Sunday March 29, 2009 at 10 pm ET/PT on CBC Newsworld’s Passionate Eye Showcase
An investigation into the deadly world of germ weapons, Anthrax War begins in New York in the days following 9/11. Anthrax-laced letters, mailed to media and U.S. senators, killed five people and spread fear and panic throughout the nation.
For filmmaker Bob Coen, who was raised in Zimbabwe where the former white regime has been accused of unleashing anthrax against the black population, biological weapons have a deep personal meaning. He embarks on a journey that raises troubling questions about the FBI’s investigation of the 21st century’s first act of biological terrorism.
Coen’s investigation takes him from the U.S. to the U.K. and from the edge of Siberia to the tip of Africa. In a rare interview, Coen confronts “Doctor Death” Wouter Basson, who headed Project Coast, the South African apartheid-era bio-warfare program. Project Coast used germ warfare against select targets within the country’s black population.
Anthrax War also investigates the mysterious deaths of some of the world’s leading anthrax scientists, including Dr. David Kelly, the UK’s top military microbiologist, the Soviet defector Dr. Vladimir Pasechnik, and Dr. Bruce Ivins. The FBI claims – despite the doubts of highly ranked U.S. officials – that Ivins was the only person behind the U.S. anthrax murders.
In tracing the 2001 bio-terror attacks in the U.S. to the heart of the U.S. bio-defense program, this film raises an alarm. These attacks that helped prepare a country for war have also spawned a multi-billion dollar bio-defense boom. The line between bio-offense and bio-defense is becoming extremely thin. Biological weapons research is now being conducted by corporations and private labs without effective government oversight. The international treaty prohibiting the development of offensive bio-weapons may no longer be sufficient to keep the world from drifting towards the unthinkable — biological warfare.
Anthrax War was written by Harold Crooks and Bob Coen, directed by Bob Coen, shot by Dylan Verrechia, edited by Rosella Tursi and produced by Christine LeGoff and Natalie Dubois. Executive producers are Arnie Gelbart, Yves Jeanneau and Eric Nadler. Anthrax War is a Canada-France coproduction produced by Galafilm and TelFrance/Transformer Films for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Société Radio-Canada and ARTE.
Anthrax War – Directors Statement
The seeds of this film were born in the days following 9/11, when anthrax-laced letters sent to media and government offices in New York and Washington, spread fear and panic across America and beyond. As I watched these events unfold, it occurred to me that there might be a connection to the largest outbreak of anthrax in modern history that ravaged my home country of Zimbabwe in 1978 – an epidemic that remains virtually unknown to the world today.
In the course of my work as a television correspondent, I had come across compelling evidence that Zimbabwe’s outbreak was most probably the result of the intentional release of anthrax as a germ weapon in the waning days of white power on the continent. But the full story of has never been told… as I was to discover, everything to do with anthrax, and all biological weapons, is shrouded in secrecy and difficult to penetrate.
So when, after a couple of months of media frenzy, the U.S. anthrax letter attacks faded from the headlines, from public consciousness and the FBI’s investigation appeared to flounder, I decided to take a closer look. I quickly realized that no-one could make sense of the anthrax attacks without exploring the shadow underworld of bio-war research and development. A world in which the most dangerous germs and viruses have been transformed into weapons of mass destruction.
Over the course of the better part of the next seven years, I traveled in this secret world with my partners, investigators Stephen Dresh and Eric Nadler, from the U.S. to England and from the edge of Siberia to the tip of Africa, investigating decades of illicit testing, human experimentation and the mysterious deaths of leading anthrax scientists.
I entered a world in which allies and former enemies are all connected by shared secrets. More disturbingly, I discovered that the anthrax attacks have ushered in a new era of germ warfare research in which governments around the globe are spending billions on “bio-defense”. What was once the domain of classified government programs has today become a lucrative private industry. And much of this research is centered around defending against anthrax.
Frankly, I was not prepared for what my investigation would ultimately reveal – the frightening realization that a new biological arms race may be upon us, as nations around the world make preparations for “anthrax war”.
Despite the alarm being sounded by a growing number of experts and scientists, this critical issue has remained outside the public spotlight, ignored by both the media and politicians. I hope that this film can begin to change this.
Bob Coen – Director