‘Member when that deadly powder was swirling around Congress, causing a country of faithful to shiver and shimmy with anxiety? No, not talking of the coca glory days of Ronnie Reagan and covert ops VP Bush Senior during Iran-Contra here. Put that out of your head.
The powder we speak of was populated by lively, high-grade anthrax spores parceled out during an engineered panic courtesy of the U.S. Postal Service.
More than six years later, investigation ‘Amerithrax’ is all but dead in the water after more than 6,000 subpoenas and 9,000 interviews.
Two investigative reporters are revisiting the many lingering questions over the attacks that left five dead in the fall of 2001. Strangely, none of the major U.S. media houses cared to fund the pair’s research, as if the nation was welcoming amnesiatic sleep. Sleep and wrath and xenophobia. The rejections sent them over the Canadian line for financing.
The project is titled Dead in the Woods. Check out that flippin’ trailer. Can I buy my ticket in advance now please?
The couple had the courtesy to stop by and chat with me here in San Anto after exploring the lair of the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research, the nation’s only privately owned Bio-Safety Level 4 research lab where roving baboons like to sneak out and play from time to time.
“Apparently, the latch was faulty on the transfer cage, and when nobody was looking, the baboon was able to open the transfer cage and escape,” said Dr. John VandeBurg, director of the primate research center.
Being a creature of habit, the baboon headed back to his home cage, where he lives and breeds with about 20 other baboons.
When the capture team tried to shoot him with a tranquilizer gun, he took off.
“The animal became frightened before they got close enough, and at that point, he proceeded to run across the campus,” VandeBurg said.
In fact, he ended up at Texas 151 and Loop 410, and proceeded to head towards the busy highways, when his captors got close enough to sedate him, and take him back to the animal hospital, where he’s recovering now.
Fine, fine. Let the geezer recover, before he’s injected with another dose of hemorrhagic fever.
However, there is a real and vital debate that rages still regarding the use of primates and other creatures in such scientific studies. Most scientists work to reduce as much as possible their reliance on lab animals.
Wherever you stand within that spectrum, when Homeland Security’s germ lab arrives (I’m assuming they’ll take the path of least resistance to our military-friendly ciudad) and the baboons and macaques, horses and cows, are herded into the lab to be exposed to biological weapons and “counter-measures,” I would hope we’d be having a whole new debate on the ethicacy of this type of work.
It’s one thing to work on a cure. It’s another thing to design weaponry.
After all, 2001’s Amerithrax attacks were linked back to military strains created at the US Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick (USAMRIID), Maryland.
A SFBR researcher denied this to the end in a recent conversation with me. Of course, she also swore up and down that the best research on a foot-and-mouth outbreak in England was from natural sources and not a research lab. Wrong on that one.
“Of course we support a new lab,” said Texas Cattle Feeders Association President Ross Wilson, whose organization markets more than 6 million cattle a year in feed lots – 30 percent of the nation’s supply. “The question becomes, can we do it safely on the mainland?”
Now they don’t return calls.
Just maybe we’ve turned a corner…