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

* Washington Post editorial (10/21/11) calls for independent review of FBI investigation of Dr. Bruce Ivins in 2001 anthrax attacks … LMW: it is long past time to hold FBI Director Mueller accountable for the pathetically botched Amerithrax investigation

Posted by DXer on October 22, 2011


it is long past time to hold FBI Director Mueller accountable for the pathetically botched FBI Amerithrax investigation and also for the withholding of documents in violation of FOIA


a Washington Post editorial (10/21/11) …

  • BRUCE E. IVINS has been dead for three years, but questions still abound about whether he carried out the 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five people and seriously sickened 17 others.
  • The FBI compiled what appeared to be an overwhelming case against the former microbiologist at Maryland’s Fort Detrick.
  • Mr. Ivins took his own life in 2008 just as the Justice Department was preparing to charge him.

serious questions about the accuracy of the FBI investigation

have been raised

  • This scientific evidence came under fire in February when the National Academy of Sciences, which was commissioned by the FBI to review the case, reported that the bureau had not performed enough tests or been precise enough to conclude definitively that Mr. Ivins was the lone culprit.
  • Now three independent scientists have teamed up to publish a paper in the Journal of Bioterrorism and Biodefense that points to other alleged failings in the FBI’s testing procedures.
  • Also this month, a joint investigation by PBS’s “Frontline” newsmagazine, the ProPublica online newsroom and McClatchy Newspapers raised additional questions about the accuracy of the FBI investigation.

the uncertainty is unacceptable … 

Congress should convene a panel

of independent law enforcement specialists and scientists

to pore over the evidence collected in the course of the FBI investigation —

including classified information that was withheld from the NAS panel.

read the entire editorial at …

21 Responses to “* Washington Post editorial (10/21/11) calls for independent review of FBI investigation of Dr. Bruce Ivins in 2001 anthrax attacks … LMW: it is long past time to hold FBI Director Mueller accountable for the pathetically botched Amerithrax investigation”

  1. DXer said

    Who was behind deadly anthrax attacks?

    A week after the September 11 tragedy, the US was rocked by another, lesser known attack – this time through deadly anthrax.

    Over a series of weeks, letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to news media offices and to Democratic senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy.

    Turbulent life of £148m Lotto winners as son left ‘fighting for life’ in quad bike smash

    Five people were killed and 17 infected, leading the FBI to launch an investigation that became “one of the largest and most complex in the history of law enforcement”.

    Despite this claim, it was never fully proven exactly who was behind the attacks.

    While initially linked to Al-Qaeda or Saddam Hussein in Iraq, forensics showed the weapon was made on US soil.

    One US bioweapons expert was publicly named and saw his home raided by the FBI before being exonerated – leading him to sue.

    Bruce Edwards Ivins, a scientist at the government’s biodefence labs in Maryland, then became the chief focus before committing suicide in 2008.

    The FBI insisted that they believe Ivins acted alone and formally closed its investigation in 2010.

    However critics, including colleagues of Ivins, questioned the findings and cast doubt on the conclusion.

    Their protests included that he was only one of 100 people who could have worked with the vial used in the attacks and that the FBI couldn’t place him near the New Jersey mailbox from which the anthrax was mailed.

    Comment: It’s not true that the authorities could ever determine that it was grown or powderized in the United States. The strain apparently did originate from a cow in Texas, though. Similarly, the figure 100 is way off. It is more like 350 – and anyone who got the strain from any of the 350, whether by asking or taking. Ad infinitum.

  2. DXer said

    Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on bill to protect special counsel Robert Mueller
    Updated 1:12 AM; Posted 1:04 AM

    How Mueller Screwed Up The Anthrax Investigation:Dick Morris

    Look at this Dick Morris video at 2:30 — and understand that politics has no role in true crime analysis. A key to true crime analysis in this case is dispassionate document analysis.

    One’s view of a difficult whodunnit should not hinge on your view of unrelated political issues. A Hatfill Theory needed to be pursued. Lead WFO criminal prosecutor Seikaly’s leaks (he pled the Fifth) put Mueller in the position of having to pay the theory close attention because that was the theory the press was focused on. It was NYT’s Kristof’s columns that brought such dramatic attention — with his July 4, 2002 article crossing the line.

    Under anyone’s view, the Amerithrax mystery seems to have been a very challenging mystery. And, domestically, it was just harder to pursue overseas leads than domestic ones — harder to prove surreptitious acquisition than custody for work purposes.

    Mueller was under political pressure from Senator Leahy’s office to pursue a Hatfill Theory. One well-meaning staffer iin that office n particular. My friend, the distinguished BHR, who was there at a key meeting with FBI WFO head Van Harp. She was pretty earnest. Although I have always been unpersuaded by the evidence used in support of a Hatfill Theory (e.g., “Greendale”, the minnow trap, the use of the STU-100 in connection with human scent on irradiated paper etc.), it was not an unreasonable theory to pursue. Hatfill’s mentoring under William Patrick combined with his forging of a PhD certificate was a not insubstantial starting point. The investigators from AMX #1 and #2 interviewed by Willman suggest that Mueller was fixated on Hatfill. But we just don’t don’t have full information about whether the overseas leads, and evidence of infiltration of US biodefense, was fully pursued. We just have occasional glimpses. For example, Yazid Sufaat was not interviewed until November 2002. Mueller went to Malaysia in March 2002 and failed to gain the FBI’s access to Yazid Sufaat at the time. Even if he had, Yazid Sufaat was not cooperating and so it likely would not have mattered. It was about that time (March 2002) that they picked up Chomel, his wife, in order to gain leverage. But Yazid Sufaat was not moved — even though he loves his wife very much. He says he had been part of a secret Malaysian bioweapons program some years earlier and he was mad at his country for arresting him. Years later I corresponded with him and he pled the Fifth as to what strain he was using. (Fun fact: Both the CIA and FBI detected Ames in his laboratory).

    Another data point was that FBI Agent Decker did not get even the UK Porton Down samples for over two years! That is hardly how to ensure the preservation of microbiological evidence. That was a major investigative failure that Mueller should have overcome. But the entire voluntary submission of samples was crazy (perhaps unavoidable) in that anyone submitting could simply avoid 4 morphs by following the wrong protocol (intentionally or not) in growing the sample — by using a single colony pick. The entire logical elimination was hopelessly flawed — even before one gets to complicated science. Someone who had allowed Rauf Ahmad to infiltrate Porton Down conferences and UK, for example, would have no reason — several years later — to have or produce stolen virulent Ames. Someone who transferred virulent Ames without complying with the formal CDC procedure (requiring an EA-101) would have every reason to conceal it. In the 1990s, strains were passed around like trading cards. Moreover, whether in the US or abroad, anyone could just walk out of laboratory that had it. From Porton Down or Houston, even as to those samples where a plasmid was cured, any graduate student could have the plasmid reinserted and in fact one of the plasmids in the mailed anthrax was inverted. The uncertainties in any analysis of the FBI’s repository would have been impossible to overcome in any prosecution.

    Turning back to the video, Dick Morris is clearly now advanced in years and we wish him well. But he should stick to politics in promoting his friend Bannon’s political interests. It is the document analysis — which requires that a court or Congress end the FBI’s hiding of the documents exculpatory of Ivins — that will lead to a fairer assessment of whether Mueller botched Amerithrax. Even if he did botch Amerithrax — as I think he did — I’m not sure that I’ve ever known of anyone who could have done better. These people (including folks like Decker and Saathof that I’ve been so critical of on the merits) are highly qualified folks doing a very difficult job. That’s why we havedefense counsel and juries. Ivins was already out $70,000 to his defense counsel and had been blocked from USAMRIID. He was about to be humiliated. He had no reason to live. As Claire Fraser-Liggett, an FBI genetics expert who thought the FBI’s use of the scientific evidence was misleading once said, what would have happened if Ivins had been as strong as Hatfill in fighting the charges?

    At the end of the day, Dr. Ayman Zawahiri is a formidable foe and is very astute in his use of spycraft. Given the national security interests, Mueller (and Richard Lambert) cannot reveal their shrewdest moves, so the public is free to gather at the Frederick pond being drained and poke fun at Decker’s 4 days of watching dried mud on a minnow trap.

    I want to believe what Michael Mason of Amerithrax once told me: The FBI tries to leave no stone unturned. I suspect that was Mueller’s mantra too.

    We need heroes. We need the rule of law. Try to believe in heroes so long as it doesn’t lead you to believe in Tinkerbelle discerning a trail of human scent taken from (since irradiated paper) touched by someone using gloves over a year earlier.

    Anthrax, Al Qaeda and Ayman Zawahiri: The Infiltration of US Biodefense

  3. DXer said

    The invisible threat

    Jenna McLaughlin, (c) 2017, Foreign Policy

    In 2001, one week after 9/11, someone mailed anthrax spores to lawmakers and journalists, killing five people and drawing attention to the threat of bioattacks. The Amerithrax attacks, as they were known, led the Department of Homeland Security to create the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC) at Fort Detrick, Maryland (it was later discovered that a scientist working at Fort Detrick’s biodefense lab was responsible for the anthrax attacks). Since then, the center has worked on thousands of cases, primarily for the FBI.

    But now biothreats, such as weaponized diseases, are easier to make and even harder to detect.


    Danzig isn’t alone in those concerns, whether about terrorists or governments. Under Obama, the White House was interested in learning more about scientific problems, and one of the last research topics of the president’s council of advisors on science and technology was about the danger of biothreats.

    But “that study came so late in the game that one cannot point to a lot of policy change that resulted from it,” John Holdren, Obama’s science advisor, told FP.

    As of mid-August, that advisory council has been dissolved, and there are no current plans to revive it. As for the biothreats study it produced, its fate is unclear.

  4. DXer said

    Aren’t Lew and Ken too hard on Robert Mueller? It seems that it was a difficult case — could anyone else have done better in real time?

  5. DXer said

    Dr. Vahid Majidi dismisses the opinion of the Washington Post. Now the Wash Po doesn’t think the moon landing was faked. And the editorial board did not know Dr. Ivins. And so his basis for dismissing the independent opinion of the Editorial Board is unclear to me.

  6. DXer said

    The Washington Post agrees with the New York Times and editorialized on the subject the last time these authors weighed in on the subject.

  7. DXer said

    Today I requested under FOIA the attachment to the August 29, 2001 email by Bruce Ivins. The attachments are titled “NGAV Meeting Minutes Final – 28 September.doc” and “NGAV Read Ahead-Oct 01.ppt”

  8. DXer said

    The hunt for America’s anthrax killer

    Federal agents took years to finger Army scientist Bruce Ivins as the man behind the attacks

    By Stephen Engelberg, Greg Gordon and Jim Gilmore And Mike Wiser, Vancouver Sun October 24, 2011 2:07 AM

    They found guns, a shooting range in his basement and Tasers. But swab after swab taken from every conceivable nook and cranny found not a single spore from the attack powder.

    Claire Fraser-Liggett, a key genetics consultant for investigators, found such a dismissal troubling. “You think about all the efforts that had to go into decontaminating postal facilities, and the volatility of those spores and the fact that they were around for so long,” she said. “I think it represents a big hole, really gives me pause to think: How strong was this case against Dr. Ivins?”

    Read more:


    They found a silencer in Dr. Hatfill’s residence.

    Once FBI agents interviewed me about Ed (there was concern he had done something stupid after being dropped from an email group) and I had forgotten that there was a blow gun (with poison darts neatly displayed) hanging right over their head in the kitchen. I likely got that at the same time I got a dozen cool canes with a sword hidden inside. Flying from Bangkok to Hanoi, I had forgotten that I had them in my luggage and I stood next to the customs official at the Hanoi airport and watched as they went through the x-ray machine.

    Dr. Ivins had been accosted by a man with a gun and robbed. See police report.

    Pity the poor bastard that tries to rob me. :0)

    • DXer said

      I think guns are abhorrent. But 1 out of every 2 men own one including all FBI agents.

      Gun Ownership: The Numbers
      Their Aim is True: Taking stock of America’s real gun

      From the May 2001 issue

      According to widely varying estimates, there are between 77 million and 90 million gun owners in the United States. Here are some of their characteristics.

      47 Percentage of men reporting a gun in their home

  9. Old Atlantic said

    In this case, where does the FBI get credit for working well with scientists? The morph discovery by Terry Abshire led to a project. Who approved and funded that project? Was that the FBI? Then later they would not listen to the Red Team proposal for more testing. That was the FBI, but a different person?

    • DXer said

      The FBI did not fund the morph project. Although much ado has been made about it, it only narrowed things from 700 to “up to 377.” Big whoop. The mass spec on the photocopier toner — not even yet disclosed — was more probative (and exculpatory).

      Returning to Director Mueller, I haven’t seen any evidence that anyone could do better than any of these prosecutors or investigators.

      As for GAO’s statutory mandate to explain how conflict of interest principles apply, the prosecutors and investigators would be the first to explain that it was a central and difficult issue.

      The fellow asking Director Mueller “How’s the anthrax investigation going?” each day was Ali Al-Timimi’s old boss, Andrew Card. Ali had been given a security clearance at SRA to work on a classified project involving the Navy. He was there in 1999 along with Charles Bailey who was a Battelle consultant along with Ken Alibek in 1999. Then they both went to the DARPA-funded Center for Biodefense at GMU. In the spring 2001 there were classified aerosol exercises involving ships that have yet to be discussed.

      The fact that someone has a conflict of interest does not bear on their good faith, which is presumed. For example, given the FBI scientists made a dried powder out of the largest collection of virulent Ames in the country, they should have been disqualified from collecting samples. They were disqualified from throwing out Dr. Ivins samples. They were disqualified from being a key witness in claiming that Dr. Ivins had submitted a false sample. etc. This was especially true that even to this day the FBI has never acknowledged that its experts made a dried powder out of RMR 1029. (And that is because a microencapsulated powder was also made for DARPA).

      The key FBI genetics person at NAU, Kimothy S., had given the former Zawahiri associate a B3 lab to work with virulent labs. Is he the one who threw out the sample or was it someone else? (Dr. Abshire says that they passed it on to an FBI scientist who threw it out. Or did Jason B. from ATCC throw it out).

      Given that someone coordinating with the “911 imam” had been given unrestricted access to the confidential patent repository at ATCC (by Jason B. who then would lead the FBI science investigation), JB was disqualified, despite his good faith, from withholding from the NAS key information.

      Given that the lead prosecutor, came over from the CIA on September 19, 2001 and was from a family of Palestinian activists, he was disqualified from speaking to reporters arguing that the bloodhounds had persuasively pointed (or could even) to Dr. Hatfill — especially when the prosecutor’s daughter then came to represent Al-Al-Timimi for free. (The family are Palestinian activists dating to his sister-in-law’s explanation to the Washington Post in 1982 that to be born in Palestine is necessarily to be political. (The prosecutor was born in Haifa in 1948).

      Now Director Mueller knew all of this and was trying to conduct a principled investigation despite all of this — along with his many other massive responsibilities.

      So it’s not that Director Mueller “should be held accountable” — it is that it is now GAO’s institutional role to explain the conflict of interest principles that apply so that prosecutors and investigators in the future can have guidelines to follow in avoid conflicts that derail an investigation.

      If I had to fault things “big picture” I would say that the postal inspectors should have had a lesser role because they were not qualified to do the necessary intelligence analysis. The fault lies more with people like Jennifer Smith whose job it was to protect us from Dr. Ayman’s planning to use anthrax using the cover of universities and charities. The fault likes with the media who doesn’t dig deep enough by getting answers to questions — such as an authoritative account by Anthony Bassett of the animal experiments. Instead, they think reading the documents produced by the FBI to the NAS and interviewing the witnesses who have offered themselves up to the press suffices. It doesn’t. The best investigative reporting lies in getting the people not inclined to speak to address the hard issues.

      • DXer said

        I was mistaken to say that the 4 morphs limited things from 700 (worldwide, to the extent known) to “up to 377”. The 377 figure was just at USAMRIID. There was another 42, for example at Battelle.

        The 4 morphs analysis really did not limit the field hardly at all — and for US Attorney Taylor to not appreciate that the genetic match had also been in Building 1412 is a monumentally large mistake.

        For the media to be so confused and think that the Amerithrax could be closed on — or even was much advanced by the 4 morphs analysis — is part of the problem.

        That sets up the ridiculous situation where the DOJ can just shrug their shoulders when pointing out that a large amount of Ames made by the Ivins lab assistants is missing.

        Dr. Ivins had written an email explaining that some of his inventory would be missing because, well. er.. you know… He was told to shut up and that everything with the FBI “was under control.” That related to the Ames used in the DARPA microencapsulation experiments — experiments were done for both the mass spec detector and the former Zawahiri associate’s decontamination agent. The man who came to be in charge of Pakistan and Afghanistan invested $30 million in the project while head of Perseus (then another $20 million was invested). So the funding was $12 million by DARPA, and then $50 million by Perseus.

        Follow the money.

        Oh, and ask hard questions. Start with lab tech Anthony Bassett at USAMRIID who can explain the animal experiments involving mice (known as the passive mouse study) and a different one involving rabbits (the Covance formaldehyde study). Then at University of Michigan the lab tech who came to work alongside Bruce, Pat, Mara and Tarek can explain the details of that research.

      • Lew Weinstein said

        Failure is failure, whether there was lack of good intent or not. The FBI Amerithrax investigation was, and is, a failure, and for this Director Mueller must be held accountable. He has compounded the investigative failure by continuing to insist that the publicly disclosed case against Dr. Ivins is compelling, when it is obviously not.

        • DXer said

          I don’t know what you have read so I don’t know if we are on the same page.

          Have you read Mr. Willman’s book? Have you read the investigative summary?

          Do you think the Director of the FBI has the opportunity to learn that AUSA Lieber and Agent Ed Montooth were misrepresenting the documents relating to the small animal studies?

          Do you think the Director of the FBI was aware that the first counselor whose descriptions serve as the basis for the “homicidal plot” thought she had been granted psychic powers by an alien who had implanted a device in her butt? That she thought murderous entities attached themselves to her patients (for the months she actually worked as a counselor) and that nasty astral entities would chase her back from Afghanistan each night trying to kill her? Even major news outlets like the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times have not stepped back from their reliance on that counselor’s descriptions –even after the Washington Post’s ombudsman was contacted. Not even the psychiatrists on the EBAP panel have advised Director Mueller of their mistake or advised federal district court judge Lamberth of their mistake. So why given Director Mueller’s massive responsibilities in keeping this country safe would he be expected to know about the first counselor unless he is told by the professionals he needs to rely upon in informing him of such things?

          The people who should be fired are the ones who try to stuff 52 rabbits down the hat or keep the device-implanting-alien in the closet. Go listen to Agent Montooth’s description (see transcript) with the actual documents relating to the rabbits. And then fault the lame questioning by the Frontline interviewers who should have been questioning him on the documents.

          Even that pornographer who regularly blogs on Amerithrax scrupulously avoids the fact that the keypad at B301 corroborates perfectly the animal work with mice and rabbits. He doesn’t even realize that the passive mouse study testing the potency of what was going to be used on the rabbits was entirely separate from the subcutaneous challenge then commenced on the 52 rabbits, with dozens dying and then needing to be autoclaved. The FBI had taken the only copy of the Covance notebook from USAMRIID and still has not produced it.

          Given the Senators love Director Mueller for the important and good work he does, all you are doing is making it harder to get Director Mueller to reopen the case.

        • Lew Weinstein said

          The anthrax attacks were not some minor crime, one of thousands investigated by the FBI every day. It was a major attack on the US and it led to the largest FBI investigation in history.

          Yes, the FBI Director should be expected to know what is going on in such an investigation, and where there is abundant reason to believe the investigation is not going well, it is his duty to get involved and make it right. Mueller failed terribly in that respect, and he is rightly held accountable for that failure.

          I think it is unlikely that anyone will persuade Director Mueller to re-open the case. It will happen only if he is forced to do so, or replaced with an FBI Director who will.

        • DXer said

          According to the investigators and prosecutors, you’ll recall that the Director never thanked the investigators or prosecutors for their work. Maybe they should have taken the hint.

        • DXer said

          An Ivins Theory, for example, is far more plausible than a Battelle Ohio theory – which has always been flatly contradicted by the documents in the particulars advanced by some and known to be baseless.

  10. Dxer said

    An FBI director is not responsible just because a crime is difficult to solve.

    There is no evidence of wrongdoing on the Director’s part.

    Such stridency just interferes with the dispassionate analysis of the documents that is needed.

    • anonymous said

      Well, actually he is. He’s responsible for admitting that his agency is powerless to solve the crime. That’s what the whole Hafill lawsuit was about – the director of the FBI pretended to have solved the crime when he hadn’t.

      Now he’s pretending a dead man, Bruce Ivins, perpetrated the crime.

      It’s not strident to ask our leading law enforcement agency not to pretend they have solved crimes.

    • Lew Weinstein said

      The FBI Director is responsible for telling the truth to the American people. He is responsible for the compartmentalized investigative procedure that kept everyone (especially the scientists) in the dark. He is responsible for claiming there is a case against Ivins when what he presents as evidence is pathetically inadequate. He is responsible for withholding vital information under FOIA. He is responsible for not answering Congress’ questions, and perhaps for outright lies to Congress (which is a prosecutable offense – just ask Roger Clemens). And he is no doubt responsible for lots of other aspects of this case we don’t yet know about.

      There is nothing strident about calling Robert Mueller to account for these failures.

  11. DXer said

    In Vancouver Sun today –

    Was this man the anthrax killer?

    Ten years after five people were killed by deadly powder in envelopes delivered by mail, new questions are emerging about whether Bruce Ivins was really responsible for the mayhem

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