October 13, 2003

An Email Exchange on the Kay Report

Dear Brad,

Did you realize just how weak the Bush spin on the Kay report is?

The main support for the Bush administration spin that the US weapons inspectors found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is a vial of live botulinum found in the refrigerator of an Iraqi scientist who put it there following Iraqi government orders. Takes courage, or rather it shows, in Iraq, it was safer to have botulinum in your refrigerator than say no to Saddam.

I should have realised how silly this claim was. I know that you have to boil anything you can to avoid botulism. I should have realised that to get live botulinum one basically has to can something without boiling it and wait. The bacterium is quite common. It becomes dangerous when something it can grow on is stored in the absence of oxygen. A vial of botulinum appears to be nothing special.

I blush to admit that, in spite of a masters degree in microbiology, I considered live botulinum more serious than botulinus toxin. I note that newspapers are vague on the distinction. I was surprised to read that a vile of toxin was found in the refrigerator in Iraq. I decided to count toxin vs live bacteria in news reports (the first I checked contradicted itself).

Then I got to this link http://www.warfilter.com/link.php/575 which does seem quite unsympathetic to Bush. And then I got to a competent microbiologist http://www.dailykos.com/archives/004418.html#004418.

David Kay should check with the FDA: "The organism and its spores are widely distributed in nature. They occur in both cultivated and forest soils, bottom sediments of streams, lakes, and coastal waters, and in the intestinal tracts of fish and mammals, and in the gills and viscera of crabs and other shellfish."

He should also check with the CDC: "What kind of germ is Clostridium botulinum? Clostridium botulinum is the name of a group of bacteria commonly found in soil."

Yours,

Robert


It is amazing. I wonder whether Kay has no real biologists working >for him, or just took a dive...

Yours,

Brad


I may have forgotten how common botulinum is (and my mom warned me a thousand times not to try canning things myself--not that I was ever tempted), but I think I know the answer to that one: he took a dive.

Robert


They really do lie about everything, don't they?

Brad

Posted by DeLong at October 13, 2003 08:40 AM | TrackBack

Comments

Do a little research on Kay, and his CV and what he's been doing lately, and you will no longer be surprised that he took a dive.

Posted by: Chuck Nolan on October 13, 2003 09:39 AM

Day by day the tragedy compounds. There was no truth in foreign policy leading to war, as there is no truth in domestic fiscal or environmental policy.

Posted by: lise on October 13, 2003 09:57 AM

I'm starting to think that it's the nature of coming from a PR world. Yes, it's lying, but it's just business as usual if you are from a corporate background. Problems are not problems to solve - they're PR problems. You don't fix the problem, you change perceptions of the problem, or "shape opinion" as they call it. Truth is not even an issue - not even discussed, not even something that comes to mind. What you discuss is how to "turn this situation around to our favor."

And with "The Party," EVERYTHING is a matter of shaping opinion, not solving problems.

Posted by: Dave Johnson on October 13, 2003 09:58 AM

And still 60%+ of the U.S. population thinks that WMDs have been found in Iraq.

Posted by: Alan on October 13, 2003 10:05 AM

Fatalities

American soldiers 189
British soldiers 18
Coalition soldiers 4
---
211 Since May 2

American 328
British 51
Coalition 4
---
383 Since March 20

Wounded

American soldiers ~1818

Note: American forces have fallen to 130,000
British forces have risen to 11,000

Posted by: lise on October 13, 2003 10:09 AM

Also, the strain of botulism may really matter. If it is just the stuff out of the ground, cultured and messed with, it really IS no big deal. It really WAS just a biological sample, to keep with all the other random bacteria.

If it is a strain which has undergone a lot of selection in the laboratory to be easy to grow in some sort of production-reactor, that is another (but not all THAT different) story, as it is a biological sample which could shortcut several weeks/months of work if one does want to produce large quantities of botulism toxin. But again, it's probably only a weeks/months shortcut, not a years shortcut.

A shotglass full of the extracted toxin, on the other hand, is a very useful sabotage/terrorist agent. A piss-poor military weapon, but get it into a civilian water-supply and the results are predictibly nasty: botulism poisoning IS treatable, but rather intensive care is required for weeks.

Then again, dilute quantities are commonly used medicinally (it is a highly effective paralyzing agent), so if they just said "Vials of the toxin", it could just as easily be injectible Botox concentration (very low) to keep Saddam Hussein's wrinkles down.

Its amazing how much you can "lie" by omission in this area, by just excluding information about strains and concentrations.

Posted by: Nicholas Weaver on October 13, 2003 10:24 AM

>>Its amazing how much you can "lie" by omission in this area>>

If they had anything stronger to say, they'd have said it. My guess is they found some Botox

Posted by: richard on October 13, 2003 11:00 AM

Although I don't have a direct link:

http://www2.observer.com/observer/pages/conason.asp

It was strain B, not (more virulent) strain A.

Posted by: chris_a on October 13, 2003 11:11 AM

Alan: And still 60%+ of the U.S. population thinks that WMDs have been found in Iraq.

What's more, 72% think that Miller Lite tastes better than Brand X; 67% think that Bounty is the quicker picker-upper; and 89% think we've come a long way, baby.

The marketplace of ideas -- love it or leave it.
.

Posted by: Cervantes on October 13, 2003 12:50 PM

Having David Kay look for the WMD is akin to having Kissinger head the 9/11 Investigation.

It's not something you do, if you are actually looking for the truth.

Posted by: KevinNYC on October 13, 2003 01:29 PM

Thanks Chris_a. I forgot to mention that point although I remember I read it somewhere

Posted by: Robert on October 13, 2003 03:23 PM

Josh Marshall points out this quote from Walter Pincus:
Appearing on "Fox News Sunday," U.S. chief weapons inspector David Kay said he is searching for a cache of reference strains of biological agents that is supposed to include anthrax bacteria. Reference strains are not weapons agents but in effect sample amounts to be used to determine whether that agent exists.

Kay's discovery of one vial of a reference strain of botulinum toxin that an Iraqi scientist had stored in his refrigerator in 1993 at his government's request was described by Bush on Friday as a piece of evidence that Iraq was prepared to have prohibited biological weapons.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A47562-2003Oct5.html

If this is right, Kay found nothing interesting.

Posted by: Masaccio on October 13, 2003 03:54 PM


The organism is very common in nature and usually harmless to adults, who have some immunity to the bacteria. Unpasteurised honey (an anerobic enviroment) is full of botulinum which is why very young infants whose immune systems are still developing are not supposed to eat it.

Ingesting the toxin which the bacteria produces is dangerous but not the bacteria itself. the fact that he posessed small quantites of the bacteria is simply uninteresting.

Yours,
richard

Posted by: richard spear on October 13, 2003 10:27 PM


The organism is very common in nature and usually harmless to adults, who have some immunity to the bacteria. Unpasteurised honey (an anerobic enviroment) is full of botulinum which is why very young infants whose immune systems are still developing are not supposed to eat it.

Ingesting the toxin which the bacteria produces is dangerous but not the bacteria itself. the fact that he posessed small quantites of the bacteria is simply uninteresting.

Yours,
richard

Posted by: richard spear on October 13, 2003 10:27 PM


The organism is very common in nature and usually harmless to adults, who have some immunity to the bacteria. Unpasteurised honey (an anerobic enviroment) is full of botulinum which is why very young infants whose immune systems are still developing are not supposed to eat it.

Ingesting the toxin which the bacteria produces is dangerous but not the bacteria itself. the fact that he posessed small quantites of the bacteria is simply uninteresting.

Yours,
richard

Posted by: richard spear on October 13, 2003 10:27 PM


The organism is very common in nature and usually harmless to adults, who have effective immunity to the bacteria. Unpasteurised honey (an anerobic enviroment) is full of botulinum which is why very young infants whose immune systems are still developing are not supposed to eat it.

Ingesting the toxin which the bacteria produces is dangerous but not the bacteria itself. the fact that he posessed small quantites of the bacteria is simply uninteresting.

Yours,
richard

Posted by: richard spear on October 13, 2003 10:29 PM


The organism is very common in nature and usually harmless to adults, who have effective immunity to the bacteria. Unpasteurised honey (an anerobic enviroment) is full of botulinum which is why very young infants whose immune systems are still developing are not supposed to eat it.

Ingesting the toxin which the bacteria produces is dangerous but not the bacteria itself. the fact that he posessed small quantites of the bacteria is simply uninteresting.

Yours,
richard

Posted by: richard spear on October 13, 2003 10:29 PM


The organism is very common in nature and usually harmless to adults, who have effective immunity to the bacteria. Unpasteurised honey (an anerobic enviroment) is full of botulinum which is why very young infants whose immune systems are still developing are not supposed to eat it.

Ingesting the toxin which the bacteria produces is dangerous but not the bacteria itself. the fact that he posessed small quantites of the bacteria is simply uninteresting.

Yours,
richard

Posted by: richard spear on October 13, 2003 10:29 PM


The organism is very common in nature and usually harmless to adults, who have effective immunity to the bacteria. Unpasteurised honey (an anerobic enviroment) is full of botulinum which is why very young infants whose immune systems are still developing are not supposed to eat it.

Ingesting the toxin which the bacteria produces is dangerous but not the bacteria itself. the fact that he posessed small quantites of the bacteria is simply uninteresting.

Yours,
richard

Posted by: richard spear on October 13, 2003 10:29 PM


The organism is very common in nature and usually harmless to adults, who have effective immunity to the bacteria. Unpasteurised honey (an anerobic enviroment) is full of botulinum which is why very young infants whose immune systems are still developing are not supposed to eat it.

Ingesting the toxin which the bacteria produces is dangerous but not the bacteria itself. the fact that he posessed small quantites of the bacteria is simply uninteresting.

Yours,
richard

Posted by: richard spear on October 13, 2003 10:34 PM
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