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

* Excerpts from “I Heard The Sirens Scream” by by Pulitzer Prize winning author Laurie Garrett

Posted by Lew Weinstein on July 27, 2011

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Excerpts from “I Heard The Sirens Scream”

by Pulitzer Prize winning author Laurie Garrett

(sub-headings by LMW) …

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FBI’s misuse of non-FBI labs …

Twenty-nine non-FBI laboratories across America were engaged in the effort, with no direct communication or knowledge of each other’s findings permitted. The FBI investigators changed their strategies and notions of appropriate science fairly regularly, never allowing the academic, private or government laboratories that comprised the “team” to either provide guidance in plotting the scientific inquiry, or frankly clueing the researchers in on why any particular avenue of study was being pursued.

investigation by public humiliation … 

for years the key tactic used to elicit statements or confessions was public humiliation.

intense scrutiny of Ivins – until he took his own life …

The scrutiny of Ivins grew so intense, featuring overt 24-hour surveillance of his suburban Maryland home and questioning of his children, that Ivins’ already delicate psychological state rapidly deteriorated, until the microbiologist took his own life by swallowing a massive quantity of the headache remedy, acetaminophen.

strange circumstantial evidence …

The bulk of the evidence against Ivins was circumstantial, and every bit as strange as that the FBI had leveled against Hatfill and other persons of the agency’s interest.

destruction of Iowa Ames …

the University of Iowa and the State’s troopers had, with much fanfare, destroyed the original samples during the fall of 2001. Amazingly, the Justice Department had raised no objections at the time, failing then to appreciate how critically important the samples would prove to be for Amerithrax forensics.

silicate signature …

When the so-called “silicate signature” on anthrax samples obtained from other sources was compared to the 2001 envelope spores there were two critical differences: There was far less silicate, and none of the comparable samples had silicon inside the spores, as the Amerithrax samples did. The Sandia researchers had proved all of this before the spring of 2002, and experimentally demonstrated that the only way silicate got inside the spores was if the chemical was in the medium used to grow the bacilli.

silicon and tin …

During the 2001 early investigation the FBI tested samples from the letters and found both silicon and tin in the mailings to the New York Post and Senator Leahy, in both cases constituting less than 1 percent of the bulk weight of the samples. The early FBI silicon/tin findings were contradicted by the Sandia work, as well as testing at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. The early silicon/tin data from the FBI would not be disclosed to Congress or outside researchers for many years, and its significance or accuracy remained controversial ten years later.

no connection with Saddam … known before Colin Powell UN speech …

This 2002 Sandia finding, if accurate, had two profound implications: First, it disproved any alleged connection between chemicals on the anthrax spores and their purported production as WMD by Saddam Hussein or any other country. While the finding did not rule out the possibility that a foreign state actor grew the spores, there was no evidence that silicon, bentonite or any other chemical was used in the process to make the spores stay fluffy, un-clumped and therefore “weaponized.” The second implication was critical to the forensics, as the Sandia group basically told the FBI, “Find a guy that uses silicate in his bacterial growth medium, and you’ve got your culprit.”

Sadly, this information was kept secret until July 2008. There is no evidence in the public record that the FBI allowed the finding to be conveyed to those individuals inside the Bush Administration or CIA that were searching for links between the anthrax and the government of Iraq, nor does it appear the Justice Department allowed the information to be incorporated in any manner in the 2003 United Nations Security Council debate at which Secretary of State Colin Powell conveyed the case for war on Baghdad.

FBI investigation focused in wrong directions …

For years the FBI inquiry continued focusing on one incorrect suspect or lead after another.

RMR-1029 flasks …

In 2004 the FBI seized Ivins’ RMR-1029 flasks, having remarkably allowed them to remain in his possession for more than two years, while he was simultaneously on a list of some 200 anthrax scientists considered to be possible culprits. Those RMR-1029 samples were sent to Worsham, Keim and Fraser-Liggett to be submitted to their respective forms of analysis.

April 2007 … Ivins “not a target” … and then he is …

Though Ivins was questioned many times and underwent a lie detector test, he remained an active part of the investigation into 2007, and in April of that year received a formal letter from the Justice Department informing him that he was “not a target” of the Amerithrax search. … But just one month after receiving that “not a target” reassurance Ivins was called to testify for two days before a federal grand jury, where his handling of RMR-1029 was parsed in detail. Shaken by the proceedings, Ivins told colleagues he feared that he was being fingered as the murderer. He began to drink alcohol heavily and went on back on the anti-depressant Celexa, which he had ceased using years before.

FBI’s belligerent scrutiny of Ivins …

For the next eight months Bruce Ivins, his family and his closest colleagues at USAMRIID were subjected to increasingly overt and belligerent scrutiny by the FBI and eventually the media.

On June 9th the FBI questioned Ivins again, in the presence of his attorney, and the scientist appears to have been deeply shaken by the interrogation. Throughout the following month the FBI conducted undisguised surveillance of his home, and followed him wherever he drove or walked, spoke with his wife and children, and made their watchdog presence known. For Ivins – a man who was under psychiatric treatment for paranoia – the federal vehicles parked outside his suburban home must have left him unhinged.

Spertzel – “The FBI needs to explain” …

Richard Spertzel, who headed the biological weapons inspections for UNSCOM during the lead-up to the Persian Gulf War, wrote in the Wall Street Journal just days after the FBI named Ivins as the culprit, “The FBI needs to explain why it zeroed in on Ivins, how he could have made the anthrax mailed to lawmakers and the media, and how he (or anyone else) could have pulled off the attacks, acting alone. I believe this is another mistake in the [Amerithrax] investigation.”

Ivins’ group therapy with Jean Duley …

One month later, on July 9th Ivins allegedly made statements in his weekly group therapy session that were so alarming that the session convener feared he either intended to kill others, or himself. According to the counselor that chaired the session, Jean Duley (who was not trained in psychology) Ivins told the group he was angry about how the FBI and the government were treating him, and had become convinced that he faced the death penalty.

Would FBI case have led to conviction? …

Would all of this have resulted in conviction had Bruce Ivins lived to see his day in court? His lawyer, Paul Kemp doesn’t think so, and other legal experts have vouched that all the FBI evidence shows is that Ivins was a disturbed, paranoid individual, probably bona fide mentally ill. A case could be made that his mental illness preceded 9/11, but that still doesn’t prove that Bruce Ivins made, and mailed, the anthrax letters.

Weaknesses and omissions in FBI case …

  • the FBI cannot prove that Ivins was in the State of New Jersey on the two days when the deadly letters were dropped in Trenton-area mailboxes.
  • The FBI also failed to offer evidence that Ivins could produce handwriting, using either hand that resembled that penned on the letters and envelopes.
  • the FBI couldn’t prove that Bruce Ivins managed to remove samples of wet bacilli from that flask, and turn them into dry, fluffy spores.
  • whoever created the batch of dry spores must have contaminated the space in which he, or they, worked. But there was no evidence of such contamination at USAMRIID, or on any of the property owned by the Ivins family.
  • Even if the RMR-1029 matched every one of the Amerithrax letters, there was still no proof that Bruce Ivins was the person that converted samples into dry spores, stuffed them into envelopes and mailed the deadly postage.

yet FBI Director Mueller insists Ivins acted alone …

18 months later, with the NRC conclusions still not reached, FBI Director Robert Mueller declared case closed, officially shutting down the Amerithrax investigation. Dr. Bruce E. Ivins acted alone, and was the anthrax killer, Mueller insisted.

the NRC’s damning report  …

  • In November 2010 the NRC completed its investigation, based on 9,600 pages of documents and hundreds of hours of testimony and oral evidence, drafting a damning report that was submitted to the FBI for security review prior to publication.
  • The FBI was not pleased with the scientists’ findings, and produced 641 pages of previously withheld documents for additional NRC scrutiny.
  • The exhausted 16 scientists and judicial experts on the NRC panel had little interest in poring over additional evidence, but agreements were reached, the Department of Justice agreed to add funds to the NRC budget. The panel reconvened until February 2011.
  • The FBI’s mysteriously withheld 641 pages of evidence did little to sway the NRC, which issued its damning and final conclusions on February 15, 2011.
  • The NRC was not convinced by the FBI’s primary evidence against Bruce Ivins, the RMR-1029 flask of Ames strain anthrax.
  • Two assertions are in the FBI version of events:
    • Ivins was in possession of the culprit anthrax, contained in flask RMR-1029.
    • And he behaved in a manner that showed he was trying to hide the incriminating evidence from Special Agents.
  • The NRC disputed both assertions.
    • “It is not possible to reach a definitive conclusion about the origins of the B.anthracis in the mailings based on the available scientific evidence alone,” the NRC concluded. “The results of the genetic analyses of the repository samples were consistent with the finding that the spores in the attack letters were derived from RMR-1029, but the analyses did not definitely demonstrate such a relationship.”
  • the NRC panel was never convinced that the FBI’s registry truly contained every sample of Ames strain in the world.
  • And none of the panel members could shake the hunch that the evil-doer would never have turned over sample to the FBI.

two al-Qaeda blockbusters in the NRC report …

  • First, among the bodies recovered from the United Flight 93 crash site were those of Ziad Jarrah, Ahmad Al Haznawi and the two other al-Qaeda hijackers thwarted by brave passengers in their attempts to crash the jet into the White House. PCR analysis was performed in 2001 on the hijackers’ tissues, testing positive for Bacillus anthracis. This possible anthrax finding was especially interesting because Ahmad Al Haznawi was the al-Qaeda member that sought medical help in the emergency room of the Ft. Lauderdale Holy Cross Hospital on June 22, 2001. Dr. Christos Tsonas treated Al Haznawi with antibiotics for a black crusty sore on his hand, which was after 9/11 retrospectively diagnosed as a possible case of cutaneous anthrax infection.
  • The other revelation in the 641 pages was evidence related to three 2004 searches for anthrax spores carried out by the FBI and “other intelligence partners” in an “overseas location” used in 2001 by al-Qaeda. Though the location is classified, it appears to have been in Afghanistan, where U.S. Special Forces found two al-Qaeda related laboratories, one in Kabul and the other in Tora Bora, where Osama bin Laden successfully dodged American capture in December 2001. The three different rounds of swabbing, soil sampling and testing yielded contradictory results, some positive for anthracis, some negative. Adding to the confusion, another unnamed U.S. intelligence agency scoured the location before the FBI first reached the site, not only finding anthrax, but the Ames strain. The Ames-type Bacillus anthracis is a form of the bacterium never previously found in Asia. Further details of the possible al-Qaeda role in Amerithrax remain classified, and were not provided to the NRC.

possible al-Qaeda involvement deserves a more thorough review …

The entire issue of possible al-Qaeda involvement in the 2001 anthrax attacks “deserves a more thorough scientific review,” the NRC said.

attack anthrax was made on at least two separate occasions …

  • Whoever made the Ames anthrax apparently did so, on at least two separate occasions. Though the samples mailed in September to media outlets in Florida and New York were generally the same as those found in the October letters to Leahy and Daschle, the appearance of the samples are clearly different.
  • There were subtle genetic differences among the anthracis spores, from letter to letter, giving further support to the notion that the culprit(s) manufactured two separate quantities of anthrax, possibly in two different locations.
  • Far from providing a “smoking gun” linking the Amerithrax letters to RMR-1029, the mutants could have arisen from years of growing the bacilli in various types of fluids, in a variety of settings.

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2 Responses to “* Excerpts from “I Heard The Sirens Scream” by by Pulitzer Prize winning author Laurie Garrett”

  1. richard rowley said

    As to why someone would commit suicide OTHER than (a posited) “consciousness of guilt” this looks instructive:
    ————————————
    FBI’s belligerent scrutiny of Ivins …
    For the next eight months Bruce Ivins, his family and his closest colleagues at USAMRIID were subjected to increasingly overt and belligerent scrutiny by the FBI and eventually the media.

    On June 9th the FBI questioned Ivins again, in the presence of his attorney, and the scientist appears to have been deeply shaken by the interrogation. Throughout the following month the FBI conducted undisguised surveillance of his home, and followed him wherever he drove or walked, spoke with his wife and children, and made their watchdog presence known. For Ivins – a man who was under psychiatric treatment for paranoia – the federal vehicles parked outside his suburban home must have left him unhinged.
    ———————————————————-

  2. DXer said

    Elsewhere Laurie explains that the other lab was in Kandahar, not Tora Bora.

    It was near the airport as I recall.

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