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

* DXer: a Washington Post story does not take into account that the genetics experts — Dr. Fraser-Liggett and Dr. Keim — say there are major holes in the genetics case

Posted by DXer on April 17, 2011


 Daniel de Vise writes in the Washington Post (4/16/11) …

  • Inside a Rockville laboratory, a team of scientists labored in round-the-clock shifts to do something many colleagues thought impossible: decode the genetic “fingerprint” of a deadly anthrax sample to help the FBI solve a case.
  • The researchers had been swept into Amerithrax, the massive federal investigation into the 2001 anthrax mailings, and they yearned for a breakthrough. But finding unique markers in the organism’s vast genetic code was a long shot.
  • The FBI closed Amerithrax last year with a report that linked the attacks to a broth of spores stored in a flask in the Fort Detrick lab of Army scientist Bruce E. Ivins.
  • On Oct. 17, 2001, just days after the anthrax letters were mailed, Abshire, a lab technician at Fort Detrick, was growing bacteria to confirm that the powder in the letters was, indeed, anthrax.
  • Science had linked Ivins to the attacks as early as spring 2005, although even the compartmentalized FBI scientists didn’t know it at the time.

By 2007, every other anthrax sample had been ruled out

and the bureau could conclude that “Dr. Ivins, alone,

mailed the anthrax letters.”


Many have since questioned that conclusion.

  • A review published this year by the National Academy of Sciences found loose ends in the case — but not in the work of the Rockville and Fort Detrick scientists.

to read entire article …



  • The Washington Post has addressed again the story it told in January 2009 about discovering the 4 morphs — with no new information and without mentioning the key elements that were necessary to tell the story in context.
  • I love the Washington Post.  But heck, this story does not even take into account that the genetics experts — referring to the genetics — Dr. Fraser-Liggett and Dr. Keim — say there are major holes in the genetics case and the specifc reasons.
    • See recent article by Noah Schachtman in which involved interviews of the genetics experts.  To wit:  There would be mutations in any large collection, for example, grown at Dugway, they explain.   I first reported this a couple years ago after Paul Keim explained it over lunch to a mutual friend and distinguished scientist David Franz.
  •  It is not to fault Terry Abshire’s or Jacque Ravel’s excellent work — or the excellent work by the many other experts working on the genetics.  It just bears on the conclusions one draws from the genetic findings.
  •  It is very important to understand — but always overlooked — that the 4 morphs only narrowed things from 700 known to have Ames to “up to 377.”  (see powerpoint for the 700 figure from the NAS materials provided by the FBI and uploaded by Lew) and the Amerithrax Investigative Summary for the “up to 377” figure.

  •  So even the major holes pointed out by genetics expert Fraser-Liggett and Paul Keim are pretty unimportant.  It is like the FBI first reporting that there were a couple hundred in Jon Benet Ramsey’s house that night — and then the genetics experts saying “wait,” there may have been hundreds more.
  • The “up to 377” in the Amerithrax Investigative Summary refers those with access at both Building 1425 and 1412.  Agents were telling Dr. Ivins lawyer, that left an estimated 200 with access. You get an estimated 200 when you eliminate those with access to the Ames at both buildings.
  • Indeed, even Terry Abshire, who discovered the morphs, had the matching Ames in her unlocked refrigerator.  She mistakenly thought it must have been from Bruce but actually it had been left by Joany Jackman when she left USAMRIID.  See Joany Jackman’s 302.
  • That Ames was from Flask 1029 and had been used to make a dried powder.
  • Here are Ivins video about the ezzell/abshire making the dried Ames out of Ivins’ flask.

  •  It had been irradiated in the slurry which is a very important point that should never be overlooked in reporting.
  •  Dr. Ezzell, who I first called about this in July 2009, was very courageous in forthrightly addressing all this.
  •  No one at the November 29 could watch how distinguished he was — dressed in all black and wearing a white beard –without deeply appreciating his willingness to address these issues.  When he had a heart attack minutes after he finished, everyone was genuinely concerned as they would be for a new friend.
  •  It was okay that the FBI did not disclose this making a dried powder out of Flask 1029 to the NAS — with DARPA thanking both Terry Abshire and John Ezzell in the literature for their assay work — because  that is what we have reporters to do.

 They just haven’t done it yet.

  •  The key facts relating to the DARPA project involving making the dried powder does not bear on the fact that the mutations could be observed.
  •  But it is the sort of context that is a necessary part of the story.
  •  Especially given that the Ezzell/Ashire lab then threw out Dr. Ivins February 2002 lab (which had the 4 morphs).
  •  Here is the inventory sheet showing that the dried powder for DARPA was made from Flask 1029.   The expanded inventory was made by the FBI.

  •  I think the FBI and its scientists and the NAS panel members have done a lot of excellent work.

 But we need reporters to interview

Former Colleague #1 (Patricia Fellows),

Former Colleague #2 (Mara Linscott),

… about both the DARPA research for which they were thanked and for the many points that they have made about Dr. Ivins to the FBI which underlie the FBI’s “Ivins Theory”.

 We also need interviews of Joany Jackman

and Terry Abshire and John Ezzell

about the DARPA research.

  •  Of course, for the interviews of Dr. Ezzell, we have the filmed question and answer that were made on these precise issues.
  • The documentary evidence points to these questions as some of the outstanding issue relating to this issue of the genetics and the Ames strain.
  •  Prior to 9/11, when did USAMRIID’s John Ezzell, the FBI’s anthrax expert who was assisted by Terry Abshire, who made a dried aerosol using Ames supplied by Bruce Ivins, send the dried spores to Johns-Hopkins Applied Physics he had made at the request of DARPA?  Did those spores show a silicon signature?

  •  The FBI removed the original of Lab Notebook 4010 and other notebooks from USAMRIID without leaving a copy.   Reporters should obtain the remaining 58 pages of Lab Notebook 4010 (relating to Flask1029)

  •  An email withheld for 2 years after Dr. Ivins death that shows Dr. Ivins knew that 5 ml of virulent Ames had been taken from Building 1412

  •  Why did the FBI let USAMRIID General John Parker falsely claim that USAMRIID did not make dried powder stand when the FBI and the scientists overseeing the investigation knew its own expert had made dried powdered aerosol using Ames?

  •  Will it take Congressional subpoena power to fill in the blanks in the email asking about weaponized anthrax that came to Detrick and then was shipped out and some was missing?

  •  Given that the FBI estimates that up to 377 had access required elimination (allowing for some duplication who had access in both 1425 and 1412), why did US Taylor think and falsely claim that only 100 needed to be eliminated — only those with access at Building 1425?  For him not to know that those with access only in Building 1412 had to be eliminated also leaves a gaping hole one could drive a cropduster through.

  •  When was the location of the flasks (initially there were two flasks) carefully whited out so as to change its location from Building 1412 to Building 1425?

  •  Who was Dr. Ivins writing about the Ames missing from building 1412 and the autoclaving of samples there?

  •  What happened to the other slant sent from Texas?

  •  Ivins notes that the original researcher who obtained the slants from Texas came to work for the CIA. When did he start working for the CIA?

  •  When did SRI first obtain virulent Ames and from whom?

  •  Where was the research on the effect of the corona plasma discharge and sonicator on Ames spores supplied by Bruce Ivins conducted for DARPA? Anywhere else? Where were aerosol studies done using dried powder?


Additional documentary sources:


17 Responses to “* DXer: a Washington Post story does not take into account that the genetics experts — Dr. Fraser-Liggett and Dr. Keim — say there are major holes in the genetics case”

  1. DXer said

    Off-topic, the United States Post Office filmed a christmas special in the house I spend much of my time at. It will be part of a show called “Letters to Santa.” There were 50 in the living room by my count (no exaggeration) — including 20+ kids who had been fed sugar cookies while awaiting a delayed Santa. (No elf control.) I’m not bound by a nondisclosure agreement but I’ll only additionally note that the mail carrier who played Santa is truly a great guy.

  2. DXer said

    Chapter 25 – Microbial forensic investigations in the context of bacterial population genetics

    Author links open overlay panelPaulKeim1TalimaPearson1BruceBudowle2MarkWilson3David M.Wagner1
    Show more

  3. DXer said

    Note that these people like Fraser-Liggett, Keim and Worsham saying the evidence is not there ARE FBI EXPERTS. Defense experts would have had been way harsher. Um, who does R. Scott Decker imagine would testify in support of the FBI’s case? Is he going to testify about providing security for the anthrax smelling bloodhounds?

    Exclusive: Guilt of ‘anthrax killer’ Dr. Bruce Ivins questioned on Deadly Intelligence

    21st April 2018 April Neale

    Science Channel series Deadly Intelligence tonight looks at the case against Dr Bruce Ivins, the key suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks — and whether he was framed in an FBI cover-up.

    Ivins was an Army scientist and was believed to have been the so-called “Anthrax Killer”, but the series looks at new evidence and has interviews with medical peers who suggest something may have been amiss in the initial FBI investigation.

    The anthrax letters, sent just after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, killed five people and left more than a dozen ill. Ivins was the key suspect but, at age 62, he committed suicide.

    His death on July 29, 2008, from a Tylenol overdose, came as federal prosecutors were just about to present their damning report to a grand jury.

    The letters were filled with refined bacterial spores and mailed to Senate Democratic leaders and various news organizations.

    Two Washington postal workers, a New York hospital worker, a supermarket tabloid photo editor in Florida, and a 94-year-old woman in Connecticut all were killed by the perpetrator’s actions.

    Why Ivins? He had spent 30 years as a microbiologist at the Army’s biological research laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland. His job? He was trying to develop a better vaccine against anthrax.

    But tonight you will hear from many experts who dispute his guilt, believing that Ivins was framed in an FBI cover-up.

    Scientists like Dr. Paul Keim and Dr. Henry Heine on the episode speak up for Ivins, saying the contents of a tell-tale RMR 1029 flask that the FBI traced back to Ivins was actually shared with 20 labs.

    There was reasonable doubt and a chance that Ivins was the victim of circumstantial evidence. But who was sophisticated enough to cultivate the deadly anthrax spores? Watch tonight to learn more.

    Deadly Intelligence airs Sundays at 10 pm ET/PT on Science Channel

  4. DXer said

    Consider Dr. Claire Fraser-Liggett’s observations to this less experienced researcher’s self-congratulatory approach. For starters, the author totally overlooks the issue of access to the genetically matching Ames, to include Ames that was thought successfully irradiated but wasn’t.

    Steven Salzberg, “How I Helped Solve The 2001 Anthrax Case”

  5. DXer said

    Paul Keim: CDC anthrax mistakes minor


    Before the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and the deadly anthrax mailings that soon followed, Keim was a Ph.D. botanist studying the genetics of cottonwood trees. His research, together with that of other experts at NAU, showed how tree genetics could cause a ripple effect through the larger ecosystem, carrying major impacts for climate change.

    For a time, Keim had started working on E. coli and anthrax because there was funding available and interesting evolutionary questions to examine. If it wasn’t for 9/11, Keim says he’d still be working on cottonwood tree genetics.

    “The amount of money that went into this field after 9/11 was tremendous,” he said in an interview with the Daily Sun last week.

    That move paid off for NAU, as Keim’s operation has since brought in some $80 million in grants to the university. The money goes to researching not just anthrax, but all manner of infectious diseases. The lab trains more undergraduate students in the sciences than any other in town.

    Keim’s lab also recently landed a $7 million grant from the U.S. Army to study an infectious disease most common in Southeast Asia and Australia called melioidosis. In addition to the natural threat, the military worries it could also be used as a biological weapon, Keim says.

    “They worry a lot about the health of the war fighters,” Keim said.

    Comment: To say that the genetics analysis narrowed the investigation to one lab is as misleading as it would be to say it narrowed the investigation to one cow.

    It narrowed the field of those KNOWN to have access from about 1000 to up to 300. The FBI’s August 8, 2008 was incredibly botched to know know that the genetically matching Ames was also STORED in 1412, and not just there on occasion.

    There were many low-cost forensic methods that had a much bigger bang for the buck. It seems that our government just is incapable of making tax dollars count.

    As a further example, given Russia is known to have Ames and Dr. Keim’s repository did not collect a sample from Russia, his claims are decidedly not scientifically well-grounded.

    Thank goodness the people going through our trash don’t overcharge.

  6. DXer said

    From the 2014 NRC report on microbial forensics:

    “Unbiased results, conclusions, and explanations about an event, as well as alternative explanations, must be provided to the legal and policy decision systems and to other stakeholders.”

    In explaining the limitations, did Dr. Keim explain that there was no reason to think that the particular strains leaking from the drain pipe at Sverdlosk constituted the full extent of Russia’s collection of strains? And that there was no basis for exclusion?

  7. DXer said

    Dr. Keim says that a key challenge was that

    “Initial genetic conclusions about what the anthrax letters strain was and where it originated were based upon limited databases, which investigators recognized. Despite this, the information was shared with policy makers, who proceeded as through these initial conclusions were strong conclusions.”

    You will want to listen to the audio of his actual presentation perhaps to understand the point he is making. Or better yet, interview him and have Dr. Keim elaborate on the point.

  8. DXer said

    Dr. Fraser-Liggett is quoted in the preview of the FRONTLINE documentary.

    FRONTLINE | Preview “The Anthrax Files” | PBS

    see generally

    Renowned microbiologist Fraser-Liggett to head new U.Md. genomics institute
    Baltimore Business Journal by Sue Schultz , Staff

  9. DXer said

    The DARPA research on which Pat Fellows and Mara Linscott provided technical assistance is described in these 16 pages faxed in February 2005 from Art Friedlander’s fax machine.

    • DXer said

      Dr. Budowie’s audio presentation from the June 12, 2012 conference at the National Academy of Sciences is here.

      [audio src="" /]

      (In the case of most of these audio presentations, I had to download them before listening to them in QuickTime.)

      • DXer said

        In the thoughtful and weighty treatise MICROBIAL FORENSICS, there is a chapter on the collection and preservation of evidence by the former Amerithrax FBI and CIA scientist Jenifer Smith that replaces an earlier chapter by USAMRIID scientist JE. JE’s lab, according to the Amerithrax Investigative Summary, threw out Dr. Ivins’ original February 2002 sample that was a genetic match. JE’ tells me that his lab had made a dried powder out of Ames from Ivins’ Flask 1029. 302 statements suggest that the lab kept virulent Ames in an unlocked tupperware tub in Terry Abshire’s refrigerator. A sample was not submitted when samples were first collected. GAO, Dr. Smith is a quotable expert on whether Dr. Ivins’ February 2002 submission should have been preserved, what documents exist regarding its destruction etc.

    • DXer said


  10. DXer said

    Dr. Abshire, at the same time, should be asked whose intials these are relating to the FBIR inventory. They do not look like Bruce Ivins’ initials which are pictured to the right from the 1029 inventory. Yet Rachel and Ken in the Amerithrax investigative summary based their analysis on the claim that they were.

  11. Old Atlantic said

    In addition, the press should nail down the issue of the animal experiments on Ivins’ calendar for September and October 2001 as to location and who else checked animals. Were these animals kept in the BSL3 of Building 1425 which shows Ivins’ after hours time? Or were they in building 1412 as has been suggested by an FBI supporter? Where and when and by whom were the bodies necropsied? Where and when and by whom were they autoclaved?

    Of course, this is detail. The press appear either constitutionally or contractually barred from investigating detail. Moreover, anyone who knows detail is a conspiracy nut in press parlance.

    • DXer said

      Yes, I think that the Amerithrax investigators are mistaken in failing to produce he lab notebook pages from 9/28, 9/29, 9/30, 10/1, and 10/2 in which Dr. Ivins wrote about what he was doing in the lab.

      When attorneys, investigators and scientists provide 3500 pages — and then another 9600 pages — but somehow fail to provide the 5 pages of contemporaneous notes at the very minutes they speculate Dr. Ivins was powderizing anthrax — a reporter should always be prompted (once the oversight is pointed out) to drop an email asking for the pages. (Reporters who have new stories to report each day or week certainly cannot be expected to be reading thousands of pages — or at least it helps to have highlights noted.)


      FOIA people can be truly wonderful and extremely important in advancing understanding. FOIA officers can do (in advancing understanding) in 30 minutes what it may take dozens of scientists five years and five million dollars to do.

      I have “FOIAed all the FOIAs” submitted to DOJ so that we can see who has already requested what.

      Reporters should also a request a copy of the September 17, 2001 email from Bruce Ivins to Mara Linscott as part of establishing the timeline on 9/17 — we need to see the time it was written in developing a detailed timeline for 9/17.

      Finally, reporters should ask for copies of the 302 interview statements of the family members. (We have submitted a FOIA but reporters would be given priority).

      Reporters have a great job. They should take advantage of their special status under FOIA.

      JAG says they are looking for notebooks (they don’t have them, at the local site at least). I have requested notebook pages from all of Dr. Ivins notebooks from 1998-2001.

      Ms. Rogers in particular is very wonderful and extremely efficient in making the process work.

      Sandra Ms CIV USA MEDCOM USAMRMC Rogers

    • DXer said

      Here is a copy of the October 5, 2001 email you mention involving the subcutaneous challenge of the rabbits — and the death of 12 rabbits. They had been shipped from Covance after immunization.

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