CASE CLOSED … what really happened in the 2001 anthrax attacks?

* Claire Fraser-Liggett: the genetic analysis of the spores in Ivins’ flask does not indicate Ivins is guilty

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 20, 2009

A recent comment on this blog by DXer (a frequent contributor) said the following …

CC - front cover - small

  • Claire Fraser-Liggett,  is professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and director of the University of Maryland Institute for Genome Sciences and an adviser to the FBI on Amerithrax.
  • She asks,  “What would have happened in this investigation had Dr. Hatfill not been so forceful in his response to being named a person of interest. What if he,  instead of fighting back,  had committed suicide because of the pressure? Would that have been the end of the investigation?”
  • It was Fraser-Liggett’s genetic analysis of the anthrax spores in the letters led to Ivins’ flask.
  • “The part that seems still hotly debated is whether there was sufficient evidence to name Dr. Ivins as the perpetrator,” Fraser-Liggett says. “I have complete confidence in the accuracy of our data, ” Fraser-Liggett says,  but she says it does not indicate Ivins is guilty.
LMW COMMENT … It seems so clear that the FBI has not proven its case, and if the FBI is wrong, then the real perpetrator is still out there. It is this pervading sense of doubt and infuriating frustration that led me to wonder why the FBI has failed to solve the case, and then to writing a novel called CASE CLOSED (to be published in mid-June) which presents a (fictional) scenario of why the FBI failed.
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5 Responses to “* Claire Fraser-Liggett: the genetic analysis of the spores in Ivins’ flask does not indicate Ivins is guilty”

  1. DXer said

    Consider Dr. Claire Fraser-Liggett’s observations to this less experienced researcher’s self-congratulatory approach. Ah, the exuberance of youth and prosecutorial zeal. This approach is precisely what has led the FBI to forensic ruin.

    For starters, the author totally overlooks the issue of access to the genetically matching Ames, to include Ames that was thought successfully irradiated but wasn’t.

    Steven Salzberg, “How I Helped Solve The 2001 Anthrax Case”
    http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevensalzberg/2016/03/15/how-i-helped-solve-the-2001-anthrax-case/#52070a751b86

    http://www.amerithrax.wordpress.com

  2. DXer said

    Dr. Fraser-Liggett discusses the science of the Amerithrax investigation in this June 12, 2012 conference at the National Academy of Sciences chaired by David Relman.

    [audio src="http://www.iom.edu/~/media/Files/Activity%20Files/PublicHealth/MicrobialThreats/2012-JUN-12/June-2012-Audio/209%20Fraser.mp3" /]

  3. DXer said

    The infiltration of US and UK biodefense orchestrated by Ayman Zawahiri occurred right under the Administration’s eyes — after having received clear notice.

    The CIA has known of Zawahiri’s plans to use anthrax since July 1998, when the CIA seized a disc from Ayman Zawahiri’s right-hand, Ahmed Mabruk, during his arrest outside a restaurant in Baku, Azerbaijan. At the time, Mabruk was the head of Jihad’s military operations. Mabruk was handed over to Egyptian authorities. A close associate and former cellmate in Dagestan in 1996, Mabruk was at Ayman’s side while Ayman would fall to his knees during trial and weep and invoke Allah. Their captors reportedly did not know the true identity of the prisoners.

    After Mabruk’s capture in Baku, Azerbaijan, the CIA refused to give the FBI Mabruk’s laptop. FBI’s Bin Laden expert John O’Neill, head of the FBI’s New York office, tried to get around this by sending an agent to Azerbaijan to get copies of the computer files from the Azerbaijan government. The FBI finally got the files after O’Neill persuaded President Clinton to personally appeal to the president of Azerbaijan for the computer files. FBI Special Agent Dan Coleman would later describe the laptop as the “Rosetta Stone of Al Qaeda.” O’Neill died on 9/11 in his role as head of World Trade Center security. He died with the knowledge that Ayman Zawahiri planned to attack US targets with anthrax — and that Zawahiri does not make a threat that he does not intend to try to keep.

    Mabruk claimed that Zawahiri intended to use anthrax against US targets. At the time, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (”DTRA”) set up a program at Lawrence Livermore to combat the Bin Laden anthrax threat. The CIA also snatched Egyptian Al-Najjar, another senior Al Qaeda member (a shura or policy-making council member no less who had been working for the Egyptian intelligence services). Al-Najjar confirmed Ayman’s intent to use aerosolized anthrax against US targets in connection with the detention of militant islamists in a sworn lengthy confession. Even Zawahiri’s friend, Cairo lawyer Montasser al-Zayat, who was the blind sheik’s attorney, in March 1999 said that Bin Laden and Zawahiri were likely to resort to the biological and chemical agents they possessed given the extradition pressure senior Al Qaeda leaders faced. That week, and thoughout that year, Al-Zayat was in touch by telephone with US Post Office employee Sattar and Islamic Group leaders about the group’s strategy to free the blind sheik. An islamist who had been a close associate of Zawahiri later would explain that Zawahiri spent a decade and had made 15 separate attempts to recruit the necessary expertise to weaponize anthrax in Russia and the Middle East.

    Mabruk was in regular contact with Mahmoud Jaballah, who was in Toronto beginning May 1996. Although Mabruk changed his location every few months, Jaballah kept aware of his whereabouts through his contacts with Jaballah’s brother-in-law Shehata. Shehata was in charge of EIJ’s “special operations.” When Mabruk was arrested and imprisoned in Dagestan along with Zawahiri, Jaballah was told on December 13, 1996 that Mabruk was “hospitalized.” That was code for “in jail” and, for example, is the code used by Zawahiri in emails on the same subject. Jaballah raised funds for Mabruk’s release and coordinated these collection efforts with Shehata. Indeed, it was Jaballah’s brother-in-law Shehata who brought the money to Dagestan to arrange for Zawahiri’s and Mabruk’s release. Correspondence between Mabruk and Jaballah in 1997 reports on Jaballah’s recruitment efforts. Mabruk, EIJ’s military commander, was pleased. Jaballah confirmed with Shehata and Mabruk his view of the reliability of the individuals he had recruited. His recruits were affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Zawahiri and the Vanguards of Conquest were seeking to recreate Mohammed’s taking of mecca by a small band through violent attacks on Egyptian leaders. By the late 1990s, Zawahiri had determined that the Egyptian Islamic Jihad should focus on its struggle against the United States and hold off on further attacks against the Egyptian regime.

  4. DXer said

    The country does not want to get the question of who sent the mailed anthrax wrong. Too much is at stake.

    There was a young Canadian Mohamed Mansour Jabarah who was the courier and connection between Karachi and Kuala Lumpur. Jabarah spent 3 weeks living with KSM in August 2001. In 2002, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) delivered the former St. Catharines man to U.S. authorities, upon his written consent. St. Catherines is near Niagara Falls. Khalid Mohammed reports that Bin Laden was reportedly said to value Jabarah’s fluent English and his clean Canadian passport. He served as a go-between between the leaders in Karachi and operatives in Kuala Lumpur, and had a leadership role in a bombing plot there. He was let out of jail and while cooperating, lived with some FBI agents. After he learned that a childhood friend was killed in an attack on US Marines in Kuwait, he vowed to kill his captors. In a search of his room, agents found he had a plan for a steak knife that did not involve cutting his porterhouse. Authorities also found pictures of bin Laden, maps of Fort Dix, documents about New York’s drinking water supply and letters that lamented the fall of the Taliban and railed against America. The reference to New York’s drinking water supply brings to mind KSM’s plot to poison a reservoir in Upstate New York. Bloomberg explains: “He also had a U.S. Army memo describing New York City’s drinking water system, a map of the city’s water supply and testing results.”

    KSM identified Majid Khan and Aafia Siddiqui as Al Qaeda operatives. KSM allegedly asked former Maryland resident Majid Khan to research contaminating a reservoir. What contaminant would have been used? Anthrax? Cyanide? Was it cyanide such as the thwarted attack against the US embassy in Rome in 2002? Some identified chemical intended to be smuggled in using the Paracha shipping container? Would the koran permit such indiscriminate murder of innocents? (No.) (A recent study shows that anthrax is resistant to chlorine, but the officials typically think anthrax would be ineffective given the dilution.)

    In February 2003, Majid Khan had met with Uzair Paracha and someone described as a “chemistry professor.” Paracha and his father Saifullah had meetings with al-Qaeda members Majid Khan and senior operative Ammar al-Baluchi, who about that time married Aafia. In the prosecution of Uzair Paracha, the AUSA said Aafia Siddiqui was willing to participate in an anthrax attack if asked. She opened up a P.O. Box to facilitate Majid Khan’s reentry into the country. Did she know Majid Khan?

    New water-surveillance systems are being tested that promise to detect biological attacks more quickly and accurately than is possible today. Ever since the anthrax mailings, the Homeland Security Department has been concerned about the risk that public water supplies will be poisoned. Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories, the University of Cincinnati, and Argonne National Laboratory have paired up with the Environmental Protection Agency to develop the Water Sentinel Program: software that monitors municipal water systems. It was being tested in Albuquerque.

    I have done a lot of testing of water as another unrelated interest. Albuquerque is an interesting choice given the high levels of arsenic there. (With arsenic, it is very difficult to get the levels down short of dilution or incurring substantial capital costs). Arsenic occurs due to naturally occurring geothermal springs. I tested a bottled water from a major soda company’s distributor in Northern Mexico that I picked up in Phoenix and it tested above the 10 ppb limit — 13 ppb and 26 ppb. The company gave me a single test showing that they tested it at 9 ppb. Its NYC law firm told me that they weren’t willing to do any further testing in the US because it would be against his client’s interest. Indeed. The FDA did nothing. The company did not notice a recall.

    Separately, the DOJ and United States Attorney even let FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford off the hook without it coming out that he resigned immediately after I told his office of a massive problem with benzene in soda. How was that a proper allocution related to his guilty plea to the misdemeanors? I had not realized he was a drinking water expert who already knew about the problem. I had asked a friend at the DOJ who had prosecuted an adulterated orange juice case for an email that would be sure to get the message to him. I wrote the FDA’s CFSAN Director the same day (on September 21, 2005, and she later acknowledged she got the email. After I wrote Wednesday afternoon, he did the right thing in resigning Friday morning given the $62,000 in Pepsi stock he owned. By just dropping an email to all employees Friday morning and walking out the building, however — and not admit why he was resigning — the benzene problem almost got swept under the rug like the arsenic problem. I stridently complained before the FDA’s Assistant General Counsel on Saturday in front of 30 witnesses at a conference in Boston on soda and childhood obesity. I asked why I had not received a response. Of course, I don’t mean to complain too much because he did resign and the FDA finally acted after I got Germany and others to act.

    But if the United States government is no more effective on Amerithrax than the FDA and the state agencies were in testing water, then we will just have to count on the militants appreciating that it is haram (forbidden) to poison innocents, particularly the elderly, women and children. Similarly, if the United States Attorney is as politically-minded as he was in that case, then justice will not be served. The same US Attorney in fact had the key role in Amerithrax.

  5. DXer said

    The DARPA-funded work involving use of the lyophilizer by Dr. Ivins apparently involved the DARPA-funded work done by Ann Arbor researchers and others. In thanking Dr. Ivins who in numerous patents for supplying the Ames, the researchers referenced his 1995 Vaccines article describing preparation of the spores (and the method included use of a lyophilizer). (Its use did not relate to creating a dry aerosol).

    Salon.com blogger Glen Greenwald explains:

    “The leaked ‘scientific’ evidence is no better. If anything, it’s worse. The Washington Post today reports — all based on anonymous leaks — that “key to the probe” is the fact that Ivins “borrowed from a bioweapons lab that fall freeze-drying equipment that allows scientists to quickly convert wet germ cultures into dry spores” and that “the drying device, known as a lyophilizer, could help investigators explain how he might have been able to send letters containing deadly anthrax spores to U.S. senators and news organizations.” The article further claims that “the device was not commonly used by researchers at the Army’s sprawling biodefense complex at Fort Detrick, Md.”
    But that appears to be completely false. Here is the abstract of a 1995 research report [ Vaccine Volume 13, Issue 18, 1995, Pages 1779-1784 ] , for which Ivins was the lead scientist, reporting on discoveries made as part of their research into anthrax vaccines.

    Throughout the period 2000-2008, the Ann Arbor researchers would explain: “B. anthracis spores, Ames and Vollum 1 B strains, were kindly supplied by Dr. Bruce Ivins (USAMRIID, Fort Detrick, Frederick, Md.), and prepared as previously described (Ivins et al., Vaccine 13:1779 [1995]).”

    Greenwald continues:

    “Clearly, Ivins’ legitimate work researching anthrax vaccines entailed the use of a lyophilizer. As the commenter notes, “If you google ‘lyophilize’ and ‘anthrax’, most of the pages returned are about anthrax vaccines, which is what Dr. Ivins was working on at Ft. Detrick.” Indeed, even the Post article — while breathlessly touting the profound importance of Ivins’ incriminating possession of a lyophilizer — says this:

    He did at least one project for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency that would have given him reason to use the drying equipment, according to a former colleague in his lab. [The DARPA-funded work that Ivins did is mentioned in numerous patents in which the Ann Arbor researchers thank Dr. Ivins for supplying Ames and note that the spores were prepared as described in Ivins, et al., Vaccine Volume 13, Issue 18, 1995, Pages 1779-1784 1 / ]

    This morning I spoke with Dr. Luke D. Jasenosky of the Harvard School of Medicine’s Immune Disease Institute. Dr. Jasenosky said that it is “very common” for someone engaged in the vaccine research of the type Ivins did to use a lyophilizer, and that he “would actually be surprised if they weren’t using one.”

    The Post article goes to great lengths to stress how small and easily hidden this device is — to imply that Ivins could have weaponized the anthrax without being detected — but the FBI found out that Ivins had possession of a lyophilizer because of this:

    Ivins had to go through a formal process to check out the lyophilizer, creating a record on which authorities are now relying.

    So he didn’t exactly hide his acquisition and use of the device which, the FBI is now trying to suggest, he secretly used to convert wet spores into dry anthrax in order to perpetuate the anthrax attacks. Quite the opposite — he obtained the device in exactly the way that regulations required, knowing that there would be a clear and easy paper trail reflecting that he obtained this device — one which he obviously had legitimate reasons, on at least some occasions, to use in his work.”

    In an exclusive in early November 2008, the New York Post reported:

    ” The lyophilizer, located in a hallway surrounded by four labs, did not have a protective hood. A hood is necessary to circulate and filter air and make it possible to use the lyophilizer to work with harmful bacteria without the bacteria becoming airborne. Co-workers say the hoodless lyophilizer would have spewed poisonous aerosols, infecting co-workers. But no colleagues of Ivins experienced any symptoms.

    Co-workers also point out that the machine would have to be fully decontaminated after use – a 24-hour process called paraformaldehyde decontamination that involves locking down the lab.

    Without a full decontamination, the machine would have contaminated other bacteria or liquids used on the machine at a later date. And if it had not been decontaminated, the FBI should have been able to find traces of the dry anthrax on the machine. Yet they swabbed Ivins’ machinery numerous times and were unable to find traces of dry anthrax spores in his lab, Kemp said.”

    “Even if Ivins did have access to a freeze-drying machine and a protective hood, sources who worked closely with Ivins estimate it would take a minimum of 40 days of continuous work without detection to create the volume of spores used in the attacks.” “If he was working eight hours a day on spore prep every day, it would be noticed,” said Gerry Andrews, Ivins’ supervisor between 2000 and 2003. “It’s ridiculous.” Ivins’ lab – just 200 square feet – was in “highly trafficked areas, and Bruce had colleagues that worked with him every day,” Andrews said.

    Meanwhile, in September and October of 2001, Ivins was involved in 19 research projects, including working on the Department of Defense-funded anthrax vaccine that is now in clinical trials, anthrax vaccine testing on rabbits and monkeys, and an outside project with a government-contracted lab, the Battelle Memorial Institute in Ohio.”

    Gerry Andrews told the Baltimore Examiner “The only lyophylizer available was a speed vac,” he says. “That’s a low-volume instrument that you can’t even fit under a hood” used to contain pathogens. “The only opinions that I would place any confidence in would have to come from individuals who have made the stuff, in the same quantity of the letters,” said infectious disease specialist W. Russell Byrne. “And then I would ask them to go into B3 in building 1425, work there for a couple of weeks and reproduce what they say Bruce did. That’s the only way I could, in good conscience and in the spirit of objective scientific inquiry, believe them.”

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