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

* perhaps the NAS needs to pursue its mandate more broadly than the FBI wishes

Posted by DXer on August 4, 2009

* buy CASE CLOSED at amazon *

buy CC - why, who, readers

Dan Vergano writes in USA Today (8-3-09) …

  • “The committee will only review and assess the scientific information,” said Alice Gast of Lehigh University, head of the review panel. “We will offer no view on the guilt or innocence of any person or persons.”
  • US Attorney Jeffrey Taylor stated … The first evidence listed against Ivins was the genetically unique RMR-1029 flask of Ames strain anthrax spores, created and solely maintained by Dr. Ivins at USAMRIID.
  • “We thoroughly investigated every other person who could have had access to the flask, and we were able to rule out all but Dr. Ivins,” Taylor said.

read the entire article at … http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/2009-08-03-anthrax-ivins_N.htm

LMW COMMENT …

The NAS, according to its contract with the FBI, is not permitted to render any view on the guilt or innocence of Dr. Bruce Ivins, who the FBI has charged (in a press conference, not a court of law) as the sole perpetrator of the 2001 anthrax attacks.

But since there is no physical evidence linking Dr. Ivins to the crime and no witnesses against Dr. Ivins, the FBI’s entire case therefore rests on their conclusion that the attack anthrax came from flask RMR-1029, and that no other individual who had access to the contents of that flask, besides Dr. Ivins, could have been the perpetrator.

It is the primary task of the NAS to determine the validity of that conclusion.

Here are some questions I think the NAS should consider at the most detailed level …

  • How did the FBI determine that the attack anthrax had to come from flask RMR-1029, and was this a valid determination?
  • Was the process of identifying specific markers from the attack anthrax and linking these markers to the RMR-1029 flask in Ivins’ possession a valid process?
  • Was the science carried out in a manner that insured proper validation of the results?
  • Was the science uniformly applied to all of the samples tested?
  • Were all possible samples tested?
  • How many people had access to the contents of flask RMR-1029 and who were they?
  • How did the FBI determine who had access, was this a thorough and reliable process, and did any potential suspects remain off the list?
  • Did the FBI systematically account for the use of all RMR-1029 anthrax in the hands of all those who had it legitimately in order to assure that none was stolen or lost or in some other way passed into the hands of persons not on the primary list?
  • Were the inventory records and physical control procedures of all those who had legitimate access to RMR-1029 anthrax thoroughly checked and what did those checks reveal?
  • How exactly did the FBI eliminate each of the potential suspects other than Ivins?

The NAS should also pursue the rather obvious hints in the first two days’ testimony, all of which by the way came from FBI scientists who worked on the anthrax case, that suggest the answers to the above questions will not support the FBI’s conclusion regarding Ivins’ culpability …

  • we may have missed mutations
  • test methods may not have been validated before the test was applied to the evidence
  • there is a great likelihood of false positives and false negatives
  • there may not be a clear and provable chain of custody
  • samples may have been contaminated
  • did anything change as data moved? (that is a fascinating question; is the implication that there was accidental change in data due to sloppy handling, or purposeful change in data for some more sinister purpose?)
  • did intel needs override the protocols of science, thus invalidating any scientific conclusions based on hurriedly prepared, incomplete or otherwise inadequate protocols?
  • Brady material in use of the science by the FBI should be sought (suggesting that there is evidence in the FBI’s science that either supports  Dr. Ivins’ innocence or damages the FBI’s case against him)

On a more general level …

  • The NAS committee has already shown it recognizes the inextricable links between the science and the traditional investigative approaches; the committee needs to insist that it be allowed to explore those links thoroughly.
  • The NAS has the authority to get whatever materials it needs to pursue its tasks; it needs to exercise that authority broadly.
  • The NAS committee needs to resist being bullied by the FBI and needs to go in whatever directions their perceptive and inquiring minds point them
Dr. Bruce Ivins

Dr. Bruce Ivins

******

As I have stated before, I suspect that complete answers from the NAS will demonstrate clearly that the FBI has not made its case against Dr. Ivins.

Which will then lead to the questions of “why the FBI failed” that I raise in my novel CASE CLOSED.

******

.

.

SEE RELATED POSTS …

* Dr. Bruce Ivins RMR-1029 inventory records, from 1997 to 2003, pursuant to a FOIA request

* USAMRIID RMR records – Dr. Bruce Ivins’ flask 1029 – two documents don’t match

* LMW: The end of the NAS trail, I suspect, will be that the FBI’s anthrax science was a mess that couldn’t convict Bruce Ivins or anyone else

* What does a novel have to do with the real anthrax case?

******

* buy CASE CLOSED at amazon *

CASE CLOSED

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4 Responses to “* perhaps the NAS needs to pursue its mandate more broadly than the FBI wishes”

  1. DXer said

    NAS panel member Richard Lenski and FBI genetics expert Paul Keim concluded in part:

    “–In contrast to human DNA-based forensics, a perfect match between a bacterial forensic sample and some potential source is less defnitive owing to exact clones that may exist.

    –Microbiology laboratories often store clones and exchange them with other laboratories. The opportunity for exact clones to confound source-tracking is thus especially relevant in the context of forensic samples that may have come from a laboratory.

    –If a forensic sample is genetically to samples from several labs, then the genome sequences lack the power to discriminate between them as potential sources. However, other types of evidence (e.g., trace elements) may exist that can allow discrimination and should be sought in any case.

    — Even one or a few genetic differences between a forensic sample and some potential sources can exclude certain scenarios while focusing attention on others. The pattern of differences among potential sources might, for example, implicate one of them as an intermediate or final stage in the derivation of a forensic sample….”

  2. DXer said

    Richard E. Lenski is a member of the NAS panel reviewing Amerithrax. In the treatise on microbial forensics edited by FBI’s former leading scientist Bruce Budowie, he co-authored with the FBI’s genetic expert Paul Keim a chapter on “Population Genetics of Bacteria in a Forensic Context.” He wrote:

    “Recall that the forensic isolate from Florida and the Porton Down version of the Ames strain differ by two point mutations. We can designate the genotype of the Porton Down isolate as AB and that of the Florida isolate A’B’ to reflect these two mutations. Now suppose that isolates of the Ames strain from four laboratories in Figure 16.1 are also characterized with respect to these mutations, along with an isolate from a hypothetical rogue laboratory discovered in an investigation. Suppose that the Ames isolates from Fort Detrick, Lab 1 and Lab 2 had the same AB genotype as the Porton Down strain, while the isolate from Lab 3 yielded the A’B genotype and the isolate from the rogue laboratory had the same A’B’ as the forensic isolate from Florida.

    Under this hypothetical scenario, the identity of the isolate from the rogue laboratory with the forensic sample, coupled with the difference between these isolates and those from all other laboratories, would suggest that the likely source of the forensic isolate was the rogue laboratory. Moreover, the fact that the isolate from Lab 3 alone shared one of the two distinguishing point mutations would further suggest that the strain taken from the rogue lab was derived from Lab 3.”

    He thanked Dr. Budowie and others for helpful discussion and correspondence. The article notes that PK’s research was supported in part by the Department of Justice.

    • DXer said

      NAS panel member Dr. Lenski and FBI genetics consultant Dr. Keim in MICROBIAL FORENSICS address a

      “SECOND SCENARIO

      In fact, when the mutations that distinguish the forensic isolate and the Porton Down strain were checked among islates from the four other laboratories in Figure 16.1, it was found that these other isolates all shared the same genotype as the forensic sample. Thus, it seems the Porton Down strain accumulated these distinguishing mutations, probably during the mutagenic treatments used to eliminate the virulence plasmids. [Me: or did it relate to Patricia Fellows’ work to clone the virulence plasmids and make a more effective bioweapon/vaccine?]

      More importantly, the forensic isolate appears to be identical in its genomic sequence to the Ames strain that was shared among several different laboratories. It is possible that complete genome sequences of isolates from one or more of these laboratories might exclude one of them as the proximate source. However, examination of hypermutable sites (variable-number tandem repeates (VNTRs) in the genomes of these isolates does not reveal any exclusionary differences. Thus, the genomic data per se lack the power to discriminate between these particular laboratories as potential sources of the Florida forensic isolate. Although it is not a focus of this chapter, we should mention that other types of evidence, such as trace elements reflecting bacterial growth conditions, might allow source discrimination even in the absence of distinguishing mutations. Of course, evidence concerning access to Bacillus anthracis by a suspect individdual or group would also be quite relevant.”

      ***

      “In the case of typical point mutations, the differences between sites are probably fairly minor in the greater scheme of things. However, there are certain sequences… (e.g., ATTATTATT…) that are much more mutable, with the repeated elements being added or lost to produce insertions and deletions. Examination of multiple hypermutable loci increases the chance of detecting one or more informative mutational differences even over short time scales.”

      Why did the sender of the mailed anthrax underlined ATTATTATT?

      Why would Bruce Ivins do that? To point to the research being done by Patricia Fellows that would be published by LSU PhD and BL3 lab director Pamala Coker? (It was Dr. Coker who said that it could be used to make a more effective bioweapon. See NYT) No. Dr. Ivins would have no reason to do that.

      Andrew Card’s former assistant was “anthrax weapons suspect” Ali Al-Timimi’s former assistant. Now why would Ali read “Genome Technology” during his trial at the defense table? Was it to say, “go ahead… White House, let’s talk about anthrax.”

  3. BugMaster said

    Ed Lake states on his website, commenting on the FBI’s statement that some samples contained only 3 of the 4 morphs:

    “I found this part of Bruce Budowle’s earlier comment to be particularly interesting:

    I won’t go into where they were related because I don’t know what we can disclose and what we can’t disclose. I guess you’ll find that out. But closely enough related in a way that you might suspect something,

    He appears to be saying that the two instances where 3 of the 4 mutations were found in spore samples are evidence of some kind – almost certainly evidence related to the criminal case. And that’s why he can’t talk about them. At this point in time, about the only thing that Bruce Budowle wouldn’t be allowed to talk about is evidence in the criminal case against Bruce Ivins. Release of that evidence has to await the official closing of the case.

    It makes me want to sit down and try to imagine where they might have found a sample that contained 3 of the 4 morphs and what it might mean to the criminal case against Dr. Ivins.”

    It could mean, Ed, that the sample Ivins submitted from RMR-1029 that they claim was a false sample was actually one they were only able to isolate 3 of the 4 morphs. It is possible that Ivins DID submit a representative sample, and the FBI was unable to recover all 4 morphs from it, and concluded it wasn’t a representative sample.

    I don’t know. But I think this is why so many questions were directed at this issue of all morphs not being present in several of the samples, or the comment, “where there any cases where all 4 morphs weren’t recovered from samples that should have had them” (or something to that effect).

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