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

* the FBI takes issue with the recent NYT editorial … wouldn’t you love to be able to have dialogue with Mr. Kortan on these issues instead of simply a repetition of the FBI’s unproven assertions … let’s hope FRONTLINE does exactly that !!!

Posted by DXer on October 27, 2011


Michael P. Kortan, Assistant Director, Public Affairs Federal Bureau of Investigation


The Anthrax Investigation: The View From the F.B.I. (10/27/11) …

To the Editor:

I take issue with several points in your Oct. 18 editorial “Who Mailed the Anthrax Letters?

First, the National Academy of Sciences report concluded that the anthrax in the mailings was consistent with the anthrax produced in Dr. Bruce Ivins’s suite. The report stated, at the same time, that it was not possible to reach a definitive conclusion about the origins of the samples based on science alone. But investigators and prosecutors have long maintained that while science played a significant role, it was the totality of the investigative process that ultimately determined the outcome of the anthrax case.

Further, scientists directly involved in the lengthy investigation into the anthrax mailings — both from within the F.B.I. and outside experts — disagree with the notion that the chemicals in the mailed anthrax suggest more sophisticated manufacturing.

Second, it was directly relevant that Dr. Ivins worked long hours alone during the time of the mailings in the laboratory’s “hot suites” where the anthrax that was genetically linked to the attack spores was produced and handled. He had not done that before the mailings, nor did he ever do it again.

Dr. Ivins submitted an intentionally misleading sample in April 2002 that was free of genetic markers. Samples of his anthrax spores that contained the genetic markers were either submitted before he realized the markers might trap him or were seized later by the F.B.I., not made available by Dr. Ivins.

We strongly disagree with recent television reporting on this issue cited in the editorial.

Assistant Director, Public Affairs Federal Bureau of Investigation
Washington, Oct. 20, 2011

20 Responses to “* the FBI takes issue with the recent NYT editorial … wouldn’t you love to be able to have dialogue with Mr. Kortan on these issues instead of simply a repetition of the FBI’s unproven assertions … let’s hope FRONTLINE does exactly that !!!”

  1. If the mice and rabbits were done in some other team’s BSL-3, then there would have to be scheduled a set up and tear down by Ivins’ team. That would likely have been discussed in emails from Ivins to that other team and with his team. No such emails have shown up.

    This would have been a major disruption of that team’s entire suite of offices to have their BSL-3 taken over for animal experiments with anthrax causing death of animals and autoclaving and other clean up. That would have left a substantial paper trail.

    Were such takeovers common? So far, one teaming coming over to take over another team’s BSL-3 and leaving dead animals and other cleanup to them has not been mentioned.

    Who cleaned inside these suites? Were janitors vaccinated? Or did the team members do that work? Like once every two years.

    If the suites were not cleaned by janitors, having someone else bring animals who create waste and then leave without cleaning the suites with mops and cleaning scrubs would seem to be massively unpopular.

    • DXer said

      Dr. Ivins and his colleagues cleaned the lab — to include the night that the AUSA and investigators speculated, without basis, he was making a dried powdered anthrax.

      On Tuesday, September 25, he cleaned the ceiling lights.

      On Wednesday, September 26 he cleaned the door jams and the hoods. And he asked Dr. Worsham whether she wanted him to call a plumber given there was a drain that was plugged. He groused that perhaps another person in the lab was not doing their fair share of cleaning.

      At 9:57 P.M. on Wednesday, September 26, 2001, rather than making a dried powder, he was sitting down at his computer reporting to the superior who had directed that the lab be cleaned up.

      The investigators had this email at the time they demanded that Dr. Ivins recall what he had been doing 8 years earlier … and they never showed him this email to refresh his recollection. What were you doing 8 years ago? I don’t recall what I had for dinner last night This email was not produced until 3 years after Dr. Ivins’ death. The DOj reviewed all USAMRIID production of emails (greatly delaying the procedure) and culled whatever they did not want produced. A large number of DOJ personnel reviewed USAMRIID’s production (in batches) and GAO should ascertain who pulled what from production under FOIA.

      GAO should understand who pulled what and why.

  2. If the rabbits and mice were not in B-313 but in some other BSL-3 elsewhere, and if Ivins’ unit was in charge of them as their experiment, then not just Ivins but everyone checking them would have to go somewhere else in the building. This would also imply they would have to shower and change elsewhere in the building.

    They would have to do setup somewhere else and take materials from their area there and also they would have to dispose of things there. They would also be intruding on some other team’s work and disrupting them from using their own BSL-3 and that team might have to go somewhere else and so on.

    So USAMRIID would want a team to use its own BSL-3 for its own animal experiments. The nature of animals also is to be maximally disruptive. No one wants a house guest who kills rabbits while there with anthax and leaves dead rabbit bodies. Animals smell. Animals infected with anthrax are also unpopular pets to bring with one to someone else’s place. Thus other groups would very much not want some other team doing anthrax experiments with animals in their BSL-3.

  3. Old Atlantic said

    If rabbits and mice were in B-313 in the critical periods in September and October then mass production of anthrax spores in B-313 would have killed them all? Or at least upped the mortality even in ones receiving any vaccine. Also quickened the deaths.

    The rabbits and mice were like detectors and the statistics of their death are evidence of whether they were exposed to massive amounts of anthrax spores during production while they were in B-313.

    We know that the Senate anthrax mailings in particular spread through the air easily. So the rabbits if they were in B-313 while the anthrax was grown, centrifuged, processed would have been subjected to massive exposure to additional spores.

    No one seems to have considered that their mortality statistics were unusually high or fast. So this is evidence against any such exposure to additional anthrax spores from production and centrifuging.

    • Old Atlantic said

      The FBI says Ivins wanted to show the existing vaccine worked not just the new one. Exposing the rabbits who got the vaccine in B-313 to massive numbers of spores would tend to kill them and thus would tend to conclude the vaccine didn’t work.

      So Ivins would have, according to the FBI theory, a vested interest to try to have low mortality of vaccinated rabbits and thus Ivins had a vested interest to avoid exposing the rabbits in B-313 and the mice to additional massive numbers of spores from producing them and processing them in room B-313 while the rabbits and mice were in room b-313.

  4. Old Atlantic said

    Ivins BSL-3 lab B-313 was planned by his managers to be used for what purpose in the period August to October 2001?

    The pro FBI side makes it sound like the management of USAMRIID scheduled B-313 for Ivins to make anthrax on a surreptitious basis and it was not in use for anything else.

    We know at this point, that Ivins did not spend 8 hours a day from 8 AM to 5 PM with a break for lunch in room B-313. It appears at this stage, that Ivins was in B-313 less than half of each day and on many days not in it at all.

    So what was the allocated use for B-313 from August 2001 to October 2001?

    It would seem it was for the mice and then rabbits.

    The management would not put the rabbits in some other BSL-3 unless something else was in room B-313. For Ivins’ unit, his B-313 was a resource to be used for the unit. Just like having its own computer server would be a unit for everyone to use for projects requiring it.

    FOIA on B-313 Building 1425 can try to get at this more. But at this stage, it seems given the emails we have from Ivins that no other work was done in B-313 in August 2001 to October 9 2001 except for the mice, rabbit and similar studies.

    So the evidence at this stage points to the rabbits were in B-313 and that Ivins had the night checks at 10 PM for the rabbits and mice on the days marked on his calendar for those checks which are the days that show up on the FBI charts and time charts for him to have been there doing the 10 PM Check.

    • Old Atlantic said

      The pro FBI side seems to think Bruce’s unit had the following meeting in August.

      Manager: We are going to do some mice and rabbit studies in August to October. They have to be in a BSL3.

      Assistant: Let’s put them in B-313 that is a BSL3.

      Manager: No, Bruce is growing anthrax in B-313 to mail to Tom Brokaw. So we can’t put the rabbit cages in B-313 that would not give Bruce enough room.

      Assistant: Well, I don’t know somewhere else in Bldg 1425 or Bldg 1412 then?

      Manager: Will have to be. We definitely can’t use B-313 for anything from August to October because Bruce has to make the anthrax and mail it out to keep our unit funded. And if we put any animals in there it would be too crowded for Bruce to work on his scheduled work creating the attack anthrax spores and processing them to go in envelopes.

  5. The animals had to be checked every 8 hours. So they probably had a protocol saying this was 6 AM, 2 PM and 10 PM. So Ivins always wrote 10 PM for the evening checks because they were the 10 PM Check. In effect, 10 PM Check was like a proper noun.

    Following has information on buildings 1412, 1425 and BSL3 and BSL4s at Ft. Detrick.

  6. I believe it has been suggested that the rabbits were someplace else than the BSL3 of B313.

    If Ivins did the rabbits in another BSL3 then that BSL3 would also have in and out time records? Those could be subject to FOIA.

    • DXer said

      By who? The fellow who thinks that it is 99% certain a first grader wrote the letters? Anyone else?

      Why would you repeat such nonsense and preface it by “it has been suggested.”

      Who has it been suggested by? The word “rabbits” has never passed the lips of any prosecutor or investigator, has it?

      And as for Ed, in order to make his suggestion, he needed to avoid citing the December 19, 2001 email which demolishes his assumptions, which have always been informed by any contact with any USAMRIID scientist on the subject. The subcutaneous study was NOT done in a different BLS3. The fact that they were subcutaneous, as Dr. Ivins explained in his emails, permitted them to be done in Building 1425 and that was preferable given a subcutaneous challenge rather than aerosol challenge was done in Building 1412.

      You’ll recall, it was Ed who imagined Dr. Ivins growing anthrax in the autoclave in the BL-3! Instead, the documentary evidence always available to Ed shows that he had dozens of dead rabbits to autoclave on those nights. I gave Ed the email for Anthony Bassett and he never made contact.

      • Dxer, I think you told me before not to use his name here but just use some phrase like it has been suggested. Are you willing to let the full name of the suggester be used here on a regular basis?

        • DXer said

          The BL-3 was in Rm. 313. The B301 keypad and the BL-3 hot suite PIN reader confirm what the documents show as to Dr. Ivins’ reason for being in the lab in early October. After the challenge at the start of the month, Dr. Ivins was checking for time of death for the next days 10 or so days and autoclaving the dead rabbits. see emails, memos, time records and 302. The rabbits arrived the week of September 25th. The internet poster you mention just is unfamiliar with the documents which he nowhere links or discusses. He confused the passive mouse study for the rabbit study. There were two different studies — two different sets of animals.

          Dead mice also need to be autoclaved. Autoclaving is done by the last person in the suite for the day and typically takes 1 1/2 – 2 hours. His time was not at all unexplained – once the withheld documents are reviewed. It took 3 years to get from USAMRIID and the remainder are still being withheld by the FBI. The FBI’s withholding of the rabbit documents — taking the only copy from USAMRIID — constitutes an obstruction by justice.

  7. DXer said

    Here is an audio of the NPR Science Friday report with Engelberg, Keim and Relman interviewed. They are all very well-spoken but it was all very general talk.

    Dr. Keim explains that he could have testified in court that it was a laboratory strain and not a natural strain.

    Where are the investigative reporters who can write up the rabbit experiment by getting an interview with those with personal knowledge — combined with the documentary evidence?

    • DXer said

      Here is a picture of 16 stainless steel washing type experiment rabbit cages. Someone at USAMRIID who knows could tell us whether it is a fair representation.

      Then picture three racks this size and you have 48 with 4 left over.

      Dr. Ivins said in a December 19, 2001 email that they always did subcutaneous rabbit challenges in BL-3 (which would be Rm. 313) even though anthrax was a BL-2 agent.

      Over the course of the first 3 days of challenge, in one group, for example, 12 out of 24 died. Dead animals required autoclaving that took 1 1/2 – 2 hours and was a one-person job that would be done by the last person in the lab for the day — in this case Dr. Ivins.

      They would not all die at the same time — there would be dead rabbits on each of the days following challenge with the rabbits being monitored over the next 10 days.

      The FBI scientists knew this. Thus, the prosecutor’s claim that he had no reason to be in the lab was without a factual basis and was contradicted by the documents.

      The prosecutor’s claim that he had no reason to be in the lab — was for the purpose of putting psychological pressure on him. They made the accusation without providing him a copy of the contemporaneous documents.

      (The December 19, 2001 email destroys his argument that the subcutaneous challenge was not done in the BL-3 laboratory.)

      Now as taxpayers we can spend millions of dollars on science that barely winnows the field — or the USG can spend bus fare to copy the documents being withheld and put an end to the FBI’s false narrative that his time was unexplained in early October.

      The 52 rabbits arrived the week of September 24th.

      Why should the fact that Agent Montooth being “comfortable” with Dr. Ivins be the mailer be reason for the FBI to be able to withhold the contemporaneous documents?

      And how can he be comfortable when his factual representations on such a critical issue are contradicted by the documents?

      It seems that neither he nor Rachel had mastered the documents relating to the rabbits — indeed, they evidence no awareness of them whatsoever.

      How many more interviews and newspaper articles are there going to be that avoid such a central issue?

      How many times are we going to be told that children should be subjects of an anthrax vaccine or billions more should be spent in biodefense when the FBI is playing major hide-the-ball with respect to the 52 rabbits?

      (BTW, they always did aerosol challenges, as distinguished from parenteral or subcutaneous challenges, at Building1412… which is why his hours for previous aerosol challenges would be associated with that BL-4 lab and not 1425… to the extent he had the night check).

  8. DXer said

    By Tom Detzel, ProPublica, and Mike Wiser, PBS Frontline Oct. 28, 2011, 6:48 p.m.
    0 CommentsRepublishEmailPrint

    A sign on the door of a Biosafety Level-4 laboratory at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Md. (Patrick Semansky/AP Photo)

    In a letter to the editor of The New York Times, a top FBI official today disputed recent reports by ProPublica, PBS’ “Frontline” and McClatchy that challenged evidence in the agency’s investigation of the 2001 anthrax letter attacks and its conclusion that Army scientist Bruce Ivins was the perpetrator.

    The letter from FBI Assistant Director for Public Affairs Michael P. Kortan followed editorials in the Times and The Washington Post that called for new, independent investigations into the anthrax case, which the FBI officially closed 18 months after Ivins committed suicide in the summer of 2008.

    Kortan’s letter largely repeats prior claims in defense of the case, some of which were covered in our stories. Here are key points from the letter and what we reported:

    Ivins’ suspicious lab hours

    Ivins was a top anthrax researcher at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Md. He produced vaccines and tested them on lab animals. The FBI has said a spike in Ivins’ nighttime lab hours prior to the mailings explains when he prepared the letters.

    What we reported: Ivins’ evening hours were above average just before the mailings, but lab access records also showed it was not unusual for Ivins to work late at other labs and offices throughout the Army complex. Further, Ivins’ colleagues said he was conducting animal experiments at the time.

    What Kortan wrote: “[I]t was directly relevant that Dr. Ivins worked long hours alone during the time of the mailings in the laboratory’s ‘hot suites,’ where the anthrax that was genetically linked to the attack spores was produced and handled. He had not done that before the mailings, nor did he ever do it again.”

    Ivins’ anthrax samples

    Once the FBI determined the letters contained a strain of anthrax common in labs, it asked scientists to submit samples of their spores. The FBI has said Ivins tried to hide his guilt by sending a false sample from his spore collection. Genetic tests later showed the spores in Ivins’ flask – RMR-1029 – matched the letter spores.

    What we reported: An email shows that Ivins’ offered his spores for genetic tests in December 2001. Though samples he submitted from his flask in April 2002 were not a genetic match, Ivins maintained it was an innocent mistake. Furthermore, an FBI memo and Army document show that Ivins had given another sample of RMR-1029 to a different colleague around that time.

    Emails and lab notebooks show that Ivins two years later helped a colleague collect a sample of RMR-1029 specifically for FBI evidence. Finally, the very first sample Ivins gave the FBI in February 2002 was rejected because it was in the wrong type of test tube. It was later tracked down, and tests determined it to be a close match to the letter spores.

    What Kortan wrote: “Dr. Ivins submitted an intentionally misleading sample in April 2002 that was free of genetic markers.Samples of his anthrax spores that contained the genetic markers were either submitted before he realized the markers might trap him or were seized later by the F.B.I., not made available by Dr. Ivins.”

    Was the anthrax treated?

    FBI and other scientists who examined the attack spores found that they contained silicon, tin and some other elements. The presence of those elements fueled speculation that the spores were treated – weaponized – to make them more dispersible. The FBI has said its studies show the silicon was the result of a natural process.

    What we reported: A National Academy of Sciences committee that reviewed the investigation’s scientific findings concluded the unusually high amount of silicon measured in spores sent to the New York Post was unexplained – something the panel’s vice chairman, David A. Relman, told us remained a “big discrepancy” in the FBI case.

    What Kortan wrote: “[S]cientists directly involved in the lengthy investigation into the anthrax mailings — both from within the F.B.I. and outside experts — disagree with the notion that the chemicals in the mailed anthrax suggest more sophisticated manufacturing.”

  9. DXer said

    On the genetics, there was a second slant that the FBI could not locate.

    The fellow who had the second slant (GK) went to work for the CIA. (see uploaded emails) He was at NMRCC which came to deal with the FBI’s samples.

    The genetics, at best, limited things from 700 down to “up to 377”, did not even do that given that FBI Director Mueller could not identify the third lab that in addition to Battelle and Dugway made a dried powder out of virulent Ames. If the FBI can’t identify the lab made a dried powder out of virulent Ames, then the FBI cannot address the virulent Ames used or whether it had 4 morphs. (Note that the FBI expert Keim says the 4 morphs analysis would not have been admissible and so there really is no point in talking about it).

    The lab that Director Mueller would not identify is Southern Research Institute in Frederick, MD. It had the subcontract under the multi-million dollar contract for the Center for Biodefense at GMU. source: press releases from Alibek’s company at the time. It did the work with virulent Ames for the Center of Biodefense. source: my telephone conversation with Ken Alibek in 2003. (You’ll note that he left the country abruptly when things heated up). Patricia Fellows, the one spinning Bruce’s time as not justified on the passive mouse study, went to head the B3 lab at SRI.

    The co-founders of the Center for Biodefense shared a suite with convicted seditionist Ali Al-TImimi. Ken knew he was hard core and it was incredibly negligent to permit Ali to have unfettered access to the ATCC repository and to Ken’s patent on how to concentrate anthrax using silica in the culture medium. source: “Microdroplet Cell Culture” (see also international patent and co-applicants on international patent). Mrs. Steven’s settlement should be 10 X’s the current demand if Mr. Schuler understood the evidence.

    Ali Al-Timimi was coordinating with Anwar Awlaki. source: FBI agent Wade Ammerman.

    After Dr. Ayman attacks DC in a mass attack, there will be a criminal investigation and appointment of a Special Counsel.

    It would have been preferable for the FBI to simply have stopped playing hide-the-ball with the documents relating to the rabbit study.

    There was way more sexual misconduct in the AUSA’s office than there was in Dr. Ivins’ lab. It was the turmoil in that office that contributed to the Amerithrax analysis to be so incredibly botched. The attorney handing out assignments was fired and is available to testify if subpoenaed.

  10. anonymous said

    “Further, scientists directly involved in the lengthy investigation into the anthrax mailings — both from within the F.B.I. and outside experts — disagree with the notion that the chemicals in the mailed anthrax suggest more sophisticated manufacturing.”

    So Kortan believes Joe Michael from Sandia labs – and Matthew Meselson who has been wrong about every bioterrorism event he has ever advised the USG about.

    Of course, they never actually address the real science questions. How did all that silicon and tin get there?

    They will never come up to the challenge of facing the real science. Joe Michael of Sandia labs seems to be some kind of creationist who thinks 6500 ppm of tin is an accident. Was this guy sick they day they taught quantitative analysis at school?

    Sandia Labs spent more than 1 million of our hard earned tax payer dollars. Is this the best we can do?

    Our National Labs were once the envy of the world – and rightly so. Joe Michael is a pathetic excuse for a scientist who completely failed at his primary job of being an independent scientist. He is now bought and paid for by the FBI and pathetically sold himself out.

    • DXer said

      On the Silicon Signature, government consultants Velsko and Weber urge that it be addressed. The question whether it points to a sophisticated method or not is beside the point. The point is that it is potentially highly probative — in the view of these government experts at Lawrence Livermore. The head of the NAS panel, a chemical engineer by training and the President of Lehigh University, agrees that the issue needs to be addressed — as does the vice-chair. Who is Mr. Kortan to disagree? Dr. Serge Popov explains that it may point to use of silica as an antifoaming agent with regard to growth in a fermenter. This would be hugely exculpatory of Dr. Ivins given that the motor of the USAMRIID fermenter was seized and it was not in a containment area, never having been used to grow a virulent pathogen. Thus, it is another “straw man” argument to talk in terms of the silicon signature narrowly in terms of whether it points to a more “sophisticated” weapon. First the FBI used the straw man argument of floatability rather than “weaponization” — now the “straw man” argument centers on the word “more sophisticated.” The point is that it is a probative signature that was inadequately explored. And as to the experts’ consensus on that, Mr. Kortan is mistaken. See Velsko and Weber.

      • DXer said

        It’s not whether “microencapsulation” is more “sophisticated”, it is whether the forensics associated with the SIlicon Signature are exculpatory of Dr. Ivins.

  11. richard rowley said

    I think expecting anything by way of admission of a botched investigation from a “public affairs” guy (ie a PR man at the FBI) is expecting next to the impossible. I’m sure Kortan, whatever his other merits, knows less about Amerithrax than the average person who discusses the case on the Internet.

    But yeah, it WOULD be nice to ask him/someone else at the FBI about the efforts to conceal all sorts of emails, notebooks at USAMRIID etc. by flouting the requirements of the FOIA.

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