Government Inches Closer to Admitting It Hasn’t Solved Anthrax Attack

As a number of you have noted, ProPublica is out with a story on yet more evidence why Bruce Ivins was probably not the anthrax killer. Here’s the deposition they cite in their story; his former colleague Patricia Worsham described how USAMRIID didn’t have the facilities to dry the anthrax used in the attack, and certainly not the quantities that were used in the attack.

I think I summarized it before to a certain extent, in that I don’t believe that we had facilities at USAMRIID to make that kind of preparation. It would have taken a great deal of time; it would have taken a huge number of cultures; it would have taken a lot of resources that would have been obvious to other people within containment when they wanted to use those resources.

We did not have anything in containment suitable for drying down anything, much less a quantity of spores. The lyophilizer that was part of our division was in noncontainment. If someone had used that to dry down that preparation, I would have expected that area to be very, very contaminated, and we had nonimmunized personnel in that the area, and I might have expected some of them to become ill.

Just as interesting is the argument the lawyers for Maureen Stevens–Bob Stevens’ wife–made when withdrawing their earlier stipulation that Bruce Ivins was the killer. They cite two former supervisors of Ivins, William Russell Byrne and Gerard Andrews, explaining why they thought Ivins couldn’t have made the anthrax used in the attacks.

Byrne argued that, had Ivins used the lypholizer to dry the anthrax, it would have left evidence.

He reiterated that if the laboratory’s equipment (lypholizer) had been used to lypholize that powder, you would have been able to find evidence of it pretty easily (76/23). The powder would have gotten everywhere insider the lypholizer.

And Andrews explained that the volume the equipment in Ivins’ lab was insufficient to make the amount of spores used in the attack.

Dr. Andrews stated: “No, I don’t believe he had the equipment, in my opinion.” He said that the equipment in BSL3 had limitations in that the lypholizer was a low-volume lypholizer that could handle maybe up to 50 mils at a time in separate small tubes. He opined “where would he do it without creating any sort of contamination is beyond me, but it has been speculated that the lypholizer may have been moved into a Class 2 Biological Safety Cabinet to prevent spores from flying everywhere. I would think the physical size of the lypholizer would be difficult to get the entire, or the speed vac to get the entire apparatus under the hood. It might be possible to get the apparatus under the hood; however, there would be contamination of it inside the hood if that was the case.

Byrne and Andrews also address Ivins’ training–that is, lack of training on weaponizing anthrax.

Right now, to try to salvage this suit, the government is arguing that the plaintiffs have no evidence of anyone else making the anthrax, but that since Ivins’ supervisors didn’t think he had the capability to make the anthrax, the government can’t be held liable for the anthrax that killed Bob Stevens.

But along the way, evidence like this–as well as further evidence that Ivins didn’t have sole control of the anthrax–is making it more and more clear that the government hasn’t solved this case.

40 replies
  1. Peterr says:

    Let’s review . . .

    Govt: “Ivins did it. Absolutely, no question about it.”

    Widow of victim: “OK, so we’re suing you because he was your employee, using your facilities, with what were clearly inadequate supervision and security controls on your part.”

    Govt: “Wait a minute. We didn’t mean for you to take things that far. In fact, we can’t really prove it was Ivins after all.”

    If the govt is saying they can’t prove the case against Ivins, at what point does someone at the FBI get hauled in for making statements to the contrary? Or were none of them made under oath or in court filings?

    • bmaz says:

      Well, inconsistent defenses are permissible pleading; however, you would sure think they would not have the gall to do that on this case. But, also, should be kept in mind that they have likely been forced into it by the testimony of fact witnesses, who perchance also happen to be some of the foremost experts in the field. Not comfortable for Uncle Sam.

  2. Peterr says:

    One more thing.

    It seems to me that the DOJ trying to have it both ways — Ivins did it/no we didn’t really mean that — is opening them up to a defamation suit from Ivins’ wife and children.

  3. Gerald USN Ret says:

    I am an engineer, and have spent 40 or so years being an engineer and I know from my own personal experience and from stories I’ve been told and things that I have read that many many times supposedly knowledgeable people and so called experts have said “that can’t be done” and then when it is done, and then when it is explained how it was done, they say “oh.”

    I am not saying he did it, but I believe that with his background and with a enough desire it is very possible that he found a way.

    Of course that is conjecture but it is conjecture based on the history of science, engineering and invention.

  4. coral says:

    I think one needs to look at the evidence on the scientific side that links the strain to USAMRIID and to a specific strain that Ivins had in his lab.

    I did pretty thorough reading on this a few months ago, and the evidence against Ivins appeared to me to be compelling.

  5. BoxTurtle says:

    Don’t assume that the government hasn’t solved the case. I think they know exactly what happened and who did it, but reveiling that info would be very embarassing. It might point to an undeclared bioweapons lab or a terrorist information source.

    Boxturtle (Though flaming incompetence certainly can’t be ruled out)

  6. phred says:

    coral, the “evidence on the scientific side” absolutely depends on making the powder. If you can’t make the powder, you’re not the source of the material used in the attack, no matter what strain lived in your lab.

    Either Ivins needed private access to another facility or he had help or he was innocent. I haven’t heard anyone suggest that he took a bucket of anthrax elsewhere to turn it into powder.

  7. phred says:

    BoxTurtle, you and I are in agreement. We are looking either at a cover-up by the government or a staggering degree of incompetence on their part.

  8. emptywheel says:


    The evidence tying the strain to a flask Ivins had is sound, though not definitive.

    But the anthrax sent was a generation or more removed from that flask. Plus, it had a bunch of shit in it that Ivins had no technical ability to put it there. So your argument is basically like saying that bc USS manufactured steel that, two processes later, became a bullet that was used to kill someone, USS should be held liable.

    Their case is completely shredded at this point

  9. BoxTurtle says:

    EW: “Their case is completely shredded at this point”

    But since they can keep it out of court by picking a dead perp, they can pretend all they want.

    Boxturtle (I’m noticing that Leahy seems to have gone quiet on this)

  10. Katie Jensen says:

    So, who do we think did it, given the strain, the ability to make the powder. Who had access, and who had the mojo? Perhaps the best way to get at this is to narrow down who had the ability to commit such a crime. We assume that because the government hasn’t found the person, that we can’t track it either. But maybe it’s obvious.

  11. BoxTurtle says:

    Katie: Based on what’s been released, there’s no real suspect available. Further, they haven’t publically identified any equiptment that could have been used as the stuff they are tagging to Irvins is insufficient to the job.

    And again, don’t assume that the government HASN’T solved this. Leahy is being quiet and he was a target. What’d they tell him to shut him up?

    I think somebody who doesn’t offically exist at a lab that doesn’t offically exist has been rendered to a prison that doesn’t offically exist.

    Boxturtle (Speaking unoffically)

  12. Katie Jensen says:

    Right but so far, the facts are that whoever it was had to have access to this particular strain. Had to have the ability to turn it to this particular grade powder. I cannot believe that just those two facts together, don’t narrow the field. Even if we know it has to be someone who officially doesn’t exist??? Tells us something…in it’s lack of symmetry? It seems like the field is narrowing, that it can’t be just any scientist who works with anthrax or even that strain. It has to be a scientist with access to making the powder. At some point it has to be an inside job. An inside job with proper cover. Not saying it’s the government just somebody inside enough to have access and connected enough for the cover.

  13. Katie Jensen says:

    It’s really beginning to stand out that one lone wolf is unlikely to have been able to commit this crime. More than once.

  14. phred says:

    “I think somebody who doesn’t offically exist at a lab that doesn’t offically exist has been rendered to a prison that doesn’t offically exist.”

    BT, that is probably the most charitable interpretation. I’m out of tinfoil, so I won’t go further, but given what a total farce this investigation has been, I am not so charitable.

    Katie, what BoxTurtle suggested in another thread strikes me as the most likely explanation. It is possible that there is a laboratory we do not know about that has the capability to produce the anthrax in the attack. Such a classified lab would likely be studying various aspects of biowarfare. Whether the culprit(s) was free-lancing or not, it is unlikely that the source of this material is known in the public domain.

  15. Katie Jensen says:

    I get that. So, it would possibly be someone working at a classified lab, who has already been detained. or not. This is the problem with secrets. I see your point…you are right. I hope they clear Ivin’s name. The government officials never treat this as a terrorist attack, yet clearly it must meet criteria on some level? Do you think it’s because of who did it that might change the classification?

  16. Gitcheegumee says:

    The Wikis on Porton Down and Gruinard Island are quite interesting in the dialog on anthrax and germ warfare.

  17. phred says:


    As has been demonstrated repeatedly, we are no longer a nation of laws, but of men. In other words, it isn’t the act, it is who commits it that determines whether it is treated as a crime or terrorist act or what have you.

    I think this is part of what makes the Murdoch scandal so riveting on this side of the pond. After being swept under the rug for so many years, the crime of phone hacking finally became too intolerable to ignore even though members of the above-the-law class were the perpetrators. It appears there may yet be justice in Britain. Maybe someday we will enjoy the same here.

  18. phred says:

    Nuts. I miss the reply function (not a complaint EW, just a statement ; )

    My previous comment was in reply to Katie at 10:04 a.m.

  19. Jim White says:

    Yes, the government’s case against Ivins is clearly shredded. The FBI put a huge amount of effort into claiming that the hours Ivins spent late at night in the hot suite were enough for him to produce the attack material. The depositions in this case, from direct supervisors and co-workers, point out that had he been producing this much material, it would have been noticed by his co-workers.

    Also, it is key to note that the lyophilizer, which the FBI claimed was what he used to dry the spores, was outside the containment facility. The evidence that he didn’t use this to dry the spores is two-fold: 1)No spores were found on it. 2) No unvaccinated co-workers got infected, which would have happened if spores of the quality used in the attack had been dried in the lyophilizer located in an area where unvaccinated workers were present.

    I’m working on going back through the details of the genetic analysis, as well, to see if the FBI also overstepped on it as badly as they did on the hot suite time data.

    • bmaz says:

      Also note how this ties in with the searches and analysis of Ivins’ home, car, work area etc. If Ivins was having to surreptitiously work and move things about, he would have to transport and hide what he was doing. But not only was there no evidence of that in or around the lyophilizer, there was none in the car, trunk, home etc. This is key not just in calling into question his ability to transport it to the mailing locations, but also how he pulled off the elaborate production sequence.

  20. Gitcheegumee says:

    Re: Porton Down

    Until 2001 the military installation of Porton Down was part of the UK government’s Defence Evaluation and Research Agency. DERA was split into QinetiQ, initially a fully government owned company, and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl). Dstl incorporates all of DERA’s activities deemed unsuitable for the privatisation planned for QinetiQ, particularly Porton Down.-Wiki

    NOTE: There are two significant persons who have affiliations with Porton Down, Stephen Cambone and George Tenet. The FDL search engine has excellent links to previous threads on this matter.

  21. cliff665 says:

    Ivins won the Exceptional Civilian Service award for developing the “magic” anthrax. it was distributed as the USGov’t standard used to test anthrax vaccines and other efficacy.

    Ivins committed contempt of agent by demonstrating yet again that “FBI science” is an(oxy)moron. Rubbing their noses in it and laughing at them aggravated the offense. That can be fatal, especially when the FBI needs a fall guy, as it did after Hatfield blew up in their faces (see “FBI science” above).

    Ivins submitted the “magic” anthrax in response to FBI request. Tom Swift and the Ace Anthrax Investigators (TS&AAI) rejected it because he did not submit it in the “right” container. Ivins then submitted a perfectly generic sample in the required packaging. Supposition, Ivins: “I gave you what you asked for, but if you morons care more about the box than what’s in it, here’s a sample of what I’d have used if I was the perp”.

    Eventually TS&AAI was informed the original “magic” sample had been archived, and got around to testing it.

    TS&AAI were really ripped. The FBI mounted disinformation campaigns charging that Ivins had deceived them and “hidden” the “magic” anthrax, but that TS&AAI had caught him by inventing miracle science, and by the way, Ivins was an unstable homicidal pervert. It was all downhill from there. Guilty, Guilty, Guilty. Dead. Case solved. Mr. Hoover would have approved.

    It seems likely Boxturtle and others above have it about right. National technical means declared – or not – had access to the “magic” anthrax, capability to produce it in quantity, and tools to weaponize it.

    In the fall of 2001, who had motive, authority and (subsequently) demonstrated behavior of using/abusing Gov’t resources to achieve personal political goals and objectives?

  22. BoxTurtle says:

    bmaz: “he would have to transport and hide what he was doing”

    WITHOUT leaving any contamination anywhere. Or infecting anybody.

    Boxturtle (What’s the difference between weaponized anthrax power and pixie dust?)

  23. Gitcheegumee says:

    Correction,the statement @10:49 SHOULD have read:

    NOTE: There are two significant persons who have affiliations with QinetiQ, Stephen Cambone and George Tenet.

  24. rugger9 says:

    For Gerald, USN Ret: I’m an engineer [and chemist] as well, but even the most careful people with unlimited timelines would either leave contamination on the hood, etc., or would have spent large amounts of time in a log-controlled area cleaning it all. The timelines also do not support the expenditure necessary, even before one considers the sheer difficulty in getting ALL spores cleaned out to avoid detectability without being detected himself. Ivins was supposedly already unhinged by this point, and detailed thinking is one of the first things to go.

    In this case, the absence of evidence is damning the government claim of culpability, especially since Ivins was the second one picked on by the FBI as the Amerithrax guy. Steven Hatfill got a large cash payout for being named as Suspect #1. That needs to be repeated often, since it shows clearly that the gov’t is trying to find a patsy other than the actual perps. Not that the gov’t could convict anyone now given the state of the evidence and the assertions already made in public as “facts” that did not pan out. Ivins’ estate needs to sue the USG for defamation, especially now that he had neither the time, the skill, the equipment, the training, collateral infections, nor the residue to do this deed. Even the so-called motive is dubious. Just remember the lesson from Fahrenheit 451 when the poor sucker was executed by the Mechanical Spider [instead of Montag, the actual target], just before the end, it was an exercise in perceived infallibility designed to keep the masses in line. The FBI feels the need to be seen as infallible here, they solve everything, just ask them.

    Tinfoil on. IMHO, it’s a Darth-connected op, that was intended to scare Congress [in particular the Senate who were raising objections] to passing the so-called PATRIOT Act, also in line with the already declared [at that time] PNAC expectations and process. One has to look at the context to see who really profited from the activity, and also more importantly, why it stopped when it did even though no one was arrested yet, certainly not Ivins. After all, the Act was passed so no more letters were needed.

  25. cliff665 says:

    for Rugger9 re Gerald, very nice on procedures and the difficulty of erasing all traces of them in real time, vs engineering that can look like magic, and Darth having motive, capability and reason to stop when mission accomplished.

  26. phred says:

    rugger9, I agree with your final supposition. In general, I hate conspiracy theories. But to have screwed up the investigation as badly as they did defies all explanation. They were looking for someone to set up and they found Hatfill. When that fell apart, they found Ivins.

    IIRC, a rather big deal was made at the time of the level of expertise required to make the powdered anthrax. That fact alone severely limits the possible sources. The machinery required is likely to be rare. It would not be difficult to make a short list of the equipment one would need to do it. Then it would be fairly straightforward to find out everyone who owns one, by going to the manufacturer(s) and reviewing their sales. Short of someone using home built equipment, the manufacturer’s list will point you to the source of the powder, even if more information is then needed to pin down the people involved.

    This is what makes the can’t-make-the-powder fuck up so damning. That should have been the single most important piece of information, coupled to anthrax labs, used to come up with a short list of suspects. To screw that up, means they weren’t trying to find who did it, they were just going through the motions to hide who did.

  27. Gitcheegumee says:

    @phred 1:10 pm

    I have traded in the more malleable tin foil for sturdier ,anodized aluminum.

  28. Katie Jensen says:

    It’s so frustrating that we don’t have a true fourth estate anymore. It seems that this scenario is not so difficult to realize from a logistical stand point. Without all the subterfuge, there are only a small number of folks with access, means and mojo. And unfortunately the best theory should be frightening and would be a game changer for most Americans if they only knew it.

  29. Katie Jensen says:

    anodized alluminum hat on.
    (good idea Gitcheegumee…just typing your name makes me happy as i think of my favorite lake!)

  30. Gitcheegumee says:


    I originally wanted the name Nokomis,but it was taken.Glad to brighten your day,Katie.

    (Maybe I should market the aluminum hats. Maybe Chinese coolie design-consider the possibilities. *G*)

  31. harpie says:

    Please excuse me while I rant:

    The FBI has spent
    of OUR money
    in order to protect some
    VERY special


    I could probably use one of those!

  32. Gitcheegumee says:

    The aluminum hard hats are already readily available online(called skullbuckets!). *G*

  33. DXer says:

    Stevens v. United States – 7/21/2011 , SYSTEM ENTRY – Docket Entry 163 restricted/sealed until further notice.

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