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

Archive for June 20th, 2009

* NAS answers to questions regarding the NAS-FBI study of science issues related to the FBI investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks lead to follow-up questions; readers of this blog are invited to help shape the new questions

Posted by DXer on June 20, 2009

Lew’s new novel CASE CLOSEDCC - front cover - small

explores the FBI’s failed investigation of the 2001 anthrax case …

* see CASE CLOSED VIDEO on YouTube

* purchase CASE CLOSED (paperback)

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readers of this blog are invited

to help shape the new questions

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NAS Publications

NAS Publications

Yesterday, I sent questions to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Media Relations Office regarding the announced NAS-FBI study of scientific issues related to the FBI investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks.

I received a very prompt response a few hours later, in the form of an email from William Kearney, Deputy Executive Director & Director of Media Relations, Office of News & Public Information, National Academy of Sciences. Mr. Kearney has also graciously considered to entertain additional questions.

Before I send the follow-up questions back to Mr. Kearney, however, I’d like to allow readers of this blog to add your thoughts, and thus to enhance and improve the new round of questions.

When I respond to Mr. Kearney, I intend to state clearly that the skepticism expressed in the original questions and even more so in the follow-up questions has to do with what many of us regard as the FBI’s reluctance to be forthcoming in this matter, and should not in any way be taken as a reflection on the NAS.

I will emphasize how much I, and the whole country, appreciate that the NAS has undertaken a difficult but vitally important task in the effort to get to the truth of the anthrax attacks and the FBI’s investigation.

Below are my original questions (labelled Q), Mr. Kearney’s answers (labelled A), and my draft follow-up questions (labelled LMW) …

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Q1: May I have a copy of the contract between the NAS and the FBI for the proposed anthrax related study?

A: Our contracts are not publicly available.

LMW: This is troubling. Without the details of the contract, it will be difficult to know the precise scope of the study and, more importantly, what constraints, if any, have been placed on NAS by FBI. Even if it is consistent with NAS policy to keep contracts confidential (and I have no reason to doubt that), perhaps in this case where public interest is so intense, the contract could be made public. Has NAS ever made a contract public? Will NAS considered doing so in this case? Is NAS prohibited from doing so by the provisions of the contract?

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Q2 (two of the original questions combined): Who is heading the study for NAS and who else will be working on it? Has the study begun and if not, when will it begin?

A: We haven’t appointed a chair to the committee that will carry out this study (we expect to soon, however). We expect to appoint a provisional committee soon.

LMW: This study has been announced for some time, and was probably known by NAS before it was announced. It seems strange that the FBI would commission a study of this magnitude ($880,000) without knowing who was going to conduct it. Is it normal for NAS to accept a study and public announcement of a study without having designated the person who will head it and the team which will carry it out? Who at NAS made the decision to accept this study? When was that decision made? Will the names of the study chair and team be made public when they are appointed?

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Q3 (three of the original questions combined): How will the study team coordinate with the FBI during the course of the study? What role will the FBI  play in directing the study? Will the FBI have any opportunity to censor or otherwise limit the course of the study or the results reported to the public?

A: We are a private, nonprofit institution.  We were chartered by Congress in 1863 to advise the government on scientific matters, but we operate independently from the agencies that sponsor our studies.

LMW: That doesn’t quite answer the questions. What rights, if any, does the FBI have by contract to prohibit, delay or modify specific study tasks or the publication of study findings and conclusions? That’s one reason it’s so important to see the contract.

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Q4: Who has been designated by the FBI to coordinate and monitor the study from their end?

A: You’ll have to ask the FBI who their point person is for our review.

LMW: Is this not specified in the contract? Doesn’t NAS know who the FBI coordinator will be? Or are you prohibited from releasing that information? If so, what else is the NAS prohibited from doing or saying?

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Q5: When is the study expected to be completed?

A: It’s an 18-month study from start of contract, which arrived in April I believe.

LMW: So the target completion date is October 2011?

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Q6: Will the complete report of the study be made available to the public?

A: Our reports undergo anonymous peer review by outside experts before they are approved for public release.  A public report will be issued at that time.

LMW: The answer doesn’t quite respond to the question. Will the report which is eventually released to the public be the complete report? Does the contract with the FBI allow them or anyone else to limit which portions of the report can be made public? Will all supporting findings be made public in addition to the conclusions based on those findings?

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Q7: Will there be progress reports available to the public as the study goes on?

A: There is no plan to issue an interim report.

LMW: This effectively puts a lid on all information on this topic until at least October 2011 (18 months from April 2009), which will be, by the way, 10 years from the anthrax attacks of the fall of 2001. To me this is the FBI’s attempt (I’m not blaming the NAS) to put a lid on this case for as long as possible. Has NAS issued progress reports in other studies? Or is the absence of a progress report in this study the result of a specific provision of this contract with the FBI?

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Q8: Will the study team be made available for questions and interviews?

A: The public is invited to submit material or comments to the committee during the course of the study.  All material submitted to the committee will be available in a public access file.

LMW: The answer seems to be that the study team will not be made available for public interaction. Is this true? Does this apply after the study is completed as well as during it? Will the study team be made available to answer the public’s and the media’s questions? Is the policy regarding public and media interaction in this study consistent with NAS policy in other studies or the result of specific provisions in the contract for this study?

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Q9: Why is the project not listed in the Current Projects System (CPS) intended to provide information about current committee activities?

A: We expect to appoint a provisional committee soon, at which point the names and statement of task will be posted to our current projects site.

LMW: Is it typical that there be a public announcement of a project as in this case, without listing that project in the CPS? Has this happened before? Are there any restrictions in the NAS-FBI contract which limit what NAS can say publicly regarding its statement of task?

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