Back in May, McClatchy provided new information that added signficant doubt to the FBI’s accusation that Bruce Ivins worked alone in the 2001 anthrax attacks. The key information McClatchy reported was that in addition to the already known abnormally high silicon content in the spores found in the attack material, high concentrations of tin were often found in association with the silicon. They then went on to provide convincing evidence that this unique chemical fingerprint could have come about from a process in which a tin-catalyzed polymerization of silicon-containing precursor molecules was employed to confer on the spores their unique properties which allowed them suspend very easily in air. The key point in this observation is that this highly sophisticated chemical treatment of the spores requires both expertise and equipment that Ivins did not have, making it impossible for him to have carried out the attacks alone if the spores were indeed treated with this process.
This morning, William Broad and Scott Shane continue this thread of argument in a New York Times article. Broad and Shane report that the scientists who first raised the tin-silicon combination issue now have a scientific article coming out in the Journal of Bioterrorism & Biodefense:
F.B.I. documents reviewed by The New York Times show that bureau scientists focused on tin early in their eight-year investigation, calling it an “element of interest” and a potentially critical clue to the criminal case. They later dropped their lengthy inquiry, never mentioned tin publicly and never offered any detailed account of how they thought the powder had been made.
The new paper raises the prospect — for the first time in a serious scientific forum — that the Army biodefense expert identified by the F.B.I. as the perpetrator, Bruce E. Ivins, had help in obtaining his germ weapons or conceivably was innocent of the crime.
Here is how I described the science behind the current question when the McClatchy article was published:
The FBI carried out a special form electron microscopy that could identify the location of the silicon in the spores from the attack material. They found that the silicon was in a structure called the the spore coat, which is inside the most outer covering of the spore called the exosporium. If silica nanoparticles had been used to disperse the spores, these would have been found on the outside of the exosporuim (see this diary for a discussion of this point and quotes from the scientific literature) because they are too large to penetrate it. No silicon signature was seen on the outside edge of the exosporium. What is significant about the type of silicon treatment suggested in the McClatchy piece is that both high silicon and high tin measurements were found in several samples and that there is an alternative silicon treatment that would involve a tin-catalyzed polymerization of silicon-containing precursor molecules. McClatchy interviewed scientists who work with this process and they confirmed that the ratio of silicon to tin found by the FBI is in the range one would expect if such a polymerization process had been used.
What McClatchy doesn’t mention in their report is that it would seem for a polymerization process of this sort, the silicon-containing precursor molecules would be small enough to penetrate the exosporium before being polymerized, or linked together into much larger molecules, once they reached the spore coat. This would mimic the location of silicon incorporated “naturally” into spores.
In today’s article, Broad and Shane report that both Alice Gast, who chaired the National Academy of Science panel that reviewed the FBI’s scientific work and Nancy Kingsbury, the head of an ongoing Government Accountability Office analysis, agree that the silicon-tin issue is worthy of further investigation.
In my ongoing analysis of the known scientific facts surrounding the anthrax attacks, I have been insistent that further attention needs to be paid to secret government laboratories as the potential real source of the attack material. Broad and Shane appear to be headed in that same direction:
If Dr. Ivins did not make the powder, one conceivable source might be classified government research on anthrax, carried out for years by the military and the Central Intelligence Agency. Dr. Ivins had ties to several researchers who did such secret work.
Note that since Ivins “had ties” to several researchers within these classified facilities, that opens a direct route by which such a facility could have received a sample from Ivins’ RMR-1029 flask which has been identified genetically as the likely precursor from which the attack material was cultured.
We also learn this morning that on Tuesday evening, the PBS series Frontline will air an episode produced in cooperation with McClatchy and ProPublica. This report will center on the tremendous pressure the FBI applied to Ivins and how such pressure “can shred an individual’s life”:
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.
Even as both scientists and journalists poke gaping holes in their now-closed investigation, the FBI continues to stand firm in its position that Ivins acted alone in the anthrax attacks, and their spokesman reiterated this position to Broad and Shane. Given the apparent momentum of the scientists and journalists, though, the FBI’s position begins to look more and more like something Saddam Hussein’s infamous “Baghdad Bob” would spout.
I know EW’s post’s focus was on Sterling’s defense team’s strategy, but I’d be remiss in not commenting on this tidbit from Steven Aftergood’s post:
“…In addition, a former intelligence official now tells prosecutors that portions of his testimony before a grand jury concerning certain conversations with Mr. Risen about Mr. Sterling were “a mistake on his part.” As a result, prosecutors said (8 page PDF), Mr. Risen himself is “the only source for the information the government seeks to present to the jury.”…”
I wondered just what this paragraph meant. Did it mean, as I assumed, that one of the prosecution’s key witnesses, a former intelligence official, had in fact recanted the former intelligence official’s grand jury testimony?
Here is just what the prosecution blithely said on the matter from page 5 of their supplement (8 page PDF):
“…Fifth, the testimony of the “former intelligence official” referenced in the Court’s Opinion has changed. The former official will now only say that on one occasion, Mr. Risen spoke with him about the defendant and stated that the defendant had complained about not being sufficiently recognized for his role in Classified Program No. 1 and in his recruitment of a human asset relating to Classified Program No. 1, and that on a separate occasion, Mr. Risen asked him generic questions about whether the CIA would engage in general activity similar to Classified Program No. 1. This former official, however, cannot say that Mr. Risen linked the second conversation with the defendant, although both conversations occurred within several months of each other. The former official termed his grand jury testimony, which linked the two conversations together, as a mistake on his part. In addition, the former official further modified his testimony to say that although Mr. Risen had acknowledged visiting the defendant in his hometown, Mr. Risen’s trip to see the defendant was not the main purpose of his travel, but rather a side trip.
The testimony of this former official had been cited by the Court as providing “exactly what the government seeks to obtain from its subpoena [to Mr. Risen]: an admission that Sterling was Risen’s source for the classified information in Chapter Nine.” Memorandum Opinion (Dkt No.148) at 24. The former official’s testimony will not now provide such a direct admission, further underscoring the government’s contention that for the reasons discuss in its Motion, Mr. Risen is the only source for the information the government seeks to present to the jury…”
So, that got me thinking, what is the status of the “former intelligence officer” in question? Is he still on the witness list? Who is it, and why is he “former”? Has he been charged with false statements to a government officer under 18 USC 1001? Has he been charged with perjury under 18 USC 1623? Is there a criminal investigation regarding the duplicity underway? What is being done?
Because, giving the government’s prosecutors the benefit of the doubt that they did not misrepresent or puff the “former intelligence officer’s” statements and testimony to start with, which is a pretty sizable grant for a William Welch run show, then it seems pretty clear that the “former intelligence official” is now saying that he either testified to things he did not, in fact know at the time, or he embellished/lied to the grand jury and the attending prosecutors.
The problem with the above is, the “former intelligence official is not entitled to any protection or benefit of the doubt for a “recantation” under 18 USC 1963(d). Here is the relevant portion on Continue reading
It is not often you see the total implosion of a major criminal case in quite such a spectacular fashion as we have witnessed with the Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) case in the last 24 plus hours. As I said Thursday night when the news first broke of the evidentiary infirmities in relation to the putative victim were first made public in the New York Times; there is simply no way for the prosecution to recover, the criminal case is dead toast.
Today, the letter from the Manhattan DA’s Office to DSK’s attorneys detailing the Brady material disclosures gutting their victim’s credibility was made public. It is, to say the least, shocking. But what has transpired since then has been nothing short of stunning.
As expected, DSK had his release conditions modified to OR (own recognizance) and all restrictions, save for not leaving the United States, removed. If you do not think that is a crystal clear sign of just how much trouble the prosecution is in, then you do not know criminal trial law.
But the process of dismissing the case cannot take too long, DSK’s attorneys simply will not sanction that and, trust me, they have already mapped out an attack strategy should they need it. My guess is there will be a blitzkrieg should there not be a dismissal by next Wednesday. and if they did not have enough ammunition as of last night, the clincher was revealed late Friday night.
Once again, the breaking story comes from the New York Times:
Twenty-eight hours after a housekeeper at the Sofitel New York said she was sexually assaulted by Dominique Strauss-Kahn, she spoke by phone to a boyfriend in an immigration jail in Arizona.
Investigators with the Manhattan district attorney’s office learned the call had been recorded and had it translated from a “unique dialect of Fulani,” a language from the woman’s native country, Guinea, according to a well-placed law enforcement official.
When the conversation was translated — a job completed only this Wednesday — investigators were alarmed: “She says words to the effect of, ‘Don’t worry, this guy has a lot of money. I know what I’m doing,’ ” the official said.
It was another ground-shifting revelation in a continuing series of troubling statements, fabrications and associations that unraveled the case and upended prosecutors’ view of the woman. Once, in the hours after she said she was attacked on May 14, she’d been a “very pious, devout Muslim woman, shattered by this experience,” the official said — a seemingly ideal witness.
Little by little, her credibility as a witness crumbled — she had lied about her immigration, about being gang raped in Guinea, about her experiences in her homeland and about her finances, according to two law enforcement officials. She had been linked to people suspected of crimes. She changed her account of what she did immediately after the encounter with Mr. Strauss-Kahn. Sit-downs with prosecutors became tense, even angry. Initially composed, she later collapsed in tears and got down on the floor during questioning. She became unavailable to investigators from the district attorney’s office for days at a time.
Now the phone call raised yet another problem: it seemed as if she hoped to profit from whatever occurred in Suite 2806.
Game. Set. Match. There is so, so, much more of course (really, read the whole sordid set of facts) that absolutely guts any possibility of proceeding with the woman as a criminal victim against DSK but, Continue reading
You get abruptly educated, and extremely jaded, as an attorney traversing the halls of justice in the criminal defense bar, especially on sex cases, but the much ballyhooed, and with special glee on the left, case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) has, from the get go, never set right with me. Turns out that may have been well justified, as the New York Times relates in a startling report tonight:
The sexual assault case against Dominique Strauss-Kahn is on the verge of collapse as investigators have uncovered major holes in the credibility of the housekeeper who charged that he attacked her in his Manhattan hotel suite in May, according to two well-placed law enforcement officials.
Although forensic tests found unambiguous evidence of a sexual encounter between Mr. Strauss-Kahn, a French politician, and the woman, prosecutors do not believe much of what the accuser has told them about the circumstances or about herself.
Since her initial allegation on May 14, the accuser has repeatedly lied, one of the law enforcement officials said.
Well hello there Clarice, that would seem to be a bit of a problem now wouldn’t it? Say what you will, this is a dead nuts killer set of events for the prosecution, and it was apparently still the least brutal limited hangout they could manage. Ouch. I would read this to say the state has completely lost any and all confidence in their complaining witness – the “victim” – because this type of release simply does not get made without that, whether it is a stated part of the release or not.
Rest assured, if this is being run by the NYT, it was almost certainly a sanctioned release. The key here is this seems to be actually evidentiary realizations the cops and prosecutors came to realize on their own, either independent of, or with little prompting from, DSK’s defense team. Hard to tell yet, but one thing is sure, the state does not seem to take issue with the gaping infirmities. That tells you about all Continue reading
Hi folks, HUGE document dump tonight from the New York Times, NPR, Guardian, El Pais and even the Washington Post tagging in. Heck, just about everybody has them; probably the only people who won’t be able to read the files are …. the detainees themselves who, of course, are currently effectively precluded from discussing such things with their lawyers.
At any rate, I am plowing through Charlie Savage’s material at the NYT, and there have been numerous individual filings by the Times tonight. I am going to give the various links in the order they came across the wire tonight and open the floor for discussion:
Feel free to link and quote into comments anything from any other sources you feel appropriate. Happy hunting!
Who says fun things don’t come on Fridays? There is some nice little spooky news on the wire this afternoon. Jeffrey Sterling, a former veteran CIA agent on the Iran beat, was charged back in January with leaking classified information to a reporter. the reporter is widely known and accepted to be none other than the New York Time’s James Risen, and the material supposedly was contained in his book State of War. The prosecution, headed by DOJ leak hitman William Welch (disgraced supervisor in the unethical prosecution of Ted Stevens). For some unknown reason, Welch was installed by the Obama/Holder DOJ as head of their unprecedented crackdown on leaks to the media.
Looks like Welch may have gotten in front of himself again. From the Washington Post:
The government’s case against an ex-CIA officer charged with leaking classified documents to a reporter may not make it to trial because of potential issues with a witness, a federal prosecutor said Friday.
At a pretrial hearing Friday in U.S. District Court, prosecutor William Welch told the judge that “potential witness issues” will determine “whether the case goes to trial or not.” He did not elaborate.
Uh huh. What this really means is the court is not likely to change its mind about compelling Risen to testify – Judge Brinkema has already refused and quashed a subpoena once – and the DOJ’s own written guidelines make it hard for them to pursue that further. Oh, and they bloody well do not have enough admissible evidence to make their case without Risen. Makes you wonder just how, and how legally, the prosecution got much of their evidence.
Something you might would have thought a guy like Welch, who has made such an embarrassment of himself in prior big public cases, would have figured out ahead of time. Hey, who knows, maybe Welch can salvage his witchhunt against Sterling and Risen somehow; but you sure don’t see this kind of banter in open court when things are all nice and rosy.
William Welch’s mojo ain’t Risen.
As a follow up to yesterday afternoon’s decision in the WikiLeaks grand jury subpoena case, it is, shall we say, interesting that the New York Times today comes out with and editorial slamming democracies that use secret evidence and maneuvers to prosecute journalists.
The editorial is titled No Way to Run a Democracy and it doesn’t spend one word of it on the rabid use of just those tactics in relation to WikiLeaks and Julian Assange (See here and here). Nor has there been any comparable outrage over the US actions against WikiLeaks journalists in any other NYT effort and/or article.
Now, make no mistake, the plight of investigative journalists in Turkey under threat from the administration of Prime Minister Erdogan is extremely troubling, and it is commendable that the Gray Lady has called it out. But it does make you wonder where the same outrage is in relation to the First Amendment eviscerating effort of the US Department of Justice toward WikiLeaks and Assange. An investigation which could, and if it is taken to its logical conclusion, should involve the Times itself.
Maybe it is because Bill Keller reached some agreement with the DOJ not to trash them in return for DOJ laying off the NYT during one of his endless tete a tetes with them over quashing news reporting, maybe Keller and the Times are fearful that they don’t have some kind of secret agreement with the DOJ, maybe it is the product of the merging of the media and government in the US, or maybe it is because of Keller’s irrational and unprofessional extreme dislike of, and contempt for, the “dirty” Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.
Whatever the reason, the stridence against the Erdogan government actions contrasted with the silence toward the domestic Obama government actions is telling.
I have stayed out of the WikiLeaks scrum to date, mainly because the relatively few cables published to date (only 1,269 of the more than 250,000 cables they possess have been released so far) did not provide that much new on the subjects I normally write on as opposed to just confirming or further supporting previous knowledge and/or suppositions. This is certainly not to say they have not been interesting reading or useful to many others, the WikiLeaks material has been all that.
But now comes the bellicose fixation of the United States government on criminally prosecuting WikiLeak’s editor-in-chief Julian Assange. What started out as the usual idiotic yammering of Rep. Peter King and Sen. Joe Lieberman has turned into an apparently dedicated and determined effort by the Department of Justice to charge Assange. As the following discussion will demonstrate, it will require dicey and novel extrapolation of legal theories and statutes to even charge Assange, much less actually convict him.
The interesting thing is this type of prosecution flies directly in the face of the written charging guidelines of the DOJ which prescribe a prosecution should be brought only where the admissible facts and evidence are “sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction”. As we have seen in so many instances over the last few years, the DOJ uses this requirement to decline prosecution on a whole host of matters they simply do not want to touch, even where the evidence for conviction of serious crimes is crystal clear and unequivocal. Take for instance the case on the blatant destruction of the abu-Zubaydah and al-Nashiri torture tapes for instance (see here and here), where the DOJ and John Durham used just this basis to decline prosecution because the DOJ just does not, you know, go out on limbs.
So, why would the Obama Administration be so aggressive against Assange when doing so flies in the face of their written guidelines and standard glib protocol? Is it really all about prosecuting Assange? That would be hard to believe; more likely it is not just to monkeywrench Assange and WikiLeaks, but to send a hard and clear prior restraint message to the American press. This is almost surely confirmed by the rhetoric of Joe Lieberman, who is rarely more than a short ride away from his disciple and friend Barack Obama on such matters, and who is making noises about also prosecuting the New York Times.
Never before has the Espionage Act, nor other provisions of the criminal code, been applied to First Amendment protected American press in the manner being blithely tossed around by US officials in the WikiLeak wake. Avoidance of First Amendment press and publication has been not just the general position of the DOJ historically, it has been borne out by significant caselaw over the years. If you need a primer on the hands off attitude that has been the hallmark of treatment of press entities, you need look no further than New York Times v. United States, aka the “Pentagon Papers Case”. In NYT v. US, the government could not even use the Espionage Act in a civil context against the press, much less a criminal one as they propose for Assange, without being forcefully shot down. Daniel Ellsberg is right when he says that “Every attack now made on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange was made against me”.
The Barack Obama Administration, who rode into office on a platform and promise of less secrecy, more transparency and a respect for Constitutional principles, has proved itself time and again to be anything but what it advertised. And to the uninformed populous as a whole, ill served by the American press that is being pinched in this process, Julian Assange presents an attractive vehicle for this prior restraint demagoguery by the US government. The public, especially without strong pushback and fight from the press, will surely bite off on this craven scheme. Continue reading
One of last Friday’s big stories somewhat lost in the hustle and focus on the BP Gulf oil disaster and the holiday weekend concerned the continuing outrage of the US drone targeted assassination program. Specifically, Charlie Savage’s report at the New York Times that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Philip Alston, was expected to issue a report calling on the United States to stop Central Intelligence Agency drone strikes thus “complicating the Obama administration’s growing reliance on that tactic in Pakistan”.
Today, the report is out, and Charlie Savage again brings the details in the Times:
A senior United Nations official said on Wednesday that the growing use of armed drones by the United States to kill terrorism suspects is undermining global constraints on the use of military force. He warned that the American example will lead to a chaotic world as the new weapons technology inevitably spreads.
In a 29-page report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the official, Philip Alston,the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, called on the United States to exercise greater restraint in its use of drones in places like Pakistan and Yemen, outside the war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq. The report — the most extensive effort by the United Nations to grapple with the legal implications of armed drones — also proposed a summit of “key military powers” to clarify legal limits on such killings.
In an interview, Mr. Alston, said the United States appears to think that it is “facing a unique threat from transnational terrorist networks” that justifies its effort to put forward legal justifications that would make the rules “as flexible as possible.”
Interestingly, Alston’s report comes hot on the heels of the news the biggest get yet for the Obama drone assassination program, Al-Qaida Number Three (or at least the latest Number Three) Mustafa Abu al-Yazid. But Alston, although indicating that al-Yazid migh could be distinguished because of the direct al-Qaida status, nevertheless expressed reservations even is such situations.
For example, it criticized the United States for targeting drug lords in Afghanistan suspected of giving money to the Taliban, a policy it said was contrary to the traditional understanding of the laws of war. Similarly, it said, terrorism financiers, propagandists and other non-fighters should face criminal prosecution, not summary killing. Continue reading
The New York Times has an article up that will appear in the front section of Wednesday’s print edition decrying the fact that racial selection and exclusion still maintain in jury selection for trials in the South.
Arguments like these were used for years to keep blacks off juries in the segregationist South, systematically denying justice to black defendants and victims. But today, the practice of excluding blacks and other minorities from Southern juries remains widespread and, according to defense lawyers and a new study by the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit human rights and legal services organization in Montgomery, Ala., largely unchecked.
While jury makeup varies widely by jurisdiction, the organization, which studied eight Southern states — Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee — found areas in all of them where significant problems persist. In Alabama, courts have found racially discriminatory jury selection in 25 death penalty cases since 1987, and there are counties where more than 75 percent of black jury pool members have been struck in death penalty cases.
The Equal Justice Initiative study argues that jury diversity “is especially critical because the other decision-making roles in the criminal justice system are held mostly by people who are white.” In the eight Southern states the study examined, more than 93 percent of the district attorneys are white. In Arkansas and Tennessee, all of them are white.
Race based selection and exclusion in the formation and empanelment of juries is prohibited, and rightly so. It is considered improper, unethical and a violation of duty to the court, bar and public. And rightfully so. There mere inference of it, as is made clear by the numerous instances discussed in the NYT article can bring strong questions of propriety, especially for representatives of the people, i.e. prosecutors. And, as the Equal Justice Initiative points out, the systematic exclusion of people of color from public leadership roles, like prosecutors, is just as problematic and disgraceful.
It is a righteous thing the New York Times has emphasized and drawn attention to the depressing report by the Equal Justice Initiative on racial exclusion in the law. Which makes it all the more distressful that the famed Gray Lady of the Times never evinced the same concern about analogous inferences which could just as easily be drawn about Elena Kagan’s record of faculty hiring at Harvard Law School.
First raised by Duke Law Professor Guy Uriel Charles, and noted by other bloggers like Glenn Greenwald and yours truly (but never substantively addressed or reported by the New York Times or other major media), Kagan has a record that puts the examples in the New York Times article on Southern jury biases to shame. From Professor Charles:
But what about people of color? How could she have brokered a deal that permitted the hiring of conservatives but resulted in the hiring of only white faculty? Moreover, of the 32 new hires, only six seven were women. So, she hired 25 white men, six white women, and one Asian American woman. Please do not tell me that there were not enough qualified women and people of color. That’s a racist and sexist statement. It cannot be the case that there was not a single qualified black, Latino or Native-American legal academic that would qualify for tenure at Harvard Law School during Elena Kagan’s tenure. To believe otherwise is to harbor troubling racist Continue reading