Skip to comments.F.B.I. Presents Anthrax Case, Saying Scientist Acted Alone
Posted on 08/07/2008 11:49:06 AM PDT by Shermy
WASHINGTON The Federal Bureau of Investigation on Wednesday outlined a pattern of bizarre and deceptive conduct by Bruce E. Ivins, an Army microbiologist who killed himself last week, presenting a sweeping but circumstantial case that he was solely responsible for mailing the deadly anthrax letters that killed five people in 2001.
After nearly seven years of a troubled investigation, officials of the F.B.I. and the Justice Department declared that the case had been solved. Jeffrey A. Taylor, the United States attorney for the District of Columbia, said the authorities believed that based on the evidence we had collected, we could prove his guilt to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.
Lawyers for Dr. Ivins reasserted their late clients innocence and criticized the government for presenting what they called heaps of innuendo that failed to link him directly to the crime and would never have to be tested in court. It was an explanation of why Bruce Ivins was a suspect, said Paul F. Kemp, who represented the scientist for more than a year before his death on July 29 at age 62. But theres a total absence of proof that he committed this crime.
The conflicting views of Dr. Ivins emerged in a day of emotional crosscurrents. At a morning memorial service at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md., weeping Army scientists praised Dr. Ivins as a beloved colleague known for his patience and enthusiasm for science, as a written program put it. At the same time, at F.B.I. headquarters in Washington, the F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III, and bureau officials were explaining to survivors of the anthrax attacks and relatives of the five people who died why they believe Dr. Ivins was a mass murderer.
(Excerpt) Read more at nytimes.com ...
Nagging Questions in the Anthrax Case Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008 By LAURA FITZPATRICK Time Magazine
As probable bioterrorists go, Bruce Ivins was a near-perfect suspect. Among the hundreds of pages of evidence that the FBI had mounted against him and released last week, there were electronic records documenting Ivins' late-night sojourns in the lab, e-mails revealing a mind wracked by paranoia, and an inventory of a November 2007 FBI search of his home, which turned up a paperback copy of Albert Camus' novel, The Plague. [I don't think she's being sarcastic]
....Anthrax experts interviewed by TIME point to the peculiarities of anthrax research that underscore why it is critical that the FBI's methodology be evaluated. Most important is that anthrax has historically been shuttled freely around the world a fact that the FBI has not explicitly accounted for. Until the security crackdown that followed the 2001 attacks, most labs readily sold anthrax strains including the type linked to Ivins to scientists doing research in other parts of the world. "Bruce, like most people in the lab, derived most of his strains from outside sources," says Jeffrey Adamovicz, a former bacteriology chief who worked with Ivins at Fort Detrick's U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) for 12 years. If the FBI has not investigated every one of those possible sources, in other words, it can't be certain that the path to Ivins is solid. No one but the FBI knows for sure....
...While even the staunchest critics of the FBI acknowledge that publicizing details about new technology may pose a national security risk [WARNING: FIRST HINT OF USE OF "NATIONAL SECURITY" EXCUSE TO NOT REVEAL DNA TESTINGS], others insist that doing so and hastening a firm conclusion to the "Amerithrax" case would only make the country safer. "To know what challenge you're defending against is terribly important," says Henderson. Further, the FBI's technology may prove useful for other "benign reasons," such as in vaccine research or in legal investigations involving poisoning, says Adamovicz... ...Holt, a former assistant director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and the only scientist to sit on the House Intelligence Committee, expects the hearings to spark broader debate about the way the government handles certain scientific issues, including policy questions such as how to ensure lab security and a general attitude regarding the scientific method. "[The FBI] try to confirm their hunches, whereas a scientist tries to refute his or her own conclusions," says Holt. "The whole point of science is to publish it, so that other people can tear it apart."
There is so much NJ local media material that absolutely does not fit into the Ivins scenario. If we are to believe the Princeton Greek Society were connected, then why did the FBI trace photo copies of the letters to Rutgers? There was suppose to be a specific copy machine that made a marking that matched something. They were close to something. Then, all of a sudden, out of no where, they were draining a pond in another state.
I think we've been through this a couple dozen times a half dozen years ago.
Would you rent an apartment next door to someone
who was producing aerosolized anthrax that floated like smoke
under a hood on a small scale?
You didn't answer last time I asked.
Please answer this time.
I don't know if you ever have done an experiment in your life.
But try this one:
Try smoking a cigarette or cigar under a hood
on a small scale
and make sure not one particle of smoke escapes.
(One floating particle of anthrax is sufficient to kill someone)
You give me $100,000 if you are not successful.
Do you take me on?
(I think I asked you that one once before, too)
Forget about 'my friend'.
I'm just asking you to get real.
(Sorry if the need for a BL4 lab doesn't conform to your theories)
“Apparently, the therapist, with a criminal background, was giving the FBI progress notes on Ivins.”
Which should be a complete violation of what it means to be a “therapist”. Except she wasn’t truly a “therapist” at all was she?
I remember the stories about central Jersey, and copiers, but never that they found a match.
“why couldnt be done under a hood on a small scale?”
“I think we’ve been through this a couple dozen times a half dozen years ago.”
Allan, I realize you have someone at Porton Down who is expert on such an issue and realize you don’t make the point casually. As for published reports, I will gather up the names of 5 scientists who say a BL-3 is sufficient for everyone you name who thinks a BL-4 is sufficient. Then we can weed out from my list any who you persuade me are not qualified to speak to the question (by reason of lack of experience). I’m sure many quoted experts are speaking beyond their learning on the subject. I would even be glad to contact the Porton Down scientist you name to explain to her what is published about the views of these other experts. My view of ATCC and the Center for Biodefense, coioncidentally, are from someone with BL-4 experience who called me and said that Ali had unrestricted access to ATCC facilities given ATCC co-sponsored his program and so there are BL-4 people I could call.
My personal answer is that it was charged AFTER insertion into the envelope — but that’s so cutting edge and top secret that I had to make it up without the benefit of a credentialed expert. I make the offer of cited expertise only on the debate generally of BL-3 versus BL-4. And I’d also be glad to contact anyone you like for emailed confirmation their view hasn’t changed. I’m always open to learning something but can’t rely on some web poster’s unsupported assertion.
I think Mr. Redacted from TrebelRebel’s email may prove to be from Battelle rather than Ft. Detrick, which would be a powerful point and consistent with what you are argue assuming Battelle has a BL-4. If you are right, it may be the key to understanding the whole case. Catherine Herridge knows this and should press on the point.
Who did have a BL-4 at the time? Plum Island? — which Ft. Detrick people were asked about in early polygraphs. Who else?
Perhaps the minimum requirement for an expert should be that they’ve worked in a BL-3. (A judge otherwise would exclude their testimony upon a motion to strike).
I didn’t mean Porton Down. I meant Suffield in Canada. And of course I may be mistaken on that also. You haven’t named an expert.
I do not ‘have’ anyone at Porton Down who is an expert.
Please list the 5 experts who think BL3 is sufficient.
I’d be especially interested to know if William Patrick is one of them.
Do you know his opinion?
My consulting scientist is a military scientist who makes anthrax simulant on an ongoing basis. I’ve emailed him. My guy has sent me the forensics showing that his lab can make it and it performs with comparable parameters. I doubt they have a BL-4 but I can ask. (If they did, he would have mentioned it).
Spertzel is a veterinarian who says he couldn’t make it and it would take a year with a large staff to be able to try to make it. I credit his statement he doesn’t know how to make it.
My consulting military scientist says the March 14, 2001 biochemistry patent I rely on relating to concentrating anthrax using silica — that Ali had access to — is a weaponization patent useful in increasing the viability of a wide variety of pathogens. But my friend and consulting military scientist says look for siliconizing solution rather than silica.
As for Patrick and Alibek’s views, I relied on the discussion of the reason for the FBI’s wavering on silica in a PhD thesis that they advised. The woman, as I’ve explained previously, was a couple doors down from Ali al-Timimi. She explains the method. I never thought to ask Dr. Crockett BL-3 or BL-4.
I have frequently consulted with Dr. Alibek but don’t recall that I’ve ever asked him that precise question. We would speak over the years about the equipment used. While I fully expect that Mr. Redacted will turn out to be either Patrick or Alibek, I do not suspect them for a minute. Not for a second.
I now understand that you are not relying on an expert and have not consulted with any expert. Okay.
There was a specific marking that one of the copiers at Rutger’s Waksman Institute was making. It matched some marking(s) on at least one of the letters.
Then, we were onto ponds, and draining them.
One question I have is about the actual mailing.
Consider: You've finished up in your BL4 facility, and now it's time to drive up to Princeton and mail the letters. What do you use to contain the letters during the trip? Now it's time to park and walk to the mailbox and drop the letters. How do you physically do it? A space suit would be highly indiscreet and might scare the sorority girls if any are around. Maybe you just take plenty of Cipro. Would that be sufficient?
A regurgitation of our previous thoughts:
Freeper Research on Anthrax Perps - Updated 9/17/01
In terms of performance parameters, note also the Dugway simulant used in the Canadian study peformed comparably — immediately dispersing across the room. The study was done to study the threat of mailed anthrax after the bail hearing of VOC (EIJ) #2 (and Ayman’s good friend) was announced. HIs bailed was denied on October 5. The real deal was mailed on October 6. The mailer was working late. The FBI’s “anthrax weapons suspect” (of the other squad) was identified by the person’s lawyer. He worked 15 feet from the leading anthrax scientist in the world and the former deputy commander of USAMRIID. He was in ongoing communication and planning with the 911 imam and Bin Laden’s sheik. He had no interest in Kappa Kappa Gamma. Sorry if it doesn’t fit your theory.
I don’t speak the tech language.
But is there a difference between BL4 and milling?
—An ABC reporter who writes on anthrax vaccine has privately confirmed that four labs have told him that under the electron microscope the sample looks just like material obtained by UNSCOM in Iraq. The Iraqi material was spray-dried BT. I have been told that such particles are distinguishable from milled particles. The US process did not use milling.
Maybe you get an unsuspecting accomplice to do it for you.
if you are out to kill people
what difference if one more bites the dust?
Oh, just give it up and accept the official story.
It’s so much more easier mentally to go with the Official Designated Reality.
“Freeper Research on Anthrax Perps - Updated 9/17/01”
That date, It’s remarkable!
BL4 is the laboratory where anthrax might be produced.
(4 refers to the security level, which is the highest,
though I’ve heard rumours that BL5 labs may exist)
Milling is a technique that might be used to make the powdered anthrax.
Please follow the link I gave in #137 which gives an excellent summary of biological security.
1. You say that a BL-4 is necessary to maintain the purity of the culture. What do you make of the subtilus contamination of the attack anthrax?
2. Who had BL-4s in September 2001?
3. Let’s see. You’ve never weaponized anthrax and the experts with whom I’ve consulted on the subject for 7 years have weaponized anthrax and simulants for a living. My consulting scientist is head of a lab that made simulant that matching parameters (to include, for example, images I’ve shown TrebleRebel. You not only have never made anthrax simulant (as best I know) but have never forwarded SEMS. I think it is you who is not abiding by any sort of scientific approach.
But let’s start with the easy question. Who had BL-4s and where were they located? Not Battelle, Ohio? Battelle at Dugway? And under my theory it involves the Battelle consultants, chief DIA biothreat person, a former USAMRIID commander with access to the keys to the kingdom, and an infiltrator who is working to destroy Western Civilization — even PhD theses relating to theft of equipment, access, infiltration. Your theory,... your theory... I don’t know that you’ve ever stated it. But by all means, start with the easy question of identifying the location of the BL-4 labs and explaining the subtilus contamination.
What do you make of the MSNBC report that the isotope ratios indicate that the culture was grown in the Northeastern United States? (the map in the actual studies actually would seem to include the adjacent parts of Canada).
Does Suffield have a BL-4?
In terms of rehashing, moreover, you say:
“Milling is a technique that might be used to make the powdered anthrax.”
when forensically milling can be ruled out and was ruled out 6 years ago.
When press reports use the word milling, Ed is quick to explain the error.
I have no theory.
I think we can agree that experts qualified to say whether a BL-3 versus BL-4 is required (or some other means) include Patrick, Alibek and Ezzell.
Dr. Patrick thought the FBI’s theory about loading the envelopes in ponds was stupid — because of the moisture problem. Drying is the key to making a good product. My military scientist says the FBI has underestimated the importance of drying skill in the process.
I don’t believe Suffield has a BL4.
I’m slightly skeptical on the isotope ratios.
Maybe they show something, maybe not.
Same for the silicon coating.
Too many contradictory reports and possible disinformation on this.
The purity and aerosolization of the Daschle anthrax seems to be the one thing that is not in doubt.
Cab O Sil is a common additive (we had it in our product). I don't do pharmaceuticals, but I know my droplets. I do not know what's involved with the active though.
I don't have more time to waste on this, so if this is too off the wall to be of any use please let me know.
I would think the silicone could be obtained as a residual surfactant in a sprayed and dried mixture.
For years I assumed a Bucchi mini-spraydryer was used. It has long been capable of a uniform 1 micron particle distribution. The Bucchi technical person said a charge is inevitable due to the speed out the nozzle. The mini-spraydryer, IMO, was indicated for the reason pointed out by Allan — bigger than that and you can’t control contamination. Also, as noted by William Patrick, the small amount used indicates small scale production. But I was relying on Ken Alibek as my principal authority. Richard Spertzel also. But then Ken in his BIOHAZARD 2 draft had gone with a fluidized bed dryer. Now authorities suggest a lysophilizer which Dr. Niman says would work. Personally, in addition to the Bucchi mini-spraydryer, I always voted for the MICROBIAL VAC, a US Army funded device in prototype that in 2001 could sequentially filter and concentrate up to a 1 trillion spores (can reach the purity and concentration Allan mentions). The man arrested when Ali’s townhouse was searched (the hour and minute) had a friend and colleague and supervisor who consulted on the US-Army funded project. It was used to concentrate the sample in testing for anthrax on carcasses. A prototype was in the microbiology department at Iowa State held by JD. If this speculation were true, however, it would mean that not only DARPA biochemistry info was accessed by an infiltrator, but US Army concentrating technoloogy was used. By Andrew Card’s former assistant no less. An awkward position to be in for sure. I spoke to the inventor who said it could only be used on a small scale. I spoke to the other consulting scientist and he explained he only worked on the statistics, and never had the device or virulent Ames. The Iowa State professor was very forthcoming — as were they all. If the FBI did not find the right answer, it was not for the lack of forthright people willing to help who were never even contacted. Even the fellow who actually isolated and mailed the Ames had not been interviewed before the next year or so Battle Axe contacted him in retirement. Instead, we have this mess where there is fingerpointing among people at the center of the investigation — all because the new crew never came to understand the counterintelligence analysis that applied. Director Mueller’s compartmentalization was a big mistake because connections were missed. If he had required polygraphs of his prosecutors and investigators the continued leaks in 2003 could have been avoided. The leaker’s daughter now works for Al-Timimi pro bono. He moved over from the CIA on September 29, 2001. In the case of infiltration by US-based Salafi-Jihadis, it has to be investigated with an eye straddling a “domestic” and jihadi theory. Aafia Siddiqui is an example. And having conspiracy theorists like TR around always is useful because you never know when you might need them.
August 14, 2008
The Real Bioterror Threat
Latest from the Los Angeles Times, same author of the first Ivins story. The one with the quotes from the brother in Ohio.
I think it is significant as it is a blatant attempt to massage answers to questions from Grassley and others.
It’s actually funny, very fiskable, if the situation weren’t so tragic.
I didn’t think the LA Times article added anything, except perhaps to highlight that someone at Ft. Detrick is pointing at him based on working late etc.
A number of experts have responded to the question I forwarded. Here is the first email I’ve opened. I don’t want to be naming distinguished microbiologists in this context. But this is what he says which is persuasive because of its factual content:
“It is a matter of record that Dugway produced spore powders prior to the 2001 anthrax attack. This work was performed at or below BSL-3. (Dugway did not possess a BSL-4 facility.)
It is a matter of record that Dugway produced spore powders following the 2001 anthrax attack, in an effort to “reverse engineer” the attack material and also for separate studies involving assessment of decontamination procedures. This work was performed at or below BSL-3. (Dugway did not possess a BSL-4 facility.)
It is a matter of record that the US, the UK, the USSR, Iraq and possibly others produced spore powders in the second half of the twentieth century. This work was performed at or below BSL-3. (Most bioweapons-production plants did not possess BSL-4 facilities. No ton-scale bioweapons-production plant operated as a BSL-4 facility.)
Only a fool or knave would assert that the material could not be prepared at BSL-3..
P.S. With respect to the differences between BSL-3 and BSL-4, the differences are summarized at: http://www.cdc.gov/OD/ohs/biosfty/bmbl4/bmbl4s3.htm “
What it adds is not what you seek, but the playbook how the Feds are going to dodge and distract in future congressional inquiries. Innuendo about bleach, distraction from the fact that with the science of 2002 they had no idea whether it was likely the germs came from Ft. Detrick or any other place in the world, and that FT. Detrick was chosen in 2002 not on the basis of science, but on the obsession of placing Hatfill on the scene.
Dedicated FR thread here.
The fellow I consider the top expert on this issue in the country says this:
“If you look at the record, you will see that he did not spend time in the BSL-4 suite before Oct 2001 and if he did he would have had to use a full “moon suit”. BSL-4 is for agents for which there is no vaccination or treatment (anthrax is a BSL-2 to 3 agent, the latter for dry spores). All his work was in a BSL-3 or lower because at times he and his colleagues used inadequate precautions that allowed anthrax spores to spread to the men’s locker room and his office. At times his people didn’t even use gloves in the micro lab he worked in until he warned them about the widespread spore contamination. So I suspect that most of his work was done in a BSL-2 with biosafety cabinets for that level or the BSL-3 facility used at the BSL-2 level (a common practice). Finally, the FBI and others are well aware that a lyophilizer, or freeze drier, was not ,and could not, have been used to make the agent used in the letters. Due to the materials electrostatics it would have been impossible to load the letters because the anthrax powder would have flown out of the letters because of mutual electrostatic repulsion, preventing loading. It had to be loaded wet with a solvent that evaporated leaving such powder behind in the seal envelope after mailing. BSL-4 labs at the time were at USAMRIID, Southwest Institute for Biomedical Research in San Antonio Texas, and at CDC (but I don’t think it was active at the time, not sure) and there may be one in Canada. None of these would be required for the “work”. Have you read the Affidavit in Support of Search Warrant 07-524-M-01? You should. You will notice that the Amerithrax was contaminated with Bacillus subtilis, sometimes known as Bacillus niger, a common simulant for anthrax and used for many years at Dugway Proving Ground as an Army outdoor safe releaseable simulant. Curious it was used here. It would have never been used in the type of biomedical research that Dr Ivins did and he was too careful an investigator to have made such a preparation knowingly. He always prepared spores in liquid, buffered saline, for precise animal doses. Such a prep is not the type of material loaded in the letters. He was apparently amazed in front of his colleagues when he saw the physical behavior of the Amerithrax powder. A deception? I leave that conclusion to you.”
Fox and ABC have reported that Aafia wanted to poison past Presidents with a biological agent in their drink. What agent was that? In the US v. Paracha case, an AUSA said she was willing to participate in an anthrax attack if asked. Is the report confirmed? I wish they would release some documentary evidence as requested by Aafia’s lawyer, Elizabeth Fink.
Yes dry spore powders can be and are produced in BL3 and BL2.
But this is aerosolized anthrax (like smoke).
I don’t have anything to add to the expert’s conclusion other than to note that his lab is in the business of making aerosolized anthrax simulant and so he is definitely qualified as an expert. TR can forward the SEMS of my friend’s simulant if TR still has them. I’ve noted my non-expert view that the unipolar charge was not added until after insertion into the envelope.
But both could be true.
I find it more notable that a key expert has argued that the FBI knows full well a lyophilizer could not be used to make the Daschle / Leahy product.
I think any expert who has not actually attempted to make an aerosolized anthrax simulant, in court, would run the risk of a motion to strike their testimony on the grounds they are not expert on the subject.
I haven no idea whether the unnamed person at Ft. Detrick who is the LA Times source (and apparently accuses Ivins) is expert on the subject — has made powdered anthrax simulant. Who has at Ft. Detrick, which is a vaccine research facility. Ezzell? I have no idea.
I am well aware that Dugway produces anthrax spore powders
and does not have a BL4 lab.
(It also failed, I believe, in its atttempt
to reproduce the Daschle anthrax)
None of your experts even used the word ‘aerosolized’.
Your experts would have made me much happier
if they had given some indication or hint
how anthrax could be aerosolized
in a BL3 lab.
I am not sure what your expert #184 is saying here.
Is he saying that Bacillus subtilis was found in Ivin’s possession?
If not, what is the point?
Re-reading #184 once again
it reads like a non-commital masterpiece.
Mainly he seems to be saying
Ivins himself did not use a BL4 lab.
Well, we knew that already, didn’t we?
Then he says it was curious
that Bacillus Subtilis was used
but does not say that Ivins used it.
Finally he washes his hands
of the whole mess
and leaves it up to you to decide
if Ivins did it.
There’s no need for us to agree on how to interpret the expert’s words. By all means, solicit and post other expert opinions.
The scientist most-often quoted in 2002 in Amerithrax on the science responded to my query to express agreement with the opinion in #184. I don’t have the message in front of me but it was to the effect: “That sounds right.” Dr. Spertzel has said the same thing in the Wall Street Journal recently as I recall what he wrote.
The expert in 184 is head of lab relating to aerosols. That’s what they do.
I’ll add my two cents to #184 because I previously seen something.
When Z earlier told me about the subtilis a quick google revealed Ivins’ connection to it, eg,
“Immunization against anthrax with aromatic compound-dependent (Aro-) mutants of Bacillus anthracis and with recombinant strains of Bacillus subtilis that produce anthrax protective antigen.
B E Ivins, S L Welkos, G B Knudson, and S F Little”
So Ivins did do research with the germ.
Also, I find it hard to imagine that the floaty powder could not have been inserted in the letter in a way to minimize the floating out at time of insertion, Also, I guess I don’t know what “wet” anthrax is, but a solvent is a liquid and I find it hard to imagine it would not have left some kind of mark/stain/abrasion on the envelope.
Z, your link coming soon.
“From Frederick, MD to Princeton, NJ — 195 miles, 3:29 travel time (Mapquest). Inclusive of doing the deed, figure 8 hours round trip.
Wonder why he’d do the overnight run rather than do it on the weekend...”
This is a posting from Okie01 on another thread. I thought to repeat it hear because it’s a really good point. Why would Ivins not wait for the weekend for his sojourn to New Jersey?
FBI conclusions in anthrax probe meet skepticism
Robert Roos * News Editor
Aug 15, 2008 (CIDRAP News) The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI’s) recently revealed conclusion that the late anthrax researcher Dr. Bruce Ivins committed the anthrax letter attacks of 2001 has been greeted with skepticism by many in the scientific community.
....The FBI’s case against Ivins is mostly circumstantial. But at its core is a claim that FBI experts and other scientists developed a new DNA fingerprinting technique that enabled them to match the letter anthrax to a batch of anthrax that was in Ivins’ custody at USAMRIID in Frederick, Md.
“That sciencecreating a DNA equivalent of a fingerprintallowed investigators to pinpoint the origins of the anthrax,” the FBI said in its Aug 6 statement. “The FBI laboratory, in conjunction with the best experts in the scientific community, developed four highly sensitive and specific tests to detect the unique qualities of the anthrax used in the 2001 attacks. This took several years to accomplish, but in early 2005 the groundbreaking research successfully identified where the anthrax used in the mailings had come from.”
But expert observers have said it’s not possible to evaluate the FBI claims about the DNA evidence implicating Ivins because the agency has not published the details.
Dr. Martin Hugh-Jones, an anthrax expert at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, told CIDRAP News, “As others, including D.A. Henderson [who led the fight to eradicate smallpox], have said, we only have their word on this until they publish the details of this study.”
In addition, some have argued that because Ivins was involved in analyzing the anthrax used in the attacks, cross-contamination in his work area might account for the match between the letter anthrax and the batch of anthrax that was in his custody.
Also, reports early in the investigation indicated that the mailed anthrax was a highly sophisticated preparation that Army scientists were unable to duplicate, which has caused observers to voice doubts about Ivins’ ability to make the material on his own.
Previous stumbles [Hatfill]
... A DNA fingerprint
But the linchpin of the FBI’s case seems to be the DNA fingerprinting evidence. The agency discussed that evidence in documents released last week (and posted online), many of which were affidavits in support of requests for search warrants.
One of these says that the mailed anthrax was the Ames strain, which was first isolated in 1981. “As a whole, the collection of all of the genetic mutations found in the anthrax used in the 2001 mailings, serve to provide a ‘DNA fingerprint’ which can and has been used to investigate other Ames isolates collected from laboratories possessing the Ames strain.”
“Four individual, highly sensitive, and specific molecular assays capable of detecting four of the genetic mutations discovered in the Bacillus anthracis used in the mail attacks have been developed and evaluated,” the affidavit states.
In the investigation, the FBI used these four assays on more than 1,000 samples of Ames strain B anthracis obtained from 16 US labs and from others in Canada, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, the document states. Only eight of these samples were found to contain all four mutations.
“The . . . investigation has determined that each of the eight isolates . . . is directly related to a single Bacillus anthracis Ames strain spore batch, identified as RMR-1029,” the affidavit says. After noting where this batch was kept, it adds, “RMR-1029 was compiled in 1997 by Dr. Ivins, the sole creator and custodian.”
However, the document doesn’t explain exactly how the eight isolates were linked to the anthrax Ivins had, other than having the same four mutations, nor does it give any details on the mutations or how they were identified.
That bothers Dr. C. J. Peters, a veteran virologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, who worked at USAMRIID from 1977 until 1990 and had considerable contact with Ivins there.
“I want to see the data. I want to see the valid scientific links made,” Peters told CIDRAP News. He said forensic microbiology, unlike the use of human DNA in crime investigation, is a new area that has undergone little scientific scrutiny or testing in court cases.
“I just think it’s a really unsatisfying conclusion,” Peters said of the FBI claims. “I don’t deny that Ivins might be the guy, and given his alleged psychiatric history, I would believe it even, but I don’t see any evidence that really ties it down.”
Referring to the four mutations reported by the FBI, he said, “They’re talking about a substrain of the Ames strain. Well, where did that substrain arise? It arose during the preparation of the Ames strain. If Bruce Ivins propagated it and got this strain, and someone else propagated it, how do we know they didn’t get the same substrain?”
Peters said the FBI should publish its analysis in a scientific journal so that people who work in bacterial genomics can examine it. “I think it’s something that can be done and must be done. If they don’t do it, nobody’s ever going to believe it,” he said.
The FBI didn’t return phone messages asking if the agency plans to publish the details of its DNA analysis.
...If it is established that the anthrax in Ivins’ custody matched what was used in the attacks, the FBI’s case still requires acceptance of the proposition that he was the only person who had access to it. Some critics aren’t buying that.
Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, PhD, who has closely followed the anthrax investigation and has criticized the FBI’s efforts in the past, told CIDRAP News via e-mail, “Even if the evidence is perfect, it is not incriminatory because something like 100 others also had access to the same stock.”
Rosenberg, a former cancer researcher and retired professor of natural sciences at the State University of New York at Purchase, added, “Record-keeping was not reliable at USAMRIID. If the FBI could really eliminate all the others of the 100, how come it took so long to ‘eliminate’ Hatfill and focus on Ivins?”
What was in the powder?
Other key questions in the investigation include the precise nature of the anthrax powder used in the attacks and whether Ivins could have prepared it. The FBI has not made clear whether the powder was a simple preparation of dried anthrax spores or a much more sophisticated product with special coatings or additives that enhanced its ability to spread through the air (which necessitated expensive cleanups of contaminated buildings after the attacks). The second possibility would make it less likely that Ivins was the sole perpetrator.
Peters said anthrax is relatively easy to grow, but growing it in quantity and turning it into a powder that is easily aerosolized is much harder. “The details of that powder have never really been divulged. The real analyses of the powders in the letters to [Sen. Tom] Daschle and [Sen. Patrick] Leahy have never been made public, so we don’t know how good they were,” he said.
News reports based on the FBI information released last week said Ivins worked with lyophilizers, or freeze-drying devices, which can convert anthrax to powder form. However, Peters said it wasn’t clear to him whether Ivins ever worked with powdered anthrax. In Peters’ time at USAMRIID, anthrax preparations used to “challenge” animals in vaccine tests always involved liquid aerosols, not powders.
“The fact that he’s the guy who made the materials to challenge the animals has absolutely nothing to do with making the powder,” Peters said.
Various press reports early in the investigation indicated that the mailed anthrax was a highly sophisticated preparation; Rosenberg traced some of these in an article titled “Gaps in the FBI’s Anthrax Case,” which she circulated through an e-mail forum of the Geneva-based Bio-Weapons Prevention Project.
For example, in 2002 the FBI asked the Department of Defense’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah to try to reproduce or “reverse engineer” the mailed anthrax. Close to a year later, in 2003, an FBI official acknowledged that this effort had failed, which convinced the agency that the culprit had special expertise, according to Rosenberg.
Richcard Spertzel, former head of the biological weapons section of the UN Special Commission and a member of the Iraq Survey Group, added support for this view in an Aug 5 opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal. He said information released by the FBI over the years pointed to “a product of exceptional quality,” with particles just 1.3 to 3 microns in diameter.
“Apparently the spores were coated with a polyglass, which tightly bound hydrophilic silca to each particle,” Spertzel wrote. “That’s what was briefed (according to one of my former weapons inspectors at the United Nations Special Commission) by the FBI to the German Foreign Ministry at the time.”
Spertzel asserted that USAMRIID does not have the equipment to produce such a substance and that, in any case, it could not have been made there without many other people being aware of it.
By e-mail, Rosenberg told CIDRAP News that the FBI in recent years has tried to downplay the idea that the mailed anthrax was a very sophisticated product. This effort included an article published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology in August 2006 in which the FBI called the idea “a widely circulated misconception.” Rosenberg said the FBI’s effort seems to have worked, “since no one is questioning the assumption that the spores were merely purified and dried.”
Hugh-Jones summed up the issue this way: “We are getting all sorts of stories now on the nature of the letter product, from claims that it was naked to a highly sophisticated coating and additives. It is said that it took some 18 months to not be able to replicate it at Dugway, which, if true, would indicate that something had been added. Confusion. All in all this would seem to have been beyond Bruce’s [Ivins’] experience and capabilities. But if he couldn’t make it, who at Detrick could have?”
Proposing a ‘court of science’
Another infectious disease expert, Michael T. Osterholm, PhD, MPH, suggested that a full and fair consideration of the FBI evidence in the case will require a special task force or process. In the wake of Ivins’ death, the FBI wanted to quickly present its case to the anthrax victims and families and the public, but in acting quickly, the agency couldn’t present the case fully, as it would have in a trial, he said.
“Now we have to find a way for that case to be completely shared within the scientific community in such a way as to create a court of science as opposed to a court of law,” said Osterholm, who is director of the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, publisher of CIDRAP News.
“At this point I for one am completely open-minded as to whether or not the FBI data are sufficient to provide a convincing scientific argument that he [Ivins] was the source,” he said. But he added that he has seen people becoming polarized on the issue, despite the incompleteness of the available information.
“I think the next step will be a critical one for the FBI, and that is finding a proper venue for a comprehensive scientific review of the information,” Osterholm said. “I would suggest, for example, that the Institute of Medicine or a special advisory committee to the attorney general, made up of scientists who have expertise in these areas and who have no obvious conflicts of interest. That’s the process I hope happens soon.”
Good, techy article at #196
what was the date. About 1988?
what was the date. About 1988?
If Ed ever shows up at FreeRepublic again, I’ve prepared this videotaped response to his post.
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