Ten Years Ago, Anthrax Attacks–and Judy Miller–Had Huge Effect on Passage of Patriot Act

Ten years ago today, George W. Bush signed the Patriot Act into law. (US National Archives photo)

Ten years ago today, George W. Bush signed the Patriot Act into law in what many consider to be the single biggest blow to civil liberties our country has seen.  I will leave it to others to detail the damage done to our rights, but a quick list of that damage can be seen here on the History Commons website.  Instead, what I want to focus on is the prominent role played by the anthrax attacks in the passage of the Patriot Act.

Although most would say that the Patriot Act was a direct result of the 9/11 attacks, timeline analysis shows that key events in the anthrax attacks took place during the critical days leading up to passage of the act.  The timeline I have assembled here draws on data in timelines prepared by Marcy Wheeler, History Commons (anthrax), History Commons (Patriot Act) and Ed Lake, along with my own contributions.

September 4, 2001 Exactly one week before the 9/11 attacks, Judy Miller disclosed Project Bacus, in which the Defense Threat Reduction Agency demonstrated that they could construct a functional small bioweapons facility at the Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah for under $1 million.  The facility is capable of both growing and weaponizing biowarfare agents.

September 18, 2001 Letters containing anthrax mailed to the New York Post and Tom Brokaw were postmarked one week after the 9/11 attacks.  It is presumed that the letter that lead to the death of Robert Stevens of American Media in Boca Raton, Florida was also mailed around this time but the letter itself was never recovered.

September 30, 2001 Robert Stevens begins to feel ill. Read more

Details of Silicon-Tin Chemistry of Anthrax Attack Spores Published; Willman Tut-tuts

Sandia National Laboratories image of attack spore. In the upper frame, silicon, in green, is found exclusively on the spore coat and not on the exosporium (outer pink border).

On Saturday, the Journal of Bioterrorism & Biodefense published an article (pdf) by Hugh-Jones, Rosenberg and Jacobsen that provides the details of their theory, first described in a McClatchy article, that the anthrax spores employed in the 2001 anthrax attacks were “weaponized” by a process that involved tin-catalyzed polymerization of silicon monomers.  Wasting no time, David Willman was quickly trotted out in the Los Angeles Times on Sunday to tut-tut this latest information as arising from “critics” of the FBI and to provide an outlet for those who unquestioningly parrot the FBI’s conclusion from its Amerithrax investigation that Bruce Ivins acted alone in carrying out the attacks.

Shortly after the McClatchy article was published, I provided this perspective on the new revelations it contained:

The presence of silicon and how it may have gotten into the anthrax material has been a point of great controversy throughout the entire investigation. This question is important because the chemical nature of the silicon and the level at which it is present is presumed to be an indicator of whether the anthrax spores have been “weaponized” to make them suspend more readily in air so that they are more effective in getting into the small passageways of the lungs of the intended targets of the attack. Early in the investigation, Brian Ross published “leaked” information that the spores had been weaponized through addition of bentonite and that Iraq had a weaponization program that used bentonite. This report turned out to be false, as no evidence for bentonite has been found. A more sophisticated type of weaponizing would rely on mixing the spores with nanoparticles of silica (silica is the common name for the compound silicon dioxide) to make them disperse more easily.

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.

As the photo above shows, the anthrax spores in the attack material had silicon that was found exclusively in the spore coat and not in the exosporium.   Read more

Project BACUS Facility at Dugway Has Both Fermentation and Weaponization Capabilities

A fermenter about twice the size of the one at the BACUS facility. (Novartis AG photo under Creative Commons license)

CNN informs us this morning that a report card issued by the bipartisan WMD Terrorism Research Center, headed by former Senators Bob Graham and Jim Talent, has issued failing grades to the US in its Bio-Response Report Card (pdf).  The primary news from the report card, according to CNN, is that “The United States remains largely unprepared for a large-scale bioterrorism attack or deadly disease outbreak”.  The grades:

The report card gave 15 F’s,15 D’s and no A’s in its assessment of current bio-defense capabilities in the United States.

As I was reading the report, however, one short passage jumped out at me since I have been concentrating recently on the anthrax attacks of 2001.  As noted in this diary, I was aware of Judy Miller’s reporting from September 4, 2001 on Project BACUS, which involved the construction and operation of a small facility capable of producing bioweapons:

In a nondescript mustard-colored building that was once a military recreation hall and barbershop, the Pentagon has built a germ factory that could make enough lethal microbes to wipe out entire cities.

Adjacent to the pool tables, the shuffleboard and the bar stands a gleaming stainless steel cylinder, the 50-liter (53-quart) fermenter in which germs can be cultivated.

The apparatus, which includes a latticework of pipes and other equipment, was made entirely with commercially available components bought from hardware stores and other suppliers for about $1 million — a pittance for a weapon that could deliver death on such a large scale.

Miller goes on to claim in this article that this facility “never made anthrax or any other lethal pathogen”.  Instead, she cites two production runs of biopesticides in 1999 and 2000.

The BACUS facility turns up in the WMD Terrorism Research Center’s Report Card.  In this case, the source cited is not the New York Times article I cite above, but Miller’s 2001 book, Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War:

The first piece of hard evidence regarding the capability of non-state actors to produce sophisticated biological weapons came in 1999 from a Defense Threat Reduction Agency study called Biotechnology Activity Characterization by Unconventional Signature (BACUS). The initial purpose of the study was to determine if a small-scale bioweapons production facility would produce an observable “intelligence signature.”

The answer was no. The study concluded that even when using “national technical means,” it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the intelligence community to detect a clandestine production facility. This conclusion was somewhat expected. The surprise, however, came from an experiment conducted as part of the study. Individuals, with no background in the development and production of bioweapons and no access to the classified information from the former U.S. bioweapons program, were able to produce a significant quantity of high-quality weaponized Bacillus globigii—a close cousin to the well-known threat, Anthrax.

From the New York Times article, I had viewed the BACUS site as solely a fermentation site. This disclosure that the facility also is equipped to weaponize the material produced makes it even more likely that this site, or one very similar to it, could have served as the real source of the material used in the 2001 anthrax attacks.

The second important disclosure in this short passage from the report is that it was possible for people “with no background in the development and production of bioweapons” or access to US bioweapons technology could use this facility to produce “a significant quantity of high-quality weaponized” anthrax simulant.

So, now that we know that the BACUS facility was fully operational at the time of the anthrax attacks, that it could produce and weaponize spores and that it could be successfully operated by individuals without bioweapons expertise, how is it that the entire staff of the Dugway site, where the BACUS facility is located, was eliminated in the Amerithrax investigation? McClatchy reporter Greg Gordon shed some light on that topic yesterday in a live chat put on in coordination with the recent McClatchy/ProPublica/Frontline documentary on the Amerithrax investigation:

At Dugway, which unlike USAMRIID did make anthrax powder, the FBI examined who was present at work and during what hours on the days before the anthrax was postmarked. The bureau concluded that none of Dugway’s researchers could have flown to New Jersey and back during their windows of opportunity

It is clear from this description that the FBI prejudiced the investigation of Dugway personnel by looking only for “lone wolf” actors rather than allowing for the possibility of multiple personnel acting in concert to perpetrate the attacks. Even for a facility as small as BACUS, such an assumption becomes almost ludicrous on its face. I have experience with fermentation equipment such as the 50 liter fermenter installed at BACUS, and it is quite a stretch of the imagination that a single person could prepare the starter culture, prepare and sterilize the fermentation medium, monitor the 18-24 hour fermentation run, harvest and process the spores and then dry and weaponize them without help from another person. In this regard, note that the Report Card quote above implies that it was a team, rather than a single person, who carried out the demonstration run described. The team would not need to be huge, but at least two to three people working together would be my estimate of what it would take to successfully carry out the steps outlined above.

Did the FBI examine records of fermenter use at Dugway in the months preceding the attacks? Did they investigate whether the BACUS facility had been in use? Did they look for evidence of material being shipped from Dugway to a recipient on the East Coast who could have dropped the letters in the Princeton mailbox?

The combination of the full functionality of the BACUS facility, coupled with the description of the weak criteria on which Dugway personnel were eliminated as suspects in the Amerithrax investigation demands further attention from the FBI. But don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

FBI Accused Ivins of Hiding Material While FBI Hid Data From Public, Ivins’ Attorney

A huge portion of the FBI’s circumstantial case against Bruce Ivins in the Amerithrax investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks relies on the scientific analysis carried out to provide a genetic fingerprint of the anthrax spores in Ivins’ RMR-1029 flask as the source from which the attack material was cultured.  One of the central supporting pieces of evidence the FBI touts in this regard is the claim that Ivins submitted a sample to the FBI in April of 2002, labeled as arising from the RMR-1029 flask, but missing the key genetic variants which the FBI used to characterize the material in RMR-1029.  Through diligent analysis of thousands of pages of FBI files, a team consisting of McClatchy, ProPublica and Frontline has found that the FBI has not been entirely forthcoming about samples submitted to them by Ivins:

Prosecutors have said Ivins tried to hide his guilt by submitting a set of false samples of his Dugway spores in April 2002. Tests on those samples didn’t display the telltale genetic variants later found in the attack powder and in sampling from Ivins’ Dugway flask.

Yet records discovered by “Frontline,” McClatchy and ProPublica reveal publicly for the first time that Ivins made available at least three other samples that the investigation ultimately found to contain the crucial variants, including one after he allegedly tried to deceive investigators with the April submission.

Paul Kemp, who was Ivins’ lawyer, said the government never told him about two of the samples, a discovery he called “incredible.” The fact that the FBI had multiple samples of Ivins’ spores that genetically matched anthrax in the letters, Kemp said, debunks the charge that the biologist was trying to cover his tracks.

As a ProPublica article piles onto the material above from McClatchy, the lead prosecutor in the case continues to claim that the one sample lacking variants is a strong indicator of Ivins’ guilt and shows that he tried to hide the RMR-1029 flask from further scrutiny: Read more

FBI’s Lone Wolf Case Against Ivins Continues to Crumble

Ivins' RMR-1029 flask, identified genetically as the likely source from which the attack material was cultured.

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.


CNN Carries DOJ Water in Repeating Weak Amerithrax Accusations Against Ivins

In an article published on CNN.com on Saturday and a program aired Sunday evening, CNN does their best to lend credence to DOJ’s shoddy work that resulted in the unsupported conclusion that Bruce Ivins acted alone in the anthrax attacks of 2001.  Remarkably, in their effort to shore up DOJ’s weak evidence, CNN chose to emphasize one of the weakest links used to tie Ivins to the attacks.

The article and program center on Ivins’ apparent fixation on the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority.  One former object of Ivins’ attentions, researcher Nancy Haigwood, is relied upon almost exclusively for making the leap from Ivins’ obsession with the sorority to his role in the anthrax attacks.  The article relates the early interactions between Haigwood and Ivins:

Haigwood had met Bruce Ivins in the mid-1970s during graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She recalled his incessant questions about her sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma.

Having joined the sorority as an undergraduate, Haigwood stayed involved as the adult adviser at the UNC chapter. Ivins, she says, always asked her for information about Kappa Kappa Gamma.

“Every time I talked to him, nearly, he would mention it,” says Haigwood. “And finally I said, ‘You know, Bruce, that’s enough!'”

As time went on, Ivins continued to contact Haigwood and apparently submitted a false letter to the editor of a newspaper under her name and vandalized her car.  Haigwood began to suspect Ivins in the attacks because of an email he sent to her and others in November, 2001 highlighting his work with the anthrax isolated from the attacks.  In one a photo in the email, he is handling culture plates without gloves, a break of containment protocol for working with such dangerous material.  Haigwood felt that by sending out this photo, Ivins was emphasizing his immunity to anthrax because he had been vaccinated.

In January of 2002, the FBI emailed members of the American Society of Microbiology, asking for help in identifying suspects in the attack.  Only Haigwood replied to this request and she submitted Ivins’ name.

Once the FBI finally got around to concentrating on Ivins as their primary suspect, they had to undergo some very significant contortions in order to incorporate the Kappa Kappa Gamma obsession into the “evidence” of Ivins’ guilt: Read more

FBI Doesn’t Consider Amerithrax among Its WMD “Highlights”

The FBI’s WMD Center turned 5 on Tuesday and to celebrate, DOJ has released an interview with Dr. Vahid Majidi. (Part One, Part Two)

The interview is not all that interesting. I’m much more interested in the list of WMD cases Majidi offers as the successes the Directorate has had in the last five years. They are:

  • Jirair Avanessian, Farhoud Masoumian, and Amirhossein Sairafi, conspired to ship certain prohibited technologies–notably, vacuum pumps and pump-related equipment–to Iran.
  • Jeffrey Don Detrixhe, for possessing 62 pounds of sodium cyanide he intended to sell to “Fat Bob,” a member of the Aryan brotherhood; Detrixhe was captured using an informant, though he did obtain the sodium cyanide on his own.
  • Bechtel Jacobs employee Ron Lynn Oakley, for trying to sell uranium enrichment fuel rods to a person he thought was a foreign agent.
  • Roger Von Bergendorff, for possessing ricin (and an Anarchist Cookbook to learn to make it).
  • The “Newburgh Four,” for plotting to attack synogogues in NY; the plot was hatched by a notorious FBI informant who offered $250,000 for their involvement in the plot.
  • Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari, for obtaining materials to make explosives to use against American targets.
  • Michael Finton (aka Talid Islam), for attempting to bomb an Illinois Courthouse; the plot was a sting set up by an FBI informant, and the bomb was never live.
  • Hosam Smadi, for attempting to bomb a Dallas skyscraper; the plot was a sting set up by FBI undercover agents, and the bomb was never live.
  • Michael Crooker, for possessing ricin and threatening a Federal prosecutor (including by invoking Tim Mcveigh); an earlier prosecution on firearms possession was overturned.
  • Najibullah Zazi, for attempting to use TATP to attack the NYC subway.
  • The Hutaree, for attempting to use explosives to attack the government.

Just about all these cases were plead. And, as the list makes clear, a number of the cases (with the exception of the Zazi and Aldawsari, those involving Islamic terrorists) were stings built by informants and/or undercover agents. The “real” plots were just as likely to be launched by right wing terrorists as by Islamic terrorists.

Notice what’s not on this list, though. In addition to Mohammed Osman Mohamud (another plot created by an FBI sting)  and Kevin William Harpham (the alleged MLK bomber) and a number of others, these WMD successes don’t include Amerithrax, by far the biggest investigation into WMD in the last five years.

The interview makes just one reference to a potential anthrax attack:

Q. What about all those white powder letters?

Dr. Majidi: Most turn out to be hoaxes, and they require a lot of investigative resources, but we have to investigate each and every incident. You never know when one of them will be real.

In a different inteview, Majidi points to the FBI’s investigation of hoax letters–but not the real ones–among the Directorates’ work.

If you remember, after 9/11 there was a rash of hoax letters that contained white powder sent to various recipients including to U.S. legislators. People were worried about the spread of anthrax and other disastrous outcomes. Because of our work at the WMD Directorate, we realized a high rate of success in prosecuting those who sent the letters.

These threats were insidious because they terrorized people, closed down businesses, and essentially stopped the business of governing the United States until the FBI could investigate. It involved a tremendous amount of local and federal resources, and at the same time took those resources away from other critical law enforcement and investigative needs. It cost taxpayers money, harmed businesses, essentially slowed down our society, and created measurable panic and insecurity.

No mention–in this interview or the earlier one–of the letters that didn’t end up being a hoax.

And it’s not that the WMD Directorate wasn’t involved in Amerithrax. Indeed, when Majidi, then the WMD Directorate’s Assistant Director, conducted the briefings to explain why FBI believed Ivins was the anthrax culprit, he attributed part of the “success” to the WMD Directorate.

The creation of the Weapon of Mass Destruction Directorate is another example of FBI’s progressive approach focusing on prevention as well as investigations on all issues involving chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear materials.

In terms of time, cost, and attack severity, the anthrax attack has been the most important thing the WMD Directorate has worked on since its inception. So why is Majidi so reluctant to talk about it?

Patrick Leahy in Big Rush to Reconfirm the Guy Who Won’t Solve Leahy’s Attempted Murder

By now, it should be clear that, contrary to their claims, the FBI has not solved the anthrax killings. Sure, Bruce Ivins can’t be ruled out as having been involved. But the FBI has offered no plausible explanation for the following:

  • How a small sample of anthrax from Ivins’ flask was cultured into at least two larger samples of anthrax with a number of materials added
  • How those samples were dried
  • When that happened and how long that took
  • How and why the anthrax got sent from Princeton (I consider the KKG story implausible)
  • Why Leahy and Daschle were targeted

The FBI hasn’t even offered an explanation for several of these questions (they’ve offered weak explanations for the Princeton mailing and the Leahy and Daschle targeting).  And yet, based largely on Bruce Ivins’ long hours in a lab that was not amenable to producing the anthrax used in the attack, the FBI insists he’s the culprit (his lab hours are close to being an alibi at this point).

Which is why Patrick Leahy’s push to reconfirm Robert Mueller–particularly Leahy’s citation of urgency surrounding the 9/11 anniversary (which after all means the 10 year anniversary of the unsolved anthrax attack is approaching as well)–is so odd. In comments on the Senate floor on Monday, Leahy pressured Rand Paul to release his hold on Mueller’s reconfirmation.

“There is no good reason for delay. At first it was reportedly Senator Coburn who was holding up consideration of the bill, then Senator DeMint, and now apparently it is an objection by Senator Paul of Kentucky that is preventing the Senate from proceeding. This sort of delay is inexplicable and inexcusable.”

Leahy continued, “Given the continuing threat to our Nation, especially with the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks approaching, and the need to provide continuity and stability on the President’s national security team, it is important that we respond to the President’s request and enact this necessary legislation swiftly. I urge the Senate to take up this critical legislation and pass it without further delay.”

We’ve gotten the people behind 9/11. We have not yet gotten the people behind a government-connected terrorist attack on its own people. And yet Leahy–one target of that attack–is unquestioningly pushing the guy who refuses to solve the case (much less allow an independent review of the FBI’s investigation into it) for two more years.

Leahy’s pressure on Paul is all the more weird considering that Leahy, with his support for PATRIOT Act improvements in the past, has basically ceded the legitimacy of a number of the questions Paul wants answered before Mueller is reconfirmed, notably those about how the PATRIOT Act is used and abused.

I don’t often think Rand Paul is smarter than Patrick Leahy, but in this case, Leahy’s rush to reconfirm Mueller without asking any questions or getting any commitments on these issues is “inexplicable and inexcusable,” not Paul’s efforts to exercise a tiny bit of oversight.

DOJ: These Aren’t the BioPort Spores You’re Looking For

DOJ just submitted a filing asserting that a number of claims they made in filings last week were erroneous.They’re claiming that:

1) Their statement of facts supporting their claim asserting that no anthrax disappeared from USAMRIID and therefore Ivins must be the anthrax killer (but an unforeseen one) should have admitted that Ivins did have a lypholizer in his lab, but not in a way he could use.

2) Their statement that a scientist who had been vaccinated against anthrax could walk out of USAMRIID with anthrax injected into his body–as opposed to bloodstream–could get anthrax out of the lab.

3) Their statements quoting army regulations should match those army regulations.

4) The book on lab security was not written until 2007.

In other words, much of the filing is a bid to resubmit their homework. They look like idiots. But whatever.

Except for the central claim to the filing.

Most of their filing tries to reel in their admission that USAMRIID sent anthrax to both Battelle and BioPort labs–the latter is an anthrax vaccine manufacturer that was at risk of losing its contract in 2001. Points 2-7 all try to replace “BioPort and Battelle” with just Battelle.

Now, I’m not sure what their rationale for retracting the admission that they sent anthrax from Bruce Ivins’ anthrax flask to BioPort is. Ivins’ description of what he did with the flask in question appears to clearly show he sent 100 ml to BioPort on December 4, 2000 (indeed, one of Ivins’ colleagues testified that some anthrax was sent to BioPort). And BioPort would have precisely the same motive for sending out anthrax as the FBI attributed to Ivins: an financial interest in ensuring the government kept producing the anthrax vaccine. Update: This report (h/t Jim White) seems to confirm the Rabbit Challenge took place at USAMRIID.

In other words, it appears that USAMRIID actually did send anthrax to BioPort, a lab with a clear motive for creating fear about anthrax. And this filing appears to want to claim that USAMRIID didn’t send that anthrax–even though Bruce Ivins’ records, which the government has relied on to say Ivins had control over the anthrax, says they did.

And this head fake helps the government’s claim that Bruce Ivins was the anthrax killer … how?

Update: A justice department spokesperson explains that BioPort never got any active anthrax spores. “The only RMR-1029 spores which Bioport received were irradiated/dead/non-viable/harmless.  Battelle is the only private research facility which received viable RMR-1029 spores.”

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.