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

* The 2001 Anthrax Attack: Key Observations … link to article in the Journal of Bioterrorism and Biodefense

Posted by DXer on October 16, 2011



Martin E Hugh-Jones, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg and Stuart Jacobsen

J Bioterr Biodef 2011, S3-001 … Abstract

Unresolved scientific questions, remaining ten years after the anthrax attacks, three years after the FBI accused a dead man of perpetrating the 2001 anthrax attacks singlehandedly, and more than a year since they closed the case without further investigation, indictment or trial, are perpetuating serious concerns that the FBI may have accused the wrong person of carrying out the anthrax attacks.

The FBI has not produced concrete evidence on key questions:

•  Where and how were the anthrax spores in the attack letters prepared?

There is no material evidence of where the attack anthrax was made, and no direct evidence that any specific individual made the anthrax, or mailed it.  On the basis of a number of assumptions, the FBI has not scrutinized the most likely laboratories.

•  How and why did the spore powders acquire the high levels of silicon and tin found in them?

The FBI has repeatedly insisted that the powders in the letters contained no additives, but they also claim that they have not been able to reproduce the high silicon content in the powders, and there has been little public mention of the
extraordinary presence of tin.  All the available evidence can be explained by the hypothesis that the spore coats were silicone-coated using a tin catalyst.  Chemical details are presented here.

•  Where did the anthrax spores become contaminated by a rare strain of B. subtilis?

The FBI never located the source of the strain, but they never searched in the most likely places.  Once the method of preparation of the attack anthrax is understood, the questions of who made it, and where, will be rapidly resolved. The publicly-known evidence related to these questions is compiled here, with full documentation.


to read the entire article, click here …

The 2001 Attack Anthrax: Key Observations


see also the NYT discussion of the Journal article at …

* NYT report … analysis by scientists Hugh-Jones, Rosenberg and Jacobsen disputes FBI closing of anthrax case … Dr. Alice Gast, the head of the NAS panel that reviewed the FBI’s scientific work in the anthrax investigation, says … the paper points out connections that deserve further consideration … the potential value of chemical signatures has not been fully explored … she urges a full review of classified government research on anthrax, which her panel never saw … UPDATES …


19 Responses to “* The 2001 Anthrax Attack: Key Observations … link to article in the Journal of Bioterrorism and Biodefense”

  1. anonymous said

    Biothreats – Bacterial Warfare Agents
    Arun Kumar R1*, Nishanth T2, Ravi Teja Y3 and Sathish Kumar D4
    1Department of Biochemistry & Bioinformatics, Gitam Institute of Science, GITAM University, Visakhapatnam, India
    2Department of Biotechnology, Gitam Institute of technology, GITAM University, Visakhapatnam, India
    3Department of Biochemistry, Dr.L.Bullayya P.G.College, Andhra University, Visakhapatnam, India
    4Department of Biotechnology, University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad, India

    Earlier in September 2008 the FBI issued a formal request to the
    National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to conduct an independent review
    of the scientific approaches used during the anthrax investigation.
    Before that review had been completed, the FBI formally concluded its
    investigation and released an “Amerithrax Investigative Summary” on
    February 19, 2010. The NAS committee issued its Report on February,
    2011, after two delays and an additional meeting at the FBI’s request.
    When the NAS Report came out the FBI released some10, 000 pages of
    scientific documents, much of which consisted of plans and reports of
    laboratory work on unidentified, coded materials. By agreement, all the
    information that had been available to the NAS committee is now in
    the public domain. The major finding of the committee, which had no
    access to classified information, was 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. Perhaps their most celebrated finding
    is that “the scientific link between the letter material and flask number
    RMR-1029 (located in BruceIvins laboratory at USAMRIID) is not as
    conclusive as stated in the DOJ Investigative Summary” [10].

    • anonymous said

      It is well known that van der Waals forces and capillary forces are the things that weaponization of spores addresses. The paper below points out that the attractive forces between spores and surfaces is a function of how hydrophobic the spores are. We know that the spores used in the attacks were highly unusual – Bruce Ivins found that he had great difficulty getting the spores to disperse in water – indicating they had been treated to make them hydrophobic. This is afforded by treating with silicone polymer.

      Adhesion of spores of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) and spherical silica particles on surfaces was experimentally and theoretically investigated in this study. Topography analysis via atomic force microscopy (AFM) and electron microscopy indicates that Bt spores are rod shaped, 1.3 μm in length and 0.8 μm in diameter. The adhesion force of Bt spores and silica particles on gold-coated glass was measured at various relative humidity (RH) levels by AFM. It was expected that the adhesion force would vary with RH because the individual force components contributing to the adhesion force depend on RH. The adhesion force between a particle and a planar surface in atmospheric environments was modeled as the contribution of three major force components: capillary, van der Waals, and electrostatic interaction forces. Adhesion force measurements for Bt spore (silica particle) and the gold surface system were comparable with calculations. Modeling results show that there is a critical RH value, which depends on the hydrophobicity of the materials involved, below which the water meniscus does not form and the contribution of the capillary force is zero. As RH increases, the van der Waals force decreases while the capillary force increases to a maximum value.

    • DXer said

      J Gen Appl Microbiol. 2012;58(2):113-9.
      Effects of Bacillus anthracis hydrophobicity and induction of host cell death on sample collection from environmental surfaces.
      J Taylor-McCabe K, Shou Y, Hong-Geller E.

      Bioscience Division, Los Alamos National Laboratory.

      The objective of this study is to determine whether DNA signature recovery of Bacillus anthracis strains from different environmental substrates correlates with pathogen cell surface hydrophobicity and induction of host cell death. We compared recovery of DNA signatures from a panel of B. anthracis strains collected from two environmental substrates, non-porous surfaces and soil, using real-time qPCR. We further assessed both cell surface hydrophobicity of the B. anthracis strains by contact angle measurements and host cell viability in response to B. anthracis infection in a mouse macrophage cell model system. Our studies demonstrated correlation between reduced B. anthracis sample recovery from environmental substrates and increased cell surface hydrophobicity. Surprisingly, the most hydrophilic strain, K4596, which exhibited the highest level of recovery from the environmental surfaces, induced the highest level of host cell cytotoxicity compared to more hydrophobic B. anthracis strains in the panel. Our results suggest that cell surface hydrophobicity may play a leading role in mediating pathogen adherence to environmental surfaces. These findings can contribute to the optimization of pathogen detection efforts by understanding how bacterial parameters such as hydrophobicity and induction of host cell death affect bacterial adherence to environmental surfaces.

      • DXer said

        Food Microbiol. 2010 Aug;27(5):661-6. Epub 2010 Mar 9.
        Hydrophobic properties and extraction of Bacillus anthracis spores from liquid foods.
        Leishman ON, Labuza TP, Diez-Gonzalez F.

        Department of Food Science and Nutrition, University of Minnesota, 1334 Eckles Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55108, USA.

        The objectives of this study were to characterize the hydrophobic properties of three strains of Bacillus anthracis using the microbial adherence to hydrocarbons (MATH) assay and determine the recovery of spores by hexadecane extraction from water, milk and orange juice using a modified version of this assay. In water mixtures, the hydrophobicity of B. anthracis spores ranged from 5 to 80% as the concentration of hexadecane and the mixing time increased. Two of the three strains showed significantly different hydrophobicity values. Increased pre-incubation temperature of the spore suspension had inconsistent effects on hydrophobicity across the three strains. The hydrophobicity of spores did not change significantly during storage at 4 degrees C. However, recovery of spores in the hexadecane fraction from aqueous mixtures was always less than 5% even at conditions in which the hydrophobicity values were greater than 40%. The recovery of spores in the hexadecane fraction increased to almost 20% when the hexadecane was mixed with milk or orange juice, although the majority of spores remained in the aqueous phase. The B. anthracis spores were relatively hydrophobic according to the MATH assay, but this test was not a good predictor of the partitioning of B. anthracis spores to hexadecane. The separation of B. anthracis from food matrices using hexadecane extraction was ineffective. Although the modified MATH assay was not able to efficiently extract B. anthracis from various food media, development of methods for rapid concentration and separation of this and other select agents from food remains vital to food defense.

  2. DXer said

    Statistical Foundations and Data Integration for Microbial Forensics

    Kristin H. Jarman
    Pages 1-12

    The anthrax mailings of 2001 dramatically heightened concerns about the possibility of terrorist incidents involving microbiological agents. In the wake of the attacks, microbial forensics has emerged as a new focus area for research. Researchers in this nascent field have been working to develop new analytical methods that provide information useful in an investigation and ultimately a courtroom. This chapter summarizes the important role statistics has to play in the development of this new scientific discipline.

  3. DXer said

    GAO, please see the 2012 chapter

    Chemical and Physical Signatures for Microbial Forensics
    Infectious Disease, 2012, 71-87, DOI: 10.1007/978-1-60327-219-3_6
    Elemental Signatures for Microbial Forensics

    John B. Cliff


    Elemental signatures in microorganisms are influenced by the organism’s growth environment, postharvest modifications, and environmental exchange. It is clear that for organisms of the genus Bacillus, signatures from growth medium have the potential to remain robust for a long enough period of time to be useful from the standpoint of forensic investigation. Analogous to the compositional analysis of bullet lead (CABL), elemental signatures that are statistically indistinguishable between samples do not necessarily imply the samples have identical histories. Thus, the usefulness of elemental analyses lies in developing investigative leads and exonerating suspects rather than linking absolutely a suspect with a sample. More research is required in order to understand the ubiquity of useful signatures among types of organisms, the stability of individual signatures and the potential for overprinting by environmental influences.

  4. DXer said

    Co-author Martin Hugh-Jones was thanked by Tarek Hamouda for providing a B3 for the work with 4 characterized strains of virulent anthrax. (TH also worked alongside Bruce Ivins and Pat Fellows at USAMRID with virulent Ames).

    With Paul Keim saying that it would take another $50 million to validate the science that limited things from 700 to “up to 377”, instead GAO should consider dropping a dime — just a dime — of taxpayers answers about why Dr. Bruce Ivins was ordered to provide virulent Ames to a foreign national acquainted with the Zawahiri family. GAO: what vetting was done by James Baker and University of Michigan before authorizing the research with virulent Ames? Who approved on the fly in violation of the memo on such visits when Dr. Ivins expressed alarm that he did not know that the scientist who was visiting was not a citizen?


    “Dr. Tawfiq Hamid, who has a current column on Al Qaeda’s deception is the author of INSIDE JIHAD. He describes his recruitment by Dr. Ayman Zawhiri in his book in insightful detail.

    He is lifelong friend of the man supplied virulent Ames by Bruce Ivins, Tarek Hamouda. Dr. Hamouda would come to visit Cairo as a child from Khartoum where his mother was a professor.

    In numerous patents, Dr. Hamouda thanked Patricia Fellows for supplying technical assistance and Bruce Ivins for supplying virulent Ames.

    Dr. Fellows made a large amount of virulent Ames that was to replenish RMR 1029 ( and be used for things such as DARPA experiments) that is missing.

    There is no contemporaneous documentation confirming its original stock but again, it was intended to replenish RMR 1029.

    Neither Dr. Hamouda nor Dr. Fellows will respond to my inquiries.

    Dr. Hamid’s brother knows Dr. Hamouda better (it was his brother that was in Dr. Hamouda’s class when all three were at Cairo Medical).

    The brother is a St. Louis doctor who was in Ann Arbor area prior to 9/11. Dr. Hamid’s brother, last I knew, would not speak to the brother who is the author of INSIDE JIHAD because Tawfiq’s cooperation with intelligence authorities. He organized a conference among physicians and conducted a radio interview in which he explained he could not tell the FBI about a sleeper cell if he did not know about it.”

    Instead of this nonsense of spending $50 million to try to get to answers, GAO should try picking up the phone. Dr. Fellows and Dr. Hamouda will not answer my inquiries but might answer GAO’s questions.

  5. DXer said

    Keim acknowledged Sunday at a meeting of science writers that the evidence linking Ivins to the crime would have needed additional scientific vetting to make a solid court case. And he said that if Ivins hadn’t committed suicide, the scientific investigation would have continued for another two years. That would have been necessary, he said, to get to the “higher standards” of scientific proof required for criminal prosecution. At a cost of $50 million, he said, continuing the work now would be too expensive for the government to pursue.

  6. DXer said

    RE: Preproposal Wednesday, February 18, 2004 12:47:22 PM High

    Subject: Date: Importance:

    Should I just can the proposal/preproposal and ask to be “100%” on the vaccine resistance project? Do (you want all of the work to be dropped, or simply incorporated into another proposal? I didn’t think that this 6 would be viewed as an offensive “Offensive” proposal, but perhaps since I want to be able to make )the most virulent, purest, cleanest, most stable spores possible, it might be seen that way. Could I have some comments back on this (b) Also, could I get comments from others? If it really sounds like “Next…I want to learn how to(6) make POWDER!!!!!!”…then I’ll drop it altogether. I don’t need another round of questioning from our Friends as to why I want to develop souped-up anthrax spores.
    – Bruce –

    Sent: Wednesday, February 18, 2004 12:37 PM To: Ivins, Bruce E Dr USAMRIID Cc: (b) (6) Subject: RE: Preproposal

    Bruce, the more I’ve thought about this the less I like it. I can’t make it tie in to any of our stated objectives or research gaps…. I also have a lurking fear that some may construe this as offensive work, even perhaps ” Ivins the Terrorist” work. I would like you guys to do a group hug and come up with a different approach. The most obvious may be to deed the Vaccine resistance project back to Bruce. There are also possibilities under multi-agent vaccines for a live B.a. based platform or other projects under GET. If you use one or more of these projects to fly cover then (in a toned-down manner) you could integrate some of the pre-proposal as a supporting objective of another plan.

    see also

  7. DXer said

    Here is a *September 2001 Battelle Arlington report by Dr. DeBell on “Particle Size and Organism Number: Impact on Bioaerosols.” He was also the co-author of an October 2001 BATTELLE REPORT TO DIA ON LETHAL INHALATION DOSE (that Dr. Ivins had for his research which involved knowing the LD/50 for inhalation challenges).

    The Battelle author, then from Northern Virginia, can best address these questions about particle size and the impact on bioaerosols raised by Old Atlantic. Or see the Battelle author’s article.

    Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 22, 2011

    Dr. Ivins did not work for DARPA except to provide the Ames he was instructed to provide for their research on the effect of a sonicator and corona plasma discharge on Ames spores.

    DARPA, which included use of a microencapsulated product in their biodefense study.

    There is a DARPA program manager from 2001 who is willing to testify if GAO were to reach out to him.

    DARPA was FOIAed for documents relating to Dr. Ivins and there were no responsive documents. Similarly, I got no responsive documents from DIA, as I recall, except for the correspondence between Dr. Ayman Zawahiri and one of his infiltrators and other documents in his possession relating to anthrax and plague and the like. The documents produced by the infltrator explained that a conference sponsored by Porton Down (attended by the USAMRIID and Porton Down and Battelle scientists) he had learned some tricks of processing anthrax and made some internet contacts. (Dr. Ivins’ emails show no contact with infiltrator Rauf Ahmad).

    The FBI’s expert John Ezzell forthrightly (to my way of thinking, heroically) answered all my questions relating to the DARPA research in which Flask 1029 (the “murder weapon” to borrow US Attorney Taylor’s term) was used to make a dried powder Ames aerosol.

    It was for the mass spectrometry detection work. The product was even purer than the Daschle product.

    Questioning was stopped prematurely by a senior distinguished member of the panel who may have perceived that Dr. Ezzell was under physical distress. Dr. Ezzell then did have a heart attack minutes later as soon as we broke for recess. I had gone to a nearby building but by the time I was back he had been taken away in an ambulance. I had wanted to get an answer to the question where else aerosol work was done for DARPA — to include aerosol work using the microencapsulated product indicated by the budget documents that have been uploaded. Relatedly, the question would be where the microencapsulated product was made.

    The DARPA researchers thanked John Ezzell and Terry Abshire for their help and facilities.

    It was Terry Abshire who selected the morphs later thought so important by the FBI science team.

    Trail of Odd Anthrax Cells Led FBI to Army Scientist …
    Oct 27, 2008 … In late October 2001, lab technician Terry Abshire placed a tray of … These were mutants, or “morphs,” genetic deviants scattered among …

    A newly produced document shows that Dr. Abshire did not submit a sample from RMR 1029 used to make a dried powder that was in her lab because she had understood Dr. Ivins was submitting one. But then the FBI threw that sample submitted by Dr. Ivins out. I am surprised the sample was not submitted given that the scientist collecting the sample knew her lab had made a dried powder out of that strain.

    Washington Field memo (dated 9/11/06) produced this month (10/5/11) to me under FOIA regarding what is known about distribution of virulent Ames known to have the 4 morphs … why did the one woman have the matching Ames sample? … she “can’t remember”

    Despite the presumed good faith of the researchers working for the FBI, didn’t they have a conflict of interest that hopelessly tainted the evidence? Shouldn’t David Wilson’s first order of business been to confirm that the dried powder made by the scientist who had worked for the FBI since 1996 wasn’t a genetic match? (It was). DW worked closely with JE.

    When the FBI then threw out Dr. Ivins first sample, the loss of that sample could not possibly fairly be construed as evidence of Dr. Ivins’ guilt. Yet that is what the Amerithrax scientists did even though the emails show the written protocols were not sent to Ivins’ lab until May 24, 2002,

    That’s just really messed up — even before you get to some excellent work done by the recent ProPublica/Frontline/McClatchy involving some documents that now have been uploaded to the USAMRIID Reading room (under FBIR Repository).

    The Frontline broadcast and recent articles by ProPublica/Frontline/McClatchy group greatly advanced things by showing that Dr. Ivins on more than one occasion during the 2002-2004 period had submitted samples showing the 4 morphs — destroying the FBI’s grossly misleading argument. Even more fundamentally he said the sample had been prepared by his lab assistant and the document produced this month authored by Dr. Abshire confirms that there are not the usual intiials indicating he had prepared the April 2002 sample (although that was her assumption). People are just assuming that Dr. Ivins would not have separately corrected a label — and yet that would only have been natural after having been criticized in February for labeling that did not conform with instructions. (Nor is the fact that Dr. Ivins walked it to the lab in April 2002 sufficient to contradict his repeated testimony that he had prepared two of the samples and his lab assistant prepared two of the samples).

    If and when the US is attacked in a mass attack using anthrax, anyone who stood in the way of production of documents not exempt under FOIA should be fired the next day.

  8. DXer said

    In mid-August 2011, USAMRIID gave me this study in response in a request for all documents in Dr. Ivins’ office from September or October 2001, whether in hard copy or electronic form, As you can see from Dr. Ivins’ emails,

    October 2001 BATTELLE REPORT TO DIA ON LETHAL INHALATION DOSE (provided to DXer today under FOIA)

  9. Page 6 of pdf has the measurement of spore size as the indicator of its dispersion characteristic. However, if coating something is meant to change its dispersion, then it is not spore size that measures that effect, but some other measurement has to be used. Given two spores of the same size, one coated and one not, spore size does not distinguish their dispersant or floatability characteristics. Spore size is an input not an output to a mapping from inputs to dispersability or floatability. Spore coating is another input. Dispersability and floatability are functions of spore size and coating so that measuring the input spore size does not tell us if the coating has an effect on floatability and dispersability.

    Dispersability could be measured by deposition as a function of radius from a release point. This measure of dispersability is not the same as spore size. Floatability could be measured by deposition as a function of height above the level of release. This is not the same as spore size.

    • Dispersability of a sample of spores and of an individual spore are linked but to some extent different. A sample is more dispersable if its spores separate from each other, e.g. don’t stick to each other. A coating can achieve that. That then brings up whether coatings can change the individual spore’s dispersability.

      A casual anthaxer would only worry about separating the spores from each other. Coating spores so that the individual spores are more dispersable is second stage type thinking. This would require more expertise to measure and experiment with. Only a government lab or the equivalent would bother with that.

      • DXer said

        Making spores separate from each other, e.g. don’t stick to each other would seem to be the result of using a sonicator and a corona plasma discharge.

        • Old Atlantic said

          Do those leave a different signature than other methods?

        • DXer said

          Joany Jackman, Dr. Ezzell’s assistant, could describe the effect of a sonicator and a CPD. For biodefense purposes, it was deemed a possible way to get a better mass spec signal. See linked study (I believe a co-author was C. Fenselau, an important FBI consultant on the chemical signature.

          No Johns-Hopkins people or DARPA people responded to my inquiries. So it would reporters of the stature of the ProPublica/McClatchy/ and Frontline effort to get people to respond to inquiries.

          And of course Chris Hassell for legitimate reasons wants to avoid such discussion of matters relating to processing anthrax.

          The mass spec research by DARPA needed to also include microencapsulated product because that is what might be used.

          The problem is that while all this money was being spent on technical issues, there was the same lapse of common sense that we saw in the case of Ali Mohammed occurring in the biodefense industry.

          My sense of the biodefense/ technical / business/ bioscare professionals is that they don’t know anything whatsoever about Dr. Ayman or what makes his colleagues tick — and if they were any good at all at intelligence analysis they would not have allowed the infiltration illustrated, for example, by Rauf Ahmad or Ali Al-Timimi.

  10. DXer said

    The address/phone number associated with the WTC 1993 bomber Ramzi Yousef was frequently called by subtilis expert Walied Samarrai in February 1993 (up to the time and hour of the first arrests). See WTC 1993 trial, Exhibit 818. That address is separately associated with Dr. Samarrai, a subtilis expert, in this Intellius Report. Did the subtilis expert know WTC 1993 bomber Ramzi Yousef? Who does Walied Samarrai think is responsible for the anthrax mailings? Is it correct that in 2001 Professor Samarrai lived at one of the two addresses about 20 miles from the mailbox in Princeton?

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