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

* CASE CLOSED blog posts related to AFIP, silicon, NAS review of FBI science

Posted by DXer on September 30, 2009

CASE CLOSEDCASE CLOSED is a novel which answers the question “Why did the FBI fail to solve the 2001 anthrax case?” … click here to … buy CASE CLOSED by Lew Weinstein

Here’s what readers say about CASE CLOSED  …

“The whole Anthrax episode is unquestionably a dark moment in American history. But what makes it fascinating is how it was handled (or should I say mishandled) by the administration and the various agencies involved. CASE CLOSED is a must read for anyone who wondered … what really happened? … Who did it? … why?” … and finally, why didn’t they tell us the truth?”


These are posts attracting attention

on the CASE CLOSED blog today …

* Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) … background documentation related to National Academy of Sciences (NAS) silicon testimony today

* silicon evidence points beyond Fort Detrick and Dr. Bruce Ivins

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

  • * Is the FBI’s anthrax case ongoing or not? … I’ve been asking for two months … the FBI refuses to answer … here’s the email trail
  • * its seems the FBI said the documents were exempt from FOIA and NAS, with no independent verification, accepted that conclusion

  • ******

    7 Responses to “* CASE CLOSED blog posts related to AFIP, silicon, NAS review of FBI science”

    1. Anonymous Scientist said

      We are now at T+ 68 days since the FBI announced they were ‘on the verge’ of closing the anthrax case.

    2. DXer said

      Committee Chairwoman Rita R. Colwell, president and chief executive of CosmosID Inc., a Bethesda-based biotechnology company, declined to discuss the Ivins case. But she said measures the government has implemented since the 2001 attacks have improved safety and security.

      Panel: Overzealous rules may stifle germ research

      The Infiltration of US Biodefense

    3. DXer said

      No “Silver Bullet” Against Extremists at U.S. Biodefense Labs, Security Report
      Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2009

      Codename Zabadi: The Infiltration of US Biodefense

      By Martin Matishak
      Global Security Newswire

      WASHINGTON — There is no “silver bullet” ensuring that no would-be bioterrorist finds a job at a U.S. disease reasearch laboratory, however measures can be taken to prevent dangerous materials from being diverted for illicit purposes, a panel of experts said today (see GSN, Sept. 25).
      Concerns about security at laboratories that work with select agents — pathogens or biological toxins declared to pose a severe threat to human or animal health — have grown as the amount of research has increased in recent years, according to a report from the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences.

      As of February, roughly 400 research entities were registered and roughly 15,300 individuals were cleared to have access to select agents, which include anthrax, smallpox and the Ebola virus, the NRC report states.

      In January, then-President George W. Bush issued an executive order calling for an interagency review of biosecurity at government laboratories. That group conducted its assessment, which has yet to be publicly released, and requested additional input from the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity and the National Research Council.

      The NRC report addresses existing regulations and oversight to safeguard against the “deliberate use” of select agents and examines both physical security and personnel reliability at laboratories. The committee was also asked to consider the potentially restrictive impact biosecurity regulations have on scientific research.

      The study offers nine recommendations, including having each facility registered to work with select agents develop and implement a security plan, which would be reviewed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
      While each site is unique and therefore requires different security methods, the Centers for Disease Control and Agriculture Department should “define minimum … physical security requirements” to assist laboratories in safeguarding their materials, according to the 161-page report.
      The panel that prepared the report also called for maintaining the existing Security Risk Assessment screening process — which relies on databases of criminals, immigrations and terrorists maintained by the FBI and the Homeland Security Department — to determine if an individual should be given clearance to work in a biological facility.

      Any individual who works with select agents at a registered laboratory must undergo the Security Risk Assessment process.
      Personnel reliability programs are used to evaluate whether an individual is trustworthy enough to work with sensitive material or technology. The programs — employed by Defense and Energy departments, among others — can include psychological screening, polygraph testing and credit checks.
      There is value in the program, but “there is no ‘silver bullet’ … than can offer the prospect of effectively screening out every potential terrorist,” the report says.

      That system’s appeals process also only permits correction of factual errors and should be expanded to include “extenuating circumstances” such as how long ago an offense occurred and recent behavior, according to the report.

      “The clearance for working with agents is more restrictive than to get a top-secret clearance,” said committee Chairwoman Rita Colwell, who lead the panel of 14 experts that contributed to the report. “Someone who did something illegal at 15 and now is a world-renowned scientist at 45 would be rejected.”
      The program should operate similarly to the review process for obtaining clearance to top-secret material, which only examines a person’s life over the past seven to 10 years, Colwell, a professor at the University of Maryland, said yesterday in a telephone interview.

      The 14-member panel also urged that pathogens be “stratified” into “risk groups” based on the potential threat posed by an agent, with increased security measures for laboratories that work with materials identified as the most deadly.

      “The select agent list is really a public health list,” Colwell said.

      She said the first group would be composed of six or seven agents most likely to be used in a biological weapon, such as anthrax and smallpox. The second tier would be composed of other highly infectious pathogens and the remaining diseases would move into a third tier.

      Earlier this month, Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced legislation that would divide the select agent and toxin list into a tiered system (see GSN, Sept. 9).

      That approach was also endorsed by the congressionally created Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism.
      The NRC committee recommended that facilities take a full inventory of their select agents but warned against relying on such methods to ensure security.
      “Requirements for counting the number of vials or other such measures of the quantity of biological select agents” unless they are transported to another site “should not be employed because they are both unreliable and counterproductive, yielding a false sense of security,” the study says.

      Since biological agents have the ability to replicate, “accountability is best achieved by controlling access to archived stocks and working materials,” it adds.

      Colwell said members of the NRC panel have already met with representatives from the White House and Technology Policy Office and several congressional offices about their report.

    4. Anonymous scientist said

      You can be conducting your own quantitative EDX studies on anthrax spores within minutes on your own computer if you download Microanaltik’s free EDX simulation software.

      The manual is here along with links to download the 2 packages (software and MA-table):

      This package is as sophisticated as any commercial package that comes with the purchase of a $0.5M SEM/EDX tool.

      Try running these simulations by filling in the simulator table:

      (1) The EDX spectrum on page C-2 of the Edgewood report is quite challenging, since it contains a lot of Na, Mg and Cl. It also has a small Si peak. Try entering the following quantities in the simulator table: 0.2% Si, 78% C ,18%O. Mg Cl and Na range from about 0.7% to 3%.

      Click to access GetTRDoc

      One can obtain a pretty good simulation of this EDX spectrum – note that the best simulation contains about 0.2% Si. (note that you have to enter atomic numbers for the elements, so for C this is 6, O is 8, Si is 14, etc)

      (2) Now try entering Carbon = 25.5%, Oxygen = 29.5% and Silicon = 45%. Use 10keV as the excitation energy. What do you produce?
      It’s the AFIP spectrum of silica – the reference spectrum of silica that AFIP used to compare with the spectra they produced from the attack spores.

      That’s how easy this is. Dozens of people have had access to the AFIP spectra for the last seven years. It’s just a question of running a simulation to determine the amount of silicon present.

      • Anonymous scientist said

        I wonder if Joe Michael will make his NAS presentation available? It was interesting that he included an EDX spectrum of spores that he says he obtained from the literature to “prove” that it was the same as the EDX spectrum he obtained for the mailed spores.

        I wonder where he got that EDX spectrum from that he showed? Was it possibly from the above Edgewood paper at:

        Click to access GetTRDoc

        If so, the highest Si concentration of any of these was around 0.2% – much less than what the FBI already admit was in the Leahy sample.

        There is an EDX spectrum on page C4 of the Edgewood report that looks as if it has a high Si peak – but in fact the line is a just a computer cursor marking the position of the tiny Si peak. Surely Joe Michael didn’t use this picture in his presentation without the accompanying explanation caption? Let’s see if Joe will allow us to see the results of our hard-earned tax payer dollars.

    5. DXer said

      The first news reports on the NAS report on biological security won’t be out until this afternoon which isn’t long to wait in the scheme of things.

      Carl Sagan: A Glorious Dawn

    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 clarified separately in a briefing to science reporters that while “weaponization” is ambiguous, he was referring to post-production treatment with silica for the purpose of making the anthrax more dispersable. Here, he said at the roundtable to the more general media that the silica could have been in the culture medium used to grow the anthrax.

      A department colleague of Bin Laden’s sheik’s protege, Ali Al-Timimi was leading anthrax scientist Kenneth Alibek and former deputy USAMRIID Commander Charles Bailey. Dr. Bailey, Alibek’s co-director of the Center for Biodefense at GMU –told a reporter in Fall 2001 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 had filed a confidential patent application relating to the concentration of anthrax using silicon dioxide.

      I have provided what I undertstand to be the AFIP data on silica (provided to me by an anonymous source). it is my understanding it is not classified. If the FBI finds that it is for some reason unreliable, the FBI should release it and have an expert explain why it is not reliable.

      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. Nothing in the recent NAS presentations is contrary to that — with the Si and O co-located in a way consistent with and suggestive of silica. The EDX operator at AFIP, Frank, was highly experienced at detecting silica. One of the two applicants for the international patent Microdroplet Cell Culture Technique was a leading aerosol scientist and innovator in dry powder inhalations used in the pharmaceutical industry and the founder of Aerosol Techniques in 1955. On the face of the international patent, it appears to have aerosol applications. So it does not relate to “post-production” treatment with silica to make the silica more dispersible — it relates to use of silica in the culture medium to make the anthrax more concentrated. Now are we going to use such semantics to obscure things for another half decade or can we get on with solving Amerithrax?

      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. ” Let’s put aside the question whether this LLNL PhD thesis is correct and consider some background.

      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 [” The NAS panel should ask Dr. Small to give the same presentation she gave in Europe to those who paid to hear her presentation.

      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.

      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. The documentary and intelligence evidences known to the CIA’s Zawahiri Task Force since December 2001 certainly points to that solution.

      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.”

      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).

      Dr. Peter K. Weber, who is submitting his powerpoints to the NAS for inclusion in its public access file, found that using iron-containing G Media he was able to grow up to .4% silicon into spores.

      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.

      This, to my lay eye, points to the patent that was confidential in 2001 co-invented by Dr. Al-Timimi’s suitemates. Dr. Al-Timimi was coordinating with the 911 imam. He had formerly been the asssistant of White House Chief of Staff years earlier. Oops! While serendipitous, that put the White House in an awkward situation given that they wanted to invade Iraq when it was the White House Chief of Staff’s former assistant who had the access to the know-how suggested by the microbial forensics. Maybe WMD Chief Dr. Majidi is just reading old and dated memos in coming up with his understanding of the semantics (e.g., “weaponization”, “naturally” etc.) and how they apply and might be used in spinning things. Maybe it is time for the new White House to issue different marching orders. Something like “Comply with FOIA, goddamit, and never withhold documents just to avoid embarrassment. Or tell Joe to identify the location of the Silicon and then sit down — not opine on “weaponization” given he is not an expert on weaponization. Microencapsulation is fairly understood as increasing the viability of a wide variety of pathogens. Call it “weaponization”, call it whatever you like, but don’t call me late for dinner and don’t screw the pooch in Amerithrax just because you think you can.

      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 to play disengenuous word games. Don’t try to spin an NAS panel, for chrissakes. The amount in the first mailing was massive. To use the word “natural” is to engage in semantics for the purpose of creating a mistaken impression. It was intentionally added and any microbiologist who has actually aerosolized anthrax could tell you that. And I have the SEMs from controlled experiments to prove it.

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