* perhaps the NAS needs to pursue its mandate more broadly than the FBI wishes
Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 4, 2009
Dan Vergano writes in USA Today (8-3-09) …
- “The committee will only review and assess the scientific information,” said Alice Gast of Lehigh University, head of the review panel. “We will offer no view on the guilt or innocence of any person or persons.”
- US Attorney Jeffrey Taylor stated … The first evidence listed against Ivins was the genetically unique RMR-1029 flask of Ames strain anthrax spores, created and solely maintained by Dr. Ivins at USAMRIID.
- “We thoroughly investigated every other person who could have had access to the flask, and we were able to rule out all but Dr. Ivins,” Taylor said.
read the entire article at … http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/2009-08-03-anthrax-ivins_N.htm
LMW COMMENT …
The NAS, according to its contract with the FBI, is not permitted to render any view on the guilt or innocence of Dr. Bruce Ivins, who the FBI has charged (in a press conference, not a court of law) as the sole perpetrator of the 2001 anthrax attacks.
But since there is no physical evidence linking Dr. Ivins to the crime and no witnesses against Dr. Ivins, the FBI’s entire case therefore rests on their conclusion that the attack anthrax came from flask RMR-1029, and that no other individual who had access to the contents of that flask, besides Dr. Ivins, could have been the perpetrator.
It is the primary task of the NAS to determine the validity of that conclusion.
Here are some questions I think the NAS should consider at the most detailed level …
- How did the FBI determine that the attack anthrax had to come from flask RMR-1029, and was this a valid determination?
- Was the process of identifying specific markers from the attack anthrax and linking these markers to the RMR-1029 flask in Ivins’ possession a valid process?
- Was the science carried out in a manner that insured proper validation of the results?
- Was the science uniformly applied to all of the samples tested?
- Were all possible samples tested?
- How many people had access to the contents of flask RMR-1029 and who were they?
- How did the FBI determine who had access, was this a thorough and reliable process, and did any potential suspects remain off the list?
- Did the FBI systematically account for the use of all RMR-1029 anthrax in the hands of all those who had it legitimately in order to assure that none was stolen or lost or in some other way passed into the hands of persons not on the primary list?
- Were the inventory records and physical control procedures of all those who had legitimate access to RMR-1029 anthrax thoroughly checked and what did those checks reveal?
- How exactly did the FBI eliminate each of the potential suspects other than Ivins?
The NAS should also pursue the rather obvious hints in the first two days’ testimony, all of which by the way came from FBI scientists who worked on the anthrax case, that suggest the answers to the above questions will not support the FBI’s conclusion regarding Ivins’ culpability …
- we may have missed mutations
- test methods may not have been validated before the test was applied to the evidence
- there is a great likelihood of false positives and false negatives
- there may not be a clear and provable chain of custody
- samples may have been contaminated
- did anything change as data moved? (that is a fascinating question; is the implication that there was accidental change in data due to sloppy handling, or purposeful change in data for some more sinister purpose?)
- did intel needs override the protocols of science, thus invalidating any scientific conclusions based on hurriedly prepared, incomplete or otherwise inadequate protocols?
- Brady material in use of the science by the FBI should be sought (suggesting that there is evidence in the FBI’s science that either supports Dr. Ivins’ innocence or damages the FBI’s case against him)
On a more general level …
- The NAS committee has already shown it recognizes the inextricable links between the science and the traditional investigative approaches; the committee needs to insist that it be allowed to explore those links thoroughly.
- The NAS has the authority to get whatever materials it needs to pursue its tasks; it needs to exercise that authority broadly.
- The NAS committee needs to resist being bullied by the FBI and needs to go in whatever directions their perceptive and inquiring minds point them
As I have stated before, I suspect that complete answers from the NAS will demonstrate clearly that the FBI has not made its case against Dr. Ivins.
Which will then lead to the questions of “why the FBI failed” that I raise in my novel CASE CLOSED.