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The FBI’s emerging, leaking case against Ivins
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
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
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
- Who First Spread the Iraqi Anthrax Claim?
Friday August 1, 2008 3:12 pm
- Ivins and the Anthrax Investigation
Saturday August 2, 2008 7:56 am
- Anthrax Timeline
Monday August 4, 2008 5:49 pm
- DOJ Wants to Have Its Culprit and Withhold Some Materials, Too
Wednesday August 6, 2008 7:14 am
- The Anthrax Prosecutor: The Daughter of the Defense Attorney for BushCo’s "Germ Boy"
Wednesday August 6, 2008 9:45 am
- The Case Against Ivins, Search Warrant One
Wednesday August 6, 2008 12:08 pm
- "It Was Ivins, With a Flask, 200 Miles from the Site of the Crime"
Wednesday August 6, 2008 1:28 pm
- Anthrax Timeline, Two
Wednesday August 6, 2008 6:47 pm
Bioterrorism on a Grassy Knoll
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.