Skip to comments.Scientific impossibility: Did FBI get their man in Bruce Ivins?
Posted on 11/17/2008 7:46:08 AM PST by TrebleRebel
Scientific impossibility: Did FBI get their man in Bruce Ivins? By Deborah Rudacille Examiner Correspondent 11/16/08 Bruce Ivins was a cold-blooded murderer, a deranged psycho-killer, who in the fall of 2001, cooked up a virulent batch of powdered anthrax, drove to Princeton, N.J., and mailed letters loaded with the lethal mix to five news organizations and two U.S. senators.
At least, thats what the FBI says.
The letters infected 22 people, killing five, including two Maryland postal workers.
The sixth victim of the madness was Ivins himself, a 62-year-old biodefense researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, who committed suicide rather than face charges.
Case closed? Neatly wrapped up? Not so fast.
Married for 33 years and a father of two with a 35-year career as a civilian microbiologist at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Ivins, a devout Catholic, worked as a senior research scientist and an expert in animal models of anthrax. In 2003 he received the Armys Decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service for work on an anthrax vaccine an assignment the FBI now says provided a motive for the attacks.
Ivins apparently was obsessed with the investigation. According to the FBI, on Sept. 7, 2007, he sent an e-mail to himself, claiming to have figured out who mailed the anthrax letters. I should have it TOTALLY nailed down within the month, he wrote. I should have been a private eye.
Ivins, who did not name anyone in the e-mail, died on July 29, 2008, at Frederick Memorial Hospital after overdosing on prescription Tylenol with codeine. The FBI says he killed himself. The presence of the drug was determined from a blood sample. No autopsy was ordered.
Before his death, he was under 24-hour police surveillance, which included interrogations about his research and work habits, searches of his home and office, and intense questioning of family members and co-workers. Friends say that the FBI offered Ivins son $2.5 million and a sports car to hand over evidence implicating his father in the attacks.
The month before Ivins death, the federal government agreed to pay $5.8 million to another former Fort Detrick researcher, Steven Hatfill, for improperly identifying him as a suspect in the case.
When he learned the FBI was going to charge him with the crime after clearing Hatfill, Ivins swallowed a bottle of Tylenol.
Rush to judgment In exclusive interviews with The Examiner, two former directors of the bacteriology division at Fort Detrick challenged the science underlying the case against Ivins. They argue it would have been impossible for Ivins to have produced the powdered anthrax in the contaminated letters in the time frame proposed by the FBI the two weeks following the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
The BSL-3 (biosafety level 3) suite where Ivins worked at the Institute was composed of a series of laboratories and an office where access was restricted to trained personnel who were required to log in and out.
Knowing the layout of the BSL-3 suite, the implication that Bruce could have whipped out [anthrax mixture] in a couple of weeks without detection is ridiculous, says Gerald P. Andrews, director of the bacteriology division and Ivins supervisor from 2000 to 2003.
The first anthrax letters were mailed to the New York offices of ABC, NBC and CBS, the New York Post and the National Inquirer in Boca Raton, Fla., on Sept. 18, 2001. The second letters were mailed to Sens. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Oct. 9.
Infectious disease specialist W. Russell Byrne, who preceded Andrews as the divisions director, said he never believed Ivins could have produced the preparations used in the anthrax letters working in the bacteriology division area of Building 1425.
Departmental policy prohibits Institute employees from speaking with the media. But one researcher, speaking anonymously, told The Examiner: It would have been impossible for Ivins to have grown, purified and loaded the amount of material in the letters in just six days. It simply could not be done.
Claire Fraser-Liggett, professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and director of the University of Maryland Institute for Genome Sciences, asked, What would have happened in this investigation had Dr. Hatfill not been so forceful in his response to being named a person of interest. What if he, instead of fighting back, had committed suicide because of the pressure? Would that have been the end of the investigation?
The smoking flask Fraser-Liggetts genetic analysis of the anthrax spores in the letters led to a flask of hybrid anthrax bacillus (known as RMR-1029) created and managed by Ivins at Fort Detrick a preparation the Justice Department says is the murder weapon.
The key breakthrough was the science that then focused their attention laserlike onto that flask and the person who had control of that flask and the person who made the spores in that flask, U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Taylor claimed in laying out the evidence against Ivins on Aug. 6, 2008.
The DNA evidence linking the dry anthrax spores in the contaminated letters to the wet anthrax spores in the flask of RMR-1029 is not in dispute. The part that seems still hotly debated is whether there was sufficient evidence to name Dr. Ivins as the perpetrator, Fraser-Liggett says.
Ivins kept the one-liter flask of RMR-1029, but some 300 people within the Institute also had access to the flask, according to those familiar with operations there. Before 1999, the preparation was stored in a separate containment area, about 100 yards from the main building. At that time, access was more vague, because the flask wasnt under Ivins direct custodial control, Andrews says.
Ivins also shared samples of RMR-1029 with researchers at other facilities.
Another lab might take a couple of milliliters of that spore preparation and create a daughter preparation, Andrews says. How many [samples] Ivins gave out I have no idea, but he did it through official channels, and there is a chain of custody records that indicates which labs got RMR-1029 and how much of the material they got.
It was those daughter preps that ultimately led Fraser-Liggett to Ivins flask. Her team at the Institute for Genomic Research began DNA sequencing of the spores in the four anthrax-loaded letters recovered after the 2001 attacks. The team spent two years analyzing 20 different samples of B. anthracis to create a group of tests capable of genetically fingering the distinctive variety of anthrax found in the letters.
They screened nearly 1,000 samples of B. anthracis collected from labs around the world. The results identified only eight samples that contained all four of the genetic mutations, she says. Each of those could be traced back to this one flask at USARMRIID-RMR-1029.
I have complete confidence in the accuracy of our data, Fraser-Liggett says, but she concedes it fails to prove Ivins is guilty.
One reason for doubt is the sheer volume of powdered anthrax Ivins is alleged to have grown. Nearly 1 gram per contaminated letter would have required months of intensive labor and hundreds of agar plates, on which the spores are grown, Byrne says.
This number of plates is impossible to handle inconspicuously, says George Mason University professor and former Soviet bioweapons researcher Sergei Popov. It would be impossible to cover up these activities.
Prosecutors insist Ivins carried out the work secretly at night and on weekends.
That scenario is patently impossible, Andrews says. You cant just throw a flask up in the air and have dry weaponized spores come down. One preparation may take between three and five days Day 1 to prepare the materials and start seed cultures, Day 2 to inoculate the spores, Day 3 to harvest, centrifuge and purify the spores. And those are the wet spores, he says, which then need to be dried into a powder. And that would take at least another day.
So for 10 envelopes, 100 preparations would be required to make all the mailed material at three to five days for each preparation, he says. Months of continuous spore preparation without doing any other work and avoiding detection? Its ridiculous.
Taylor also insists Ivins had access to a lyophilizer a sophisticated machine used to dry anthrax.
Andrews mocks the suggestion that Ivins produced the fine powdered anthrax by freeze-drying the newly harvested pores in the labs lyophylizer. The only lyophylizer available was a speed vac, he says. Thats a low-volume instrument that you cant even fit under a hood used to contain toxic vapors and debris.
Even with the proper equipment, mass producing a sufficient volume of spores remained dangerous. It had the potential to contaminate not only the person doing the work, but also the lab environment. Certainly if you had makeshift equipment you wouldnt be able to pull it off without making a mess, Andrews says.
Popov said that the only way the FBI scenario works is if someone else provided the spores to Ivins. What if somebody fermented the spores for him? he asks. Whats in favor of this hypothesis is the presence of silica in the spores. This is a signature of a large-scale fermentation process.
In other words, the evidence points to a high-volume, mechanized operation and not to a lone madman cackling over agar plates at night in an empty lab.
Lack of evidence The anthrax-laced letters contained no traces of DNA. There is no evidence indicating Ivins visited Princeton, N.J., at the time the letters were mailed no fingerprints or hair samples from the smoking mailbox, no time-stamped photos at New Jersey automated teller machines or convenience stores, no gas receipts.
Apart from the flask of RMR-1029, the case against Ivins is this: He was depressed, working long nights and weekends in September 2001, and had the time to drive to New Jersey.
Ivins therapist, Jean Duley, who had a history of drug and alcohol-related charges, treated him for six months. She told authorities he threatened to kill her and his co-workers after learning he faced indictment. He was committed for a few days and released five days before his death.
Dr. Ivins had a history of mental health problems and was facing a difficult time professionally in the summer and fall of 2001 because an anthrax vaccine he was working on was failing, Taylor said in August. He was very concerned, according to the evidence, that the vaccination program he was working on may come to an end.
For more than a year, Ivins and other institute researchers had been working out the kinks on a 30-year-old anthrax vaccine suspected of causing serious health problems in Gulf War vets. He also was working on a next-generation vaccine for which he already had secured two patents. But in the fall of 2001, the Pentagons vaccine program for 2.4 million troops faced fierce opposition by lawmakers including Daschle, pushing to end the program.
Taylor insists Ivins was the sole culprit and wanted to create a situation, where people all of a sudden realized the need to have this vaccine.
If that was indeed the anthrax killers motive, it worked.
Ivins innocence could rest on weird science The single most important piece of scientific evidence that raises doubt on whether Bruce Ivins was the mastermind behind the anthrax attacks could very well prove his innocence.
The high silicon content of the spores and the presence of a bacterium B. subtilis in two of the recovered letters are significant scientific factors that have yet to be satisfactorily explained.
The FBI says that the silicon in the spores accumulated naturally during the growth process important to its case against Ivins, who co-workers say did not have knowledge of the specialized techniques used to weaponize anthrax spores by coating them in silicon.
Silicon creates an electrostatic charge between particles that helps the lethal powder disperse more readily.
The silicon is probably the most important scientific evidence that would lead anybody to question whether Bruce was capable of making these spores, says Gerald P. Andrews, Ivins former boss.
Andrews and George Mason University professor and former Soviet bioweapons researcher Sergei Popov believe the silicon was purposely added, due to unnaturally high levels of the mineral in the spores.
Also unexplained is the presence of a unique genetic strain of the bacterium B. subtilis in the anthrax letters.
Why wasnt this unique B. subtilis strain looked for in Bruces lab or any other lab in the BSL-3 suite? Andrews asks. It may, in fact, serve as a marker for where those preparations were really made.
So far, FBI scientists have failed to produce a powdered anthrax equivalent to the toxic mix that Ivins is alleged to have turned out in the course of a few late nights and weekends in the lab at Fort Detrick.
The only opinions that I would place any confidence in would have to come from individuals who have made the stuff, in the same quantity of the letters, said infectious disease specialist W. Russell Byrne. And then I would ask them to go into B3 in building 1425, work there for a couple of weeks and reproduce what they say Bruce did. Thats the only way I could, in good conscience and in the spirit of objective scientific inquiry, believe them.
Bruce Edwards Ivins Born: April 22, 1946 in Lebanon, Ohio. Died: July 29, 2008 in Frederick, Md. Family: Married for 33 years to Diane Ivins (homemaker, day care provider and former president of Frederick Countys Right to Life). Two grown children, Andrew and Amanda Work: Senior biodefense researcher at the United States Army Medical Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick in Frederick Education: B.A. (1968); M.A. (1971) and Ph.D. (1976) in microbiology, University of Cincinnati Hobbies: Played keyboards and sang in a folk group at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Frederick; founded the Frederick Jugglers, who performed at nursing homes, schools and festivals. Volunteer work: Frederick County Chapter of American Red Cross Political party: Democrat
Well Ivins isn’t denying it.
The agents who hounded him to his death should be duly punished.
But the big question is, who DID actually mail out the anthrax, and was there any significance to the numerous curious connections with the 9/11 bombers and other Muslim terrorists?
The FBI has a long and ugly history of covering up for terrorists—for the public’s own good, no doubt.
Typical far-left liberal article decrying anything every law enforcement agency does.
If this writer is so smart, who killed Laura Palmer?
The FBI has struck out on a number of high profile cases in the last couple of decades. Maybe this guy was guilty, but now we’ll never know for sure.
Strange, I thought that an autopsy was required in cases where someone who wasn't under the care of a doctor died.
The first anthrax letters were mailed to the New York offices of ABC, NBC and CBS, the New York Post and the National Inquirer in Boca Raton, Fla., on Sept. 18, 2001.
Do the math, the first attack was a week after the WTC/Pentagon attacks. It is definitely spin to say that he "whipped it up in a couple of weeks". As much of a lie as it is to say that the Weather Underground was a 1960s organization. They established themselves in the final 3 months of 1969 and did their bombing campaign in the 1970s, with their final action being a bank robbery in the 1980s. But it was a necessary lie to be able to clear Barack Obama of any "knowledge" of their activities "I was only 8 years old (in 1969)".
Typical far-left liberal article decrying anything every law enforcement agency does.
My reading was the exact opposite. I thought this was one of the most comprehensive reports on the actual evidence collected by the FBI, on which they made their accusations, that I have read.
The anthrax in the envelopes while it could have been transporte in one 35mm film canister, took a large scale operation to make.
We know that Mohammed Atta traveled to Germany shortly before Sept 11. Who is to say that he did not receive a gift from the biochemical weapons vaults from a friend, say in Iraq.
Maybe someday in the future someone will be able to piece it all together, but I kind of doubt it.
The robbery happened in October of 1981. If Obama graduated from Columbia in June 1983, then he was in NY for the fall semester of his Junior year at Columbia.
Some notes from Wikipedia:
The Brinks robbery of 1981 (October 20, 1981) was an armed robbery carried out by Black Liberation Army members Jeral Wayne Williams (aka Mutulu Shakur), Donald Weems (aka Kuwasi Balagoon), Samuel Smith, Nathaniel Burns (aka Sekou Odinga), Cecilio “Chui” Ferguson, Samuel Brown (aka Solomon Bouines), and several former members of the Weather Underground, now belonging to the May 19 Communist Organization (David Gilbert, Samuel Brown, Judith Alice Clark, Kathy Boudin, and Marilyn Buck), and an unknown number of accomplices. They stole $1.6 million from a Brinks armored car at the Nanuet Mall, in Nanuet, New York, killing two police officers, Edward O’Grady and Waverly Brown, and a Brinks guard, Peter Paige.
Obama graduated with a B.A. from Columbia in 1983, then at the start of the following year worked for a year at the Business International Corporation and then at the New York Public Interest Research Group.
The key point of the article seems to be the amount of time it took for spore production. The timeline assumes he began after 9-11. Its possible this was planned well ahead of time and that the 9-11 attack was a “lucky” coincidence that provided a good cover. It’s also not necessary to grow the spores on “hundreds of plates” you actually can use the same plates repeatedly and harvest the spores by scraping them off the surface and re-incubating them. It would be possbile to get grams of spores fairly quickly that way but it would be a dirty prep (clumpy, with lots of cell debris, and mixed with vegetative cells. From what I have read, the spores were highly refined and very pure. That takes considerable time and effort. Since the article states that the only source of the material was the Amriid lab, if Ivins didn’t do it, someone else in the lab did.
This same FBI stopped calling the two little girls murdered in Dallas honor killings.
They were brutal, AND poor investigators, in their treatment of Richard Jewell, the hero who prevented many deaths in the Atlanta Olympic bombing.
This FBI is not the one we grew up with.
This FBI created the final assault at Waco, and issued unlawful shoot on sight orders at Ruby Ridge. Any other law enforcement in America that issued an order to shoot anyone on sight if they possess a weapon, would be prosecuted by the FBI. Their actions AT THAT MOMENT also matter very much.
Im also still waiting for the FBI to finish the cases about Clintons campaign funds illegally coming from red china.
And didnt another man in the Anthrax case, also get hounded until he jumped off a bridge?
Also,,Walk in the front door of a bank and take 1500 dollars and theyll rightfully follow you to the gates of hell,,, but steal billions from the inside, and they cant ever seem to solve that.
Also waiting for prosecutions on people who stole secrets and gave them to the NY Times.
And great work on that other case, disciplining agents for pointing out they ignored the 9-11 hijackers in flight school.
And Good work in Albuquerque accusing a police sergeant of racial profiling for locating someone on the terrorist watch list.
The details of the anthrax story make my eyes glaze over, ill never understand it. The FBI may have got it correct, but they no longer earn our reflexive trust IMO.
“We know that Mohammed Atta traveled to Germany shortly before Sept 11. Who is to say that he did not receive a gift from the biochemical weapons vaults from a friend, say in Iraq.”
The genetic fingerprint of the spores shows they came from the Armriid lab, not from Iraq (unless they somehow obtained the same strain).
That's going to be the problem. Scientists who do not know how to make spore powders will not believe the evidence UNLESS each and every doubting scientist is personally shown exactly how Ivin made the powders.
Do we really want that? What is the alternative? To just let scientists who do not know how to quickly make spore powders endlessly claim that it can't be done quickly? It appears that each and every one of them will find a reporter to report that they don't believe it can be done. Meanwhile, those who know that it CAN be done - and HOW it was done - remain silent because they don't want to INSTRUCT people on how to make lethal anthrax powders.
Tis a puzzlement.
No one can make anything unless they have access to the correct spores. According to the article, a thousand spore samples from around the world were tested and only samples from the Armriid lab matched those used in the attacks. Of the 300 people who had access, relatively few were skilled enough in microbiology to prepare a highly refined spore prep. That should narrow the list of suspects.
why do they keep mentally unstable people in these jobs
Nay-saying "scientists" and "journalists" endlessly screw with the facts to make their misleading points.
The first batch of letters, which were sent to the media, were 90 percent debris and only 10 percent spores. And that is what you describe.
The second batch of letters contained pure spores, but there was only about .871 grams of spores in the Leahy letter. The Daschle letter had presumably the same amount. The culprit had THREE WEEKS to prepare the 1.75 grams that he needed, but he might have done it in six days or less.
Arguments that begin with a need to prepare ten or twenty grams of spores for ten letters are just ignoring basic facts. There were less than 2.5 grams of spores in total, and what was in the first 5 letters was very different from what was in the second 2 letters.
anthrax bump for later.........
(unless they somehow obtained the same strain).
The article goes on to say that 8 of the 1000 samples they collected from around the world are daughters of the strain that was under the supervision of Dr Ivins.
How many other samples are there ‘around the world?’ Just because our lab kept strict records of sample transfers, does not mean that the same controls were in effect ‘around the world.’
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