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

* did the dry powdered spores prepared at USAMRIID for DARPA contain a Silicon Signature? if so, what was its source?

Posted by DXer on April 6, 2010

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The FBI’s case against Dr. Bruce Ivins has been demonstrated to be bogus. So what really happened? And why? I offer one “fictional” scenario in my novel CASE CLOSED, judged by many readers, including a highly respected official in the U.S. Intelligence Community, as “quite plausible.”

* buy CASE CLOSED at amazon *

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21 Responses to “* did the dry powdered spores prepared at USAMRIID for DARPA contain a Silicon Signature? if so, what was its source?”

  1. DXer said

    Dr. Ivins irradiated Flask 1030 consisting of leftover aerosols and containing a Silicon Signature and it was delivered to the Washingon Field Office on 1/29/2004.

    Wouldn’t the leftovers of a dried powder made for DARPA from Flask 1029 (and Ames propagated from that in DSD) also contain a silicon signature just as Flask 1030 did?

  2. DXer said

    In KILLER STRAIN, by Marilyn Thompson:

    The Face of Satan

    “John Ezzell stood by the guarded side entrance to USAMRIID waiting for the FBI to arrive with the evidence, as he had done so many times before during anthrax scares. Ezzell and his team knew that with this package, coming straight from Capitol Hill, the eyes of the world would focus on his Special Pathogens Sample Test Laboratory. They did not consider its danger until later, when Ezzell opened the envelope to confront what he could only describe as “the face of Satan.” Our burst a spore powder so pure that it evaporated in midair.”

    • DXer said

      Marilyn writes:

      “After years of researching anthrax, he had never seen the bacteria in its weaponized form — the type made in Fort Detrick’s Building 470 during the 1940s and 50s — a material that could blanket a city or annihilate an enemy. This was a powder so virulent that normal laboratory rules did not apply. Both he and his team could be at risk despite their precautions.

      “I already knew that it was anthrax spore powder, and then I saw the form of it, and I said, ‘ After all these years of looking, here it is. This is the real thing, in the right form,’ he recalled.”

      • DXer said

        Marilyn T. in Killer Strain continues:

        “When his work was completed, Ezzell deconned and left the laboratory. He was too unpretentious to think of his actions as heroic; usually, he stuffed army commendations and awards into a desk drawer. Yet if the FBI hoped to catch its killer, the risks taken by Ezzell and his team would be critical to building a criminal case.”

      • DXer said

        Ezzell’s boss, Col. Erik Henchal, the chief of USAMRIID’s Diagnostic Systems Division, waited outside, and Ezzell gave him the distressing analysis.

        “In all of my training and talking to people like Bill Patrick, looking at what’s required for aerosolized, easily dispersed powder, this stuff came close to the criteria. This is something that was prepared.”

        Later, in one of the regular interagency conference calls, Ezzell described what he had seen when looked into the Daschle letter. He used the term “weaponized anthrax.”

        That night, a friend who worked for the CIA woke him from a deep sleep to tell him that his assessment of “weaponized” anthrax in the Daschle letter had been passed on to the president of the United States.

        John Ezzell’s comment ignited a fire that spread around the world. The term weaponized, which was quickly leaked to the media, implied to many that the material had been prepare as an agent of war by a hostile nation. This fanned fears that bin Laden’s followers were behind the attacks, possibly using anthrax developed in Iraq.

        Ezzell had not meant to imply that a hostile nation was behind the U.S. letters. He had simply been describing the astoundingly fine aerosol material — more easily dispersed than any he had ever seen. The anthrax in the New York letters had been the consistency of wet dog chow, but the powdery form of the Daschle letter’s anthrax suggested a perfection developed through laboratory practice. Ezzell had no idea if international terrorists had created what he saw in his safety cabinet, but he knew one thing immediately: a professional had made the anthrax, most likely one who had access to a sophisticated lab.

        Major General John Park, then the commanding general of USAMRIID, found himself having to explain Ezzell’s weaponization comment in hearings on Capitol Hill. Parker explained that his scientists had “revisited the term ‘weaponized’ and decided the terms ‘professionally done’ and ‘energetic’ were more appropriate descriptions, ‘ in lieu of any real familiarity with weaponized anthrax.'”

        Ezzell was stunned by the furor he had created, but felt no regrets.”

      • Old Atlantic said

        All of these comments were after Ezzell had already prepared his own dried powder? So this was based on a comparison with that powder. So this was more energetic, more weaponized, etc.

  3. DXer said

    4/17/2003 302 interview statement

    “The predominant request was for B.a. Sterne, an avirulent strain, as this was a commonly used control in experimental research. _______ recalled sending both Ames and Vollum B.a. strains on occasion. ___ could not identify the facilities that requested B.a. Ames. ___________ was funded through the DEFENSE ADVANCED RESEARCH PROJECTS AGENCY (DARPA) and materials were often shipped to other facilities under the same DARPA program.”
    ***

    “Most of the spore preparations were generated for personnel in the Special Pathogens Branch of the DSD.”

    • DXer said

      _______ was funded through the DEFENSE ADVANCED RESEARCH PROJECTS AGENCY (DARPA) and materials were often shipped to other facilities under the same DARPA program. _______ recalled the frequent exchange of materials with the UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND and a facility in CHICAGO. ____ was not sure whether these exchanges included B.a. Ames, but ___ indicated that the UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND did not have Ames, not the BSL laboratory capabilities to handle that type of pathogen.

  4. Reply to Ed Lake given here since this comment is long.

    Thanks for the detailed and insightful answer. If you centrifuge 15 times, you discard the brown spores as best you can each time?

    By trying to pour the white spores off the top? But some brown ones come up from the bottom when you tilt the tube?

    So in each iteration, you lose x percent say but still have a mixture?

    If x was even .1, then after 15 rounds you have .9^15 left.

    .9^15 = 0.205891132

    But if you only discard 20 percent each time, you have

    .8^15 = 0.0351843721

    left.

    If Ivins washed 7 times and retained 80 percent each time, we get

    .8^7 = 0.2097152

    So if he ends up with one gram, he has to start with 5 grams worth in solution.

    If his yield in creating the spores in solution is 1/10 gram per liter, then he needs 50 liters to start for the 1 gram he gets at the end.

    If he got 2 grams for the 2 letters, he started with 100 liters.

    He then has to centrifuge 100 liters once, then 80 liters, etc. So he ends up centrifuging hundreds of liters. If his centrifuge has capacity of 1 liter, that is 500 times 1/2 hour or 250 hours of centrifuging.

    If he has a 5 liter centrifuge its only 100+ hours. But a 5 liter centrifuge has to sit on the floor outside the glove box?

    Dr. Ezzell can go 15 times because he only needs milligrams or micrograms at the end?

    While all this is going on he has to leave all the equipment up for the weeks it takes to do it? You can’t take it down and put it up each night with this much to do.

    • BugMaster said

      Ed:

      Ivins has published several papers that describe how the spores are purified. You have somewhere on your website links to at least one if not two of these publications.

      Your process discription is way off here.

      • BugMaster said

        To obtain spores of high purity, a “polishing step” or more accurately, polishing centrifugation step was used, as descibed in several of Ivin’s publications.

        What you detail would result in a poor yield, due to losses in the multiple steps you describe.

        I also doubt any filtration steps would have been used, once again, due to yield issues.

        BTW Ed, I have quite a bit of experience in various centrifugation procedures purifying a number of different materials. I have extensive experience in specialized filtration techniques as well.

    • DXer said

      “No one would question the fact that the flask shakers were running.”

      Henry Heine addresses that precise point and disagrees.

  5. The graphic is brilliant. The two different color spores must be explained by any theory that closes the case. I suggest the problem of explaining the spore color be called The Spore Color Problem. To solve the case, one must solve the Spore Color Problem as well as others.

    That the DOJ/FBI summary contained no explanation based on experiment of why the two letters had different color spores, as well as other characteristics, shows they did not have a complete theory of the case. The above DXer graphic thus by itself shows the case is not closed. It was not closed because it was not solved.

  6. Excellent graphic. Some questions raised are:

    1) Why are the spores of different color?
    2) Are spores of each kind produced together?
    3) Can they be separated?
    4) Are whiter spores less dense? Why?
    5) How does the growth media matter?
    6) What about plates v. fermentor v. shaker?
    7) Can we tell from the appearance how each set was prepared?
    8) If the spores are separated by centrifuging, what is the yield? How much losses? How pure can the color be?
    More purity means lower yield?
    9) If the second set were centrifuged multiple times, pouring off the whiter spores each time and discarding the others, wouldn’t that take a lot of time?
    10) Wouldn’t it require leaving flasks with intermediate stages of separation out? You can’t just do 2 or 3 hours of separation at night and then pour all your stuff back together. If you have to pour, centrifuge, concentrate by color, then its going to take a long time and require storing the intermediate stages of separation.
    11) This would require starting with a lot more prep. It might be ten times more if this is the method.
    12) These complications would exclude Ivins.
    13) Why be obsessed with a different spore color unless you knew its properties were different?
    14) How would you know the properties were different without doing experimentation on dry spores and their ability to go into the air?
    15) If the spores are white because of a different growth medium or container, then how would you know that is how to grow them that way? Is there a paper on it?
    16) If dry white spores go into the air better, how would you know that? Is it published? Is it known even now? Or just conjecture?
    17) What method did Dr. Ezzell use? Did he make a few milligrams or make 2 grams of white spore powder?
    18) Is it easy to make pure white spores if you make 1/10th of a gram but hard if you make 2 grams? Under limitations such as Ivins would have been?
    19) What about the silicon content, how does that impact the color? If the silicon is not on the outside, but embedded, how does it change the outside color?

  7. Roberto said

    Someone help me out here:

    I understand that silicon was not ‘added’ to the anthrax. I understand that the silicon was a byproduct of the medium in which the anthrax was grown. This silicon byproduct just happened to make the anthrax fly around better (or did it). The anthrax could have been grown in a different medium. This other medium could have made the anthrax stickier, less floaty. But one such as this was not used. What are the odds that, of all the mediums that could have been used to grow the anthrax, the one medium that was chosen just so happened to make the anthrax floaty-er?

    Was it a lucky guess to use this medium, or was there some research involved here? Did the anthrax creator (Ivins, according to the FBI) review the available research and copy the method in the week between 9/11 & 9/18? Or did the plan hatch prior to 9/11 and the research was done ahead of time?

    Or is the ‘medium leading to extra floaty substance’ a commonly known technique? Such that, people who make floaty things would say, “DUH, of course this method was used.”

    • Good questions. I didn’t see your post because I was typing in the box.

    • Are you saying that spores of different colors have the same tendency to go into the air? Do they tend to be of different sizes? Are they of different density?

      Dxer quoted an FBI report that centrifuging tended to leave white sports on top, tan in middle, and brown at bottom of the tube. Assuming the bottom was away from the axis of rotation, that would imply the brown are denser than tan which are denser than white.

      How centrifuge separation works is discussed here:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centrifuge

    • Ezzell says his white spores were fluffy and different in their physical characteristics from the tan spores.

    • DXer said

      “Dxer quoted an FBI report that centrifuging tended to leave white sports on top, tan in middle, and brown at bottom of the tube. Assuming the bottom was away from the axis of rotation, that would imply the brown are denser than tan which are denser than white.”

      That was Mr. Lake who referenced it — but he accurately characterized it (as I recall it, was an 302 interview statement of some individual (I believe the name of the scientist would have been redacted). It was not an FBI report as such. As I recall the post, Ed helpfully gave the citation and likely even a link.

    • Roberto said

      Gotcha – thanks. Makes sense.

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