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

Archive for July 11th, 2009

* Questions Linger over Science behind Anthrax Letters

Posted by DXer on July 11, 2009

why the FBI failed to solve the 2001 anthrax caseCASE CLOSED

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Questions Linger over Science behind Anthrax Letters

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Jeffrey L. Fox writes in the July 2009 issue of Microbe …

  • skepticism persists
    • as is evident not only from the forthcoming NAS review but also during the plenary session, “The Science behind the ‘Anthrax Letter’ Attack Investigation,” convened as part of the 7th ASM Biodefense & Emerging Diseases Research Meeting, held in Baltimore, Md., last February, and during the news conference that followed.
  • “Everybody is frustrated by the lack of closure,” says plenary session participant Paul Keim of Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff.
    • The available “research assays . . . didn’t meet forensic standards,” says Keim who, with his collaborators at NAU, worked closely with the FBI
    • efforts to develop such assays were complicated by the strictly clonal biology that B. anthracis follows during replication.
  • Those facts soon led microbial and molecular forensics investigators into conducting genomics-level analyses, according to Jacques Ravel, now at the University of MarylandSchool of Medicine and Institute for Genome Sciences in Baltimore, Md.
    • Ultimately, the PCR-based analysis along with other information from the criminal side of the investigation indicated that the anthrax- causing specimens from the 2001 letters derived from stocks produced several years earlier at USAMRIID for an aerosol challenge in anthrax vaccine studies, he says.
    • Based on that and other information from more conventional lines of evidence, FBI investigators concluded that Ivins, who died following a drug overdose in July 2008, produced spores from those stocks for the 2001 anthrax attacks.
  • Despite that painstaking analysis and the unequivocal conclusions put forth by FBI officials, doubts linger over some matters that are mainly scientific as well as others that intersect with the broader thrust of the investigation.
    • For instance, none of the microbiologists, including Bannan and similar specialists at FBI, was privy to other evidence, including lab records from USAMRIID, that their FBI colleagues collected. “I know nothing of that information,” he says. “I’m a microbiologist, and was not involved in the seizure of evidence.”
  • Other lingering questions focus on more purely scientific issues, some of them pertaining to how the lethal bacteria were handled.
    • For example, USAMRIID held B. anthracisin aqueous suspensions, not as spores.
    • Presumably, the spores sent via letters were produced in at least two separate batches, contaminated with B. subtilis at least once, but when and how remain unknown.
    • “We don’t know the process used,” Bannan says. “We never found the equivalent B. subtilis at USAMRIID in any of the evidence that we had.”
    • Efforts to trace the source of that bacterial contaminant “didn’t lead anywhere,” adds Keim.
  • Early reports suggested that the spores were “weaponized,” possibly with “silica.”
    • However, later analysis determined that the spores were not coated with silica, although silicon was found within—not outside—the coat of spores used in the attacks, according to Joseph Michael of Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, N.M.
    • About two-thirds of the spores contain that silicon “signature,” he says. Attempts to grow fresh spores with silicon to determine whether it also would locate within the spore coat led to “variable” results, Bannan adds. “We don’t understand why there is a varying degree of silicon from one batch to another.”
  • Other questions regarding physical properties of the spores similarly remain unexplained.
    • Asked whether the spores were milled, Bannan points out that B. anthracis spores in letters went through rollers in automated postal sorting equipment that subjected them to high pressures. “It’s a high-energy process, and [spore] plumes went up 30 feet [about 10 m] from the mail sorters,” he says.
    • How those spores looked beforehand or whether they were pulverized after being dried and before being inserted into envelopes is not known.

Read the entire article at … http://www.asm.org/microbe/index.asp?bid=65708

LMW COMMENT … The FBI’s expressed certainty that Dr. Bruce Ivins was the sole perpetrator, in light of all the questions above and many others, is simply inexplicable. The August 2008 FBI-DOJ press conference reeks of a desire to close the case without having made the case. Why? The answer to that question is likely to reveal some very deep dark secrets. I present one fictional scenario to answer the question in my novel CASE CLOSED. The longer the doubts linger, the more plausible it seems that the answer will be a real shocker, if we ever learn the truth.

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