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

* A detailed analysis of Jeanne Guillemin’s new book AMERICAN ANTHRAX by DXer …

Posted by DXer on August 19, 2011


Jeanne Guillemin, Matthew Meselson, American Anthrax


In her new book, experienced sociologist specialized in biodefense matters provides another much welcome overview of a range of important issues in advance of the GAO report in September.

  • The book excels in its readability in addressing the investigation.  The strong point in Laurie Garrett’s book, in contrast, was a more detailed and incisive discussion of the NAS findings.

  • Professor Guillemin’s overall conclusion is that we may never know the perpetrator of the anthrax mailings.  Let’s hope she’s wrong and the GAO is more able to be more probing due to its greater access to materials.
  • Laurie Garrett appeared to recognize that an Ivins Theory merely Hatfill Theory Redux. The “Hatfill Theory” was part of the same unstoppable train wreck as the “Ivins Theory.” There was a change of cars (investigators), but it was the same flawed train of reasoning and the investigators never overcame the earlier truncated emphasis of the investigation.  Professor Guillemin’s value judgments are less sharply felt — or at least better disguised in an approach that comes across as academic.

Anthrax Redux: Did the Feds Nab the Wrong Guy? March 24, 2011

  • Laurie Garrett recognized that too much is at stake to be content with the latest investigators’ position that they do not know the what, how or why of the anthrax mailings.  In contrast, Professor Guillemin emphasizes the lack of acknowledgment of the lapse in biosecurity. (She draws from her own experience with the investigation of Sverdlosk and the lack of forthright acknowledgment of responsibility).

The New York Times review of her book on Sverdlosk had complained that it was neither a detective story or a scientific paper.   The response at the time in one letter to the editor was that should not matter:  the author is still highlighting an important issue and providing a valuable historical narrative.   The same criticism and the same response apply to AMERICAN ANTHRAX.

On the other hand, given the importance of solving the mystery, this blog favors reaching the critical true crime facts as revealed by documents.

For example, the investigators were privately convinced of Dr.  Ivins’ guilt partly because of what they learned in mid-July from the notes from Dr. Ivins’ first counselor.  Those claims were heavily relied upon by a panel of psychiatrists led by the psychiatrist who had guided the FBI’s approach to Ivins.

The investigators and psychatrists in 2008 could not have known that in 2009 Dr. Ivins’ first therapist, Judith M. McLean, would write of how she acquired her psychic abilities in her book available for sale — from a being from another planet …

In addition to helping the FBI with Amerithrax, the psychic relied upon the government prosecutors and investigators helped with 911 by her astral travelling and retrieval of etheric body parts at Ground Zero … She reports she was granted her psychic abilities by a being claiming to be an extraterrestrial …

I am still waiting for the author or journalist that interviews the members of the EBAP panel that relied on the first counselor — to see if they say “oopsie.”

She does not note that Dr. Greg Saathoff, who gave the key psychiatric report about Dr. Ivins and after his death justified their approach arguing that Dr. Ivins likely was guilty, is a longtime partner of FBI Quantico and instead spins his report as independent.

In fact, the Professor is perhaps too refined to get into matters relating to semen stained panties that were the subject of the FBI’s DNA swabbing in July 2008 and threat to call Dr. Ivins’ family in front of the grand jury.
An experienced sociologist married to an eminent biodefense scientist who consulted for the FBI in this matter, Professor Guillemin knowledgeably describes the cast of characters.  She does not get into the details to the extent of press this Spring did on the genetics, where the FBI’s own experts explained the holes in the FBI’s case.

Claire Fraser-Liggett: the genetic analysis of the spores in Ivins’ flask do not indicate Ivins is guilty

Disturbing questions haunt the anthrax killings inquiry

Like Laurie Garrett, I don’t see that Professor Guillemin addresses the documentary evidence of Agent Lambert’s concern … that the compartmentalization of the investigative squads ordered by Director Mueller would prevent investigators from connecting the dots.

Posted by Lew Weinstein on March 23, 2011

  • Professor Guillemin nowhere addresses the documentary evidence produced in May 2011 that now shows what Dr. Ivins was doing in the B3 and instead bought into the FBI’s mistaken narrative that Ivins had no reason to be in the B3 on those nights.  I am less interested in an academic saying the perpetrator may never be identified than some journalist writing up the notes that were withheld for three years (along with other even more revealing lab notes).

Given Laurie Garrett’s expertise lies in science writing, and she likely is not daunted by lab notebook pages, she could usefully turn to them now to our great benefit.  Similarly, given Professor Guillemin’s vast contacts among FBI and non-FBI biodefense experts, she too could provide credible discussions of what the notes (and notes still to be released) reveal.

How could the longtime FBI Quantico psychiatrists or the author not have requested from the FBI the record showing what Dr. Ivins was actually doing on the nights that the investigators, without basis, speculated he was making a powdered anthrax?  This is too intrusive question for a refined academic to ask.

Professor Guillemin has an interesting detail in which she notes that the DRES biodefense researchers — who had shown that mailed anthrax immediately dispersed from the envelope and travelled across the room — briefed a military audience at the time the anthrax was being discovered at the Senate building.  While  I don’t think it material to the true crime analysis, it is interesting to see the fresh (to me) detail.  As another example, she notes Ben Garrett’s expertise at the FBI prior to 9/11, pointing out another possible interview that the GAO should have conducted.

  • Professor Guillemin, to my eye, nowhere notes or even mentions that anthrax in the New York Post letter was 10% silica or silicates but importantly does emphasize that the government had long been told that if they find the person growing anthrax in silicates, they may have found their perpetrator.  On the silica issue, she returns us to the days of what I’ll call the Meselson v. Matsumoto debate… when 7 years later discussion should have moved on to what I’ll call the Velsko/Weber position.  Both government consultants, they say that given its probative importance, the issue and reason for the Silicon Signature needs to be further explained.
Writers and journalists need to leave behind the Meselson/Matsumoto/Spertzel framing of the issue — it obscures rather than illuminates.  If a journalist is not interviewing and citing the Lawrence Livermore experts Weber and Velsko, then you are living in the past.  Indeed, to be expert on the issue, one needs to have actually done controlled experiments with and without silicon such as John Kiel, head of the Air Force lab.  So at the end of the day I favor the view of Professor Guillemin’s co-author on Sverdlosk — Martin Hugh-Jones.  It is not to say that Professor Guillemin is mistaken in what she says, it is that she is missing the point.  The Silicon Signature needs to be understood because it is potentially highly probative.  The “Red Team” conclusion should not have been so readily accepted.  (Moreover, those experts should have been identified consistent with FOIA).


The Technical Review Panel Summary notes that the NY Post sample had apparently been treated with hydrophilic silica. The term “weaponization” is used by Professor Guillemin as a straw man to avoid the potential key probativeness of the silicon signature.
She nowhere suggests that the USG has explained how Dr. Ivins’ processing could have resulted in the Silicon Signature.

  • To credit that the silicon signature did not relate to “weaponization” – as Professor Guillemin and many of us do — does not avoid the fact that it is potentially highly probative, and without more tends to be exculpatory of Dr. Ivins. For example, if it relates to “microencapsulation” using hydrophilic silica, that might be a huge lead.

It is important to recognize that none other than government-funded experts Weber and Velsko, key experts on the nonmicrobiological signature signature, think that further study is warranted to determine the source of the Silicon Signature.

She nowhere mentions the 302 interview statement that checking the health of the animals typically would take 2 hours and was a one person job. This is important background in understanding the lab notes produced on May 11, 2011.

  • Given the lead times involved in publishing, she does not address the sworn deposition testimony in the Stevens v. United States case of Patricia Worsham or Stephen Little casting doubt on the FBI’s Ivins Theory. She mentions the lyophilizer but does not address the Speed Vac.

Professor Guillemin does not address the fact that US Attorney Taylor in explaining Ivins’ overtime in Fall 2001, including November and December, did not realize that new rules in 2002 precluded such overtime, working alone in B3. In his FOIA to the Army, David Willman did not seek access records from the earlier or later period and I don’t see that Ms. Garrett or Professor Guillemin submitted any FOIAs to Army (and I don’t know offhand about DOJ).

Source: “An eye on safety” by Alison Walker …
“Better enforcement … In 2002, USAMRIID officials mandated a two-person rule, which creates peer pressure to follow safety protocol by requiring material be handled by two people of equal experience, training and qualification. USAMRIID is phasing out the rule due to space and staff limitations, replacing the physical presence of another person with video surveillance.”

She does not mention, but it is important to note, that Dr. Ivins had no access to the filters and thus there would have been traces in the filters if the anthrax had been made in that B3.

Professor Guillemin does not address the weaponized anthrax that Dr. Ivins says he had heard had been shipped to Ft. Detrick and then went missing though she makes passing mention of CIA experiments involving Battelle and Dugway early on.   She mentions that James Burans learned how to culture anthrax from Dr. Ivins.  He was the lead Navy fellow and Al-Timimi had a security clearance to work on a Navy project while at SRA in 1999 — all this talk about missing weaponized anthrax prompts me to wonder what experiments the Navy was doing in Spring 2001.  I know (but perhaps shouldn’t) that there were aerosol experiments involving ships.  (I presume simulants but have no information; Greg Knudson, who had obtained the Ames originally, then went to work for NMRC and the CIA, I believe.

  • At page 214 she explains that USAMRIID’s John Ezzell, the FBI’s anthrax expert, prior to 9/11, made a dried aerosol using Ames supplied by Bruce Ivins and sent to Johns-Hopkins Applied Physics.“murder-weapon”-to-borrow-us/

  • Where does she address Ivins’ email of 6-28-05 that discusses powder deemed closest to attack anthrax … in which Ivins says, “but I told ??? we didn’t make spore powder”

  • Who was the FBI’s anthrax expert who told Dr. Ivins not to get his “panties in a bind over this”?  Was that Dr. Jahrling rather than Dr. Ezzell as I had once inferred?

  • She nowhere addresses the fact that the FBI removed the original of Lab Notebook 4010 (and other notebooks that were subpoenaed) without leaving a copy. Why won’t the FBI produce the relevant pages from the lab notebooks it took?
She nowhere explains that Daniel Seikaly pled the Fifth Amendment in connection with the leaks relating to Hatfill or notes that his daughter represented “anthrax weapons suspect” Ali Timimi pro bono.

  • She nowhere addresses why the US Attorney and AP created the impression that the Federal Eagle stamp was uniquely sold in Ivins’ post office (near USAMRIID) when it in fact was sold throughout Maryland and Virginia. This misstatement by the US Attorney (picked up by AP) was as great as any misstep in connection with a “Hatfill Theory”.

  • She nowhere addresses why the FBI failed to disclose that the photocopier mentioned in the Amerithrax Summary could be excluded as the source of the Amerithrax letters. That is the sort of evidence that makes for a strong scientific case — or demolishes one. This is different from the less the much less significant issue of “tracks” made by the photocopier gripper.

  • The best I recall, she nowhere addresses why the FBI let USAMRIID General John Parker’s false 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.
She nowhere addresses the identity of the colleague with whom Dr. Heine says he did research regarding antifoam in creating aerosols or Dr. Heine’s report that the FBI falsely told Dr. Ivins that Dr. Heine had accused him of the anthrax mailings. This is a huge issue because the investigators then used Dr. Ivins’ rage as proof of his guilt — rather than evidence of his innocence.

She nowhere addresses why the FBI never disclosed the email withheld for 2 years that shows Dr. Ivins knew that 5 ml of virulent Ames had been taken from Building 1412.

  • She nowhere addresses the email asking about weaponized anthrax that came to Detrick and then was shipped out and some was missing.

She does not emphasize that the FBI estimates that up to 377 had access required elimination (allowing for some duplication who had access in both 1425 and 1412). US Taylor falsely claimed that only 100 needed to be eliminated — only those with access at Building 1425.

  • Although she may not get into the particulars, she does a good job on the issue of genetics and speaks with authority on such issues — but she does not discuss the reason the location of the flasks (initially there were two flasks) was carefully whited out so as to change its location from Building 1412 to Building 1425. That change violated USAMRIID protocol about record-keeping.

She nowhere addresses to whom Dr. Ivins was writing about the Ames missing from building 1412 and the autoclaving of samples there.\

  • She  nowhere addresses what happened to the other slant sent from Texas, or interviews the original researcher who obtained the slants from Texas who then went to work for the CIA. On a minor note, she is mistaken that the inventory destroyed in Iowa was only a single sample (I interviewed the professors involved in the destruction).

  • She nowhere addresses Dr. Ivins’ concern expressed to a superior that he was missing samples — only to be told to shut up. He never identifies the superior telling Ivins that everything was under control.

  • She nowhere addresses when Southern Research Institute first obtained virulent Ames and from whom.

  • She nowhere addresses where the research on the corona plasma discharge and sonicator on Ames spores supplied by Bruce Ivins was conducted for DARPA. She nowhere addresses where else the DARPA aerosol studies using dried powder were done. Given the performance of the dried aerosol, the technical question of whether the floatability is due to use of a CPD or sonicator should be addressed by the scientific experts.

  • She nowhere addresses the fact that the only expert interviewed by the FBI about the code in the letters for which documents were produced disagreed with the FBI’s theory of code in the letters and that all the letters needed for the FBI’s interpretation of the code were NOT in fact double-lined. Once this understood, one realizes what a crock of a case the FBI concocted.

She nowhere addresses why the FBI was asking everyone whether they had seen olive oil in one of the aerosol rooms.

She does not addresses whether olive oil was what the bloodhounds smelled at Denny’s when the FBI assumed they were tracking Steve Hatfill who had visited the day before.

She nowhere uses the name Ayman Zawahiri — the man whose close associates had announced he was going to use anthrax against US targets to retaliate for the rendering and detention.  This sort of omission makes it a fine entry for a public library but not for anyone interested in determining whether Dr. Ivins in fact committed the crime.  … which should be the point of the entire exercise.  The book’s treatment is academic in the best and worst sense.
  • She nowhere addresses the 16 pages which were not obtained by the FBI until February 2005 — those pages involved distribution of Ames to a former Zawahiri associate. I don’t mind that reporters and academic don’t write of such things — indeed, given the history that Amerithrax took with the hyping of the Hatfill story by the chief prosecutor whose daughter came to represent Ali Al-Timimi, I totally understand it. But the fact that they don’t make relevant phone calls supports the view that investigative reporting is dead in this country. Nowadays, writing up a filed court document or reading documents the FBI submits to NAS is deemed a substitute. For broadcast, getting interviews of people journalists have quoted suffices. And of course, when you are channeling investigators, interviewing the dead guy’s prom date is what passes for investigation. Heaven forbid that someone would pick up the phone and seek an interview with Rauf Ahmad who was working with Dr. Zawahiri.’-rmr-1029-anthrax-more-questions-for-um-and-lsu-researchers/

She nowhere addresses the work that Yazid Sufaat and his lab assistant did at Omar Hospital in May 2001 while the equipment was en route to the lab being established at Kandahar.

The Detainee Assessments on this subject are part of the public record and so why did they not inform the discussion? Is the GAO report going to be similarly bereft of highly relevant information?

  • She nowhere addresses that FBI experts found that Dr. Ivins handwriting does not match the handwriting in the anthrax letters but is understandably highly skeptical of the FBI’s sorority theory.

Don’t get me wrong. On her overall approach to an Ivins Theory, I totally agree with her just as I did Laurie Garrett (although there are key differences in the approach of the two authors).

I  am using this approach to assessing the book to highlight uploaded documentary evidence that can further advance things.  Because determining the confidence level we should have in the FBI’s speculative Ivins Theory is very important.

Professor Guillemin nowhere addresses a “Waly Samar” who was a microbiologist connected to the WTC 1993 participants based on phone records and reportedly lived in the Trenton area in 2001 — an estimated 20 miles from the mailbox. I called and left a message last month but hadn’t hear back when I last checked for messages.

And, again, it is totally understandable for a journalist or sociologist and so this is not a fault. It all comes down to one’s personal assessment about what is at stake. And I think on that question — lapses in biosecurity — no one should disagree with the Professor.

Professor G. nowhere addresses the claim that a pharmacist Najmut Tariq in New York City was connected to Al Qaeda anthrax program and apparently no effort was made to contact him in Pakistan. But someone like the Wash Po correspondent in Pakistan should attempt an interview.

  • She does not address how the FBI was able to exclude Abderraouf Yousef Jdey as the mailer if the FBI doesn’t know where he was and, according to former top CIA analyst Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, Jdey was released before the mailings. 
  • Intelligence analysis, for example, would point out that Dr. Assaad was Coptic Christian and the Blind Sheik’s group primary mission is to persecute Coptic Christians. For people including JG to miss this is to miss the possible significance of that anonymous letter that some view as an intentional “red herring” pointing to Dr. Assaad. (Dr. Assaad, for his part, thinks that the claims against Dr. Ivins are part of a vicious plot).…-who-was-the-real-anthrax-mailer-the-key-people-in-the-anthrax-mailings-were-not-bruce-ivins-or-steven-hatfill-his-predecessor-as-the-fbis-target-instead-they-app/

She nowhere addresses experiments led by Egyptian Abu Khabab killing rabbits with poisons under during the month before 9/11 at a camp outside Kabul.

She nowhere addresses the training in late 2001 at the training camp outside Kandahar to introduce poison into water systems.  Given that the recent claims about ricin and the lack of any direct evidence that the planning in fact related to bombs, this sort of consideration is very important in any book on the subject of biodefense and the threat faced by the country.

Professor G. nowhere addresses the capture of Mustafa Hawsawi and his laptop containing anthrax spray drying documents.

In her notes she relegates to passing mention in a footnotes the issue of  subtilis (see footnote to conclusion) that full deserved the much greater importance placed on the issues by the McClatchy journalist.

You’ll recall that it was McClatchy that emphasized 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. The public is expecting great things from McClatchy/Frontline/ProPublica — let’s just hope on the silica issues they move things along to what should be the proper frame of the issue — the probative importance of the Silicon Signature.   The framing of the debate in 2003 missed the point entirely.  The key consideration is what processing might Dr. Ivins have used that would have resulted in the signature.

Professor G. nowhere addresses the fact that Anwar Aulaqi was coordinating with Ali Al-Timimi who shared a suite with the two leading Ames researchers. Heck, if she doesn’t so much as name the head of Al Qaeda’s specific anthrax planning and sending of scientists to attend USAMRIID conferences, this is not surprising.  But Rauf Ahmad’s attendance of Porton Down conferences is far more relevant to the issue of biosecurity — on which she organizes her thesis — than it is that Dr. Ivins attended a presentation she gave at Ft. Detrick on Sverdlosk in 2002.  People need to address the issue and stop being ostriches with their head in the sand.  That is precisely how lapses in biosecurity occur.

She nowhere addresses the documents from peer reviewed literature in Ayman Zawahiri’s possession.

She nowhere addresses the spraydrying documents on Al-Hawsawi’s laptop.

She nowhere addresses Rauf Ahmad’s notes and handwritten letter (he was one of the scientists working for Ayman Zawahiri).

She nowhere addresses the typed correspondence from a later visit by Rauf Ahmad indicating that he had successfully achieved the targets. (And, no, Milton L. did not systematically refute the matter in discussing the correspondence in his book – he avoided quoting this critical language altogether!)

She nowhere addresses Ali Mohammed, the head of intelligence for Egyptian Islamic Jihad who had a document on his computer seized by the FBI that outlined principles of cell security that would be followed, trained Dahab, a Cairo medical drop-out, to make deadly letters.

She nowhere addresses the Egyptian visitor in the B3 who was the lifelong friend of a former Egyptian Islamic Jihad member, a schoolmate, recruited by Ayman Zawahiri.

  • She nowhere addresses the fact that Dr. Bruce 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 and that the FBI not obtain the relevant documents until February 2005.

She nowhere addresses the fact that this document seized in Afghanistan pointed to infiltration of US biodefense. To what was the author referring?

She nowhere addresses this Zawahiri correspondence with infiltrating scientist that was part of parallel compartmentalized cell operation. Who else did Ayman attempt to recruit (besides the schoolmate and close friend of Bruce Ivins’ co-worker)?

She nowhere addresses the documents dating from April 1999 showing that Ayman Zawahiri’s plan was to recruit a specialist. Who else did Ayman Zawahiri succeed in recruiting?

She nowhere addresses the fact that 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 CAIR-St. Louis and the other as author of INSIDE JIHAD. After the FBI first obtained in 2005 the documents relating to Dr. Hamouda’s work with Dr. Ivins, did they contact Dr. Hamid who reports he was recruited into the Egyptian Islamic Group by Ayman Zawahiri while in medical school? Did they contact his brother who publicly announced that he could not identify a sleeper cell if he did not know about it?

She nowhere addresses why the FBI failed to disclose that Jdey was detained and released as the same time as Moussaoui.

She nowhere addresses the fact that Ayman Zawahiri had an extensive recruiting network for his anthrax planning and the announcement of his plans in March 1999, including the blind sheik’s son who spoke alongside Ali Al-Timimi and was on Al Qaeda’s 3-member WMD society. Did the blind sheik’s son recruit Ali Al-Timimi?

She nowhere addresses the fact that Ayman Zawahiri used “school” to refer to the Egyptian Islamic Jihad but does poke fun at the FBI’s theory as to why “school” was used.

She nowhere addresses the documentary evidence showing that Ayman Zawahiri used “school” as code and not Bruce Ivins.

She nowhere addresses the fact that while the US government focuses on Anwar Al-Aulaqi, the media continues to overlook Aulaqi’s connection to fellow Falls Church imam, a scientist sharing the suite with the leading bioweapons Ames anthrax researchers with whom defense counsel says Aulaqi was coordinating.

  • She nowhere addresses the fact that Ali Al-Timimi had unfettered access to the largest microbiological repository in the world where the bacteriology collection scientist was the future head of the Amerithrax science investigation who would guide the NAS review and the production of documents from the FBI to NAS. …

Essentially, Laurie Garret’s book asked: given all the uncertainties, isn’t there a very real chance that an Ivins Theory is just a Hatfill Theory redux — and had the same effect of narrowing the investigative focus? (Laurie suggests FBI higher-ups by Spring of 2002 never meaningfully pursued an Al Qaeda theory.)  Professor Guillemin, in contrast, just sticks to very safe territory and the rubber never hits the road.  That serves very well for an academic overview that is well-suited to grace library shelves.  But what we need is investigative reporting and a GAO report that is written by investigators who understand the importance of obtaining the most probative documentary evidence — for example, emails.

32 Responses to “* A detailed analysis of Jeanne Guillemin’s new book AMERICAN ANTHRAX by DXer …”

  1. DXer said

    American Anthrax
    April 3, 2012, Noon – 1 p.m.
    Jeanne Guillemin discusses her book “American Anthrax.”
    Location: Pickford Theater, Third floor, James Madison Building

    Sociologists should limit themselves to sociology rather than true crime analysis unless they are going to press for the relevant documentary evidence. To make inferences and conjectures in conflict with the documentary evidence is unsound analysis in any field.

  2. DXer said

    “Did research funding lead to the anthrax attacks?”
    17:24 15 September 2011

  3. DXer said

    Poison In The Post: Revisiting ‘American Anthrax’
    September 14, 2011

  4. DXer said


  5. DXer said

    ISU Recalls Anthrax Scare

    An Anthrax Scare Post 9/11 placed the College of Veterinary Medicine under intense media scrutiny but led to development of new departments and jobs.

    • By Jessica Miller

    “Origin of letter still unknown

    Federal authorities have never identified who sent the anthrax letters. After a lengthly investigation the FBI identified one U.S. scientist as a suspect. Roth said the conclusion is controversial, and some knowledgeable people don’t believe the scientist could have been responsible.”


    Note that there were 100 samples at Iowa and not a single one as I believe Professor Guillemin states in her book.

  6. DXer said

    Professor Guillemin writes:

    “in early June 2002, Ivins and scientists at the institute assembled in the auditorium for a presentation on the 1979 Sverdlovsk outbreak, caused by a release of lethal spores –possibly no more than a gram of aerosolized spores — from a military facility. Obscured for years by Cold War disinformation, the deadly accident was proof of the civilian suffering that the anthrax pathogen could inflict and the paramount importance of both biosafety and biosecurity –…” (p. 152)

    Who were the lead sources of disinformation? Ken Alibek in the Soviet Union and Matt Meselson, the author’s husband, in the United States.

    Her husband was the chief advocate in the United States of the Soviet position. Even got a medal from the head of Russia as I recall.

    Where in purporting to write the history and arguing about the importance of biosecurity does she acknowledge this? How is her approach learning from history?

    It seems silly to point to Sverdlosk as a disinformation campaign — and it most definitely was — without pointing to the key role played by her husband. .. all the while relying on his expertise (and that of Alibek) in addressing the issue of the probativeness of the Silicon Signature. She frames that entire debate around the “straw man” issue whether there was a “silica coating” outside the exosporium.

    Meeting memos show that at one meeting after the Professor left the room DIA and CIA analysts were incredulous that Dr. Meselson was so accepting of the Russian interpretation given the contrary evidence.

    Only Professor Meselson was fooled. Not government analysts. Not the press.

    • DXer said

      Why did Ken Alibek so abruptly leave the country? His former colleagues know but won’t say.

    • DXer said

      It’s amusing to me that JG describes the FBI’s withholding of 600 pages until December 2000 — after the NAS had held all its meetings and drafted its report — as due to the FBI Director’s interest in transparency! She may not have any experience obtaining documents. To the best of my knowledge she did not submit any FOIA and likely has not had the experience of the trials and tribulation of obtaining documents in civil discovery. But it should be common sense that the withholding of documents until the very last possible moment is not due to an interest in transparency. Producing the documents months earlier — before the NAS heard witnesses and wrote its reports — so that the NAS could have conducted an orderly review of the documents — would have been in the interest of transparency. Was it in the interest of transparency that the Soviets came clean about Sverdlosk over a decade later?

    • DXer said

      Fool me once, shame on you.

      Fool me twice, shame on me.

      Note: The following documents are in PDF format.
      You will need to download and install the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view.

      th the two previous documents, the emphasis is on the lack of hard information to back up the rumors of deaths linked to an accident at the unnamed BW institute in Sverdlovsk, and reiterates much of what is found in Documents 1 and 2.

      Document 4
      CIA Intelligence Memorandum, Soviet Biological Warfare Agent: Probable Cause of the Anthrax Epidemic In Sverdlovsk, n.d. (ca. 1980), Classification Deleted, 14 pp.
      Source: CIA FOIA

      This undated document (which postdates February 1980, based on internal evidence) demonstrates the case that the U.S. intelligence community is beginning to make that the reported deaths in Sverdlovsk are probably linked to the release of anthrax from a Soviet BW facility in the city. As this memorandum puts it, “Evidence that the accident involved a BW agent, though circumstantial, is compelling.” Among this evidence is the fact that the Soviets used military forces almost exclusively to deal with the outbreak, and that they concealed the exact nature of the disease. The memorandum concludes that “The release of large quantities of anthrax spores, a candidate BW agent, offers the most logical explanation for the sequence of events that occurred in Sverdlovsk during April and May 1979.” Though heavily redacted, the memorandum summarizes what was now known about the Soviet response to the outbreak – blaming the outbreak on anthrax-contaminated meat – and the nature of the accident that release the infectious agent, providing criticisms of the Soviet explanations.

      Document 5
      CIA Intelligence Report, USSR: Bilogical Warfare (BW) Accident in Sverdlovsk, 1/16/80. Classification Deleted. 1 p.
      Source: CIA FOIA

      This document notes that reent intelligence had strengthened the allegations that it was an accident at a Soviet BW installation that caused the civilian deaths in Sverdlovsk. The earlier reported emigre accounts are now seen as consistent with the early rumors and other supporting information about a BW accident, though the magnitude and exact causitive BW agent remain subject to conjecture. The report notes that the Soviets were unable to bring the situation under control until late May or early June, and that both Defense Minister Ustinov and Health Minister Petrovskiy came to Sverdlovsk, likely to oversee the decontamination effort.

      Document 6

      CIA Intelligence Report, BIOLOGICAL WARFARE – USSR: Biological Warfare (BW) Accident in Sverdlovsk, 1/28/80. Secret, 2 pp.
      Source: CIA FOIA

      This document is apparently an updated version of Document No. 5, containing much of the same information, with new data regarding the nature of the accident – including claims an explosion at the secret Soviet BW laboratory led to the deaths – and the Soviet response, which included barring civilian doctors from treating the victims.

      Document 7

      DIA Report, Trends and Developments: Foreign Technology Weapons and Systems, Excerpt: Biological Weapons – USSR, 3/3/80, Top Secret.
      Source: DIA FOIA

      This document summarizies DIA intelligence regarding the Soviet biological weapons program. Included is a discussion of the probable biological weapons accident in Sverdlovsk, which summarizes the accumulating evidence from various sources that the incident involved the release of anthrax from the Soviet BW laboratory, including new details on the Soviet medical response, the casualties, many of which occurred among workers at a ceramics factory adjoining the Soviet military installation in the city, and the subsequent decontamination efforts. While no exact figure is used, this document also estimates that, based on reported “infective doses” for people, the anthrax release had to be significant. This would contradict any argument the research was for peaceful, medical purposes. The report concludes that, while production of biological weapons could not be confirmed, “the evidence points strongly to an illegal store of biological agents and probably biological weapons development or production,” in Sverdlovsk.

      Document 8

      DIA Intelligence Information Report, Possible BW Accident near Sverdlovsk, 3/21/80, Unclassified, 5 pp (Best Copy Available)
      Source: DIA FOIA

      This DIA report provides copies of two Bild Zeitung articles from February 13 and March 20, 1980, along with translations, reporting on the accident in Sverdlovsk and the possibility that a Soviet biological weapons facility was involved. The report notes new information found in these articles regarding the nature of the infectious agent involved, which supported the conclusion that a biological agent, such as anthrax, was the cause of the deaths.

      Document 9

      DIA Intelligence Appraisal. USSR: Biological Warfare, 3/25/80, Top Secret. 6 pp.
      Source: DIA FOIA

      This DIA report provides an updated summary of the strong circumstantial evidence indicating that the USSR possessed an illegal store of biological warfare agents and was involved in the likely development or production of biological weapons. Among this evidence is the accumulating body of information that an incident at a Soviet BW facility in Sverdlovsk caused the anthrax outbreak and casualties in May 1979, which “flies in the face of the provisions of the [1972] Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxic Weapons…”

      Document 10

      Department of State Cable No. 81691, Secretary of State to U.S. Embassy, Moscow, Subject: Sverdlovsk Incident, 3/28/80, Secret, 2 pp.
      Source: State Department FOIA

      This State Department telegram provides the U.S. response to the Soviet explanation of the anthrax outbreak in Sverdlovsk. As the cable makes clear, the U.S. is unconvinced and not satisfied by the Soviet story that tainted meat caused the fatalities, and wants to arrange for confidential discussions among U.S. and Soviet medical, public health and veterinary specialists in the near future to clarify the situation. The U.S. also rejects the Soviet accusation that Washington is using the Sverklovsk issue to complicate and weaken disarmament efforts.

      Document 11

      Department of State Cable No. 6229, U.S. Mission, Geneva to Secretary of State, Subject: WHO: Possible Initiative on BW Weapons, 4/24/80, Confidential, 1 p.
      Source: State Department FOIA

      This cable discusses the likely motivations behind a possible Soviet effort to have the World Health Organization investigate the Sverklovsk anthax outbreak. The State Department speculates that Moscow may want to arrange for an investigation which would be on its terms, in particular ruling out any visits by foreign specialists to Sverdlovsk, and avoid any conclusion suggesting the outbreak resulted from an explosion at a Soviet BW storage facility.

      Document 12

      DIA Cable, Addressee and Signator and Deleted, Subject: Sverdlovsk [deleted] …Rumor about Illness and Fatalities, 7/14/80, Confidential, 2 pp.
      Source: DIA FOIA

      Reports on information obtained from two dentists who had learned from Sverdlovsk doctors, who were friends, about deaths in the city that resulted from an accident with some unidentified biochemical weapon.

      Document 13

      Department of State Cable No. 215321, Secretary of State to U.S. Embassy, London, Subject: US/UK Consultations-Sverdlovsk, 8/14/80, Secret, 3 pp.
      Source: State Department FOIA

      This cable reports on a meeting between ACDA Deputy Assistant Director Neidle and British Embassy Officer Pakenham to discuss the U.S. desire to begin bilateral discussions, which might be later extended to other allies, about the Sverdlovsk incident, in light of the unsatisfactory Soviet replies to the requests for more information.

      Document 15

      Document compiled by U.S Air Force from classified U.S. Air Force Records, “The Accidental Explosion at a Secret Biological Weapons Plant at Sverdlovsk,” Unclassified, n.d. (ca. 9/80) 3 pp.
      Source: USAF FOIA

      This document, pieced together by U.S. Air Force officials from currently classified USAF documents, provides a good summary of the known facts about the Sverdlovsk anthrax outbreak as of Fall 1980. Greater details are provided on the course of the anthrax outbreak, including symptoms, casualties, and the range of death estimates, going from the official total of 200 to unofficial estimates reacing as high as 2000. Details on the decontamination procedures are also summarized, including destruction of area wild life, pets and livestock, provision of antibioitics and vaccines, and treatment of corpses and topsoil with chloramine.

      Document 16

      DIA Intelligence Information Report, Urban Area Data on Sverdlovsk City (UR), Confidential NOFORN, 10/2/80, 5 pp.
      Source: DIA FOIA

      This DIA report from an on-site observor in Sverdlovsk indicates that the cover stories still circulating refer to a gas explosion killing 100 people occuring in or about April 1979, and that veneral disease and the so-called “Siberian Anthrax” were reportedly prevalent in the city. Of interest is a map with a key to major structures is included with the map.

      Document 17

      DIA Cable, Addressee and Signator Deleted, Subject: Sverdlovsk [deleted] Biological Accident, Confidential, 1/23/81, 3 pp.
      Source: DIA FOIA

      This cable provides further information on the anthrax outbreak in Sverdlovsk. According to this document, the outbreak began in the southern part of the city, the Chkaloskiy City district, and lasted until mid-summer 1979. According to rumors, the disease agent had originated in a military installation in the Chkalovskit District, which was still being used. Death had come quickly for those suffering from the symptoms, which included heart falire, respiratory failure, or diarrhea. The quarantine, vaccination and antibiotic treatment, and deconatamination efforts are also described, in terms similar to earlier documents.

      Document 18

      DIA Intelligence Information Report, Subject: Leningrad [Deleted] Civilian Health Care Organization (Excerpts), Confidential, 3/6/80. 2 pp.
      Source: DIA FOIA

      This excerpt, from a longer document reporting on the Leningrad Civilian Health Care Organization, refers, as part of a discussion of how the Soviet system reacted to serious health threats, to the serious outbreak in Sverklovsk two years ago which was rumored to have been caused by an accident in a bateriological warfare facility.

      Document 19

      DAMO [Department of the Army, Military Operations?] -NCC Report, Alleged Biological Warfare Agent Incident at Sverdlovsk, Classification deleted, 10/23/81, 1 p.
      Source: FOIA

      This document provides an updated summary of U.S. knowledge about the Sverklovsk anthrax outbreak and efforts to obtain further information from the Soviet government. Repeating some information from earlier summaries, this memorandum also estimates it would have taken the release of tens of kilograms of anthrax spores to explain the large number of deaths associated with the Sverdlovsk incident. Using the same hedging language, the document says that “compelling circumstantial evidence” indicates the Soviets had maintained an active biological warfare program at Sverdlovsk since at least 1972. It notes that the Biological and Chemical Warfare Working Group, Weapon and Space Systems Intelligence Committee had reviewed all the available evidence and had concluded there was a “high probability” that the Soviets still had some anthrax for biological warfare purposes and it was “possible” they still had an active biological warfare agent program at the Sverdlovsk facility.

      Document 20

      Memorandum, Legal Issues Associated with Formally Charging the Soviet Union with Violation of the BWC (as well as the Geneva Protocol of 1925 and Related Rules of Customary International Law, Secret, ca. 1982, 15 pp.
      Source: State Department FOIA

      This document sets out the legal issues surrounding any possible U.S. decision to accuse the USSR of violating the 1972 Convention prohibiting biological warfare. As it makes clear, the U.S. assessment of the Sverdlovsk incident and its possible roots in an illegal Soviet biological warfare program, is closely linked to the U.S. suspicions that Russia was using toxins in Afghanistan and Southeast Asia. These suspicions would play an increasingly important role as the Reagan administration took on a harder line against the Soviet Union. The document examines in detail such issues as what would constitute violations of the biological warfare convention, in terms of the Sverdlovsk and the Afghanistan/Southeast Asia cases, and the procedural aspects of bringing formal charges before the relevant world bodies.

      Document 21

      CIA Special National Intelligence Estimate, Use of Toxins and Other Lethan Chemicals in Southeast Asia and Afghanistan, Volume I – Key Judgments. Classification deleted, 2/2/82, 23 pp.
      Source: CIA FOIA

      This document presents the key findings of a CIA analysis of “all available evidence on chemical warfare activities in Laos, Kampuchea, Vietnam and Afghanistan” by the Soviet Union and its allies. It also includes a briefer assessment of the Soviet chemical-biological warfare program. The study concludes that the best hypothesis that fits all the evidence is that the Soviet Union developed trichothecene toxins that were then provided to the Law and Vietnamese forces and weaponized with Soviet aid in Laos, Vietnam and Kampuchea, where thousands of deaths have occurred since at least 1976. Regarding Afghanistan, the study concludes Soviet forcs have used lethal and casualty-producing agents on Mujahedin resistance forces and Afghan villages since the December 1979 invasion.

      Document 22

      DIA Cable, Addressee and Signator deleted, Subject: USSR/Sverdlovsk, Alleged Chemical Accident, Classification deleted, 2/17/82, 2 pp.
      Source: DIA FOIA

      This document reports on another personal account of the incident in Sverdlovsk, this time with respect to the explanation that a chemical factory had exploded. This account suggests there was no wide-spread restrictions placed on movement within the city following the incident, noting only certain specific restricted areas.

      Document 23

      DIA Cable, Addressee and Signator deleted, Subject: USSR/Biocehm Dept Tng [Training] for Bacteriological Researchers, Classification deleted, 4/3/82, 3 pp.
      Source: DIA FOIA

      This cable provides information on the Moscow Biochemical Department of Moscow Medical University, and reported links between some of its faculty and students with biological warfare activities in Sverdlovsk.

      Document 24

      DIA Cable, Addressee and Signator deleted, Subject: USSR/Sverdlovsk Resident Confirms 1979 Incident at Special Factory, Classification deleted, 4/25/82, 2 pp.
      Source: DIA FOIA

      This heavily redacted cable forwards details of another personal account of the accident in Sverdlovsk, which is characterized here as an incident in a special factory that had necessitated closing off part of the city.

      Document 25

      DIA Cable, Addressee and Signator deleted, Subject: Sverdlovsk [deleted], Classification deleted, 6/17/84, 2 pp.
      Source: DIA FOIA

      This cable provides new information on a possible biological research facility in Sverdlovsk and hearsay information on the 1979 “Siberian ulcer” (anthrax) outbreak. The information provided is further personal observations of the suspected biological warfare facility.

      Document 26

      DIA Report, Soviet Biological Warfare Threat, Unclassified, 1986, 36 pp.
      Source: DIA Public Release

      This publicly-release document, based on DIA intelligence estimates, was part of the Reagan administration’s campaign to underscore the threat posed by the Soviet biological warfare programs, and how this program violated the 1972 biological warfare convention as well as the 1925 Geneva Protocol (which are reproduced in this report). The key findings of the study, which are backed up by more detailed discussion, are that the Soviets had gone far beyond what is permitted by these treaties because:
      The size and scope of their efforts are not consistent with any reasonable standard of what could be justified on the basis of prophylactic, protective or peaceful purposes.

      The Soviets continue to evaluate the military ulitity of biological and toxin weapons

      The Soviets are rapidly incorporating biotechnological developments into their offensive BW program to improve agent utility on the tactical battlefield.

      Included in this report is a section devoted to the Sverdlovsk biological warfare facility and the events of 1979, which summarizes the U.S. case that the anthrax outbreak was the result of an accident at the facility. This report concludes that as much as 22 pounds (10 kilograms) of dry anthrax spores had been released during the accident.

      Document 27

      Department of State Cable No. 291907, Secretary of State to U.S. Mission, Geneva, Subject: Sverdlovsk – Visit to Washington of Professor Meselson, Secret, 9/17/86, 1 p.
      Source: State Department FOIA

      This cable reports on a meeting held between State Department, ACDA, Defense and CIA officers and Harvard biocehmistry Professor Matthew Meselson, at the latter’s request, to receive a briefing on Meselson’s discussions with Soviet Ministry of Health officials about the 1979 Sverdlovsk incident. Meselson was doubtful about the thoroughness of a 1980 U.S. study on the incident, but also felt the Soviets had not provided a satisfactory explanation, either. Still, he felt the Soviet story “seemed to hang together” and he wanted follow-up efforts to see if it is in fact true. To do this, Meselson was organizing a team of experts to return to Moscow for further talks. The State Department comment on this meeting was that Meselson had failed to pursue “tough questions” with the Soviets during his visit.

      Document 28

      CIA Directorate of Intelligence Report, Soviet Explanatino of Anthrax Accident in Sverdlovsk: The Deception Continues, Top Secret, 5/12/88, 9 pp.
      Source: CIA FOIA
      This heavily-redacted document summarizes the evolving Soviet explanation of the Sverdlovsk anthrax outbreak – the tainted meat hypothesis – and provides a critique of the Soviet “fabrication'” which, among other things, sought to explain the high number of reported male casualties by reference to the fact that the male head-of-household always got the largest portion of meat, and that they were more susceptible because of ulcers or gastritis resulting from alcohol consumption.

      Document 30

      DIA Cable, Addressee and Signator deleted, Subject: Unraveling the Sverdlovsk BW Disaster, Confidential, 8/30/90, 4 pp.
      Source: DIA FOIA

      This cable reports on the August 22, 1990 article in the Russian weekly paper, Literaturnaya Gazeta, that concludes that the April 1979 anthrax outbreak in Sverdlovsk was due to an accident at “Garrison 19,” a secret Soviet military biological warfare facility. The article also says that, based on local reports during the spring of 1990, the military is continuing to try to coverup this incident, and the paper calls for a legislative inquiry to get at the truth.

      Document 31

      CIA Intelligence Report, USSR: BW Accident Exposed, Classification deleted, 9/4/90, 1 p.
      Source: CIA FOIA Database

      This CIA document also summarizes the article in the Russian weekly Literaturnaya Gazeta that reports the 1979 anthrax epidemic at Sverdlovsk was caused by an accident at a secret military biological weapons facility, not by contaminated meat as claimed by the Soviets. The CIA report makes the case that Russian Republic President Boris Yeltsin’s long association with Sverdlovsk may force a new explanation of the outbreak, though the recent Soviet efforts to clean the Sverdlovsk BW facility may prevent any thorough investigation.

      Document 32

      Memorandum re Soviet Biological Weapons Programs, no classification, 9/17/92 (according to source), 10 pp.
      Source: State Department FOIA Database

      This unsigned document, found in State Department records and according to them dating from September 1992, summarizes information the author had been gathering for years from former Soviet citizens who had been involved with the Soviet biological warfare program since the 1970s. According to these accounts, the USSR in the early 1970s began to develop new biological warfare agents using genetic engineering techniques to enhance their weapons characteristics (such as by adding increased resistance to antibiotics); that at around the same time Moscow initiated a program to transfer biological weapons research to civilian institutions and to create new institutions to pursue this research; and that these facilities were organized under a special directorate called BIOPREPARAT, which had recently come under the Ministry of Health.

      • DXer said

        “Department of State Cable No. 291907, Secretary of State to U.S. Mission, Geneva, Subject: Sverdlovsk – Visit to Washington of Professor Meselson, Secret, 9/17/86, 1 p.
        Source: State Department FOIA

        This cable reports on a meeting held between State Department, ACDA, Defense and CIA officers and Harvard biocehmistry Professor Matthew Meselson, at the latter’s request, to receive a briefing on Meselson’s discussions with Soviet Ministry of Health officials about the 1979 Sverdlovsk incident. Meselson was doubtful about the thoroughness of a 1980 U.S. study on the incident, but also felt the Soviets had not provided a satisfactory explanation, either. Still, he felt the Soviet story “seemed to hang together” and he wanted follow-up efforts to see if it is in fact true. To do this, Meselson was organizing a team of experts to return to Moscow for further talks. The State Department comment on this meeting was that Meselson had failed to pursue “tough questions” with the Soviets during his visit.”

        In Amerithrax, the way to pursue “tough questions” on the whodunnit is to pursue the right under the Government in the Sunshine Act the contemporaneous documents being withheld that show what Dr. Ivins was doing in the lab in September and October 2001. Accomplished book authors such as Garrett, Guillemin and Willman are entitled to fee waivers.

        It is unacceptable that these authors and pundits do not place a priority on obtaining and reviewing the documentary evidence.

        But it is never too late for them to do so and I urge them to focus on obtaining the documentary evidence that will permit an accurate chronology of Dr. Ivins’ activities in September and October 2001. Those contemporaneous documents are currently being withheld. Once they are produced, we will be in a position to assess the evidence.

        • DXer said

          On the issue of the Silicon Signature, there is no reason to doubt the conclusion of the FBI WMD head (Dr. Majidi) that the forensics are consistent that the anthrax was grown in silicates.

          Nor is there any reason to overlook the potential probativeness of the signature.

          A “Red Team” of unnamed scientists recommended the FBI move on and ignore the Silicon Signature.

          Instead, the FBI should defer to the experts (e.g., government consulants Velsko and Weber) who say it needs to be further explored given its potential probativeness.

          The probativeness of the signature does not hinge on whether the silicates were outside the exosporium or absorbed in the coat (Sandia found and it is not disputed that they had been absorbed into the coat).

      • DXer said

        Plague Wars –

        Meselson had finally came around to the view long held by the intelligence community when he published his final findings on the case in November 1994 in the journal Science.(9) Meselson was prepared to conclude that the cause of death was airborne anthrax spores released from a military installation, He also concluded the size of the release was between a few milligrams and a gram, leaving open the possibility it was the result of defensive biological warfare research, a conclusion contested by U.S. intelligence analysts, who argued the release must have involved pounds of anthrax, based on prior studies into the dispersal of biological agents. As Dr. William C. Patrick, the veteran of over 30 years as a biological weapons researcher at Fort Detrick, Maryland and expert on anthrax dispersal noted later, he and other experts “hooted” when Meselson presented his release estimates.(10) The U.S. intelligence position was also supported by Ken Alibek, who said Compound 19 was involved in the “industrial” production of anthrax

  7. DXer said

    Professor Jeanne Guillemin, in her lucidly written AMERICAN ANTHRAX, due out September 13, writes:

    “At Battelle, forty-two employees had access to the RMR-1029 spores after they were sent there in the spring and summer of 2001. Twenty employees were identified as having the skills and equipment to prepare and dry the spores. The Bureau checked not only them but everyone else for alibis — administrators, scientists, technicians, and animal handlers. Battelle work hours were regular, limited to daytime hours, and efficiently recorded, with a buddy system in effect. From 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., no researcher was ever alone in the laboratory. During a unique phase of after-hours work (June 13 to 16, 2001), researchers worked in rotating pairs.

    On the key dates for the Princeton mailings, everyone in the Battelle group had an alibi; to be doubly sure, the FBI name-checked air travel records between Ohio and the East Coast. During the times the letters had been mailed, no one from Battelle with access to the spores had been remotely near Princeton.” (p. 214)

  8. DXer said

    USAMRIID has produced inventory of Ames samples taken from Building 1412 in 2003. So I have no idea why US Attorney Taylor spoke of Ames being exclusively in Building 1425.

    With respect to Ames received from Dr. Ivins in 2004, Professor Jeanne Guillemin, in her lucidly written book (available for sale September 13, 2011), writes:

    “”But were all the USAMRIID Ames samples accounted for? Apparently not, as just a few days before his FBIR submission, Ivins signaled to a colleague that five milliters of spores in a 50-milliter plastic tube had gone missing from inventory. Had it been autoclaved? “It will be more than embarrassing if I can’t account for it,” he wrote. Further FBI inquiries would show that these spores were not the only ones missing from Ivins’ inventory.” (at p. 195)

    Who was he writing about autoclaving materials before the person had left USAMRIID? Was he writing Pat Fellows, the scientist (and his chief accuser) who the former Zawahiri associate had thanked for providing technical assistance in connection with their work together involving virulent Ames at the USAMRIID B3? Did Pat socialize or other meet with Tarek when she would visit and stay in Lansing, Michigan?

  9. DXer said

    “Recently retired from the Army, Art Friedlander was hired as a civilian scientist to manage a project on an antibiotic-resistant anthrax strain — which a skilled enemy might invent to subvert American troop protection. Patricia Worsham, a longtime colleague in the Bacteriology Division, was under his supervision.

    The project was going smoothly until around 9 a.m. on April 8, 2002, when a microbiologist in Worsham’s lab (which was in Bacteriology’s Level 3 containment suite) took a large flask from a rotary shaker and noticed that hardened drips of media streaked its outside. The flask, which contained 250 milliliters of Ames anthrax culture and had been in the shaker for 72 hours, showed no signs of cracks or breakage. … Alerted to the problem, Worsham sent her to the institute dispensary for an anthrax booster shot and Cipro. Worsham then informed Friedlander about the accident… Friedlander signed the official record of potential anthrax exposure while Worsham went to the dispensary for her own supply of Cipro.” (p. 148)

    Worsham then tested her lab for contamination and found anthrax spore spillage — in Room 306 on the lab bench where the flask had been placed, on a centrifuge rotor in nearby Room 304, on the handle of the B-3 pass box (an air lock for transferring papers or small articles outside the lab) and on a pair of protective shoes left over from the previous year. She realized that most of the lab’s contamination could be explained by minor incidents, for example, when researchers with contaminated gloves inadvertently touched a surface. Worsham disinfected the area and then retested to make sure the lab was clean. … When Bruce Ivins heard about the lab accident a few days later, he advised Worsham to test for contamination in areas outside the B-3 suite — insinuating that a dangerous spore escape might have occurred. (p. 148)

    • DXer said

      “[On April 17, 2002], Ivins reported that all five of his samples showed B. anthracis-like colony morphologies on agar plates. The following day, while they waited for more conclusive PCR (polymerase chain reaction) results, Worsham did comparative surface swipes outside the B-3 suite, following Ivins’ recommendations where to test.” (p. 149)

      • DXer said

        Major General Martinez-Lopez at the time noted that USAMRIID had “no written policy that would have prevented Ivins from unauthorized environmental testing.” (p. 150)

        (Note: and thank goodness for the sake of his co-workers he did).

    • Anonymous said

      “When Bruce Ivins heard about the lab accident a few days later, he advised Worsham to test for contamination in areas outside the B-3 suite”

      Wait a minute – was this before or after the much-hyped “Bruce Ivins did suspicious cleaning on his own” story?

  10. DXer said

    “Since 9/11, the president had been taking Cipro, on the advice of a federal consultant on bioterrorism threats.” (p.27)

    Who was the federal consultant?

  11. DXer said

    “Loyal, dependable, and a family man, he was probably the last person anyone would think of as a terrorist. In the months before his suicide, his colleagues at the institute had witnessed the FBI legally close in on Ivins, who seemed to mentally disintegrate under the strain.” (p. 1)

  12. DXer said

    Laurie Garrett on Ira Flatow’s Science Friday.

  13. DXer said

    Does anyone find it ironic that the man in charge of the Sverdlosk cover-up for the Russians was Ken Alibek. Ken Alibek, the most highly-funded DARPA-funded Ames researcher, shared a suite with Ali Al-Timimi. Al-Timimi was coordinating with Anwar Awlaki. Ken co-invented the patent to grow concentrated anthrax in silicates. His co-inventor was the head threat assessment person for DIA Dr. Bailey, while working for DIA, was at Ft. Detrick for some years after serving as Deputy Commander. The FBI’s lead scientist Majidi says the forensics appear to point to anthrax being grown in silicates. I think Dr. Majidi is correct.

    The key advocate of the position that people should not pay attention to the Silicon Signature (and its probativeness) was Dr. Meselson.

    He coincidentally was also the chief proponent of the Alibek view that the deaths in Sverdlosk were not the result of a release from a military facility. He and Dr. Alibek made the argument together in a June 2002 NYT article relating to Amerithrax. At the time, Ken hadn’t even seen the AFIP data that was published, let alone the data that was later released on a FOIA appeal. I first told him about the AFIP report and he was very surprised.

    It’s not a conspiracy theory. It just a matter of the correct statement of the historical narrative. Professor Meselson was wrong on Sverdlosk for 10 years. So spare us the claims to have solved the mystery in 1992, when there had been consensus years earlier that Dr. Meselson disputed without adequate basis.

    No one minds differences of opinions — but a position that there has not been a forthright acknowledgement of biosecurity lapses borders on hypocritical sanctimony when Professor Guillemin simultaneously rewrites the Sverdlosk history while glossing over the potential major probativeness of the 10% silicates in the New York Post powder. It has nothing to do with a “coating” for the purpose of floatability. The issue raised relates to “microencapsulation” under a dual technology.

    It was Ken who first told me in 2003 that the FBI suspected Ali Al-Timimi when I called him. (He’s a great guy and very responsive to inquiries). To borrow his defense counsel’s phrase, Ali was an “anthrax weapons suspect” although the information is being tightly held.

    Ken wasn’t part of any conspiracy. He and his DARPA colleagues were just negligent in letting someone who was advocating the destruction of Western Civilization to share a suite with them and to have unfettered access to the largest microbiological repository. A leading FBI scientist, Jason Bannan, was the collection scientist at the bacteriology division of ATCC, which co-sponsored Al-Timimi’s program and shared building space with Alibek’s company (Hadron) at GMU.

    This is not a conspiracy theory. But if you don’t understand the significance of the conflicts of interest that dominated Amerithrax then you likely don’t have much experience in legal matters and matters relating to government employees. Even folks not part of any conspiracy can IMAGINE THE LIABILITY.

    In saying that Amerithrax represents a huge intelligence failure, it was the same intelligence failure that Dr. Meselson was guilty for the 10 years after Sverdlosk.

    The September 11th Sourcebooks

    National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 61
    Edited by Robert A. Wampler and Thomas S. Blanton
    November 15, 2001

    To help develop the case against the Soviets, the CIA asked Harvard biologist Matthew Meselson, a long-time proponent of a ban on biological weapons, to examine the evidence. After reviewing the intelligence reports, Meselson was skeptical of the emerging consensus that an accidental anthrax release was the cause of the deaths, pointing to the absence of any evidence for intestinal anthrax, which he felt cast doubt on the veracity of the intelligence sources, (mostly second-hand reports from Soviet doctors), and thus upon their expertise in assessing the origin and pathology of the Sverdlovsk deaths. Meselson’s doubts were increased by the account given by an American professor, fluent in Russian, who was living in Sverdlovsk at the time on a fellowship, who reported he had not seen anything extraordinary happen there in April 1979. (See Document No. 27 for a report on a meeting between Meselson and U.S. officials to discuss his views on the Soviet explanation of the accident and his doubts about the U.S. explanation.)


    Obtaining clear and definitive answers to these questions was hindered by the continued Soviet adherence to the tainted meat story and refusal to allow investigators to visit Sverdlovsk, which was off-limits to foreigners as a restricted military area. (See Documents Nos. 22-25 for examples of the type of information which continued to trickle in to U.S intelligence during the early 1980s about the accident.) Soviet scientists again presented this explanation along with examples of the autopsy data at scientific meetings in Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Cambridge in April 1988 arranged by Meselson, who gave his view that the tainted-meat explanation was “completely plausible and consistent” with current knowledge about anthrax. Also lending plausibility to the Soviet version was the fact that veterinarians had reported animal deaths from anthrax before doctors reported human fatalities at Sverdlovsk. Though Meselson agreed there was need for a thorough investigation of the U.S. accusations, Meselson testified before a Senate hearing in 1989 that the evidence supported the Soviet explanation, not an explosion at a Soviet biological weapons facility. U.S. intelligence for its part continued to find the Soviet “fabrications” about the accident unconvincing. (See Document No. 28)


    The Reagan administration for kept up the steady drumbeat of accusations, putting the Sverdlovsk anthrax outbreak within the larger picture of an alleged full-scale Soviet biological warfare effort, which continued to be a major concern for the subsequent Bush White House. (See Document Nos. 26 and 29) In retrospect, these allegations understated the problem, as U.S. intelligence and later the world found out from the Russian defector and former Deputy Director of the Soviet biological warfare operation Biopreparat named Kanatjan Alibekov, now known as Ken Alibek.(3) (See Document No. 32) New calls for a thorough investigation of the Sverdlovsk anthrax outbreak began to appear in Russia under Mikhail Gorbachev’s call for glasnost. Articles such as “Military Secret: Reasons for the Tragedy in Sverdlovsk Must be Investigated,” by Natalya Zenova in Literaturnaya Gazeta, and “The Secret of the ‘Sarcophagus’,” by Sergey Parfenov in Rodina, both published in 1990, began the drumbeat of public pressure upon Moscow to come clean about the accident.(4) (See Documents Nos. 30 and 31)

    The final breakthrough did not come until after the Soviet Union had ceased to exist at the end of 1991, and Boris Yeltsin came to power as the new head of the Russian government. Yeltsin had a personal connection to the Sverdlovsk issue, as he had been Communist Party chief in the region at the time of the anthrax outbreak, and he believed the KGB and military had lied to him about the true explanation. At a summit meeting with President George Bush in February 1992, Yeltsin told Bush that he agreed with U.S. accusations regarding Soviet violation of the 1972 biological weapons convention, that the Sverdlovsk incident was the result of an accident at a Soviet biological warfare installation, and promised to clean up this problem. In a May 27th interview, Yeltsin publicly revealed what he had told Bush in private:

    “We are still deceiving you, Mr. Bush. We promised to eliminate bacteriological weapons. But some of our experts did everything possible to prevent me from learning the truth. It was not easy, but I outfoxed them. I caught them red-handed. I found two test sites. They are inoculating tracts of land with anthrax, allowing wild animals to go there and observing them…”(5)

  14. DXer said

    I think if I see that quote about “grassy knoll” made by one more writer who hasn’t pressed for documents and evidence filling the gaps — or government official who hasn’t encouraged his agency to comply with FOIA — I’m going to puke.

  15. DXer said

    Professor Guillemin writes: “Michael’s findings convinced two major proponents of the silica coating theory — USAMRIID virologist Peter Jahrling and journalist Gary Matsumoto — to change…”

    ****** COMMENT ******

    Dr. Meselson, the Professor’s husband, privately went after Dr. Jahrling with a vengeance. That may have contributed to Dr. Jahrling’s change of heart at the time.

    But, JG, then maybe the belated release of the data relating to the percent silicates in New York Post resulted in a further change of heart.

    If writers do not rely on dated interviews, it becomes easy to get sloppy in the attribution of views. (David Willman did a great job, for the most part, in specifying the date of an interview — such as indicating the date of his interview of Paul Keim as March 19, 2009.)

    In any event, a virologist such as Dr. Jahrling who has never aerosolized anthrax is not the relevant expert. Neither are the Sandia experts (except as to the location of the Silicon/Silicate).

    The relevant experts are the aerosol scientists who have done controlled experiments that made anthrax or anthrax simulant — with silanizing solution and without… who then are able to judge the product using performance parameters.

    GAO needs to interview John Kiel of the Air Force who headed the Air Force lab and did controlled experiments on this precise issue if it wants to overcome this scientific speed bump on the way to learning.

    Then GAO can consider the reason for Doug Beecher’s resistance to the learning.

    Scientists and science writers have to show the same attention to an expert’s qualifications as would a federal district court judge.

    To take an example: The government once relied upon on an engineer to testify that the owner of a nuclear plant had not acted with due diligence in restarting the plant. When on cross-examination it was established the engineer had never set foot through the gates of a nuclear plant, his testimony was stricken from the record. The judge chastised government counsel for not calling an expert with the relevant expertise.

    Here, experts who have not made aerosolized anthrax or an anthrax simulant with or without silanizing solution, IMO are not qualified experts.

    You don’t rely on the fellow who says it would take a year (with a staff) to make the stuff — you call on the person who made the stuff last month (with and without a silanizing solution in the slurry). And who has the related data to share with the GAO.

    That expert testimony would explain that the FBI lead scientist is correct that the Silicon Signature may have grown the anthrax in silicates.

    If weaponization is defined artificially to refer only to floatability — rather than resistance to sunlight and heat — then in the DOJ’s Alice-in-Wonderland world, it is not “weaponized.”

    Weaponization can result in what is a dual purpose technology.

    For example, microencapsulation is used to protect drugs from destruction by enzymes before reaching the target organ, such as in the making of animal feedstuffs.

    As you read it, study in AMERICAN ANTHRAX how the use of the word “coating” is used to obscure the issue rather than illuminate. The key inquiry has always been the probativeness of the Silicon Signature.

    Ayman Zawahiri was reading about microencapsulation for this purpose in Michael Osterholm’s 2000 book and was reading literature on growing anthrax in silicates.

    Respectfully, Dr. Meselson was wrong on Sverdlosk for 10 years. And now claims credit for solving the mystery. That’s silly.

    It wasn’t a mystery to most intelligence analysts and medical pathologists in 1981. Why would the witness pointed out to Dr. Meselson by the Soviet official on that airplane overcome the scientific evidence already existing in 1981? Why was Dr. Meselson still arguing in 1989 that the evidence did not point to a release from a military establishment? To err is human. But, as Professor Guillemin argues in her book, it is important for there to be a forthright acknowledgement of lapses.

    Why didn’t Professor Guillemin cite Dr. Weber and Dr. Velsko’s view that the Silicon Signature needs to be explained and understood — and that science could accomplish that.

    Dr. Weber/Dr. Velsko, both government consultants, have the scientifically sound view on the issue of Silicon Signature. And their proposed research may very well go to prove what Dr. Majidi has said — that the silicates were in the culture medium.

    • DXer said

      Dr. Kiel could be asked if the “Microdroplet Cell Culture” method invented by the DARPA researchers (one of whom was head of DIA threat assessment) was a microencapsulation patent. I believe he will say that it is. It involved growing anthrax in silicates.

      That patent was filed in March 2001.

      Dr. Ali Al-Timimi shared a mailbox and fax with the inventors of the patent, two leading Ames researchers. (One of whom, the fellow who led the Sverdlosk deception, Ken Alibek, abruptly left the country). A computer expert, Dr. Al-Timimi earned $70,000 a year coordinating bioinformatics research. Anwar Awlaki was coordinating with Dr. Al-Timimi. Shaikh Awlaki would like to destroy the United States (as did Ali apparently according to an email).

      Professor Guillemin writes:

      “Michael’s findings convinced two major proponents of the silica coating theory — USAMRIID virologist Peter Jahrling and journalist Gary Matsumoto — to change…”

      Dr. Meselson, the Professor G’s husband, privately went after Dr. Jahrling with a vengeance. That may have contributed to Dr. Jahrling’s change of heart at the time.

      But note that then maybe the belated release of the data relating to the percent silicates in New York Post resulted in a further change of heart.

      In any event, a virologist such as Dr. Jahrling who has never aerosolized anthrax is not the relevant expert. Neither are the Sandia experts (except as to the location of the Silicon/Silicate).

      The relevant experts are the aerosol scientists who have done controlled experiments that made anthrax or anthrax simulant — with silanizing solution and without… who then are able to judge the product using performance parameters.

      GAO needs to interview John Kiel of the Air Force who headed the Air Force lab and did controlled experiments on this precise issue if it wants to overcome this scientific speed bump on the way to learning.

      Scientists and science writers have to show the same attention to an expert’s qualifications as would a federal district court judge.

      To take an example: The government once relied upon on an engineer to testify that the owner of a nuclear plant had not acted with due diligence in restarting the plant. When on cross-examination it was established the engineer had never set foot through the gates of a nuclear plant, his testimony was stricken from the record. The judge chastised government counsel for not calling an expert with the relevant expertise.

      Here, experts who have not made aerosolized anthrax or an anthrax simulant with or without silanizing solution, IMO are not qualified experts.

      You don’t rely on the fellow who says it would take a year (with a staff) to make the stuff (RS) — you call on the person who made the stuff last month (with and without a silanizing solution in the slurry). And who has the related data to share with the GAO.

      That expert testimony would explain that the FBI lead scientist is correct that the Silicon Signature may have grown the anthrax in silicates.

      If weaponization is defined artificially to refer only to floatability — rather than resistance to sunlight and heat — then in the DOJ’s Alice-in-Wonderland world, it is not “weaponized.”

      Importantly, weaponization can result in what is a dual purpose technology. For example, microencapsulation is used to protect drugs from destruction by enzymes before reaching the target organ, such as in the making of animal feedstuffs.

      As you read it, study in AMERICAN ANTHRAX how the use of the word “coating” is used to obscure the issue rather than illuminate. The key inquiry has always been the probativeness of the Silicon Signature.

      Ayman Zawahiri was reading about microencapsulation for this purpose in Michael Osterholm’s 2000 book (discussing what the Soviets were doing) and was reading literature on growing anthrax in silicates.

      Respectfully, Dr. Meselson was (inexplicably) wrong on Sverdlosk for 10 years. And now claims credit for solving the mystery. That’s silly.

      It wasn’t a mystery to most intelligence analysts and medical pathologists in 1981. Why would the witness pointed out to Dr. Meselson by the Soviet official on that airplane suffice to overcome the scientific evidence already existing in 1981? Why was Dr. Meselson still arguing in 1989 that the evidence did not point to a release from a military establishment? To err is human, to be sure. But, as Professor Guillemin argues in her book, it is important for there to be a forthright acknowledgement of lapses. … to make sure that they do not continue to occur.

      Why didn’t Professor Guillemin cite Dr. Weber and Dr. Velsko’s view that the Silicon Signature needs to be explained and understood — and that science could accomplish that. Dr. Weber/Dr. Velsko, both government consultants, have the scientifically sound view on the issue of Silicon Signature. And their proposed research may very well go to prove what Dr. Majidi has said — that the silicates were in the culture medium.

      Professor G doesn’t even cite Dr. Ayman Zawahiri or his announced plans to use anthrax against the US. If Russians had publicly announced that they planned to develop anthrax as a weapon as Sverdlosk, wouldn’t that have informed discussion of the resulting deaths?

      Turning to the news of this past week about Al Qaeda and ricin, blogger Dick Destiny (George Smith) says that suggestions about Al Qaeda seeking to develop a ricin bomb are rubbish because the ricin would be destroyed by the heat of the explosion. He has a PhD in protein chemistry and has previously served as an expert witness for an Al Qaeda ricin defendant.

      (I personally don’t think there is evidence pointing to development of a bomb — just think the evidence points to the attempt to develop ricin as a weapon in some form; the press articles and broadcast reporters are going beyond what the authors in their book COUNTERSTRIKE actually write).

      But to not understand the possible level of Al Qaeda’s planning is too fall short of the analysis needed as we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Dr. Ayman Zawahiri was reading about microencapsulation and silicates (see his reading list published in Science by JB Petro and a co-author).

      Only academics can afford to be wrong on a critical issue for 10 years and then view the “whodunnit” as a distraction to the issue of biosecurity.

      While I myself favor Dr. Richard Ebright’s view on proliferation issues — and think the proliferation of labs has only served to make the world less safe — scientists and journalists need to embrace the importance of documents and press on to obtain reliable evidence on the “whodunnit.” Most of all, the GAO needs to do that.

  16. DXer said

    Professor Guellemin writes: “Attorney General Ashcroft and the FBI’s Mueller were determined to bring down “the wall” between policing and intelligence, even as it existed between Bureau divisions….”

    ****** COMMENT ******

    As the lead investigator Lambert explained, it was FBI Mueller who erected the walls within the Amerithrax Task Force, compartmentalizing the squads.

    Agent Lambert expressed concern at deposition that it would prevent agents from “connecting the dots.” He wrote a formal memo to the Director expressing his objection.

  17. DXer said

    Professor Guillemin writes in AMERICAN ANTHRAX: “On August 6, FBI Director Mueller gave a closed briefing on Amerithrax for the widows and survivors of the anthrax letters attacks — describing Ivins’ mental instability…”

    ****** COMMENT ******

    Who briefed the FBI Director and told him he could rely on the first counselor as a credible witness? Told him that her notes could serve as evidence of the events in July 2000? Who arranged in August 2001 for the interview that week with the Washington Post reporters who have never corrected their August report?

  18. Anonymous said

    The author in her new book re-tells the Sverdlovsk story as if herself and her husband, Matthew Meselson, knew within days of their visit to Sverdlovsk that a plume of anthrax aerosol has been released. This is revisionist version of the reality – which is outlined below in detail:

    Excerpts from “Plague Wars” Tom Mangold and Jeff Goldberg.

    CHAPTER NINE Incident at Sverdlovsk

    Page 76:

    The Soviets now went to extraordinary lengths to buttress their lies and make them supportable and credible worldwide. What had begun as a local cover-up in Sverdlovsk, now became an international fairy tale, a fiction of breathtaking audacity.

    Page 77:

    Throughout the rest of the 1980s, Matthew Meselson, a respected Harvard professor of microbiology and longtime arms control activist, unwittingly helped the Soviet caravan of deception and disinformation gain acceptance in the West.
    Meselson emerged as the leading scientific expert to oppose his own government’s interpretation of Sverdlovsk in favour of the Soviets’ old tainted-meat cover-up. He defended the Soviets’ case publicly and doubtless from the most honest of beliefs. President Reagan was now in the White House and, no matter how forcefully his administration complained about Sverdlovsk, Meselson remained utterly convinced that there had been an accident with bad meat and it had nothing to do with any secret biological weapons plant.
    With his well-deserved and impressive academic/scientific credentials, his views were usually sought and carefully listened to. He also became an important figure for the US media to consult. His opinions about Sverdlovsk were widely quoted in the serious press, books, and prestigious scientific journals. The record shows that after 1980 his publicly stated views on Sverdlovsk broadly agreed with the explanations issued by the Soviets themselves.

    Page 81:

    But the guilty involvement reached even higher. Next, it emerged that Boris Yelstin himself also must have known about the cover-up. In May 1992, Yeltsin’s new Russian government formally acknowledged what was now well known, but still had no official imprimatur. The man who had been the powerful communist party chief of the Sverdlovsk region in 1979 was none other than President Boris Yeltsin. He now admitted that the outbreak had been caused by an accident at the biological weapons facility, and not by natural causes. This presumably correct version became the official position of the Russian government, and remains so to this day.
    Meselson, however, remained unfazed. In the face of Yeltsin’s admission and the Russian and US press disclosures, the professor assembled a team of expert American scientists and went with them to Sverdlovsk in June 1992 to see for himself. They interviewed two outstanding Sverdlovsk doctors Faina Abramova and Lev Grinberg who participated in the 1979 autopsies at Hospital 40. For thirteen years, these brave pathologists had secretly hidden incontrovertible medial evidence from the KGB including preserved tissue samples, slides, and autopsy reports which proved that the victims had died from breathing in the anthrax.
    Meselson later claimed that he and his team had made the discovery of the new truth from these important witnesses, but again, the facts were against him. The two Russian doctors had previously spoken to Soviet reporters and the Wall Street Journal, so Meselson was simply taking credit for being the final arbiter who had authenticated the evidence.
    After making a second trip to Sverdlovsk, Mesleson finally published his results in 1994 in the journal Science; the article accepted that the tainted-meat story was bogus. But, perversely, he still would not admit that the US government had been right for fifteen years, or that he had been wrong. Rather, he trumpeted the fact that he anf his team had finally uncovered the “defenitive proof” that the true cause of the outbreak was pulmonary anthrax.
    “This should end the argument about where the outbreak came from,” Meselson somewhat pompously told the New York Times “Right up until now, people have still been debating the matter.”
    Yet, to the bitter end, Meselson still clung to a benign interpretation of Soviet motives. He noted that the cause of the accident was still not determined, which implied that it may have involved only a Soviet research centre, one for finding an antidote to an anthrax attack, and not a military production centre for biological weapons. By clinging to this position, he could still argue that the Soviets were not violating the BWC, but were conducting permissable research under the treaty.

    • DXer said

      I haven’t read the Professor’s book on Sverdlosk and so cannot speak to the details of the chronology of their thinking on the subject. Certainly most in the Intelligence Community and the group formed a year after the event were working on the alternative hypothesis that posited a release from a military facility. Yet, in the early 1980s and as last as 1989, Professor Meselson was testifying before Congress and taking the position that it was NOT a release from a Soviet facility. Early on, as a consultant to the investigation, he urged that view. Years ago I posted notes from a meeting involving DIA and CIA folks where after he left the room, they expressed dismay that he was so ready to believe the Soviet explanation. (The memo reporting the meeting was at some DC national security center searchable online).

      As his evidence that it was not a release from a militlary facility, his reliance on one American witness — who he was led to by a Soviet official — seems to have been an especially slim reed on which to lean. A soviet official sitting with him on the plane ride back pointed out that an American physics professor had been living in the city that year. The physics professor, when contacted, said he had not noticed anything unusual in July and in fact once had driven past the facility while driving his kid to summer camp.

      Cover-ups seldom draw attention to themselves by orange tape. They operate subtly — for example, by steering gullible innocents to information intended to mislead.

      • DXer said

        This New York Times article from 1981 discusses Professor Meselson’s reliance on the witness I mentioned. That’s not science at all.

        The New York Times

        November 29, 1981, Sunday, Late City Final Edition


        SECTION: Section 6; Page 31, Column 1; Magazine Desk

        Leslie H. Gelb is The Times’s national security correspondent, based in the Washington bureau.

        By Leslie H. Gelb

        Dozens of times each year, the American satellite passed overhead, its amazing, high-resolution lenses capturing great swaths of the Ural Mountains on film. Dozens of times over the years, the American intelligence experts who studied these films focused their attention on the city of Sverdlovsk and, in particular, on a closely guarded building within Military Compound 19 on the city’s southern rim. The physical details of the structure, including the presence of special venting outlets and of animal pens, led the experts to suspect that it was a factory for the production of biological weapons – a violation of the biological-weapons convention signed by the Soviet Union, the United States and more than 100 other nations in 1972.

        On or about April 2, 1979, an epidemic of deadly anthrax struck Sverdlovsk. Rumors about the event began appearing in the foreign press, connecting the epidemic to an accident at the building in Compound 19. But it was almost a year before the United States realized that something politically significant had happened in Sverdlovsk and mobilized its vast intelligence and scientific apparatus for a full study. Information was smuggled out and emigres were questioned; some of the nation’s leading scientific authorities were consulted. American and Soviet officials engaged in bitter recriminations, public and private. Yet even today, in spite of the uproar and the all-out investigative efforts, the facts remain unclear. Estimates of fatalities during the six-week course of the epidemic range from 20 to 1,000. Respected scientists differ sharply as to the meaning of the medical evidence.
        It is just this way with so many arms-control agreements: a suspicious event, accusations, Soviet stonewalling, uncertainty – charges of treaty violation that can be neither proved nor disproved. They hang like a poison cloud over United States-Soviet relations and over any prospects for arms control.

        The events at Sverdlovsk and their aftermath, as pieced together from dozens of interviews with present and former Government officials, have all the elements of an international spy novel, including secret intelligence operations, bureaucratic fumbling, a crushing piece of evidence along the lines of the dog who didn’t bark (a la Sherlock Holmes) and a surprise witness (or nonwitness) – an American in Sverdlovsk. However, the story has an unhappy, even threatening, ending.

        Arms-control agreements depend essentially upon the use of technical means outside a country’s own territory – spy satellites, radar sensors and listening posts, for example – to ferret out evidence of cheating by that country. Most governments want no foreigners snooping about in search of treaty violations, real or imagined. And for some kinds of agreements, such as limits on strategic arms, that remote kind of checkup is generally regarded as sufficient. In others, though, technical means are not enough; the necessary confidence may require much more demanding means of verification, such as on-site inspection. The issue has been raised most dramatically in recent charges by the Reagan Administration that chemical weapons produced by the Soviet Union have been used in fighting in Afghanistan and Indochina.

        An important series of arms-control negotiations is now under way. They include those just beginning in Geneva on limiting medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe and others that look to the destruction of chemical-weapons stockpiles and the banning of nuclear explosions. But the events at Sverdlovsk and other possible instances of Soviet noncompliance raise tough questions for those who seek peace through arms control. Do the technical means of verification enable the United States and other nations to monitor weapons treaties effectively? If not, what other means of verification can be reasonably sought -particularly for nonconventional weapons, such as biological and chemical agents and nuclear devices? How will the Soviet Union respond to the very demanding stance the Reagan Administration has said it would take on the verification issue?

        Representative Les Aspin, Democrat of Wisconsin and former head of the House Subcommittee on Intelligence Oversight, is a longtime supporter of weapons agreements with Moscow. He warns: ”The future of arms control hangs in the balance until we get a full, accurate account of what happened in Sverdlovsk.”

        Sverdlovsk, with a population of 1.2 million people, is the principal city of the Urals industrial region. The city fills a valley some 850 miles east of Moscow.

        The building in the military compound in Sverdlovsk had attracted the attention of the United States intelligence community because of certain characteristics that showed up on satellite photographs: the venting system and animal pens, the smokestacks, the refrigeration facilities and the nearby revetments that might hold artillery shells. The security arrangements were very tight, with sentries guarding the few paths leading through double barbed-wire fences. It had all the earmarks of a germ-warfare factory. In fact, it looked just like Fort Detrick, Md., a former development center for biological weapons. And there were about a dozen similar buildings sprinkled throughout Soviet territory that had attracted similar American suspicions.

        Yet, some American observers had their doubts. Would the Russians actually put a biological-warfare facility in so highly populated an area? And would they still be bothering with germ warfare? The United States gave up its biological-weapons program unilaterally in the early 1970’s. Most experts today see the weapons as militarily useless.

        Germs have virtually never been used on a battlefield because, once released, they fly anywhere the wind blows them, toward friend or enemy. If one of the hardy varieties used in weapons-testing boomerangs, it can be a disaster, because these germs maintain their lethal qualities over great distances and lengths of time. Sections of an island in Scotland where the British did some biologicalwarfare testing in World War II are unlivable to this day.

        The 1972 biological-weapons treaty forbade the development, production and stockpiling of toxic weapons. But even if the building in Sverdlovsk was producing germs, that would not necessarily be a violation of the treaty, which banned only germ production ”of types and in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes.” For example, germs could be produced for vaccines to be used in the event of a germ-warfare attack.

        As far as can be determined, the April 1979 outbreak of anthrax in Sverdlovsk attracted no particular attention in the United States intelligence community. But in July of that year, when rumors about an anthrax episode – variously said to be located in Sverdlovsk or in Novosibirsk, Siberia – began to circulate, one Administration official started collecting information and newspaper clippings. He is said to have mentioned his suspicions to some colleagues, but nothing came of it.

        Anthrax is primarily a disease of animals, caused by a bacillus that under certain conditions forms tough, virulent spores. It has taken its toll of human life, particularly during the 18th and 19th centuries, when it spread across southern Europe. In modern times, the Soviet Union has had more experience with anthrax than any other industrialized nation.

        The disease, in man, takes three basic forms. In 95 percent of known cases, the anthrax bacilli enter the body through the skin, because of contact with infected animals. This form, which shows up usually as a carbuncle, is seldom lethal. The eating of infected meat can produce the intestinal form of the disease, which is sometimes – though not usually – fatal. By far the deadliest, and the rarest, is pulmonary anthrax, caused by the inhalation of dust from animal skins. When the bacilli enter the respiratory tract, death is rapid.

        In the short history of biological weaponry, anthrax has been the germ of choice, in the United States and elsewhere – largely because of its deadliness and durability.

        On Oct. 26, a sensationalist, London-based magazine called NOW carried this headline: ”The Great Russian Germ War Disaster.” The accompanying article, written by the ”magazine’s resident expert on Communist affairs,” was said to be based on the report of ”a traveler who was in the city at the time.”

        The essence of the article: An accident at a bacteriologicalweapons factory had left thousands hospitalized, hundreds dead. Bodies were being returned to families in sealed coffins, presumably so that the relatives could not see the effects of the disease on the dead person. Travel to the city was banned. The accident was set in June, however, not April, and the site was identified as the southern outskirts of Novosibirsk.

        Similar accounts appeared in Possev, a Russian-language paper run by Russian emigres in Frankfurt, and in Bild Zeitung, the Hamburg tabloid owned by the publishing tycoon Axel Springer. Articles came out later in The Daily Telegraph of London and The Foreign Report of The Economist. These journals are often examined to see what rumors are emanating from the Russian emigre community and what information is being leaked by ”Western intelligence sources,” as they are called in the articles. Much of what appears in these columns is gossip – but not all of it.

        With its January edition, Possev corrected its earlier articles as to the time and locale of the incident. The accident was now described as an explosion. Other details: The first fatalities were said to have reached hospitals in Sverdlovsk on April 4. All patients died within three hours of arrival; their temperatures were said to exceed 42 degrees centigrade, the equivalent of 107.6 degrees Fahrenheit. According to the article, a special hospital was set up, and military personnel replaced civilian workers. Empty coffins were buried. Public meetings were called to calm the population. People in the area of the explosion were vaccinated twice. The village of Kashino, southeast of the city line, had been particularly hard-hit, and in May, the top layer of soil was paved over to cover the infected area. No cases were noted among animals. Between 30 and 40 people died each day, the article said, with the death total estimated at 1,000.

        Early in February 1980, the C.I.A. heard detailed testimony from a secondhand witness whom the C.I.A. characterizes as eminently credible; his identity is not revealed here in order to protect his safety. This man, who is also believed by intelligence officials to have been Possev’s source, now added a clinical detail: The victims in Sverdlovsk were said to have had trouble breathing, an indication that they had been struck by pulmonary anthrax.

        This report finally galvanized the Administration. One of its first steps was to ask the Russians for an explanation. The usual procedure in such cases is to inform the Russians privately of the Administration’s concern. The prevailing judgment of the Government’s Soviet-affairs specialists has been that the only chance of gaining Soviet cooperation in such situations is to avoid a public confrontation. But the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan had taken place, and the White House and some intelligence officials favored a different approach to the Sverdlovsk issue as part of the Administration’s calculated response to the invasion. Thus, a private message was passed to the Russians in mid-March, but before Moscow could possibly answer, certain Administration officials took it upon themselves to leak these suspicions to the public. An article about the epidemic in Bild Zeitung was read on a West German radio station and then reprinted in a C.I.A. publication dedicated to picking up foreign radio broadcasts and read by many American journalists.

        On March 18, the State Department officially confirmed that there had been ”disturbing indications” that ”a lethal biological agent” might have struck Sverdlovsk a year before and that this had raised questions ”about whether such material was present in quantities consistent with the ban.”

        Moscow issued angry denials, privately and publicly. The Soviet leadership insisted that the epidemic at Sverdlosk had been caused by consumption of tainted meat, that the deaths had been the result of intestinal anthrax. Under the biological-weapons convention, the parties are expected ”to consult one another and to cooperate in solving any problems of compliance.” Moscow used the fact that Washington had made the accusations public before the private Soviet response had been given as an excuse not to cooperate in an investigation.

        It was almost a year after the incident at Sverdlosk before the United States finally set about a serious investigation. A group was established with representation from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Security Council, the State Department and other agencies. Several outside experts were also called in, including Dr. Philip Brachman of the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, the leading American expert on anthrax; Joshua Lederberg, president of Rockefeller University and winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, and Paul Doty, a professor of biochemistry at Harvard University. Dr. Matthew Meselson, another Harvard biochemist, served as an independent consultant.

        The group’s first move was to find out what had been discovered by spy satellites and other means back in the spring of 1979, when the incident occurred. They found a significant amount of information, the importance of which had been overlooked at the time. For all the expertise assembled, it soon became clear that it would not be easy to determine the truth.

        The working group’s first hypothesis was that there had been a problem at a facility producing anthrax vaccine. The Russians do give between one million and two million anthrax innoculations each year; more than one factory might be needed to provide that quantity of vaccine. But the working group also had substantial evidence that the Russians used only an avirulent strain for their vaccinations – a strain that could not have caused the epidemic that occurred.

        The group’s second hypothesis was that the outbreak had been produced by a single explosion involving virulent, airborne anthrax spores. Critical to any such scenario was the testimony of the key secondhand witness, which has been backed up just this fall by new testimony from other secondhand witnesses highly regarded by the C.I.A. In an interview, Dr. Brachman said that the clinical evidence provided by the secondhand witness was ”probably consistent only with inhalation anthrax” – very high fever, suddenness of the onset of the disease, trouble breathing, the large number of cases and, in particular, the high mortality rate. The symptoms of intestinal anthrax, he said, were quite different, and that version of the disease is usually not lethal. He did cite one form of it in which lymph nodes are infected and there is trouble with breathing, further complicating the problem of distinguishing between pulmonary and intestinal anthrax.

        Placing all responsibility for the outbreak on pulmonary anthrax, however, was no answer. A single, deadly cloud, the group concluded, could have wreaked havoc in the first day or so, but it would thereafter have dispersed; a thin layer of spores would have settled over a wide area. That could not result in the concentration of spores in any one place that would be necessary to produce a continuing flow of pulmonary anthrax cases over a six-week period.

        What could the continuous source of lethal anthrax be? The possibility that anthrax spores were leaking over a six-week period from the military facility was explored but discarded, on the assumption that such a leak would have soon been discovered. The Russians were claiming that all of the anthrax deaths had been caused by contaminated meat being sold on the black market; that possibility was considered by the members of the group but discarded. They could find no historical precedent for an outbreak of intestinal anthrax causing so many deaths over a period of several weeks.

        As time went by, the members of the group became somewhat uncertain about diagnostic distinctions between intestinal and pulmonary anthrax. Thus the group came to concentrate more and more on one fact: the unprecedented numbers of people who had been struck down in that brief time.

        The judgment of the working group -the explanation the C.I.A. still sticks with – has two chapters. Initially, it holds, there was an explosion at the factory in Sverdlovsk, causing a sudden huge release of virulent spores being used for the development of biological weapons. The quantity released was large enough to cause a number of deaths from pulmonary anthrax. After the explosion and the initial wave of pulmonary anthrax cases, the C.I.A. believes, the long-lived spores settled to the ground, where they were eaten by cattle, and the meat from these infected animals was sold on the black market. Then, theoretically, there was a second wave of anthrax – of the intestinal variety – filling out the six weeks.

        There is one important fact that this theory has never been able to resolve: None of the witnesses reported even a single case of intestinal anthrax.

        Other, nonmedical factors contributed to the working group’s conclusion. One was the arrival in Sverdlovsk, shortly after the anthrax outbreak, of Soviet Defense Minister Dmitri Ustinov. The trip was not on his usual itinerary.

        Another factor was Moscow’s private denial that it had imposed a quarantine in the Sverdlovsk area. Material obtained by the C.I.A. offers convincing evidence that there had actually been some form of quarantine.

        For some members of the group, the clincher was a satellite photograph of a building in Military Compound 19 one year after the anthrax epidemic. The structure had been virtually abandoned. There were no animals in the pens. The snow had not been shoveled. As in the Sherlock Holmes tale, the indirect piece of evidence, the absence of the expected, was damning: The dog had not barked.

        The most complete discussion of the Russian version of the incident in Sverdlovsk – that the outbreak had been caused entirely by tainted meat – appeared last May in a Soviet magazine, The Journal of Microbiology, Immunology and Epidemiology. To read it is to gain a new understanding of the difficulties of sorting out the evidence available in such suspected arms-treaty violations.

        The article argued, for example, that there was nothing extraordinary about an epidemic of anthrax in the Sverdlovsk area; the disease had long been endemic there, probably because of the soil characteristics. The article also claimed that there was a large quantity of black-market meat to be found in Sverdlovsk at the time of the epidemic, and information available to the C.I.A. tended to confirm this.

        The Soviet journal dealt with several points that are central to the main arguments offered by the C.I.A. Diagnosis. American experts say that the symptoms of pulmonary and intestinal anthrax are quite distinct, with little overlapping. The journal article stated that laboratory testing is the only conclusive method of diagnosing the difference, and that position receives support from a British authority, A.B. Christie, in his standard text, ”Infectious Diseases: Epidemiology and Clinical Practice.” On the intestinal form, he writes: ”There may be no gastrointestinal symptoms, but only a state of severe shock.” Temperatures are extremely high in both varieties. And to the extent that there are reliable case studies on anthrax, the article claimed, they do show that the symptoms are about the same for both.

        Numbers. The C.I.A. received estimates of anthrax-caused fatalities in Sverdlovsk that ranged from 20 to 1,000. While the working group had no hard evidence, some members thought that between 40 and 100 had died, while others put the toll in the hundreds. The Russian journal article spoke only of ”a number of victims.” The article cited an incident in 1927 in which 27 people had been infected and all had died. This case is also cited in Soviet journals that predate the Sverdlovsk incident. But for the first time in any Soviet publication, a case was cited in which as many as 40 people had died.

        The discrepancy between the Soviet and American numbers seems impossible to reconcile, yet it should be recalled that when the socalled Legionnaires’ disease struck in the United States, several years ago, the dozen or so deaths were spoken of as being of epidemic proportions. A few people stricken by plague go a long way.

        Lethality. The American working group essentially accepted Dr. Brachman’s view that only pulmonary anthrax could have killed nearly every person who contracted it. Dr. Christie’s book supports that view with an example of a 1972 outbreak of intestinal anthrax in Spain in which there were only three deaths among 33 patients. Yet Soviet scientific writings that predate the Sverdlovsk incident almost universally state that the two kinds of anthrax can be equally lethal.

        Other factors turned up that tended to support the Soviet version of the outbreak – and to contradict some of the emigre reports on which the C.I.A. relied. Satellite photos showed no significant evidence that streets had been newly paved to cover over spores in the village of Kashino or anywhere else. And though a ceramic factory across the street from the suspected germ-warfare facility in Compound 19 closed down temporarily after the incident, the meat factory next door continued to function.

        One of the most surprising developments in the case occurred in February of this year, when another piece of negative evidence, another nonbarking dog, cropped up that seemed to favor the Soviet view. On a plane ride from Washington to Boston in February 1981, a Soviet official chatted with Harvard’s Mathew Meselson, a consultant to the working group. As Mr. Meselson recalled it, the Russian said to him at one point: ”You know, of course, that there were an American and his family living in Sverdlovsk at the time of the incident.” In fact, neither Mr. Meselson nor the C.I.A. nor any arm of the United States Government was apparently aware that the Americans had stayed in the city, which had been effectively closed to foreigners for some years. The last known American visitor had been the U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers, who spent a few days there in 1960 on his way to trial in Moscow.

        It turned out that Donald E. Ellis, a professor of physics and chemistry at Northwestern University, and his wife and their two small children had gone to Sverdlovsk on an exchange program. He worked daily with Russian scientists, and the family shopped in the stores and lived among the people, spending the months of April and June there, with a month between at Novosibirsk.

        Mr. Ellis said in an interview that he had noticed nothing untoward during his stay. ”I don’t exclude the possibility that something may have occurred,” he said. ”But I think either I or my wife would have sensed some effort to protect us from it. We moved freely and were not aware of any restrictions on us.” In fact, he added, ”we passed very close to the place, the facility,” where the incident supposedly occurred, ”in July on the way to a children’s camp.”

        Mr. Meselson sees the Ellis testimony as critically important. ”One of the few important certainties in this murky business,” the biochemist said, ”is that the Soviet authorities permitted Professor Ellis and his family to enter and, most remarkably, to re-enter the city. Although not conclusive, this does not readily fit in with the picture of an attempted Soviet cover-up of a biological-warfare accident.”

        It is clear that, wherever the actual truth may lie, neither the working group’s hypothesis nor the Soviet version of what happened at Sverdlovsk stands up to all the known facts; both theories have gaping holes.

        One of the unsolved mysteries of Sverdlovsk was the failure of the Soviet Union to take advantage of a chance to defuse the uproar. At any point, they could have conceded that the epidemic had begun with an explosion of anthrax spores – and maintained that it was part of a peaceful and defensive research program of the sort allowed by the Biological Weapons Convention.

        Exactly why the Russians failed to do so is unclear, though it is safe to assume that part of their reason was a standard unwillingness to concede anything and thereby open the door to further questioning of their behavior. The treaty is filled with loopholes that invite evasion: No limits are given on the quantities of spores that may be used for research; no standards are set for distinguishing between defensive and offensive research; no forms of consultation are specified.

        To hear those involved at the time talk about the way in which the treaty was negotiated, these details did not seem to matter much. It was the heyday of the detente sought by President Nixon and Henry A. Kissinger. In 1969, Mr. Nixon made a unilateral decision to destroy biological-weapons stockpiles and research facilities on the assumption that the weapons had no rational use on the battlefield. And when Administration witnesses testified before the Senate on behalf of the new treaty, they effectively acknowledged that its provisions could not be verified. The attitude seemed to be that this was not important, in part because the Administration assumed that the Soviet Union would not be so unrealistic as to violate the treaty.

        It is ironic that, in the case of the Sverdlovsk incident, the unverifiable was detected. But detection is one thing and verification – knowing with confidence that the violation has occurred -is quite another.


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