Slow Burn: The Road to the Iraq War

Season 5: Episode 2


How the anthrax attacks of 2001 fueled a coming war with Iraq.


Episode Notes

Just hours after 9/11, American decision makers had already started thinking about attacking Iraq. When the anthrax attacks began a month later, those ideas went into overdrive. Did Iraq have anything to do with mailing anthrax letters? Did it matter?

Season 5 of Slow Burn is produced by Noreen Malone, Jayson De Leon, and Sophie Summergrad. Mixing by Merritt Jacob.

Sources for This Episode


Baker, Peter. Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House, Doubleday, 2013.

Daschle, Tom. Like No Other Time: The 107th Congress and the Two Years That Changed America Forever, Crown, 2003.

Draper, Robert. To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America into Iraq, Penguin Press, 2020.

Mayer, Jane. The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals, Doubleday, 2008.

Woodward, Bob. Plan of Attack: The Definitive Account of the Decision to Invade Iraq, Simon & Schuster, 2004. 


The Anthrax Files,” Frontline, PBS, Oct. 11, 2011.


Barstow, David. “Anthrax Found in NBC News Aide,” New York Times, Oct. 12, 2001.

Broad, William J. and David Johnston. “U.S. Inquiry Tried, but Failed, to Link Iraq to Anthrax Attack,” New York Times, Dec. 22, 2001.

Engleberg, Stephen. “New Evidence Adds Doubt to FBI’s Case Against Anthrax Suspect,” ProPublica, Oct. 10, 2011.

Fialka, John J., David S. Cloud and Stefan Fatsis. “A Substance in Anthrax Used in Mail Attacks May Have Increased Dispersal, Officials Say,” Wall Street Journal, Oct. 26, 2001.

Kocieniewski, David. “Nervousness Spreads, Though Illness Doesn’t,” New York Times, Oct. 11, 2001.

Kolata, Gina. “Florida Man Is Hospitalized With Pulmonary Anthrax,” New York Times, Oct. 5, 2001.

Landers, Jackson. “The Anthrax Letters That Terrorized a Nation Are Now Decontaminated and on Public View,” Smithsonian Magazine, Sept. 12, 2016.

Lewin, Tamar. “Anthrax Scare Prompts Run on an Antibiotic,” New York Times, Sept. 27, 2001.

Mestel, Rosie. “Anthrax’s Dogged Detective,” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 17, 2001.

O’Toole, Tara, Mair Michael, and Thomas V. Inglesby. “Shining Light on ‘Dark Winter,’ ” Clinical Infectious Diseases, Volume 34, Issue 7, April 1, 2002.

Rose, David and Ed Vulliamy. “Iraq ‘behind US anthrax outbreaks,’ ” Guardian, Oct. 14, 2001.

Shachtman, Noah. “Did the Anthrax Attacks Kick-Start the Iraq War?,” Wired, March 29, 2011.

Shane, Scott. “F.B.I., Laying Out Evidence, Closes Anthrax Case,” New York Times, Feb. 19, 2010.

Stolberg, Sheryl Gay. “A Quick Response for Politicians; a Slower One for Mail Workers,” New York Times, Oct. 23, 2001.

Stolberg, Sheryl Gay and Alison Mitchell. “Letter Containing Anthrax Sent to U.S. Senate Leader,” New York Times, Oct. 16, 2001.

Strobel, Warren P. and Alfonso Chardy. “Terrorism Threat Isn’t Over; U.S. Officials Warn of Further Attacks, Possible Use of Chemical Weapons,” Associated Press, Sept. 17, 2001.

The Anthrax Source,” Wall Street Journal, Oct. 15, 2001.

Timeline: How The Anthrax Terror Unfolded,” NPR, Feb. 15, 2011.

Weisberg, Jacob. “Fishing for a Way to Change the World,” Newsweek, Jan. 19, 2008.

Willman, David. “Scientist admits mistake on anthrax,” Los Angeles Times, Sept. 17, 2008.


DARK WINTER: Bioterrorism Exercise Andrews Air Force Base,” Johns Hopkins Center for Civilian Biodefense, June 22-23, 2001.

The 9/11 Commission Report, July 22, 2004.

Amerithrax or Anthrax Investigation,

Slate Plus Member Content Bonus Episode

Ann Curry on 9/11, Anthrax, and Iraq

The veteran journalist recalls the terror and fear in New York City in the aftermath of 9/11.


About the Show

In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq without provocation. Most Americans supported the war—as did most politicians and intellectuals, both liberal and conservative. Today, it’s universally considered a disaster.

Hosted by award-winning reporter Noreen Malone, the fifth season of Slow Burn explores the people and ideas that propelled the country into the Iraq war, and the institutions that failed to stop it. How did the Iraq catastrophe happen? And what was it like to watch America make one of its most consequential mistakes?

All episodes


  • Noreen Malone is the host of Slow Burn Season 5. Formerly, she was the editorial director of New York magazine and a host of Slate’s The Waves. Her magazine reporting has earned a George Polk Award.