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

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

Posted by Lew Weinstein on December 20, 2014

The analysis below was posted by Dr. Meryl Nass at … http://anthraxvaccine.blogspot.com/2014/12/gao-report-echoes-nas-report-that-fbi-s.html

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

  1. DXer said

    I was smitten with Dr. Nass long before I brought a federal undercover to dinner with her in Georgetown.

    Let’s compare the recent experience of Attorney Stanley Cohen, the former lawyer for the Blind Sheik and Bin Laden’s son-in-law, to see if there are any comparisons and lessons to be learned. Blind Sheik Attorney Stanley Cohen, as he now tells the tale, says the FBI recently was paying his translator $24,000. He was working with Al Qaeda clerics in negotiations with ISIS and is surprised and angry that one of the Al Qaeda clerics was arrested for inciting terrorism.

    Some Background for my following Attorney Cohen’s adventures:

    DXer: The Blind Sheik’s Lawyer Montasser Al-Zayat Announced In 1999 That Ayman Zawahiri Would Use Anthrax Against US Targets To Retaliate For Imprisonment Of Senior EIJ Leaders, Most Notably Blind Sheik Abdel-Rahman
    Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 3, 2013
    https://caseclosedbylewweinstein.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/dxer-the-blind-sheiks-lawyer-montasser-al-zayat-announced-in-1999-that-ayman-zawahiri-would-use-anthrax-against-us-targets-to-retaliate-for-imprisonment-of-senior-eij-leaders-most-notably-blind/

    Recent story:

    Asharq Al-Awsat speaks to Stanley Cohen, US lawyer at the heart of efforts to save ISIS hostage Peter Kassig
    Maqdisi’s arrest killed negotiations over Kassig’s release: Cohen
    http://www.aawsat.net/2014/12/article55339667
    20 Dec, 2014

    No one every accused Attorney Cohen of being dull. If the FBI and/or a CIA contractor were paying, say, my graphic artist to do the graphics — which according to my intelligence they were — I would be sure to wear my own watch to tell the time.

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

    The undercover apparently had first met Meryl some months before and borrowed a couple of books relating to anthrax vaccine telling some hard-to-follow cover story. (He reportedly left Maine abruptly after Ivins’ suicide).

    When I called Meryl to ask about him, she said she wanted her loaned books back. With the reported return of the books, I welcomed this new transplant from Maine shortly after Bruce Ivins’ death. I had been wondering when the next undercover would show up.

    Under one scenario, this connection to Meryl could be understood in undercover operations as the “vouch”. But I’m terribly naive and fall for just about anything if people are nice.
    (Meryl has seen Jason Bannan, the FBI science person, in his bathing suit in Florida and so the more interesting story would be if she were undercover.)

    After the FBI closed the case in February 2010 — after a long and fruitless period of the very confused cover story my new friend was telling — he said he was free to do my graphics and argue my Al Qaeda theory. He explained that prior to that, his handler was writing him lousy scripts.

    Then we never had any problem because I think he did a wonderful job and faithfully represented my views. In my views, I try to very closely track contemporary documents. (If I’ve made any mistakes, I assure you they are of my doing, not the artist). Unless I am saying what a document is saying, I more often than not try to have nothing to say. Beyond what the document says, I typically only have questions. It’s all part of getting people on the same page in solving a difficult mystery. And there’s no reward — in this life or any other — for being wrong.

    When I had dinner with Meryl in Georgetown that night, I brought along the graphic artist and the first thing I did was to introduce him to everyone as an undercover. (Meryl thought he might be security carrying a weapon in his bag, but I believe it was just his laptop). (Meryl thinks I must work for someone given I am such a sharp dresser; but no, I just have loans out against my share of the Oak Island treasure.)

    The purpose of my forthright introduction was so that no one would suspect that it was part of an undercover sting or that I was part of any deception. You can doubt my correctness, but shouldn’t doubt my earnestness.

    By comparison, Attorney Stanley Cohen’s mission similarly was secret except for the part he tweeted every time he went back into a meeting.

    Attorney Cohen, Some thought questions: Would it have been a good result for Al Qaeda not to criticize ISIS for brutality? Isn’t that criticism a good thing? Isn’t it the fault of ISIS that the hostage died? Isn’t it the fault of people who countenance and give aid to murderers by their propaganda? When did you ever criticize the taking of hostage and the killing of civilians? Did you criticize Bin Laden for 9/11? At least you won’t find Attorney Cohen denying Bin Laden’s actually responsibility for 9/11 — unless someone pays him a lot of money. Barry and Graeme will do it for free.

    While a bold mission, I think Attorney Cohen was being a tad naive absent a signed agreement. The FBI reports that they don’t even know anything about an email that promised there wouldn’t be an arrest. Is Stanley really going to come back to the United States to report to jail? At least this story explains why he was allowed to travel so widely.

    FN/ I tried to recruit the undercover to go with me to the farmhouse of the Isabella Gardner gangster Bobby Guarente who last had the $500 million in paintings. It was in Central Maine and was a long drive. When at the last minute he couldn’t go, I was left with a lookout who was only 12 years old. Being raised so well, she insisted she was too young to go to jail for trespass and so remained at the cabin along the river. I had skedaddled from the field near the collapsed barn by the time she reported that two men in suits were looking through the window of the cabin. But I hadn’t even brought my shovel or the ground penetrating radar I wanted the undercover to arrange for the FBI or someone to bring. Then the museum director offering the $5 million reward told me I was making the gangster’s wife nervous asking questions and so I headed home.

    http://photos.syracuse.com/yourphotos/2013/03/isabella_gardner_art_heist.html

  2. DXer said

    Graeme’s book is a non-starter because it doesn’t even address Yazid Sufaat’s and Rauf Ahmad’s activities in its anthrax program.

    Politics has no proper role in true crime analysis. Graeme got his idea that Bin Laden was not responsible for 911 from Barry.

    It is immoral to use Ottilie Lundgren’s murder as a soapbox for fringe political views.

    Although the public and Congressional leaders definitely should press hard for release of the 28 pages of the “Joint Inquiry” report, even that effort is undermined by folks who aren’t processing basic facts correctly about 911.

    Barry and Graeme will shut you down if you try to address true crime facts about Al Qaeda’s anthrax program rather than focus on their contrived political argument based on articles from 2002.

    Even on the issue of the silicon signature, they overlook the fact that processing know-how travels in the minds of individuals — and strains can easily walk out of a lab.

    By all means, focus on where the processor got his know-how and Ames strain. But you won’t find that from newspaper articles in 2002.

    You’ll find that in the contemporaneous documents that Lew has uploaded to this blog.

    Off-topic:

    A revelation in the biggest heist in history comes to town next February. In March 2015, the FBI and museum will make a big publicity push to find the Isabella Gardner paintings — for which there is a $5 million reward.

    In February 2015, a bootleg copy of the book “Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist” will be available for sale here. This book “Master Thieves” has a pictured of a darkened street and a dramatic torn cover. Although it won’t officially be on sale until March, Kurkjian will be here in Syracuse in February at the university museum here.

    He will for the first time reveal the Herkimer, NY connection to the heist — in which Elena Guarente and her daughter teamed up with a man with a connection to Herkimer to pitch back the paintings to the museum after Bobby Guarente passed in 2004.

    Neither the museum nor the FBI — with the Boston Field office a former lead investigator in Amerithrax — are in a sharing mood. But everyone at least shares the wish and hope that the paintings are returned.

    Stephen has been on the case since 1997. But it is the investigation he did from January through mid-May 2014 — from here in Herkimer and everywhere in between — that could go into the IRE Hall of Fame.

    It is difficult for reporters to have the time to do deep research on a subject — they are forever being drawn to the next day’s story.

    But some mysteries just call out to be solved.

  3. DXer said

    Graeme’s book is a non-starter because it doesn’t even address Yazid Sufaat’s and Rauf Ahmad’s activities in its anthrax program. (It doesn’t even address the true crimes relating to an Ivins Theory).

    Politics has no proper role in true crime analysis. Graeme got his idea that Bin Laden was not responsible for 911 from Barry. It is immoral IMO to use Ottilie Lundgren’s murder as a soapbox for fringe political views.

    Although the public and Congressional leaders definitely should press hard for release of the 28 pages of the “Joint Inquiry” report, even that effort is undermined by folks who aren’t processing basic facts correctly about 911.

    Barry and Graeme will shut you down if you try to address true crime facts about Al Qaeda’s anthrax program rather than focus on their contrived political argument based on articles from 2002.

    Even on the issue of the silicon signature, they overlook the fact that processing know-how travels in the minds of individuals — and strains can easily walk out of a lab.

    By all means, focus on where the processor got his know-how and Ames strain. But you won’t find that from newspaper articles in 2002.

    You’ll find that in the contemporaneous documents that Lew has uploaded to this blog.

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

    Ayman Zawahiri, Anwar Awlaki, Anthrax, and Amerithrax: The Infiltration Of US Biodefense
    Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 12, 2011
    https://caseclosedbylewweinstein.wordpress.com/2011/04/12/ayman-zawahiri-anwar-awlaki-anthrax-and-amerithrax-the-infiltration-of-us-biodefense/

    Off-topic:

    A revelation in the biggest art heist in history comes to town next February. In March 2015, the FBI and museum will make a big publicity push to find the Isabella Gardner paintings — for which there is a $5 million reward.

    In advance of that, in February 2015, a bootleg copy of the book “Master Thieves” will be available for sale here. This book “Master Thieves” has a pictured of a darkened street and a dramatic torn cover. Although it won’t officially be on sale until March, Kurkjian will be here in Syracuse in February at the university museum here and we’ll be able to get a copy if we drink him under the table at Dinosaurs.

    He will for the first time reveal the Herkimer, NY connection to the heist — in which Elena Guarente and her daughter teamed up with a man with a connection to Herkimer to pitch back the paintings to the museum after Bobby Guarente passed in 2004.

    Neither the museum nor the FBI — with the Boston Field office head a former lead investigator in Amerithrax — are in a sharing mood. But everyone at least shares the wish and hope that the paintings are returned.

    Stephen has been on the case since 1997. But it is the investigation he did from January through mid-May 2014 — from here in Herkimer and everywhere in between — that could go into the IRE Hall of Fame.

    It is difficult for reporters to have the time to do deep research on a subject — they are forever being drawn to the next day’s story.

    But some mysteries just call out to be solved.

    Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist Hardcover – March 10, 2015
    by Stephen Kurkjian (Author)
    http://www.amazon.com/Master-Thieves-Gangsters-World%C2%92s-Greatest/dp/1610394232/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1419141814&sr=8-1&keywords=Master+Thieves+Kurkjian

  4. DXer said

    Neither the GAO report nor the NAS study actually address the evidence against Ivins. And I believe you would find that Paul Keim’s views have evolved from 2011. Dr. Keim’s role is most interesting because he knows some classified findings about the genetics study that he is not telling you.

    The NAS and GAO reports address aspects of microbiological forensics (the 4 morphs) that served to limit known suspects from 700-100 to “up to 377” — and that 377 was just at USAMRIID alone.

    So it seriously falls into a trap if you think the 4 morphs analysis was a big hoo-ha from the get-go. The FBI framed these narrow reviews in such a way as to avoid a meaningful “lessons learned.”

    There are lots of traditional forensic tests that were more probative and more potentially limiting — and that the FBI and US Attorney got wildly wrong.

    So let’s turn to some of the discredited evidence against Dr. Ivins.

    A special significance of the GAO’s report is the fact that Henry Heine says he didn’t use the technique specified by the FBI — once it showed with morphs, once it didn’t.

    And his anthrax, you may recall, was in Building 1412.

    And so right away a key factual premise outlined by Attorney General Taylor was flat out wrong.

    The genetically matching virulent Ames was STORED in both Building 1425 and 1412.

    For the GAO report not to point that out makes it add up to Daubert meets Dilbert.

    https://amerithrax.wordpress.com/2012/12/05/anthrax-and-al-qaeda-the-big-picture-125-4-draft-beta/screen-shot-2012-12-08-at-11-26-20-am/

    Another point on which US Attorney Taylor was wildly wrong on at his early August conference was the Federal Eagle stamp. He (and the AP) implied it was only sold at Dr. Ivins’ Post Office when it in fact was sold throughout Maryland and Virginia.

    https://amerithrax.wordpress.com/2012/12/05/anthrax-and-al-qaeda-the-big-picture/screen-shot-2012-12-05-at-6-10-20-am/

    Another point US Attorney Taylor was wildly wrong about was the imagined code in the letters. The “T” in NEXT was not in fact double-lined.

    https://amerithrax.wordpress.com/2012/12/05/anthrax-and-al-qaeda-the-big-picture/screen-shot-2012-12-05-at-6-09-33-am/

    Note that it took Bin Laden several years before making a full confession to 9/11. For as long as people were confused on the subject, it made sense for him to deny it. It is simply not fair to criticize the FBI for subscribing to the perfectly reasonable Hatfill and Ivins hypotheses, while folks like Barry and Graeme don’t even know that Bin Laden committed 9/11. Get a clue, people. That sort of nonsense greatly undermines opposition to an Ivins Theory.

    I’m turning a blind eye to what Meryl might believe on the subject because I swoon over people so wonderful. Barry and I OTOH have already taken it out in the parking lot.

    Full transcript of bin Ladin’s speech
    Following is the full English transcript of Usama bin Ladin’s speech in a videotape sent to Aljazeera.
    Last Modified: 01 Nov 2004 13:01 GMT
    http://www.aljazeera.com/archive/2004/11/200849163336457223.html

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