Published: Thursday August 7, 2008
Rove said Gulf War Syndrome, vaccine political stumbling block
The Department of Defense continued its controversial mandatory anthrax vaccinations program despite high ranking Bush administration officials acknowledging there were problems with the vaccine within months of the Bush administration taking office—well before the 9/11 attacks and the October 2001 anthrax letters.
A 2001 memorandum from former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove to then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz indicates that the White House knew of problems relating to the Gulf War Syndrome and the military’s controversial anthrax vaccine.
Obtained by RAW STORY earlier this year from a senior military official and referenced in today’s New York Daily News, Rove wrote, “I do think we need to examine the issues of both Gulf War Syndrome and the Anthrax vaccine and how they can be dealt with. They are political problems for us.”
RAW STORY had held off printing the memorandum (which appears below) in an effort to validate its authenticity. Along with the memo, Rove noted that he had attached “material on the Anthrax vaccine problem,” which had been forwarded to him by H. Ross Perot. He titled it “GULF WAR SYNDROME AND ANTHRAX.”
“It didn’t bother me that Rove referred to it as a political problem at the time because it meant that it would be properly dealt with, finally,” the military official who leaked the memo said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “The political problem became a problem to me when they dropped the ball and allowed the program to continue. It was politics that motivated them to investigate and it was politics that motivated them to allow the program to continue. Now the political nature bothers me.”
The Apr. 25, 2001 memo indicates how long and how far up in the administration the anthrax vaccine—and Gulf War Syndrome—have been considered problematic.
The Pentagon’s anthrax vaccine is manufactured by a single contractor, Emergent BioSolutions. It has been plagued with complaints from soldiers and soldiers’ advocates, who assert that the vaccine causes myriad debilitating ailments.
The Defense Department was forced to halt mandatory injections in 2004 after a judge ruled that the FDA had not approved the vaccine for its intended use. In 2006, the military resumed mandatory vaccinations after FDA approval, citing letters laced with anthrax in late 2001 as a reason.
Questions about the mailings containing anthrax have re-emerged in the wake of a suicide by a biodefense researcher. At the time of his death, Bruce Ivins, 62, was under federal investigation for the 2001 anthrax attacks that left five people dead and more than a dozen sickened. In a Wednesday joint FBI and Department of Justice press conference, while not officially closing the case, Assistant Director in Charge Joseph Persichini of the FBI Washington Field Office said, “Bruce Ivins was responsible for the death, sickness, and fear brought to our country by the 2001 anthrax mailings.”
The leaked memo also comes on the heels of an announcement by the Department of Homeland Security, which has proposed giving the city where Emergent BioSolutions is located $946,520 to protect the company’s facilities. The grant, according to an article in the Lansing State Journal, would “purchase, install and deploy the eligible Homeland Security equipment and manage related law enforcement protective actions.”
A New York Times article following Ivins’ death highlighted a number of tensions between public safety and biodefense research, centering around the question: “Has the unprecedented boom in biodefense research made the country less secure?”
Pentagon maintains vaccine is safe, requires injections
Despite repeatedly maintaining it is safe, documents obtained by Raw Story last year showed that the Pentagon and medical military personnel have known since at least 1998 that there are genetic triggers between illnesses and some required immunizations. They also revealed the military knew and did not implement routine pre-screening which could help reduce vaccine-related illnesses.
A flyer posted by the Vaccine Healthcare Center in 2007 showed that Walter Reed solicited servicemembers who have suffered as a result of the vaccine, asserting that “adverse effects may include redness or swelling where the shot was given (larger than the bottom of a soda can) and/or more than 24 hours of headaches, muscle/joint pains, and/or fatigue (tiredness) that interfered with your daily activities.”
Texas billionaire and onetime presidential candidate H. Ross Perot testified to a Congressional committee in 2002 regarding issues with the vaccine and its manufacturer.
“BioPort is a mess,” Perot said, referring to the Pentagon contractor, which has since changed its name to Emergent BioSolutions. “BioPort should not be able to keep that contract. For years they never met any goals or objectives…For years they got bonuses that equaled or exceeded their salaries and didn’t accomplish their goals.”
“The damage that was done to our Tigers in the Armed Forces is incredible,” he added. “Hundreds of pilots have left the Air Force rather than take the shot. $6 million to train one pilot. That’s a high price to pay, right?”
Ivins had worked on producing an anthrax vaccine. Documents presented by federal prosecutors paint a portrait of a paranoid man who suffered delusions. Their evidence against him, however, has been questioned. Sources who spoke to the press said that the Justice Department was close to charging Ivins when he took his own life, but that they still had more investigating to do. The Department asserts that Ivins acted alone.
Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), has called for a “full-blown accounting” of the probe, which cost taxpayers $15 million and took seven years, according to the Washington Post. Democratic Rep. Rush D. Holt (D-NJ), who represents the region the deadly letters were mailed from from, says hearings should be held as to “why investigators are so certain that Ivins acted alone.”
This article was edited by Raw Story Managing Editor Larisa Alexandrovna, and paid for by reader donations to Raw Story Investigates..