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

Posts Tagged ‘anthrax National Geographic’

* Hunting the Anthrax Killer … new National Geographic video promoting Sunday show

Posted by DXer on July 22, 2009


why did the FBI fail to solve the 2001 anthrax case?

CASE CLOSED offers a “fictional” answer




Hunting the Anthrax Killer

National Geographic Channel

Sunday 9:00 pm


click here for video …

Posted in * questioning the FBI's anthrax investigation, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | 7 Comments »

* It wasn’t Ivins. So why does the FBI say it was Ivins? And WHY did the FBI fail to solve the case?

Posted by DXer on July 22, 2009


why did the FBI fail to solve the 2001 anthrax case?

CASE CLOSED offers a “fictional” answer




A comment to the CASE CLOSED blog earlier today included the analyses reproduced below.

  • I urge you to read through these points carefully.
  • As you read, I think it will become abundantly clear to you that the FBI case against Dr. Ivins is a fraud
  • The FBI has not proven that Dr. Ivins was the sole perpetrator of the 2001 anthrax attacks.

But the really important questions have to do with why the FBI failed to solve the case.

  • I personally don’t think the FBI is incompetent.
  • I think it is unreasonable to believe the FBI could spend seven years, hundreds of thousands of man hours, and millions of dollars in the largest investigation in the history of the FBI and come up with so little.
  • I think the FBI knows that Dr. Ivins is not the sole perpetrator.

Isn’t that frightening? If I’m right, the FBI has accused a dead man who can’t defend himself  based on a case that on its face is laughable.

Why? … The truth is we don’t know why.

In my novel CASE CLOSED I present a fictional scenario that shows …

… the FBI didn’t solve the anthrax case because they were told not to solve it.

Which leads to two other questions.

… who benefitted from not solving the case?
… who had the power to divert the FBI investigation for seven years?

Again, we don’t know the answers to those questions.

In CASE CLOSED, my fictional story line is that the President and Vice President of the United States, in order to add another plank to their bundle of lies supporting their war of choice in Iraq, wanted the FBI not to solve the case so they could continue, as Colin Powell actually did at the United Nations, to raise the specter that Saddam Hussein had biological weapons and the means to deliver them to the U.S., which of course was nonsense.

Is the CASE CLOSED hypothesis true?  …  I don’t know.

Does it sound like it might be true?  …  Sure does, as many of the readers of CASE CLOSED have said.

We need to know the truth!

We need Rush Holt’s proposed Anthrax Investigation Commission to become a reality.

  • Somebody – not Dr. Bruce Ivins – unleashed a murderous attack against America, and the organizers and perpetrators of that attack are still at large.
  • And there’s a reason the FBI failed to solve the anthrax case.
  • Knowing that reason is even more important than knowing the names of the actual perpetrators.

I urge you to read CASE CLOSED.  …  Not because it answers these questions, but because it asks them.

America must ask these questions.

Our government owes us answers to these questions.




Here are the analyses previously posted as a comment on this blog …

Access to RMR-1029:

  • Everybody at Ft. Detrick could have taken a sample before 1999 when it was transferred to a more secure location, up to then it was in an easily accessible place.
  • It was sent out to several laboratories at which point again a large number of persons (including cleaning personnel for all we know) could have taken 1 microliter to start a new culture.
  • Despite that, only one laboratory had RMR-1029/daughter thereof when the FBI collected samples indicating a less than perfect sample acquisition method. Due to the fact that a huge number had access to RMR-1029 it’s almost impossible to exclude everybody else.
  • Simply because nobody can have an air tight alibi for multiple days (As there is not a single defined timepoint when the letters have been sent but a 2/3 day long timeframe) unless he was in another country.
  • The alibi also loses importance if one is not preoccupied by the one culprit theory and includes the possibility of multiple culprits. It is entirely irrelevant who worked with RMR-1029 at the time of the attack since the attack spores where made of a daughter culture.

The Where (Overtime, Unsupervised Work, Bleachings):

  • While the location of the mailbox, the pre-stamped envelopes and RMR-1029 point in the general direction of Ft. Detrick we don’t know where exactly the attack spores were produced.
  • The only FORENSIC EVIDENCE we have is that the airfilters at Ft. Detrick did NOT show unusual high CFU counts (Dried spores would ultimately end up in the filtration system of the AC, as we know they get easily airborn) indicating that this is NOT WHERE the attack spores were produced.
  • That this is not preposterous claim is shown by the FBI’s Hatfill case as well as the claims by the FBI how easy such spores are produced.
  • In addition, this the B. subtilis found in the first attack was not found at Ft. Detrick. Finally, other personnel at Ft. Detrick claims that Ivins could not have done it. So:
    • Ivins overtime / unsupervised work is actually an alibi because we know he was not where the spores were produced.
    • Ivins secret bleaching, which he reported to a friend AND we only know of because Ivins told us; took place where the spores were NOT produced.
    • Since Ivins could bleach without anybody noticing we can assume any number of people could have done so, just they did not reveal it.

The When (Overtime, Unsupervised Work,  Bleachings):

  • There is no evidence for the timeline. But experience tells us that the refinement of the protocol observed by the difference of quality between the two attack waves CANNOT be achieved in three weeks, working only in evenings and in secrecy. I personally doubt that it can be achieved in three weeks working exclusively on this.
  • This makes his overtime / unsupervised work / bleaching irrelevant as we don’t know when the production has taken place.

The How (Equipment and Experience):

  • We don’t know how the spores were prepared therefore we can only guess whether Ivins had access to the necessary equipment.
  • However if the boasts of the FBI are true, no special equipment was required at all to produce the spores (Incubator, centrifuge etc. can be obtained easily), supporting the theory that the spores were not necessarily produced INSIDE of Ft. Detrick.
  • The how also could tell us about the expertise needed; what we know is that they did not work with dried spores at Ft. Detrick.
  • We also know that the wet growing of anthracis is well published and can be reproduced by anyone. Therefore anyone working on DRIED bacillus spores (e.g. Dugway people but also many other labs) should be considered more experienced when it comes to dried anthracis spore production.

The Alibi:

  • Sure Ivins has no conclusive Alibi for time when the letters were sent.
  • We DON’T HAVE: Ivins was at the place where the letters were sent, at the time they were sent.
  • We HAVE: Ivins cannot prove he was not there at that time.
  • Fortunately, you don’t have to prove your innocence; your guilt has to be proven.

The Silicon:

  • Low concentrations of silicon such as found in RMR-1030 are naturally occurring as claimed by the FBI and might be the result of the addition of silicon anti foaming agent.
  • None of the ~200 protocols tested by the FBI resulted in silicon concentrations as high as found in the attack spores clearly indicating that a very specific protocol was used which resulted in this.
    • Ivins would not have deviated from the well known and documented protocols.
    • The high silicon count cannot be the result of some obscure purification method because it did not add to the deadliness and therefore there is no reason to enrich it.

Dr. Ivins’ Mental Health:

  • If Ivins psyche was a problem, why was he allowed to work at Ft. Detrick?
  • And why did none of his colleagues notice/report it?
  • We should also not that he was in treatment /therapy all the time, so he was open and honest about his mental problem.

Driving a Distance to the Mailbox:

  • Well, that is the most obvious thing to do; everybody with half a brain would drive a couple of miles before placing the letters into the mailbox. It’s the most logical thing to do.

The Motive:

  • On the patents Ivins is only listed as provider of the spores and would as such not have profited much, leaving people with access to RMR-1029 AND much more direct interests.

Misleading the Investigators:

  • Ivins did not mislead the investigators:
    • Sample 1 was the wrong tube but sent in before official specifications (Wrong tube = obvious, the FBI also immediately realized that it was the wrong tube).
    • Sample 2, as sample 1, contained culture from RMR-1029 but first set of tests failed, only later the FBI realized this with two new tests (using the duplicate from Dr. Keim, which raises the questions what had happened to the sample they have gotten? Used up? Destroyed?).
  • The error is not with Ivins but with the FBI.
    • Obviously others misled the FBI because only one sample containing RMR-1029 or derivate was recovered from outside Ft. Detrick even though it was sent out multiple times to multiple institutions.
    • Alternatively, the test of the FBI is not so reliable and they did not repeat it with the new methods on all samples.
  • Dr. Ivins also admitted to the bleaching, something we wouldn’t know without him generally indicating that he did not try to mislead the FBI.

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* Hunting the Anthrax Killer … National Geographic Channel … Sunday, July 26, 9:00pm

Posted by DXer on July 22, 2009

to learn more about Lew Weinstein and his novels,

 go to …


Hunting the Anthrax Killer

National Geographic Channel

Sunday, July 26, 9:00pm

It is the worst biological attack in modern American history, and it occurs just three weeks after 9-11. An anonymous killer mails deadly anthrax to the media and members of Congress. When it is over, five people are dead, 17 others are sickened and many fear the worst: Al Qaeda has struck again. It takes the FBI seven years, but in 2008 it makes the dramatic announcement that its agents have found the anthrax mailer. The accused is not a terrorist, but a U.S. government scientist, Dr. Bruce E. Ivins. But Ivins can never be charged: he committed suicide just days before the FBI’s announcement. Now many of his colleagues insist the FBI has got it wrong. Ivins was not a killer, they say. Is Bruce Ivins a murderer, responsible for the deaths of five people? Or is he a scapegoat in a case that will never be solved?

See an introductory video at …


I wrote CASE CLOSED and started this blog because I believe that the FBI’s announcement in August 2008 that Dr. Bruce Ivins was the sole perpetrator of the 2001 anthrax attacks is an unsustainable conclusion, based on the facts which the FBI has cited and made known.

The people at National Geographic have taken a deep look at the case and those who follow this blog are anxiously awaiting their conclusions.

  • Will the National Geographic special advance what we know about the anthrax case and the FBI’s investigation?
  • Will it nourish the doubts and skepticism expressed by so many on this CASE CLOSED blog?
  • Or will National Geographic conclude that the FBI has indeed solved the case?
  • We’ll all find out on Sunday.


What does a novel have to do with the real anthrax case?


The readers and contributors to the CASE CLOSED blog do not believe the anthrax case will forever remain unsolved. Together …

  • we are advocating for Congressman Rush Hold’s Anthrax Investigation Commission,
  • we are framing questions for the NAS to consider in their upcoming review of the FBI’s anthrax science,
  • and we take every opportunity to spread “reasonable doubt” about the FBI’s case against Dr. Bruce Ivins.

As we move inexorably toward a refutation of the FBI’s assertion that Dr. Bruce Ivins is the sole perpetrator of the 2001 anthrax attacks, questions must arise:

  • WHY … did the FBI put forward such an unsupportable conclusion?
  • WHY … did the FBI fail to solve the case?
  • WHO … stood to benefit from the FBI’s failure to solve the case?
  • WHO … had the power to force the FBI to mount a monumental investigation directed away from the truth?

In writing CASE CLOSED, I drew on my author’s imagination to create fictional answers to these serious questions. But readers of my novel see something more than just fiction.

What I have written in CASE CLOSED may not be real, but it could be “true,” in the sense that much historical fiction is actually “truer” than the bare historical facts.


Reader comments about CASE CLOSED

posted on


  • Is it really fiction? … The author states loud and clear that this book is fiction. But, anyone who has witnessed the last eight years of American history sees great similarities in the underhanded way the last Administration dealt with issues and the way this “fictional” Administration worked. I never have given much credence to conspiracy theories but the investigation of the Anthrax attacks makes one stop and really think about it.
  • Weinstein raises some very interesting and disturbing theories. If it was not meant to make one think about the real situation, the book would still be a great read. It is suspenseful and a real page turner. Please tell me it’s not true!
  • An action/thriller that makes you think … The writing is sparse, driven by a plausible plot that allows the reader to think through the crime/mystery along with the protagonist. Despite the troubling reality of the subject matter, it is a thoroughly enjoyable and illuminating read.
  • Responsible Americans who believe in holding our government accountable for its actions should read Case Closed to be more informed of the facts of the case, regardless of whether they come to agree with the author’s theory. More investigation is needed.

Posted in * anthrax science, * questioning the FBI's anthrax investigation | Tagged: , , , , , | 7 Comments »

* lie about Iraq, lie about torture, lie about illegal surveillance, withhold plans which Congress is entitled to know … withhold the truth about the anthrax attacks? … it’s all in the same Bush-Cheney basket for which they must be held accountable

Posted by DXer on July 14, 2009


why did the FBI fail to solve the 2001 anthrax case?

CASE CLOSED offers a “fictional” answer



lie about Iraq, lie about torture, lie about illegal surveillance, withhold plans which Congress is entitled to know

… withhold the truth about the anthrax attacks?

… it’s all in the same Bush-Cheney basket for which they must be held accountable


Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane write in the NYT (7-14-09) …

  • Since 2001, the Central Intelligence Agency has developed plans to dispatch small teams overseas to kill senior Qaeda terrorists, according to current and former government officials.
  • Mr. Panetta scuttled the program, which would have relied on paramilitary teams, shortly after the C.I.A.’s counterterrorism center recently informed him of its existence.
  • The next day, June 24, he told the two Congressional Intelligence Committees that the plan had been hidden from lawmakers, initially at the instruction of former Vice President Dick Cheney.
  • Congressional Democrats were furious that the program had not been shared with the committees.
  • The Bush administration took the position that killing members of Al Qaeda, a terrorist group that has attacked the United States and stated that its goal is to attack again, is no different than shooting enemy soldiers on the battlefield.
  • The Obama administration, which has continued to fire missiles from Predator drones on suspected Qaeda members in Pakistan, has taken the same view.

Read the entire article at …


The issue here is not that the U.S. had a plan to find and kill Al Qaeda leaders. Shame on us if we didn’t do everything possible to eliminate those who attacked us and will try to do so again.

The issue is that we are a nation of laws, and we must act in accordance with those laws.

If the laws are counter-productive or overly restrictive, then we should change the laws. But we should never permit an administration to simply act as if the laws did not exist. That is the path to dictatorship; that is the path of a Bush-Cheney administration that had no sense of the restraints which are central to our form of government and our Constitution.

Who can doubt that the Bush-Cheney administration …

  • which lied about the reasons to go to its war of choice in Iraq,
  • which lied about its illegal surveillance of American citizens
  • which lied about torturing prisoners in violation of our own and international laws,
  • and which willfully withheld information from Congress in contradiction to laws they chose to ignore,

… would not also restrain the FBI in its investigation of the anthrax case.

When the FBI presents a conclusion that Dr. Bruce Ivins was the sole perpetrator of the anthrax attacks, a conclusion that cannot be supported on the facts of the case, even those limited facts which are so far known, then one must look to the reasons for such a blatant misrepresentation by the FBI, which had to know better.

I invented one such scenario in my novel CASE CLOSED, and I suspect that the truth, if ever known, will incorporate some of the concepts I developed in my novel, if not many of the details.

Posted in * questioning the FBI's anthrax investigation | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

* Questions Linger over Science behind Anthrax Letters

Posted by DXer on July 11, 2009

why the FBI failed to solve the 2001 anthrax caseCASE CLOSED

* buy CASE CLOSED at amazon

* VIDEO – introducing CASE CLOSED


Questions Linger over Science behind Anthrax Letters


Jeffrey L. Fox writes in the July 2009 issue of Microbe …

  • skepticism persists
    • as is evident not only from the forthcoming NAS review but also during the plenary session, “The Science behind the ‘Anthrax Letter’ Attack Investigation,” convened as part of the 7th ASM Biodefense & Emerging Diseases Research Meeting, held in Baltimore, Md., last February, and during the news conference that followed.
  • “Everybody is frustrated by the lack of closure,” says plenary session participant Paul Keim of Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff.
    • The available “research assays . . . didn’t meet forensic standards,” says Keim who, with his collaborators at NAU, worked closely with the FBI
    • efforts to develop such assays were complicated by the strictly clonal biology that B. anthracis follows during replication.
  • Those facts soon led microbial and molecular forensics investigators into conducting genomics-level analyses, according to Jacques Ravel, now at the University of MarylandSchool of Medicine and Institute for Genome Sciences in Baltimore, Md.
    • Ultimately, the PCR-based analysis along with other information from the criminal side of the investigation indicated that the anthrax- causing specimens from the 2001 letters derived from stocks produced several years earlier at USAMRIID for an aerosol challenge in anthrax vaccine studies, he says.
    • Based on that and other information from more conventional lines of evidence, FBI investigators concluded that Ivins, who died following a drug overdose in July 2008, produced spores from those stocks for the 2001 anthrax attacks.
  • Despite that painstaking analysis and the unequivocal conclusions put forth by FBI officials, doubts linger over some matters that are mainly scientific as well as others that intersect with the broader thrust of the investigation.
    • For instance, none of the microbiologists, including Bannan and similar specialists at FBI, was privy to other evidence, including lab records from USAMRIID, that their FBI colleagues collected. “I know nothing of that information,” he says. “I’m a microbiologist, and was not involved in the seizure of evidence.”
  • Other lingering questions focus on more purely scientific issues, some of them pertaining to how the lethal bacteria were handled.
    • For example, USAMRIID held B. anthracisin aqueous suspensions, not as spores.
    • Presumably, the spores sent via letters were produced in at least two separate batches, contaminated with B. subtilis at least once, but when and how remain unknown.
    • “We don’t know the process used,” Bannan says. “We never found the equivalent B. subtilis at USAMRIID in any of the evidence that we had.”
    • Efforts to trace the source of that bacterial contaminant “didn’t lead anywhere,” adds Keim.
  • Early reports suggested that the spores were “weaponized,” possibly with “silica.”
    • However, later analysis determined that the spores were not coated with silica, although silicon was found within—not outside—the coat of spores used in the attacks, according to Joseph Michael of Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, N.M.
    • About two-thirds of the spores contain that silicon “signature,” he says. Attempts to grow fresh spores with silicon to determine whether it also would locate within the spore coat led to “variable” results, Bannan adds. “We don’t understand why there is a varying degree of silicon from one batch to another.”
  • Other questions regarding physical properties of the spores similarly remain unexplained.
    • Asked whether the spores were milled, Bannan points out that B. anthracis spores in letters went through rollers in automated postal sorting equipment that subjected them to high pressures. “It’s a high-energy process, and [spore] plumes went up 30 feet [about 10 m] from the mail sorters,” he says.
    • How those spores looked beforehand or whether they were pulverized after being dried and before being inserted into envelopes is not known.

Read the entire article at …

LMW COMMENT … The FBI’s expressed certainty that Dr. Bruce Ivins was the sole perpetrator, in light of all the questions above and many others, is simply inexplicable. The August 2008 FBI-DOJ press conference reeks of a desire to close the case without having made the case. Why? The answer to that question is likely to reveal some very deep dark secrets. I present one fictional scenario to answer the question in my novel CASE CLOSED. The longer the doubts linger, the more plausible it seems that the answer will be a real shocker, if we ever learn the truth.

Posted in * anthrax science, * NAS review of FBI science, * questioning the FBI's anthrax investigation | Tagged: , , , , , , | 22 Comments »

* the questions NAS needs to hear

Posted by DXer on July 10, 2009

why the FBI failed to solve the 2001 anthrax caseCASE CLOSED

* buy CASE CLOSED at amazon

* VIDEO – introducing CASE CLOSED


the questions NAS needs to hear


Ellen Gilbert writes in Town Topics (Princeton – 7/8/09) … thanks to a CASE CLOSED blogger for sending me the article

  • In response to an October, 2008 request by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to review the scientific methods used by the Bureau during its investigation of the 2001 anthrax letter attacks, the National Academies (NAS) recently posted a statement describing the scope of the study.
  • The ad hoc committee will, according the NAS statement of scope, “evaluate the scientific foundation for the specific techniques used by the FBI to determine whether these techniques met appropriate standards for scientific reliability and for use in forensic validation and whether the FBI reached appropriate scientific conclusions from its use of these techniques.”
  • In an October 16 (2008) letter, Congressman Rush Holt (D-12) expressed concern that the questions posed in an earlier letter to the NAS from Vahid Majidi, assistant director of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate at the FBI, were “narrowly focused and do not truly test the FBI’s conclusions in the case.”
  • Mr. Holt went on to say that he hoped the NAS panel would “look at the full range of scientific evidence and the methods the FBI used to reach its scientific conclusions,” in order to “give the public the greatest possible confidence in the conclusions.”
  • Mr. Holt posed several of his own specific questions for the Academy’s consideration, should it choose to undertake the independent review.
    • whether any of the FBI’s scientific findings are inconsistent with the Bureau’s conclusions,
    • whether other scientific tests not carried out by the FBI might refute its conclusions,
    • and whether the FBI followed “all accepted evidence-gathering, chain of possession, and scientific analytical methods.”

Read the entire column at …


Rush Holt has submitted questions to the same names at NAS Lew submitted them to. But, disappointing to a scientist, Holt’s questions are very general. The questions need to be very, very specific and backed up with references so that NAS cannot brush them under the carpet.


Members of the NAS Committee …

Scientific questions sent to the NAS committee by the CASE CLOSED blog …

Procedural questions sent to the NAS committee by the CASE CLOSED blog …

Posted in * anthrax science, * NAS review of FBI science, * questioning the FBI's anthrax investigation | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

* Dr. Paul Keim answers questions about the anthrax investigation, some from CASE CLOSED blog participants

Posted by DXer on July 8, 2009

why the FBI failed to solve the 2001 anthrax caseCASE CLOSED

* buy CASE CLOSED at amazon

* VIDEO – introducing CASE CLOSED



Dr. Paul Keim answers questions

about the anthrax investigation,

some from CASE CLOSED blog participants

KeimPaul Keim, Ph.D., is a Regents Professor of Biology at Northern Arizona University and the Division Director of Pathogen Genomics at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen). Keim serves on the Scientific Working Group for Microbial Forensics (FBI) and the National Science Advisory Board for Biodefense to advise the U.S. government on issues of science and policy.

On July 6, 2009, Paul Keim answered selected viewer questions about the anthrax letter attacks and microbial forensics in general. Excerpts from these Q & A follow; the entire Q & A is found in the comment below.

Q: What are the limitations of using microbial forensics for attribution purposes? Are policymakers fully aware of these limitations? Jonathan B. Tucker, Washington, D.C.

A: … “The laboratory Ames strain can be precisely identified and differentiated from all other types of Bacillus anthracis, including those very close relatives isolated from the same geographic region of Texas.” This is a long ways from concluding that letter spores came from USAMRIID, but it is a start and eliminates a lot of possibilities. “Exclusion” due to a lack of a match is one of the most powerful conclusions that can be drawn in DNA fingerprinting analysis. In the Amerithrax case, the scientific evidence (morph typing) tying the letter spores to the RMR-1029 appears strong. The FBI repository of Ames cultures was extensive, and only cultures derived from RMR1029 or that culture itself have all four morphs. While this scientific conclusion excludes a very large number of possible perpetrators, it still doesn’t directly attribute the crime to an individual. I understand that there was more than one person with access to RMR-1029 spore preparation. I don’t know how many individuals had access, and I can only speculate that it could have been quite a few (10? 50? 100?). This limitation is well understood by the scientists involved but may or may not be understood by the public or policymakers.

Q: Did the FBI or U.S. Department of Justice consult with any genetics expert when they were asked in October 2001 whether it was okay for the [B. anthracis strains held at] Iowa State University and USDA Ames (at the strip mall) to be destroyed? Ross Getman, Syracuse, New York

A: I was not consulted nor am I familiar with the actual steps that lead to the destruction of these materials. During that time period (late 2001), I was doubtlessly the most engaged microbial geneticist working with the FBI. If I wasn’t consulted, then probably none others were either. Additional Commentary:  It is hard to understand why this destruction was done and why it was allowed to occur. Clearly someone in Iowa panicked at being in the media bright lights and wanted to get rid of the material. If this was really authorized by the FBI, who that authority was has not been released, to my knowledge. If the investigation had eventually lead back to Iowa, this would have been viewed as destruction of evidence and obstruction of justice. Now that would have been a public relations nightmare!

The following are several of the many questions proposed at my CASE CLOSED blog, where a vibrant discussion of issues related to the anthrax investigation is active every day. Lew Weinstein, Collioure, France:

Q1: Did the 1,070 samples examined by the morphotype analysis accurately reflect the actual number of anthrax samples held in the U.S. in the 2001 timeframe?

A: This would not be representative of all the Bacillus anthracis samples, but rather Ames strain stocks. I don’t know how many B. anthracis cultures existed in the U.S. in 2001, but many more than this. The Ames strain is only one of many different identifiable strains.

Q2: Did the process of self-submission of anthrax samples by labs and individuals (per the FBI methodology) result in a reliable representation of the Ames samples that may or may not have existed prior to 2001?

A:  Presumably, the 1,070 collection represents all the Ames cultures in the U.S. plus some from around the world. First, the Department of Justice subpoenaed all the U.S. anthrax labs for our inventory records with special attention to the Ames strain cultures. Next, the DOJ subpoenaed all U.S. laboratories that had the Ames strain to provide a sampling (a portion) of their Ames cultures. For example, my lab had only seven different Ames stocks, which we sampled and sent in duplicate to the FBI.

Q3: Did the FBI use any type of proficiency testing for their genetic analysis?

A: Definitely yes. Extensive proficiency testing was performed both prior to and during the genetic analysis at Northern Arizona University. The initial determination from the first Florida sample was done using normal research controls and standards, but soon afterwards very rigorous forensic-level protocols were implemented. There was no time for proficiency testing for the first analysis on the Robert Stevens isolate, as we had only a few hours notification. Immediately afterwards, the FBI forensic scientists began to review our procedures and help us to institute forensic-level operating protocols, including proficiency testing. Once these were in place, original analyses were repeated with the same result.

Note that there were no forensic standards for microbes and that we had to adapt the ones developed for human DNA testing to our new anthrax tests. This is a topic of great debate as to what the standards should be for a new technology.

Q4: Was the Bacillus subtilis contaminant found in the first batch of letters genetically identical to any forensic evidence collected from any lab? Also, was that contaminant tested against strains from Dugway Proving Grounds?

A: Disclaimer: My lab did not work on the B. subtilis contaminant, so what I am relating is secondhand knowledge. However, it is based upon my conversations with government experts and my participation in the press conferences and the public ASM symposium. Details of the contaminant were discussed in these forums. Background: The question refers to the non-hemolytic (B. anthracis is hemolytic) bacterial contaminant found in some of the letters. It proved to be a spore forming Bacillus subtilis bacterium. As the name implies, this is somewhat related to Bacillus anthracis and shares many biological properties. But it is not a disease causing organism, and there are many, many different types found in the environment. It would not be surprise to me to find a novel B. subtilis on my computer keyboard. The government investigators thought that perhaps this contaminant could be used to trace back the spore preps to a particular laboratory. If the contaminant was a common laboratory strain of B. subtilis, this might have been possible. In the end, this apparently proved impossible because this contaminant was different from any known lab strains. Likewise, Dugway Proving Grounds labs were intensely investigated, and I would assume that any Bacillus strains at that facility would have been investigated. Again, no lab strains matched the contaminant using DNA analysis.

Three questions from Marcia Ann Chambers, Topeka, Indiana

Q1: The mailed spores were compared to ancestral Ames (genotype62) and determined to be identical to it. In what lab and under what circumstances was the ancestral Ames stored?

A: The ancestral Ames culture was stored at USAMRIID until it was discovered during the Amerithrax investigation. It is the oldest known archival Ames culture discovered in the investigation and dates from early 1981 (see: Ravel et al. 2009 J. Bacteriology 191:445-6.).

Q2: When testing other sources to compare to the mailed spores, did you look for colony morphology differences?

A: The morphs themselves were useful for identifying minor genetic differences in the letter spores, but it would have been very tedious and unreliable to depend upon visual analysis of colony morphology across the entire repository or across all the evidence. In addition, the colony morphological differences can be subtle and subjective. (A lot of credit should be extended to the skilled microbiologists who originally spotted the morphs.) So, the final repository analysis was of the genetic differences controlling the morphological differences. These were genetic tests (PCR) developed after the full genomes of each morph were determined by TIGR [The Institute for Genomic Research]. These tests are rapid,
sensitive, and highly reproducible. The entire process was done in a blinded fashion where the labs used anonymous samples.

Q3: If Iowa State University destroyed its entire collection of anthrax, how can it be eliminated as a source for flask RMR-1029?

A: It is regrettable that ISU destroyed their archival B. anthracis isolates (see my commentary above), as this could have exonerated them. Our DNA analyses would have quickly determined whether they even had the Ames strain in their collection. The reason they were under such scrutiny was due to the misnaming of the Ames strain (see my discussion on this topic above).

Commentary: This is an opinion, but given the mailing location in New Jersey, it is unlikely that an ISU employee could have driven that far to mail the letters without being detected. It is also unlikely that ISU even had the Ames strain, let alone RMR1029. They did not have a vaccine development program, and there were no notable anthrax research teams there at that time. After all the unwarranted media attention, I’m guessing that the government investigated activities at ISU with great diligence and ruled out potential suspects.

NOTE: The entire post from Dr. Keim is contained in the comment below, submitted by DXer and reproduced below.

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