Skip to comments.GAO to review FBI's Ivins investigation
Posted on 09/18/2010 7:25:47 AM PDT by Justice Department
The Government Accountability Office has launched an investigation into the scientific methods used by the FBI to determine that Fort Detrick researcher Bruce Ivins was the sole perpetrator of the 2001 anthrax attacks. U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, who represents the New Jersey district from which the letters were mailed, requested GAO's involvement as early as 2007, but renewed his efforts after the FBI announced it had closed its Amerithrax investigation last February.
Holt and four other lawmakers originally proposed a list of 10 questions for GAO to help answer, including how the anthrax spores used in the attacks compared to anthrax produced in this country and in locations around the world, what amount of time and material would go into creating the quantity of anthrax spores used in the attacks, and why the FBI had not yet been able to close the case.
The FBI questioned Ivins, a researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, throughout the entire investigation, but named him as the suspect only after he committed suicide in July 2008.
Many of Ivins' former co-workers and several lawmakers -- including Sen. Chuck Grassley, one of the four who helped Holt pursue the GAO investigation and who has been a vocal critic of the FBI's work on the case -- are still not convinced the FBI adequately proved Ivins' guilt.
"The American people need credible answers to many questions raised by the original attacks and the subsequent FBI handling of the case," Holt said in a news release. "I'm pleased the GAO has responded to our request and will look into the scientific methods used by the FBI."
Specifically, the GAO investigation will seek to answer three main questions:
n What forensic methods did the FBI use to conclude Ivins was the sole perpetrator, and how reliable are those methods?
n What scientific concerns and uncertainties still remain regarding the FBI's conclusion?
n What agencies monitor foreign containment labs, and how do they monitor those labs?
Holt had also requested that several House of Representatives committees question the FBI's methods and results, and he has called for a commission similar to the one that looked into the government's response to the Sept. 11 attacks. Neither effort has made much progress thus far.
"It's still a priority for him," said Holt spokesman Zach Goldberg. "He continues to get supporters for it, but it hasn't gotten traction in the larger Congress, which is certainly disappointing. He still feels that this is something that needs to be looked at for a variety of reasons -- that the families deserve answers to a myriad of questions."
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, who represents Western Maryland, was not part of the group that signed the letter to GAO but has been working to get more answers since the FBI closed the Amerithrax case.
"I welcome the forthcoming investigation by the Congress' General Accounting Office of a series of important unanswered questions about the FBI's investigation," Bartlett said.
"These questions have undermined the credibility of the FBI's conclusions."
The GAO investigation will be the first congressionally directed review of the FBI's case; another review, done by the National Academy of Sciences, was requested by the FBI itself two years ago.
The NAS investigation is scheduled to wrap up by the end of the year. In GAO's letter to Holt confirming it would look into the FBI investigation, Ralph Dawn Jr., GAO managing director of congressional relations, wrote that to avoid any overlap between the two groups' investigations, they would first review the NAS study before determining the scope of the GAO one.
Goldberg said the GAO would start its investigation soon, if it hadn't begun already. He said the GAO hadn't announced a timeline for its investigation but said that Holt wasn't worried about rushing things along.
"Of course (Holt) wants it to be comprehensive and not rushed in any way," Goldberg said. "The important thing is that the questions get addressed."
The vial the FBI destroyed, or why there will always be a spore on a grassy knoll
Does this case hinge on the first samples Ivins gave to the FBI, of which one was sent to Dr. Paul Keim in Arizona? Why does that sample matter, if the flask the FBI later confiscated had the same strain and genetic variability?
Furthermore, if Keim’s sample is critical to the case, one must ask, “was Keim its sole custodian?” — i.e., was it definitely the sample Ivins provided? Is there a bulletproof chain of custody?
Why was the FBI’s sample destroyed, while an identical sample was considered adequate to be sent to Keim in Arizona? And if the sample was destroyed, as claimed, because it “would never stand up to scientific or legal scrutiny” then why was Keim’s (identical) sample used by FBI?
If, as stated, Ivins helped design the protocol for sample submission, it is bizarre that he would have submitted a sample improperly. Might someone have told him to submit it in a special way? Might he have been misdirected regarding sample submission, in an attempt to set him up as a potential suspect?
And why would Ivins send the FBI a first sample that would help to incriminate himself? And then change the sample to further incriminate himself? He had a security clearance, worked in a high-profile, specialized government biodefense lab, and could have lost his job and reputation if he submitted false samples for the investigation.
That sample isn't vital to the case. It's just PART of the evidence.
"Why was the FBIs sample destroyed, while an identical sample was considered adequate to be sent to Keim in Arizona?"
The FBI's sample was destroyed because wasn't properly created to be used as evidence in court. It was worthless for legal purposes. Ivins knew the rules, but he didn't follow the rules when creating the sample.
Paul Keim kept his sample because he wasn't concerned about courtroom procedures. He was only concerned about the DNA of the sample and how it matched samples in his anthrax archives.
"And if the sample was destroyed, as claimed, because it would never stand up to scientific or legal scrutiny then why was Keims (identical) sample used by FBI?"
Keim's sample was used to show that it was improperly prepared by Ivins. That's different evidence.
The two samples Ivins improperly prepared in February of 2002 were from flask RMR-1029. As you say, later the FBI confiscated flask RMR-1029 and tested the material in it for themselves. Thus, the samples Ivins prepared in February of 2002 were no longer needed to show what was in flask RMR-1029. They were only evidence that Ivins attempted to mislead the investigation by preparing evidence that could not be used in court - even though he had many years of experience in preparing such samples.
"If, as stated, Ivins helped design the protocol for sample submission, it is bizarre that he would have submitted a sample improperly. Might someone have told him to submit it in a special way? Might he have been misdirected regarding sample submission, in an attempt to set him up as a potential suspect?"
Ivins was asked to prepare samples from flask RMR-1029. What options did he have? Do you think he should have destroyed flask RMR-1029? Do you think that would have been a better idea? It would have be a DELIBERATE act to destroy evidence. Ivins chose to prepare samples that could not be used against him in court. The only other option he had was to FAKE a sample and tell everyone that it was from flask RMR-1029. That's what he did when the FBI asked for another sample in April because the sample from February was improperly prepared.
"And why would Ivins send the FBI a first sample that would help to incriminate himself? And then change the sample to further incriminate himself?"
What other options did he have? To refuse to participate? To refuse to give the FBI any samples? Do you think that would have kept him from becoming a suspect?
You seem to be arguing that because Ivins did things that incriminated him, that must mean he was framed, because criminals don't do things that incriminate themselves - particularly smart criminals. That may be true on some other planet, but not on this planet.
Maybe you are fantasizing that Ivins could have kept flask RMR-1029 a secret and not even let the FBI know it existed.
That wasn't an option. Flask RMR-1029 was created in 1997 at great expense after getting approvals for the time and money, and agreement with Dugway. It was Ivins' personal stock for years. Everyone knew about it. Ivins wrote about it in countless emails. It was identified in various lab records.
There's no way Ivins could have pretended it didn't exist. If he had tried, it would have been evidence that he tried to mislead the investigation by hiding evidence.
He was mistaken. The Ames strain was actually a RARE strain used mainly by USAMRIID.
It was the BIG error by Ivins that eventually led to him being identified as the anthrax killer. His other incriminating acts were all the result of things he had to do because he made that first mistake.
He also believed incorrectly that the "single colony pick" method he used when preparing samples prevented the creating of mutations. It didn't. It almost guaranteed that there would be LOTS of mutations. That was the second error he made that helped the FBI make their case against him.
See my page about this HERE.
Smart people sometimes make very STUPID mistakes.
1. It's not so clear to me, even in the enlarged picture, that the T's and A's you specify are the only highlighted letters. (For instance the second A in 'Allah' looks like it has had some additional work. Some of the the O's, E's, and H's look funny too.) Maybe my eyesight is not so good. Maybe Ivins purposefully made it hard to detect. Maybe one has to compare all the anthrax letters to see it. It seems to me that you should clarify this in your book.
2. Why wouldn't a scientist like Ivins pick something more esoteric than Godel, Escher, Bach? He's probably working with DNA all the time. Why does he need GEB and a 1992 article on "DNA linguistics" to figure out a DNA-based code?
3. You make a point concerning the GEB idea of the framing of the code. But if Ivins wanted to step in later as the hero, he wouldn't have needed to point out that there was a code before this point. So he must have had a desire on some level for the code to be discovered earlier. Based upon your description of the code, it is not unlikely that a random person with a little familiarity with DNA could have eventually discovered the code. This would probably have narrowed the suspect list greatly, undermining the steps Ivins took to not be identified. Perhaps this makes some sort of weird sense if Ivins did not expect anyone to die. But surely he could have expected to be in a lot of trouble anyway.
4. If Ivins identified himself as the sender of the letters, he would also be identifying his obsession with his coworker and his obsessive hatred of New York. These probably wouldn't be compatible with Great American Hero status.
5. The three-word sentences thing might just be used to stress the number three. But maybe there’s another code as well. Sometimes a single strand of DNA can contain two overlapping codes.
Yes. Some other letters look slightly highlighted, and one or two of the code letters doesn't seem highlighted enough (like the T in NEXT). I don't address this in my web page about the coded message in the letters, but I do address it in the notes I added at and near the end of my web page about the handwriting.
I will be trying to make all of this more clear in my new book.
"2. Why wouldn't a scientist like Ivins pick something more esoteric than Godel, Escher, Bach?"
Now you're asking me to get inside Ivins' mind. To him it was probably a brilliantly clever idea. It wasn't a code he had to invent. It wasn't a code that no one could break. It was a code that was explained in a Pulitzer Prize winning book. But, it was also a code that no one would likely realize was there. GEB explains the steps that you have to go through to realize the code is there. Step #1: You have to be looking for a coded message. Who would expect a coded message inside a threat letter?
What Ivins did makes sense if you accept that Ivins was a sociopath with a big ego who evidently enjoyed doing things right in front of other people without them realizing what he was doing. It evidently amused him to fool people that way. It would show how much smarter he was than they were, because they were so easily fooled.
"3. You make a point concerning the GEB idea of the framing of the code. But if Ivins wanted to step in later as the hero, he wouldn't have needed to point out that there was a code before this point. So he must have had a desire on some level for the code to be discovered earlier.
I don't follow your reasoning. The coded message was there in case he needed it. It was a message that he could decode and explain to others WHEN NECESSARY. It would have been a disaster if the code was deciphered before he was ready - as it turned out to be.
"Perhaps this makes some sort of weird sense if Ivins did not expect anyone to die. But surely he could have expected to be in a lot of trouble anyway."
I suspect he believed he would be saving millions of people, and although he didn't do it in a legal way, his methods might be forgiven if he was seen as a true hero. That's the way a sociopath with a big ego might think.
"4. If Ivins identified himself as the sender of the letters, he would also be identifying his obsession with his coworker and his obsessive hatred of New York. These probably wouldn't be compatible with Great American Hero status"
Maybe. The "PAT" part of the code wouldn't by itself say anything about any obsession. People with obsessions don't usually realize they have obsessions. Ivins would have viewed his obsession as just a caring admiration.
And the "FNY" code comes as part of the package. I don't know if he could have coded "PAT" without also coding "FNY." If it concerned him, he probably rationalized he could joke it away by explaining that it was about his co-worker's interest in the New York Yankees.
Very interesting questions. I hope I've answered them satisfactorily.
Maybe. If you find a better code that means something more significant, please let me (and the FBI) know. :-)
The FBI files say that the book that convinced Ivins to become a scientist was Sinclair Lewis's book "Arrowsmith."
According to the FBI's analysis of "Arrowsmith," it's about doctors who believe that when doing vaccine research, people might have to die for the "greater good." (You test vaccines by giving it to some people and giving a saline solution to others. If everyone given saline dies, and everyone getting the vaccine lives, then the vaccine works.)
I think that's the way Ivins saw his plan to warn America with the anthrax letters. He didn't want anyone to die, and he didn't expect anyone would die, but he felt what he was doing was for "the greater good." And he probably expected that the world would see things his way if he ended up saving millions - even if a few people were harmed.
I don't follow your reasoning. The coded message was there in case he needed it. It was a message that he could decode and explain to others WHEN NECESSARY. It would have been a disaster if the code was deciphered before he was ready ...
Exactly. If it would be a disaster to have the code discovered too early, why provide clues that there is a code?
I'm still not following you. What clues did he provide?
As far as I know, no one even imagined that there was a code in the media letters until Ivins was observed throwing away "the code books" at around 1 a.m. on the morning of November 8, 2007. I imagine it even took considerable time for them to figure out WHY Ivins threw out those materials.
That act was hardly a "clue" that Ivins knew he was providing to the FBI. His home, cars, office, safe deposit box and everything else he owned was searched on November 1 and 2. Because it is COMMON for guilty persons to destroy evidence after such searches so it won't be found in the next search, the FBI watched Ivins home and, sure enough, he threw the materials into the garbage and made sure the garbage truck had hauled it away.
But the FBI agents stopped the truck when it was out of site of Ivins' home and did their search there.
I wouldn't call that "providing clues." I'd call that "making a common mistake." You might argue - with 20/20 hindsight - that he should have burned the "code books" somewhere inside his house, mixed the ashes with granola and fed it to birds in his backyard. Yeah, but he didn't know that the FBI was watching. He looked around and didn't see them. He was acting the way guilty people act when they think they are getting away with a crime.
The problem with that is that it doesn't explain why there are so many other A's and T's highlighted. Why wouldn't ATTA just highlight the 4 letters in the right order if he was putting his name into the letter? And why do it that way in the first place? Why not just sign the letter?
Someone had to read through GEB and realize that the image on page 404 was similar to the highlighted characters in the media letter. Then they'd have to realize that the condons described in the magazine article could be the code.
I hope some FBI agent writes a book some day about how they figured that out. How many people were trying to figure out why Ivins threw away one of his favorite books? How many other possible reasons could there have been?
There's some interesting stuff in what we discussed today.
Anthrax suspect passed 2 polygraphs
Handwriting analysis also failed to tie Ivins to letters
Casting further doubt on the FBI’s anthrax case, accused government scientist Bruce Ivins passed two polygraph tests and a handwriting analysis comparing samples of his handwriting to writing contained in the anthrax letters, U.S. officials familiar with the investigation say.
The Justice Department yesterday closed the case, announcing the late “Dr. Ivins was the only person responsible for these attacks.”
Ivins passed the first polygraph to satisfy a security requirement prior to working with the FBI as part of a team of scientists at the Fort Detrick, Md., lab who originally helped analyze the anthrax letters. He passed a second exam after he became a suspect.
WND has learned that the FBI was so frustrated with the exam results that last October authorities asked a judge for permission to search Ivins’ home and vehicles specifically for evidence of any materials, such as books, that would have helped him “defeat a polygraph.”
Also, officials confirm that FBI handwriting analysts were unable to conclusively match samples of Ivins’ handwriting with the writing on the anthrax envelopes and letters, which sounded as if they were written by jihadist accomplices of the 9/11 hijackers. The crude notes declared: “DEATH TO AMERICA. DEATH TO ISRAEL. ALLAH IS GREAT.”
Investigators also failed to uncover other critical evidence linking Ivins directly to the letters. For instance:
No textile fibers were found in his office, residence or vehicles matching fibers found on the scotch tape used to seal the envelopes;
No pens were found matching the ink used to address the envelopes;
Samples of his hair failed to match hair follicles found inside the Princeton, N.J., mailbox used to mail the letters.
Also, no souvenirs of the crime, such as newspaper clippings, were found in his possession as commonly seen in serial murder cases.
What’s more, the FBI could not place Ivins at the crime scene with evidence, such as gas station or other receipts, at the time the letters were mailed in September and October 2001.
While acknowledging the circumstantial nature of their case against Ivins, prosecutors argue they’re confident they would have been able to prove his guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” in court.
They say they used new forensic technology to narrow the deadly spores used in the attacks down to a batch stored in Ivins’ lab. However, they concede that more than 100 other people including some Arab-American scientists had access to the batch and that the virulent Ames strain was found elsewhere.
Also, the FBI sent the anthrax letters to the same lab for analysis within days of the attacks, which might explain the match.
Still, prosecutors also point to the fact that Ivins spent an inordinate amount of time working in his lab in the days before the attacks, possibly preparing the poison. They say the number of his late nights spiked in September and October of 2001.
They cite an e-mail Ivins wrote to a colleague in which he expressed anger toward the 9/11 terrorists but also toward those in government who didn’t do enough to protect the country. Prosecutors speculate one of the reasons he targeted Democratic leaders in Congress was because he felt they were soft on terrorism.
However, lab records reviewed by WND show the number of late nights Ivins put in at the lab first spiked in August 2001, weeks before the 9/11 attacks.
Ivins told FBI agents that he was putting in more late hours to escape problems at home, an explanation prosecutors found “unsatisfactory.”
Prosecutors highlighted another Ivins’ e-mail to a colleague in which they say he used language similar to the threats used in the anthrax letters. The partial text of the quote the officials first leaked to the media was “Bin Laden terrorists for sure have anthrax” and have “just decreed death to all Jews and all Americans.”
However, the full text of the first line of the e-mail cited in the government affidavit for a search warrant read as follows: “I heard tonight that Bin Laden terrorists for sure have anthrax and sarin gas.” (The e-mail was sent after 9/11 when al-Qaida was in the news.) The next line in the e-mail begins, “You ... “ followed by a blacked-out line.
Prosecutors redacted the rest of the sentence from the copy of the affidavit unsealed for the press. The government did not provide an explanation.
Ivins, in an apparent suicide, last week overdosed on Tylenol 3 with codeine. His lawyers say he was depressed and driven to suicide by overly aggressive FBI agents who stalked him and his family.
They say the government’s case against him amounted to “heaps of innuendo” and that their client would have been acquitted if he had survived. They point out that the government’s evidence was not even strong enough to present to a grand jury, let alone a trial jury.
Indeed, prosecutors had not delivered the case to a grand jury for indictment. And the Pentagon had not revoked Ivins’ security clearance.
Prosecutors were equally confident another scientist, Steven Hatfill, was the anthrax culprit before recently agreeing to pay him $6 million in damages.”
Someone had to read through GEB and realize that the image on page 404 was similar to the highlighted characters in the media letter. Then they'd have to realize that the codons described in the magazine article could be the code.
They didn't need GEB. All they had to do is:
1. Notice the highlighted A's and T's.
2. Remember that A's and T's are used in the description of DNA sequences.
3. Construct the codons and translate to a protein sequence. (This would be a standard thing to do for anyone with the slightest background with DNA.)
I hope some FBI agent writes a book some day about how they figured that out.
If they had already noticed the highlighted A's and T's, it doesn't speak well of the FBI that they didn't think of a DNA connection, especially when all their suspects were biologists.
I'm still not following you. What clues did he provide?
You're the one who wrote about the "attention-drawing features" of the message.
Handwriting Analysis Details
(last updated June 6, 2004)
Many people have stated that they do not believe that a child wrote the letters. But their statements really have nothing to do with the handwriting. It’s just people voicing an unwillingness to accept or believe that an adult would use a child that way - or that the terrorist would risk using a child that way. These are beliefs and have nothing to do with facts.”
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