Thursday, August 14, 2008

Ivins Not Guilty! (No Real Evidence)

So, the FBI admits that it has no evidence (other than the same circumstantial type that they had against Hatfill (to whom they paid over 5 million dollars in damages for falsely persecuting him)) that Bruce Ivins was involved in the manufacture and sending of anthrax through the mail, most critically to Congressional leaders (Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy) and other disparagers of the Cheney/Bush Patriot Act, which was on the fast (Rethuglican) track to passage right after and in response to the 9/11 attack, and that he actually had no way to accomplish that highly technical task at all. Yes, I'm jumping ahead of the story, but it looks like it could only have been achieved by the concerted effort of a tightly guided team in circumstances that were not able to be monitored by outsiders. So much evidence (and damning DNA evidence to boot!), so little time. But, maybe not. The Weshington Post (of all government-friendly sources) ran the following article today. (Emphasis marks are mine.)

Hair Samples in Anthrax Case Don't Match Strands From Mailbox in Princeton Are Not From Ivins, Investigators Say By Carrie Johnson Washington Post Staff Writer Thursday, August 14, 2008; A02 Federal investigators probing the deadly 2001 anthrax attacks recovered samples of human hair from a mailbox in Princeton, N.J., but the strands did not match the lead suspect in the case, according to sources briefed on the probe. FBI agents and U.S. Postal Service inspectors analyzed the data in an effort to place Fort Detrick, Md., scientist Bruce E. Ivins at the mailbox from which bacteria-laden letters were sent to Senate offices and media organizations, the sources said. The hair sample is one of many pieces of evidence over which researchers continue to puzzle in the case, which ended after Ivins committed suicide July 29 as prosecutors prepared to seek his indictment. Authorities released sworn statements and search warrants last week at a news conference in which they asserted that Ivins was their sole suspect. But the materials have not dampened speculation about the merits of the investigative findings and the government's aggressive pursuit of Ivins, a 62-year-old anthrax vaccine researcher. Conspiracy theories have flourished since the 2001 attacks, which killed five people and sickened 17 others. Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee announced it will call FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III to appear at an oversight hearing Sept. 17, when he is likely to be asked about the strength of the government's case against Ivins. A spokeswoman for Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), a vocal FBI critic, said he would demand more information about how authorities narrowed their search. The House Judiciary panel, meanwhile, is negotiating to hold a separate oversight hearing in September with bureau officials, in a session that could mark the first public occasion in which Mueller faces questions about the FBI's handling of the anthrax case. Friends and former colleagues of Ivins, who died before he could see the full array of evidence prosecutors had gathered, continue to demand information about the DNA advances that authorities say led them to a flask in Ivins's lab. Defense lawyer Paul F. Kemp yesterday said he wonders "where Ivins could have possibly stored this anthrax without any employees seeing it, or if he took it home, why there was no trace" of the deadly spores, despite repeated FBI searches over the past two years of Ivins's car, his work locker, a safe-deposit box and his house. Meanwhile, government sources offered more detail about Ivins's movements on a critical day in the case: when letters were dropped into the postal box on Princeton's Nassau Street, across the street from the university campus. Investigators now believe that Ivins waited until evening to make the drive to Princeton on Sept. 17, 2001. He showed up at work that day and stayed briefly, then took several hours of administrative leave from the lab, according to partial work logs. Based on information from receipts and interviews, authorities say Ivins filled up his car's gas tank, attended a meeting outside of the office in the late afternoon, and returned to the lab for a few minutes that evening before moving off the radar screen and presumably driving overnight to Princeton. The letters were postmarked Sept. 18. Nearly seven years after the incidents, however, investigators have come up dry in their efforts to find direct evidence to place Ivins at the Nassau Street mailbox in September and October 2001.
Richard Spertzel (head of the biological-weapons section of Unscom from 1994-99 and a member of the Iraq Survey Group) had already reported in his Wall Street Journal essay ("Thank you, Rupert!) on August 5 that Ivins did not have "the equipment to make such a product" at his institute.
Over the past week the media was gripped by the news that the FBI was about to charge Bruce Ivins, a leading anthrax expert, as the man responsible for the anthrax letter attacks in September/October 2001. But despite the seemingly powerful narrative that Ivins committed suicide because investigators were closing in, this is still far from a shut case. The FBI needs to explain why it zeroed in on Ivins, how he could have made the anthrax mailed to lawmakers and the media, and how he (or anyone else) could have pulled off the attacks, acting alone. I believe this is another mistake in the investigation. Let's start with the anthrax in the letters to Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. The spores could not have been produced at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, where Ivins worked, without many other people being aware of it. Furthermore, the equipment to make such a product does not exist at the institute. Information released by the FBI over the past seven years indicates a product of exceptional quality. The product contained essentially pure spores. The particle size was 1.5 to 3 microns in diameter. There are several methods used to produce anthrax that small. But most of them require milling the spores to a size small enough that it can be inhaled into the lower reaches of the lungs. In this case, however, the anthrax spores were not milled. What's more, they were also tailored to make them potentially more dangerous. According to a FBI news release from November 2001, the particles were coated by a "product not seen previously to be used in this fashion before." Apparently, the spores were coated with a polyglass which tightly bound hydrophilic silica to each particle. 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. Another FBI leak indicated that each particle was given a weak electric charge, thereby causing the particles to repel each other at the molecular level. This made it easier for the spores to float in the air, and increased their retention in the lungs. In short, the potential lethality of anthrax in this case far exceeds that of any powdered product found in the now extinct U.S. Biological Warfare Program. In meetings held on the cleanup of the anthrax spores in Washington, the product was described by an official at the Department of Homeland Security as "according to the Russian recipes" -- apparently referring to the use of the weak electric charge. The latest line of speculation asserts that the anthrax's DNA, obtained from some of the victims, initially led investigators to the laboratory where Ivins worked. But the FBI stated a few years ago that a complete DNA analysis was not helpful in identifying what laboratory might have made the product. Furthermore, the anthrax in this case, the "Ames strain," is one of the most common strains in the world. Early in the investigations, the FBI said it was similar to strains found in Haiti and Sri Lanka. The strain at the institute was isolated originally from an animal in west Texas and can be found from Texas to Montana following the old cattle trails. Samples of the strain were also supplied to at least eight laboratories including three foreign laboratories. Four French government laboratories reported on studies with the Ames strain, citing the Pasteur Institute in Paris as the source of the strain they used. Organism DNA is not a very reliable way to make a case against a scientist. The FBI has not officially released information on why it focused on Ivins, and whether he was about to be charged or arrested. And when the FBI does release this information, we should all remember that the case needs to be firmly based on solid information that would conclusively prove that a lone scientist could make such a sophisticated product. From what we know so far, Bruce Ivins, although potentially a brilliant scientist, was not that man. The multiple disciplines and technologies required to make the anthrax in this case do not exist at Army's Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. Inhalation studies are conducted at the institute, but they are done using liquid preparations, not powdered products. The FBI spent between 12 and 18 months trying "to reverse engineer" (make a replica of) the anthrax in the letters sent to Messrs. Daschle and Leahy without success, according to FBI news releases. So why should federal investigators or the news media or the American public believe that a lone scientist would be able to do so?
I don't usually mention individual comments, but several that accompanied the Washington Post article were so strikingly dead on that I can't help myself:
tperry1 wrote: Is Princeton one of Cheney's undisclosed locations? sfexpat2000 wrote: They can't even place him at the scene. So, let's be clear. Last week, they had him driving to Princeton for the 5pm window AND back in Frederick for a 4:XX pm appointment. This week, they have him driving in the night. Which was it? In 2003, the FBI had Hatfill's every minute mapped out around both mailings. What changed between now and then? properbostonian1 wrote: The DNA results of all FBI agents, officials and employees should be published on the web. clearthink wrote: "Close enough for government work?"
And did you notice how closely the MSM reported these most important developments? No? Neither did I and it's truly odd in light of how much airplay the original story of the anthrax got and the fear it instilled in the country. I guess no one is worried now about al Qaeda (or Iraqis) making complicated composites of and sending the anthrax through the mail today, especially since the Global War on Terror has increased their numbers and made them so much stronger. I'll follow that tortured tale for you tomorrow. It's almost odd (not funny) that they didn't think it important enough to cover contemporaneously, isn't it? Maybe we'll get something at the end of the month? Or right before the election? Oh well. I guess I'll have to fill in for them. Suzan ________________________________

No comments: