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

* FBI Lab Director testifies at opening session of the National Academy of Sciences review of FBI anthrax science

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 30, 2009

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LMW NOTES from the National Academy of Sciences 1st open session, Review of the Scientific Approaches used During the FBI’s Investigation of the 2001 Bacillus Anthracis Mailings. Witness: Chris Hassell, Assistant Director, Laboratory Division, Science and Technology Branch, FBI

NAS logoFBI SHIELD

Mr. Hassell said the following in his formal presentation …

  • the FBI’s case is still open
  • the NAS review is limited to whether the FBI’s use of science was appropriate, and not the FBI’s investigative process or the probative value, or the guilt or innocence of any person
  • when the case closes, further documentation will be made available by the FBI
  • the FBI did not use groundbreaking science, but did apply established tools in groundbreaking ways
  • the FBI will provide to NAS all relevant documents in its hands or in the hands of other government agencies
  • anthrax was recovered from 4 envelopes only
  • the anthrax powder in the Leahy letter was very different from the powder in the New York Post letter
  • all 4 samples of recovered anthrax were devoid of aerosolizing enhancers
  • the 4 letters reflected 2 separate production batches
  • the silicon content in the Leahy letter was 1.5%
  • the New York Post letter also had silicon, but there was not enough powder to allow a reliable % measurement
  • no exogenous silicon was ever found; there were no silicon signatures
  • the anthrax material recovered from the 4 envelopes was produced within a “reasonable” time frame of the mailings themselves
  • there was but one source identified for all 4 recovered samples
  • mutations found in the recovered anthrax were used to identify the source of material used in attacks
  • the FBI assembled a collection of 1070 Ames anthrax samples, later known as the FBI Repository
  • sequence analysis identified 4 mutations which were deemed suitable for further analysis – these became known as the 4 morphs

In response to questions from panel members, Mr. Hassell added the following …

  • the FBI found no evidence (in the recovered samples) of genetic engineering
  • of the 1070 samples of Ames anthrax assembled by the FBI, 8 samples had all 4 markers
  • other of the assembled samples had 1 or more markers, but only 8 contained all 4 markers found
  • the FBI assumed from the physical evidence that the recovered anthrax was the result of re-growth, that is, it did not come from any single original flask
  • Mr. Hassell did not respond to a question regarding procedures used and the effectiveness of those procedure, to insure that recovered anthrax material was not contaminated before it reached the FBI labs; he said the FBI would answer that question at a later date.
  • Mr. Hassell said that the initial collection of Ames strains wasn’t controlled as well as later collection.
  • Mr. Hassell did not know how many of the 1070 samples in the FBI Repository had been sequenced; he said someone would answer that question later.

******

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CASE CLOSED is a novel which addresses the reasons why the FBI failed to solve the 2001 anthrax case.

CASE CLOSED asks …

who benefited from the failure to solve the case?

who had the power to divert the FBI from the truth?

******

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One Response to “* FBI Lab Director testifies at opening session of the National Academy of Sciences review of FBI anthrax science”

  1. DXer said

    Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2009 Jul 31. [Epub ahead of print]
    Efficient methods for large-area surface sampling of sites contaminated with pathogenic microorganisms and other hazardous agents: current state, needs, and perspectives.

    Edmonds JM.
    Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, United States Army, Department of Defense, 5183 Blackhawk Road, Aberdeen Proving Grounds, APGEA, MD, 21010, USA, Jason.Edmonds1@us.army.mil.
    The recovery operations following the 2001 attacks with Bacillus anthracis spores were complicated due to the unprecedented need for large-area surface sampling and decontamination protocols. Since this event, multiple reports have been published describing recovery efficiencies of several surface sampling materials. These materials include fibrous swabs of various compositions, cloth wipes, vacuum socks, and adhesive tapes. These materials have reported recovery efficiencies ranging from approximately 20% to 90% due to the many variations in their respective studies including sampling material, composition of surface sampled, concentration of contaminant, and even the method of deposition and sample processing. Additionally, the term recovery efficiency is crudely defined and could be better constructed to incorporate variations in contaminated surface composition and end user needs. While significant efforts in devising protocols for large-area surface sampling have been undertaken in the years since the anthrax attacks, there is still a general lack of consensus in optimal sampling materials and the methodology in which they are evaluated. Fortunately, sampling efforts are continuing to be supported, and the knowledge gaps in our procedures, methodology, and general understanding of sampling mechanisms are being investigated which will leave us better prepared for the future.

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