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

* Bioweapons expert Jonathan Tucker noted in his 2010 NATO briefing that skeptics had pointed out numerous holes in the FBI’s “Ivins Theory” (and see 2013 book)

Posted by Lew Weinstein on November 5, 2012

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4 Responses to “* Bioweapons expert Jonathan Tucker noted in his 2010 NATO briefing that skeptics had pointed out numerous holes in the FBI’s “Ivins Theory” (and see 2013 book)”

  1. DXer said

    Uncertainties relating to distribution of Ames is an example of one such hole. Not only were there up to 300 with access at USAMRIID, but virulent Ames was shipped elsewhere — and as this email well demonstrates there were uncertainties and omissions in record-keeping.

    JAG should produce under FOIA the attached photos of the Ames sent in 1998 to an outside researcher ; the handwriting on the vials was not Bruce Ivins’ handwriting

    Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 9, 2014

    https://caseclosedbylewweinstein.wordpress.com/2014/05/09/jag-should-produce-under-foia-the-attached-photos-of-the-ames-sent-in-1998-to-an-outside-researcher-the-handwriting-on-the-vials-was-not-bruce-ivins-handwriting/

  2. DXer said

    Where does Dr. Vahid Majidi in his September 2013 book fill in any gaps in proof? Where does he do more than provide a readable repetition of the FBI’s unpersuasive claims made in 2008?

  3. DXer said

    http://storytellersunplugged.com/robertjones/2012/09/19/forensics-157-amerithrax/

    FORENSICS 157: AMERITHRAX
    September 19th, 2012Robert Jones

    This essay might be of special interest to writers of detective and mystery novels who would like to enrich their stories by providing their readers with a gift of extra details. It might also be of general interest to many other readers, especially those who are CSI and NCIS fans.

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    Not much good can be said of anthrax, and it is discussed in the foregoing because the following is associated with what is arguably the worst attributes of anthrax. Its bacteria can remain in the form of spores for long periods, and they can be converted to a powdered formulation. The substance is thus considered to be a serious biological threat and a potential military or terrorist weapon. Instances of its use in the United States closely followed a number of terrorist attacks.

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    As most of us certainly remember, on September 11, 2001, four hijacked passenger jets flown by 19 militants were crashed into the two World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field. Including 227 passengers and the 19 hijackers, nearly 3,000 persons were killed.

    Only seven days after the 9/11 attack, on September 18, the first of a series of seven letters containing anthrax spores were mailed. A first set of five letters, each believed to have carried a Trenton, New Jersey postmark dated September 18, was sent to ABC News, CBS News, NBC News and the New York Post in New York. Another was sent to the National Enquirer at American Media, Inc. (AMI) in Boca Raton, Florida. The letters were believed to have been mailed from Princeton, New Jersey. One of some 600 tested mailboxes from which they could have been mailed tested positive. Actually, only two of the letters were found. The other three were believed to exist because persons at ABC, CBS and AMI were infected with anthrax.

    Two more anthrax-laced letters carrying the Trenton postmark and dated October 9 were sent to Democratic Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. The anthrax spores in these letters were found to be stronger than those in the previous five letters. An aide opened the Daschle letter in the Hart Senate Office Building, In view of the contents of the letter, the facility was shut down. Six days later, nasal swab specimens were taken from 625 persons who might have been exposed to the letter. Twenty-eight tested positive for Bacillus anthracis, and portions of the building were found to be heavily contaminated. Some 25 other government or postal facilities associated with the Brentwood postal facility also tested positive. The ZIP code on the Leahy letter was misread and sent to the State Department mail annex in Sterling, Virginia, where a postal worker contracted inhalational anthrax.

    Anthrax cases were discovered in persons in east-coast cities: Connecticut (1), Pennsylvania (1), Florida (2), Virginia (2). Maryland (3), New Jersey (5), and New YorkCity (8 including a New Jersey citizen who was exposed in New York City).

    Understandably, given the timing of the anthrax-laced letters, the probability of their being yet another terrorist attack was seriously considered. According to the FBI, it triggered an investigation that became “one of the largest and most complex in the history of law effacement.” Extensive forensic analyses of the anthrax spores by the FBI and other facilities ultimately focused on the contents of a flask (RMR-1029) in a biodefense lab at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland as being the parent material of the anthrax spore powder sent in the anthrax letters. An army scientist,, Dr. Bruce Edwards Ivins, was in control of the flask, and he became a prime suspect in sending the letters.

    Ivins had longstanding psychological problems and seemed to fit the profile of someone who might have sent the letters. Although the anthrax was traced to his flask, however, there was no hard evidence that he had sent the letters. Actually, there was evidence that he was not guilty. For example, there was no equipment in his lab with which he could have produced the exact type of anthrax as was in the letters, and he was not believed to have even known how to produce it. Before a case could be made that lead to a trial, he apparently committed suicide with an overdose of acetaminophen. That leaves many persons who believe he was guilty and many who believe he was not, and there is not much chance of ever determining the truth.

    One of the 9/11 hijackers had reportedly been treated … for a lesion thought to be consistent with cutaneous anthrax. After 9/11, federal investigators found the medicine prescribed by the treating doctor among the hijacker’s possessions. Experts at Johns Hopkins reported in a memorandum that the diagnosis of cutaneous anthrax was “the most probable and coherent interpretation of the data available” and that “such a conclusion of course raises the possibility that the hijackers were handling anthrax and were the perpetrators of the anthrax letter attacks.”

    ***

    Additional Information:

    The title, Amerithrax, of this piece echoes the FBI case name.

    Since the letters were postmarked with dates following 9/11, the hijackers would have needed an accomplice to mail them.

    Whoever sent the anthrax letters caused physical discomfort in hundreds of persons who undertook the long course of antibiotics prescribed to prevent them from contracting anthrax. Perhaps millions more suffered anxiety when opening their mail. It also cost taxpayers a lot of money. The anthrax letters left dozens of buildings contaminated with anthrax. The resulting cleanup cost was astronomical. It cost the United States Environmental Protection Agency $41.7 million to clean up buildings in Washington, D.C. It cost the Hamilton, New Jersey postal facility $65 million, and it wasn’t reopened until March 2005. It cost the Brentwood postal facility in Washington D.C. $130 million and took 26 months. An FBI document included an estimate of the total cost to be in excess of $1 billion.

    Fumigation with chlorine dioxide gas is a usual method of cleaning contaminated structures. It is also used to sanitize drinking water.

    Serious, yet unsolved biodefense problems involve recognizing a threat in time to prevent first responders and others from contracting anthrax and handling spores, which can remain airborne for hours.

  4. DXer said

    Survival: Global Politics and Strategy

    Volume 52, Issue 1, 2010

    Tracing an Attack: The Promise and Pitfalls of Microbial Forensics

    Version of record first published: 03 Feb 2010
    Abstract

    The investigation of the 2001 anthrax letter attacks in the United States gave a strong impetus to the new discipline of microbial forensics, which involves the use of sophisticated genetic, chemical and physical techniques to characterise a pathogen or toxin agent that has been used as a weapon. Microbial forensic evidence can assist in the process of attribution, or identifying the country, group, or individual responsible for a biological attack, in order to pursue legal prosecution or military retaliation. An effective attribution capability can also play an important role in deterring biological warfare and terrorism.

    http://cns.miis.edu/other/tucker_jonathan_koblentz_100203_microbial_forensics.pdf

    Gregory D. Koblentz is Deputy Director of the Biodefense Graduate Program and Assistant Professor of Government and Politics in the Department of Public and International Affairs at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Jonathan B. Tucker is a Senior Fellow specialising in biological- and chemical-weapons issues in the Washington DC office of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies of the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

    Dr. Tucker and his GMU co-author wrote:

    ***

    “The anthrax bacteria isolated from the spinal fluid of Robert Stevens, the first victim of the letter attacks, were identical to standard (“wild-type) B. anthracis Ames and did not contain the unusual morphotypes present i the dry-spore preparation sent through the mail.” …

    “Yet even the most sophisticated analytical techniques are capable only of linking a pathogen to a particular laboratory or culture and cannot identify an individual perpetrator. Although Ivins had created the RMR-1029 preparation and nominally controlled the flask containing the spores, the FBI has admitted that at least 100 people had access to samples of RMR-1029 at USAMRIID and the two other facilities where it was sent.”

    [ Note: That was access in Building 1425. When access to samples in Building 1412 is considered, the number jumps to three times that. ]

    The authors write:

    “A number of loose ends from the case remain to be tied up satisfactorily. … [T]he FBI claims that it was able to exclude from suspicion all the scientists who had access to RMR-1029. But the evidence supporting this claim has not been made public and was excluded from the scope of the National Academy of Sciences review.”

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    One way for a state or terrorist group to evade attribution would be to employ a pathogen stolen from a laboratory in an unrelated country.

    ***
    Although policymakers recognize the need to establish clear criteria for interpreting and weighing microbial forensic evidence during the attribution decision-making process, there is currently no consensus within the US government on how to do so. Nevertheless, a suitable framework already exists: the Daubert standard, a legal precedent established in 1993 by the US Supreme Court….

    Other microbial forensic techniques have not been fully validated and hence would fail a Daubert. During the Amerithrax investigation, for example, a scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory used radiocarbon dating to estimate, within plus or minus two years, the age of anthrax spores used in the contaminated letters. In fact, this method only establishes the approximate date when the nutrient components of the growth medium were incorporated into the spores. Thus the inferred date actually reflects the age of the nutrients rather than the time period when the bacteria were cultivated.”

    ***

    When communicating with non-scientists, microbial forensic examiners should carefully present the data and the conclusions that can be drawn from them, explaining how and why the results are not necessarily unique and that other interpretations are possible.


    Given the serious consequences of mistaken attribution in a legal, intelligence or policy context, correctly interpreting the meaning and weight of microbial forensic evidence is critical.”

    ***

    Cognitive biases, organisational culture, bureaucratic politics and politicisation all threaten the integrity of the attribution process. The stratified nature of bureaucratic decision-making also tends to eliminate important technical nuance. Laboratory results are typically reported to a low-level official, who then interprets and summarises the findings before communicating them to the next level. This process of interpretation and simplification occurs repeatedly as microbial forensic information moves up the bureaucratic hiearchy, with the inevitable result that important qualifiers and caveats are dropped.” …

    Accordingly, it is important to train judges, intelligence analysts and policymakers about the strengths and weaknesses of microbial forensics techniques, the importance of interpreting the data correctly, and the appropriate role of such information in biological attribution.”

    Note: Interviews of FBI scientists conducted by the authors included Ben Garrett and Jenifer Smith.

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