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

* Silicon evidence is crucial to whether Dr. Bruce Ivins made the anthrax used in the 2001 attacks; the FBI has so far refused to provide relevant evidence (the AFIP lab results ) on this point

Posted by DXer on July 31, 2009

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Yesterday (7/30/09) was the first public session in the National Academy of Sciences review of anthrax science used by the FBI in its investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks.

The first FBI witness was Chris Hassell, Assistant Director, Laboratory Division, Science and Technology Branch.

******

Hassell’s testimony regarding silicon (from LMW notes) …

  • 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

******

DXer, in two comments posted after the NAS hearing, said the following …

  • “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 whatsoever to Ivins or Detrick).
  • But let’s consider what it means when they claim the NYP analysis by ICP was somehow “unreliable” as Chris Hassell said today to the NAS.
    • 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.
  • They are now stonewalling in producing the AFIP report under FOIA.

“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.

read the complete DXer comments below the post … * Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) … background documentation related to National Academy of Sciences (NAS) silicon testimony today

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10 Responses to “* Silicon evidence is crucial to whether Dr. Bruce Ivins made the anthrax used in the 2001 attacks; the FBI has so far refused to provide relevant evidence (the AFIP lab results ) on this point”

  1. DXer said

    In “Non-DNA Methods for Biological Signatures,” in the treatise MICROBIAL FORENSICS (co-edited by Bruce Budowie then of the FBI), the authors of the chapter provides EDX analysis of crystals observed in bacterial spore surrogates. The graph illustrates the possible source of the spikes as due to having been grown in media containing large quantities of magnesium and phosphate. By analogy, it illustrates that the large spike for silicon could have been due to its use to concentrate anthrax such as under the DARPA-funded March 14, 2001 patent titled “Microdroplet Cell Culture.”

  2. DXer said

    I have suggested that the Silicon Signature is due to silica in the culture medium as suggested by the WMD Chief at the science briefing.

    Relatedly, Ed has relatedly that “weaponization” is “just a buzz word” and that the difference between the mailings is repeated centrifugation.

    He writes:

    ” “Weaponization” in the anthrax case is really just a buzz word, and buzz words are used mainly by people who don’t want to bother explaining details about their cause or their area of expertise.

    ***

    A much better term for what was done between the two mailings is that the unrefined anthrax was refined to make it more lethal. The deadly element of anthrax was separated from the harmless debris of sporulation. I.e., the deadly elements were concentrated so that they can more easily overcome human immune systems.”

    Ed continues:

    “The word “weaponization” has no real value when it comes to understanding anything about the anthrax case – except that the attack anthrax was not modified to make vaccines and antibiotics ineffective. Any real “weaponization” would have done that as the first objective. When the object is to kill with a “weapon”, you first make certain that it can penetrate the defenses of the person being attacked.

    The anthrax spores in the Senators’ letters were refined to near purity at about a trillion spores per gram. This awes people who cannot conceive of any individual having the capability to create such material. In this case “weaponization” has come to mean: a trillion spores per gram. ”

    ***

    In many ways, separation is the easiest of these words to understand. And it could be the “key” to truly understanding the anthrax case.

    The size of an anthrax spore is determined by Nature. An anthrax spore is approximately 1 micron in diameter. At that size, if you can separate spores from the debris of sporulation, you automatically have a trillion spores per gram. In theory, you don’t even need the “weaponization” step to produce what was in the Senators’ letters.

    Spores are routinely purified by companies or individuals who do work involving analysis of spores (e.g., research on sporulation, germination, or spore properties) or production of spores (e.g., spore-based pesticides, spore-based vaccines, or spore-based weapons).

    There are companies which manufacture pesticides and routinely create large quantities of spores of Bacillus thuringiensis (BT), which is nearly identical to Bacillus Anthrasis (anthrax) except that BT is virtually harmless to humans. The knowledge isn’t a government secret.

    I asked a professor of microbiology how easy it is to separate spores from debris, and the response was:

    “Purification of spores would not be part of a standard microbiology course, and would not be part of standard activities for most institutions (i.e., for institutions not working on analysis or production of spores).
    “However, the requisite methods are published and require only standard skills and standard equipment (and readily could be carried out by persons with graduate training and/or technical employment in biochemistry, molecular biology, microbiology, or cell biology).

    “Powder processing (milling, spray drying, etc.), if performed, would be performed after purification. Powder processing would require specialized skills and specialized equipment.”

    The key phase in the last paragraph is: “if performed”. If separation achieved the desired result, powder processing wouldn’t be necessary. “Weaponization” becomes a meaningless term – or a term that merely describes motive.”

  3. DXer said

    By way of background, grab some popcorn and watch Dr. Joe Michael and Dr. Paul Kotula at an earlier M&M convention. Then if Ed corrects his false daycare allegation on his webpage he can see the movie of the 2009 convention including the question and answer.

    Quicktime movie –
    Paul Kotula, “Spectral Imaging Analysis: Getting the Most from All That Data” at The Microscopy & Microanalysis Convention in Quebec City in 2002

    “Electron Backscatter Diffraction in the SEM: Orientation Mapping and Phase Identification for Materials Science” at the The Microscopy & Microanalysis Convention in Quebec City in 2002

    http://www.emal.engin.umich.edu/movies/multimedia.html

  4. kkopen said

    Ed: What chemical did USAMRIID scientists use that broke spores? I hadn’t heard that before? Has that been demonstated by looking at spores with and without that chemical?

    Also, how could amount of silicon prove Ivins is inocent?

  5. BugMaster said

    There are a couple of point I would like to make here.

    First, doesn’t a silica content of >50% in the NYP material seem to be unrealistically high? One would almost have to put sand in the envelope to obtain this high of a reading. And if it was in fact present due to a sophisticated weaponization process, why weaponize such unsophisticated material (containing vegetative cells, debris, and another bacillus contaminant).

    In regards to the statement that not enough material from the NYP letter remains:

    Remember, the Battelle Memorial Institute was assisting with the investigation early on, until they “accidentally” autoclaved the material they were sent, rendering it virtually useless as evidence.

    Perhaps the autoclaving was an accident, but that doesn’t alter the fact that:

    Battelle destroyed evidence.

    • BugMaster said

      Ed:

      The material was rendered useless for several types of futher analysis, including any genetic analysis.

      They should have known better, and I find it a bit hard to believe they didn’t.

    • Anonymous Scientist said

      Lake wrote: “Or is that just your distortion of the facts?”

      Lake knows a lot about distorting facts. He argued for years that the FBI never tried to reverse engineer the spores. It was conformed today that they tried and failed with reverse engineering. They didn’t call it a failure – instead they said “we decided to abandon it eventually”. In other words – they failed.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shill
      “Shill” can also be used pejoratively to describe a critic who appears either all-too-eager to heap glowing praise upon mediocre offerings, or who acts as an apologist for glaring flaws.

    • DXer said

      To err is divine and to not check your facts or correct them when mistakes are pointed out is inexcusable.

      “17. His wife ran a day care center at the time of the attacks, Ivins had many contacts with children, and the facts indicate that a child of about 6 was used to do the actual writing on the anthrax letters.”

      For example, I have provided Ed a copy of the letter from the State of Maryland confirming that Ed is wrong that his wife ran a day care center at the time of the [2001] attacks. She ran a day care center in 2003 and 2004. Yet, he did not correct his website. Ed argues that there is a 95% certainty that a First Grader wrote the letter and falsely argued as the predicate that “his wife ran a day care center at the time of the attacks.” It is telling that it is only Ed who is persuaded by the evidence released by the FBI.

  6. DXer said

    To clarify, even Bill Nye the Science Guy is over my head. The above points are the scientific view expressed by a scientist who does this sort of thing and who has worked for DARPA coating with silica on a project (though not in the life sciences). I find his experience relevant and so quoted him. My focus, though, as I try to educate myself with wonderfully entertaining videos by Dr. Tyson and other popular science educators and museums, and rely on emailed inquiries to many gracious scientists, is to have the AFIP document produced under FOI. The issue then can be addressed my named experts armed with the data and description of their methodology. While I greatly value the role of the NAS scientists and found many of the questions focused and informed, they are experts who were hired by the FBI, not Congress or an independent panel. Review of the AFIP report and its methodology and findings will involve a narrow expertise. The principal scientist at AFIP who performed the work for the AFIP passed away.

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