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

Archive for October 13th, 2011

* FBI genetics expert Claire Fraser-Liggett … I think that the (FBI’s use of the) evidence on science probably was misleading … I have no way to know whether or not Bruce Ivins was really the perpetrator

Posted by DXer on October 13, 2011


Dr. Claire Fraser-Liggett


Director of the Institute for Genome Sciences, Fraser-Liggett was brought into the investigation to try to trace the DNA found in the anthrax attack letters back to its source material. Based on her team’s research, the FBI zeroed in on a flask controlled by Dr. Bruce Ivins. But while Fraser-Liggett believes the scientific evidence is “very solid,” she is not convinced the government has made its case against Ivins. Below are points extracted from an interview conducted on June 14, 2011.


  • The idea behind all of this was that the application of molecular genetics approaches might provide the kind of information that would help to link the material that was sent in the mail back to a source and back to the perpetrator.
  • the people within the FBI that were put in charge of this investigation were really scrambling to figure out how to put a master plan together that would guide this investigation. …
  • The pressure was enormous.
  • we were working in partnership with the FBI but doing a very specific part of this, carrying out a very specific part of this overall investigation. We did not ever know any more than we needed to know to do our job.
  • We never directly dealt with Bruce Ivins.
  • If we could find molecular differences that held up and could be traced back to a potential source, that would potentially provide the smoking gun and say, “This is where the material came from.”

LMW: why does no one ever mention the huge stockpile of Ames samples in Iowa that were destroyed immediately after the anthrax attacks in 2001, apparently with the concurrence of the FBI if not its direction?

  • Once we identified the genetic mutations, we spent a fair amount of time developing assays to target in specifically to those regions that differed.
  • What they found in looking at these eight samples that contained all four mutations was that they could all be traced back to a single source flask of Bacillus anthracis spores that had been named RMR-1029 and that had been developed and kept at USAMRIID dating back to either 1997 or 1998.

there were perhaps 200 or 300 people at USAMRIID

who had potentially had access to that material 

  • One of the puzzling aspects of the investigation was that there appeared to be two different sources of material … One source that was sent in the letters to New York, to Tom Brokaw and the New York Post, and a second preparation of spores that was sent to Sens. [Tom] Daschle [D-Iowa] and [Patrick] Leahy [D-Vt.].

that suggested that the material that was sent through the mail

didn’t come directly from the 1029 flask

… there had to have been a subsequent preparation step

  • I think there are still a lot of unanswered questions.

I think there are still a lot of holes,

and I think the FBI is the first to admit that’s the case.

LMW: Not so! The FBI continues to assert that Dr. Ivins was the sole perpetrator

I have no way to know whether or not Bruce Ivins was really the perpetrator.

  • I think it’s unfortunate in that there were aspects of his personality that made it very easy to cast him as the eccentric, psychologically disturbed scientist with a possible motive. But that doesn’t mean that he’s guilty. …
  • I absolutely believe that the eight samples that were identified contained the four mutations that were consistent with these samples having been derived from the 1029 flask. It’s consistent with having come from 1029, but that’s different than saying this material absolutely came from 1029.
  • There probably should have been some more statistical analysis done, looking to see how frequently these kinds of mutations arise when large preparations of Bacillus anthracis are grown up in fermenters.
  • That was actually an item that was noted in the National Academy’s report. And I can’t say why that work wasn’t done. …
  • Then there are all sorts of holes in the more traditional aspect of the investigation:
    • there was no information that ever linked Dr. Ivins to the mailboxes in New Jersey at the times that these letters were presumably sent out;
    • the fact that it’s known that there were perhaps 200 or more individuals that had access to this material at any point after this flask, this witch’s brew of spores was created. …

the FBI overemphasized the role of science in proving their case. 

I think that the (FBI’s use of the) evidence on science

probably was misleading.

  • The science was very solid, but the science alone could never provide the answers.
  • There are days when I think there are just still so many unanswered questions that it is absolutely unfair to place guilt on Ivins.

this was not an airtight case, by any means.

  • no spores were found in (Ivins’) car
  •  think about all the efforts that had to go into decontaminating the postal facilities, and the volatility of these spores, and the fact that they were around for so long, and they went everywhere — to me, that seems like an enormous inconsistency.
  • I would find it surprising that you could take a piece of equipment in which you had grown any bacterial organism, whether it be anthrax or anything else, and get it completely clean, where there was no trace.

There is absolutely a sense that

there was so much pressure coming from the top,

… that there almost wasn’t time to really think critically

  • Does that mean that some mistakes were made? Probably, but not with any malicious intent. I don’t think they were ever made with the intent to not get at the truth.
  • It was always a scramble, and everybody was always reacting to a need for information yesterday rather than tomorrow. Tomorrow was always too late. …

read all of this remarkable interview at …


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* Tara O’Toole, the undersecretary for biosecurity at Homeland Security Department, says that the FBI did not establish that the anthrax came from USAMRIID but that it was merely the FBI’s “working hypothesis” and a “supposition”; she mentioned other active hypotheses.

Posted by DXer on October 13, 2011


Tara O’Toole


 Tara O’Toole is the Undersecretary for Biosecurity at Homeland Security Department.  

Toward at the end of a seminar (10/13/11) sponsored by the Center for American Progress,  in response to a question about the dangers posed by proliferation of labs, O’Toole said that …

  • the FBI has not proven that the mailed anthrax came from USAMRIID.
  • She says that is “a working hypothesis.”
  • She says that the NAS report is the place to go to get behind the FBI’s “supposition.”


Anthrax Revisited: The Outlook for Biopreparedness in the United States



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* Laurie Garrett … the FRONTLINE program has convinced me that Dr. Bruce Ivins is innocent of the 2001 anthrax mailings

Posted by DXer on October 13, 2011



Laurie Garrett writes for the Council on Foreign Relations (10/13/11) …

  • FRONTLINE, the Public Broadcasting System’s premiere documentary program, aired “The Anthrax Letters” this week. It is a breakthrough piece of journalism
  • Their primary take-home message …

the FBI blew the Amerithrax investigation,

and Dr. Bruce Ivins was most likely innocent of the crime.

  • According to the FBI a flask of wet slurry containing anthrax bacteria was the source of all of the spores mailed in 2001.
  • The FBI claimed that Ivins lied about the flask, deliberately deceived investigators by sending different anthrax samples for genetic analysis, and used these wet bacteria, through an elaborate set of drying and processing procedures, to produce the fatal spores.

But FRONTLINE discovered that

Ivins had provided RMR-1029 samples properly

on more than one occasion prior to his apparent error

in giving the FBI a sample from a different flask.

  • The FBI also used time cards to demonstrate that Ivins worked unusually long hours inside his lab on the very September 2001 dates when  the agency believes the wet slurry of bacteria were dried and converted to the toxic spore form, then stuffed into envelopes.
    • The implication was that Ivins performed all these homicidal activities inside his USAMRID lab during those specific hours.
    • But USAMRIID did not have the sort of drying equipment Ivins would need,
    • not a single spore has ever been found on any of the lab equipment,
    • and Ivins’ work habits that September were not in the least bit unusual.

The revelation in the FRONTLINE program is

that the FBI focused on time in/out logs for just one location

… The reporting team obtained records for all the facilities Ivins worked in,

demonstrating that such long nighttime work hours were his norm,

and there was nothing unusual in his September 2001 schedule.

I am prepared to declare Dr. Bruce Ivins

innocent of the 2001 anthrax mailings.

read the entire article at …




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