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

* Evidence revealed by the scientists investigating the US anthrax attacks shows how the FBI pinned the attack spores to a single flask, but doesn’t nail FBI suspect Bruce Ivins.

Posted by DXer on May 26, 2009

Debora MacKenzie writes in Scie3nce Direct (2-29-09)

  • KEY forensic evidence in the US anthrax attacks of 2001 has been revealed. The FBI had previously prevented the scientists involved from speaking publicly about their findings in case this interfered with court proceedings, but last August, after chief suspect Bruce Ivins committed suicide, the case collapsed and the FBI lifted many of the restrictions.
  • This week, some of the scientists involved revealed their results at a scientific meeting in Baltimore, Maryland.
  • These show how the FBI traced the spores used in the attacks to a single flask at a US government lab, but they don’t explain why the FBI made Ivins – who worked at the US Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) – the chief suspect.
  • The FBI may have evidence to show Ivins was the link between RMR-1029 and the envelopes, though with civil suits from Ivins’ and the victims’ families pending, the bureau won’t be revealing it soon. For now, the researchers say their studies nail the spores as coming from the flask, but not the identity of the attacker.

Go to the article at …


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One Response to “* Evidence revealed by the scientists investigating the US anthrax attacks shows how the FBI pinned the attack spores to a single flask, but doesn’t nail FBI suspect Bruce Ivins.”

  1. DXer said

    The FBI’s approach to Ivins Theory is reminiscent of its approach to its Mayfield Theory as outlined in the Office of Inspector General’s report in that case. They paid Mr. Mayfield $2 million. But here the reference to “pending” lawsuits by Deb is mistaken unless pending is meant in the sense of potential. There is widespread agreement among scientists, however, that analogous to the Mayfield case, the genetic “fingerprint” evidence points to the flask and downstream isolates and not the individual.

    “How the FBI misidentified a Suspected Terrorist Using Fingerprint Evidence”

    Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, who runs the Federation of American Scientists’ chemical and biological arms control program, announced in December 2001. “I’m certain it’s someone connected with a government program, or who works in a laboratory connected with a government program,” she said. “The grapevine has it that the results of an experiment on genetic variation at certain locations suggest that this material was made in a very small batch, and that suggests that the material was not made in some old weapons program on a large scale,” she said, citing sources inside and outside the government. “All the available information is consistent with a U.S. government lab as the source, either of the anthrax itself or of the recipe for the U.S. weaponization process.”

    Dr. Read, a scientist helping with the Amerithrax investigation in the DNA sequencing, long ago published the news that the anthrax was a 50/50% mixture of genotype 62 (Ames) and genotype 62 with an inversion on the plasmid. This would mean two distinct nucleic acids were detected in the sample. This means that some of the Ames had a segment of DNA that is inverted, or flipped, relative to the remainder of the plasmid. Years ago one expert advised me that no properly trained microbiologist would propagate or archive a mixture. Standard microbiological procedure calls for isolation of single colonies – i.e., single, unmixed cells and their clonal, unmixed progeny — at each step. Inversions are not an uncommon class of mutational events, however. It would only be especially probative if it were a rare inversion and if samples were to be present among samples collected from laboratory archives. It was always possible that the anthrax used was highly distinctive (pinpointing a single lab) and the authorities just didn’t have that sample collected. But given that since 2002 they have known it was a mix of Ames strains, it is surprising that they did not zero in on Ivins flask and its downstream isolates a half decade ago given that any description of how it was created would have revealed it to be a mix of two sources. The FBI in August 2008 announced that 8 samples were an exact match. The FBI reports that 100+ individuals had access. Unnamed Ft. Detrick sources report that 200-300 individuals had access. The source of the stream of genetically identical isolates downstream was the original flask.

    At the August 2008 Science Briefing,

    “With generous support by both the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and other government agencies, FBI scientists worked with The Institute for Genomic Research to determine if genetic mutations were responsible for the altered appearance of the variants found in the bacillus anthracis letters. Several genetic mutants were discovered in these studies.
    FBI microbiologists contracted the assistance of several laboratories to develop highly specific assays to detect four specific genetic mutations found in the bacillus anthracis letters.
    The mutation detection assays were validated and used by the FBI Laboratory to examine the repository of bacillus anthracis Ames that was collected through the course of the investigation.
    This unprecedented scientific approach allowed the FBI to identify potential sources of the bacillus anthracis used to produce the 2001 spore powders.

    Through a comprehensive analytical approach, the investigators were provided with validated scientific data which linked the material used in the 2001 attacks to material from USAMRIID identified as RMR-1029.

    It is important to emphasize that the science used in this case is highly validated and well accepted throughout the scientific community. The novelty is in the application of these techniques for forensic microbiology.”

    While no solid evidence indicating Dr. Ivins’ guilt has been disclosed, few dispute the validity of the FBI’s genetic investigation revealed to date insofar as it narrows the field from 1,000 known to have had access to virulent Ames to up to 300 with such known access. (Then surreptitious access or a subsequent undocumented hand-off is an entirely separate issue).

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