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

Posts Tagged ‘ProPublica’

* THE ANTHRAX FILES: Congratulations to FRONTLINE, ProPublica and McClatchy For Their Much Deserved Emmy Nomination For “Outstanding Investigative Journalism”

Posted by DXer on July 24, 2012

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* FRONTLINE, ProPublica and McClatchy Newspapers release photos of Ivins’ lab, office and equipment (lyophilizer), obtained from FOIA requests

Posted by DXer on January 31, 2012

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Last fall, FRONTLINE, ProPublica and McClatchy Newspapers raised a number of questions about the strength of the Justice Department’s case against microbiologist Dr. Bruce Ivins, whom they named as the killer after he committed suicide in 2008.

As part of our reporting, we filed more than 30 FOIA requests and recently received a CD from the FBI with a number of rarely seen photos of Ivins’ lab, including the machine the FBI claims he used to make the deadly attack anthrax powder.

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The lyophilizer, or freeze dryer, which the FBI says Ivins could have used to make the attack anthrax.

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Ivins' secured BSL-3 hot suite lab at USAMRIID

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Ivins' office

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Ivins’ secure BSL-3 hot suite lab at USAMRIID

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http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/criminal-justice/anthrax-files/exclusive-new-photos-of-anthax-suspects-lab/

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ProPublica & Frontline … the FBI disputes our report … here’s what we reported vs what FBI Assistant Director for Public Affairs Michael P. Kortan wrote

Posted by DXer on October 29, 2011

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Tom Detzel, ProPublica, and Mike Wiser, PBS Frontline … Oct. 28, 2011

  • In a letter to the editor of The New York Times, a top FBI official today disputed recent reports by ProPublica, PBS’ “Frontline” and McClatchy that challenged evidence in the agency’s investigation of the 2001 anthrax letter attacks and its conclusion that Army scientist Bruce Ivins was the perpetrator.
  • The letter from FBI Assistant Director for Public Affairs Michael P. Kortan followed editorials in The Times and The Washington Post that called for new, independent investigations into the anthrax case, which the FBI officially closed 18 months after Ivins committed suicide in the summer of 2008.
  • Kortan’s letter largely repeats prior claims in defense of the case, some of which were covered in our stories.
  • Here are key points from the letter and what we reported:

Ivins’ suspicious lab hours

Ivins was a top anthrax researcher at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Md. He produced vaccines and tested them on lab animals. The FBI has said a spike in Ivins’ nighttime lab hours before the mailings explains when he prepared the letters.

What we reported: Ivins’ evening hours were above average just before the mailings, but lab access records also showed it was not unusual for Ivins to work late at other labs and offices throughout the Army complex. Further, Ivins’ colleagues said he was conducting animal experiments at the time.

What Kortan wrote: “[I]t was directly relevant that Dr. Ivins worked long hours alone during the time of the mailings in the laboratory’s ‘hot suites,’ where the anthrax that was genetically linked to the attack spores was produced and handled. He had not done that before the mailings, nor did he ever do it again.”

Ivins’ anthrax samples

Once the FBI determined the letters contained a strain of anthrax common in labs, the bureau asked scientists to submit samples of their spores. The FBI has said Ivins tried to hide his guilt by sending a false sample from his spore collection. Genetic tests later showed the spores in Ivins’ flask – RMR-1029 – matched the letter spores.

What we reported: An email shows that Ivins’ offered his spores for genetic tests in December 2001. Though samples he submitted from his flask in April 2002 were not a genetic match, Ivins maintained it was an innocent mistake. Furthermore, an FBI memo and Army document show that Ivins had given another sample of RMR-1029 to a different colleague around that time. Email messages and lab notebooks show that two years later Ivins helped a colleague collect a sample of RMR-1029 specifically for FBI evidence. Finally, the very first sample Ivins gave the FBI in February 2002 was rejected because it was in the wrong type of test tube. It was later tracked down, and tests determined it to be a close match to the letter spores.

What Kortan wrote: “Dr. Ivins submitted an intentionally misleading sample in April 2002 that was free of genetic markers. Samples of his anthrax spores that contained the genetic markers were either submitted before he realized the markers might trap him or were seized later by the F.B.I., not made available by Dr. Ivins.”

Was the anthrax treated?

FBI and other scientists who examined the attack spores found that they contained silicon, tin and some other elements. The presence of those elements fueled speculation that the spores were treated – weaponized – to make them more dispersible. The FBI has said its studies show the silicon was the result of a natural process.

What we reported: A National Academy of Sciences committee that reviewed the investigation’s scientific findings concluded the unusually high amount of silicon measured in spores sent to the New York Post was unexplained – something the panel’s vice chairman, David A. Relman, told us remained a “big discrepancy” in the FBI case.

What Kortan wrote: “[S]cientists directly involved in the lengthy investigation into the anthrax mailings — both from within the F.B.I. and outside experts — disagree with the notion that the chemicals in the mailed anthrax suggest more sophisticated manufacturing.”

http://www.propublica.org/article/the-fbi-responds-to-our-anthrax-stories

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* McClatchy & ProPublica: security gaps at USAMRIID (in 2001) mean that deadly anthrax could have easily been smuggled out of the facility, including by terrorists … this information was (wrongfully) not been made public for more than nine years … LMW: This is precisely the kind of information the FBI, smugly insisting that Dr. Bruce Ivins was the sole perpetrator, desperately wants to keep hidden. Director Mueller must be held accountable, for the pathetic Amerithrax investigation, for continuing to insist it was Ivins even as the case disintegrates, and for withholding documents which should be released under FOIA.

Posted by DXer on October 24, 2011

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Is it possible that Director Mueller, an intelligent man, doesn't know the FBI has failed to make its case against Dr. Ivins? And what does it mean if he knows but won't admit it?

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UPDATE FROM DXer …

I think you are being way too easy on FBI Director Mueller, Lew. Given that Dr. Ivins was provably in the lab on those nights working with the rabbits, and the prosecutors and investigators have lied and said he had no reason to be in the lab, there needs to be a Special Prosecutor appointed to probe the obstruction of justice that has occurred.

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Greg Gordon, McClatchy, and Stephen Engelberg, ProPublica (10/24/11) …

  • The Army laboratory identified by prosecutors as the source of the anthrax that killed five people in the fall of 2001 was rife with such security gaps that the deadly spores could have easily been smuggled out of the facility, outside investigators found.
  • The existing security procedures — described in two long-secret reports — were so lax they would have allowed any researcher, aide or temporary worker to walk out of the Army bio-weapons lab at Fort Detrick, Md., with a few drops of anthrax — starter germs that could grow the trillions of spores used to fill anthrax-laced letters sent to Congress and the media.
  • The two reports, which have not been made public for more than nine years, describe a haphazard system in which personnel lists included dozens of former employees, where new hires were allowed to work with deadly germs before background checks were done and where stocks of anthrax and other pathogens weren’t adequately controlled.
  • Marked “for official use only,” the two reports were completed in 2002. One was conducted by a seven-member team from Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M. The other was by auditors for the Army’s inspector general’s office.
  • The Sandia report emphasized that terrorists had obtained germs from research labs before. 
  • It cited a February 2001 National Defense University study that found 11 cases in which terrorists or other “non-state operatives” had acquired biological agents from “legitimate culture collections,” including three research or medical laboratories.
  • Despite USAMRIID’s sobering mission, the Sandia report said, the western Maryland lab had developed a work environment in which employees failed to make the same “indisputable commitment to security” as they did to research.

read the entire article at … www.propublica.org/article/secret-reports-with-security-spotty-many-had-access-to-anthrax

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LMW COMMENT …

This is precisely the kind of information the FBI, smugly insisting that Dr. Bruce Ivins was the sole perpetrator, desperately wants to keep hidden. Director Mueller must be held accountable, for the pathetic Amerithrax investigation, for continuing to insist it was Ivins even as the case disintegrates, and for withholding documents which should be released under FOIA.

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* ProPublica, McClatchy Newspapers and PBS’ Frontline … the FBI’s case against anthrax suspect rife with questions

Posted by DXer on October 11, 2011

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Watch FRONTLINE TUES OCT 11 at 9:00 pm

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 By STEPHEN ENGELBERG, GREG GORDON, JIM GILMORE AND MIKE WISER, ProPublica, McClatchy Newspapers and PBS’ Frontline

  • In December 2001, long before he became the prime suspect in the anthrax mailings that had terrorized the nation, Army biologist Bruce Ivins sent his superiors an email offering to help scientists trace the killer.
  • Ivins said he had several variants of Ames anthrax – the rare strain that an FBI science consultant concluded was used in the attack – that could be tested to find the origins of the powder that had killed five people.
  • To many of Ivins’ former colleagues at the U.S. Army germ research center in Fort Detrick, Md., his invitation to test anthrax in his own inventory is among numerous indications that the FBI got the wrong man.
  • What kind of murderer, they wonder, would ask the cops to test his own gun for ballistics?

Ten years after the attack, an in-depth examination of the case against Ivins

by PBS’ “Frontline,” McClatchy Newspapers and ProPublica

raises fresh doubts about the government’s evidence

and questions whether – despite a $100 million investigation –

the real anthrax killer remains on the loose.

  • The news organizations conducted dozens of interviews and reviewed thousands of pages of FBI files over the past year.
  • While not exonerating Ivins, a gifted but tortured scientist with a history of obsessive behavior, the documents and accounts are at odds with some of the science and circumstantial evidence that the government said would have led to his conviction for capital crimes:
  • Prosecutors continue to vehemently defend their case, arguing that the inconsistencies and unanswered questions are trumped by a long chain of evidence that they think would have convinced a jury that Ivins prepared the lethal powder that was mailed to news media outlets and two U.S. senators.
  • One week after Ivins died following an overdose of over-the-counter medication in July 2008, U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Taylor proclaimed at a news conference: “Based on the totality of the evidence we had gathered against him, we are confident that Dr. Ivins was the only person responsible for these attacks.”

(This is a condensed story summarizing a three-part series produced jointly by McClatchy, the investigative newsroom ProPublica and PBS’ “Frontline.” The full series is online at http://www.mcclatchydc.com/anthrax. Gordon works for McClatchy. Engelberg works for ProPublica, and Wiser and Gilmore are with “Frontline.” Gary Matsumoto of ProPublica contributed to this report.)

read the entire story at … http://www.kansascity.com/2011/10/11/3199777/fbis-case-against-anthrax-suspect.html

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* Baltimore Sun/Frontline … if Ivins was not the person who sent the anthrax, then that killer is still on the loose … and we are left with an FBI that not only failed to solve such a huge case, but overstated and maybe lied about what it did accomplish.

Posted by DXer on October 10, 2011

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Is it possible that Director Mueller, an intelligent man, doesn't know the FBI has failed to make its case against Dr. Ivins? And what does it mean if he knows but won't admit it?

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“The Anthrax Files’ premieres at 9 p.m. Tuesday October 11, 2011.

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David Zurawik writes in The Baltimore Sun (10/9/11) …

  • Nobody does investigative journalism on TV like Public Television’s “Frontline”
  • And Tuesday night at 9, the venerable series revisits Ft. Detrick in Frederick, Maryland, and the case of anthrax researcher Bruce Ivins who killed himself in 2008 as the FBI zeroed in on him as its prime suspect in the case of deadly envelopes of anthrax sent through the mail.
  • According to this hard-edged report done in partnership with McClatchy Newspapers and Propublica, the FBI did more than zero in.
  • Under tremendous pressure to solve the case that started in 2001 with anthrax mailed to U.S. senators and network anchors, the agency squeezed Ivins hard — using every trick in the book to get a confession out of him even as he insisted on his innocence to the end.
  • Ivins was a troubled guy with some distinctive kinks, the report acknowledges, but …

even FBI consultants in the case now admit

that the agency overstated its evidence

and never found a smoking gun to prove the researcher’s guilt.

  • In fact, evidence was revealed last summer that shows

Ivins did not have the equipment needed

to make the powdery kind of anthrax sent through the mail.

  • That didn’t stop the FBI then — or now — in acting like it found its man.
  • “The Anthrax Files” suggests that anyone with the psychological issues Ivins had might have cracked under the weight of the FBI invading his privacy, exposing his secrets and ultimately getting him kicked out of the community of researchers that he called home at Ft. Detrick.
  • This is a chilling report, because if Ivins was not the person who sent the anthrax, then that killer is still on the loose …

and we are left with an FBI that not only failed to solve such a huge case,

but overstated and maybe lied about what it did accomplish.

read the entire story at … http://www.baltimoresun.com/entertainment/tv/z-on-tv-blog/bal-frontline-anthrax-files–fbi-suicide-fort-detrick-scientist-20111009,0,4090742.story

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LMW COMMENT … 

I have long held that the FBI’s publicly presented case against Dr. Ivins is clearly bogus: no evidence, no witnesses, an impossible timeline, science that proves innocence instead of guilt. So what really happened? And why doesn’t the FBI offer America a credible story?

As regular readers of this blog well know, I can imagine only 3 possible “actual” scenarios …

  1. The FBI has more evidence against Dr. Ivins but is, for some undisclosed reason, withholding that evidence … POSSIBLE BUT NOT SO LIKELY
  2. The FBI, despite the most expensive and extensive investigation in its history, has not solved the case and has no idea who prepared and mailed the anthrax letters that killed 5 Americans in 2001 … EVEN LESS LIKELY
  3. The FBI knows who did it (not Dr. Ivins) but is covering up the actual perpetrators, for undisclosed reasons …THE MOST LIKELY SCENARIO
When I first heard the FBI/DOJ August 2008 press conference, I was infuriated. It was obvious to me even then that the FBI had no case, or at least no case they chose to make publicly known. Since I’m a novelist, I focused my anger and wrote CASE CLOSED, a fictional account of what might have happened in the anthrax attacks and subsequent FBI investigation. The novel has been published and is available at amazon …
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* buy CASE CLOSED at amazon *

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Here is the first scene in CASE CLOSED, where I have the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) institute its own re-examination of the FBI’s obviously flawed investigation …

this is the opening scene of Lew Weinstein's novel CASE CLOSED

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* buy CASE CLOSED at amazon *

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* Jonathan Tucker … New Questions About the FBI’s Anthrax Case: Valid Concerns or Red Herring?

Posted by DXer on August 23, 2011

Jonathan Tucker

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DXer COMMENT …

Dr. Tucker looked at the DOJ’s claims and credited the DOJ view that Dr. Ivins could have done it — relying on the DOJ’s claim that he had no reason to be the lab  

Yet nowhere did he address the argument that the DOJ’s claim is directly contradicted by the documentary evidence that was withheld by the DOJ and only produced by USAMRIID 3 years after Dr. Ivins’ death.

Clearly the aim, then, should be to obtain the evidence that shows what he was doing on the nights that the DOJ mistakenly said he had no reason to be in the lab.

The documents have been uploaded to the website and the media and authors just haven’t addressed the issue.

… and by the way, when did evidence that something was possible

become a substitute for evidence that something was done?

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New Questions About the FBI’s Anthrax Case:

Valid Concerns or Red Herring?

BY JONATHAN B. TUCKER   •   22 AUGUST 2011 … posted at WMD Junction, a new online forum brought to you by the editors of The Nonproliferation Review.

  • The latest challenge to the FBI’s case against Ivins comes from depositions given by some of his former USAMRIID colleagues in a suit against the US government filed by Maureen Stevens, whose late husband, Robert Stevens, was the first victim of the anthrax letter attacks.
  • Although at first glance the court documents appear to raise serious doubts about the FBI’s case against Ivins, the scientists’ claims are based on assumptions that may well be false.
  •  because no spores were ever found in Ivins’s home or car, and no eyewitness saw him mail the letters from a mailbox in downtown Princeton, New Jersey, the FBI’s case was entirely circumstantial.

Questions Raised in the Depositions

  • The depositions taken from USAMRIID scientists and technicians as part of the lawsuit by Maureen Stevens were first disclosed on July 18 in a joint article by three news organizations: PBS Frontline, ProPublica, and McClatchy Newspapers.[1]
  • According to the article, testimony in the court documents suggests that Ivins did not have access to the specialized equipment and know-how he presumably would have needed to dry the spores into the high-quality powder sent through the mail, raising doubts about whether he was technically capable of committing the crime.
  • While the scientists’ depositions appear compelling at first glance, many of the statements are misleading.
  • First, much has been made of the specialized knowledge needed to prepare dry powders of B. anthracis spores, yet this factor may have been exaggerated.
  • Early reports that the spores contained a high level of silicon suggested that they could have been deliberately “weaponized” by coating them with silica to reduce static clumping and facilitate their delivery as a fine-particle aerosol.
  • FBI scientists later determined, however, that the silicon was not on the surface of the spores but had been incorporated into an inner layer called the endosporium when the anthrax bacteria were grown and induced to sporulate. Thus, Ivins would not have needed weapons-related expertise to process the spores.
  • Second, the depositions by Worsham and Little imply that the only way to produce significant quantities of dried B. anthracis is by using a lyophilizer, yet lower-tech approaches may also be feasible.
  • The fact that the B. anthracis powder mailed to the two senators was so buoyant and dispersed so readily led many observers to conclude that it had been deliberately weaponized.
  • Dr. Vahid Majidi, the assistant director of the FBI’s WMD Directorate, said that this false belief resulted from the fact that very few scientists have experience with preparations of dried bacteria.
  • in response to the question whether the equipment in Ivins’s lab would have been sufficient to grow and dry the spores, Majidi said, “It would have been easy to make these samples at RID [USAMRIID].”[4]
  • During the press briefing, FBI officials estimated that making the preparation of powdered B. anthracis spores could have taken one person between three and seven days of work.[5]
  • They also corrected false reports that the FBI had been unable to reverse-engineer the highly refined B. anthracis powder mailed to the two senators.[6]
  • When asked if the FBI’s powder behaved the same as the material in the letters, Majidi replied, “as far as our preparation goes, we were able to repeat almost everything except the silicant signal [the high silicon content of the spores]. … Can we make the same spore purity? Yes. Can we make the spore dry? Yes.”[7]
  • Based on this information, it appears that Ivins could have dried the spores without the need for a lyophilizer by using a low-tech method, such as heat-drying the concentrated slurry on glass plates and then harvesting the dried material inside a sealed glove box.
  • In sum, public statements by Majidi and other senior FBI officials suggest that the assumption underlying the more recent statements of the USAMRIID scientists—that specialized equipment, expertise, and tacit knowledge are required to produce a lethal preparation of dry anthrax spores—may be incorrect or at least exaggerated.

Conclusion

  • Although the FBI’s circumstantial case against Bruce Ivins will never satisfy hard-core skeptics and conspiracy theorists, the mosaic of evidence is fairly convincing when viewed as a whole.
  • At the same time, it is far from certain that a federal prosecutor could have persuaded a jury of Ivins’ guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

[Editor’s note: Jonathan Tucker died suddenly in late July, just days after submitting this article for publication.

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* caught between conflicting objectives in the anthrax case and the Stevens case, the DOJ/FBI end up ignoring the truth and obstructing justice in both … why should anyone believe the government in either case

Posted by DXer on July 21, 2011

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IT WASN'T IVINS ... and the FBI must by now know that they drove the wrong man to suicide

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GREG GORDON, STEVE ENGELBERG AND MIKE WISER write for McClatchy Newspapers, ProPublica and Frontline (7/21/11) …

  • Waffling by Justice Department lawyers in a wrongful death lawsuit that arose from the deadly 2001 anthrax attacks could boost prospects that the government will be liable for millions in damages for failing to prevent the killing of a Florida man.
  • Department lawyers created a stir in recent days, first by filing court papers that appeared to undercut the FBI’s finding that the late Army scientist Bruce Ivins was the killer. 
  • The filings said Ivins lacked access in his lab to the sophisticated equipment to produce the anthrax powder. Four days later, the lawyers abruptly retracted that assessment.
  • “I think it creates a great deal of problems for the government,” said Paul Kemp, who represented Ivins before his 2008 suicide.
  • Kemp noted that the FBI found 116 individuals who might have had access to anthrax emanating from the suspect’s flask. Assuming that it indeed originated from that beaker, he said, the Justice Department’s conflicting statements show “that the government has no idea whether it was negligent or not in supervising the maintenance of 150 different pathogens at Fort Detrick and other locations.
  • If the case goes to trial, he said, attorneys for the Stevens family likely will have an opportunity to present the conflicting government statements to a jury.
  • Richard Schuler, the lead attorney for the Stevens family, said he thought that Justice Department lawyers were “trying to pick and choose the facts that will support them in the civil case. And in attempting to do that, they’re contradicting their own investigative agency, the FBI.”
  • Now, he said, the civil lawyers are trying “to walk a tightrope of facts in this case in order to attempt to prevent the Stevens family from getting justice. 
  • It just shows how far the government will go to obstruct justice in the Stevens case, to try and win the day by misleading the court with facts that … only days later, they now claim to be inaccurate.”

(McClatchy Newspapers collaborated with the investigative newsroom ProPublica and PBS’s “Frontline” to produce this article. Engelberg works for ProPublica and Wiser is with “Frontline.” ProPublica’s Aarti Shahani and Liz Day provided research for this story.)

Read more: http://www.star-telegram.com/2011/07/20/3235078/justice-department-waffling-in.html#ixzz1SkUZQIOg

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* PBS Frontline, McClatchy and ProPublica … The FBI’s false case against Dr. Bruce Ivins, built on obviously unproven innuendos and assertions, is beginning to unravel.

Posted by DXer on July 19, 2011

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FBI Director Robert Mueller ... Congress must make hime testify ... and not re-appoint him until he provides satisfactory answers

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Mike Wiser, PBS FRONTLINE, Greg Gordon, McClatchy Newspapers, and Stephen Engelberg, ProPublica  write (July 18, 2011) …

  • The Justice Department has called into question a key pillar of the FBI’s case against Bruce Ivins, the Army scientist accused of mailing the anthrax-laced letters that killed five people and terrorized Congress a decade ago.
  • On July 15, Justice Department lawyers acknowledged in court papers that the sealed area in Ivins’ lab — the so-called hot suite — did not contain the equipment needed to turn liquid anthrax into the refined powder that floated through congressional buildings and post offices in the fall of 2001.
  • The government’s statements deepen the questions about the case against Ivins, who killed himself before he was charged with a crime.
    • Searches of his car and home in 2007 found no anthrax spores
    • the FBI’s eight-year, $100 million investigation never proved he mailed the letters
    • Earlier this year, a report by the National Academy of Science questioned the genetic analysis that had linked a flask of anthrax stored in Ivins’ office to the anthrax contained in the letters.
  • Paul Kemp, Ivins’ lead defense attorney said Monday that the department’s concession that the equipment wasn’t available “is at direct variance to the assertions of the government on July 29, 2008,” the day Ivins died, thus “invalidating one of the chief theories of their prosecution case.”

the PBS program FRONTLINE is working

on a forthcoming documentary

on the case with McClatchy Newspapers

and ProPublica, the investigative newsroom.

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LMW COMMENT …

  • The FBI’s false case against Dr. Bruce Ivins, built on obviously unproven innuendos and assertions, is beginning to unravel.
  • When the case does finally collapse, it will be necessary to explore why the FBI went to such lengths to accuse Ivins in the first place.
    • What really happened?
    • Does the FBI know what really happened?
    • If not, they are proven incompetents.
    • If so, who and what are they protecting by keeping the truth from the American people?

FBI Director Robert Mueller must be made to testify on these matters.

He must not be re-appointed until he does.

If he stonewalls like he has with Congressman Nadler and others,

he should be fired!

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