Skip to comments.Five Years Later, Anthrax Questions Swirl Anew at FBI
Posted on 10/13/2006 3:46:10 PM PDT by Shermy
Nobody has been arrested for the anthrax mailings of 2001, but many people have paid for the crime.
Five died and at least 17 others got sick.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been frustrated. Careers have crumbled. Taxpayers have gotten socked for billions of dollars to shore up bioterror defenses that some experts say still fall short.
Now, an analysis from the FBI itself, buried in a microbiology journal, is raising more questions about the investigation.
In the August issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology, FBI scientist Douglas Beecher sought to set the record straight. Anthrax spores mailed to politicians and journalists in September and October 2001, Beecher wrote, were not prepared using advanced techniques and additives to make them more lethal, contrary to "a widely circulated misconception."
The notion the anthrax spores were "weaponized" had fueled conjecture that only a government insider could have carried out the operation.
Beecher's article suggested a much wider universe of potential suspects -- who showed they could kill without highly refined spores.
"A clever high school student" could make such a preparation, according to Ronald Atlas, former president of the American Society for Microbiology and co-director of the Center for Health Hazards Preparedness at the University of Louisville.
The Beecher paper has left Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., wondering if the killings, which further shook a nation already reeling from the Sept. 11 terror attacks, will ever be solved. He blames the FBI for "botching" the case.
Agents spun their wheels chasing a small circle of weapons experts, Holt said.
In the anthrax attacks, Steven Hatfill, a virologist who had worked for the government, landed in the cross-hairs. Labeled a "person of interest" by officials but never charged, the scientist claims the public probe has made him unemployable. He is suing the government and media outlets.
Kenneth Berry's career also unraveled after the FBI searched a Dover Township, N.J., summer home he was visiting in 2004. Berry was a doctor from upstate New York who started an organization for training emergency workers to deal with biochemical attacks. He never was charged, either.
Holt also chides authorities for taking nearly a year to discover anthrax traces in a mailbox near Princeton University. That mailbox, where letters laced with anthrax bacteria may have begun their journey in 2001, is on a route that feeds the Hamilton Township postal center where anthrax letters were processed.
In a letter to Holt, FBI Assistant Director Eleni Kalisch declined to give a closed-door briefing to the House Intelligence Committee. Kalisch claimed sensitive information was leaked from classified briefings more than three years ago, and described the anthrax case as a criminal matter not subject to the committee's oversight.
Some cases take time to crack, Kalisch wrote. Seventeen FBI agents and 10 postal inspectors remain on the "Amerithrax" beat. The FBI said the anthrax investigation has spanned six continents and generated more than 9,100 interviews, 67 searches and 6,000 subpoenas.
Early on, the FBI hoped that analysis of the spores would point to the lab that prepared them. But Beecher's article underscores difficulties of such microscopic sleuthing. Particle sizes, for instance, may not yield as many clues as some expected.
Over time, after being handled and exposed to different conditions, particles "may not resemble the initial product," Beecher wrote.
Yet the FBI is confident, and has forged scientific ties and advances to help prevent future biological attacks, said Joseph Persichini Jr., acting assistant director in charge of the Washington field office, on the FBI's Web site.
Richard Ebright, a Rutgers University microbiologist, still thinks the anthrax attacks were an inside job because they used a virulent form of the Ames strain of Bacillus anthracis, which only a few biodefense- or intelligence-related labs were thought to possess.
"Whoever did it is an insider," said Ayaad Assaad, a toxicologist with the Environmental Protection Agency, who formerly worked at an Army biodefense center at Fort Detrick, Md. "It started with anthrax. Now it's ricin, and God knows what's coming."
Ed Lake has tracked the case closely, self-publishing a book, "Analyzing the Anthrax Attacks, The First Three Years" and moderating a Web site. Lake is convinced the FBI knows the perpetrator but lacks evidence to prosecute. He believes the killer is a scientist from central New Jersey who wanted America to gird for an al-Qaida bioterror attack in the wake of Sept. 11.
"So he sent a warning to the media, saying this is next, there's a biological attack coming next, and be prepared: Take penicillin," said Lake, referring to hand-printed letters, bearing New Jersey postmarks, sent to NBC and the New York Post.
Leon Harris retired last year from the Hamilton Township postal center. He too suspects the bad guys are home-grown and will be caught.
"I don't care if it takes 10 years," the Air Force veteran said. "They're going to find them."
Ernesto Blanco agreed. He survived inhalational anthrax that killed his friend Bob Stevens, a colleague at a tabloid in Florida, five years ago this month. Blanco, now 79, returned to his mailroom job at American Media Inc. in 2002.
"I am positive they will catch them," Blanco said. "I have faith in what they are doing."
Key dates in the 5-year-old investigation of the anthrax attacks:
Sept. 18: Postal facility in Hamilton Township, N.J., processes anthrax-laced letters to NBC News in New York and the New York Post.
Oct. 5: Bob Stevens, photo editor at Florida tabloid the Sun dies from inhalational anthrax.
Oct. 9: Hamilton Township facility processes anthrax letters to then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and Sen. Patrick Leahy. Both letters have return address of fictitious "Greendale School" in Franklin Park, N.J.
Oct. 16: U.S. Senate closes; employees are tested for exposure to anthrax microbes.
Oct. 17: The House shuts down.
Oct. 18: Hamilton Township facility is closed.
Oct. 21: Washington postal worker Thomas Morris Jr. dies from anthrax.
Oct. 22: Washington postal worker Joseph Curseen dies from anthrax.
Oct. 31: Kathy Nguyen, who worked in a New York City hospital supply room, dies from anthrax.
Nov. 21: Ottilie Lundgren, 94, of Oxford, Conn., dies from anthrax. Authorities suspect her mail was contaminated by other mail.
[snip - more at link]
Very well stated. Free-floating anthrax spores have been killing people for countless centuries. It was a regular epidemic in wool-sorting mills during the Industrial Revolution. Free-floating anthrax spores killed a guy in Scotland just a few weeks ago.
Contrary to popular misconceptions, dry spores will float about with any need for additives or coatings. In fact, since spores would be lighter if they didn't have anything attached, they'll float best when it's just a single free-floating spore.
An analysis is NOT speculation. Analysis involves examining the FACTS to see what the FACTS indicate.
I know, however, that I probably don't have ALL the facts. But that doesn't mean I'm speculating. It just means I'm working only with the facts I DO have.
The facts I do have point to a specific scientist (or scientists) who lives and works in Central New Jersey. But, because I know I don't have ALL the facts, the facts which I DO have just indicate who MOST LIKELY sent the anthrax letters. I've talked with the FBI, but, since I could be wrong, I'm not about to publicly point the finger at someone who could be totally innocent.
That incident occurred in April of 2003, more than a year and a half after the anthrax attacks. I have many newspaper reports on my web site about that incident, and the article found HERE says that it was finally determined that the Egyptian sailor did NOT die of anthrax.
In reality, that is exactly what I'm doing. Unlike you, however, I do not always assume some ulterior motive by the FBI. The facts indicate that the FBI does not wish to discuss evidence out of fear of harming whatever legal case they can put together.
I've complained for years that all those misconceptions about coatings and additives could be cleared up without making public any critical evidence. But, I can also see that if the FBI releases one statement, it will just generate a thousand questions -- the way Beecher's report did.
Once you start answering questions from a mob of conspiracy theorists, there's no easy way to stop. You're just giving them information they can twist to support their conspiracy theories. And, if they can't twist it, they'll just ignore it and say it's a lie.
NASA was thinking about putting out a pamphlet answering all the questions from conspiracy theorists who believe the moon landings were just some hoax. But they decided against it, because it just gives the conspiracy theorists some credibility when NASA responds to them.
Has the government published any official response to all the conspiracy theories about how the World Trade Center was brought down by explosives planted by the CIA, and how the Pentagon was hit by a missile instead of an aircraft?
Let's look at some FACTS about the first examinations of the Daschle anthrax:
When Tom Geisbert first examined the Daschle anthrax, he was looking at spores which had been soaking in chemicals used by the HazMat team which handled the letter. Geisbert then made sure the spores were dead by dipping them in chemicals before putting them into the Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM). When the spores were in the TEM, he turned up the power to get a close look to see if there were any smallpox viruses mixed with the spores, and he saw some "goop" oozing out of the spores. He thought it was an additive. He took Polaroids of the "goop". He and Peter Jahrling were still thinking the "goop" was an "additive" ten days later when Jahrling briefed the FBI, CIA and others at the White House.
As a result of that White House briefing, someone leaked the story to The New York Times that an "additive" had been found in the Daschle anthrax. The New York Times reporter talked with some scientists about what it meant to have an "additive" in the spores, and the scientists speculated on what it meant. The New York Times story was headlined "Contradicting Some U.S. Officials, 3 Scientists Call Anthrax Powder High-Grade -- Two Experts say the anthrax was altered to produce a more deadly weapon".
It was speculation using false information. As a result of some conference calls, everyone at USAMRIID evidently realized within the next few days that the "goop" was the result of putting "hydrated" spores in the TEM. In a statement to a Congressional Committee on October 31, General Parker from USAMRIID said this:
On the afternoon of 15 October, USAMRIID received samples from the FBI and the Capitol Police, which included letters addressed to Senator Daschle. The initial observation of the material in one of the letters, performed under biosafety level 3 containment conditions, revealed a fine, light tan powder that was easily dispersed into the air. Preliminary laboratory results including polymerase chain reaction and fluorescent antibody stain indicated Bacillus anthracis spores. USAMRIID reported to the FBI on the afternoon of the 15th the preliminary results indicating that the material was anthrax spores. Further, one of our technicians/scientists made a statement that this material grossly had some attributes consistent with weaponized anthrax. On the evening of 15 October, USAMRIID completed the initial battery of confirmatory tests verifying positive results for anthrax. This additional information was relayed to the FBI that evening and was subsequently re-iterated to the FBI and others in an interagency conference call the morning of 16 October. At that time, USAMRIID revisited the term weaponized and decided the terms professionally done and energetic as more appropriate descriptions in lieu of any real familiarity with weaponized materials.
On 16 October, USAMRIID began to examine the samples further via transmission electron microscopy (TEM). Initial TEM analysis was performed on hydrated powder. This study revealed that the material was comprised solely of a high concentration of spores without debris or vegetative forms, suggesting this material was refined or processed.
USAMRIID participated in an interagency conference call on the morning of 17 October, updating participants on the results of the antibiotic susceptibility profile. Statistical analyses for the spore dimensions from the TEM micrographs were begun on the 17th. On the same day, USAMRIID provided the FBI samples of the powder from the Daschle letter to send to another laboratory for analysis of the material. The results from TEM of the hydrated powder were reported to the interagency phone conference by the 18th.
On 17 October, I briefed the full Senate Caucus, Senator Daschles staff and the assembled Senate staff, in addition to participating in a news conference with Senators Daschle and Lott, on preliminary characterization of the sample.
USAMRIID next began investigating the dry powder on 18 October by scanning electron microscopy (SEM). This method revealed particle aggregates of varying sizes comprised solely of spores without a visible binding matrix. The material seen under SEM ranged in size from single spores to aggregates of spores up to 100 microns or more. The spores within the aggregate were uniform in appearance. The aggregates had a propensity to pulverize. We first relayed these observations to our customer, the FBI, on the evening of 19 October. A written progress report was hand-carried to the FBI on 22 October for a discussion of USAMRIID data in comparison with that of other laboratories contributing to the ongoing analysis and investigation. USAMRIIDs data were briefed to the Secretary, HHS, on 23 October, at his request.
They were making ASSUMPTIONS and MISTAKES from the very beginning, and they soon had the problem of correcting their errors without making themselves look incompetent. They initially ASSUMED the spores were "weaponized", but they quickly decided that was NOT the proper term and "professionally done" was more appropriate.
They made the mistake of examining "hydrated" spores in the TEM, and didn't realize that could result in "goop" oozing out of the spores under high-power magnification, which would heat up the interior of the spores. The "additive" they saw was the "additive" THEY put into the spore themselves when they killed them with CHEMICALS instead of killing them with radiation.
And that was just the beginning. They went to AFIP to see what that "goop" was, and AFIP detected silicon and oxygen. More ASSUMPTIONS were made. There were more leaks to the media. The media found more scientists willing to speculate. And the snowball rolled downhill from there.
Correcting mistakes is seen as a cover up of the "facts" by conspiracy theorists if the facts do not support their beliefs. But even competent people do sometimes make mistakes. You have to look at ALL the data to sort out reality from false assumptions.
The spores in the Daschle letter were PURE. No additives. The "additives" reported in the media were initially the result of a MISTAKE, and then from FALSE ASSUMPTIONS. That's what the FACTS say.
You can believe the FALSE ASSUMPTIONS if you want, but believing won't turn FALSE ASSUMPTIONS into facts.
Actually, you just published your list of assumptions. Yet again. Apparently you cannot understand that they are assumptions.
Obviously not, nor should you. I was merely curious if you had somebody specific in mind or if it was more of a theory.
No, it's you who clearly doesn't understand the difference between facts and assumptions. Which of these facts is an assumption, and why do you believe it is an assumption?
FACT #1: When Tom Geisbert first examined the Daschle anthrax, he was looking at spores which had been soaking in chemicals used by the HazMat team which handled the letter.
FACT #2: Geisbert then made sure the spores were dead by dipping them in chemicals before putting them into the Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM).
FACT #3: When the spores were in the TEM, he turned up the power to get a close look to see if there were any smallpox viruses mixed with the spores, and he saw some "goop" oozing out of the spores.
FACT #4: He thought it was an additive.
FACT #5: He took Polaroids of the "goop".
FACT #6: He and Peter Jahrling were still thinking the "goop" was an "additive" ten days later when Jahrling briefed the FBI, CIA and others at the White House.
FACT #7: As a result of that White House briefing, someone leaked the story to The New York Times that an "additive" had been found in the Daschle anthrax.
FACT #8: The New York Times reporter talked with some scientists about what it meant to have an "additive" in the spores, and the scientists speculated on what it meant.
FACT #9: It was speculation using false information.
FACT #10: As a result of some conference calls, everyone at USAMRIID evidently realized within the next few days that the "goop" was the result of putting "hydrated" spores in the TEM.
FACT #11: In a statement to a Congressional Committee on October 31, General Parker from USAMRIID explained how some errors had been made.
FACT #12: General Parker said, "... one of our technicians/scientists made a statement that this material grossly had some attributes consistent with weaponized anthrax.
FACT #13: General Parker said, "USAMRIID revisited the term 'weaponized' and decided the terms 'professionally done' and 'energetic' as more appropriate descriptions in lieu of any real familiarity with weaponized materials."
FACT #14: General Parker said, "On 16 October, USAMRIID began to examine the samples further via transmission electron microscopy (TEM). Initial TEM analysis was performed on hydrated powder.
FACT #15: General Parker said, "This study revealed that the material was comprised solely of a high concentration of spores without debris or vegetative forms
FACT #16: General Parker said, "USAMRIID next began investigating the dry powder on 18 October by scanning electron microscopy (SEM). This method revealed particle aggregates of varying sizes comprised solely of spores without a visible binding matrix. The material seen under SEM ranged in size from single spores to aggregates of spores up to 100 microns or more. The spores within the aggregate were uniform in appearance. The aggregates had a propensity to pulverize.
Do you believe that these FACTS are assumptions just because these FACTS do not agree with your beliefs?
Ah! I see. All the statements and facts which contradict AFIP are just assumptions, and only what AFIP said is gospel.
Or to put it another way: All the statements and facts which contradict your beliefs are just assumptions, and only what you believe is gospel. And what you believe is that only AFIP speaketh the gospel truth.
I guess you simply do not understand that when there are contradictory viewpoints, you have to evaluate ALL the data to see which viewpoint is most likely correct. Instead, you just pick the one which you like best (because it matches your conspiracy theories) and ignore everything else.
Thanks for making that absolutely clear.
The FACTS are that AFIP said silica was used to weaponize the Daschle anthrax. Your ASSUMPTIONS are just ASSUMPTIONS.
Yes, I think everyone understands what you believe: AFIP speaketh the gospel. Everything else is false "assumptions."
The FBI's top scientist said that it is a "misconception" that "the spores were produced using additives" but, in your mind that must be false because it contradicts the gospel in which you believe.
General Parker said the term "weaponized" was not appropriate for the attack anthrax, and that "professionally done" was more appropriate, but that must be false because it contradicts the gospel in which you believe.
General Parker also said that the Daschle powder "was comprised solely of a high concentration of spores without debris or vegetative forms" but that must be false because it contradicts the gospel in which you believe.
Other experts have viewed images of the Daschle anthrax and have stated that it contained no additives that they could see, but that must be false because it contradicts the gospel in which you believe.
Thanks for making your beliefs absolutely clear.
The FACTS are that General Parker said the anthrax contained silica.
Yes, General Parker said that, but that wasn't all he said. Here's what he said IN CONTEXT during that news briefing on October 29, 2001 after ABC News falsely reported that there was bentonite in the Daschle anthrax:
Major General Parker: Good morning. I won't go through what we already know. There seems to be a lot of questions about bentonite. I'm not sure where they're coming from, or their importance. But if you ask what is bentonite, it's a volcanic clay. And one of its principle ingredients is aluminum. And it varies in percentage of aluminum. And we have subjected the New York Post sample and the Daschle sample to very high energy x-ray studies, and I will say to you that we see no aluminum presence in the sample.
And, therefore, if you go back to the definition, MERK Index, the Internet, and geology centers all over this country, we can say that there is no bentonite in the New York Post sample or the Daschle sample.
Question: To follow up, what does that say about the level of sophistication, and obviously connected to that, the level of expertise needed to -- for something like this, if it doesn't have --
Major General Parker: Bentonite is a lubricant. That's all I know about it by reading, just like you read. It's a hydroscopic compound. I don't know what its significance is, and I've been asked to study the samples thoroughly, from A to Z, to know what's in the sample, what's the character of that anthrax, what its family lineage is, and what it's antibiotic sensitivities are. And I feel very strongly that the scientific data that I'm giving to you this morning is all I know.
Question: Does that suggest then that there was no additive, there's been nothing in the spores to make them more -- or nothing added to the spores to make them more easily aerosolized?
[AND HERE'S THE STATEMENT IN CONTEX:]
Major General Parker: Complicated question. We do know that we found silica in the samples. Now, we don't know what that motive would be, or why it would be there, or anything. But there is silica in the samples. And that led us to be absolutely sure that there was no aluminum in the sample, because the combination of a silicate, plus aluminum, is sort of the major ingredients of bentonite.
But the significance is -- I don't know what the significance is.
Question: Is silica negatively charged, do you know?
Major General Parker: I don't know that. It would depend on what form it would be in. I suppose you could do all sorts of things with it.
Question: Sir, is there anything other than bentonite that can make anthrax less inclined to clump together and more able to float freely?
Major General Parker: Not to my knowledge -- and that's very limited, of course. You understand that, I'm not the expert. I hope there are people that could probably answer your question much more articulately.
Question: John, you've told us a bit about what's not in the Daschle anthrax. From your briefing the other day, could you update us on what you do know about the characteristics of this anthrax?
Major General Parker: May I repeat what I said? The Daschle sample is very fine and powdery. It appears that -- and I'm talking gross, looking at the specimen grossly, not under the microscope. The New York Post sample is very granular, by comparison. And when you look at the two samples under the microscope, the Daschle sample is very pure and densely compact with spores. And so is the New York Post sample, but not quite as dense -- I'm talking magnitudes of, you know, times 10 difference, maybe, between the density of the two samples. Both samples are densely populated with anthrax spores.
Question: I just thought in four days, you would have found out something new about it?
Major General Parker: There's not much more to learn about anthrax. You know, the spore, itself, has been around a long, long time. It dates back into biblical times; we know it's not a good organism to have in your body.
Question: Would further tests show whether bentonite was there? Ari earlier suggested there may be other tests would identify it. Does this, what you're doing rule out bentonite, in your opinion?
Major General Parker: Sir, in my opinion, it rules it out. If I can't find aluminum, I can't say it's bentonite.
Question: Will there be other ways to look for the composition of this additive? Are there other ways, aside from high energy x-rays, to go about looking for --
Major General Parker: The scientists are pursuing that, they're discussing it and are trying to characterize this right down to the point where we know everything about these samples. But you have to know that we don't have much sample, and so doing comparison is very, very difficult and people have to think about it before we destroy more sample to maybe run down a wrong road. So there's a lot of discussion about what is needed.
Question: And in that discussion, is there essentially a debate as to whether or not this additive indicates a foreign source, or whether or not this additive indicates a domestic --
Major General Parker: Sir, I'm not aware of a debate. I'm not aware of a debate.
So, IN CONTEXT, General Parker said, "Complicated question. We do know that we found silica in the samples. Now, we don't know what that motive would be, or why it would be there, or anything."
That directly contradicts AFIP, which had somehow divined what the motive was and why it was there.
General Parker indicated that all they really knew was what the EDX graphs showed them: "But there is silica in the samples. And that led us to be absolutely sure that there was no aluminum in the sample, because the combination of a silicate, plus aluminum, is sort of the major ingredients of bentonite."
If AFIP "knew" silica had been put into the anthrax to aerosolize it, and General Parker at USAMRIID did NOT know that, how did AFIP divine their knowledge? AFIP only had the anthrax in their possession for a few hours, while USAMRIID had it for weeks.
But, I imagine such questions are not allowed when only BELIEFS can be considered "the truth". Correct?
Something tells me that in this particular debate, ne'er the twain shall meet. :)
Yes, it's been going on for years, most of it outside of this forum. His belief that AFIP is infallible is absolute. No facts can change his mind. As we've seen, he considers facts to be "assumptions". And only AFIP knows the facts.
A high purity grade of silica, fused silica (which is around 99.4-99.9% SiO2) is produced by carbon arc, plasma arc, gas fired continual extrusion or carbon electrode fusion.
My point is if a lab says it is Silica, bet your bibby on it.
Ed Lake doesn't know and Ed Lake doesn't care. Heck, Ed Lake doesn't even know that Silicon and Oxygen, when seen together, are Silica.
Ed Lake has posts at the beginning of this very thread in which he clearly tries to say that since only silicon and oxygen were found, that Silica was not there...as if silica was something else.
Thus, Ed Lake is an uneducated rube who is pushing his own agenda, facts be hung.
For instance, in one post on this thread he claimed that AFIP was lacking the hardware required for analysis. On another post in this thread, Ed Lake admits that AFIP has the necessary equipment...but he doesn't realize that is what he is admitting because he doesn't know the equipment that he named.
In other posts on this thread Ed Lake fails to understand how our postal system functions. Other errors on his part include failing to comprehend anthrax incubation periods.
On and on Ed Lake goes, spouting whatever he can to make the bone-headed FBI look somewhat competent (in contrast, anyway).
I'm only surprised that someone so completely ignorant yet arrogant has managed to not win himself a Darwin Award quite yet...but no doubt he's got himself in the competition.
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