Engelberg, Stephen 1958-
ENGELBERG, Stephen 1958-
PERSONAL: Born 1958. Education: Attended Princeton University.
ADDRESSES: Office—Managing Editor, The Oregonian, 1320 Soutwest Broadway, Portland, OR 97201. E-mail—[email protected]
AWARDS, HONORS: Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism (with Adam Bryant and Matthew L. Wald of the New York Times), 1996, for coverage of deficient safety regulation of commuter air traffic.
(With Judith Miller and William Broad) Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War, Simon and Schuster (New York, NY), 2001.
SIDELIGHTS: Stephen Engelberg is a Pulitzer Prizewinning journalist who has covered critical news stories for the New York Times over several decades. In both his role as a reporter and later as an editor, he has been involved in most major national stories that have affected the United States and the world. In the 1980s, he covered the Iran-Contra Affair. In the 1990s, as the New York Times bureau chief in Warsaw, Poland, he reported on the outbreak of war in Yugoslavia. Later in that same decade, he investigated, among other things, the failings of the Immigration and Naturalization Service and President Clinton's Whitewater case. Not only did he win a Pulitzer Prize for his investigation of the safety defects in commuter air traffic, but as editor, he also led several teams of reporters who went on to win Pulitzers of their own. These stories included coverage of drug rings in Mexico and American transfers of high technology to China. The rise of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network was another significant subject that he and his team of reporters researched for over five years in an attempt to understand the origins of Islamic terrorism. In 2001, before the destruction of the World Trade Center buildings and the delivery of deadly anthrax spores to several prominent locations in the United States, Engelberg, together with two of his colleagues, wrote a book about the threat of biological warfare.
Not many books captured as much public attention as Engelberg's work Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War did in the days immediately following September 11, 2001. Long reviews in many of the major U.S. magazines attest to the concern that the book aroused. The book covers not only the threat of biological warfare but also the United States' involvement in the development of such weapons.
Biological weaponry was ironically borne from scientific discoveries meant to promote good health and thus prevent premature death. These discoveries began with Robert Koch and Louis Pasteur's accomplishments during the nineteenth century, which proved the theory that germs cause disease. In 1905 Koch won the Nobel Prize in medicine, and it was also Koch who first described the life cycle of what is now known as anthrax. During warfare in the 1930s and 1940s, Japan dropped crude anthrax bombs in Manchuria; when Japan surrendered, the United States granted immunity from war-crime convictions to several high-ranking Japanese officers in exchange for information on biological weapons. Thus, the threat of biological warfare was begun.
In 1942 the United States began a full-fledged development program of anthrax, which would be capable of producing one million to one million and a half four-pound anthrax bombs per month by 1944. The war ended before the actual production began. However, during the cold war of the 1950s, the United States again considered the mass production of anthrax, to be used as a weapon against the Soviet Union. Due to the fact that scientists could not prove the effectiveness of such a weapon, the plan was again dropped. However, new tests were made on different types of infectious germs. The U.S. military reportedly used conscientious objectors and animals to test their theories.
In the 1960s Cuba became the imagined target for the United States for possible biological warfare; but when President Richard Nixon came into office in 1969, he ordered a review of the military's biological and chemical weapons programs. Six months later Nixon issued a memorandum that called for a renunciation of all such programs. In a quote reprinted in Matthew Meselson's New York Review report, Nixon stated: "Mankind already carries in its hands too many of the seed of its own destruction." In 1993, a total ban of all biological weapons was imposed by the international Chemical Weapons Convention, approved by 174 countries, excluding Egypt, Iraq, North Korea, Lebanon, Libya, and Syria, to name a few.
Engelberg's book Germs, wrote Thomas R. Eddlem for the New American, "serves as a helpful and well-written primer on the 20th-century history of biological weapons." Eddlem also believed that the authors of this book should be commended for "almost anticipating the post-September 11th terrorist world," since Germs was actually in book stores before the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, DC. Engelberg and his coauthors, wrote Eddlem, also made it known that there were "non-state terrorist—mentioning Osama bin Laden by name," who were in possession of biological weapons.
Michael Massing, in the Nation, also noted the timeliness of the publication of Germs. However, he was a little more critical of the ironic twist of events. Although he wrote: Engelberg and his coauthors have "contributed some sharp stories about the lax security in Russia's remaining labs and about America's lack of preparedness for dealing with a biological attack," Massing was concerned that continuing coverage of these stories by reporters could possible be tainted by their also having a book to promote. "They face the constant temptation of covering events [for the newspaper] in a way that promotes their book." The authors, according to Massing might, for instance, "get locked into pushing a particular story line and relying on a fixed set of sources." Howard Markel, of Harper's took a different stance by stating that Engelberg and his coauthors of Germs "have ably assembled cold, hard epidemiological facts that cannot be refuted." Markel also described Germs as being as much an "inspirational" work of scientific progress as much as it is a book of "'cautionary tales.'"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Atlantic Monthly, December, 2001, Bruce Hoffman, "One-Alarm Fire," review of Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War, p. 137.
Commentary, December, 2001, Frederick W. Kagan, review of Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War, pp. 67-68.
Ecologist, December 2001, Gard Binney, review of Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War, pp. 75-76.
Harper's, March, 2002, Howard Markel, review of Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War, pp. 65-70.
Nation, December 17, 2002, Michael Massing, "Where Germs Rule," p. 7.
New American, January 14, 2002, Thomas R. Eddlem, review of Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War, pp. 25-26.
New York Law Journal, November 2, 2001, Howard Goldman, review of Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War, p. 2.
New York Review, December 20, 2001, Matthew Meselson, "Bioterror: What Can Be Done?", pp. 38-41.
Smithsonian, December 2001, Eliot Marshall, review of Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War, p. 111.
Washington Post, October 21, 2001, "Touch of Evil", p. T05.*