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

Archive for December, 2014

* Rush Holt, upon leaving Congress, is becoming the chief executive officer of American Association for the Advancement of Science … perhaps he will continue his quest to determine the truth about the 2001 anthrax attacks

Posted by DXer on December 24, 2014

Congressman Rush Holt may be Dr. Bruce Ivins only chance at posthumous redemption

Congressman Rush Holt may be Dr. Bruce Ivins only chance at posthumous redemption

Rush Holt, upon leaving Congress, is becoming the chief executive officer of American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Report requested by Holt found gaps in FBI’s investigation of anthrax attacks

You may remember him as the fellow who beat IBM’s Big Blue at Jeopardy.

Trentonian (10/20/13) … Congressman Rush Holt: “Myriad questions remain about the anthrax attacks and the government’s response to the attacks.
Posted by Lew Weinstein on October 21, 2013

“I wouldn’t want to be the lawyer taking this (the FBI case against Dr. Bruce Ivins) to court,” said U.S. Rep. Rush Holt
Posted by Lew Weinstein on March 29, 2011’t-want-to-be-the-lawyer-taking-this-to-court”-said-u-s-rep-rush-holt/

Congressman Rush Holt: the FBI’s anthrax case should not have been closed … it would not hold up in court
Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 20, 2010

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* DXer … the FBI, before July 2008, was mistaken. After that, by failing to acknowledge and correct mistakes, they became immoral, outrageous and pathetic.

Posted by DXer on December 23, 2014

Mueller & Ivins composite

DXer’s recent post …

I don’t think of the FBI’s performance as being pathetic up to July 2008.

I just see it as being mistaken. I think an Ivins hypothesis was just as reasonable as a Hatfill hypothesis. I’ve yet to see any critic demonstrate that they could do better.

It does come to be immoral, though, when mistakes are not corrected — and we all make mistakes. For example, we now know that Dr. Ivins did have reason to be in the lab those nights and weekends. He had an experiment with 52 rabbits in the B3. It took years to obtain the documents under FOIA — which have been uploaded. (If you haven’t read them and still subscribe to an Ivins Theory, it is evidence your theory is uninformed or that you have a reading comprehension problem). Where does Vahid Majidi in his ebook correct himself? That book is all about urging that his former supervisor Comey has his back. That is as CYA as it comes.

It only becomes outrageous when the FBI scientists and prosecutors do not correct themselves — and when the scientists like Vahid Majidi continue to make the same fraudulent points about the two-person rule, the imagined code etc.

It only becomes outrageous when the FBI withholds documents about Adnan El-Shukrijumah. When it continues to withhold information about the second lab that Rauf Ahmad visited. When it withholds documents about the CIA’s finding of Ames in Afghanistan. When the FBI does not disclose that the boots on the ground did not recover the bottle of anthrax spore concentrate harvested in April 2001, before he set up Yazid Sufaat’s lab in May 2001 upon delivery of the new equipment. It only becomes outrageous when conflicts of interest are allowed to run rampant — and samples are thrown out and key results discarded.

It only becomes outrageous when there is no transparency on these issues of conflict of interest.

It only becomes outrageous when the FBI scientists and consultants market and sell books that rely on the counselor who says she was controlled by an alien who had implanted a microchip in her butt — and argue that the Ivins case represents a case study of relying on unreliable personnel. She thought she was being pursued by murderous astral entities attached to her clients.

It only becomes outrageous when the FBI scientists fail to disclose the forensics on the photocopier toner — while the report drops a footnote with innuendo about Ivins’ time in the library where there was a copier. The forensic report being withheld shows that copier could be EXCLUDED. Or when they fail to disclose the forensics on the ink and paper — all of which was exculpatory of Ivins.

It only becomes outrageous when they withhold the handwriting comparison showing Ivins probably did not write the letters for years — and then pretend that there was another overriding opinion.

But as for how they all came together upon Ivins suicide? I think the scientists were somewhat aghast that they were pushed to the front and expected to defend closing of the case…. when they hadn’t even been privy to investigative aspects. Then they understandably wanted credit for developing science in the emerging field of microbial forensics. And all these scientists strike me as darn smart.

AUSA Lieber got reprimanded for visiting a jihadi in jail. Superiors said a “deal had been cut.” And so I even credit her good faith — she was in a difficult position given what she faced in that office and the turmoil during that period.

And so I think we can credit the FBI’s good faith and efforts up until the time that they failed to acknowledge mistakes after they were pointed out. Then it is not merely pathetic but outrageous and immoral.

I’m a big fan of the FBI and CIA — precisely because they so often correct their mistakes. The recent audit of the evidence handling is a good example. That demonstrates an organization commitment to integrity.

If you trace back some comments, you will find that information has remained classified and/or withheld to avoid embarrassment to a third country.

That of course is unacceptable reason to withhold any of the information described above.

As Senator Leahy has said, when governments screw up, they just mark the documents SECRET. That allows the government workers to go on to lucrative second careers and be promoted within government.

Anthrax, Al Qaeda and Ayman Zawahiri: The Infiltration of US Biodefense

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* The GAO report has confirmed what the NAS said two years ago, which is that the FBI’s allegation that Dr. Bruce Ivins was the sole perpetrator of the 2001 anthrax attacks – or even involved in any way – is not supported by the scientific evidence the FBI has presented.

Posted by DXer on December 21, 2014




The GAO report has confirmed what the NAS said two years ago, which is that the FBI’s allegation that Dr. Bruce Ivins was the sole perpetrator of the 2001 anthrax attacks – or even involved in any way – is not supported by the scientific evidence the FBI has presented.

Unfortunately, the GAO report did not address all of the many open questions regarding other alleged evidence which this blog and others have raised, and thus has left unanswered the reasons for the FBI’s inexplicable insistence on Ivins as the perpetrator when they have not presented even a semblance of a credible case.

What is the FBI covering up? Why?

These are not trivial questions. The answers are important to our national security and to our confidence in the FBI.

I think there are three possible explanations …

  1.  The FBI has more evidence against Ivins which it has not made public.
  2.  The FBI has not solved the case and doesn’t know who the attackers were.
  3.  The FBI knows who committed the attacks but doesn’t want us to know.

Of these, it seems to me the third explanation is by far the most likely and the most terrifying.

Beyond that, with the GAO report issued, it seems that no one else really cares about the multitude of questions raised on this blog, which means we will never know the truth.

My novel CASE CLOSED was written several years ago as a fictional account exploring the FBI’s pathetic case and the reasons they might have had for presenting it. It was never presented as fact, but as time has gone by, it seems to me to be much closer to what the truth might be than anything the FBI has ever presented.



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Meryl Nass, M.D. … The FBI botched its investigation, never had even the shred of a case against Ivins

Posted by DXer on December 20, 2014

The analysis below was posted by Dr. Meryl Nass at …

Friday, December 19, 2014

GAO Report echoes NAS report that FBI’ s study of anthrax letters leaves much to be desired, including lack of validation of the methods used/GAO

Here is the GAO report released today, two years in the making, a study done for unnamed “congressional requesters.” In past years, the requesters have been listed, but in this case, they are not. This most likely reflects the sensitivity of this matter. Why so sensitive?
Because the FBI botched its investigation, never had even the shred of a case against Ivins, and this is not the first time they were called out on it.
The 2011 National Academy of Science (NAS) report pointed out the same things as this GAO report: that FBI and its contractors developed methods that were not validated. They never proved that the anthrax in the letters actually grew from parent spores in Ivins’ flask, as FBI purports. This failed claim forms the linchpin of the FBI’s entire case.
Here is the 2011 WaPo editorial on the need for a comprehensive investigation, following release of the NAS report. Today’s GAO investigation did not fulfill the WaPo’s request to include an investigation of the case against Ivins himself.
Following the NAS report, in October 2011, veteran investigative reporters at McClatchey (Greg Gordon, who is amazing), PBS’ Frontline and ProPublica dug deeper into the case than anyone so far had done, and created a TV show, a huge online cache of documents on the case, and several journalistic pieces, like this one.  Their work revealed new pieces of evidence that further undercut the FBI’s case, like this and this. One article explored the validity of the FBI’s scientific evidence.UPDATE: These reporters write about the new GAO report here.

The National Academy of Science panel couched its conclusions in extremely polite, even deferential language toward the FBI. The NAS committee created new definitions for old words that could only have been intended to confuse readers of the report. (See my detailed discussion of this, below)

If you actually say, out loud, that the FBI faked its search for the anthrax criminal(s), flushed $100 million down the toilet in its most expensive case to date, and deliberately avoided conducting a credible investigation to find the anthrax letters perpetrators, then you question the entire edifice of US law enforcement and imply a conspiracy around an anthrax letters coverup at the highest levels of government, as suggested in Professor Graeme MacQueen’s recent book.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, you are simply not permitted to do.

Step back from the abyss, get a limited GAO report that still took 2 years of review to see the light of day, and close the door on the anthrax letters case. Got it?

Here is what I wrote about the NAS report following its 2011 release:

Muddying the waters: contradictory NAS Report interpretations, and how the report itself asks to be read

Professor Paul Keim, an anthrax genetics expert at Northern Arizona University and FBI contractor, is claiming the NAS report supports the FBI’s case.  It doesn’t.  Please review the report and judge for yourself.The NAS report has many confusing aspects.  But it basically says:

  • The FBI totally screwed up its data collection of anthrax samples, and it should not be considered comprehensive.
  • FBI failed to give the committee needed information, although it provided some response (sometimes “tersely”) to every request for information.
  • FBI found a number of morphologically unusual mutants (“morphotypes”) in some letters, then chose some morphotypes to study further, but FBI provided no explanation for why only some morphotypes and not all letters were selected.
  • NAS pointed out that one could not say what expertise and equipment were required, nor how long it would take to produce the amount of spores used, absent that information.  (This conclusion challenged FBI claims that Ivins had the equipment and expertise needed, and also challenged the importance made of Ivins’ late nights in the lab.)
  • The assertion that Ivins tried to fool the FBI with the samples he submitted is unsupported.
  • FBI was chided for failing to use the newest molecular techniques, which could have speeded up the research and helped to clarify the relationship between the letter spores and Ivins’ flask of spores.

For example, from page 26 of the report:

“No written explanatory materials were provided with these documents that would fully
inform the committee as to why the analyses were done and how these documents contributed to the FBI investigations and conclusions. The material regarding analyses of the FBIR specimens was coded, often with different numbers for the same sample set. Consequently, the committee spent a considerable amount of time sorting through and attempting to interpret the available materials before it could begin to evaluate the science and consider the scientific conclusions. In addition, much of the information provided to the committee was compartmentalized and sections of some documents were redacted.
When the committee posed questions to the FBI for clarification, the agency was always
responsive; however, responses to questions were sometimes minimal or terse, or were deflected as intruding into the criminal investigation and beyond the purview of the committee despite the committee’s explanation that the questions were of a scientific nature.”

And excerpts from page 119:

“The first challenge with the repository was the lack of independence among samples and an incomplete understanding of the provenance of samplesdue to the known history of sharing…  FBI scientists and investigators sought to determine the history of shipments among institutions and the genealogical relationships among samples in the repository, but they never obtained a complete record.

Another challenge with the repository was that, since the importance of the mutant genotypes was not fully understood when the subpoena protocol was written, the document was vague (e.g., “use an inoculum taken across multiple colonies”), and was not written in a way that would maximize the chance that variant genotypes in a mixed stock population would be submitted… After the importance of the mutant genotypes became known, there was no request for additional samples using a revised protocol that might have improved the sampling.

A final challenge was that the repository collection process was based on the integrity of the individuals asked to provide samples. If the motive for the repository was to identify the source of the letter material, standards of custody of evidence would dictate that agents of the FBI should have obtained the samples. In most instances, holders of the material were asked to provide samples and send them in. The sender could have been the instigator and may not have complied with instructions, as the FBI alleges with respect to Dr. Ivins.”

Yet the report was otherwise couched in the most conciliatory language.  FBI was praised whenever possible.

The committee was barred from commenting directly on the guilt or innocence of suspects.  In order to get around this restriction and create a report that complied with its contract, while being as specific as possible about whether the science indicted Ivins, the NAS report included tables that presented FBI and DOJ statements, verbatim.  Then the report commented on whether the committee agreed with the statements.

Using this method, NAS’ report was able to say (page 15):

The results of the genetic analyses of the repository samples were consistent with the finding that the spores in the attack letters were derived from RMR-1029, but the analyses did not definitively demonstrate such a relationship. The scientific data alone do not support the strength of the government’s repeated assertions that “RMR-1029 was conclusively identified as the parent material to the anthrax powder used in the mailings” (USDOJ, 2010, p. 20), nor the role suggested for the scientific data in arriving at their conclusions, “the scientific analysis coordinated by the FBI Laboratory determined that RMR-1029, a spore-batch created and maintained at USAMRIID by Dr. Ivins, was the parent material for the anthrax used in the mailings” (USDOJ, 2010, p. 8).

The report created new definitions to specify strength of association.  This goes to the heart of the report’s meaning.  Here’s what the report says, rather oddly, about how its language conveys the strength of an association (see page 41):

“Quantifying an association, as well as the degree of certainty (or uncertainty) in that association, involves statistical methods (see Chapter 6). Common language involves qualifiers, rather than quantifiable measures, of this association and the degree of confidence in it, which can cause confusion among practitioners from different fields that use the terms. Since the interpretation of these qualifiers and the ways in which they are used differ across disciplines (e.g., statistics, science, law, common language), their use by the committee is clarified here. In the chapters that follow, the committee uses the following four qualifiers of association, listed in order of increasing certainty (decreasing uncertainty):

  • consistent with an association
  • suggest an association
  • indicate an association
  • demonstrate an association

The expression “consistent with” is frequently used in this report and conveys the weakest level of certainty (greatest amount of uncertainty). In general, when the term “consistent with” is used, it means that an association may or may not be present; the available data can neither rule out nor confirm an association. The term “suggests” denotes a greater level of certainty for an association than “consistent with,” but even here the normal use of the word in science denotes a weaker level of certainty than is implied by the word in everyday parlance. That is, the potential for an association is stronger, and the evidence for the absence of an association is weaker, but both are still possible. In contrast, the terms “indicate” and “demonstrate” denote higher degrees of certainty and these are usually reserved for strong scientific conclusions (i.e., less uncertainty, or less likelihood of an absence of an association). All four levels could potentially be quantified with measures of “statistical significance,” but the committee does not assign such measures in most instances because the data at hand are generally not appropriate for such precise quantification of the degree of uncertainty. 

In summary, the reader is cautioned to consider carefully the terminology in this report in light of the fact that the qualifiers of certainty used here are those used most commonly in the scientific literature and that these words can carry different weight in common language and in the courtroom.”

So the term “consistent with an association” in the NAS-FBI context, implies the weakest possible association.  Got that?   Keim and the FBI have taken “consistent with” to mean the NAS Report supports the FBI claims, when the report’s own definitions state that “consistent with” implies “the greatest amount of uncertainty” about the association.  UPDATE:   Keim is quoted in the 2/17/11 Global Security Newswire with the following (disingenuous) statement:

Keim disputed news reports suggesting that this week’s analysis questions the FBI for naming Ivins as the perpetrator of the attacks.  “The committee isn’t saying that. … All the major conclusions that the FBI came to, the committee said, ‘Yeah, the evidence is consistent with that.'”

[Sorry for all the mumbo-jumbo, but this level of detail helps explain how opposing sides may each cite this report to claim victory–Nass]

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* GAO-15-80: Published: Dec 19, 2014. Publicly Released: Dec 19, 2014.

Posted by DXer on December 20, 2014



ANTHRAX:Agency Approaches to Validation and Statistical Analyses Could Be Improved

GAO-15-80: Published: Dec 19, 2014. Publicly Released: Dec 19, 2014.


What GAO Found

After the 2001 Anthrax attacks, the genetic tests that were conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) four contractors were generally scientifically verified and validated, and met the FBI’s criteria. However, GAO found that the FBI lacked a comprehensive approach—or framework—that could have ensured standardization of the testing process. As a result, each of the contractors developed their tests differently, and one contractor did not conduct verification testing, a key step in determining whether a test will meet a user’s requirements, such as for sensitivity or accuracy. Also, GAO found that the contractors did not develop the level of statistical confidence for interpreting the testing results for the validation tests they performed. Responses to future incidents could be improved by using a standardized framework for achieving minimum performance standards during verification and validation, and by incorporating statistical analyses when interpreting validation testing results.

GAO identified six characteristics of a statistical framework that can be applied for analyzing scientific evidence. When GAO compared the approach the FBI used to this framework, it found that that the FBI’s approach could have been improved in three of six areas. First, the FBI’s research did not provide a full understanding of the methods and conditions that give rise to genetic mutations used to differentiate between samples of B. anthracis. Second, the FBI did not institute rigorous controls over the sampling procedures it used to build the repository of B. anthracis samples. Third, the FBI did not include measures of uncertainty to strengthen the interpretation of the scientific evidence. GAO found that since 2001 the FBI has taken some steps to build formal forensic statistical expertise. The FBI’s approach to future incidents could benefit from including such expertise early in an investigation.

The lack of an understanding of how bacteria change (mutate) in their natural environment and in a laboratory is a key scientific gap that remains and could affect testing conducted in future incidents. Specifically, the significance of using such mutations as genetic markers for analyzing evidentiary samples to determine their origins is not clear. This gap affects both the development of genetic tests targeting such mutations and statistical analyses of the results of their use on evidentiary samples. The Department of Homeland Security is currently funding some research on genetic changes in bacteria and genome sequencing methods, among others. Such research is a step in the right direction since the FBI is planning to use genome sequencing methods in future investigations. However, because this research may not be complete for several more years, the extent to which it will close this gap is not known.

Why GAO Did This Study

In 2001, the FBI investigated an intentional release of B. anthracis, a bacterium that causes anthrax, which was identified as the Ames strain. Subsequently, FBI contractors developed and validated several genetic tests to analyze B. anthracissamples for the presence of certain genetic mutations. The FBI had previously collected and maintained these samples in a repository.

GAO was asked to review the FBI’s genetic test development process and statistical analyses. This report addresses (1) the extent to which these genetic tests were scientifically verified and validated; (2) the characteristics of an adequate statistical approach for analyzing samples, whether the approach used was adequate, and how it could be improved for future efforts; and (3) whether any remaining scientific concerns regarding the validation of genetic tests and statistical approaches need to be addressed for future analyses. GAO reviewed agency and contractor documentation, conducted literature reviews, and conducted statistical analyses of the repository data. GAO’s review focused solely on two aspects of the FBI’s scientific evidence: the validation of the genetic tests and the statistical approach for the analyses of the results. GAO did not review and is not taking a position on the conclusions the FBI reached when it closed its investigation in 2010.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that the FBI develop a framework for validation and statistical approaches for future investigations. The FBI agreed with our recommendations.

For more information, contact Timothy M. Persons, Chief Scientist, at (202) 512-6412 or

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* GAO Anthrax Report: Agency Approaches to Validation and Statistical Analyses Could Be Improved

Posted by DXer on December 20, 2014




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* NYT: Inquiry in Anthrax Mailings Had Gaps, Report Says

Posted by DXer on December 20, 2014



DEC. 19, 2014

A congressional inquiry into the F.B.I.’s scientific work on the anthrax mailings of 2001 has identified major gaps in genetic evidence that purportedly links the germs to Bruce E. Ivins, the Army microbiologist blamed for attacks that killed five people, sickened 17 others and shook the nation.

The Government Accountability Office study, requested in 2010 and made public on Friday, echoes earlier criticism from the National Academy of Sciences. In 2011, its expert panel found that the bureau’s analysis of the genetic evidence “did not definitively demonstrate” a firm link between the mailed anthrax spores and a sample taken from Dr. Ivins’s laboratory at Fort Detrick in Maryland, and more generally was “not as conclusive” as the bureau had asserted.

The G.A.O. had better access to F.B.I. records and deepened the genetic critique, finding that the bureau’s investigation “lacked several important characteristics” that could have strengthened its case. “A key scientific gap,” the 77-page report said, was the bureau’s failure to investigate whether samples of anthrax spores could naturally mutate enough to obscure their putative links to Dr. Ivins.

In 2008, shortly after he killed himself, the bureau laid out a sweeping but circumstantial case against Dr. Ivins, an Army microbiologist, saying he had acted alone in conducting the nation’s first major bioterrorist attack. It called the case Amerithrax and said that unique mutations in the anthrax spores had helped put Dr. Ivins under the spotlight.

In an interview, Timothy M. Persons, the G.A.O.’s chief scientist, credited the bureau with working hard to correct some of its science deficiencies but said its evidence fell short in the anthrax case, which was officially closed in 2010. “They needed better science and measurement in order to be more conclusive,” he said. “It sounds nitpicky, but that’s important in building up the scientific evidence for an important case.”

The bureau said it agreed with the G.A.O.’s advice on improving its forensic science.

On Friday, Representative Rush D. Holt, a New Jersey Democrat and physicist who requested the study, said the report “confirms what I have often said — that the F.B.I.’s definitive conclusions about the accuracy of their scientific findings in the Amerithrax case are not, in fact, definitive. The United States needs a comprehensive, independent review of the Amerithrax investigation to ensure we have learned the lessons from this bio attack.”

Mr. Holt has repeatedly called for a national commission on the anthrax mailings that would serve as a kind of scaled-down version of the panel that studied the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The anthrax letters were sent from a mailbox in Princeton, N.J., which is in his district.

The deadly wisps of anthrax, coming just after the September attacks, set off new waves of panic. Over the years, a growing number of outside expertshave asked whether federal investigators got the right man and whether the F.B.I.’s long inquiry brushed aside important clues.

To the regret of independent scientists, the report made no mention of an issue beyond genetics: whether the spores displayed signs of advanced manufacturing. They have pointed to distinctive chemicals found in the dried anthrax spores that they say contradict F.B.I. claims that the germs were unsophisticated.

Evidence of special coatings, they say, suggests that Dr. Ivins had help in obtaining his germ weapons or was innocent.

Martin E. Hugh-Jones, an authority on anthrax at Louisiana State University, said the report was disappointing.

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* FRONTLINE: New Doubt Casts Doubt on FBI’s Anthrax Investigation

Posted by DXer on December 20, 2014

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* GAO Report Reviewing Amerithrax Investigation Expected Friday, December 19

Posted by DXer on December 14, 2014



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* Head Of CIA’s Interrogation Program Jose Rodriguez Points To Al Qaeda Anthrax Program and Fall 2001 Mailings In Disputing Senate Torture Report

Posted by DXer on December 12, 2014


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