In the post-HR 3361 passage press conference yesterday, Jerry Nadler suggested the only reason civil libertarians oppose the bill is because it does not go far enough.
That is, at least in my case, false.
While I have concerns about unintended consequences of outsourcing holding the call data to the telecoms (see my skepticism that it ends bulk collection here and my concerns about high volume numbers here), there are a number of ways that USA Freedumber is worse than the status quo.
The NSA in your smart phone: Freedumber codifies changes to the chaining process
As I have described, the language in USA Freedumber makes it explicit that the government and its telecom partners can chain on connections as well as actual phone call contacts. While the new automatic search process approved by the FISA Court in 2012 included such chaining, by passing this bill Congress endorses this approach. Moreover, the government has never been able to start running such automatic queries; it appears they have to outsource to the telecoms to be able to do so (probably in part to make legal and technical use of location data). Thus, moving the phone chaining to the telecoms expands on the kinds of chaining that will be done with calls.
We don’t know all that that entails. At a minimum (and, assuming the standard of proof is rigorous, uncontroversially) the move will allow the government to track burner phones, the new cell phones targets adopt after getting rid of an old one.
It also surely involves location mapping. I say that, in part, because if they weren’t going to use location data, they wouldn’t have had to move to the telecoms. In addition, AT&T’s Hemisphere program uses location data, and it would be unrealistic to assume this program wouldn’t include at least all of what Hemisphere already does.
But beyond those two functions, your guess is as good as mine. While the chaining must produce a Call Detail Record at the interim step (which limits how far away from actual phone calls the analysis can get), it is at least conceivable the chaining could include any of a number of kinds of data available to the telecoms from smart phones, including things like calendars, address books, and email.
The fact that the telecoms and subsidiary contractors get immunity and compensation makes it more likely that this new chaining will be expansive, because natural sources of friction on telecom cooperation will have been removed.
Freedumber provides three ways for NSA to use the phone dragnet for purposes besides counterterrorism
As far as we know, the current dragnet may only be used for actual terrorist targets and Iran. But USA Freedumber would permit the government to use the phone dragnet to collect other data by:
Freedumber permits searches on selection terms associated with foreign powers
On its face, USA Freedumber preserves this counterterrorism focus, requiring any records obtained to be “relevant to” an international terrorist investigation. Unfortunately, we now know that FISC has already blown up the meaning of “relevant to,” making all data effectively relevant.
The judicial approval of the specific selection term, however — the court review that should be an improvement over the status quo — is not that tie to terrorism, but evidence that the selection term is a foreign power or agent thereof.
Thus, the government could cite narcoterrorism, and use the chaining program to investigate Mexican drug cartels. The government could raise concerns that al Qaeda wants to hack our networks, and use chaining to investigate hackers with foreign ties. The government could allege Venezuela supports terrorism and investigate Venezuelan government sympathizers.
There are a whole range of scenarios in which the government could use this chaining program for purposes other than counterterrorism.
Freedumber permits the retention of any data that serves a foreign intelligence purpose
And once it gets that data, the government can keep it, so long as it claims (to itself, with uncertain oversight from the FISC) that the data has a foreign intelligence purpose.
At one level, this is a distinction without a difference from the language that USA Freedumb had used, which required the NSA to destroy the data after five years unless it was relevant to a terrorism investigation (which all data turned over to NSA would be, by definition). But the change in language serves as legislative approval that the use of the data received via this program can be used for other purposes.
That will likely have an impact on minimization procedures. Currently, the NSA needs a foreign intelligence purpose to access the corporate store, but can only disseminate data from it for counterterrorism purposes. I would imagine the changed language of the bill will lead the government to successfully argue that the minimization procedures permit the dissemination of US person data so long as it meets only this flimsy foreign intelligence purpose. In other words, US person data collected in chaining would be circulating around the government more freely.
Freedumber’s emergency queries do not require any tie to terrorism
As I noted, the revisions USA Freedumber made to USA Freedumb explicitly removed a requirement that emergency queries be tied to a terrorism investigation.
(A) reasonably determines that an emergency situation requires the production of tangible things to
obtain information for an authorized investigation (other than a threat assessment) conducted in accordance with subsection (a)(2) to protect against international terrorismbefore an order authorizing such production can with due diligence be obtained;
That’s particularly troublesome, because even if the FISC rules the emergency claim (certified by the Attorney General) was not legally valid after the fact, not only does the government not have to get rid of that data, but the Attorney General (the one who originally authorized its collection) is the one in charge of making sure it doesn’t get used in a trial or similar proceeding.
In short, these three changes together permit the government to use the phone dragnet for a lot more uses than they currently can.
Freedumber invites the expansion of upstream collection
When John Bates declared aspects of upstream collection to be unconstitutional in 2011, he used the threat of referrals under 50 USC 1809(a) to require the government to provide additional protection both to entirely domestic communications that contained a specific selector, and to get rid of domestic communications that did not contain that specific selector at all. The government objected (and considered appealing), claiming that because it hadn’t really intended to collect this data, it should be able to keep it and use it. But ultimately, that threat (especially threats tied to the government’s use of this data for ongoing FISA orders) led the government to capitulate.
The changes in Freedumber basically allow the government to adopt its old “intentional” claim, reversing Bates’ restrictions. Continue reading
In an interview with WSJ last March, White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler said that publicly explaining the drone program would be “self-defeating.”
White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler acknowledged Mr. Obama has developed a broader view of executive power since he was a senator. In explaining the shift, she cited the nature of the office.
“Many issues that he deals with are just on him, where the Congress doesn’t bear the burden in the same way,” she said. “Until one experiences that first hand, it is difficult to appreciate fully how you need flexibility in a lot of circumstances.”
Ms. Ruemmler said Mr. Obama tries to publicly explain his use of executive power, but says certain counterterrorism programs like the drone campaign are exceptions. Opening them to public scrutiny would be “self-defeating,” she said.
At the time, I thought she was treating the NYT and ACLU as “the public.” After all, in a debate over releasing the targeted killing memos in the situation room in November 2011, she had warned that releasing the memo might weaken the government’s position in litigation, presumably the FOIA battle with the two entities.
The CIA and other elements of the intelligence community were opposed to any disclosures that could lift the veil of secrecy from a covert program. Others, notably the Justice and State departments, argued that the killing of an American citizen without trial, while justified in rare cases, was so extraordinary it demanded a higher level of public explanation. Among the proposals discussed in the fall: releasing a “white paper” based on the Justice memo, publishing an op-ed article in The New York Times under Holder’s byline, and making no public disclosures at all.
The issue came to a head at a Situation Room meeting in November. At lower-level interagency meetings, Obama officials had already begun moving toward a compromise. David Petraeus, the new CIA director whose agency had been wary of too much disclosure, came out in support of revealing the legal reasoning behind the Awlaki killing so long as the case was not explicitly discussed. Petraeus, according to administration officials, was backed up by James Clapper, the director of national intelligence. (The CIA declined to comment.) The State Department, meanwhile, continued to push for fuller disclosure. One senior Obama official who continued to raise questions about the wisdom of coming out publicly at all was Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security director. She argued that the calls for transparency had quieted down, as one participant characterized her view, so why poke the hornet’s nest? Another senior official expressing caution about the plan was Kathryn Ruemmler, the White House counsel. She cautioned that the disclosures could weaken the government’s stance in pending litigation. The New York Times has filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration under the Freedom of Information Act seeking the release of the Justice Department legal opinion in the Awlaki case. [my emphasis]
But having now updated my timeline of the over 14 requests members of Congress have made for the targeted killing memos, she seems to lump Congress with the ACLU and NYT.
More troubling, though: it appears the White House stalled its response to Congress for almost nine months simply to gain an advantage in the ACLU FOIA lawsuits.
Here are the relevant dates: Continue reading
Back in September 2010, when the Administration successfully argued that whether or not the government had the authority to kill Anwar al-Awlaki was a matter for the Executive and Congressional Branches to decide, it claimed Congress served as a check on that power.
The nonjusticiability of the plaintiff’s claims in this Court “does not leave the executive power unbounded.” Schneider, 412 F.3d at 200. “The political branches effectively exercise such checks and balances on each other in the area of political questions[,]” and “[i]f the executive in fact has exceeded his appropriate role in the constitutional scheme, Congress enjoys a broad range of authorities with which to exercise restraint and balance.” Id. Accordingly, “the allocation of political questions to the political branches is not inconsistent with our constitutional tradition of limited government and balance of powers.” Id.
The Administration’s behavior in the interim period has proven those assurances to be utterly false. Congress has asked the Administration on more than 10 separate occasions for the OLC memo authorizing the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki (many of these 10 documented requests refer to earlier requests, and Pat Leahy sent President Obama a letter that his office could not share).
And yet here we are, 22 months after the Administration assured Judge John Bates that Congress exercised some kind of check on the Executive, at least 17 months after members of Congress first started asking for the legal analysis, and the Administration has not responded to those requests.
Here are the requests.
February 2011: Ron Wyden asks the Director of National Intelligence for the legal analysis behind the targeted killing program. (1)
April 2011: Ron Wyden calls Eric Holder to ask for legal analysis on targeted killing. (2)
May 2011: DOJ responds to Wyden’s request, yet doesn’t answer key questions.
May 18-20, 2011: DOJ (including Office of Legislative Affairs) discusses “draft legal analysis regarding the application of domestic and international law to the use of lethal force in a foreign country against U.S. citizens” (this may be the DOJ response to Ron Wyden).
October 5, 2011: Chuck Grassley sends Eric Holder a letter requesting the OLC memo by October 27, 2011. (3)
November 8, 2011: Pat Leahy complains about past Administration refusal to share targeted killing OLC memo. (4)
February 8, 2012: Ron Wyden follows up on his earlier requests for information on the targeted killing memo with Eric Holder. (5)
March 7, 2012: Tom Graves (R-GA) asks Robert Mueller whether Eric Holder’s criteria for the targeted killing of Americans applies in the US; Mueller replies he’d have to ask DOJ. Per his office today, DOJ has not yet provided Graves with an answer. (6)
March 8, 2012: Pat Leahy renews his request for the OLC memo at DOJ appropriations hearing. (7)
June 7, 2012: After Jerry Nadler requests the memo, Eric Holder commits to providing the House Judiciary a briefing–but not the OLC memo–within a month. (8)
June 12, 2012: Pat Leahy renews his request for the OLC memo at DOJ oversight hearing. (9)
June 27, 2012: In Questions for the Record following a June 7 hearing, Jerry Nadler notes that DOJ has sought dismissal of court challenges to targeted killing by claiming “the appropriate check on executive branch conduct here is the Congress and that information is being shared with Congress to make that check a meaningful one,” but “we have yet to get any response” to “several requests” for the OLC memo authorizing targeted killing. He also renews his request for the briefing Holder had promised. (10)
July 19, 2012: Both Pat Leahy and Chuck Grassley complain about past unanswered requests for OLC memo. (Grassley prepared an amendment as well, but withdrew it in favor of Cornyn’s.) Leahy (but not Grassley) votes to table John Cornyn amendment to require Administration to release the memo.
July 24, 2012: SSCI passes Intelligence Authorization that requires DOJ to make all post-9/11 OLC memos available to the Senate Intelligence Committee, albeit with two big loopholes.
In his announcement that John Durham is investigating the deaths by torture of two CIA detainee, Eric Holder suggested that John Durham reviewed information that had not been reviewed by the prosecutors who had earlier declined to prosecute the cases.
That review included both information and matters that had never previously been examined by the Department.
He implied that one source of that new information might be some of the reports–among other things, the CIA IG Report and the OPR Report.
He identified the matters to include within his review by examining various sources including the Office of Professional Responsibility’s report regarding the Office of Legal Counsel memoranda related to enhanced interrogation techniques, the 2004 CIA Inspector General’s report on enhanced interrogations, additional matters investigated by the CIA Office of Inspector General, the February 2007 International Committee of the Red Cross Report on the Treatment of Fourteen “High Value Detainees” in CIA Custody, and public source information.
I wanted to look at what that new information might be.
The AP advances the issue in the case of Manadel al-Jamadi by reporting on what Lynndie England and other Abu Ghraib testified about at their grand jury appearance earlier this month (England’s testimony was first reported by Jane). Of note, the prosecutor asked who put al-Jamadi in the stress position that ultimately ended up effectively crucifying him–and asked questions about a hood that “disappeared.”
Another person who testified told the AP that prosecutors asked about a hood placed over al-Jamadi’s head that later disappeared and who shackled al-Jamadi’s arms behind his back and bound them to a barred window. This witness requested anonymity to avoid being connected publicly with the case.
As a threshold matter, if this person offered some new insight into the people personally involved in al-Jamadi’s asphyxiation–perhaps something that had been reflected in the IG report–then it might constitute new information. There’s also the question of how al-Jamadi’s treatment exceeded the torture John Yoo authorized; both the type of stress position used and the hood might qualify (and the importance of it would be reflected in the 2007 ICRC Report). We know, for example, that on May 26, 2010, Jay Bybee told the House Judiciary Committee that the CIA had not asked about–and so the Bybee Memo had not addressed–whether shackling someone to the ceiling fit the memo’s definition of a stress position.
Jerrold Nadler: Does Bybee Memo 2 or any other legal advice you gave at OLC authorize shackling a detainee to a hook in the ceiling as was described in my earlier question?
Jay Bybee: I don’t recall that any place in Bybee Memo 2 that we have addressed the question of shackling. So I don’t think it was one of the assumptions on which the CIA requested our advice. (Page 85-86)
So one new piece of evidence is Bybee’s testimony that he–and therefore Yoo–did not approve the crucifixion-type stress position that contributed to al-Jamadi’s death.
But that disappearing hood is worth noting by itself–it reflects an intent to cover up the crime.
I’m more interested in the possibly new information about Gul Rahman, because some reporting I’ve done reflects why DOJ revisited some of this.
As I noted here, amidst a discussion about prosecution declinations on PDF 72 of the second draft of the OPR Report, the OPR recommended reopening a specific declination because of the changed legal landscape.
The EDVA Memorandum was issued after the Bybee Memo had been publicly withdrawn, but before the Supreme Court’s decision in Hamdan. Accordingly. the prosecutors may have relied upon OLC’s erroneous determination that the War Crimes Act did not apply to suspected terrorists held abroad. We found no indication, however, that the EDVA declination decisions were revisited after Hamdan. In reviewing the declination decisions, the Department will have to determine whether prior OLC opinions and executive orders bar prosecution of these matters.
Now, this reference might refer to the death threats used with Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri (which today’s announcement suggests have been dropped), because that’s what the discussion preceding the four redacted pages immediately preceding this discussion treats. But we know from a footnote in Jay Bybee’s Second Response to the report that page 92 of the IG Report–that is, at least part of the second page of redaction–refers to the CIA’s argument that Rahman’s death shouldn’t be prosecuted, so it may well be Rahman. In any case, what’s key is that the OPR Report notes the EDVA’s reliance on OLC’s claim that crimes committed overseas couldn’t be prosecuted to be false.
That’s not the only “new” jurisdictional issue addressing whether crimes against Rahman could be prosecuted.
As I have written at length, the Bullet Point document–which appears to have been drafted as part of CIA’s information collection process in response to the IG Report and used as part of the declination process–also directly addressed whether crimes committed in the process of torture could be prosecuted. And one of the things included in it was the claim that no ordinary crimes (like negligent homicide, which would be relevant to Rahman’s death) could be prosecuted.
And in August 10, 2009. the 4th Circuit made it clear in David Passaro’s case that the Asadabad Firebase counted as a military mission at which US law applied. That’s precisely the kind of jurisdictional issue prosecutors used to decline the case in the past.
CIA officials referred the Salt Pit case to the Justice Department five years ago. Prosecutors concluded at the time that the Afghan prison was outside the reach of U.S. law, even though the CIA funded it and vetted its home-country guards.
Given that EDVA is in the same circuit, and given that Asadabad was less established than the Salt Pit, the fairly broad reading of this jurisdictional issue in Passaro’s case may impact Gul Rahman’s.
But the Bullet Point document is interesting for another reason that may pertain to Rahman’s death: because Rahman was reportedly water doused. Particularly given Holder’s emphasis on Yoo’s approvals, it’s relevant that the CIA stuck water dousing into the Bullet Point documents, after Rahman’s death, to suggest OLC had approved it as a torture technique.
But they hadn’t.
Which Bybee confirmed when he testified to HJC.
Nadler: Did Bybee Memo 2 or any other legal advice you gave at OLC authorize dousing detainees with cold water to keep them awake?
Bybee: Dousing with cold water was not one of the techniques that we were asked about in Bybee 2.
Nadler: So the answer is “no”?
Bybee: That’s right. (Page 104)
A full understanding of the Bullet Point documents, if the prosecutors didn’t already have one, would be one new factor making it possible to charge for water dousing and the subsequent death. But Bybee’s testimony would confirm that water dousing was not included in the Bybee Memos.
There’s some more, which I’ll get to in a subsequent post or three.
But for now, it looks like Durham has a few new details, a changed legal framework (because of Hamdan and, in Rahman’s case, possibly because of Passaro), and Jay Bybee’s testimony making it clear that the stress position and the water dousing that led to these detainees’ deaths had not been approved by OLC.
At 10, the Senate Judiciary Committee will consider the extension of Robert Mueller’s term at FBI by two more years. You’ll no doubt hear Ranking Member Chuck Grassley make all sorts of complaints about FBI in his wonderful grouchy Iowa voice. You’ll hear Jim Comey recount the dramatic hospital confrontation from 2004.
But you’re unlikely to hear Chairman Patrick Leahy ask Mueller why he has let Leahy’s own attempted murder in the 2001 anthrax attack go unsolved.
Oh sure, the FBI claimed they had solved the anthrax attack last year when they closed the investigation. But as I first reported in 2008, Leahy doesn’t (or at least didn’t) believe that accused anthrax killer Bruce Ivins acted alone.
The FBI’s case against Ivins started eroding right after his death, as Ivins’ own will made it clear that the motive the FBI had attributed to him made no sense. Then it became more and more clear that FBI claims about the record and anthrax keeping standards at USAMRIID were overly optimistic, meaning their assertion that Ivins had control of a flask of anthrax couldn’t be trusted. But the real blow for the FBI’s claims about the anthrax came after–having spent three years waving the shiny object of the cool science they used to “solve” the case–the National Academy of Science poked a bunch more holes in their case. Not only were the FBI’s claims about Ivins’ flask not as certain as the FBI claimed they were, but the FBI had never answered lingering problems about the chemicals involved in the anthrax, which made the FBI’s failure to talk about how Ivins could have made the anthrax all the more problematic, not to mention made one of FBI’s most compelling pieces of evidence against Ivins–his time in his lab–meaningless.
Pretty much what the FBI is left with are a few suspicious incidents and Ivins’ weird obsession about a probably unrelated sorority, which a bunch of self-interested shrinks have helpfully sensationalized.
And the failure to really solve the anthrax case comes on top of the earlier failure in targeting Steven Hatfill for several years.
Now, I wouldn’t necessarily hold the FBI’s failure to solve the most serious terrorist attack in the US since 9/11 against Mueller–it is a tougher case to solve, after all, than 9/11 itself.
But rather than allow Congressional overseers to examine the FBI’s work to both see what went wrong and what leads they may have ignored, Mueller has been refusing such oversight. He (and the FBI generally) have stonewalled and lied when members of Congress asked questions about the weak points in the FBI case against Ivins. More galling still, to me, is that he out and out lied to Chuck Grassley in 2009, telling Grassley that an independent review of the investigation would be detrimental to ongoing litigation. What Mueller didn’t tell Grassley is that he had already secretly engaged the Shrinks-4-Hire to do their own purportedly independent review of the investigation, a report apparently designed to rebut the obvious weaknesses the NAS would find.
Mueller was fine to do an “independent” review, apparently, so long as the FBI could game the outcome.
Mind you, Mueller’s refusal to accept any real oversight on this case has been assisted by President Obama, who used a veto threat to discourage a true congressional inquiry.
In short, under Mueller’s leadership, the FBI badly fucked up the anthrax investigation. And rather than review why the FBI fucked up so badly, Mueller has been obfuscating to prevent any real review of the that fuck up.
Mueller’s single biggest job as FBI Director in the last decade has been to make sure the FBI is able to investigate terrorism. And yet his FBI has badly screwed up the second biggest terrorist attack in the US–and he doesn’t think Congress should know why.
And yet SJC will no doubt vote to reconfirm Robert Mueller for another two years today.
Slightly over a week after McClatchy focused new attention on evidence that Bruce Ivins may not have been able to produce the anthrax used in the 2001 attacks, and just days after Jerrold Nadler called attention to the FBI’s obfuscations about the technical data McClatchy used, the LAT has decided to ignore such technical problems with the FBI’s case and return to claims that Ivins must be the killer because he was mentally unstable.
Of note, much of the LAT story fleshes out the Shrinks-4-Hire report, complete with names, a detailed description of how Bruce Ivins’ mother tried to abort Ivins by bouncing down the stairs, and descriptions from his psychiatrists.
Ivins grew up in Lebanon, Ohio, a small town 30 miles northeast of Cincinnati. His parents had planned the arrivals of their first two children, both sons, but by late 1945 the couple had no desire to add to the family. In conversations with a sister-in-law, Mary Ivins described how she tried to abort the unwanted third pregnancy:
Over and over, she descended a series of steps by bouncing with a thud on her buttocks.
Bruce Ivins, born April 22, 1946, would eventually hear the story himself.
A psychiatrist who treated him in the late 1990s, Dr. David Irwin, confided to a therapist that Ivins was the “scariest” patient he had ever known.
It’s as if someone leaked the LAT an unredacted copy of the report in an effort to drown out increasing focus on the many problems with the case. And it’s as if the LAT simply used that as a template for their story, without consulting the information released since the Shrinks-4-Hire was completed that poses problems for it: not the National Academy of Sciences report and the McClatchy stories raising key technical questions about the case, and not Noah Shachtman’s story raising doubts about the FBI’s claim no one else could have accessed Ivins’ anthrax.
I guess some people tied to the anthrax case believe if you keep repeating the story, “Bruce Ivins stalked women, so he must have tried to kill Patrick Leahy” enough times, people will continue to believe it.
It seems we’re going to be discussing anthrax in detail again. And in anticipation of those discussions, I wanted to challenge the notion that the circumstantial evidence against Ivins remains strong.
The whole case depends on the FBI’s contention that a flask Ivins had–RMR-1029–was “the murder weapon.” But in fact, the FBI only has proof that Ivins had what might be one of eight or more potential precursors to the murder weapon. Their efforts to equate the two ignore some interim steps about which they seem to have little evidence (and what they have they’re not examining very closely).
So here’s my summary of the circumstantial case against Bruce Ivins. (Jim White gave me a ton of scientific help with this, but the errors surely result from my own misunderstanding.)
When US Attorney Jeff Taylor announced FBI was closing the investigation in February 2010, he gave the following 7 pieces of evidence that Ivins was the culprit.
First, we were able to identify in early 2005 the genetically-unique parent material of the anthrax spores used in the mailings. As the court documents allege, the parent material of the anthrax spores used in the attacks was a single flask of spores, known as “RMR-1029,” that was created and solely maintained by Dr. Ivins at USAMRIID. This means that the spores used in the attacks were taken from that specific flask, regrown, purified, dried and loaded into the letters. No one received material from that flask without going through Dr. Ivins. We thoroughly investigated every other person who could have had access to the flask and we were able to rule out all but Dr. Ivins.
Second, as a renowned expert in the production and purification of anthrax spores, Dr. Ivins was one of a handful of scientists with the capability to create spores of the concentration and purity used in the attacks. The affidavits allege that, not only did Dr. Ivins create and maintain the spore batch used in the mailings, but he also had access to and experience using a lyophilizer. A lyophilizer is a sophisticated machine that is used to dry pathogens, and can be used to dry anthrax. We know others in Dr. Ivins’ lab consulted him when they needed to use this machine.
Third, in the days leading up to each of the mailings, the documents make clear that Dr. Ivins was working inordinate hours alone at night and on the weekend in the lab where the flask of spores and production equipment were stored. A review of his access records revealed that Dr. Ivins had not spent this many “off hours” in the lab at any time before or after this period. When questioned about why he was in the lab during these off hours prior to each of the mailings, Dr. Ivins was unable to offer any satisfactory explanation.
Fourth, the affidavits indicate Dr. Ivins had engaged in behavior and made a number of statements that suggest consciousness of guilt. For example, one night shortly after a search warrant was executed on his house, Dr. Ivins took highly unusual steps to discard a book and article on DNA coding while under 24/7 surveillance. In addition, he had submitted a questionable sample of anthrax from his flask of parent spores to the FBI, presumably to mislead investigators. He had also made far-reaching efforts to blame others and divert attention away from himself, and had made threatening e-mail statements to a friend regarding the case. Recently, he had detailed threats in his group therapy session to kill people who had wronged him, after learning he might be indicted.
Fifth, as reflected in the court documents, Dr. Ivins had a history of mental health problems and was facing a difficult time professionally in the summer and fall of 2001 because an anthrax vaccine he was working on was failing. The affidavits describe one e-mail to a co-worker in which Dr. Ivins stated that he had “incredible paranoid, delusional thoughts at times,” and feared that he might not be able to control his behavior.
Sixth, throughout his adult life Dr. Ivins had frequently driven to other locations to send packages in the mail under assumed names to disguise his identity as the sender. He had also admitted to using false names and aliases in writings. In addition, he was a prolific writer to Congress and the media, the targeted victims in the anthrax attacks. Law enforcement recovered 68 letters to such entities from his house in a Nov. 1, 2007 search.
I’ll conclude with one more point. The envelopes used in the attacks were all pre-franked envelopes, sold only at U.S. Post Offices during a nine-month window in 2001. An analysis of the envelopes revealed several print defects in the ink on the pre-printed portions of the envelopes. Based on the analysis, we were able to conclude that the envelopes used in the mailings were very likely sold at a post office in the greater Frederick Maryland, area in 2001. Dr. Ivins maintained a post office box at the Post Office in Frederick, from which these pre-franked envelopes with print defects were sold.
Here’s what remains of each of these 7 pieces of evidence:
1. The spores in the attack came from RMR-1029 and Ivins controlled access to that flask
The certainty of this claim was seriously challenged by both the National Academy of Sciences report and subsequent reporting on several grounds.
First, the NAS study concluded only that the genetic analysis was consistent with the spores being derived from RMR-1029.
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.
That only says that whoever prepared the (probable) two separate batches of anthrax may have started with anthrax obtained at some point from that flask. NAS holds out the possibility the anthrax producer may have gotten it from somewhere else, that it was possible to get similar genetic results from other means (that is, suggesting that’s not the only way to have produced the samples found in the letter).
An even bigger problem is the complete lack of attention on what happened to the anthrax after it came from Ivins’ flask, if it did. The NAS later emphasizes this interim step.
The flask designated RMR-1029 was not the immediate, most proximate source of the letter material. If the letter material did in fact derive from RMR-1029, then one or more separate growth steps, using seed material from RMR-1029 followed by purification, would have been necessary. Furthermore, the evidentiary material in the New York letters had physical properties that were distinct from those of the material in the Washington, D.C. letters.
That’s a very good question, Congressman Nadler:
On September 16, 2008, the House Committee on the Judiciary, on which I sit, conducted an oversight hearing of the FBI at which you testified. At that hearing, I asked you the following: “[W]hat was the percentage of weight of the silicon in the powders that your experts examined?” You testified that you would get back to me. On November 26, 2008, I sent to you this follow-up question in writing: “What was the percentage of weight of the silicon in the powder used in the 2001 anthrax attacks?”
On April 17, 2009, then-Acting Assistant Attorney General M. Faith Burton, of the DOJ Office of Legislative Affairs, responded with the following answer:
FBI Laboratory results indicated that the spore powder on the Leahy letter contained 14,470 ppm of silicon (1.4%). The spore powder on the New York Post letter was found to have silicon present in the sample; however, due to the limited amount of material, a reliable quantitative measurement was not possible. Insufficient quantifies of spore powder on both the Daschle and Brokaw letters precluded analysis of those samples.
A February 15, 2011 report by the National Academy of Sciences (“NAS report”), in which the NAS included its review of the FBI’s data and scientific analysis in the anthrax investigation, raises three questions about this DOJ/FBI response to me. First, with respect to the anthrax on the letter sent to Senator Leahy, the NAS report shows on pages 66 and 67 (Table 4.4) that the silicon content found by the FBI was 1.4% in one sample and 1.8% in a second sample. Why were both figures not provided to me in response to my questions?
Second, the NAS report shows on pages 66 and 67 (Table 4.4) that the FBI found the silicon content in the New York Post letter anthrax to be 10% when the bulk material was measured by mass and 1-2% when individual spore coats were measured by mass per spore. Why was neither piece of data provided to me in response to my questions?
Third and finally, the NAS report raises questions about the appropriateness of the measurements taken of the anthrax on the letter to the New York Post. Specifically, on page 77, the NAS report says:
ICP-OES analysis indicated a silicon content of the bulk New York Post letter material of 10 percent by mass, while SEM-EDX performed by SNL demonstrated silicon in individual spore coats at a level corresponding to 1 percent by mass per spore. At the January 2011 meeting, the FBI attributed this difference to a limited amount of sample available (only one replicate was performed for ICP-OES analysis) and the heterogeneous character of the New York Post letter. An explanation based on the heterogeneous character implies that the specific samples analyzed were not representative of the letter material. In such a case, additional samples should have been analyzed to determine representativeness. If such data exist, they were not provided to the committee. Lacking this information, one cannot rule out the intentional addition of a silicon-based substance to the New York Post letter, in a failed attempt to enhance dispersion. The committee notes that powders with dispersion characteristics similar to the letter material could be produced without the addition of a dispersant.
Were additional samples tested to determine the extent to which the ones examined were representative of the New York Post letter material? If not, why not? And, if the FBI does not have this data, how would you respond to the NAS that, without it, one cannot rule out the possibility that silicon was intentionally added? If the FBI did do these additional tests, please provide the resulting data to me and NAS.
As I noted the other day, the questionable silicon data seems to have come from the same lab that claims to have found proof that the 9/11 hijackers tested positive for anthrax, too.
I’ve been reading the National Academy of Sciences Anthrax Report and noted something odd in follow-up to the McClatchy report of the other day describing unexplained tin and silicon in one of the anthrax samples. (Here’s Jim White’s post on the report.) As McClatchy reported, there’s some weird data about silicon and tin in some of the samples.
The lab data, contained in more than 9,000 pages of files that emerged a year after the Justice Department closed its inquiry and condemned the late Army microbiologist Bruce Ivins as the perpetrator, shows unusual levels of silicon and tin in anthrax powder from two of the five letters.
To arrive at that position, however, the FBI had to discount its own bulk testing results showing that silicon composed an extraordinary 10.8 percent of a sample from a mailing to the New York Post and as much as 1.8 percent of the anthrax from a letter sent to Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, far more than the occasional trace contamination. Tin — not usually seen in anthrax powder at all — was measured at 0.65 percent and 0.2 percent, respectively, in those letters.
But it turns out that the weirdest data–showing the 10.8 silicon in the NY Post sample–didn’t come from FBI. As NAS explained, that data came from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.
Early in the investigation, AFIP performed [scanning electron microscopy-energy-dispersive X-ray] SEM-EDX analysis of a New York Post letter sample and found regions in the sample having high silicon content but no oxygen, suggesting the presence of silicon-rich material that was not related to nanoparticulate silica. While this observation could have led to an explanation for the difference between the bulk and individual spore measurements, follow-up experiments apparently were not performed.
A release from AFIP describing their analysis of the Daschle letter (not the NY Post letter) is one of the most cited sources of the claim that the anthrax was weaponized in a uniquely Iraqi fashion.
“Ft Detrick sought our assistance to determine the specific components of the anthrax found in the Daschle letter,” said Florabel G. Mullick, MD, ScD, SES, AFIP Principal Deputy Director and department chair. AFIP experts utilized an energy dispersive X-ray spectrometer (an instrument used to detect the presence of otherwise-unseen chemicals through characteristic wavelengths of X-ray light) to confirm the previously unidentifiable substance as silica. “This was a key component,” Mullick said. “Silica prevents the anthrax from aggregating, making it easier to aerosolize. Significantly, we noted the absence of aluminum with the silica. This combination had previously been found in anthrax produced by Iraq.”
This was the analysis that a USAMRID scientist used to declare that the anthrax was weaponized–which said scientist retracted after later Sandia analysis was done (from the NAS report).
An initial finding by the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) found, upon gross examination, that the spores exhibited a silicon signal and sometimes exhibited an oxygen signal. Subsequent studies conducted by Sandia National Laboratories (as described in Chapter 4 of this report) determined that the silicon was localized to the spore coat within the exosporium—that is, it was incorporated into the cell as a natural part of the cell formation process. The USAMRIID scientist who first reviewed the AFIP results and made statements regarding the presence of silicon and possible weaponization retracted those earlier statements.
So some of this was known before–that AFIP served a key role in early rumors that the anthrax was weaponized in a way that pointed to Iraq. But the NAS report seems to confirm that the Iraq rumors originated at least in part from AFIP.
That’s all very interesting for several reasons. First, because FBI claims to have gotten data on AFIP’s SEM-EDX tests just last year.
The committee notes that this information was not made available to it or to the FBI until spring 2010.
That would mean FBI didn’t get (or ask for?) the information until after it had closed the investigation (they closed the investigation in February 2010)!
It would also suggest–rather incredibly–that FBI didn’t hunt down this information when they were stonewalling Jerry Nadler about it (as McClatchy reminds).
New York Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler asked FBI Director Robert Mueller how much silicon was in the Post and Leahy letters at a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee in September 2008. The Justice Department responded seven months later that silicon made up 1.4 percent of the Leahy powder (without disclosing the 1.8 percent reading) and that “a reliable quantitative measurement was not possible” for the Post letter.
More interesting still, NAS can’t explain what relationship existed between FBI and AFIP.
The committee also reviewed reports of work carried out in parallel at the AFIP although it is not clear how closely AFIP and the FBI investigative and scientific teams worked together or coordinated their efforts.
I’m also confused about when AFIP did these tests. In its list of official tests, NAS describes the AFIP SEM-EDX tests as having taken place in November 2001.
But somewhere along the way, perhaps along with information about the investigation of a claimed al Qaeda anthrax site explored in 2004, NAS got additional materials from AFIP dating to October 2001.
AFIP Materials related to USAMRIID Specimens October 2001 (41 pages)
And still more interesting is the reference to documents provided to NAS in December 2010–at the time when FBI was trying to stall the release of this document–showing AFIP, along with USAMRID, purportedly conducted anthrax studies on the remains of the Flight 93 9/11 hijackers.
Finally, in the new materials provided to the committee it is noted that [polymerase chain reaction] PCR analysis was performed on human remains from United flight 93 on 9/11/2001 that were identified as those of the hijackers (B3D1). Analysis was performed at USAMRIID and at AFIP for sequences diagnostic of B. anthracis. One assay at USAMRIID gave positive results, but these results were believed by the FBI to be due to laboratory contamination. All other results were negative. As the committee learned at the January 2011 meeting, there were no tests done on remains from any of the other September 11, 2001 hijackers. [my emphasis]
So let’s see. At some point during the anthrax attacks in 2001, USAMRID and AFIP decided to do anthrax tests on material from Flight 93. They purportedly found the hijackers tested positive for anthrax! But on second thought, FBI tells us, that positive result came from “lab contamination.” And then, presumably just after those tests, USAMRID and AFIP, perhaps working outside the chain of the official FBI investigation of anthrax, discover evidence implicating Iraq in the anthrax attacks. Results that, once again, further testing suggested was inaccurate.
Another example of lab contamination, I guess. Funny how that happens.
And the FBI wants us to believe that over the course of a 9 year investigation, they never decided to investigate the circumstances surrounding this partnership that somehow always resulted in convenient propaganda?
Our country apparently has a new standard for justice: innocent until a secret study–headed by a guy who may have had some responsibility for screwing up an earlier investigation and conducted entirely after your death–finds you were psychologically capable of committing a crime.
The LAT reports on a just such a report conducted on Bruce Ivins. It was initiated in late 2009 (remember, Ivins died in July 2008), at the suggestion of Dr. Gregory Saathoff, a psychiatrist who consulted on the investigation itself. And it was completed on August 23, 2010. Among the details the report apparently found that should have disqualified Bruce Ivins from having the security clearance he did is the fact that he put question marks next to some questions on a form he filled out in 1987 (those question marks should have raised eyebrows, definitely, but it’s funny they’re looking at them in this context now).
Mostly, though, LAT writer David Willman seems to suggest (and I’m not sure how much of this is speculation, off the record reporting, or reading the report itself) that the redacted parts of the report show that Ivins’ obsession with the KKG sorority in the 1980s should have disqualified him from getting clearance.
Some of the “disqualifying” behaviors that the panel said should have prompted Army officials to reconsider Ivins’ fitness to work in a secure biodefense facility were redacted from the report by Justice Department lawyers because of privacy concerns. However, based on investigative documents made public more than a year ago by the FBI and on remarks by Ivins’ acquaintances, this much is known:
Ivins became obsessed with Kappa Kappa Gamma in the 1960s, when a member of the sorority turned him down for a date. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Ivins twice burglarized houses affiliated with the sorority.
Over the same period, he tormented a former member of the sorority, Nancy Haigwood, by stealing her laboratory notebook, which was integral to her pursuit of a doctoral degree, and by vandalizing her residence. Ivins was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of North Carolina in the 1970s when Haigwood was a graduate student there.
“Despite criminal behavior and sabotage of his colleague’s research,” the panel said, “Dr. Ivins was hired by USAMRIID and received a security clearance, allowing him to work with potential weapons of mass destruction.”
Now, I believe the report itself had as its stated goal assessing whether Ivins should have been able to retain his clearance. Still, the fact that people are still using Ivins’ KKG obsession as “proof” that he was the anthrax killer–without offering any explanation why that obsession led him to allegedly mail anthrax from outside of a KKG office 3 hours and 25 minutes from his home rather than mailing it from the actual KKG chapters closer to his home–is just blind faith.
Willman also describes the National Academy of Sciences report on the anthrax this way, to fluff up the case against Ivins.
Last month, a committee appointed by the National Academy of Sciences at the FBI’s request concluded that the scientific evidence implicating Ivins was not definitive but “is consistent with and supports” the bureau’s finding of a genetic match between his batch of anthrax and the material in the letters.
As Jim White has pointed out, the scientific panel was not so convinced–and provided a great deal of evidence as to why Ivins probably couldn’t have made the anthrax in his lab at Ft. Detrick.
Overall, the importance of the primary conclusion of the NAS report cannot be overstated (p. 4 of the report as marked, all references will use internal page numbers, not pdf numbers from my pre-publication copy):
It is not possible to reach a definitive conclusion about the origins of the B. anthracis in the mailings based on the available scientific evidence alone.
It’s bad enough that DOJ is using what was intended to be a lessons learned study (to prevent bioterrorism in the future, even though we’re not sure Ivins committed this crime; note that DOJ closed the case during the period of this study) to try to shore up their shaky case against Ivins.
But what really pisses me off is that DOJ was off contracting secret studies at the same time as it was repeatedly refusing to accept an independent review of their work on the case. Continue reading