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

* For widow, anthrax victim’s fate still ‘open wound’

Posted by DXer on October 2, 2011


Maureen Stevens


For widow, anthrax victim’s fate still ‘open wound’

  • At first, Stevens said she was satisfied with the FBI’s 2008 conclusion that federal researcher Bruce Ivins was responsible. Ivins killed himself in 2008 as prosecutors were about to indict him.
  • Even then, she said her suit was more about the federal government’s lack of control over the lab.
  • And, she said at the time, “we have now been advised that the man the FBI believes perpetrated this heinous act has a history of mental instability of long standing, and yet he was allowed to work with anthrax and some of the most deadly substances known to mankind.”
  • Then in April, Stevens’ lawyer filed papers citing evidence that disputes the 2008 findings.
  • Ivins’ supervisors at a Maryland lab have said he lacked the time, equipment and knowledge to produce the anthrax.
  • In February, a panel assembled by the National Academy of Sciences questioned the finding; the FBI challenged that.
  • The Government Accountability Office has begun yet another review.
  • “It is an open wound,” she said. “But something else inside me says, ‘I want it. I want to go to trial. I want it out in the open. I want it known how it happened.’

7 Responses to “* For widow, anthrax victim’s fate still ‘open wound’”

  1. DXer said

    It’s not true that Mrs. Stevens wants things out in the open. She is continuing to file items that don’t need to be sealed — and shouldn’t be sealed — under seal. Now there are scheduled settlement talks. DOJ will pay Mrs. Stevens lots of taxpayer money and neither the USG’s negligence nor the true crime anthrax threat is illuminated. The sealed documents will remain sealed. This is the American legal system at its worst.

    10/05/2011 214 Notice of Mediation Hearing before Mediator, Patrick Massa filed by Maureen Stevens. Mediation Hearing set for 10/26/2011 10:00 AM (Schuler, Richard) (Entered: 10/05/2011)

    10/04/2011 215 OMNIBUS ORDER granting 205 Sealed Motionto file portions of its reply in support of its motion for summary judgment based on the absence of proximate cause under seal ; granting 207 Sealed MotionUnopposed motion to file exhibits and portions of its reply in support of its motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction ; granting 209 Sealed Motion Unopposed motion to file exhibits and portions of its reply in support of its motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under 28USC 2680 (a) under seal. Signed by Judge Daniel T. K. Hurley on 10/4/2011. (dj) (Entered: 10/05/2011)

    • DXer said

      The DOJ civil division is the same bunch that paid out $5.8 million of taxpayer money to a guy who forged his PhD in gaining access to ebola.

  2. DXer said

    The Anthrax Attacks 10 Years Later
    Larry M. Bush, MD; and Maria T. Perez, MD

    From Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, Florida, and JFK Medical Center, Atlantis, Florida.

    Ten years ago, just weeks after the September 11 attacks, the United States experienced a deliberate act of bioterrorism. Through use of the U.S. postal service, anthrax spores were widely disseminated, including to homes, the Senate, and major newsrooms, resulting in morbidity and mortality and effectively disrupting our way of life and revealing our vulnerability. Even though such attacks had been the subject of much writing and had been planned for, detection of and the appropriate response to an attack with an agent from the so-called “Category ‘A’ List” had only been considered in theoretical terms. What transpired during the following difficult weeks, including how public health and federal government agencies performed, has been both praised and criticized. An intertwined epidemiologic and criminal investigation of such magnitude was unprecedented in U.S. history. To address the question of whether we as a nation are now better prepared for future threats involving biologic agents, it is important to learn from the lessons of the 2001 anthrax attacks, including the critical role of clinicians in surveillance. As physicians involved in diagnosing anthrax in the index case and alerting authorities, we offer our perspective on these events a decade after their occurrence.

    • DXer said

      “Although the FBI has stated that its investigation went beyond scientific evidence and included interviews and other information as part of what it considers a firm case incriminating Ivins, on 15 February 2011 a panel of scientific experts assembled by the National Academy of Sciences, at the request of the FBI, independently evaluated the Bureau’s genetic analysis of the anthrax spores. In doing so, this group of highly trained personnel advised that the scientific evidence put forth by the FBI was not sufficient to prove that Ivins was the culprit. Furthermore, recently filed official papers have acknowledged that the “hot suite” sealed area in Ivins’ laboratory did not contain the equipment needed to turn liquid anthrax into the refined anthrax powder that was present in the letters, and that the laboratory lacked the facilities in 2001 to manufacture the kind of spores found in the letters (10, 11).”

      • DXer said

        The DARPA budget documents linked by Anonymous shows line items relating to microencapsulation. Microencapsulation protects the anthrax from being killed by sunlight and heat (or at least delays it) — thus making it more deadly. see Osterholm et al. (2000) among the books read by Dr. Ayman and seized in Afghanistan. (see list of materials seized in SCIENCE article by JB Petro).

        Research on microencapsulation would have been legitimate biodefense work. Beginning in 1999 the DARPA detector work involved trying to strip the microencapsulation so as to get an accurate detection of the pathogen. FBI scientist Chris Hassell is not discussing the fact that the silicon signature points to microencapsulation out of a concern that it would be unsound policy to discuss such things.

        However well-intentioned, this obscures discussion of the silicon signature and the fact that Dr. Ivins did not have the know-how or means to process the anthrax in a way that resulted in the Silicon Signature observed here. (Moreover, he had no reason to process it that way). Source: John Ezzell filmed Q and A on November 29, 2010. GAO needed to press as to the method that DARPA used in its microencapsulation experiments during the 1999-2001 period.

        The “Microdroplet Cell Culture” patent application that landed in Ali Al-Timimi’s in-box in March 2001 was a microencapsulation patent, according to J. Kiel, who did controlled studies on the question of the silicon signature as head of the air force lab. Thus, the silicon signature points away from Dr. Ivins. The FBI’s discussion of “floatability” is a straw man argument that serves to mislead. Microencapsulation relates to “weaponization” even though not floatability.

        Ali previously worked for Andrew Card and his father was a lawyer in the Iraqi embassy. The Bush administration did not want to admit that they had allowed such infiltration and FBI Director Mueller went along.

        In fact, I have been told by someone with personal knowledge that Rachel Lieber aka the Ice Princess was specifically forbidden from interviewing Ali in prison. (To her credit, she went anyway but then was reprimanded.). This is very wrong because the motivation was CYA on the part of the Bush administration. It also is very wrong because it allowed the analysis in AMERITHRAX to be botched.

  3. anonymous said Anthrax Attacks: 10 Years Later
    October 3, 2011, 2:25 pm ET by Sarah Moughty
    Ten years ago this week, Florida photo editor Bob Stevens died shortly after being diagnosed as having inhaled anthrax.

    Hours earlier, a scientist analyzing a sample of the bacteria that eventually killed Stevens came to a starting conclusion: It matched a particularly lethal strain of anthrax used mainly in U.S. Army laboratories.

    Envelopes carrying deadly anthrax were delivered to U.S. Senate offices and network news divisions. Four more people died, and many more were infected before the attacks stopped. The nation was terrorized.

    Seven years later, after mistakenly pursuing one suspect, the most expensive and complex investigation ever undertaken by the FBI ended when they identified Army scientist Dr. Bruce Ivins as the sole perpetrator of the attacks. The FBI made their announcement after Ivins had taken his own life.

    But questions about the case continue. Earlier this year, a National Academy of Sciences panel raised doubts about the FBI’s scientific conclusions. And many of Ivins’ colleagues insist the FBI got the wrong man.

    Next week, in our season premiere, FRONTLINE, along with our partners ProPublica and McClatchy Newspapers, will take a hard look at the FBI’s handling of the country’s most notorious act of bioterrorism. After 10 years and a $100 million investigation, how strong was the FBI’s case? Was Dr. Bruce Ivins the anthrax killer?

  4. DXer said

    Fears that al Qaeda had some role in the anthrax letter attacks that killed five and terrorized the U.S. 10 years ago surfaced early in the investigation.

    “THIS IS NEXT. TAKE PENACILIN NOW. DEATH TO AMERICA. DEATH TO ISRAEL. ALLAH IS GREAT,” read the anthrax-laden letter sent to NBC newsman Tom Brokaw on Sept 18, 2001, at the start of the attacks. At least five letters were sent in the attacks that autumn, all containing similar words.

    Those messages likely contributed to one of the more curious endeavors of the nine-year “Amerithrax” investigation into the anthrax murders, the retrieval of a suspected terrorist lab, right down to the pipes of the kitchen sink.

    The National Research Council in February delivered an evaluation of the science used by investigators to tie the anthrax used in the attacks, a mutant-laced variant of the “Ames” anthrax strain, to the infamous RMR-1029 flask at the United States Army Medical Research Institute (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick, Md. The flask was controlled by a researcher named Bruce Ivins, who committed suicide in 2008, days before investigators say they had intended to indict him for the crime. Based in part on the link to the RMR-1029 flask, the FBI, in its investigative summary of the case, concluded, “Ivins, alone, mailed the anthrax letters.” The conclusion, though, is still disputed by some observers. Even the NRC said it was “not possible to reach a definitive conclusion about the origins of the anthrax,” in its evaluation.

    In May of 2004, U.S. investigators weren’t so sure either. They had information about al Qaeda plans to develop an anthrax program, the NRC report said. So FBI investigators and “partners from the intelligence community” then visited a suspected bioterror lab abandoned by al Qaeda and collected swabs there. Three samples tested positive for Ames strain anthrax in tests, conducted at the USAMRIID lab. They had been taken from “an unopened medicine dropper package, a sink, and a sink drain hose,” according to a partly-declassified FBI report.

    Subsequent tests at microbiologist Paul Keim’s lab at Northern Arizona University found signs of the Ames strain of anthrax on two of the three samples, according to the same report. “As a result of these findings, a third collection mission was conducted in November 2004 and this time large portions of the site were returned intact to the United States, including the entire sink, drain, and associated plumbing,” said the NRC report. The retrieved lab was “extensively sampled” for both living anthrax and anthrax DNA.

    So, what did they find? According to the NRC report, “all the tests were negative” for anthrax. Further tests of samples conducted in 2007 also showed no signs of anthrax. (The first ones likely had produced false positive results, a hazard of tests primed to turn up any traces of a pathogen.)

    “While it is undoubtedly true that al Qaeda was seeking to establish an offensive bioweapons program in 2001 , Task Force agents were unable to find any link between al Qaeda and the letter attacks in the United States, or even that, at the time of the attacks, any al Qaeda operatives had access to the type and quality of anthrax pathogen used in the 2001 attacks,” says the FBI’s investigative summary of the case.

    The NRC panel, headed by Lehigh University president Alice Gast, however, “consider these data to be inconclusive regarding the possible presence of B. anthracis Ames at this undisclosed overseas site,” according to their report. Echoing findings elsewhere in the report the panel complained that investigators needed to take additional steps to validate the anthrax tests used in the investigation and to understand the naturally-occurring level of anthrax in places such as Afghanistan. The differences exposed the chasm between the level of certainty required by scientists, who want very strong statistical reassurance, and those of crime investigators, who seek a weight of evidence necessary to convince a jury of murder and no more.

    So, those who still voice doubts about the investigation, such as Rep. Rush Holt, D. – N.J., can point to the al Qaeda threat as a still unsettled alternative to the anthrax attacks. Scientists would like to see more basic research done on anthrax in case of another attack.

    “If anthrax pops up again, we still don’t know enough about what type of strains are in the environment,” says former FBI investigator Bruce Budowle of the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth. In microbial forensics investigations, scientists are looking for assurances that results could be incorrect only 1 in 100 times, he says. But to reach that would be “almost a physical impossibility,” he adds, given that microbe characteristics can shift markedly over small distances.

    Another point made in the NRC report is that more research could be done on the evolution of anthrax, to verify how the mutations that marked anthrax in the RMR-1029 flask developed. “I have a model of how they evolved and it explains what happened very well,” Keim says now. “But it is critical we understand the evolution of how these morphs (mutants) arise,” he says.

    “If terrorists released Bacillus anthracis over a large city, hundreds of thousands of people could be at risk of the deadly disease anthrax,” reads the summary of an Institute of Medicine report released only Friday. Even after a decade, “many public health authorities and policy experts fear that the nation’s current systems and plans are insufficient to respond to the most challenging scenarios, such as a very large-scale anthrax attack.”

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