Anthrax II

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Anthrax

The FBI’s emerging, leaking case against Ivins

Glenn Greenwald

Tuesday Aug. 5, 2008 06:54 EDT

Within less than 24 hours, we went from “a New Jersey mailbox used to send the anthrax was less than 100 yards away from a sorority for which Ivins harbored an intense life-long obsession” to “the mailbox was near a storage closet used by a sorority that Ivins used to frequent 27 years ago and by a specific chapter that Ivins appeared to have absolutely nothing to do with.”

And then there is the Hatfill-like leaking of scurrilous information about Ivins, including the fact that he had — as the NYT put it today — “a history of alcohol abuse, had for years maintained a post office box under an assumed name that he used to receive pornographic pictures of blindfolded women.” Leaving aside the fact that alcohol abuse and pornography consumption aren’t exactly clues marking someone as the anthrax killer, how bad could his “alcohol abuse” have been if he continued to maintain Government clearance to work at a U.S. Army facility with the nation’s most dangerous pathogens?

All sorts of similar questions are raised by the onslaught of other FBI leaks. Dr. Jasenosky told me that he finds claims of some “ground-breaking” new DNA technique, or some “big breakthrough” to be “quite strange,” given that what the news accounts have described is nothing more than an incremental extension of molecular analysis techniques that have existed for several years and which, at most, appear to have only enabled existing techniques to be conducted more rapidly. He further emphasized that even the most sophisticated DNA tests could never link anthrax to any particular scientist, and that no assessment of the FBI’s assertions is possible without a thorough review of its underlying data. Dr. Meryl Nass said the same thing today: “Let me reiterate: No matter how good the microbial forensics may be, they can only, at best, link the anthrax to a particular strain and lab. They cannot link it to any individual.”

And then there is the issue of Ivins’ mental state. The New York Times reported today that part of the FBI investigation was so heavy-handed that it actually entailed showing gruesome photographs of the anthrax victims to Ivins’ adult children, telling them that their father is the one who did that, while trying to entice them to turn on him with promises of a reward. As Rep. Holt indicated this morning, is it any wonder that any person — guilty or not — would experience severe psychological distress when targeted by the FBI that way? Moreover, this morning’s Frederick News Post (doing some of the best reporting in the country on this case) reported that it was FBI agents who told Jean Duley to seek a protective order against Ivins — the action that then created the record used by most media outlets to depict Ivins as a crazed psychopath.

No matter what the FBI says over the next week, or whenever it is that it finally gets around to stopping its manipulative leaks to its media friends and begins instead showing the public its evidence, a full-scale investigation is required here. Bruce Ivins may very well be the anthrax killer, having acted alone, but there is no rational basis for believing right now that he is.

The FBI’s selective release of documents in the anthrax case

Glenn Greenwald

Wednesday Aug. 6, 2008 16:11 EDT

One of the most notable aspects of that document (The October, 2007 Probable Cause Affidavit from Postal Inspector Thomas Dellafera.pdf) is the motive attributed to Ivins, which is several-fold (much of which is grounded in its attribution to Ivins of a right-wing political agenda):

  • Ivins harbored animosity towards Catholic politicians who were pro-choice, particularly Sen. Daschle and Sen. Leahy, two of the targets of the most virulent anthrax strain that was sent;
  • particularly in the wake of 9/11, he was angry towards those who embraced the ACLU position that civil liberties must be safeguarded, and Sens. Daschle and Leahy, at the time, were widely perceived to have been holding up passage of the Patriot Act, and he also was furious at those who wanted to “coddle” or “excuse” terrorists;
  • he was angry at NBC News because one of its journalists, Gary Matsumoto (who subsequently was the producer of the ABC bentonite stories) was investigating the safety of the anthrax vaccine; and one of the anthrax letters was sent to Tom Brokaw at NBC; and,
  • he was afraid that Government support for the anthrax vaccine he helped develop, and funding for future research, would dissipate, and an anthrax attack would revitalize that support.

UPDATE II: What is most conspicuously absent from these FBI documents is any real forensic evidence linking Ivins to the anthrax that was sent. That’s particularly striking because the FBI took numerous swabs of Ivins’ residence, his office space, his laboratory devices (presumably including the lyothilizer he used), his locker, his cars. If they had discovered any anthrax traces that genetically matched what was sent in 2001, they certainly would have said so. But they don’t.

It’s long been claimed that the property that rendered so dangerous the anthrax sent to Daschle and Leahy was that it was airborne. At times it was even claimed that the anthrax was aerosolized. Under all circumstances, in order for it to be inhalation anthrax, it would have to disperse rather easily. Wouldn’t one expect that the FBI’s swabs would reveal traces of anthrax somewhere on the clothes, in the home or other physical surroundings of the anthrax attacker? Yet apparently those multiple swabbing episodes turned up nothing, at least based on the documents that were released today.

Nor are there any real answers to the question of how Ivins would have manufactured, on his own and without being detected, anthrax grade of the type that was used in the attacks. The numerous hours he spent alone in the lab doesn’t address what many of his colleagues said would have been his technological inability to produce anthrax of this type.

More "Lone Nut" Pushing By The FBI

by dday

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The picture being painted of Ivins as some kind of creepy, sexually depraved deviant may be true – the obsession with Kappa Kappa Gamma (which according to the NYT ended in 1981), holding a private mailbox to receive porn – but it has literally nothing to do with sending poisoned letters to media and political figures and making them crudely look like they were coming from Islamic terrorists. The fact that Ivins voted in several Democratic primaries makes it curious that he would have sent these letters out exclusively to Democratic leaders, particularly those who were holding up negotiations on the Patriot Act (Leahy, Daschle).

There’s apparently going to be a wealth of scientific information coming out tomorrow, but for now, the biggest leak concerns Ivins’ use of freeze-drying equipment that could be used to convert wet anthrax spores into powder.

emptywheel on Anthrax

Bioterrorism on a Grassy Knoll

By: emptywheel

Thursday August 7, 2008 6:22 am

Joe Persichini, the Assistant Director of the DC FBI Field Office said of Bruce Ivins yesterday, “It appears, based on the evidence, that he was acting alone.”

Yet he and DC US Attorney Jeff Taylor seem painfully aware that their evidence doesn’t add up to a compelling case. In particular, Taylor and Persichini dodged and weaved whenever asked about any hard evidence that tied Bruce Ivins to the mailing–rather than just the production–of the anthrax.

In short, while Taylor talked a lot about the possibility of making an entirely circumstantial case and claimed repeatedly that, had they tried this, they would have been able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Bruce Ivins was “acting alone,” they tried to dodge admitting that while they have fairly strong evidence tying Ivins to the anthrax used in the case, their evidence goes to shit as soon as you try to prove that Ivins then took that anthrax and mailed it to reporters and senators.

The Anthrax Case Might Be Cracked, But It Is Far From Closed

By: David Neiwert

Thursday August 7, 2008 8:20 am

Indeed, the affidavit contains several inconsistencies. One of the key pieces of evidence it raises is his mysterious late-night work around the time of the attacks, emphasizing his refusal to explain what he was working on. Yet a later section quotes an e-mail showing showing that Ivins resumed work on a vaccine project at this time. And the “unusual” pattern of night work is clearly shown to have begun in August, well before the Al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. — meaning if Ivins was working on the attacks then, he conceived them before 9/11. And yet whoever was responsible for the attacks was clearly piggybacking off them (see the phony “Muslim” content of the letters).

This incoherency is also evident in the concluding final section, which makes clear that investigators are continuing to look outside of Fort Detrick for the location and the equipment used in making the anthrax and the letters. (It also makes it unlikely that the lyotholizer used in making the anthrax was the one recently linked to Ivins in news reports based on the leaks.)

Even if Ivins can be linked with hard evidence, the case still has many unresolved issues, particularly whether Ivins had any co-conspirators (the affidavits even indicate this was a possibility). And then there are the larger issues about what was happening at Fort Detrick — why security was so lax, and whether the facility was violating the international bioweapons convention if it was making this anthrax.

22 comments

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  1. So that’s a summary of the latest developments.

    • Edger on August 7, 2008 at 8:01 pm

    It appears there is a concerted effort at “terrorizing” people again, coming from the US government. Again.

  2. I wish I had the article at hand, but I remember reading that the anthrax attacks unnerved Bush more than the attacks on 9/11. It was the anthrax attacks that shoved Bush over the edge and it is what motivated him to start attacking the Constitution to keep himself safe.

    This October 23, 2001 press conference is the best I can offer right now, but I’ll keep looking through my archives.

    Q: Sir, is the White House under attack now?  The latest anthrax case?

    THE PRESIDENT: Well, there is no question that evildoers are continuing to try to harm America and Americans.  Today, at a remote facility, we detected some anthrax.  And just like at the Congress, our government is responding very quickly.

    We’re working hard to find out who is doing this and bring them to justice.  We’re also working to develop measures necessary to protect American citizens and postal workers.  All of us around this table grieve when we hear the fact that a citizen has lost a life.  Two postal workers passed away and our hearts are with their families, our prayers are with their loved ones.  And the evil ones continue.

    Q: Is there any way, sir, that whatever contaminated that machine, whether it be a letter or a package, got into the West Wing?  Or has all mail been cut off to prevent that from happening?

    THE PRESIDENT: Ron, we’re making sure that the West Wing, the White House is safe.  Let me put it this way, I’m confident when I come to work tomorrow that I’ll be safe.

    Q: Mr. President, have you or the Vice President been tested for anthrax?  And what is your sense of this latest development, sir?  For the most part, these attacks have been aimed at prominent people and prominent places.  Is it your sense that the real purpose here is to sow fear and confusion in the American public?

    THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I don’t have anthrax.  It’s hard for Americans to imagine how evil the people are who are doing this.  We’re having to adjust our thinking.  We’re a kind nation, we’re a compassionate nation, we’re a nation of strong values and we value life.  And we’re learning people in this world want to terrorize our country by trying to take life.

    They won’t succeed.  This country is too strong to allow terrorists to affect the lives of our citizens.  I understand people are concerned, and they should be.  But they need to know our government is doing everything we possibly can to protect the lives of our citizens — everything.  We’re waging an aggressive campaign overseas to bring al Qaeda to justice.

    Today, I’ve — in working with the Postmaster General — got our OMB to allocate $175 million for immediate relief, immediate safety at post offices around the country.  This is what he requested, he thinks this is what is necessary to assure the post office employees that they will be as safe as possible.  And we’re going to spend that money.

    Our health care workers are working around the clock to help people in need and I will tell you that I think not only are they doing a good job, I think they probably saved a lot of lives by their quick action.  And I’m proud of how quickly and how hard they’re working.

    The object of terrorism is to try to force us to change our way of life, is to force us to retreat, is to force us to be what we’re not.  And that’s — they’re going to fail.  They’re simply going to fail.  I want to assure my fellow Americans that our determination — I say “our,” I’m talking about Republicans and Democrats here in Washington — has never been stronger to succeed in bringing terrorists to justice, protecting our homeland.  Because what we do today will affect our children and grandchildren.  This is our calling.  This is the time for us to act in a bold way, and we are doing just that.

  3. America can’t even manage a decent cover-up anymore!

    < shakes head in fond remembrance of the good old days when cover-ups were semi-credible, at least >

  4. I’m pretty sure he was related to Molly Ivins, in fact, he was her evil twin – her yang – her conservative black shadow.

    Oliver Stone is working on a movie which will clearly show how a research scientist in Frederick Maryland, who {gasp} had a POST OFFICE BOX (clearly making him guilty) and used the United States Postal Service to achieve global warming.

    This same villain, who we know is an {gasp!} alcoholic (wink wink) sometimes drove a car to New Jersey!!! Oh     My     God !!!!! That’s proof enough for me. He might have driven there with a deadly biological agent, spending hours and hours in close proximity to this dangerous and deadly biological agent before sending it in the mail, proving that he alone is the only human immune to Anthrax. People who worked at the post office DIED because the envelope passed through their work area but this evil doer of dastardly deeds was able to sit next to this Anthrax murder weapon for HOURS on I-70, I-695, I-95, I-295, US 1, and then a left on to Nassau Street in Princeton to the Post Office. Is Was he even human??!!

    Now, every super villain has an Achilles heel, a kryptonite of their very own. I know… it was GUILT! Guilt was his undoing, his self-made nemesis and the means to his eventual and miserable end.

    It’s a million seller.

    • Viet71 on August 8, 2008 at 12:06 am

    I respect all posters here.

    But I don’t respect:

    The government story on the anthrax attacks.  The government story on Pearl Harbor, the Korean civilian killings, the 1960 election, the assassination of JFK, RFK and MLK.

    The shooting of George Wallace.  Watergate.

    It goes on and on.  9-11?

    Ivins was an evil-doer?

    I’m primed to believe government was the evil-doer.

  5. How conveeeenient that he offed himself just before the DOJ was set to charge him with this dog of a case.  

    If he hadn’t, Mukasey & Co. may have gotten and indictment but almost certainly would have been laughed out of court at trial.

    Instead, Ivins (ahem) untimely death now means they can try him in the court of public opinion instead, where the standard of ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ becomes ‘whatever innuendo and circumstantial drivel Fox News will run 24-7’, and still get the pre-election terror headlines Rove needs to make it close enough to steal another one.

    Now that’s what I call a cooperating defendant!

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