist.

Something I learned as I’ve gone through life that initially surprised me was what a high proportion of people suffer from mental problems at one point or another. The mind is very complicated and it can jump the rails more than you might think. For example, I’m about as even-keeled as anybody I know, yet I suffered panic attacks and depression for several weeks after I was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer a dozen years ago.

Ivins, though, didn’t have run-of-the-mill mental health troubles. He was, during his worst years, bad crazy in a way that, fortunately, I’ve never come in contact with. Apparently, nine other people had access to Ivins’ anthrax, but, as Greg pointed out, it’s unlikely that any one of them was as crazy as Ivins.

From the New York Times:

In the summer of 2000, Ivins told a counselor that he was interested in a young woman who lived out of town and that he had “mixed poison” and taken it with him when he went to watch her play in a soccer match.

“If she lost, he was going to poison her,” said the counselor, who treated Ivins at a Frederick, Md., clinic four or five times that summer. She said Ivins emphasized he was a skillful scientist who “knew how to do things without people finding out.”

The counselor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Wednesday that she was so alarmed by her client’s emotionless description of a specific, homicidal plan that she alerted the head of her clinic, a psychiatrist who had treated Ivins and the Frederick Police Department. She said the police told her nothing could be done because she did not have the woman’s address or last name.

The account of the counselor, who was interviewed by the FBI early last week, is part of a dark portrait of Ivins that emerged Wednesday.

Besides these kind of terrible impulses, he suffered from delusional obsessions. His psychiatrist in 2000 suggested he had “paranoid personality disorder.” He believed that the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority was waging a “fatwa” against him. The LA Times reported:

Long before, however, Ivins had acted oddly; for example, the documents released Wednesday said that he had used two post office boxes over 24 years to “pursue obsessions” — including an intense interest in the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority. One confidential witness said Ivins had admitted breaking into a Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority house to steal a secret handbook, apparently while he was pursuing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of North Carolina.

The documents also included a message board post by Ivins on a conspiracy theory website, “> . Asking for replies at the e-mail address , he wrote that the sorority had labeled him as an enemy decades ago. “I can only abide their ‘Fatwah’ on me,” he said.

He’d been on anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, and anti-psychotic medicines since 2000. The first two are used by tens of millions of people for problems that range from serious to mild. Anti-psychotic drugs, however, are very heavy, with nasty side-effects for many people.

So, let’s try to put together a plausible picture of the man. He’d suffered mental health problems as far back as his youth. But much of the time he could keep it together — he earned his Ph.D., got married, had kids, volunteered at his church. He wrote letters to the editor of his local paper, espousing what appears to be an eclectic moderate to liberal viewpoint — pro-gay, anti-abortion, pro-Israel, anti-racist, anti-Religious Right. And he held a job for 28 years.

Unfortunately, that job, working at a government bioweapons lab on defenses against anthrax, was just about the worst job imaginable for a paranoiac. From the NYT:

“Paranoid man works with deadly anthrax!!!” he wrote in one e-mail message in July 2000, predicting what a National Enquirer headline might read if he agreed to participate in a study on his work.

“I wish I could control the thoughts in my mind,” he added a month later in another message to a colleague. “It’s hard enough sometimes controlling my behavior. When I am being eaten alive inside, I always try to put on a good front here at work and at home, so I don’t spread the pestilence.”

He continued, “I get incredible paranoid, delusional thoughts at times, and there’s nothing I can do until they go away.”

He’d devoted years of his life to trying to come up with a way to protect America from anthrax terror attacks, and the “professional deformation” that presumably went along with worrying about national catastrophes compounded his existing problems:

His anxiety could be traced, the documents suggest, at least in part to complications that cropped up with an anthrax vaccine project he was working on in the late 1990s, which drew complaints from some Defense Department personnel who claimed the vaccine, which was mandatory, made them severely ill.

“I think the **** is about to hit the fan bigtime,” one July 2000 e-mail message said. “The control vaccine isn’t working. It’s just a fine mess.”

The summer of 2000 was when he told his counselor about his plan to poison the soccer girl if she lost the match.

And he went on what he called “mindless drives” to mail gifts and letters anonymously, the document said, and then “set back the odometer in his car” to fool his wife.

The next year brought 9/11:

His state of mind seemed to worsen after the 2001 terror attacks.

Didn’t everybody’s?

When you consider how crazy Ivins had been in 2000, and how crazy the country as a whole was after 9/11, the anthrax mailings start seeming pretty rational, at least as sensible as responding to 9/11 by invading Iraq.

We don’t have Ivins’ explanation for the mailings, but a simple guess would be that he didn’t particularly want to kill people (for example, he didn’t rig the envelopes to spew spores around), he just wanted to wake America up to the danger posed by anthrax terrorism, and maybe get more funding and attention for his vaccine project.

“I’m the only scary one in the group,” he wrote on Sept. 26 after a group therapy session eight days after the first anthrax-laced letters were mailed. On Oct. 16, as the first victims were dying or hospitalized, one of Ivins’ co-workers observed in an e-mail message that “Bruce has been an absolute manic basket case the last few days.” …

To the FBI’s credit, they figured out early on, at a time when the White House and the media wanted the anthrax terrorists to be Arabs, especially Iraqis, that it had to an American scientist. That’s better than all the warbloggers did. Unfortunately, they settled on Stephen Hatfill due to a series of coincidences, along, presumably, with prejudice against a man who had lived in Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa. Worse, they didn’t refocus their investigation until about a year and a half after early 2005, when the genome sequencing data absolved Hatfill and pointed toward Ivins.

The policy question that arises from all this is why didn’t Ivins’ employer do anything about him over the last 28 years? As Ivins himself noted,”Paranoid Man Works with Deadly Anthrax” is an inherently alarming sentence.

One reason might be the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, which includes mental as well as physical problems. That far-ranging law has proven relatively popular and uncontroversial, in part because it acts as a system of social insurance against the detriments of middle age. None of us would like to be fired from our jobs just because we eventually suffer a physical breakdown or, as in Ivins’ case, go a little nuts at age 54, as he did in 2000. So, Americans institutions are often quite forgiving these days of the personal problems of long-time employees.

As Jerry Pournelle has pointed out, government agencies, because they lack the profit motive, tend to forget about whatever original purpose they had and come to exist for the perpetuation of institution and the well-being of the employees.

• Tags: Terrorism 
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In September 2001, America was first terrorized by a rich supervillain who lives in a cave, then by a genuine mad scientist.

• Tags: Terrorism 
Steve Sailer
About Steve Sailer

Steve Sailer is a journalist, movie critic for Taki's Magazine, columnist, and founder of the Human Biodiversity discussion group for top scientists and public intellectuals.

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