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

* Greg Gordon (McClatchy): the apparent failure of the FBI to pursue this avenue of investigation raises the ominous possibility that the killer is still on the loose … Stuart Jacobsen: it is “outrageous” that the scientific issues haven’t been addressed.

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 19, 2011

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the FBI has produced NO EVIDENCE that Dr. Bruce Ivins prepared the anthrax or mailed this letter

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 Greg Gordon writes for McClatchy Newspapers (5/19/11) …

  • Buried in FBI laboratory reports about the anthrax mail attacks that killed five people in 2001 is data suggesting that a chemical may have been added to try to heighten the powder’s potency, a move that some experts say exceeded the expertise of the presumed killer.
  • The lab data shows unusual levels of silicon and tin in anthrax powder from two of the five letters.
  • Those elements are found in compounds that could be used to weaponize the anthrax, enabling the lethal spores to float easily so they could be readily inhaled by the intended victims, scientists say.
  • The existence of the silicon-tin chemical signature offered investigators the possibility of tracing purchases of the more than 100 such chemical products available before the attacks, which might have produced hard evidence against Ivins or led the agency to the real culprit.
  • But the FBI lab reports released in late February give no hint that bureau agents tried to find the buyers of additives such as tin-catalyzed silicone polymers.
  • The apparent failure of the FBI to pursue this avenue of investigation raises the ominous possibility that the killer is still on the loose.
  • A McClatchy analysis of the records also shows that other key scientific questions were left unresolved and conflicting data wasn’t sorted out when the FBI declared Ivins the killer shortly after his July 29, 2008, suicide.
  • Several scientists and former colleagues of Ivins argue that he was a career biologist who probably lacked the chemistry knowledge and skills to concoct a silicon-based additive.
    • “There’s no way that an individual scientist can invent a new way of making anthrax using silicon and tin,” said Stuart Jacobsen, a Texas-based analytical chemist for an electronics company who’s closely studied the FBI lab results. “It requires an institutional effort to do this, such as at a military lab.”
    • Martin Hugh-Jones, a world-renowned anthrax expert who teaches veterinary medicine at Louisiana State University, called it “just bizarre” that the labs found both tin and silicon.
    • “You have two elements at abnormally high levels,” Hugh-Jones said. “That reduces your probability to a very small number that it’s an accident.”
  • FBI officials say it’s all a moot point, because they’re positive they got the right man in Ivins.
  • However, the FBI never found hard evidence that Ivins produced the anthrax or that he scrawled threatening letters seemingly meant to resemble those of Islamic terrorists. Or that he secretly took late-night drives to Princeton, N.J., to mail them.
  • Jacobsen, the Texas chemist, suspects that the silica pockets represented excess material that went through a chemical reaction and hardened before it could penetrate the spores.
  • Tufts University chemistry professor David Walt, who led the panel’s analysis of the silicon issue, said in a phone interview that “there was not enough silicon in the spores that could account for the total silicon content of the bulk analysis.”
  • Jacobsen called it “outrageous” that the scientific issues haven’t been addressed … the FBI have every resource available to them,” he said.

“And yet they have no compelling explanation

for not properly analyzing the biggest forensic clue

in the most important investigation

the FBI labs had ever gotten in their history.”

  • As a result of Ivins’ death and the unanswered scientific issues, Congress’ investigative arm, the Government Accountability Office, is investigating the FBI’s handling of the anthrax inquiry.
  • In a chapter in a recently updated book, “Microbial Forensics,” Velsko wrote that the anthrax “must have indeed been produced under an unusual set of conditions” to create such high silicon counts. That scenario, he cautioned, might not be “consistent with the prosecution narrative in this case.”
  • Peter Weber, Velsko’s co-researcher, said the academy panel’s focus on the conflicting data “raises a big question,” and “it’d be really helpful for closure of this case if that was resolved.” He suggested that further “micro-analysis” with a highly sophisticated electron microscope could “pop the question marks really quickly.”

read the entire article at … http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2011/05/19/114467/fbi-lab-reports-on-anthrax-attacks.html#ixzz1MpvbxjeN

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see also …

* the GAO review of the FBI’s anthrax investigation has begun … a report is expected to be issued by September 20, 2011 … *** UPDATE: a series of fascinating comments to this post suggest many pertinent questions that GAO might want to consider

* a recent article by Greg Gordon raises the potentially critical importance of b. subtilis contaminant found in the Brokaw and New York Post anthrax letters … not connected to Dr. Ivins … and substantially ignored by the FBI

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LMW COMMENT … 

Over two years ago, I proposed three possible scenarios to explain the FBI’s failure to make a compelling case against Dr. Bruce Ivins. Since then, nothing has changed. There are still these three scenarios …

  1. The FBI has more evidence against Dr. Ivins but is, for some undisclosed reason, withholding that evidence … POSSIBLE BUT NOT SO LIKELY
  2. The FBI, despite the most expensive and extensive investigation in its history, has not solved the case and has no idea who prepared and mailed the anthrax letters that killed 5 Americans in 2001 … EVEN LESS LIKELY
  3. The FBI knows who did it (not Dr. Ivins) but is covering up the actual perpetrators, for undisclosed reasons …THE MOST LIKELY SCENARIO
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10 Responses to “* Greg Gordon (McClatchy): the apparent failure of the FBI to pursue this avenue of investigation raises the ominous possibility that the killer is still on the loose … Stuart Jacobsen: it is “outrageous” that the scientific issues haven’t been addressed.”

  1. DXer said

    Greg Gordon: Silicon-tin chemical signature might have produced hard evidence against Ivins or led the FBI to the real culprit, May 21, 2011
    http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=6806

  2. DXer said

    Friday, May 20, 2011

    Anthrax “Conviction” Falls Apart
    http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2011/05/anthrax-conviction-falls-apart.html

  3. DXer said

    FBI Ignored, Hid Data Potentially Excluding Bruce Ivins as Anthrax Killer
    By: Jim White Friday May 20, 2011 9:16 am

    http://www.google.com/webhp?hl=en#sclient=psy&hl=en&site=webhp&source=hp&q=FBI+Ignored%2C+Hid+Data+Potentially+Excluding+Bruce+Ivins+as+Anthrax+Killer+By:+Jim+White+Friday+May+20%2C+2011+9%3A16+am&aq=&aqi=&aql=&oq=&pbx=1&fp=39e64243948d0c4c

    A report from McClatchy provides important new evidence and analysis in the FBI’s Amerithrax investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks. The report shows that the FBI ignored as potentially erroneous a measurement of silicon in one anthrax sample and then hid this information from Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). Even more importantly, the high silicon measurements in at least two samples also were coupled with high tin measurements, opening up the possibility that silicon was added to the attack material in a form that is not mentioned in any of the FBI documents. Significantly, it is virtually impossible that Bruce Ivins, whom the FBI has concluded acted on his own to carry out the attacks, would have been able to perform the necessary chemical manipulations involved in this treatment of the spores. Ivins likely also would not have had access to the necessary laboratory equipment to perform this treatment.

    ***

    The FBI guarded its laboratory’s finding of 10.8 percent silicon in the Post letter for years. New York Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler asked FBI Director Robert Mueller how much silicon was in the Post and Leahy letters at a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee in September 2008. The Justice Department responded seven months later that silicon made up 1.4 percent of the Leahy powder (without disclosing the 1.8 percent reading) and that “a reliable quantitative measurement was not possible” for the Post letter.

    McClatchy also points out the significance of the finding of silicon and tin together:

    The lab data, contained in more than 9,000 pages of files that emerged a year after the Justice Department closed its inquiry and condemned the late Army microbiologist Bruce Ivins as the perpetrator, shows unusual levels of silicon and tin in anthrax powder from two of the five letters.

    ***

    Clearly, more scientific investigation is warranted on the silicon question now that the possibility of tin-catalyzed silicon polymerization (see this pdf for some of the chemistry involved here) has entered the picture. Some of the currently conflicting observations possibly could be resolved if it turns out that the attack material was weaponized with this process. At any rate, the coupling of tin with silicon eliminates the most likely sources of silicon that could have been exogenously added by Ivins, a common treatment of glassware to prevent biological material sticking to it or even antifoam being added to shake flasks (see this diary where the analysis of a typical antifoam shows less than five parts per million of heavy metals like tin).

  4. anonymous said

    http://anthraxvaccine.blogspot.com/

    FBI lab reports on anthrax attacks suggest another miscue/ McClatchy
    McClatchy’s Greg Gordon has written another excellent piece on the anthrax letters. The focus this time is on the silicon and tin added to the spore prep, and how the FBI resolutely failed to investigate them as a means of solving the case:
    The existence of the silicon-tin chemical signature offered investigators the possibility of tracing purchases of the more than 100 such chemical products available before the attacks, which might have produced hard evidence against Ivins or led the agency to the real culprit.
    But the FBI lab reports released in late February give no hint that bureau agents tried to find the buyers of additives such as tin-catalyzed silicone polymers.
    The apparent failure of the FBI to pursue this avenue of investigation raises the ominous possibility that the killer is still on the loose.
    A McClatchy analysis of the records also shows that other key scientific questions were left unresolved and conflicting data wasn’t sorted out when the FBI declared Ivins the killer shortly after his July 29, 2008, suicide.
    And here is a classic example of how the FBI promulgates BS it knows is total BS: by failing to allow the purveyor of crap to be identified, everyone at the Bureau saves face, and the media will print the excrement FBI provided:
    A senior federal law enforcement official, who was made available only on the condition of anonymity, said the FBI had ordered exhaustive tests on the possible sources of silicon in the anthrax and concluded that it wasn’t added. Instead, the lab found that it’s common for anthrax spores to incorporate environmental silicon and oxygen into their coatings as a “natural phenomenon” that doesn’t affect the spores’ behavior, the official said.
    Gordon printed the unsourced comments, yes–but then he made clear their total lack of veracity:
    To arrive at that position, however, the FBI had to discount its own bulk testing results showing that silicon composed an extraordinary 10.8 percent of a sample from a mailing to the New York Post and as much as 1.8 percent of the anthrax from a letter sent to Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, far more than the occasional trace contamination. Tin — not usually seen in anthrax powder at all — was measured at 0.65 percent and 0.2 percent, respectively, in those letters.
    An FBI spokesman declined to comment on the presence of tin or to answer other questions about the silicon-tin connection.
    …The silicon-tin connection wasn’t the only lead left open in one of the biggest investigations in FBI history, an inquiry that took the bureau to the cutting edge of laboratory science. In April, McClatchy reported that after locking in on Ivins in 2007, the bureau stopped searching for a match to a unique genetic bacterial strain scientists had found in the anthrax that was mailed to the Post and to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, although a senior bureau official had characterized it as the hottest clue to date.

    FBI officials say it’s all a moot point, because they’re positive they got the right man in Ivins.
    Yet,
    … the FBI never found hard evidence that Ivins produced the anthrax or that he scrawled threatening letters seemingly meant to resemble those of Islamic terrorists. Or that he secretly took late-night drives to Princeton, N.J., to mail them.
    And
    In a chapter in a recently updated book, “Microbial Forensics,” Velsko wrote that the anthrax “must have indeed been produced under an unusual set of conditions” to create such high silicon counts. That scenario, he cautioned, might not be “consistent with the prosecution narrative in this case.”
    …As a result of Ivins’ death and the unanswered scientific issues, Congress’ investigative arm, the Government Accountability Office, is investigating the FBI’s handling of the anthrax inquiry.
    UPDATE: Further stirring the pot, Maureen Stevens has amended her lawsuit against the federal government with testimony from 2 of Ivins’ supervisors, who say Ivins could not have been a sole perpetrator of the anthrax letters.
    … After obtaining these statements, Stevens’ lawyers successfully argued to a federal judge that she should be allowed to withdraw from her previous agreement with lawyers for the U.S. that Ivins was solely to blame so her attorneys could use the new evidence at trial. Attorneys for the federal government didn’t object and her motion was granted April 14.
    The change means Stevens’ attorneys are now free to take additional statements and search for other evidence that might conflict with the FBI’s conclusion…
    Trial is currently scheduled for Dec. 5 before Senior U.S. District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley in West Palm Beach…
    Hurley has refused U.S. government attempts to get the case dismissed, and his rulings were upheld by an appeals court.

  5. DXer said

    Here is Greg Gordon’s video relating to his earlier article on the subtilis contaminant. He has a video coming out today on yesterday’s story.

    McClatchy’s Greg Gordon talks about his investigation into the 2001-2002 anthrax attacks and whether or not the FBI found the real killer. (Video by the Real News)

    Read more: http://videos.mcclatchydc.com/vmix_hosted_apps/p/media?id=82530841&item_index=1&query=anthrax&sort=NULL#ixzz1Muf4f168

  6. DXer said

    Doesn’t the documentary evidence showing that the key 16 pages was not obtained by the FBI until February 2005 suggest that Amerithrax is the biggest FBI/CIA intelligence failure in the history of the United States?

    https://caseclosedbylewweinstein.wordpress.com/2010/03/13/dxer-reports-that-ivins-hosted-one-egyptian-visitor-in-the-b3-who-was-the-lifelong-friend-of-a-former-egyptian-islamic-jihad-member-a-schoolmate-recruited-by-ayman-zawahiri/https://caseclosedbylewweinstein.wordpress.com/2010/03/01/from-dxer-documents-related-to-university-of-michigan/

    https://caseclosedbylewweinstein.wordpress.com/2010/05/25/newly-released-ivins-emails-show-that-no-record-was-kept-of-transfers-to-former-zawahiri-associate-because-it-was-done-at-usamriid/

    https://caseclosedbylewweinstein.wordpress.com/2010/05/07/the-lifelong-friends-of-dr-tarek-hamouda-supplied-virulent-ames-by-bruce-ivins-actively-denounce-their-former-medical-school-associate-ayman-zawahiri-as-a-fanatic-one-serving-as-president-of-ca/

  7. DXer said

    Why was the FBI asking everyone whether they had seen olive oil in one of the aerosol rooms. Was that indicated by the forensics?

    • DXer said

      Is olive oil what the bloodhounds smelled at Denny’s when the FBI assume they were tracking Steve Hatfill who had visited the day before?

  8. DXer said

    Where was the research on 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?

  9. DXer said

    When did SRI first obtain virulent Ames and from whom?

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