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

* FBI should disclose to GAO its examinations which reveal that there is not a single instance in which Dr. Ivins used the brand of pen used in the respective batches of mailed anthrax letters.

Posted by DXer on March 8, 2012






6 Responses to “* FBI should disclose to GAO its examinations which reveal that there is not a single instance in which Dr. Ivins used the brand of pen used in the respective batches of mailed anthrax letters.”

  1. DXer said

    In advance of issuance of the GAO report, it would serve to refresh our recollection of the 2010 article

    James R. Ehleringer* and Scott M. Matheson, Jr.**


    00000For the foregoing reasons, and in acknowledgement of the Supreme Court’s
    admonition to address the Daubert analysis to the “task at hand,”167 we will
    include discussion of the application of stable isotope analysis to the investigation
    of the anthrax attacks of 2001 (referred to as Amerithrax), which the Federal
    Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recently closed.168 In this case of a bio-weapons
    attack, spores from Bacillus anthracisis (anthrax) were contained within letters
    mailed to news media offices across the United States and to two U.S. Senators. As
    a result of the anthrax attack, five people were killed and an additional seventeen
    individuals were afflicted and survived. The chemical and biological analyses of
    spores recovered from the letters sought to determine the origins of the spores and
    the identity of the perpetrator(s) behind the attack. Among the many diverse tests
    employed were stable isotope ratio analyses of spores, culture medium, water used
    along with culture medium, and envelopes.

    (a) Relevancy

    The relevance and helpfulness of scientific evidence depends, of course, on
    the facts that are consequential to a particular case. Rule 702 asks whether expert
    evidence “will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a
    fact in issue.”169 Stable isotope evidence can help the fact-finder determine the
    likelihood that two or more evidence specimens are consistent with having
    originated from a common source, or the likelihood that a specimen is consistent
    with having been associated with a particular geographic location. If the likelihood
    of an evidence specimen having been associated with a specific location is low,
    stable isotope ratio analyses can, in many cases, provide data on the likelihood that
    an evidence specimen could have been associated with other geographic locations.
    If, in any of these instances, the isotope information would help the fact-finder in
    making the determination of a consequential fact more or less probable,170 the
    stable isotope evidence should meet the “assist the trier” test of Rule 702.
    Five applications of stable isotope ratio analysis were relevant to the
    Amerithrax case: (1) identification of the culture medium most likely to have been
    used to culture the anthrax; (2) characterization of the geographic region(s) most
    likely to have been associated with the culturing of the anthrax; (3) similarity
    comparisons among spore specimens recovered from different anthrax-containing
    letters; (4) similarity comparisons between the anthrax spore evidence and the
    different culture medium used to culture bacteria (including anthrax); and (5)
    similarity comparisons of the cellulose composition of letters used to mail the
    The following questions address two fundamental aspects of stable isotope
    analysis relevance: similarity and location.
    First, were the Amerithrax specimens isotopically indistinguishable from each
    other and therefore more likely to be related and be consistent with having a
    common origin?
    Second, were the isotopic compositions of the anthrax spore specimens
    consistent with bacterial spores that had been cultured in a particular geographic
    region? Additionally, based on the stable isotope ratio measurement, could some
    geographic regions be excluded as origin-of-culture possibilities?
    Third, were the isotopic compositions of the anthrax spore specimens
    consistent with observations expected for the culture of the bacteria grown using a
    particular culture medium? Additionally, based on the stable isotope ratio
    measurement, could some culture medium be excluded from further consideration
    as culture medium possibilities?
    These questions presume that reliable data could be obtained and that
    appreciable stable isotope ratio variations existed in culture water and culture
    medium to allow a meaningful interpretation of the data.
    Answers to these questions should achieve a more probable understanding of
    the origin and location of the anthrax recovered from the 2001 letters and should
    assist a trier of fact. If stable isotope analysis assists to provide such answers, then
    it should be considered relevant and helpful under Rule 702.


    The methods used in the anthrax analysis included five sets of key
    observations, which established that:
    (1) The hydrogen and oxygen isotope ratios of Bacillus spores were
    distinctly, linearly, and predictably related to the hydrogen and oxygen
    isotope ratios of the local water source used to culture the bacteria.212
    (2) There were distinctive and predictable spatial zones of hydrogen and
    oxygen isotope ratios of local water sources and geographic regions
    across the United States.213
    (3) The carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios of the Bacillus spores were
    distinctly, linearly, and predictably related to the carbon and nitrogen
    isotope ratios of the growth medium.214
    (4) There were distinct and predictable differences in the relationships
    between hydrogen and oxygen isotope ratios of Bacillus spores that
    allowed determination of their culture in liquid vessels versus agar
    plates, and if grown on agar plates, a timeline of spore harvest from agar
    (5) The patterns observed for Bacillus spores from several taxa applied to
    both virulent and non-virulent Bacillus anthracis (anthrax) spores.216

    • DXer said

      Professor Ehleringer could be asked whether stable isotope analysis could be used fruitfully to identify the brand photocopy by identifying the photocopier toner used.

      It may have not been necessary because there may have been other, more effective methods.

      Why didn’t the FBI disclose that the forensic analysis could exclude the photocopiers at USAMRIID? See the AUSA’s innuendo about the time Dr. Ivins spent in the library –when actually, such time in the library seems more in the nature of an alibi given that it is my understanding that the science (as it has developed) permitted those photocopiers to be excluded.

      14 International Forensic Science Symposium Interpol œ Lyon 19 œ …

      Click to access ReviewPapers.pdf

      File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat
      Stable Isotope Analysis. 1. (18). X-Ray Mapping. 1 …. This technique is used for the analysis of paint, ******photocopier toner*******, and synthetic fibre materials to test the …

  2. DXer said

    Thin layer chromatography (TLC) is fast, reliable and inexpensive. It could be used to test numerous samples collected from POIs.

    GAO, was it? What were the results?

    How many of the POIs had used the same pen, judging from the samples seized in the hundreds of searches?


    Chemical and physical analysis of inks on questioned documents provides valuable information regarding their authenticity.Comparison of these chemical and physical properties of two or more inks can determine: (1) if the inks were made by the same manufacturer; (2) in some cases, whether the inks are products of the same production batch; and (3) the first production date of the specific ink formulation involved. When dating tags are detected, it is possible to determine the actual year or years when the ink was manufactured. Dating tags are unique chemicals that have been added to ball-point inks by some ink companies as a way to determine the year the ink was made.


    The most widely used technique for comparing and identifying inks is TLC. This technique separates the dyes in the ink and the invisible organic components in the ink. This allows a direct comparison of the composition of inks being examined on the same TLC plate. To determine the relative concentrations of dyes present in the ink, the dyes separated on the TLC plate are scanned in a TLC scanning densit-ometer. The method is fast, reliable and inexpensive. ”

    Ink Analysis

  3. DXer said

    For a review of the technology as it existed at the time of the forensic analysis of the ink in late 2001,

    Problems of Forensic Sciences 2001 · Vol. 46 (XLVI),com…/task…/lang,en/

    One can deduce that in their searches (whether those done under Title III or those done under FISA), although it was a tightly held information, they were looking for particular brand of pen.

    And one can further deduce that in all their extensive contact with Dr. Ivins beginning in 2001, they never came across it.

    But we need not rely on such deductions when the lack of a match will be an express finding in the reports that up until now have been withheld by DOJ.

    • DXer said

      Rollerball pens are pens which use ball point writing mechanisms with water-based liquid or gelled ink, as opposed to the oil-based viscous inks found in ballpoint pens. These less viscous inks, which tend to saturate more deeply and more widely into paper than other types of ink, give rollerball pens their distinctive writing qualities. The writing point is a tiny ball, usually 0.5 or 0.7 mm in diameter, that transfers the ink from the reservoir onto the paper as the pen moves.

      Roller Ball pens were introduced in early 1970’s. There are two main types of rollerball pens, liquid ink pens and gel ink pens. The first type uses an ink and ink supply system similar to a fountain pen, and they are designed to combine the convenience of a ballpoint pen with the smooth “wet ink” effect of a fountain pen.

      Gel inks usually contain pigments, while liquid inks are limited to dyestuffs, as pigments will sink down in liquid ink (sedimentation).

      Liquid ink rollerball pens flow extremely consistently and skip less than gel ink pens do. The lower viscosity of liquid ink increases the likelihood of consistent inking of the ball, whereas the higher viscosity of gel ink produces “skipping”, that is, occasional gaps in lines or letters.
      In comparison to ballpoint pens,

      • Less pressure needs to be applied to the pen to have it write cleanly. This permits holding the pen with less stress on the hand, saving energy and improving comfort. This can also translate to quicker writing speeds. This is especially true of liquid ink pens.

      • The inks usually have a greater range of colors due to the wider choice of suitable water-soluble dyes and/or to the use of pigments.

      • They tend to write finer lines and more clearly than ballpoint pens do.

  4. DXer said

    Validation of LAB Color Mode as a Nondestructive Method to Differentiate Black Ballpoint Pen Inks

    • Derek L. Hammond B.A.

    Article first published online: 6 JUN 2007
    DOI: 10.1111/j.1556-4029.2007.00469.x
    Journal of Forensic Sciences
    Volume 52, Issue 4, pages 967–973, July 2007

    U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory, Forensic Document Branch, 4930 N. 31st Street, Forest Park, GA 30297-5205.
    Derek L. Hammond, B.A. U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory Forensic Document Branch 4930 N. 31st Street Forest Park, GA 30297-5205

    A version of this paper was presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences in Seattle, WA, February 2006, and at the Annual Meeting of the Southeastern Association of Forensic Document Examiners in Atlanta, GA in April 2006.

    Abstract:  Nondestructive digital processing methods such as lab color mode (available in Adobe® Photoshop®) are emerging as alternative methods for forensic document examiners to use when attempting to differentiate writing instrument inks. Although these techniques appear to be viable, little data currently exists regarding the known or potential error rates associated with these techniques. Without adequate data, the validity and reliability of these techniques, including lab color, can not be established. In an attempt to begin to address these issues, 44 black ballpoint ink pens were obtained and used to create 990 pen-pair samples for analysis using established lab color mode techniques. No erroneous findings of “different” were reported following the examination of the known pen-pair combinations in which the same pen was used to create the samples (n = 44). Of the remaining 946 samples, 737 pen-pair samples were differentiated using the lab color mode method, while 209 samples were unable to be differentiated and were recorded as either being “similar” (n = 153) or “unsure” (n = 56). Comparison of the lab color mode results with the results obtained through additional testing using traditional infrared reflectance and infrared luminescence test methods showed that lab color differentiated 102 pen-pair samples (11%; 102/946) that were not differentiated using a VSC-4C.

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