Greg Gordon writes for McClatchy Newspapers (4/20/11) …
- Scouring the anthrax-laced mail that took five lives and terrorized the East Coast in 2001, laboratory scientists discovered a unique contaminant – a microscopic fingerprint that they hoped would help unmask the killer.
- One senior FBI official wrote in March 2007, in a recently declassified memo, that the potential clue “may be the most resolving signature found in the evidence to date.”
- Yet once FBI agents concluded that the likely culprit was Bruce Ivins – a mentally troubled but highly regarded Army microbiologist – they stopped looking for the contaminant, after testing only a few work spaces of the scores of researchers using the anthrax strain found in the letters.
- They quit searching, despite finding no traces of the substance in hundreds of environmental samples from Ivins’ lab, office, car and home.
- But the FBI’s decision not to fully test for the distinct bacterial contaminant, pieced together by McClatchy Newspapers in interviews with scientists, federal law enforcement officials and in a review of recently declassified bureau records, could reignite the debate over whether its agents found the real killer.
- FBI agents locked on Ivins after 2007 tests showed a genetic match between the mailed anthrax and spores in a flask in his lab. He’d shared the contents with others. Testing all samples submitted by labs, the FBI found eight with mutations matching those in Ivins’ anthrax, and soon eliminated all suspects but Ivins.
- Retired Army Lt. Col. Jeffrey Adamowicz, who supervised Ivins in 2003 and 2004, expressed dismay that the search for the contaminant was cut short.
- Adamowicz said that anyone with access to spores from Ivins’ flask – or to anthrax he shipped to other labs – needed only “a teeny tiny microscopic drop of that culture to grow their own.”
- In February, a National Academy of Sciences panel challenged the bureau’s finding that a genetic match meant that the wet anthrax in Ivins’ flask was the “parent” of the dry powder in the envelopes. The panel said that link wasn’t definitive.
- Lab scientists didn’t identify the genetically unique strain of b. subtilis until December 2005. It was in letters sent to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw and The New York Post, but wasn’t in the Senate letters.
- B. subtilis is harmless, but looks and behaves so much like anthrax that researchers have used it to simulate how anthrax spores would act if made into an airborne spray.
- Its presence in the letters, LSU’s Hugh-Jones said, suggests that somebody grew anthrax using equipment contaminated during earlier b. subtilis experiments.
- But once the four mutations in the mailed anthrax were linked to Ivins’ flask, there seemed little value to testing the equipment, countertops and b. subtilis stocks in the labs of researchers whose anthrax didn’t match Ivins’ spores, another of the law enforcement officials said.
- Jacques Ravel, a lab scientist who aided the FBI while with the Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Md., shrugged off the b. subtilis lead as “a long shot,” saying that the contaminant is found “everywhere” in the air and soil and wasn’t used much at the time by bio-weapons labs.
- However, a 2004 paper in a science journal described a study of b. subtilis by researchers at Dugway, the Battelle Memorial Institute’s operations at Dugway, and the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. Unlike Ivins, researchers at Dugway and Battelle both worked with dry anthrax powder.
- Nonetheless, the National Academy of Sciences’ panel accepted the FBI’s finding that the incomplete testing for b. subtilis lead “did not provide useful forensic information.” But, the panel said deep in its report, such clues “should be investigated to their fullest” in the future.
read the entire article at … http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/04/20/2177735/was-fbi-too-quick-to-judge-anthrax.html
LMW COMMENT …
The FBI’s publicly presented case against Dr. Ivins is seriously flawed: no evidence, no witnesses, an impossible timeline, science that proves innocence instead of guilt. So what really happened? And why doesn’t the FBI offer America a credible story?
As regular readers of this blog well know, I can imagine only 3 possible “actual” scenarios …
- The FBI has more evidence against Dr. Ivins but is, for some undisclosed reason, withholding that evidence … POSSIBLE BUT NOT SO LIKELY
- The FBI, despite the most expensive and extensive investigation in its history, has not solved the case and has no idea who prepared and mailed the anthrax letters that killed 5 Americans in 2001 … EVEN LESS LIKELY
- The FBI knows who did it (not Dr. Ivins) but is covering up the actual perpetrators, for undisclosed reasons …THE MOST LIKELY SCENARIO