Alan Reynolds

George Tenet made patently ridiculous claims about WMD in Iraq, while serving as CIA director, and was eventually fired. Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz made patently ridiculous claims about WMD in Iraq and was promoted to president of the World Bank. Both men are back in the news, with Wolfowitz in trouble for getting his girlfriend a tax-free $50,000 raise, and Tenet pushing a book describing himself as a scapegoat for the Iraq war.

If the former CIA director can't be held accountable for issuing an amateurish CIA report on WMD in Iraq, who can? White House officials may have wanted to invade Iraq anyway, as Tenet says, but the WMD hoax is what allowed them to do it.

Neither gentleman has been at all apologetic about their role in grossly exaggerating the likely risks of biological terrorism. Wolfowitz once claimed that Iraq had enough ricin to kill a million people, enough botulism to kill tens of millions and enough anthrax "to kill hundreds of millions."

Terrorists throughout the world have managed to kill only five people with anthrax, one with ricin and zero with botulism or aflatoxin (added to the list by former Secretary of State Colin Powell). This not because terrorists don't want to kill people, but because killing is much easier to accomplish with bombs, guns and crashing airplanes. Even today, however, bureaucrats and politicians still remain easily persuaded to assign a higher priority (and bigger budgets) to extremely unlikely risks than to mundane but palpable threats to health and safety.

I wrote a series of columns about the formidable obstacles to effectively delivering biological weapons, often quoting Wolfowitz or the CIA as examples of extreme gullibility or deception. I revealed many holes in the WMD fable before the Iraq invasion in, "The Economics of War," "Hazy WMD Definitions" and "The Duct Tape Economy." Those were followed by "Intelligence Without Brains" in June 2003, "The CIA and WMD" in June 2004, "WMD Doomsday Distractions" in April 2005 and "The Cost of War in Retrospect" in March 2006. Those columns can be found by sifting through archives under my bio at cato.org.

The legacy of the 2002 WMD hoax lives on today in "Operation Bioshield" and other federal programs for doling out tax dollars to the multibillion-dollar fear industry.

The fear industry begins by hiring lobbyists and subsidizing academics who, in turn, persuade journalists to write scary stories about hypothetical weapons.


Alan Reynolds

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