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

* DXer … some suggestions for the GAO … whose report is due soon

Posted by DXer on September 6, 2011


Comptroller General Gene Dodaro & FBI Director Robert Mueller ... in the end it always comes down to the men in charge


It would be unsound for the GAO to only rely on the evidence

that the FBI provided GAO without asking for the evidence

that underlies the stated assertions in its Amerithrax Investigative Summary.

  • For example, AUSA Rachel Lieber creates an innuendo that Dr. Ivins used the photocopier in the library because of his presence there at particular times. I believe the scientific evidence, in contrast, that was NOT provided to the NAS shows that the FBI experts could exclude those photocopiers based on mass spectroscopy of the toner.
  • As another example, the FBI’s theory based on the code is specious because it relies on a letter that in fact was not double-lined. Thus, one does not begin with Agent Steele’s suggested interpretation of the code, one starts with the document examiner’s report — which has not been released — identifying which letters were double-lined.
  • On the issue of submission of the Spring 2002 sample, (the FBI’s theory) hugely misses the point to credit the unsupported conclusion that Dr. Ivins submitted the sample instead of his assistant (as Dr. Ivins repeatedly explained for many years). The chain of custody records have been uploaded showing that it was not Dr. Ivins’ initials associated with the submission and this should be understood to be within the GAO’s task.
  • Some of the most important material are the contemporaneous documents from September and October 2001. It is foolish to speak of scientific uncertainties and not appreciate that the laboratory notes — the contemporaneous evidence of how Dr. Ivins spent his time — bears directly on the scientific evidence relating to whether he made and mailed the dried powdered anthrax.
  • The forensic examination of Dr. Ivins’ computer is hard-core forensic evidence and identifies when the electronic message to Mara Linscott dated September 17, 2001 was sent. If the GAO would make available of that material it would overcome the long delays associated with the majority of FBI FOIA responses — a matter currently being addressed in a pending bill called the Faster FOIA Act.

see also …

9 Responses to “* DXer … some suggestions for the GAO … whose report is due soon”

  1. DXer said

    Unethical to test anthrax vaccine in kids? What panel says

    Ryan Jaslow


    Why should the American public ever let the USG near their kids when the DOJ has mischaracterize the evidence about the rabbit study so egregiously? That is, when the prosecutors and investigators falsely claim Dr. Ivins had no reason to be in the lab and never even mention the rabbits — all the while withholding key lab notebooks. (Keep in mind the DC FBI Field Office head Persichini who made the claim left the next year for cheating on an exam on how to conduct national security investigations. The lead prosecutor Ken Kohl was found guilty of prosecutorial misconduct requiring dismissal of numerous murder indictments.

    The entire purpose of Government in the Sunshine Act was to instill trust through transparency.

    Where does one go to restore trust and accountability if not the GAO?

  2. DXer said

    Note that GAO is not subject to FOIA as such being an arm of Congress.

    But they nonetheless aim to comply with the spirit of FOIA under their own governing regulation as to their own documents.

    Public Access to GAO Records – Records Availability

    fee waiver if in public interest

    (e) The Chief Quality Officer may waive or reduce the fees under
    this section upon a determination that disclosure of the records
    requested is in the public interest, is likely to contribute
    significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of
    the government, and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the
    requester. Persons seeking a waiver or fee reduction may be required to
    submit a statement setting forth the intended purpose for which the
    records are requested, indicate how disclosure will primarily benefit
    the public and, in appropriate cases, explain why the volume of records
    requested is necessary. Determinations pursuant to this paragraph are
    solely within the discretion of GAO.

    Who to contact at GAO to request records

    GAO’s Office of Quality and Continuous Improvement is the focal point for receiving and responding to requests from the public for access to GAO records. Patricia Stokes (202/512-9951) and Karen Y Holliday (202/512-3426) are the GAO contacts for this work.

    How to request GAO records by mail?

    Requests for GAO records should be submitted in writing by fax, email, or using traditional mail options and addressed as follows:

    Chief Quality Officer
    U.S. Government Accountability Office
    Room 6K17Q
    441 G Street NW
    Washington, DC 20548

    FAX: (202) 512-4844

  3. DXer said

    Solyndra loan deal: Warnings about legality came from within Obama administration

    The records provided Friday by a government source also show that an Energy Department stimulus adviser, Steve Spinner, pushed for Solyndra’s loan despite having recused himself because his wife’s law firm did work for the company. Spinner, who left the agency in September 2010, did not respond to requests for comment Friday. …


    GAO is tasked with pressing for compliance with conflict-of-interest regulations.

    Case study:

    I once emailed the FDA commissioner Lester Crawford about documents and information a whistleblower brought to me about benzene in the soft drinks consumed by children. I did not realize the Commissioner had something like $78,000 of stock in Pepsi and had served as chief scientific advisor to the grocery industry. I did not realize he was an expert in water contamination and already knew about the problem.. I emailed on Wednesday afternoon and on Friday morning he walked out the building — quitting without any explanation. Senators Clinton and Kennedy demanded an explanation but got no response.

    Nothing was done in response to the email. The FDA failed to produce key requested documents under FOIA. The FDA did not take action until I got countries like Germany and the UK and other countries to do testing —- even though I had both the original industry data from the whistleblower and then the client amassed current testing at great expense by an independent lab.

    When my friends the brilliant class action attorneys got involved, they just settled cases for millions in attorneys fees after seeking discovery and then keeping the documents secret.

    If GAO would enforce conflict of interest regulations, many benefits relating to substantive policy would follow. GAO is perhaps one of the most potentially important forces for good in our society on governmental issues.

    Pushing for compliance with FOIA is one of the easiest cures to the problem of government accountabilitiy and transparency.

  4. DXer said

    Appl Environ Microbiol. 2011 Sep 16. [Epub ahead of print]
    Van Cuyk S, Deshpande A, Hollander A, Duval N, Ticknor L, Layshock J, Gallegos-Graves L, Omberg KM.

    Los Alamos National Laboratory, PO Box 1663, Los Alamos, NM 87545.

    Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki (Btk) is applied extensively in North America to control the gypsy moth, Lymantria dispar. As Btk shares many physical and biological properties with Bacillus anthracis, it is a reasonable surrogate for biodefense studies. A key question in biodefense is how long a biothreat agent will persist in the environment. There is some information in the literature on the persistence of Bacillus anthracis in laboratories and historical testing areas, and for Bacillus thuringiensis in agricultural settings, but no information on the persistence of Bacillus spp. in the type of environment that would be encountered in a city or on a military installation. As it is not feasible to release B. anthracis in a developed area, the controlled release of Btk for pest control was used to gain insight into the potential persistence of Bacillus spp. in outdoor urban environments. Persistence was evaluated in two locations: Fairfax County, Virginia and Seattle, Washington. Environmental samples were collected from multiple matrices and evaluated for presence of viable Btk at times ranging from less than one day to four years post-spray. Real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and culture were used for analysis. Btk was found to persist in urban environments for at least four years. It was most frequently detected in soils, and less frequently detected in wipes, grass, foliage, and water. From the data, it is evident that Bacillus spp. can be expected to persist for years in urban environments following a biological attack.

  5. DXer said

    Anthrax Detection: Agencies Need to Validate Sampling Activities in Order to Increase Confidence in Negative Reults
    GAO-05-493T April 5, 2005
    Highlights Page (PDF) Full Report (PDF, 22 pages) Accessible Text


    In September and October 2001, letters laced with Bacillus anthracis (anthrax) spores were sent through the mail to two U.S. senators and to members of the media. These letters led to the first U.S. cases of anthrax disease related to bioterrorism. In all, 22 individuals, in four states and Washington, D.C., contracted anthrax disease; 5 died. These cases prompted the Subcommittee to ask GAO to describe and assess federal agencies’ activities to detect anthrax in postal facilities, assess the results of agencies’ testing, and assess whether agencies’ detection activities were validated.

    The U.S. Postal Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) conducted several interdependent activities, including sample collection and analytic methods, to detect anthrax in postal facilities in 2001. They developed a sampling strategy and collected, transported, extracted, and analyzed samples. They primarily collected samples from specific areas, such as mail processing areas, using their judgment about where anthrax would most likely be found–that is, targeted sampling. The agencies did not use probability sampling in their initial sampling strategy. Probability sampling would have allowed agencies to determine, with some defined level of confidence, when all results are negative, whether a building is contaminated. This is important, considering that low levels of anthrax could cause disease and death in susceptible individuals. The results of the agencies’ testing in 286 postal facilities were largely negative–no anthrax was detected. But negative results do not necessarily mean that a facility is free from anthrax. In addition, agencies’ detection activities (for example, sample collection and analytical methods) were not validated. Validation is a formal, empirical process in which an authority determines and certifies the performance characteristics of a given method. Consequently, the lack of validation of agencies’ activities, coupled with limitations associated with their targeted sampling strategy, means that negative results may not be reliable. In preparing for future incidents, the agencies have (1) made some changes based on what has been learned about some of the limitations of their sampling strategies, (2) made some revisions to their guidelines, and (3) funded some new research. In addition, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has taken on the role of coordinating agencies’ activities and has undertaken several new initiatives related to anthrax and other bio-threat agents. However, while the actions DHS and other agencies have taken are important, they do not address the issue of validating all activities related to sampling. Finally, the agencies have not made appropriate and prioritized investments to develop and validate all activities related to anthrax and other bio-threat agents.

  6. Anonymous said

    Senator Demands Answers On Government Anthrax Investigation Mystery
    Wants to know why DOJ quickly retracted court statements that contradicted official FBI story

    Steve Watson
    Sept 6, 2011

    A ranking Republican Senator has written to the Justice Department demanding to know why it quickly retracted court papers that called into serious question a key pillar of the criminal case against Bruce Ivins, the FBI’s prime suspect in the 2001 anthrax mail attacks.

    Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, who has long questioned the legitimacy of the FBI’s findings in the case, wrote Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller this week, regarding a filing by Justice Department civil lawyers in July that noted that the Army’s biodefense center at Fort Detrick, Md., “did not have the specialized equipment in a containment laboratory that would be required to prepare the dried spore preparations that were used in the letters.”

    In other words, the filing noted that Ivins’ lab, often referred to as the “hot suite”, did not contain the equipment needed to turn liquid anthrax into the refined powder that ended up being mailed to members of the Senate and reporters in the fall of 2001.

    Ivins, who was found dead in 2008 from an apparent suicide at the same time the government was about to indict him, was identified by the FBI’s “Amerithrax Task Force” as the lone perpetrator of the attacks that killed five people and infected 17 others in the weeks immediately following 9/11.

    The FBI based it’s entire case against Ivins on the fact that the microbiologist had access to the necessary equipment in the government lab at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases where he worked.

    When the Justice Department realized that its recent court filing cast serious doubt on these claims, following media coverage, it did a 180 flip flop and sent the court a “list of corrections” to conform with the FBI’s conclusion that Ivins did have equipment available to do the job.

    In his letter, Sen Grassley notes that this turn of events “has produced a new set of questions regarding this unsolved crime.”

    “My concern is accentuated by the apparent contradiction of the DOJ court documents to the original FBI investigation, the subsequent attempt to retract that information and the federal judge’s ruling that the DOJ Civil Division “show good cause” to justify a modification to the original court filing.” Grassley writes.

    “The DOJ original court filing seemingly eliminated the FBI’s previous circumstantial evidence associated with Dr. Ivins without providing any additional insight as to the means and methodology he may have used to create the anthrax powder.” The Senator adds.

    Grassley, the most senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, also called for a briefing to “determine why it appears, at the least, that the right hand and left hand of the (Justice Department) do not know what the other is doing.”

    The July court filing was made as part of a government defense against a lawsuit brought by the family of Robert Stevens, Photo Editor of The Sun in Florida and the first victim who died as a result of the Anthrax attack. The court papers containing the Justice Department contradiction were discovered and reported by a researcher for the PBS program Frontline, which is working on a forthcoming documentary on the case with McClatchy Newspapers and ProPublica.

    What the filing should have said, the department wrote in its retraction, was that while the Army lab did not have a lyophilizer, a freeze-drying machine, in the space where Dr. Ivins usually worked, there was a lyophilizer and other equipment in the building that he could have used to dry the anthrax into powder.

    Even if this was the case, which is still highly questionable, it still significantly weakens the case against Ivins as the lone assailant, because it means he would have had to have access different areas of the building and use the equipment in those areas for some time without being noticed.

    It also means that the fact that others who worked in the lab were not sickened becomes even more of a key indicator that Ivins did not prepare the anthrax spores as the FBI and the government has claimed he did.

    Paul Kemp, Ivins’ lead defense attorney, noted that the department’s concession that the equipment wasn’t available “is at direct variance to the assertions of the government on July 29, 2008,” the day Ivins died, thus “invalidating one of the chief theories of their prosecution case.”

    This latest contradiction adds to the already voluminous unanswered questions and contradictory evidence surrounding the case.

    Earlier this year a report produced by a panel of independent scientists asserted that there was not enough scientific evidence for the FBI to convict Ivins, vindicating those who have consistently pointed to a deeper conspiracy behind the case.

    The $1.1 million report, commissioned by the FBI and produced by The National Academies of Sciences, concluded that the FBI overstated the science in its investigation into the microbiologist.

    Senator Grassley writes in his letter to the Attorney general that this report coupled with the latest botched attempt by the government to tie up loose ends in the case is “particularly troubling” to him.

    The report cast doubt on the supposed link between a flask of anthrax found in Ivins’ office and letters containing the bacterial spores that were mailed to NBC News, the New York Post, and the offices of then-Sen. Tom Daschle and Sen. Patrick Leahy.

    “The scientific link between the letter material and flask number RMR-1029 is not as conclusive as stated in the DOJ Investigative Summary,” the 190 page report stated.

    “Although the scientific evidence was supportive of a link between the letters and that flask, it did not definitively demonstrate such a relationship, for a number of reasons,” said Dr. David Relman, a bioterrorism expert at Stanford University School of Medicine who served as vice chair of the review committee. “Our overarching finding was that it is not possible to reach a definitive conclusion about the origins of the B. anthracis in the mailings based on the available scientific evidence alone.”

    “This shows what we’ve been saying all along: that it was all supposition based on conjecture based on guesswork, without any proof whatsoever,” lawyer Paul Kemp told The Washington Post.

    “For years, the FBI has claimed scientific evidence for its conclusion that anthrax spores found in the letters were linked to the anthrax bacteria found in Dr. Ivins’s lab,” said Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa). The report “shows that the science is not necessarily a slam-dunk. There are no more excuses for avoiding an independent review.”

    Of course, there will not be an independent review any time in the near future because, as Glenn Greenwald of Salon has pointed out, all efforts to move in that direction have been aggressively blocked by the Obama Administration:

    President Obama — in what I think is one his most indefensible acts — actually threatened to veto the entire intelligence authorization bill if it included a proposed bipartisan amendment (passed by the House) that would have mandated an independent inquiry into the FBI’s anthrax investigation.

    Indeed, the veto threat issued by the Obama White House was refreshingly (albeit unintentionally) candid about why it was so eager to block any independent inquiry: ”The commencement of a fresh investigation would undermine public confidence in the criminal investigation and unfairly cast doubt on its conclusions.”

    Ivins’ death provided a neat tie up to the case, which was officially closed last year by The Justice Department. However, a clear motive was never determined, and no one ever reported seeing Ivins prepare anthrax spores or mail the supposed letters.

  7. DXer said

    There’s no firm date of release set. The September 30 date that was posted currently was just an estimate (and so perhaps this headline could be conformed to reflect the newest information).

  8. From billing and lab records and notebooks, they should try to construct a timeline of each piece of lab equipment.

    All the data on growth and yield studies of bacillus should be collated as part of the report. The claims by anonymous experts that bacillus can be grown while Ivins was in the lab and then cleaned up at the end of each 2 or 3 hour lab session can be refuted from these.

    It has likely never happened that anyone grew bacillus in 2 or 3 hour sessions cleaning all the lab equipment at the end of each one over a period of days and weeks. The claim that many anonymous experts say this is easily feasible should be refuted using published studies of growth of bacillus over 1 week time intervals or longer.

  9. Anonymous said

    Another fascinating question the GAO should be directing to the FBI is why they failed to answer a direct question by the Judiciary Committee – they were asked for the weight percentage of silicon in the attack powders. They said there wasn’t enough sample to determine this for the New York Post powder. But in fact they had known since 2002 that there was 10.65% silicon in that sample.
    Why have the FBI been trying to downplay this for years?:

    At a Judiciary Committee hearing weeks after Ivins’ death, Nadler asked Mueller how much silicon was found in the anthrax-filled letters sent to Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and the New York Post.

    Mueller demurred, asking whether he could respond later in writing. Seven months later, the Justice Department replied that the letter to Leahy contained 1.4 percent silicon by mass, but that “a reliable quantitative assessment” of the silicon content in the Post letter wasn’t possible because of the “limited quantity of material.”

    However, a second sample from the Leahy powder contained 1.8 percent silicon, and the bureau advised the academy panel and others that an FBI lab test found 10.8 percent silicon by mass in the Post letter.

    Nadler wrote Mueller that the response in April 2009 from M. Faith Burton, an acting chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legislative Affairs “appears to have been incomplete and misleading.”

    The FBI said the bureau had received the letter and would respond directly to Nadler.

    Read more:

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