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

* 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


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 …

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.

22 Responses to “* Questions Linger over Science behind Anthrax Letters”

  1. Anonymous Scientist said

    This article written in early July in the official publication of the American Society of Microbilogists is worth highlighting again. Especially this paragraph:

    “Nonetheless, 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.”

    Scientists are very careful what they say publicly. It is obvious from the above statement that the pulse amongst the scientific community even in early July was one of skepticism over the FBI’s scientific claims in Amerithrax. That skeptisism can only be worse to-day given that there is still no closure to any of this saga.

    Making things even worse for the FBI is that the reverse engineering studies of the spores have now been revealed. All attempts to “innocently” introduce silica onto the spore coats found nowhere near the level of silica found in the mailed spores. It is obvious from this data that Ivins alone at Detrick could not have made such a product.

    Of course, it has already been demonstrated in this blog that it would have been impossible (even if the silica wasn’t an issue) for one person to have made the quantity of spores required in the attack under the circumstances that the FBI paint for Ivins. They claim he did it in a few evenings without any of his co-workers noticing. It would have required Ivins concealing at least 55 (probably in fact over 100) flasks of prep material. THis would have taken weeks of full-time work and it would have been impossible to conceal from his co-workers.

  2. DXer said

    Jason D. Bannan, the one overseeing and pronouncing the FBI’s scientific conclusions, worked at ATCC in Manassas as a collections scientist at the same time as “anthrax weapons suspect” (his attorney’s phrase) Ali Al-Timimi worked there in the program sponsored by ATCC.

    Infection and Immunity, February 2001, p. 875-884, Vol. 69, No. 2
    Inhibition of Bacterial Superantigens by Peptides and Antibodies

    Did Dr. Bannan know Ali Al-Timimi?

    As a collections scientist, did Dr. Bannan have personal knowledge relating to whether ATCC had virulent Ames?

    What vaccine production company did Dr. Bannan then work for? His resume is here but it does not name the vaccine production company.

    Click to access JasonDBannan.pdf

    One ATCC former employee felt so strongly about lax security there at the ATCC repository collection that she called me out of the blue a couple years ago and said that the public was overlooking the ATCC patent repository as a possible source of the Ames strain. ATCC would not deny to me that they had virulent Ames in their patent repository pre 9/11 (as distinguished from their online catalog which does not have it). The ATCC spokesperson emailed me when I inquired: “As a matter of policy, ATCC does not disclose information on the contents of its patent depository.” The scientist calling me had been immediately let go upon raising the issue; she had both a J.D. and BL-4 experience and so I don’t dismiss her report.

    Previously, the ATCC head publicly explained that it did not have virulent Ames. This apparently was at a time when Dr. Bannan was still working at ATCC.

    ATCC later (by 2003) came to formally run the Critical Reagent Program that featured virulent Ames, according to its online catalog. (FWIW, the head of the Critical Reagent Program, Peter Emmanuel, in 2001 was at Edgewood where a BL-3 was constructed that year.)

    Dr. Bannan’s expertise and good faith is not in question – but it is customary that any expert’s past employment is disclosed. Before he opines further in making the public case against Dr. Ivins, the public should at least be apprised of the name of the vaccine production company that had employed him, the dates of his employment at ATCC (the sponsor of the program of the other “anthrax weapons suspect”), whether he was involved in determining ATCC did not have virulent Ames (while he was there), and whether he knew Ali Al-Timimi.

    This employment in 2001 of Dr. Bannan by the sponsor of Ali Al-Timimi’s program — the largest microbiological depository in the world that then came to manage the Critical Reagent Program featuring Ames strain — reinforces my view that no one who has seen Dr. Bannan in his bathing suit in Naples, Florida in June/July 2008 should serve on the NAS Committee.

    It is also worth knowing what government agencies Dr. Bannan has consulted.

    • DXer said

      Ali Al-Timimi was at the Discovery Hall at George Mason University. Discovery Hall shared half of Discovery Hall with American Type Culture Collection (”ATCC”) — the largest microbial collection in the world that is famous for having suppiled 5 strains to Saddam in the mid-1980s. The School of Computational Sciences at George Mason — Ali Al-Timimi’s program — was a joint venture between the ATCC and George Mason. The FBI’s chief forensic scientist. Jason D. Bannan, was there at ATCC at GMU’s Manassas campus while Ali was there. He was a collections scientist at ATCC’s Bacteriology Division. (Anthrax is a bacteria).

      ATCC is a global bioscience organization that houses the world’s largest and most diverse archive of biological materials. ATCC serves as a biological product supplier and an industry service provider, offering technical services and educational programs to private industry and academic organizations. “The Prince William Campus shares half of Discovery Hall with ATCC.”

      Dr. Bannan who has taken the lead in arguing that the science does not exonerate Dr. Ivins — and is merely inconclusive — was a collections scientist at ATCC’s Bacteriology Division while Ali was at Discovery Hall.

      Where was Dr. Bannan’s office while he was at the Bacteriology Division of ATCC in Manassas at the George Mason University campus when Al-Timimi first arrived. Was it in 10801 or 10900 University Blvd.?*/

      The joint venture was an effort to maximize research efforts by combining the academic and applied approaches to research. The School’s first activity was to teach an ATCC course in DNA techniques adapted for George Mason students. The ATCC is an internationally renown non-profit organization that houses the world’s largest and most diverse archive of biological materials. ATCC moved to its current state-of-the-art laboratory at Discovery Hall (Prince William II) in 1998. ATCC’s 106,000-square-foot facility has nearly 35,000 square feet of laboratory space with a specialized air handling system and Biosafety Level 2 and 3 containment stations. The ATCC bioinformatics (BIF) program carries out research in various areas of biological information management relevant to its mission. BIF scientists interact with laboratory scientists in microbiology, cell biology, and molecular biology at ATCC and other laboratories throughout the world. ATCC has strong collaborations with a large number of academic institutions, including computational sciences at George Mason University. Through these partnerships, the George Mason Prince William Campus offers George Mason microbiology students an opportunity for students to be involved in current research and gain access to facilities and employment opportunities at ATCC and other partner companies.

      Before coming to GMU, Al-Timimi’s increasing computer skills had got him a job at SRA International where Ali worked as a “bioinformatics software architect” providing information technology to the government. Some of his jobs required that Ali obtain a high-level security clearance. One job resulted in a letter of recommendation from the White House. He previously had been the assistant to White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card (for two months in 1996). Ali then enrolled in a PhD program in computational biology at George Mason University. In 1999, Battelle consultant and former USAMRIID Charles Bailey also worked at SRA By 2000, Ali Al-Timimi was already taking advanced courses at Mason in computational sciences and Dr. Bannan also was in Manassas according to the listing of him as an Associate Editor of a Antimicrobics newsletter in July 2000. Dr. Bailey became co-Director of the DARPA-funded Center of Biodefense there in the Spring of 2001.

      On his resume, he mentions that he worked for a vaccine production company but the company is not named (which is unusual for a CV).

      Timimi once explained his research: “I am currently a research scientist at the Center for Biomedical Genomics and Informatics, George Mason University. I am involved in the analysis of the microarray data generated by the CTRF Cancer Genomics Project. Likewise, I am developing new computational approaches and technologies in support of this project.” The webpage for Timimi’s program at the time explained: “Faculty members and graduate students in the Program in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology participate in numerous collaborative efforts including but not limited to the following Laboratories and Research Centers: Center for Biomedical Genomics and Informatics (GMU) , Laboratory for Microbial and Environmental Biocomplexity (GMU) and Center for Biodefense (GMU). Beginning the Spring of 2002, GMU hired Ali to develop a computer program that coordinated the research at several universities, letting him go only after he came under suspicion by the FBI. In Spring 2002, according to salary information obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, GMU hired him for $70,000 a year. In 2002, the employment was through the School of Computational Sciences and in 2003, it was through Life Sciences Grants & Contracts.

      While I’ve not yet found any reference directly confirming Timimi’s room number, the person who inherited his old telephone number (3-4294) is Victor Morozov in the Center for Biodefense. Dr. Morozov, upon joining the faculty and inheriting the phone number was in Rm. 154A, very near Dr. Bailey in Rm 156B. One faculty member who consulted with Al-Timimi suggested to me that Ali instead was Rm. 154B, in the middle of the office suite. GMU Information Services helpfully looked up the listings from 2001 directory. As of October 2001 (when the directory is published according to GMU Information Services), judging from the directory, Al-Timimi was still just a graduate student. I don’t know Dr. Bannan’s room number – or whether he was in 10801 rather than 10900 University Blvd.

      Former USAMRIID Deputy Commander and Acting Commander Ames strain anthrax researcher Charles Bailey, in Rm 156B, was given a Gateway desktop computer in mid-March 2001 (upon his arrival) — serial number 0227315480. It was like the one Dr. Alibek would get the next year in 156D. One way to think of proximity analysis — a form of true crime analysis — is the number of feet or inches between 154B and 156B/156D. Another way is to think of it is in terms of the number of feet or inches to the hard drives. You can judge the distance for yourself from a First Floor plan that is available online, clicking upon 154-156 area to enlarge.

      The December 2007 biodefense PhD thesis explains:

      “Although computers are password protected, anyone can access the computers located throughout the labs. Research results can be recorded on lab computers. Someone wanting to access research results would first have to understand what the numbers meant. Research results are also kept in a lab notebook that is kept in the lab or office. This enables other students to repeat what was already done or to see results.”

      In April 2007, at a talk at Princeton University, Dr. Alibek noted that he felt that “[u]nfortunately, the likelihood is very high” of a follow-up to the anthrax mailings of 2001. “And the agent very likely is still anthrax.” “The biggest part of my life now is devoted to cancer and cardiovascular (research). If you work in the biodefense community, good luck to you. I hope you succeed.” Dr. Alibek explained that he had been scrutinized and consulted, and given a polygraph after the anthrax mailings. He said that anthrax likely would be the pathogen favored by terrorists because it is relatively easy to grow and transport. Dr. Alibek suspects it it was “a person who knew from some source how the U.S. manufactured anthrax years and years ago.” He said, “It’s not rocket science.” More recently, he declined to say why he had left the country so abruptly in an interview by documentary makers..

      Did Dr. Bannan work with Dr. Bailey while at ATCC? Did he work with Dr. Alibek? Did he teach Al-Timimi? Did he respond to the suboena in March 2002 for any virulent anthrax or any subpoena relating to access to ATCC labs?

      Given he is the one saying that the scientific evidence does not necessarily point to Ivins — and yet speciously IMO points to the Tin Signature as possibly have been due to Maryland water used — we should have full disclosure of his biography so as to know of any conflict of interest. I have done a lot of water research and am eager to see published research supporting Dr. Bannan’s claim that the source of the Tin Signature could have been Maryland water. (I’ve tested a lot of water and think the claim is unfounded).

      • DXer said

        Critical Reagents Program

        Virulent Ames is BEI NR-411

        BEI Resources is managed under contract by American Type Culture Collection (ATCC). A seven-year contract to manage BEI Resources was awarded to ATCC in September 2003. The BEI Resources program reflects a coordinated effort between NIAID, CDC, USDA, and ATCC.

      • DXer said

        Dr. Bannan has told an ASM publication quoted here:

        “I’ m a microbiologist, and was not involved in the seizure of evidence.”

        Was he involved in his earlier role from the other side — as a collections scientist in the ATCC Bacteriology Division involved in responding to the subpoena that called for any Ames … which related to the access of “anthrax weapons suspect” Ali Al-Timimi?

        Here is a presentation from September 2002 by Dr. Bannan and other ATCC authors.

        Nosocomial Strain Relationships Assessed by Genotyping and MALDI-TOF Mass Spectrometry.
        PENNELLA TD, TANG Y, STRATTON CW, MCKENNA T, BANNAN JD; Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (42nd : 2002 : San Diego, Calif.).

        Abstr Intersci Conf Antimicrob Agents Chemother Intersci Conf Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2002 Sep 27-30; 42: abstract no. K-1381.
        American Type Culture Collection, Manassas, VA.

        BACKGROUND: Pulsed field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) has become a standard method of genotyping nosocomial bacterial isolates such as Vancomycin Resistant Enterococci (VRE). Other genotypic methods and a new phenotypic typing method were assessed for their ability to discriminate VRE isolates.

  3. DXer said

    The Proving Ground is at Edgewood, which built a BL-3 in 2001. When FBI Director Mueller needed a closed session last September at the Congressional hearing to answer whether there were any places other than Dugway or Battelle that did aerosol experiments using virulent anthrax, was the answer in closed session APG/Edgewood? That would make sense given their aim has always been to be the premier facility.

    If the US Army strain was used, then, and if we posit that a supporter of the militant islamists was responsible — as Lew judging by his interview today does — how did they gain access to the Ames strain? And was weaponized product stolen or was it weaponized by the perp? Was a lyophilizer (freeze drying method) used? Was it milled? Was it spraydried? Was a fluidized bed dryer used? A tin can? In June 2001, a conference was held at Aberdeen Proving Ground for small businesses that might contribute to the biodefense effort — and it showcased APG’s world class facillities that had the full range of relevant equipment, as well as the range of activities and research featured by presenters at such conferences. It was called”Team APG Showcase 2001″ APG built a Biolevel-3 facility and, according to a Baltimore Sun report, by October 2002 had 19 virulent strains of anthrax, including Ames. The US Army and other agencies would promote small business innovation under a program (SBIR) that required that a small portion of R&D appropriations be made available for innovative projects. An example would be the 2001 grant issued DOD/Army for $70,000 titled “Wet-Vacuum Sampler For Surface Biocontamination Detection,” which was awarded November 2000 to Rocky Mountain Resource Labs, Inc. of Jerome, Idaho (now named “Microbial-Vac”).

    Let’s assume for the sake of argument the processor used a Buchi 290 mini spraydryer, used a novel method to concentrate the spores, and then mixed the product with silica. ABC News, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and Kenneth Alibek have all suggested a spray dryer could have been used; moreover, that without more, could explain why there was a static charge. The US Technical Applications engineer for the Buchi spraydryer (at Brinkman) reports that “some of our products come out so electrostatically charged that we want to ‘zap the charges out’ and never are able to.”

    The Buchi Product Manager for the spray dryer in Switzerland says that it “is with great probability possible to do a coating of spores on silica particles in a lab-bench spray dryer. Two reasons for this assumption: i) The systems can be used with small amount of samples and thus intended to be used with biological systems; ii) the spray drying process is used for heat sensitive products due to short retention time and mild evaporation conditions in the spraying chamber.” He explained “that biological application and spray drying has quite a broad range of overlap.”

    There are an estimated 200 mini spray dryers in the US (when you include the 190 and 191 models, which had basically the performance parameters). There really is no competitor –the smallest Niro model is far bigger. Notwithstanding all the containment and safety features available as accessories to the Buchi 290, the processor needed to be wearing a protective suit (or at least gloves and mask). The Product Manager for the spray dryer in the US (at Brinkman) reports: “There are not really any safety features to prevent breathing of the final product. Once you are done, you remove the vessel and proceed to remove the powder from the vessel. If you don’t want to breathe it in, then you would have to use a gas mask of some sort which is obviously not provided by us or Buchi.”

    Siloxane reportedly was detected — pointing to use of a hydrophobic treated fumed silica. Would it be observable by SEMs? Is that why Meselson and Alibek didn’t see any silica?

    The product manager for the US reports that there would also be some contamination of the spray cylinder:

    “Also keep in mind that the glassware does become coated with whatever you are spray drying, so you also have “containment issues” when cleaning the glassware. If it is water soluble, then we always just take the glassware to the sink and wash the product off and let it go down the sink. Some of the product on the glassware is heat destroyed product and is not viable ”

    Under this proposed scenario, the perp needed (1) access to Ames, (2) access to a Buchi mini spraydryer, (3) protective suit or at least mask and gloves, (4) a means of inserting the product into the envelope, and (5) he likely was a supporter of Ayman Zawahiri’s goals and recruited by him, Atef, KSM, Hambali or an intermediary . A Buchi mini spray dryer would cost up to $45k with accessories and, thus, if indicated, is quite limiting.

    Although I’ve suggested that the smallest Niro spraydryer was not used here — and that a smaller laboratory model is indicated by the small batch used — early in the investigation the FBI did contact Niro in Denmark about its spraydryers (according to a news report). Niro has sold over 2000 units of its Mobile Minor laboratory scale Spray Dryer — nearly one a week for 50 years. Niro maintains a Drying Technology Center at its Columbia, MD and Copenhagen, Denmark sites, with spray dryers, fluid bed dryers, flash dryers and its fully equipped analytical lab.

    The processor here likely would not only have expertise using a laboratory or pilot spray dryer in such applications that use fumed silica , but he or she would have experience with using the additive with bacteria. Without such experience, for example, one likely would render it unviable by not knowing the appropriate inlet temperature or not know the right flow velocity to get the right particle size. A perpetrator would not want to have to be on a learning curve such as accusers of Hatfill or Berry may imagine began after 9/11 — when, they imply, the idea occurred to the mischief maker. When dealing with a deadly pathogen, you don’t suddenly grab the bacteria, open up a laboratory manual, and power up a spray dryer for experiments — super patriot or not. The perp necessarily — prior to 9/11 — had experience with a spray dryer and use of silica (or some other means of drying). Notwithstanding any teach-ins with William Patrick, has Dr. Berry or Dr. Hatfill ever even used a mini-spray dryer with fumed silica and an anthrax simulant? Have they ever even used a fluid bed dryer?

    In one report of an experiment involving biodetection equipment, after noting that “Silica is a common material for aerosolizing Anthrax spores, and would likely be found in a weaponized biological agent mixture,” the researchers then add it to bacillus thuringiensis in order to test their equipment. Biodetection is the key mission of the biodefense community — Edgewood maintains a database of simulant properties. The info and equipment, including spraydrying equipment, is available to participants in the SBIR — promoting small business innovation. So might it require learning of a state? Well, to get that, all you needed to do was go to the program that shares such research for the purpose of innovation in the area of biodefense. That is, if good old American know-how relating to its commercial applications wasn’t enough (and maybe it was).

    • DXer said

      Anonymous Scientist argues how sophisticated the product was without ever addressing the fact that the simulant created for the study that issued on September 10 had similar performance characteristics and immediately dispersed across the room upon the envelope being opened. That product was made using a spraydryer and involved mixing with silica after drying. It was done by a dairy processor in Wisconsin. So one focus should be on dairy processors and spraydryers.

      An early online oped issue frames these issues nicely:

      “FBI Frame-up of Bruce E. Ivins Made Simple
      by Michael Green

      On Wednesday, August 8, 2008, the Department of Justice held a news conference announcing that Bruce E. Ivins, a former anthrax researcher for the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), was the sole person responsible for the 2001 anthrax attacks. Headed by U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Taylor and FBI Assistant Director Joseph Persichini, the presentation was noteworthy for often not answering relevant questions, but instead referring reporters to several dozen court documents they had just been provided. After hurriedly reading one of these documents I decided to hedge my strong conclusion in an essay that the FBI had persecuted and framed Ivins in order to protect the actual perpetrators until determining enough facts to decide the matter. I stated, “The most important question is whether Ivins was provided with fully weaponized cutting-edge anthrax that he could use by merely drying it out as the FBI case requires. If not, then the cover-up explodes in the face of the FBI.” …. And, indeed, the cover-up had exploded in the face of the FBI and DOJ.

      Richard Spertzel, UNSCOM’s biological weapons chief from 1994-199, had described an exquisitely weaponized anthrax contained in the letters to Senators Leahy and Daschle that “far exceeds that of any powdered product found in the now extinct U.S. Biological Warfare Program.”

      [Comment: This is not true. Dr. Spertzel seems unaware of the study that issued on September 10, 2001 that had the same performance as the attack anthrax. It was done to study the threat of mailed anthrax after an anthrax threat was received in connection with the detention of Vanguards of Conquest #2 Mohammad Mahjoub. His bail was denied on October 5, 2001. The simulant used in the study was made at Dugway. The silica was mixed at a dairy processor after drying.]

      The essayist continues:

      “These included anthrax spores of 1.5-3.0 microns necessary to make a pure spore mix, a polyglass that tightly bound hydrophilic silica to each particle (to prevent clumping) and a weak electrical charge to optimize dispersion by means of repulsion with no other propellant required. Spertzel concluded:

      The multiple disciplines and technologies required to make the anthrax in this case do not exist at the Army’s Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. Inhalation studies are conducted at the institute, but they are done using liquid preparation, not powdered products.
      Furthermore, the FBI spent 12-18 months trying to “reverse engineer” the Daschle-Leahy anthrax without success. The FBI case against Ivins gives him 7½ hours in the evening over the course of three days to prepare his first concoction sent in letters postmarked September 18, 2001 and roughly 15½ hours over eight days to prepare the Senate anthrax letters postmarked October 9, 2001. But after reading the first DOJ document, that was suggestive and not apparently made from whole cloth, I was seized by the possibility that the FBI might have been concealing that Ivins had been working with fully weaponized anthrax in order to disguise a violation of the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention treaty to which the U.S. is a signatory, hence the hedge in my essay (made on the final day of OPEDNEWS window for editing one’s essays.) Direct inspection of the BTWC rules out that concern. Apparently what matters is in the heart or mind: one can make fully weaponized materials so long as the purpose in doing so is in some part defensive or prophylactic, as was Ivins’s purpose in testing the efficacy of anthrax vaccines.

      The question is thus whether Ivins was working with fully weaponized materials. The answer is that he was not.”

      [Comment: On this, however, we must take into account Bruce Ivins’ email to Patricia Fellows recounting how someone who had inspected the attack anthrax had observed that it was closest to dry powder made by [name redacted]. In his email, which should be produced under FOI soon, it was noted that General Parker had been told that ” we did not make dry powder!” Was such dry powder made by the individual at Edgewood as opposed to Dugway or Battelle?]

      The essayist continues:

      “Neither the DOJ oral presentation, nor anything in any of its documents states or implies this during a public presentation whose purpose was to convince the American public that the FBI “got the right man” this time. They cannot even bring themselves to say that the spores in Ivins’s possession were of the same consistent tiny size of 1.5-3.0 microns that made them so deadly — something they would surely say were it so.”


      “Flask 1029 was highly purified. The size of a natural spore is 1 micron. This is not an obstacle.]

      The essayist continues:

      “In fact, the topic is sedulously avoided even though — or precisely because — it is essential to making the case against Ivins. Better, Jeffrey Taylor, who seemed to have a weak grasp of the evidence, in his opening remarks gave away the fact that the anthrax in the letters did not come directly from the flask with the sample of spores “RMR-1029” that Ivins monitored and that were reportedly a genetic match to the anthrax that killed its victims. Mr. Taylor advised:

      As the court documents allege, the parent material of the anthrax spores used in the attacks was a single flask of spores, known as “RMR-1029,” that was created and solely maintained by Dr. Ivins at USAMRIID. This means that the spores used in the attacks were taken from that specific flask, regrown, purified, dried and loaded into the letters.

      So, that’s the game and the frame-up right there. Regrown spores don’t weaponize themselves. They do not regrow super-small and covered with state-of-the-art anti-clumping silicon with a weak electrical charge for dispersion. And how do we know, aside from voluminous ongoing reports that we will soon examine, that there was such silica on the spores, and that it was cutting edge technology? Search Warrant Affidavit 07-534-M-01 (available at USDOJ:Amerithrax Court Documents), dated October 31, 2007, states in pertinent part, p.4:

      Microscopic examination of the evidentiary spore powders recovered from all four letters identified an elemental signature of Silicon within the spores. This Silicon signature had not been previously described for Bacillus anthracis organisms.

      This fundamental problem with the FBI case has been around for a long time, and helps us understand how covert action can take place in front of the public without being noticed. Indeed, the entire emphasis of the DOJ and FBI is focussed on proving that there is a genetic match between the letter anthrax and the anthrax batch RMR-1029 allegedly in Ivins’s possession while ignoring that RMR-1029 lacked the weaponized qualities found in the Senate anthrax letters. That focus is a deliberate red herring to make it seem possible that Ivins was the lone nutcase perpetrator. An October 2, 2002 Washington Post article by Guy Gugliotta and Gary Matsumoto underscores how committed the FBI has been to protecting the 911 plotters from the beginning, e.g., by starting with a conviction that the perpetrator had to be a lone nutcase:

      A profile of the attacker issued by the FBI last November described an angry, “lone individual” with “some” science background who could weaponize the anthrax spores in a basement laboratory for as little as $2,500.

      Instead, the scientists who understood the spores opined as follows:

      “In my opinion, there are maybe four or five people in the whole country who might be able to make this stuff, and I’m one of them,” said Richard O. Spertzel, chief biological inspector for the U.N. Special Commission from 1994 to 1998. “And even with a good lab and staff to help run it, it might take me a year to come up with a product as good.”

      [Comment: This is most notable as an acknowledgement that Dr. Spertzel that he could not make it — whereas a dairy processor in Wisconsin could. Given that Dr. Alibek and Dr. Patrick were of the view that they could make it — and the FBI did make powder with the same performance characteristics — it is probably best to turn to the folks who actually have made aerosolized anthrax simulants. For example, the head of the Air Force lab has told me, after doing controlled experiments shared with Dr. Bannan, that it is not so difficult. He has made anthrax simulant that performs as well and has a comparable Silicon Signature using a relatively simple method.]

      There is a reconciling of views, however. Both the FBI, Alibek, Patrick and the Air Force lab have the benefit of learning of highly specialized labs and know-how. And so the fact that they find it relatively easy perhaps is a bit misleading — their point is that a relatively sophisticated product can result from a relatively simple method. It may be that therein lies the genius of the method, whatever it turns out to be.]

      The essayist continues:

      “Instead, suggested Spertzel and more than a dozen experts interviewed by The Washington Post in recent weeks, investigators might want to reexamine the possibility of state-sponsored terrorism, or try to determine whether weaponized spores may have been stolen by the attacker from an existing, but secret, biodefense program or perhaps given to the attacker by an accomplice. …”

      [Comment: This is an important point. As Dr. Meselson has always pointed out, the know-how from a state program travels in the minds of the individuals. Such know-how can then be conveyed by email or cocktails at a conference.]

      The essayist continues:

      “Just collecting this stuff is a trick,” said Steven A. Lancos, executive vice president of Niro Inc., one of the leading manufacturers of spray dryers, viewed by several sources as the likeliest tool needed to weaponize the anthrax bacteria. “Even on a small scale, you still need containment. If you’re going to do it right, it could cost millions of dollars.” …

      [Comment: Containment can be done on the cheap, especially if done on a small scale.]

      The essayist continues:

      “Several sources agreed that the most likely way to build the coated spores would be to use the fine glass particles, known generically as “fumed silica” or “solid smoke,” and mix them with the spores in a spray dryer. “I know of no other technique that might give you that finished product,” Spertzel said.”

      [Comment: I had always favored a spray dryer, relying on Dr. Alibek’s comments in the early years. In his draft of Biohazard 2, however, he came to favor a fluidized bed dryer. The head of the Air Force lab came to suggest that this could have been the method as well.]

      The essayist continues:

      According to William C. Patrick III, the former chief of product development for the U.S. Army’s now-defunct bioweapons program, U.S. government scientists made biological agents using spray dryers, but did not spray dry anthrax. …

      [Comment: Yes, the now-defunct bioweapons program did not, but as I mentioned, a spraydryer was in fact used, with mixing with silica, in making the simulant used used in a biodefense study done of the jihadists’ threat to use mailed anthrax. See report issued on September 10, 2001 prepared in response to the threat to use mailed anthrax in connection with the detention of Vanguards of Conquest #2 Mohammad Mahjoub. The spraydrying was done at a dairy processor.

      And so if Vice President Cheney and CIA was forthcoming with all information at its disposal with the folks at Sandia, they could have tested the hypothesis that focus should include a dairy processor expert at spraydrying, who mixed with silica. One such person who worked for the charity IANA was arrested as a material witness the day that Al-Timimi’s residence was searched. He lived a mile from me. I called him to ask about this and he thanked me for my concern, but he said too much was going on to talk.]

      The essayist continues:

      “In spray drying, a technician mixes fumed silica and spores with water, then sprays the mist through a nozzle directly into a stream of superheated air shooting from a second nozzle into an enclosed chamber. The water evaporates instantly, leaving spores and additive floating in space.
      What do the DOJ and FBI offer us for how Ivins could have done all this? Silence and disinformation. The aforementioned affidavit states:
      Culturing anthrax and working safely with dried anthrax spores requires specific training and expertise in technical fields such as biochemist or microbiology. It also requires access to particular laboratory equipmentsuch as a lyophilizer or other drying device, biological safety cabinet or other containment device, incubator, centrifuge, fermentor, and various protective gear, all of which Dr. Ivins had readily accessible to him through his employment at USAMRIID.
      The above paragraph is a carefully worded frame-up. Yes, a special drying device is needed to coat the anthrax with silicon in the right way; it is a spray dryer — a device that works with intense heat to vaporize nearly instantly a water suspension of silicon particles that then is drawn to the anthrax. Ivins had access to a lyophilizer, but not to a spray dryer. A lyophilizer freeze dries liquid anthrax into a powder. So the affidavit slips the fact that Ivins lacks even the basic tools by including “or other drying device” and states (truly and deceptively) that Ivins had access to “all of which,” i.e., the unhelpful lyophilizer but not the essential spray dryer, let alone the specialized silicon and team of colleagues to make it work. The Post continues about the requirements:
      “Surface tension will pull those little [silica] particles together onto the big one,” said California Institute of Technology chemical engineer Richard Flagan. “You will end up with some degree of coating.”

      Whoever made such an aerosol would “need some experience” with aerosols and “would have to have a lot of anthrax, so you could practice,” Edwards said. “You’d have to do a lot of trial and error to get the particles you wanted.” It would also help to have an electron microscope to examine the results.

      This would mean at least several hundred thousand dollars worth of equipment, several experts said. Niro’s cheapest spray dryer sells for about $50,000. Electron microscopes cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

      [Comment: For a forensic psychologist, this essayist did a great job in his opinion piece and I hope he has continued to follow the matter and we hear from him again.]

      He continues:

      “In all, said Niro’s Lancos, “you would need [a] chemist who is familiar with colloidal [fumed] silica, and a material science person to put it all together, and then some mechanical engineers to make this work . . . probably some containment people, if you don’t want to kill anybody. You need half a dozen, I think, really smart people.”

      The following year, Gary Matsumoto wrote an article for Science 28, November 2003, Volume 302 that stated that “a schism now exists among scientists who analyzed it for the FBI.” Initially, there was consensus:
      Early in the investigation [once it took to heart the science needed to produce the spores], the FBI appeared to endorse the latter view: that only a sophisticated lab could have produced the material used in the Senate attack. This was the consensus among biodefense specialists working for the government and the military. In May 2002, 16 of these scientists and physicians published a paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association, describing the Senate anthrax powder as “weapons-grade” and exceptional: “high spore concentration, uniform particle size, low electrostatic charge, treated to reduce clumping” (JAMA, 1 May 2002, p. 2237). Donald A. Henderson, former assistant secretary for the Office of Public Health Preparedness at the Department of Health and Human Services, expressed an almost grudging respect: “It just didn’t have to be that good” to be lethal, he told Science.”

      [Comment: Note that the 1 micron size perhaps was overkill. Once it gets below 2.5 microns, it can just come in and be exhaled out.]

      “As the [criminal] investigation dragged on, however, its focus shifted. In a key disclosure, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft revealed in August 2002 that Justice Department officials had fixed on one of 30 so-called “persons of interest”:Steven J. Hatfill, a doctor and virologist who in 1997 conducted research with the Ebola virus at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Maryland. (Hatfill has denied any involvement in the anthrax mailing.)

      The essayist continues:

      “Hatfill’s story remains instructive for many reasons. The FBI violated normal investigative procedures by leaking Hatfill’s name to the press and keeping politicians informed about the ongoing investigation. When Hatfill found a university position, the FBI forced the university to fire him. The FBI deliberately informed the press in advance of their searches of Hatfill’s residence, both when he voluntarily submitted to a search and when the search was done under warrant, in order to create a media circus and to antagonize and intimidate Hatfill. The FBI harassed Hatfill by following him everywhere under the pretext that he would strike again if let out of their sight. The wave of propaganda against Hatfill was so pervasive and effective that when Hatfill reported to D.C. police that the FBI had run over his foot while surveilling him, he was ticketed for “walking to create a hazard.” FBI sources stated that the Bureau had focused on Hatfill until 2006, but when a federal judge reviewed the case in 2008, including still-secret FBI summaries, he opined “There is not a scintilla of evidence that would indicate that Dr. Hatfill had anything to do with this.” ”

      Former FBI counter-terrorism agent Brad Garrett, … is happy to tell us what went wrong with the Hatfill investigation in a June 30, 20008 “EXCLUSIVE: How the FBI Botched the Anthrax Case.” According to Garrett:

      The anthrax investigation, almost from the beginning, was hampered by top-heavy leadership from high ranking, but inexperienced FBI officials, which led to a close-minded focus on just one suspect and amateurish investigative techniques that robbed agents in the field the ability operate successfully.

      Garrett ignores the obvious implications of the fact that there was not a scintilla of evidence against Hatfill, viz., that the FBI modus operandi against Hatfill — and Ivins as well — was “frame ’em and break ’em.” Garrett notes that “The original complaint accused several government officials, including Ashcroft, of deliberately leaking information about the criminal probe into Hatfill in order to harass him and to hide the FBI’s lack of hard evidence,” but he also states that the $5,825,000 settlement included no such admissions without seeming to understand that so much money was paid to avoid having to make that admission or having a jury so find. ”


      Attorney General Ashcroft did not leak anything. He was vilified for using the term “Person of Interest” after the massive press. The person who pled the Fifth Amendment regarding the Hatfill leaks came over from the CIA in late September and headed the criminal investigation at the DC Field Office. His daughter recently withdrew as pro bono defense counsel for the other anthrax weapons suspect, Ali Al-Timimi. That proceeding is ongoing and involves highly classified ex parte briefing on warrantless NSA wiretapping that apparently began by at least on or about October 7, 2001. Not even the federal district court’s clerk has been allowed to assist the judge; “ex parte” means that the defense counsel, who is a regular on the Olberman and Maddow shows, has a high security clearance, was not allowed to see the briefing.]

      The essayist continues:

      “One wishes for more hard facts, but instead of taking the convenient route that the FBI investigation of this crucial act of domestic terrorism was hamstrung by stupid, incompetent and inexperienced high-ranking officials, the better interpretation in this case is that the FBI’s wild goose chase was grand political theater to keep the public confused and distracted from the actual terrorists.”

      Green has offered an informed and lucid essay. But let’s turn now to certain additional hard facts and figure out some possible alternatives:

      (1) Did Ayman Zawahiri succeed at infiltrating US biodefense as the documentary evidence shows was his aim? What does Rauf Ahmad say? Why doesn’t one of these reporters call him?

      (2) Were the anthrax mailings financially motivated?

      (3) Were they an effort by a mentally troubled individual to sound the alarm?

      (4) Was it an intelligence operation designed to sound the alarm over what was known over Ayman Zawahiri’s anthrax planning?

      (5) Or was it a combination of one or more of the above.

      I honestly don’t know.

      But I would urge to Mr. Spertzel this one hard fact: the performance parameters were comparable to what had been prepared for the study done to assess the threat of mailed anthrax that was issued September 10, 2001 in connection with a threat made related to the detention of Vanguards of Conquest #2 Mohammad Mahjoub. That threat was reported in the Presidential Daily Briefing in early February 2001. CIA Director Panetta and President Obama need only open that PDB to see Amerithrax in entirely new eyes. The method used in making that simulant involved a spraydryer and mixing with silica AFTER drying.

    • Anonymous scientist said

      The text below is from page 167 of the above link. Note that it took 6 days to dry the material in a lypholizer (remember it wasn’t a lypholizer Ivins signed out, it was a speed vac – a speed vac is different, less sophisticated)
      But then notice what has to happen after that. The SOLID lump of material is ground first with a spatula, then with a mortar and pestle, then with a pneumatic ball mill, and finally with the jet mill. Then silica as added.

      The frozen MS2 suspensions were then placed uncapped in freeze flasks and connected to a
      Labconco Lyph-Lok 6 freeze dry system. The samples were dried for 6 days. After the samples
      were completely dry, they were removed from the lyophilizer and large pieces were broken up
      with a spatula. Particle size was further reduced by light grinding with a mortar and pestle. The
      dry MS2 was then placed in a US Stoneware milling jar with 16 pieces of 0.5 inch milling media.
      The milling jar was placed on an automated roller and the MS2 was milled for three hours. The
      dry MS2 was removed from the milling jar and stored in a sterile Nalgene bottle. Final particle
      size reduction was achieved using a jet mill (Model 00 Jet-O-Mizer, Fluid Energy Processing
      and Equipment Company, Telford, PA) operated at 120 psig. The crude MS2 was fed to the jet
      mill using an electromagnetic vibrating feeder (Model F-TO-C, FMC Technologies, Homer City,
      PA). The feed material to the jet mill is entrained by the stream of circulation fluid within the jet
      mill. The violent jet action breaks up individual particles through particle to particle impaction.
      The jet mill is shown in Figures G-3 and G-4. After milling, the dry MS2 was mixed with
      10 percent Aerosil by weight.

  4. Anonymous scientist said

    “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.””

    This is perhaps the most pathetic quote from the entire article. We have FBI “microbiologist” Jason Bannan stating “I’m a microbiologist”. What’s next? Will we have Joe Michael from Sandia National Labs saying “I’m just a metallurgist who never before examined a biological sample until the FBI gave me a nice juicy grant to examine the the spores that were used to terrorize the nation in 2001?” It really is pathetic. Either we have one of the most incompetent and brainless investigations ever conducted by the US government or we have a cover-up.

    Dr Joe Michael of Sandia National Labs has now resorted to swapping email gossip with internet pornographer Ed Lake:

    That just shows you how far the level of our National Labs has fallen. Sandia should be ashamed of themselves.

    I wonder what will happen when the real adults at NAS find out just how much the FBI have been hiding information?

    Clue: read this carefully ” For instance, none of the microbiologists, including Bannan and similar specialists at FBI, was privy to other evidence, including lab records from USAMRIID”

    Yes, that means the FBI are now back-peddling big time. I wonder what will happen when NAS ask AFIP for the EDX data on the New York Post powder? I bet there’s a few FBI senior folks planning their next career move. Most of them are already out of there. Jason, there could be a nice position at a university for you down the horizon. Ask Dwight Adams, he worked a nice deal.

    • Anonymous scientist said

      Ed Lake wrote:
      “Anonymous Scientist” predicted that the facts would be disputed and shown to be false at the ASM meeting in February. Of course, the facts were accepted as facts. There was no dispute, except by one lone lawyer/politician/conspiracy theorist who argued that everything was a lie.”

      Ed apparently didn’t bother reading the article that this entire thread is discussing, written in the official publication of the American Society for Microbiology:

      “Nonetheless, 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.”

    • Anonymous Scientist said

      “Precisely because of human fallibility, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. And to the extent that extraordinary claims require extraordinary investigations, those investigations must be true to the spirit of science. And that means highly skeptical, demanding, rigorous standards of evidence.” – Carl Sagan

      Jason Bannan’s answer that results were “variable” when they tried to reverse-engineer spores by deliderately adding silicon does not qualify as “rigorous standards of evidence” – not by a long shot. Instead, it sounds as if Bannan is hiding behind loosey-goosey phrases like “variable” precisely becasue he knows that the failure to recreate the spores’ silicon signature is not just a gaping hole in the FBI’s case against Ivins, but also a gaping hole in Sandia’s claim that the silicon got there completely non-intentionally.
      It doesn’t even take a rocket scientists to work that out. The FBI are asking us to believe that something they could not reproduce after trying for 8 years with unlimited resources was done unintentionally by the perpetrator. That is an extraordinary claim by any standard.

      We’d all like to see the National Science Foundation following Carl Sagan’s advice – and that means highly skeptical, demanding, rigorous standards of evidence.

      Bannan’s answer when asked about the spores aerosolizability by blaming it on the “high energy” post sorting machine is beyond embarrassing.

      But, again, controlled, rigorous experiments can be performed. Just take some untreated powder simulnat and for the the price of a postage stamp find out if the sorting machine miraculously converts the untreated powder into a bioweapon-grade powder that forms a secondary aerosol.

    • Anonymous Scientist said

      “Another observation is that Beecher has demonstrated little aerosol experience before or after publication of this paper. Yet, in the discussion, much speculation was given to particle size distributions for anthrax spore preparations. In some statements, he clearly could not distinguish the significance of number versus mass particle size distributions. He probably never handled spore powders in a weighing balance. If he did, he would have understood the difference between raw dried spores as compared to prepared material designed for aerosol dissemination.”

  5. DXer said

    Did Al Qaeda operative Aafia Siddiqui’s research into germ warfare or work as a lab technician expose her to the use of silica or a siliconizing solution for the purpose of encapsulation?

    Did she know Al-Timimi who shared a suite with the inventors of a process to use silica in the culture medium to concentrate anthrax?

    Was Al-Timimi one of the cell members referenced in the correspondence on her thumb drive when she was captured in July 2008?

    As the result of a secret undisclosed program, was this all known by the White House and Vice President Cheney’s Office but kept from Amerithrax?

    Why is Dr. Bannan privately mentioned by a reporter to me in connection to the Aafia Siddiqui case?

    Does Dr. Bannan multi-task and consult with intelligence agencies on bioweapons when he is not supporting hanging Amerithrax on the dead guy who — yikes! — used fake screen names on the internet and liked pictures of blindfolded sorority coeds?

    And did Aafia have potential access to the collection of anthrax strains at Brandeis and did that long-held collection include Ames? On March 11, 2002, the Brandeis General Counsel sent an email advising that the federal authorities had subpoenaed records in connection with the investigation of the anthrax crimes.

    In November 2001, the Hazmat Team and the State Department of Health was called after three researchers were doing research with anthrax and Administration officials were concerned there might be contamination. The scientists were confident all scientific protocols had been followed but Hazmat was called nonetheless. The research had been done after the anthrax mailings seeking means to detect anthrax spores. The anthrax used had been at Brandeis a long time, acquired at a time before federal regulations in 1997 required that transfers be recorded — and before Ivins’ flask 1029 was created. The lab was in the Kalman Building, part of the complex of buildings adjoining the Volen Center. Brandeis researchers Daniel Perlman and Inga Mahler had “decided to focus on developing a solid growth medium for cultivating B. anthracis that might be usable in the field with a minimum of equipment. They further developed the growth medium for use at room temperature thereby obviating the need for equipment such as incubators for sustaining an elevated temperature.” The pair obtained a patent issued March 2004 titled “Selective growth medium for Bacillus anthracis and methods of use.”

    DR. PERLMAN HAS BEEN INNOVATIVE ON A WIDE RANGE OF CONSUMER PRODUCTS TO INCLUDE YOGURT INVOLVING SILICON DIOXIDE MICROPARTICULATES IN ITS PROCESSING. AYMAN ZAWAHIRI’S PROGRAM WAS CODE-NAMED YOGURT OR CURDLED MILK — ZABADI IN ARABIC. Brandeis life sciences PhD was tasked with researching germ warfare. The FBI’s Dr. Bannan needs to put aside his visions of Bruce Ivins’ panty raids and roll up his sleeves regarding the hypothesis of silicon dioxide microparticulates in processing.

    Dr. Perlman has been innovative on a wide range of consumer products to include yogurt involving silicon dioxide microparticulates in its processing; Dr. Mahler had published on the subject of gram positive and gram negative bacteria (the subject underlying the patent) in the Journal of Bacteriology in 1989. Dr. Mahler years ago advised me that the strain of Bacillus anthracis they used in December 2001 was ordered by her group at Brandeis almost 40 years ago. It came from the American Type Culture Collection and was kept viable, together with other stock strains. She explains that before 9/11 you could simply obtain the organism from culture collections or colleagues. Their offices are in Abelson-Bass-Yalem, adjoining the Volen Center where Aafia’s lab was located. The strain used, Dr. Mahler advises (referred to in the paper as MC 607) — MC stands for Rosenstiel Center — was Vollum, not Ames. Vollum is a strain that like Ames is used to challenge vaccines. It is less lethal but was used by the US in the 1950s in making anthrax weapons. Dr. Mahler reports she knew of no Ames on campus. Dr. Perlman, however, did not respond to an email query. The anthrax was autoclaved, or inactivated in a pressure cooker, before the inspectors arrived at the scene.

    Aafia obtained her PhD from Brandeis in 2001, having graduated from MIT with a degree in biology in 1994. The Visual Lab at which Aafia worked had rules: “No Hitting, No Punching, No Pushing, No Grabbing, No Biting.” Judging from its internet page, the lab seems to have been a pleasant place to work. The operating manual instructed that if you don’t know “ask.” The lab’s work under Robert Sekuler, mainly funded by a grant from the NIH, related to how we remember, forget, or misremember things. Aafia’s 2001 183-page thesis “Separating the components of imitation,” which concerns visual learning and visual discrimination, was very far removed from questions like the Palestinian conflict or creating a fine powder using a mini-spraydryer.

    In the first year of their Ph.D. program, students do 4 nine-week rotations in different laboratories of their choosing. First-year course work includes a core class in principles of neuroscience, and intensive graduate level seminars that give students experience in reading original research literature and making oral presentations. Graduate research advisors are typically chosen at the end of the first year. So one question is: what different labs did Aafia work in during her first year? It is related to the question: what is the origin of the anthrax spraydrying documents on the laptop of the colleague of Aafia’s future husband al-Balucchi? She says that she for a time was tasked with researching germ weapons and worked as a lab technician at Karachi Institute of Technology (this apparently was while there was a $5 million BOLO out for her — good work guys in tracking down the scientists helping Al Qaeda).

    “Aafia Siddiqui was here (Boston) in June 2001— when some press reports suggest she was in Liberia meeting with Atef — says the family’s attorney, Elaine Whitfield Sharp. “And I can prove it.” When her attorney proposed to the family that they obtain her credit card records by subpoena, the family vetoed the idea. Although it should have been easy to check, no members of a play group were brought forward to say that Aafia was in Boston in June. Although I may be mistaken, I believe counsel for the family succeeded at preventing Ismat, the mom, from having to testify before a grand jury in Boston on the grounds that she was too distraught over the disappearance of her daughter. According to one point, Ismaat is now suffering dementia — Aafia, for all the controversy over her mental state, just seems highly anti-semitic and very angry. If that is enough to avoid trial, Ayman Zawahiri has nothing to worry about.

    The federal magistrate should assume special role in assuring that Aafia Siddiqui receives excellent medical care and legal representation. The District Court Judge seems to be bending over backwards in being fair. His permitting her to address the gallery at length from the defense table was extraordinary. It’s rare that a judge politely says “Excuse me, excuse me” in trying to quiet a defendant talking over witnesses. Aafia has received excellent legal representation but for reasons that are unclear seems not to be cooperating. She, according to some, thinks she may be repatriated to Pakistan if found to be incompetent. Of course, KSM has not cooperated and rejected legal assistance also so the reasons for the lack of communication with counsel is unclear and may be in some terrorist handbook somewhere. Such maneuvering certainly served Ted Kaczynski well. But for the sake of the rule of law, every effort needs to be made to assure that Aafia Siddiqui’s rights are protected so that justice may be done. It is highly relevant where she has been for the past 5 years as it bears on her psychological state and well-being.

    And people should come to understand encapsulation which was understood both by Bruce Ivins (and was addressed by him in passing in a patent) and suggested by Ken Alibek’s former assistant two doors down from Al-Timimi as perhaps indicated by the forensics.

    • DXer said

      Brandeis unaware of hazardous materials kept on campus
      by Matthew Bettinger

      Brandeis officials met with members of the Waltham City Council last month to discuss actions the University has taken regarding the storage and accurate cataloguing of hazardous materials on campus, the Daily News Tribune reported.

      Last December, the University closed the Kalman science building for a week, when Brandeis administrators became worried the building had been contaminated with anthrax, even though researchers insisted proper percautions were followed. There was no anthrax contamination, but an Environmental Protection Agency team looking at the University did discover $175,000 in hazardous materials of which the University was previously unaware.

      The City of Waltham is currently attempting to ascertain whether Brandeis has catalogued and safely stored its hazardous materials. Questions regarding hazardous materials have been raised since last fall, when Brandeis learned Researcher Daniel Perlman and others were experimenting with anthrax without the University’s knowledge.

      Perlman was experimenting with the hazardous substance to create a tool to better detect anthrax contamination. The researchers are currently seeking a patent for their findings. Perlman and another Brandeis researcher, Inga Mahler were interviewed by the FBI, because of their experiments, the Los Angeles Times reported. The pair were exonerated of any wrongdoing.

      • DXer said

        Source: Los Angeles Times, August 28, 2002.

        COLUMN ONE

        In the Lab, Suspicion Spreads

        “At Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., research scientist Daniel Perlman ran into trouble with university authorities after conducting experiments specifically intended to help in the fight against bioterrorism.

        Shortly after the anthrax attacks, he’d been asked by a company to devise a diagnostic tool to detect anthrax contamination.

        He and a microbiologist colleague revived an old sample of anthrax from a decades-old strain collection and within weeks created a nutrient on which pretty much only anthrax would thrive.

        Upon hearing of the scientists’ study, Brandeis’ administration became alarmed that anthrax had been grown without university approval. It called in authorities, and it shut the biology building for a week to test for spores.

        Neither Perlman nor colleague Inga Mahler — both of whom were interviewed by the FBI — would comment on their experiences, but others familiar with the case said the university placed Perlman on leave for nearly a month and set into motion a formal inquiry into possible scientific misconduct. Both were cleared in May, but Perlman must now get permission from his department chair for every experiment he conducts.

        The university is pursuing a patent for his invention.

        Few scientists have had encounters with the FBI as intimate as those of Foral and Perlman, but even the cheese makers and pond scum enthusiasts have had a modicum of contact. In January, the FBI sent a letter to the microbiology society’s entire U.S. membership, requesting help in catching the anthrax killer.

        ‘It is a horrible feeling to think that it could be someone I know, that the perpetrator is a microbiologist among us,’ said Theresa Koehler, anthrax geneticist at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.”

    • DXer said

      United States Patent
      October 5, 1999
      Method and composition for preventing oil separation in vegetable kernel butters by combining with microparticulate silicon dioxide

      Stabilized peanut butter and other vegetable kernel butters, and vegetable kernel butter-containing food compositions such as peanut butter-containing food composition are described. The stabilized peanut butter or other vegetable kernel butter include a mixture of ground seed or nuts, and between approximately 0.25% and 4% by weight of microparticulate silicon dioxide (silicon dioxide measured as the anhydrous weight content of SiO.sub.2), and/or between approximately 0.25% and 5% by weight of propylene glycol. Also described is a method for preventing the spontaneous (natural) separation of oil and ground kernel solids in vegetable kernel butter or a vegetable kernel butter-containing food composition by combining between approximately 0.25% and 4% by weight of microparticulate silicon dioxide and/or between approximately 0.25% and 5% by weight of propylene glycol with the vegetable kernel butter.

      Cited References

      Cabot Technical Data Information, “CAB-O-SIL.RTM. Fumed Silica as a Conditioning Agent for the Food Processing Industry,” Cabot Corporation, Tuscola, IL, Oct. (1989). .
      Eastman Chemical Company brochure entitled “Stabilizers for Peanut Butter” (Publication ZM-91A, Nov. 1993). .
      Silicon Dioxide–Section 172.480 and “Peanut Butter–Section 164.150,” Title 21–Food and Drugs, FDA Guidelines. .
      Laws of Malaysia, 1985 Malaysia Food Regulations, Article R.259. .
      “Syloid.RTM. Silica Typical Physical & Chemical Properties” Information Sheet, GraceDavison, Inc., Baltimore, MD. .
      “Silica Gel Application guide,” GraceDavison, Inc., Baltimore, MD..

      Question: When was Aafia Siddiqui first tasked with researching germ warfare? Did she suddenly take an interest in anthrax only after the Fall 2001 anthrax mailings?

    • DXer said

      Brandeis PhD Aafia Siddiqui was tasked with researching germ warfare.

      Brandeis researchers autoclaved virulent anthrax (reportedly Vollum) before Hazmat got there in Fall 2001.

      Here is an another example of the research done by researcher Daniel Perlman.

      Methods for isolating mutant microorganisms from parental populations
      * Patent Number: US4649109
      * Issue date: 03/10/1987

      A method for isolating a mutant microorganism is described. The method comprises the steps of: (a) separately microencapsulating in a semi-permeable membrane each or a small number of microorganisms from a microorganism population containing said mutant; (b) growing said microencapsulated microorganisms including treating to induce a detectable difference between microcapsules containing mutant microorganisms and those containing non-mutant microorganisms; and (c) separating said microcapsules containing mutant microorganisms from those containing non-mutant microorganisms based on said difference.

  6. DXer said

    After the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology detected silica, [USAMRIID Major General John] Parker reported that the anthrax in question contained silica, a common substance found in sand and quartz. At the August 18, 2008 Science Briefing On The Anthrax Investigation, in his opening statement Dr. Vahid Majidi explained “First of all, let me dispel some frequently repeated erroneous information. For example: There were no intentional additives combined with the bacillus anthracis spores to make them any more dispersible.” He noted that the Silicon Signature may have been due to a silica-based substance in the culture medium used to grow the anthrax. Another department colleague of Bin Laden’s sheik’s protege — Dr. Alibek’s co-director of the Center for Biodefense at GMU –told a reporter that the presence of silica is significant, but he declined to say why, citing national security concerns. “I don’t think I want to give people — terrorists — any information to help them, said Dr. Charles Bailey, a scientist at Advanced Biosystems Inc. at George Mason University and former commander of the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID).” The problem was that a microbiologist trained in computer science and actively communicating with Bin Laden’s sheik and the 911 imam was working just feet away from both famed Russian anthrax bioweaponeer Ken Alibek and Dr. Bailey. Bin Laden’s supporters already had access to the information. Bailey and Alibek in mid-March 2001 filed a confidential patent application relating to the concentration of anthrax using silicon dioxide. According to his defense committee, Al-Timimi had been the former assistant of the White House Chief of Staff, Andrew Card, the one intimately involved in the undisclosed Presidential Surveillance Program that began warrantless wiretapping of Al-Timimi on or about October 7, 2001.

    Ari Fleischer discusses the silica in the anthrax in his book Taking Heat. He reports that he had argued at length with ABC News over its story that the additive was bentonite (which arguably was characteristic of the Iraq program). He explained that from the start he had told ABC that it was silica, not bentonite, that had been detected. The suggestion that AFIP experts did not know the difference between silica and silicon is not very well founded, and the now-deceased scientist who performed the EDX specifically told the journalist that oxygen was also detected in ratios consistent with silicon dioxide. One of the two applicants for the international patent was a leading aerosol scientist and innovator in dry powder inhalations used in the pharmaceutical industry and the founder of Aerosol Techniques in 1955.

    A PhD student supervised by Matthias Frank, a big star at Livermore in developing the biosensor, addressed these issues in 2004. Lawrence Livermore lab was tasked with combating the Bin Laden anthrax threat in 1998 and is steeped in biodetection, the subject of the PhD thesis. LLNL researchers have developed advanced technologies to rapidly detect the airborne release of biological threat agents. The student cites Gary Matsumoto’s Science article and says:

    “In the case of anthrax, it is known that Van der Waals forces cause unprocessed spores to clump together. Large particles are not deposited efficiently in human lungs and also settle rapidly from the air. Both are undesirable properties if maximal lethality is desired. Silica powders and nanoparticles have long been used to prevent agent particles from coming close enough together for Van der Waals forces to become significant.” *** Military scientists have stated that the ‘weaponized’ anthrax letters sent to Senator Daschle’s office contained silica. In the Senate anthrax letter, there is also evidence that the bond between the silica nanoparticles and spores was further enhanced by the use of sol-gel or polymerized glass. Some believe that the spores may have even been electrostatically charged to aid their dispersal. At any rate, the end result of the processing was a powder far more potent than a simple combination of anthrax spores, cells and residual growth medium.”

    Former Russian bioweaponeer Ken Alibek and Harvard biologist Matthew Meselson, however, have opined that there was no special silica coating observable in the Scanning Electron Microscope (“SEM”) images they saw. The FBI’s scientist at Sandia confirms that no silica was observed on the exosporium and that instead it was below the exosporium, absorbed in the coats. The presence of any silica, Drs. Meselson and Alibek say, may have come from the environment because of the special tendency of anthrax spore coats to attract silicon. (The lead FBI scientist Dwight Adams relied on the study provided the FBI by Meselson in briefing the Congress in November 2002.) Indeed, the silica may have been in the culture medium and then removed as described by a mid-March 2001 and related patent filed by researchers at Dr. Alibek’s Center for Biodefense at GMU.

    “The silicon is probably the most important scientific evidence that would lead anybody to question whether Bruce was capable of making these spores,” says Gerald P. Andrews, Bruce Ivins’ former boss. Andrews and George Mason University professor and former Soviet bioweapons researcher Sergei Popov believe the silicon was purposely added, due to unnaturally high levels of the mineral in the spores. Sandia made a video on YouTube explaining its research on behalf of the FBI.

    A scientist from the FBI Laboratory, Dr. Doug Beecher, in a July 2006 issue of “Applied and Environmental Microbiology” provided me a copy of his article that reports that:

    “a widely circulated misconception is that the spores were produced using additives and sophisticated engineering supposedly akin to military weapon production. The issue is usually the basis for implying that the powders were inordinately dangerous compared to spores alone. The persistent credence given to this impression fosters erroneous preconceptions, which may misguide research and preparedness efforts and generally detract from the magnitude of hazards posed by simple spore preparations.”

    Harvard University Matthew Meselson reviewed the language in the FBI scientist’s article before publication. “The statement should have had a reference,” editor-in-chief of the microbiology journal told a trade periodical. “An unsupported sentence being cited as fact is uncomfortable to me. Any statement in a scientific article should be supported by a reference or by documentation.” The two passages, footnoted or not, essentially said what Dr. Alibek had been saying: “‘[J]ust because you have a sophisticated product doesn’t mean the technique has to be sophisticated.’ ” Silica in the culture medium would not be a sophisticated “additive” that aided dispersability but would permit the agent to be concentrated.

    In a Letter to the Editor in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, Aug. 2007, p. 5074, titled “Unsupported Conclusions on the Bacillus anthracis Spores,” Kay A. Mereish, at the United Nations, reports:

    “In a meeting I attended in September 2006, a presentation was made by a scientist who had worked on samples of anthrax collected from letters involved in the [anthrax letters] incident in October 2001; that scientist described the anthrax spore as uncoated but said it contained an additive that affected the spore’s electrical charges. (D. Small, CBRN Counter-Proliferation and Response, Paris, France, 18-20 September 2006; organized by SMi [”

    Dr. Mereish tells me that her letter to the editor was not intended to agree or disagree with the FBI scientist. She merely notes that his two sentences that related to this issue of additive were not supported by the scientific experiment and data that he published. She relies on Dr. Small who made her statement based on her scientific research finding in connection with her work on the anthrax samples. Dr. Mereish’s letter, however, is another example where the use of “electrical charges” scientists as Dr. Patrick and Dr. Alibek are failing to distinguish between electrostatic charges and Van der Waals forces, thus resulting in some of the confusion in the press reports.

    Kathryn Crockett, Ken Alibek’s assistant — just a couple doors down from Ali Al-Timimi — addressed these issues in her 2006 thesis, “A historical analysis of Bacillus anthracis as a biological weapon and its application to the development of nonproliferation and defense strategies.” She expressed her special thanks to Dr. Ken Alibek and Dr. Bill Patrick. Dr. Patrick consulted with the FBI and so the FBI credits his expertise. “I don’t want to appear arrogant. I don’t think anyone knows more about anthrax powder in this country,” William Patrick told an interviewer. Dr. Alibek’s access to know-how, regarding anthrax weaponization, similarly, seems beyond reasonable dispute. Dr. Crockett successfully defended the thesis before a panel that included USAMRIID head and Ames strain researcher Charles Bailey, Ali Al-Timimi’s other Department colleague. She says that scientists who analyzed the powder through viewing micrographs or actual contact are divided over the quality of the powder. She cites Gary Matsumoto’s “Science” article in summarizing the debate. She says the FBI has vacillated on silica. “Regarding the specific issue of weaponization,” Dr. Alibek’s assistant concluded in her PhD thesis, “according to several scientists at USAMRIID who examined the material, the powder created a significant cloud when agitated meaning that the adhesion of the particles had been reduced. Reducing the adhesion of the particles meant that the powder would fly better.” She explains that “The most common way to reduce electrostatic charge is to add a substance to the mixture, usually a silica based substance.”

    On the issue of encapsulation, she reports that “many experts who examined the powder stated the spores were encapsulated. Encapsulation involves coating bacteria with a polymer which is usually done to protect fragile bacteria from harsh conditions such as extreme heat and pressure that occurs at the time of detonation (if in a bomb), as well as from moisture and ultraviolet light. The process was not originally developed for biological weapons purposes but rather to improve the delivery of various drugs to target organs or systems before they were destroyed by enzymes in the circulatory system” (citing Alibek and Crockett, 2005). “The US and Soviet Union, however, ” she explains, “used this technique in their biological weapons programs for pathogens that were not stable in aerosol form… Since spores have hardy shells that provide the same protection as encapsulation would, there is no need to cover them with a polymer.“ She explains that one “possible explanation is that the spore was in fact encapsulated but not for protective purpose. Encapsulation also reduces the need for milling when producing a dry formulation.” She wrote: “If the perpetrator was knowledgeable of the use of encapsulation for this purpose, then he or she may have employed it because sophisticated equipment was not at his disposal.”

    One military scientist who has made anthrax simulants described the GMU patents as relating to an encapsulation technique which serves to increase the viability of a wide range of pathogens. More broadly, a DIA analyst once commented to me that the internal debate seemed relatively inconsequential given the circumstantial evidence — overlooked by so many people — that US-based supporters of Al Qaeda are responsible for the mailings. Most of Dr. Ivins’ colleagues have thought Al Qaeda was responsible. This past week, for example, we learned that Aafia Siddiqui reports she was tasked to research germ weapons.

    Clarifying the matter — or not — Michael told FOX News, “I don’t think this exonerates (Ivins) at all.” He added, “I don’t think it’s not enough to say that he did it, as well.”

    Dr. Stuart Jacobsen reasons:

    “The FBI used Inductively Coupled Plasma mass spectrometry (ICP) to determine the silicon content of the Leahy spores. They admitted that they found the record breaking level of 1.45% silicon. They apparently don’t believe this is significant at all (especially since it doesn’t provide any link whatsover to Ivins or Detrick).
    But lets consider what it means when they claim the NYP analysis by ICP was somehow “unreliable”.
    When ICP is performed a tiny fraction (less than 1ml) of sample is nebulized in a chamber:
    The first step in analysis is the introduction of the sample. This has been achieved in ICP-MS through a variety of means.
    The most common method is the use of a nebulizer. This is a device which converts liquids into an aerosol, and that aerosol can then be swept into the plasma to create the ions. Nebulizers work best with simple liquid samples (i.e. solutions).
    So, if they are claiming in their response that ICP DID provide the result that there WAS silicon in the NYP sample, then they must have a number for this. ICP is not a “yes or no” analysis. It provides a number. The record breaking number of 1.45% was provided for the Leahy sample – but for some reason the NYP number was NOT given.
    It is no excuse to say that they ran out of sample. As described above – once a sample of solution is made up it can be used to provide HUNDREDS of small volume nebulized aliquots into the ICP machine.
    The REAL reason that the NYP analysis is not being provided is because it is massive. The % of silicon is more than 10% – in fact it’s above to 50%. The NYP sample is actually MOSTLY silicon.
    The AFIP lab results (the results that the FBI refused to provide to Sandia) clearly demonstrate this.
    The FBI labs were uncomfortable enough releasing the record breaking 1.45% silicon in the Leahy sample. But to try to claim that the NYP powder contained “natural” levels of silicon is beyond even the bounds of the fairy-tale nonsense coming up the mouths of Majidi, Bannan et al.”

    Posts following Sandia’s YouTube video illustrate the ongoing debate:

    Mouse2Ben (1 week ago)
    Sandia should have announced the location of the silica and sat down. The implications it drew went far beyond their training and field.

    Colinthemoviecritic (1 week ago)
    The FBI’s WMD head explained that the silica could have been in the culture medium. This finding can be credited. No silica was found in the Ivins flask. There is no indication that Ivins used silica in the culture medium. Thus, unless explained, the Silicon Signature tends to be exculpatory of Ivins.

    annegg123 (1 week ago)
    When you grow bugs in a fermenter with a vigorous stirring for a good aeration, in contrast to flasks on a shaker you have to suppress a formation of foam. Siloxanes are widely used for this purpose, but they are chemically reactive. Therefore, the presence of silicon is a signature of a fermenter, but not a routine lab prep. The presence of silica in the core of the spore is another indication that it has been incorporated in the process of growth, but not simply added afterwards.

    NateNotLate (1 week ago)
    I agree with all scientific conclusions of the Analytical Chemistry article except for the one that the silicon in the spore coat excludes its artificial origin. Sandia people think about the exosporium as an absolute barrier for small molecules but it is a diffuse, loosely-bound, and permeable layer. We can think about the spores as impregnated with the silicon compound. It may be true that the silicon did not help make the spores more dispersable, but it was added on purpose.

    karlsnakebit (1 week ago)
    Sandia found some vegetative cells that were going through the sporulation process and the spore within the mother cell had this same Silicon Signature. The dry weight percentage was of the silicon was high. As found both by the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in the course of its bulk analysis and by Sandia, it was a significant peak in the x-ray spectra.

    FrankInSpeech (1 week ago)
    The important part of the evidence presented was merely “that the materials of the letter with the genetic mutations could exclusively be related only to RMR-1029.” Depending on who you credit, that means from 100 to 300 people are known to have had access. The one with whom the Ames strain was associated (the “go-to” guy) would be the least likely to use the strain. Someone who had access and strong motivation but is not known to have taken it from the lab is the most likely.

    DarlingMarla07 (1 week ago)
    The FBI offers only speculation as to a possible motive. There are no facts implicating Ivins: (1) they have no evidence as to the means of drying or means of growing additional spores, (2) no explanation linking him to the Silicon Signature, (3) no evidence linking him to the Subtilus (which was genetically distinctive), and (4) the isotope ratio analysis does not support an Ivins theory.

    ValerieWinwood (1 week ago)
    An adviser to the FBI, Claire Fraser-Liggett, director of the University of Maryland Institute for Genome Sciences, recently was quoted in the press asking: 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? She says the investigation is by no means closed.

    godmothermaureen (1 week ago)
    But he used fake screen names! He edited Wikipedia chrissakes. He must be guilty of multiple murders. Then he got enraged after his career was ruined by the accusations and the constant hounding of his friends and family! Who cares if the FBI had his lab swabbed for subtilis 7 years ago and did not disclose to the judge in application for a search that there was no match.

    carolethebetterhalf (1 week ago)
    GMU professor and former Soviet bioweapons researcher Serge Popov said: This number of plates is impossible to handle inconspicuously. It would be impossible to cover up these activities. W. Russell Byrne, who preceded Andrews as the divisions director, said nearly 1 gram per contaminated letter would have hundreds of agar plates, on which the spores are grown.

    KevinTripG (1 week ago)
    The FBI had wined and dined up to 40 scientists from mid-June to mid-July at a beachfront retreat in Naples, Florida. The scientists were paid well and worked 8 hours a day. It is not yet known whether any of those same scientists have had a role in formulating the task and charge of the National Academy of Sciences which was asked by the FBI to provide an independent check on its work.

    nickcold1 (1 week ago)
    Sandia clearly do not understand biological samples. They are metallurgists and material scientists. It’ odd that they would have been asked to determine if a bioweapon contained weaponization additives since they had no experience in this arena .They are way off base making a 100% conclusion that the location of the silicon meant the powder was not weaponized.

    Dad2Grace (1 week ago)
    Nick, Bact. Div.’s was broken down since at least ’99 (possibly a year prior to that). It was never repaired. Even aside from this, a fermenter is a difficult instrument to operate. Only a couple folks knew how to run the one at RIID — Bruce wasn’t one of them.
    ericw694 (1 week ago)

    Cold1, You should study the contributions of Barbara Hatch Rosenberg (Sept. 9). I find quite intriguing Dr. Rosenberg’s reference in footnotes 21 and 22 of her analysis to U.S. Pat. App. # 09/805,464 by Charles Bailey and Ken Alibek, March 14, 2001. The patent (#6,649,408) was issued on Nov. 18, 2003. The patent addresses silica used in the culture medium to achieve greater concentration of the anthrax or biocide or other bacteria.

    PHHardyBoys (1 week ago)
    According to the patent, cells are cultivated in individual microdroplets of liquid media. These microdroplets are created by aerosolizing liquid media that has been inoculated with the cells of interest and coating the aerosolized droplets with hydrophobic particles of silicon dioxide. The individual microdroplets are stabilized within the hydrophobic solid particles. Silica dioxide is removed from the surface by repeated centrifugation. But the absorbed silicon is still detectectable.

    Mother2Alex (1 week ago)
    The “quasi-governmental” lab that had Ames at more than one location is Battelle Memorial Institute. Is there any Battelle employee guiding the forensics who should recuse himself … who should have recused himself prior to the August 2008 briefing? The mere fact that the FBI has refused to disclose the distribution of the matching isolates — while urging that they have excluded all other sources — would add to the appearance of a conflict of interest.

    EverBGreen (1 week ago)
    My friend is head of a military lab that as part of its biodefense research makes anthrax simulants. His lab, in a controlled study, made anthrax with siliconizing solution in the slurry and without. When it was made with the siliconizing solution, the simulant showed the high spike for silicon as in the Daschle product. The product without the siliconizing solution did not. Thus, Sandia lab actually does not offer up the most pertinent data.

    Dad2Grace (1 week ago)
    The Ann Arbor researcher Ivins supplied with Ames received his PhD from Cairo Medical in ’94. He got his first degree from Cairo Medical in December 1982; Zawahiri railed against the US there. The microbiologist was in charge of the DARPA project involving nanoemulsions. The vats of the researcher’s biocidal agent looked like skim milk. The lab was a mile from the Ann Arbor charity founders DOJ prosecuted. What does the PhD say about the research with Ivins using Ames strain?

    Dr. Michael reportedly is suggesting Leighton–Doi broth leads to the silicon signature observed. Leighton Doi medium broth was used to grow the virulent Ames supplied the Ann Arbor researchers. (It was used in growing the virulent Ames in the 1995 Vaccine article which involved an aerosol spore challenge. The scientists cite the 1995 article in describing how the virulent Ames was prepared. The FBI apparently suspects that heat shock was used and had the effect of increasing the permeability of the outer membrane with considerable individual spore variability. Ivins and co-authors also used Leighton-Doi in connection with an article submitted June 2001 and revised October 2001. The FBI questioned Mrs. Ivins about co-authors Mara Linscott and Patricia Fellows. Ivins’ attorney told Bruce to stop emailing Mara and Pat. Mrs. Ivins in her note to him the day he died asked why he was paying his attorney so much if he was not going to take his advice. Bruce was leaving Mara anonymous gifts. Other culture mediums, however, also result in a spike for silica. An authoritative source on the chemical composition of spores appears to be the 1969 The Bacterial Spore, with chapter 7 by a Dr. Murrell.

  7. DXer said

    The July 2009 article in Microbiology does not address the “Tin Signature.”

    The journal Nature in an earlier article summarized:

    “At a biodefence meeting on 24 February, Joseph Michael, a materials scientist at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, presented analyses of three letters sent to the New York Post and to the offices of Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. Spores from two of those show a distinct chemical signature that includes silicon, oxygen, iron, and tin; the third letter had silicon, oxygen, iron and possibly also tin, says Michael.”

    Ivins flask did not contain tin.  There was no iron or oxygen or silicon or tin detected in the spore coat of those spores.Dr. Michael speculated it might have been in the water. But Ft. Detrick water did not have high levels of tin..  Former Russian bioweapons expert Sergeui Popov comments:

    “Although the tin and iron may have come from the water used for cultivation, their amount, in my opinion, far exceeds the levels commonly present in the water used in a laboratory. Another possibility to consider is that the suspect used a primitive but a sturdy and a widely-available container to dry the spores, namely a tin can. It would explain a simultaneous presence of both elements. This suggestion is easy to test in experiments.”
    Dr. Popov reports: “I don’t remember the exact levels from the presentation, but it spikes out like hell.”

    Dr. Popov, a former Russian bioweaponeer at the GMU Center for Biodefense, walks me through the scenario:

    “Let’s do a hypothetical spore prep in the simplest way and try to suggest something to prepare a dry powder. You cultivate the bacteria and end up with a wet paste (doesn’t matter if you used a fermenter, flasks, or plates).  Now, you have to dry it and make it dispersable. The lyophilization is out of question (slow, unproductive, visible, requires equipment, generates powder in the flasks with narrow necks, difficult to dispose or decontaminate the flasks).  Plastic is out of question either (disposable, but not heat resistant, comes mainly as awkwardly capped tubes or jars with poorly sealed lids).  A tin is perfect, unbreakable, easy to seal and heat up (if necessary).  Many of them are lying around. You first try a slow evaporation with a low heat. In order to agitate a dry residue you can use a spatula, then put the powder in the envelope.  It doesn’t work good, the brown powder is too coarse (Florida anthrax).  A desiccation is quiet, can be done in the same container, simple, does not produce any contamination, and produces better powder. Just open the lid, put a can into a bigger jar and forget about it for a few days. Then put a few glass beads into the container, close the lid. Shake it and the beads will make a powder. No contamination, no aerosols, everything in the same container, and no traces.”

    Even those “tin cans” nowadays made of aluminum or steel are commonly plated with a thin layer of tin.  For example, some Heinz products in 2001 involved contamination of a spaghetti product in tomato sauce with high levels of tin.

    Sergei first described use of such a tin container in September 2008 in discussing the possible drying method used and Professor Rosenberg’s opinion addressing the drying method.
    “Prof. Rosenberg

    One of those methods, azeotropic drying, was used recently at Dugway-the only US laboratory that has admitted to making dry anthrax—for drying pelleted anthrax spores that were intended to simulate closely the spores used in the attack. The azeotropic method used is “proprietary.”  Bill Patrick said in 1996 that he had taught Dugway to use an azeotropic drying method developed at Fort Detrick in the 1950’s.  […] Knowledge of appropriate azeotropic drying methods is esoteric, and methods developed for anthrax spores are classified.  Expertise and experience of this sort is another discriminator that could be used to screen the list of 100+ potential suspects.

    It is nice that the method have been classified, but the knowledge cannot be a discriminator of guilt. Scientists can do things right without a direct knowledge but with a sufficient background. My internet search turned out several articles on ambient drying without heating, based on the properties of the water-organic emulsions. Drying is a key to the successful preparation of the spore powder, and a poor quality of Florida anthrax demonstrates that the person made several small-batch attempts to discover an appropriate procedure. Therefore, we may conclude that the person experimented without a preliminary knowledge of a previously established protocol. In my opinion, the requirement to conceal the experiments was extremely important for the perpetrator in the choice of cultivation approaches as well as the drying procedure. The perpetrator had to use minimal amount of medium and equipment; produce minimal amount of suspicious waste, including the organic solvents. Ideally, the cultivation, sporulation, as well as drying would be performed in the containers routinely used in the lab, which could be unsuspiciously dumped into trash for autoclaving.

     Here is the most interesting part, but you don’t have to take it seriously. During my internet research, I also came across a procedure for the preparation of fungal spores. The author described how to buy all necessary equipment at Wal-Mart. He used a desiccant in a small jar to dry the spores. Here is a hypothetical scenario based on my experience (please, don’t consider it as an indication of my guilt). Take a small amount of spores and inoculate several agar plates (this is a part of a microbiological routine). Nobody will notice the “missing” amount of bacteria. Forget about the plates for several days in order to let the culture grow and sporulate. If somebody finds the plates and asks questions, say “sorry, I forgot to dispose of them” (it happens all the time). If not, scrape the spores, which are now almost “theoretically” pure, and put a paste into an unsuspicious container. It may be an empty vial left after a used reagent. Plenty are lying around. Attach a cap loosely and put a vial into a bigger container with some desiccant in it. These tin or plastic containers come with many reagents and protect the content from moisture. Close the lid and put the container aside, and it will look like somebody forgot to dispose of it. Again, if somebody asks, say it is trash. Two days later, stay late in the lab, take the vial out, use a spatula to disperse the dry stuff, and put it into an envelope. Next time, you may try to add a drop of silicate to the spore paste before drying. All these procedures will take minutes to accomplish.  Everything is disposable, and there will be no traces left behind. Now, try to criticize this scenario, and maybe we will get a little bit closer to what really had taken place.”

    • DXer said

      Given the suggestion that unexplained tin signature may be due to the element in the drinking water, perhaps the NAS panel should have a drinking water expert on the panel — someone familiar with drinking water surveys of tin.

  8. DXer said

    The attack anthrax was contaminated with a distinctive B. subtilus strain. No matching subtilis was found in swabbing of the USAMRIID labs were Dr. Ivins worked. The affidavit in support of a search warrant explained:

    “Both of the anthrax spore powders recovered from the Post and Brokaw letters contain low levels of a bacterial contaminant identified as a strain of Bacillus subtilis. The Bacillus subtilis contaminant has not been detected in the anthrax spore powders recovered from the envelopes mailed to either Senator Leahy or Senator Daschle. Bacillus subtillis is a non-pathogenic bacterium found ubiquitously in the environment. However, genomic DNA sequencing of the specific isolate of Bacillus subtilus discovered within the Post and Brokaw powders reveals that it is genetically distinct from other known isolates of Bacillus subtilis. Analysis of the Bacillus subtilis from the Post and Brokaw envelopes revealed that these two isolates are identical.

    Phenotypic and genotypic analyses demonstrate that the RMR-1029 does not have the Bacillus subtilis contaminant found in the evidentiary spore powders, which suggests that the anthrax used in the letter attacks was grown from the material contained in RMR-1029 and not taken directly from the flask and placed in the envelopes. Since RMR-1029 is the genetic parent to the evidentiary spore powders, and it is not known how the Bacillus subtilis contaminant came to be in the Post and Brokaw spore powders, the contaminant must have been introduced during the production of the Post and Brokaw spores. Taken together, the postmark dates, the Silicon signature, the Bacillus subtilis contaminant, the phenotypic, and the genotypic comparisons, it can be concluded that, on at least two separate occasions, a sample of RMR-1029 was used to grow spores, dried to a powder, packaged in an envelope with a threat letter, and mailed to the victims.”

    “Why wasn’t this unique B. subtilis strain looked for in Bruce’s lab — or any other lab in the BSL-3 suite?” Ivins’ former boss Andrews. “It may, in fact, serve as a marker for where those preparations were really made.” At the ASM Biodefense presentation in February 2009, the FBI scientists explained that no subtilis found in any of Dr. Ivins samples was the genetically distinct subtilis. “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.”

    • DXer said

      The subtilis issue has been the subject of subpoena since at least March 2002.

      For example, on March 11, 2002, the Brandeis General Counsel sent an email advising that the federal authorities had subpoenaed records in connection with the investigation of the anthraxcrimes.

      To: All Faculty/PIs/Scientists/Postdocs/Research Staff in Biology,

      Biochemistry, Chemistry, Physics, Rosenstiel and Volen

      From: Mel Bernstein, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs

      Judith R. Sizer, General Counsel

      Date: March 11, 2002

      Re: URGENT: Response to Federal Grand Jury Subpoena

      A federal grand jury in Washington, D.C. has recently issued subpoenas to a number of research universities, including Brandeis, in connection with the ongoing investigation by the Department of Justice into possible illegal use of bacillus anthracis (anthrax).

      In its response to the subpoena, the University must disclose information concerning every present and former faculty member, employee or other person affiliated with Brandeis (e.g., post-doctoral fellows, visiting scholars) who has maintained or worked with anthrax at Brandeis in the last twelve years (or in the last twenty years, if the anthrax, or an anthrax simulant, was in dry form).

      In order to ensure the University’s timely response to this subpoena, please advise us by Friday, March 15, 2002, whether or not you, or anyone else to your knowledge, has ever maintained, handled, stored, destroyed or transferred any strain of anthrax in any Brandeis laboratory or facility on or after January 1, 1990 (or, in the case of dry, powdered, dry aerosolized or weaponizedanthrax or anthrax simulants, such as bacillus thuringiensis, bacillus globigii, bacillus cereus and bacillus subtilis, any use,production or manufacture or on or after March 1, 1982).

      PLEASE BE SURE TO RESPOND TO THIS INQUIRY, EVEN IF JUST TO CONFIRM THAT YOU HAVE NO KNOWLEDGE OF ANY USE OF ANTHRAX OR ANTHRAX SIMULANTS AS DESCRIBED ABOVE. You are welcome to respond to this message by reply e-mail, if you wish. In order to provide a comprehensive response to the grand jury, we need to hear from all members of the Brandeis community who have received this message.

      If you have any questions or comments, please contact Ms. _____ at XXXX@brandeis or XXXXXX. Many thanks for your cooperation.

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