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

Archive for October, 2011

* NY Post editorial: a group of eminent scientists have found that the FBI’s Amerithrax conclusions may be shockingly wrong … (the FBI) clearly can’t be trusted to judge cases that reflect badly on its own conduct

Posted by DXer on October 24, 2011

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FBI Director Robert Mueller must be held accountable for the Amerithax debacle ... and for hiding the truth by the wrongful withholding of documents

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a New York Post Editorial (10/23/11) … 

  • It has been 10 long years since envelopes stuffed with anthrax spores terrorized the East Coast — and just one year since the FBI officially closed the case in a not-terribly-convincing way.

Now a group of eminent scientists have found that

the FBI’s conclusions may be shockingly wrong.

  • A new paper in the Journal of Bioterrorism & Biodefense contends that the FBI’s sole suspect, Army scientist Bruce Ivins, might have had an accomplice — or may even have been innocent.
  • the FBI fumbled for about seven years before fixing on Ivins, who committed suicide as investigators closed in.
  • it was never clear that the FBI had brought the case to a proper conclusion. And the new study shows why.

It turns out the bureau hid from the public its discovery that …

  • … the anthrax spores were laced with tin and silicon, possibly to make it float more freely — a “chemical fingerprint” and seeming clue to the identity of the attacker.
  • Adding that tin coating ain’t Chem 101 — it requires special expertise, and Ivins lacked the equipment to create it,
  • What’s more, the baseline evidence linking Ivins to the anthrax spores was inconclusive, according to a “Red Team” of outside scientists the FBI called in to review its work — but then utterly ignored.
  • The feds “deviated from traditional lab practice in this particular case,” said Jenifer Smith, former section chief at the FBI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate. “There were some political things going on behind the scenes, and it was embarrassing not to have this solved.”

while the FBI says the new paper is wrong,

it clearly can’t be trusted to judge cases

that reflect badly on its own conduct.

  • Indeed, its ability to pursue sensitive investigations at all is in doubt.
  • Given the FBI’s troubled anthrax history, it’s good to see that Congress’ oversight body, the Government Accountability Office, is conducting its own review of the FBI’s work

read the entire article at … http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/editorials/anthrax_and_the_fbi_36aNmZJGENZCAPCmvdbIrK

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* McClatchy & ProPublica: security gaps at USAMRIID (in 2001) mean that deadly anthrax could have easily been smuggled out of the facility, including by terrorists … this information was (wrongfully) not been made public for more than nine years … LMW: This is precisely the kind of information the FBI, smugly insisting that Dr. Bruce Ivins was the sole perpetrator, desperately wants to keep hidden. Director Mueller must be held accountable, for the pathetic Amerithrax investigation, for continuing to insist it was Ivins even as the case disintegrates, and for withholding documents which should be released under FOIA.

Posted by DXer on October 24, 2011

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Is it possible that Director Mueller, an intelligent man, doesn't know the FBI has failed to make its case against Dr. Ivins? And what does it mean if he knows but won't admit it?

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UPDATE FROM DXer …

I think you are being way too easy on FBI Director Mueller, Lew. Given that Dr. Ivins was provably in the lab on those nights working with the rabbits, and the prosecutors and investigators have lied and said he had no reason to be in the lab, there needs to be a Special Prosecutor appointed to probe the obstruction of justice that has occurred.

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Greg Gordon, McClatchy, and Stephen Engelberg, ProPublica (10/24/11) …

  • The Army laboratory identified by prosecutors as the source of the anthrax that killed five people in the fall of 2001 was rife with such security gaps that the deadly spores could have easily been smuggled out of the facility, outside investigators found.
  • The existing security procedures — described in two long-secret reports — were so lax they would have allowed any researcher, aide or temporary worker to walk out of the Army bio-weapons lab at Fort Detrick, Md., with a few drops of anthrax — starter germs that could grow the trillions of spores used to fill anthrax-laced letters sent to Congress and the media.
  • The two reports, which have not been made public for more than nine years, describe a haphazard system in which personnel lists included dozens of former employees, where new hires were allowed to work with deadly germs before background checks were done and where stocks of anthrax and other pathogens weren’t adequately controlled.
  • Marked “for official use only,” the two reports were completed in 2002. One was conducted by a seven-member team from Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M. The other was by auditors for the Army’s inspector general’s office.
  • The Sandia report emphasized that terrorists had obtained germs from research labs before. 
  • It cited a February 2001 National Defense University study that found 11 cases in which terrorists or other “non-state operatives” had acquired biological agents from “legitimate culture collections,” including three research or medical laboratories.
  • Despite USAMRIID’s sobering mission, the Sandia report said, the western Maryland lab had developed a work environment in which employees failed to make the same “indisputable commitment to security” as they did to research.

read the entire article at … www.propublica.org/article/secret-reports-with-security-spotty-many-had-access-to-anthrax

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LMW COMMENT …

This is precisely the kind of information the FBI, smugly insisting that Dr. Bruce Ivins was the sole perpetrator, desperately wants to keep hidden. Director Mueller must be held accountable, for the pathetic Amerithrax investigation, for continuing to insist it was Ivins even as the case disintegrates, and for withholding documents which should be released under FOIA.

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* Dr. Ivins explained that whenever they do a subcutaneous challenge with virulent anthrax, it is ALWAYS done at biolevel 3 (or for aerosol challenges BL-4)

Posted by DXer on October 24, 2011

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* The hunt for America’s anthrax killer … a 3 part series analyzing the FBI’s Amerithrax investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks … raising serious questions as to whether Dr. Bruce Ivins was the man responsible

Posted by DXer on October 24, 2011

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IT WASN'T IVINS ... and the FBI must by now know that they drove the wrong man to suicide

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The hunt for America’s anthrax killer …

a 3 part series by Stephen Engelberg, Greg Gordon and Jim Gilmore And Mike Wiser, Vancouver Sun

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1. 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.

  • Months after the anthrax mailings that terrorized the nation in 2001 – and long before he became the prime suspect – U.S. army biologist Bruce Ivins sent his superiors an email offering to help scientists trace the killer.

read the entire article at … http://www.vancouversun.com/news/this+anthrax+killer/5591796/story.html

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

  • In early 2002, federal agents who were hunting the anthrax killer were trying to winnow a suspect list that numbered in the hundreds. They knew only that they were looking for someone with access to the rare Ames strain of anthrax used in research labs around the world. Profilers said the perpetrator probably was an American with “an agenda.”
  • Rachel Lieber, the lead prosecutor in a case that will never go to trial, thinks that Ivins manipulated his sample to cover his tracks. “If you send something that is supposed to be from the murder weapon, but you send something that doesn’t match, that’s the ultimate act of deception. That’s why it’s so important,” Lieber said.
  • However, a re-examination of the anthrax investigation by Frontline, McClatchy Newspapers and ProPublica turned up new evidence that challenges the FBI’s narrative of Ivins as a man with a guilty conscience who was desperately trying to avoid being discovered.
  • Records released under the Freedom of Information Act show that Ivins made available a total of four sets of samples from 2002 to 2004, double the number the FBI has disclosed. And in subsequent FBI tests, three of the four sets ultimately tested positive for the morphs.
  • Paul Kemp, Ivins’ lawyer, said the existence of Ivins’ additional submissions was significant because it discredits an important aspect of the FBI’s case against his client. “I wish I’d known that at the time,” he said.

read the entire article at … http://www.vancouversun.com/news/hunt+America+anthrax+killer/5596021/story.html#ixzz1bgme4bD6

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* 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

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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

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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 … http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/new-questions-about-fbi-anthrax-inquiry-deserve-scrutiny/2011/10/21/gIQAdE4h4L_story.html

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* Der Spiegel … new leads in the anthrax case

Posted by DXer on October 20, 2011

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  • Three American medical experts express their doubt that the FBI has caught the  person responsible for the Anthrax mailings in the USA.
  • Shortly after the terrorist attack of Sept.11th, Anthrax laced letters were mailed by an unidentified person. 22 people were infected of which 5 people died.
  • Leader of the investigation, Martin Hugh-Jones and his colleagues have worked through more than 9000 pages of FBI documents related to the case.
  • According to the FBI their investigators detected the presence of tin and silicium (silicon) with the anthrax spores which leads the epidemiologists to conclude that the perpetrator covered the spores in these chemicals to make them more resistant to destruction.
  • This treatment requires high skills and a special technique. According to the scientists paper in the latest issue of the “Journal of Bioterrorism and Defense” , Bruce Irvins, accused by the FBI as the sender of the letters, hadn’t access to these techniques.
  • The scientists conclude that the suspect either had support from accomplices or in fact was completely innocent.
  • Irvins, a microbiologist working for the US army, suffered from psychological problems and committed suicide in 2008, only days after
  • learning that the FBI suspected him of sending the letters.
  • There never was a court trial.
  • There was always doubt that Irvins was the perpetrator.
  • In February the National Academy of Sciences reviewed the 2001 investigation and came to the conclusion that the FBI has overrated the evidence pointing to Irvins.
  • Whether the recent evaluation of the findings can clear Irvins is questionable. Critics of the latest paper claim that the chemicals detected are impurities that are sometimes found with Anthrax spores.
  • The FBI gave a statement that they don’t see reason to reopen the case.

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* Fox News adds to the growing snowball: Doubts Persist About FBI’s Anthrax Investigation 10 Years Later Amid New Bio-Terror Concerns … Senator Susan Collins: the new head of al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has the right background to wage a biological attack in the coming years.

Posted by DXer on October 19, 2011

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Catherine Herridge writes for Fox News (10/18/11) …

  • Ten years after a mail-borne anthrax attack killed five in the worst bio-terror attack on U.S. soil, there are new questions about the strength of the FBI’s case against the only suspect, as a leading expert on bio-terror attacks warned that budget deficits are likely to hinder the nation’s ability to respond in the future.

Sen. Susan Collins, the Senate Homeland Security Committee ‘s

ranking Republican, said the new head of al QaedaAyman al-Zawahiri,

had the right background to wage a biological attack in the coming years.

  • Al-Zawahiri “has a medical background that raises concerns that he may have an even greater interest in pursuing chemical and biological terrorism,” Collins told the witnesses.
  • In 2008, Army scientist Bruce Ivins was identified by the FBI as the lead and only suspect in their investigation.
  • More recently, court filings have cast more doubt on the strength of the FBI’s case against Ivins, when it was shown his lab did not have the equipment needed to make the anthrax powder.
  • Nor was Ivins the only army scientist with access to the source of anthrax believed to be a flask at Fort Detrick in Maryland.
  • Rep. Rush Holt saw the FBI investigation up close because the letters were mailed from his New Jersey district.
  • In a recent opinion piece published in the Asbury Park Press, Holt said the bureau’s investigation did not inspire confidence …

“As FBI Director Robert Mueller ultimately acknowledged to me,

the case against Ivins was almost entirely circumstantial.

The FBI has said it does not have any direct, physical evidence

tying Ivins to the attack.” 

  • Rep. Holt wants a special committee to investigate whether the U.S. is better prepared to handle similar bio-attacks in the future and why the FBI seemed to pursue the wrong leads in the anthrax case for so long — including scientist Steven Hatfill, who earned a $5.8 million settlement because the feds publicly identified him as a person of interest.
  • National Correspondent Catherine Herridge’s bestselling book “The Next Wave: On the Hunt for al Qaeda’s American Recruits” was published by Crown on June 21st. It draws on her reporting for Fox News into al-Awlaki and his new generation of recruits – al Qaeda 2.0. It is the first book to fully investigate al-Awlaki, an American citizen, who was killed by a CIA-led operation in Yemenlast month.

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/10/18/doubts-persist-about-fbis-anthrax-investigation-10-years-later-amid-new-bio/#ixzz1bDTUBVfI

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* a NYT editorial, showing no confidence in the FBI’s unraveling case against Dr. Bruce Ivins, calls for an independent review of the FBI’s anthrax investigation to assure that the culprits are not still at large … LMW: it is long past time to hold Director Mueller accountable for the FBI’s investigative failures and for the FBI’s purposeful withholding of documents that are required to be released by FOIA

Posted by DXer on October 18, 2011

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Is it possible that Director Mueller, an intelligent man, doesn't know the FBI has failed to make its case against Dr. Ivins? And what does it mean if he knows but won't admit it?

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NYT Editorial (10/17/11) …

  • There was a strong sense of relief when the federal government concluded that a lone psychologically troubled government scientist mailed anthrax-laced letters in 2001, killing five people and terrorizing the nation.
  • Now its evidence is looking increasingly shaky. There needs to be a new independent evaluation of the findings.
  • Independent inquiries this year have raised questions both about the genetic analyses that traced the anthrax to Dr. Ivins’s laboratory and a web of circumstantial evidence.
  • The government’s scientific case has been weakening for months.
    • In February, the National Academy of Sciences warned that the genetic analysis “did not definitively demonstrate” that the mailed anthrax was derived from spores grown in Dr. Ivins’s laboratory.
    • Last week, The Times reported that one of the leading anthrax authorities and two colleagues believe that distinctive chemicals in the mailed anthrax suggest it was produced by sophisticated manufacturing, which the scientists deemed far beyond Dr. Ivins’s capabilities.
  • As for the circumstantial evidence, an investigation by PBS Frontline, assisted by ProPublica and the McClatchy newspapers, cast doubt on two elements that prosecutors had declared important.
    • A contention that Dr. Ivins worked extraordinarily long hours alone at night in his laboratory just before the mailings looked less suspicious after the journalists found that he regularly worked late hours in other labs and offices.
    • And a contention that Dr. Ivins tried to mislead investigators by submitting an anthrax sample free of genetic markers looked questionable after the journalists found that he had submitted other samples that contained the markers.
  • Federal investigators insist that there is a vast amount of evidence supporting their conclusion of Dr. Ivins’s guilt.
  • The Government Accountability Office needs to dig deeply into classified materials to judge how well the evidence holds up.
  • Otherwise, Congress ought to commission an independent assessment to be sure there are no culprits still at large.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/18/opinion/who-mailed-the-anthrax-letters.html?_r=1&emc=tnt&tntemail1=y

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LMW COMMENT …

The Times is right that the FBI’s pathetic case against Dr. Ivins is beginning to publicly unravel, both as to the science and the circumstantial evidence.

What the Times does not say is that this case has always been perceived as weak to non-existent by those who refused to simply take the FBI’s assertions at face value. 

What also needs to be said is that the FBI has purposely stonewalled all efforts to get at the facts, failing to answer Congress’s questions, withholding key documents (still!) despite FOIA laws which call for their release, and blatantly misrepresenting the evidence they have made public.

It seems increasingly clear that the FBI, desperate for a conviction after millions spent on its 7 year investigation, drove an innocent man to suicide.

For these failures, FBI Director Mueller

must be called on the carpet and held accountable.

I have been furious about the FBI’s behavior ever since watching the August 2008 press conference where they asserted, with no physical evidence, no witnesses, and (it turns out) no science, that Bruce Ivins was the sole perpetrator of the anthrax attacks. It was clear to me the FBI had not even proven that Ivins was involved, let alone that he was the sole perpetrator.

It seemed to me then, and still seems so today, that there are only 3 possible “actual” scenarios …

  1. The FBI has more evidence against Dr. Ivins but is, for some undisclosed reason, withholding that evidence … POSSIBLE BUT NOT SO LIKELY
  2. The FBI, despite the most expensive and extensive investigation in its history, has not solved the case and has no idea who prepared and mailed the anthrax letters that killed 5 Americans in 2001 … EVEN LESS LIKELY
  3. The FBI knows who did it (not Dr. Ivins) but is covering up the actual perpetrators, for undisclosed reasons …THE MOST LIKELY SCENARIO

Being a novelist, I wrote a novel, presenting what I (and others, including a respected representative of the U.S. Intelligence Community) thought was a plausible scenario of what might have happened. My novel CASE CLOSED has been published and is available in paperback and kindle formats on amazon.

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* buy CASE CLOSED at amazon *

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Here is the first scene from CASE CLOSED (written in 2008), 

where I have the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)

begin a re-do of the FBI’s failed investigation … something that now even the NYT is calling for

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this is the opening scene of Lew Weinstein's novel CASE CLOSED

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* buy CASE CLOSED at amazon *

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* Dr. Paul Keim says the scientific investigation to confirm the link to Dr. Ivins would have taken another two years at a cost of $50 million, but will not be done now due to the cost and the fact that there is no criminal trial since Dr. Ivins committed suicide … LMW: and more important, isn’t Keim in effect saying that the FBI has no business claiming there is a link when the work hasn’t been done?

Posted by DXer on October 17, 2011

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PEGGY GIRSHMAN writes at NPR.com (10/17/11) …

  • Paul Keim is a geneticist and director of the lab at Northern Arizona University that matched the strain of anthrax in the deadly letters to anthrax in Ivins’ lab. He’s also a researcher at TGen, a biomedical research institute.
  • 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.

read the entire post at … http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2011/10/17/141426343/disease-detective-hot-on-the-trails-of-anthrax-and-cholera?ps=sh_stcathdl

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LMW COMMENT …

  • So is the FBI now saying it’s too expensive to prove its case against Ivins? Or is that just Paul Keim saying that?
  • But what if Ivins wasn’t the perpetrator? How much is it worth to know who committed the anthrax attacks and perhaps have a better chance of preventing another such attack.
  • Also, where does the $50 million estimate come from? That sounds way too high.
  • Releasing the documents currently being held in violation of FOIA would cost nothing.
  • and more important, isn’t Keim in effect saying that the FBI has no business claiming there is a link when the work hasn’t been done?

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

Posted by DXer on October 16, 2011

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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.

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to read the entire article, click here …

The 2001 Attack Anthrax: Key Observations

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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 …

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