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

* GAO has so far failed to issue a report on its now multi-year review of the 2001 FBI anthrax investigation (see note below) … let’s hope it will be a little quicker investigating the mishandling of anthrax at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 1, 2014

It wasn't Ivins!

It wasn’t Ivins!

 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. congressional committee investigating the mishandling of anthrax at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) asked a federal watchdog agency on Thursday to review U.S. lab procedures for handling dangerous pathogens.

In a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the House Energy and Commerce Committee called for GAO to provide details about current federal lab policies and procedures and guidance on whether agencies that run biosecurity labs have undertaken efforts to assess and improve their practices.

***

DXer’s Comment:

The GAO oversight in the past five years has not even resulted in disclosure of all 20 of the labs that the FBI know had virulent Ames pre-911, let alone those labs had the x101 and x102 plasmids and avirulent Ames that combined could have been used in the Fall 2001 mailing.

The GAO has no teeth and faced with an agency such as the FBI unwilling or slow to make disclosures — and seemingly institutionally incapable of revisiting past mistakes — can only use jawboning as the years pass.

Meanwhile, Dr. Ivins is still dead and Al Qaeda still wants to kill New Yorkers in a mass attack that would end life in the United States as we know it.

This is not a time to brook a delay in producing requested documents. Or not to request all relevant documents.

***

NOTE: The GAO is years behind its initial promises regarding its review of the FBI anthrax investigation. Its latest promise was to issue a report this summer, which is now half over.

***

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19 Responses to “* GAO has so far failed to issue a report on its now multi-year review of the 2001 FBI anthrax investigation (see note below) … let’s hope it will be a little quicker investigating the mishandling of anthrax at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)”

  1. DXer said

    New lab incidents fuel fear, safety concerns in Congress
    Alison Young, USA TODAY, September 22, 2014 17 mins ago
    http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/09/22/biolab-safety-incidents-lassa-fever-h7n9-burkholderia/15908753/

    Scientists wearing space-suitlike protective gear searched for hours in May for a mouse — infected with a virus similar to Ebola — that had escaped inside Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Montana, one of the federal government’s highest-security research facilities, according to newly obtained incident reports that provide a window into the secretive world of bioterror lab accidents.

    During the same month at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, a lab worker suffered a cut while trying to round up escaped ferrets that had been infected with a deadly strain of avian influenza, records show. …

    The details of the May incidents were revealed in minutes of those labs’ institutional biosafety committees and related reports obtained by Edward Hammond, former director of the Sunshine Project, an independent lab watchdog group that operated from 1999-2008, until it lost funding.

    Among the initial records Hammond has received and reviewed so far, he identified those at Colorado State, St. Jude and Rocky Mountain National Laboratories as among the most troubling and provided copies to USA TODAY.

    Comment:

    An infected animal, animal carcass or even a tissue sample can carry the pathogen.

    Here we have been taking pictures of a squirrel ravaging our pumpkin — so I can relate.

    The article also describes an incident where heat was insufficient to inactivate the pathogen — and not enough time had been allowed. That might have been what happened when virulent Ames was sent from Southern Research Institute to the Children’s Hospital in Oakland. (I don’t recall what they concluded offhand).

    It’s good to see that Edward Hammond is continuing his good work in favor of greater transparency.

    http://www.amerithrax.wordpress.com

  2. DXer said

    IVINS was involved in checks of irradiation of DUGWAY and other spores. In one instance, all the spores had not been killed by irradiation. Ivins may have recorded the data.

    http://vault.fbi.gov/Amerithrax/amerithrax-part-52-of/viewhttp://vault.fbi.gov/Amerithrax/amerithrax-part-52-of/view

    9/26/2003, p. 2

  3. DXer said

    http://www.freep.com/article/20140817/FEATURES08/308170159/center-for-disease-control-bio-terror

    Hundreds of bioterror lab mishaps cloaked in secrecy
    Detroit Free Press-25 minutes ago
    The only thing unusual about the CDC’s recent anthrax and bird flu lab incidents, Ebright said, is that the public found out about them. “The 2014 CDC anthrax …

    But the names of the labs that had mishaps or made mistakes, as well as most information about all of the incidents, must be kept secret because of federal bioterrorism laws, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which regulates the labs and co-authored the annual lab incident reports with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    The new lab incident data indicate mishaps occur regularly at the more than 1,000 labs operated by 324 government, university and private organizations across the country that are registered with the Federal Select Agent Program. The program is jointly run by the USDA and the CDC, which are required by law to annually submit short reports with incident data to Congress.

    The reports, released by CDC in response to a request from USA TODAY, contain few details beyond a count of incidents by categories, such as incidents involving bites or scratches from infected animals, needle sticks, failures of personal protection equipment, spills or specimen packages that temporarily went missing after they were shipped. No thefts were reported.

    ***

    The only thing unusual about the CDC’s recent anthrax and bird flu lab incidents, Ebright said, is that the public found out about them. “The 2014 CDC anthrax event became known to the public only because the number of persons requiring medical evaluation was too high to conceal,” he said.

    _____

    Anthrax, Ayman Zawahiri and Al Qaeda: The Infiltration of US Biodefense
    http://www.amerithrax.wordpress.com

  4. DXer said

    CDC scientist took shortcuts handling deadly bird flu virus, investigation finds.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/cdc-scientists-took-shortcuts-handling-deadly-bird-flu-virus-investigation-finds/2014/08/15/893471c8-2403-11e4-86ca-6f03cbd15c1a_story.html

    By Lena H. Sun and Brady Dennis August 15 at 12:23 PM

    An investigation into the mistaken shipment of deadly bird flu virus from a government laboratory earlier this year found that a scientist took shortcuts to speed up the work and accidentally contaminated the samples, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Friday.

    As a result, the CDC shipped a virulent avian flu virus rather than a relatively benign animal strain to a poultry research laboratory of the Department of Agriculture. No one became infected or fell ill, and the pathogen was destroyed. But after CDC lab members learned of the safety lapse, they didn’t notify supervisors up the chain of command until more than six seeks weeks later.

    The CDC investigation said the primary factors behind the reporting delay were the “lack of sound professional judgment” by individuals aware of the contamination and “insufficient or ambiguous” reporting requirements. ***

    ———

    Anthrax, Al Qaeda and Ayman Zawahiri: The Infiltration of US Biodefense
    http://www.amerithrax.wordpress.com

  5. DXer said

    This article today is about an FBI – CDC workshop on bioterrorism held at the University of Buffalo this week.

    http://www.buffalo.edu/ubreporter/featured-stories.host.html/content/shared/university/news/ub-reporter-articles/stories/2014/August/fbi_bioterrorism.detail.html

    Anthrax, Al Qaeda, and Ayman Zawahiri: The Infiltration of US Biodefense
    http://www.amerithrax.wordpress.com

    • DXer said

      In New York counterterrorism sting, a rare setback for the FBI
      http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/in-new-york-counterterrorism-sting-a-rare-setback-for-the-fbi/2014/08/14/6179d5b2-0dc2-11e4-8c9a-923ecc0c7d23_story.html?hpid=z3

      By Adam Goldman August 14 at 6:14 PM
      When Ahmed Abassi arrived in the United States for the first time in March 2013, the Tunisian student settled into a historic, neo-Gothic apartment building in Manhattan’s Financial District.

      ***
      Abassi was caught on tape discussing “the principle that America should be wiped off the face of the earth,” with people he believed to be co-conspirators, one of whom was the FBI agent, according to court records. At one point, Abassi suggested “putting bacteria in the air or in a water supply.”

      But last month, Abassi, who
      ***
      Among Abassi’s new circle of friends was Chiheb Esseghaier, a doctoral student. The FBI and Canadian authorities began to suspect that Esseghaier and Abassi were part of a terrorist cell, according to court records.

      ***
      Abassi continued to make inflammatory statements, however. He argued that the Koran allowed “Muslims to attack Americans in the same ways Americans had attacked Muslims, including the killing of women and children,” according to court records.

      On April 22, 2013, Abassi was questioned by the FBI. Prosecutors said he lied repeatedly about his relationship with Esseghaier and whether he knew the Tunisian planned to engage in terrorism. The FBI arrested Abassi. That same day, Canadian authorities took Esseghaier and another man into custody, charging them with conspiracy to attack an Amtrak train traveling from New York to Toronto.

      U.S. prosecutors said Abassi acknowledged possibly radicalizing Esseghaier, and that the two had talked about committing terrorist acts, according to court records. They said Abassi did not want to participate in Esseghaier’s plans only because “the number of American casualties from such an operation would be too few.”

      Shroff said her client did not radicalize Esseghaier.

      “If you actually listen to the conversations between Chiheb [Esseghaier] and Ahmed, you’ll realize Ahmed is talking about words and verses from the Koran,” his attorney said. “He’s telling Chiheb what’s in the Koran. That is not radicalizing.”

      ***
      The official said more will come out about the men, including Abassi, when Esseghaier goes on trial in Canada. The official said the men were part of a cell and presented a serious threat, one the FBI helped eliminate.

      “It was a good case,” the official said.

      ***
      In a phone interview, his sister Amira Abassi said: “My brother is not a monster. That is the reality. He is not evil.”

      On July 16, Judge Miriam Cedarbaum waved away government calls for a stern sentence. The 84-year-old judge told Abassi to stay clear of trouble.

      “I hope that you will think very seriously about the events of the last year and will decide to always abide by the laws of the United States,” she said. “And if you do that, I wish you good luck.”

      Abassi is being held in an immigration detention facility in New Jersey, where he awaits deportation to Tunisia.

      Comment: It’s easy to second-guess undercover operations. But we should restrain our criticism — preventing future covert acts presents quite a challenge.

  6. DXer said

    U.S. rolls back oversight of potentially dangerous experiments
    BY SHARON BEGLEY
    NEW YORK Wed Aug 13, 2014 7:27am EDT

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/08/13/us-health-anthrax-oversight-insight-idUSKBN0GD08L20140813

    “But biosafety experts said the NSABB experience showed that approach was inherently conflicted.

    “Organizations are notoriously bad at policing themselves,” said biodefense expert Greg Koblentz of George Mason University. Ideally, an advisory body should not depend on or report to the organization it is overseeing, he said.

    ANTHRAX ATTACKS

    After anthrax was mailed to members of Congress and media outlets in 2001, the United States embarked on a massive biodefense build-up, more than tripling the number of laboratories studying dangerous pathogens to 1,500. [ID:nL2N0P61N5] Three years later, NIH created the NSABB to recommend and develop guidelines for research that could have the unintended consequence of creating bioweapons.

    In recent years, however, NIH narrowed the board’s responsibilities and did not follow through on members’ requests to study hot-button issues, according to a former member of the board. Last month, it dismissed 11 of 23 members without warning, saying their services were no longer needed. [ID:nL2N0PQ1ZR]

    Following the dismissals, a biosafety expert told Reuters that in 2010 NIH also eliminated the board’s responsibilities for reviewing specific experiments. None of the seven current or former board members contacted by Reuters had been informed of the change at the time or since. A Reuters review of the board’s charter confirmed the changes.”

  7. DXer said

    There is nothing like the team effort when the likes of McClatch, ProPublica and PBS pool their resources and talents.

    by Greg Gordon, McClatchy, Stephen Engelberg, ProPublica, and Mike Wiser, PBS’ Frontline, Oct. 14, 2011, 9:14 p.m.

    “Another issue is the FBI’s method for collecting anthrax samples from U.S. and foreign labs to narrow the suspect list. Because the samples were subpoenaed and couldn’t be seized for multiple reasons, critics have said their submission amounted to an honor system in which the killer would have no incentive to participate.

    Further, a still-confidential 2002 review of security at USAMRIID by a seven-member team from the Sandia National Laboratories found that “the culture at USAMRIID does not reflect the same indisputable commitment to security as it does to research.”

    The “diversion of small quantities” of deadly pathogens can be significant, noted the report, a copy of which was obtained by McClatchy, ProPublica and Frontline. That’s presumably because they can be used as seed material to grow large quantities of germs for an attack. The problem is heightened, it said, because germs “cannot be reliably detected,” underscoring the importance of an alert and cooperative research staff.”

    • DXer said

      This point made by New York Times, McClatchy, ProPublica, PBS, and the other major media outlets is a common sense point and widely understood.

      https://groups.google.com/forum/#!msg/alt.politics.liberalism/ccTr8yCxGho/5Tqh_Wq6jykJ
      martin

      8/11/09

      On Aug 11, 1:53 pm, FBIinform…@amerithrax.sux (Somebody Talked)
      wrote:
      > The FBI’s anthrax terrorist attack investigation is wholly based on
      > the assumption that by collecting samples of anthrax from everybody
      > that had any, Mueller’s G-men could figure out who did it.
      >
      > What if the anthrax terrorist(s) got rid of their left-over anthrax
      > the same day they got through mailing it?
      >
      > After the crime had been committed, would the anthrax terrorist(s)
      > keep some weaponized anthrax hanging around just in case the FBI might
      > want to test it?
      >
      > ======================================
      >
      > Anthrax investigation still yielding findings
      > Chemical composition of spores doesn’t match suspect flask.http://www.nature.com/news/2009/090225/full/news.2009.120.html

  8. DXer said

    Director Mueller has noted that the FBI did not have access or cooperation of some other countries and so wasn’t in a position to know about those other countries.

    –“I do things like get in a taxi and say, “The library, and step on it.”
    David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

    • DXer said

      Ft. Detrick sent its virulent Ames strain to places like Porton Down in Great Britain. Martin Hugh-Jones at Lousiana State University was sent the Ames strain in the late 1990s from Peter Turnbull at Porton Down. Jones says he traded anthrax strains like they were baseball cards.

      Peter Turnbull, then at Porton Down, has said that Porton Down shared Ames with “very few” researchers whom he declined to name. Porton Down scientists previously acknowledged sharing the Ames strain with the agency’s public health branch, the Center for Applied Microbiology and Research (”CAMR”). CAMR officials also acknowledged distributing Ames to a small number of private researchers.

    • DXer said

      By Steve Fainaru and Joby Warrick, Washington Post Staff Writers
      http://www.ph.ucla.edu/epi/bioter/anthraxmuddytrail.html

      Martin Hugh-Jones, an anthrax expert at Louisiana State University who maintains a global database of anthrax outbreaks for the World Health Organization, concurred that it was relatively simple in the past to obtain anthrax cultures from USAMRIID.

      “They kept the stuff there, and if you needed a culture, you called up Art” — Col. Arthur Friedlander, USAMRIID’s senior military research scientist, Hugh-Jones said.

      Other researchers received the bug in its virulent form. One such recipient was at Fort Detrick’s British counterpart, the Chemical Defense Establishment at Porton Down, near Salisbury, England. Peter Turnbull, a former Porton Down microbiologist, said the institute also was testing vaccines that would protect troops against various anthrax strains.

      British scientists in turn shared the Ames strain with other researchers. In the mid-1990s, Porton Down sent a packet containing Ames spores to Hugh-Jones, and also to a “very few” others, said Turnbull, who declined to name them.

      “It wasn’t random,” said Turnbull. “We would know the other person’s bona fides. It was not spread around promiscuously.”

      Investigators are now hoping that retracing the movement of Ames will help lead them to the person or group behind the anthrax mailings of September and October. Since mid-October, FBI agents have visited universities, pharmaceutical laboratories, hospitals and veterinary centers to find out who may have had access to the strain.

      Some researchers, such as Louisiana State University’s Hugh-Jones, have been subpoenaed and questioned for hours about the possibility that Ames spores might have been lost or stolen. Hugh-Jones said he has turned over laboratory documents to the FBI and insisted his lab kept the Ames strain under tight control.

      “Nobody got it from us; it stopped with us,” he said.

      In fact, some anthrax experts believe that it may be impossible to learn exactly how many researchers have Ames. Genetic differences among anthrax strains are slight, and until the advent of genetic typing in recent years, the labeling of strains was often sloppy. It is possible that Ames bacteria ended up in many other laboratories, but under a different name.”

  9. DXer said

    http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Front_Page/LB25Aa01.html

    Doubts cloud closing of anthrax case
    By Peter J Brown

    This article has been updated to include relevant links to cited material.

    • The FBI says that only a small number of labs had Ames anthrax, including only three foreign labs. Yet a quick Pub Med search of papers published between 1999 and 2004 revealed Ames anthrax was studied in at least Italy, France, the UK, Israel and South Korea as well as in the US. By failing to identify all labs with access to Ames, the FBI managed to exclude potential domestic and foreign perpetrators;

    • The FBI claims that “drying anthrax is expressly forbidden by various treaties”, therefore it would have to be performed clandestinely. Actually, the US government sponsored several programs that dried anthrax spores. Drying spores is not explicitly prohibited by the Biological Weapons Convention, though many would like it to be;

    Peter J Brown is a freelance writer from the US state of Maine.

  10. DXer said

    Intel & Cyber, Strategy & Policy

    Flynn’s Last Interview: Iconoclast Departs DIA With A Warning
    By James Kitfield on August 07, 2014 at 12:42 PM
    Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn in happier days, taking command of the Defense Intelligence Agency just two years ago.

    ***

    JK: When you were asked recently at the Aspen Security Forum whether the United States is safer from the terrorist threat today than before 9/11, you answered no.

    Flynn: I know that’s a scary thought, but in 2004, there were 21 total Islamic terrorist groups spread out in 18 countries. Today, there are 41 Islamic terrorist groups spread out in 24 countries. A lot of these groups have the intention to attack Western interests, to include Western embassies and in some cases Western countries. Some have both the intention and some capability to attack the United States homeland.

    For instance, we’re doing all we can to understand the outflow of foreign fighters from Syria and Iraq, many of them with Western passports, because another threat I’ve warned about is Islamic terrorists in Syria acquiring chemical or biological weapons. We know they are trying to get their hands on chemical weapons and use what they already have to create a chemical weapons capability.

    Remember anthrax was used in 2001 [killing five people] and pretty much paralyzed Capitol Hill. If that anthrax had been dispersed more efficiently, it could have killed a quarter million people.

    Comment:

    Anthrax, Al Qaeda and Ayman Zawahiri: The Infiltration of US Biodefense
    http://www.amerithrax.wordpress.com

    • DXer said

      DIA knew that Russia had virulent Ames. So why didn’t the FBI? The FBI’s genetic analysis was hopelessly flawed from the start because it assumed that samples would be provided voluntarily and samples could not be obtained from some foreign countries..

      Here is a sample article from September 2001.

      DIA Hopes to Grow Anthrax Variant to Test Vaccine

      By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
      American Forces Press Service

      WASHINGTON, Sept. 6, 2001 – The Defense Intelligence Agency hopes to grow a Russian-engineered variant of anthrax to test the effectiveness of the vaccine given to U.S. troops.

      “We have a vaccine that works against … all of the known anthrax strains. What we want to do is make sure we are prepared for any surprises,” Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said Sept. 4.

      A 1997 medical journal reported that Russia might have developed a modified anthrax strain. Concerned about its possible use as a biological weapon, DIA officials requested a sample from Russia, but to date have received none, Clarke said in a Pentagon media briefing.

      “Earlier this year, the DIA started to look into what it would take to get the legal approvals, to get the interagency coordination, to do the congressional briefings, to look into developing that strain so they could test vaccines and they could see what we have to do to make sure we’re protected against it,” Clarke said.

      She stressed no scientific work has been done so far in developing this strain and that the proposed work, codenamed Project Jefferson, would be in compliance with the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention.

      Clarke said the convention allows work that is purely defensive in nature. “It allows you to have small quantities of a known agent, limited quantities of an agent if you want to study it for the purpose of protecting people against that threat,” she added.

      Once the legal work is done, DIA intends to go forward with developing the anthrax strain, Clarke said.

      “We take the threat of the spread of biological and chemical warfare very, very seriously. We have an obligation — and it’s an important obligation — to make sure we protect, first and foremost, the men and women in uniform against those threats,” she said. “So with all the appropriate legal reviews, with all the appropriate interagency coordination and congressional briefing, we plan to proceed.”

  11. DXer said

    Four Questions About the FBI Lab Scandal
    By David Colapinto on July 30, 2014
    http://www.whistleblowersblog.org/2014/07/articles/government-whistleblowers/fbi-whistleblowers/four-questions-about-the-fbi-lab-scandal/

    No FBI agent has gone off the REZ and so the Director hasn’t thrown a TIZ like a GRIZ drunk on SOJU trying to step on a JIRD. But like my ZEDA — all CAZH one summer day — once told me whiie eating his YUZU,
    “I can think of a lot more than CINQ reasons to do the right thing — and the first is your grandmother.”

  12. DXer said

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/08/05/why-ebola-worries-defense-department/

    Why Ebola worries the Defense Department

    “In 1996, a magazine reported about another worrisome case involving a Japanese cult group called Aum Shinrikyo that traveled to Zaire in 1992 with the purpose of collecting samples of the Ebola virus. While the group’s Ebola efforts probably failed, it ended up killing several dozen people with sarin nerve-gas in the Tokyo subway system in 1995. The U.S. government’s recent funding efforts on Ebola research seem to be directly related to these incidents. “We have a long standing interest in highly fatal hemorrhagic fevers,” Derrick-Frost explained. “Ebola is among a handful of emerging infectious diseases that have historically been explored as a potential biological weapon, and we are closely monitoring these types of infectious diseases.”

    Comment:

    Yazid Sufaat said he preferred other pathogens over anthrax — I forget his phrasing but he said that he preferred something that was wham-bang.

    I have no religious learning but from my reading of expert Bernard Lewis I believe a jihadist would be sacrificing his soul to use a bioagent that killed women and children and civilians — or, for example, poisoned water, foodstuffs or crops. see, e.g., Lewis’ discussion of the hadiths. Montasser Al-Zayat, the blind sheik’s lawyer who in 1999 said that Dr. Ayman was going to use anthrax against US targets to retaliate for the rendering of senior EIJ leaders, has explained that Dr. Ayman is a good tactician but not recognized as a religious scholar. So no one should accept Zawahiri’s say-so to save their soul for killing Ottilie L. in Connecticut.

    http://www.amerithrax.wordpress.com

    Off-topic:

    I have the new Scrabble edition (5th edition) and hope to unveil new fun words tonight.

    SMALLPOX and ANTHRAX are allowed, ebola is not.

    The additional 9,000 new words on the Tournament Wordlist (and 5,000 in the OSPD5 dictionary) s a weapon worth pursuing, a battle worth waging. Killing women and children is not.

    http://www.ph.ucla.edu/epi/bioter/agentilelady.html

    • DXer said

      The world seems increasingly unstable.

      Russia bans all U.S. food, EU fruit and veg in sanctions response; NATO fears invasion
      BY POLINA DEVITT AND MARIA TSVETKOVA
      MOSCOW/DONETSK Ukraine Wed Aug 6, 2014 4:05pm EDT

      Life is short. Play scrabble. Remember:

      Even an EEJIT knows that ARROZ is not BHAJI or GOJIS. Putin seems to fancy himself a member of the EQUES able to spend all his time in his GAZAR at the FOREX.

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