Despite evidence of FBI bungling, new probe into anthrax killings unlikely/ ProPublica

From Pro Publica:

A senior Republican senator says it would take a powerful grassroots movement or startling new evidence to reopen the Justice Department’s investigation that branded a now-deceased Army researcher as the anthrax mailer who killed five people a decade ago.

Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and others on Capitol Hill who’ve been skeptical of the case against the late Bruce Ivins said adamant opposition from the FBI and Justice Department is likely to block further inquiry into the case.

Even if he were the committee chairman, Grassley said, “I would question my capability of raising enough heat (to reopen the case) when you’re up against the FBI. And I’ve been up against the FBI.”…

 Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., who has criticized the FBI investigation as “botched” and from whose district the deadly letters were mailed, said he may try for a third time to win support for legislation creating a special commission to investigate the attacks.

“There are so many reasons to want to get to the bottom of it,” Holt said in an interview. “I hate to think of what lines of investigation have been shut off.  “Nearly all of the evidence was circumstantial, however, and PBS’ Frontline, McClatchy and ProPublica, in a one-hour documentary and a three-part newspaper series, disclosed evidence challenging prosecutors’ assertions…
Among the evidence the three news organizations scrutinized:
  • FBI claims that Ivins worked unusually late hours in a “hot suite,” a secure bio-containment lab at Ft. Detrick, in the weeks before the letter attacks. Records show that Ivins had worked similar evening hours in other USAMRIID facilities in the preceding months.
  • Assertions that Ivins tried to mislead investigators in April 2002, by manipulating anthrax samples from a laboratory flask he submitted for FBI testing. At issue was whether Ivins was trying to keep investigators from discovering that spores in the flask contained the same genetic variants as those in the anthrax contained in the letters. But while the April samples tested negative for the variants, Ivins gave three other samples to the FBI or fellow researchers between 2002 and 2004 and, ultimately, the bureau recorded positive results in tests of all three, FBI and Army records show.
  • Claims that Ivins was motivated to create fear about anthrax because the government’s anthrax vaccine program was under heavy fire. The existing program was under fire, and Ivins helped to address problems, but his job was to develop a second generation vaccine that at the time had full funding.
  • Assertions that science showed that Ivins’ flask was “effectively the murder weapon.” A panel of the National Academy of Sciences and two scientists who worked on the FBI investigation described holes in that and other laboratory conclusions…
  • Holt and Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., whose district includes Ft. Detrick, tried to push through an amendment to a spending bill last year requiring the inspector general for the intelligence community to investigate whether all relevant foreign intelligence had been passed to FBI investigators. The measure was torpedoed when the Office of Management and Budget objected, calling it “duplicative” and expressing concern about Congress directing an inspector general “to replicate a criminal investigation.”
    Last May, McClatchy disclosed that the FBI had never explained tests showing the presence of unusually high levels of silicon and tin in the letters sent to the New York Post and to Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont. That renewed suspicions — denied by the FBI — that the perpetrator used a chemical additive to keep the spores from clumping so they’d be more easily inhaled.
    Another issue is the FBI’s method for collecting anthrax samples from U.S. and foreign labs to narrow the suspect list. Because the samples were subpoenaed and couldn’t be seized for multiple reasons, critics have said their submission amounted to an honor system in which the killer would have no incentive to participate.
    Further, a still-confidential 2002 review of security at USAMRIID by a seven-member team from the Sandia National Laboratories found that “the culture at USAMRIID does not reflect the same indisputable commitment to security as it does to research.”
    The “diversion of small quantities” of deadly pathogens can be significant, noted the report, a copy of which was obtained by McClatchy, ProPublica and Frontline. That’s presumably because they can be used as seed material to grow large quantities of germs for an attack. The problem is heightened, it said, because germs “cannot be reliably detected,” underscoring the importance of an alert and cooperative research staff.

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Ed Lake
Ed Lake
10 years ago

The article says, "Among the evidence the three news organizations scrutinized:

FBI claims that Ivins worked unusually late hours in a "hot suite," a secure bio-containment lab at Ft. Detrick, in the weeks before the letter attacks. Records show that Ivins had worked similar evening hours in other USAMRIID facilities in the preceding months."

What difference does it make if Ivins was spending a lot of time wandering around USAMRIID in the evening to get away from his home life? The evidence says that Ivins suddenly started working in his BioSafety Level 3 lab a few weeks before the attacks, and he had no explanation for what he was doing. The fact that he also spent time in places where he could not have been making the attack anthrax is irrelevant.

"Assertions that Ivins tried to mislead investigators in April 2002, by manipulating anthrax samples from a laboratory flask he submitted for FBI testing."

The fact that Ivins gave a sample from flask RMR-1029 to Terry Abshire that was NOT a submission to the FBI repository is irrelevant. So is the fact that the FBI found samples in Ivins' cold room that he hadn't submitted in response to the subpoena, and they asked him to make submissions. Those other samples had nothing to do with the attacks, and Ivins knew it.

"Claims that Ivins was motivated to create fear about anthrax because the government's anthrax vaccine program was under heavy fire. The existing program was under fire, and Ivins helped to address problems, but his job was to develop a second generation vaccine that at the time had full funding."

The fact that some of his bosses weren't worried about losing funding or having the vaccine program shut down is irrelevant. What is relevant is what Ivins believed. And his emails and statements show that he believed the vaccine program was in serious trouble and that he might be transferred to work on a vaccine for glanders.

"Assertions that science showed that Ivins' flask was "effectively the murder weapon."

The science AND the regular investigation showed flask RMR-1029 was "effectively the murder weapon." It's ridiculous to argue that because "Fact A" points to Ivins and "Fact B" confirms that Ivins was the killer, "Fact A" is not sufficient by itself to prove Ivins was the killer. No one ever claimed that "Fact A" was sufficient by itself to prove Ivins was the anthrax mailer

The evidence was for use in a courtroom. It was not data for a scientific experiment to prove something to a scientific certainty. The reason we have juries is to decide if the evidence shows guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If guilt had to be proven to be a scientific certainty, there would be no reason to have juries of our peers. We'd have juries of scientists — and 99% of all criminals would go free.

Ed

Babsin
Babsin
10 years ago

Anyone ever figure out who got the powdered Ricin into the Senate building?

Was the Ricin powder just a residue or was it made the same way the Anthrax was?

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/1453340/Ricin-found-in-US-Senate-building.html

Seattle Reader
Seattle Reader
10 years ago

Here's to the grassroots. We've come a lot farther than I ever would have thought. Thank you for the sanity, to all who have consistently brought light to this case.

felix
felix
10 years ago

@babsin

funny old business, ricin: now you see it, now you don't. But just in time for Colin Powell to get everybody into a lather over it, Feb 5 2003..
"We know from Iraq's past admissions that it has successfully weaponized not only anthrax, but also other biological agents including botulinum toxin, aflatoxin and ricin. But Iraq's research efforts did not stop there."


From the Independent, 17 April 2005
"More sinister, however, was the expert's discovery when he looked through the analysis of the seized material by the Porton Down chemical weapons laboratories in Wiltshire. On 7 January 2003 – the same day that two cabinet ministers claimed ricin had been found in north London – Porton scientists had realised there was no ricin there at all. Their first results at the flat had been a "false positive".

What happened to that profoundly important discovery is still the subject of intense controversy. Porton officials were unable to tell Professor Hay when they told the police or Home Office. The Old Bailey heard claims that an overly cautious Porton Down official had delayed passing the information on. Defence lawyers, however, believe ministers knew at an early stage that the claimed ricin find was wrong."

richard rowley
richard rowley
10 years ago

I thought that perhaps Dr Nass could throw some light on something: SOME (but by no means all) of the disagreement about Ivins' off hours work seems to center on WHERE (within the USAMRIID complex)Ivins would have been at any given time, particularly vis-a-vis his work with rabbits and mice. So

1) evidently there were AT LEAST two 'animal rooms' (one for mice B-310; one for guinea pigs B-305; likely another one for rabbits (and others for other experimental animals?).

2)Ivins' 'hot suite' (and the place it is posited he was doing Amerithrax drying) was B313.

So my question has to do with standard lab procedure. While an experiment was underway (when the animal was being first vaccinated and then infected with anthrax to test the vaccine), would the animal

1)first be removed to the hot suite (since that was where the anthrax was always kept)?

2)be LEFT in the hot suite (as opposed to being returned to the animal room) for the duration of the experiment?

My picture——and I could be 100% wrong———-is that the animal rooms weren't for animals CURRENTLY UNDERGOING such experiments with pathenogens, since that would involve moving the pathenogen (inside the mouse/rabbit/whatever) OUTSIDE the hot suite and thus would be a hazard (even though anthrax isn't readily communicable). In addition, it seems to me that any autoclaving of remains would also be done in the hot suite. So checking up on the animals would involve LOTS of time (assuming I'm right) in the hot suite, little time in the animal rooms.

I know that you didn't work at USAMRIID but I figure this might be a protocol question (what takes place in a hot suite, what doesn't)that is universal in doing such experiments.

I would also appreciate a response from anyone else who has knowledge of this…..Thanks!

Babsin
Babsin
10 years ago

@Felix
Good point on the UK ricin deal – although in fairness to them they seemed to later actually have "a" ricin plot. I just always figured someone who "powdered" anthrax would be bored and go powder something else

On Ed's comment about the RMR-1029…My personal issue with that whole line of thought is that I'm not sure that a credible singular chain of access by Ivins was established. Nor is it credible that by scan card alone proves Ivins was pretty much anywhere

While my relayed trivia could very well be wrong this is what I understand…Ivins kept his secret recipe sauce in an unlabeled flask. While limited others could access this suite only he knew which flask had the valid spores in it. Allegedly if you chose one of the dummy ones you'd end up with something that would seem good but then ruin your experiment. Sort of like a Indian Jones and the Last Crusade goblet deal

Next of scan cards – that overall security was incredibly lax. That scientists routinely "loaned out" their lab privileges to others. People that had gone into the private sector but still needed to use government equipment routinely came back on base. They were known faces on bases but their swipe cards no longer worked for the high security areas. A buddy working there would let them use the equipment and apparently would then leave them alone.

For Ivins and his RMR – allegedly there was some kind of rather public incident. He caught up with one of these guys in a more public area accusing them of stealing some of his stuff. The allegation was they asked him for a free sample – he gave it to them. What he did not know was someone had inventoried all the flasks in question. Then from the sample given by Ivins they were able to determine which was the RMR-1029 flask and then would get their own.

Whether it's true or just part of the paranoia that Ivins apparently was having – no idea…However even if one can draw a straight line to Ivin's flask, I'm not sure it is credible to say no one – whatsoever could have gotten a sample on their own.

Why did Ivins have no answer for some of his lab time? He didn't want to admit that he had been letting a buddy use his pass while he did some reading in a break room.

Whatever the case if you're gonna have a bio lab, get some freaking cameras and retinal scanners.

And for what it's worth…I personally think whether it was Ivins or anyone else – they probably made the stuff in their home oven – Soviet style

I remain open minded on the whole thing overall

Ed Lake
Ed Lake
10 years ago

Richard Rowley wrote: "the animal rooms weren't for animals CURRENTLY UNDERGOING such experiments with pathenogens, since that would involve moving the pathenogen (inside the mouse/rabbit/whatever) OUTSIDE the hot suite and thus would be a hazard (even though anthrax isn't readily communicable)."

I don't have any direct knowledge of how animals were handled in Suite B3, but I'm pretty sure that the animals remained in the animal rooms from the time they arrived at USAMRIID to the time they were removed after death to be disposed of.

First, a "suite" is a group of rooms used together for some purpose. Ivins' had a BSL-3 lab in room B313 within Suite B3.

Suite B3 was a BSL-2 containment area that had at least 2 BSL-3 labs within it.

It appears that anthrax was carried around from room to room within Suite B3 all the time.

The May 2002 contamination report says on page 76 that flasks are moved from lab to lab on a cart. Page 87 says that [redacted] "have made spores in 313." And, "In B304, [redacted] makes spores."

Page 82 says that there were five working laboratories in suite B3. It says the contamination incident occurred in room B304 when a flask "leaked". The flask was carried to another room (probably B306) where it was noticed that some material had spilled out of the shaker flask.

The report says in many places that when aerosol tests were done, the anthrax for the tests would be put in a metal box and sent through the passbox in room B303 to be transported to Building 1412.

Frozen bacteria and spores were kept in a freezer in the hallway outside of the B311 cold room.

There were hundreds of samples of anthrax in the B311 cold room, including flask RMR-1029.

Page 265 says that room 304 "is shared by almost everyone who works in the suite. They use equipment such as the incubators, centrifuges, shakers and microscopes."

It is mentioned several times in the reports (see page 358 for an instance) that rabbits are kept in building 1412.

Ed

Ed Lake
Ed Lake
10 years ago

Babsin wrote: "Ivins kept his secret recipe sauce in an unlabeled flask. While limited others could access this suite only he knew which flask had the valid spores in it."

Page 12 of NAS CD FBI document B3D1.pdf says that the FBI repository received 606 samples of the Ames strain from USAMRIID, 262 from one researcher and 314 from another, with the rest being from the remaining USAMRIID researchers.

Ivins probably had the 314 samples.

That would mean that, if someone wanted to steal a sample of the Ames strain from Ivins, it would be one chance in 314 that they'd find flask RMR-1029. And, there was nothing special about flask RMR-1029 (which was labeled "Dugway spores.") A researcher wanting to steal some Ames would be more likely want a sample from the ancestor Ames, which I think was kept in a freezer in the hallway.

There was a "pressure pad" that supposedly prevented more than one person from entering the change room at a time. As I understand it, you had to stand on the pressure pad as you scanned your card and opened the door. The purpose of the pad was to prevent two people from entering on one swipe of a key card.

The FBI checked on who else was in the building during the evening and weekend times Ivins was there to see if Ivins was working with someone else. That kind of check should also find if anyone used Ivins' key card while he was "doing some reading in the break room."

The media powder was crude and could have been made in someone's garage. But the senate powder was purified. Purification required some sophisticated equipment, plus a biosafety cabinet and LOTS of knowledge and experience.

Ed

Anonymous
Anonymous
10 years ago

Ed lake, the self proclaimed "expert" on Bruce Ivins writes"
"I don't have any direct knowledge of how animals were handled in Suite B3, but I'm pretty sure that the animals remained in the animal rooms from the time they arrived at USAMRIID to the time they were removed after death to be disposed of. "

That seems like weasly words, as usual from you.

Just answer this very simple question:

The animals Bruce Ivins was tasked to check were in the hot suite.. Yes or No.

Ed Lake
Ed Lake
10 years ago

Anonymous wrote: "The animals Bruce Ivins was tasked to check were in the hot suite.. Yes or No."

The mice Ivins spent a few minutes checking on a couple of the critical evenings were presumably in Room B310 which is part of "hot suite" B3. So, the answer is yes.

The FBI Summary Reports says in note #21 at the bottom of page 32:

"It bears mention that during the first five days of this second phase, Dr. Ivins did make notations regarding the health of some mice involved in a study being conducted by another colleague – thus justifying his presence in the lab for a short time on each of those days (Friday, September 28 through Tuesday, October 2). However, the first three of those days, he was in the hot suites for well over an hour, far longer than necessary to check to see if any mice were dead. And for the three nights before each mailing window, Dr. Ivins was in the hot suites for between two and four hours each night, with absolutely no explanation."

Ed

richard rowley
richard rowley
10 years ago

Believe it or not, I see progress being made:

1)DoJ argument from 2008 to 2011: Ivins was in the hot suite FOR NO LEGITIMATE REASON WHATSOEVER, with no documentation to justify his presence there.

2)argument from Feb 2010(in footnote) and more recently: Ivins had a perfectly valid reason for being in the hot suite in the timeframe indicated, AND there are still-existing contemporaneous notes that reflect that but we, the DoJ, THINK he spent too much time there (suspicious!) and we refuse to release the notes.

NOW who's acting 'suspicious'?

Ed Lake
Ed Lake
10 years ago

Richard Rowley wrote: "DoJ argument from 2008 to 2011: Ivins was in the hot suite FOR NO LEGITIMATE REASON WHATSOEVER"

I think you need to start differentiating between "hot suite B3 and Ivins' "very hot" BioSafety Level 3 (BSL-3) laboratory in room B313 within Suite B3.

And, I should have highlighted "mice involved in a study being conducted by another colleague in my previous post.

The fact that the mice were part of some other scientist's study says that Ivins would only check on the mice to see if they were still alive. If any had died, he would make a note of it and the time he did the check.

He would NOT do a necropsy. He would NOT dispose of the animal. So, he would be in and out of the mouse animal room in no more than 10 or 15 minutes.

The unusual times that Ivins spent in Suite B3 in August, September and October of 2001 were times spent in his BSL-3 lab where he had the equipment to make the anthrax powders.

And the facts seem to indicate that when he checked on the mice THE MICE WERE IN A DIFFERENT SUITE.

The journal entries say that when Ivins checked on the mice, he ALWAYS checked them at 2200 hours (10 p.m.). Daytime checks were also done at different times: 0830, 1330, 1500, etc.

Checking on one of the times in question, October 2, we see that he checked on the mice as usual at 2200 hours or 10 p.m..

However, the in-out logs show that Ivins entered Building 1425 at 7:24 PM and left at 9:39 PM.

So, when did he check the mice? Doesn't the in-out log say that, if he did check on the mice, he did it in Building 1412 (or he did the 2200 check early and just logged it as being done at 2200 hours)?

Checking the times for the 1st of October, they show that Ivins wasn't in Suite B3 at 10 PM, but he was in building 1425. The in-out logs say he left Suite B3 at 9:19 PM and returned again at 10:13 PM. So, if he was checking on mice that evening at 10 PM, he was doing the checking in another suite.

Ed

Anonymous
Anonymous
10 years ago

"Believe it or not, I see progress being made."

Yes, there is indeed progress. The FBI made a big deal out of him even being in the hot suite at all. But his job required him to be there – it was on his schedule.

What is the minumum amount of time one would be in the hot suite – in other words, scan in, change, enter, immediately return to shower area after doing nothing, shower, change, scan out?

We know he was assigned to check animals on the very nights the FBI accuse him of not having a reason to be there. Other persons must have had to enter the hot suite on the evenings in between when it was their turn to do the night checks. How long do their time records reflect they were in there?

The FBI don't seem to want to release that information. Suspicious indeed.

Ed Lake
Ed Lake
10 years ago

Anonymous wrote: "We know he was assigned to check animals on the very nights the FBI accuse him of not having a reason to be there. Other persons must have had to enter the hot suite on the evenings in between when it was their turn to do the night checks."

The animals Ivins checked were in a DIFFERENT SUITE OF LABS.

The in-out logs show that Ivins had to leave Suite B3 when it was time to check the animals. Checking the mice had NOTHING to do with the time Ivins spent in his BSL-3 lab in room B313 allegedly making the anthrax powders.

Ivins was ALONE in his BSL-3 lab on the nights in question. He was almost certainly ALONE in Suite B3 on the nights in question.

The FBI checked on others who were in the Bacteriology Division on the nights in question to see if Ivins could have had an accomplice.

You are grabbing at straws. Ivins job did NOT require him to be in his BSL-3 lab on the nights in question.

Ed

Anonymous
Anonymous
10 years ago

Ed Lake's confusion lies in the fact he does not appreciate the implications of the keypad (registering the access) needed to be passed to reach the animals.

He confuses the keypad access (using the card) with the PIN relating to what he calls the "hot suite."

The keypad was at B301. The keypad access records exactly confirm what the documents withheld by the FBI for years (and still not produced by them) show.

Ed also confuses the mouse experiment with the rabbit experiment. Different experiment. Different animals. Different dates. Together they all explain his reason for being in the lab but the documents were withheld from him with the FBI having taken the only copy of the Covance notebook.

It is not true that only Dr. Ivins knew what the flask contained the Ames. Indeed, there were dozens of samples of virulent Ames in the same unlocked refrigerator. In fact, the animal tech AB needed to retrieve the flask from 1412 when the FBI asked for it in 2004. Source: GA.

Ed Lake
Ed Lake
10 years ago

Anonymous wrote: "Ed Lake's confusion lies in the fact he does not appreciate the implications of the keypad (registering the access) needed to be passed to reach the animals."

The data is clear. Ivins left Suite B3 when it was time to check on the animals. Ergo, the animals were NOT in B3.

The keypad has NOTHING to do with accessing the animals.

Here are the times from Ivins' in-out logs for Sept. 28 to Oct. 2, 2001, and the time he checked on the animals (always at 10 p.m.):

September 28, 2001:
10:05 PM – CORR TO AR OUT
10:00 PM – Claimed to check mice & rabbits
10:40 PM – CORR TO AR IN
September 29, 2001:
9:58 PM – CORR TO BACTI OU
10:00 PM – Checked mice & rabbits
11:18 PM – 1425 REAR DR OUT
September 30, 2001:
10:06 PM – CORR TO AR OUT
10:00 PM – Claimed to check mice & rabbits
10:34 PM – CORR TO BACTI IN
October 1, 2001:
9:19 PM – CORR TO BACTI OU
10:00 PM – Checked mice
10:13 PM – CORR TO BACTI IN
October 2, 2001:
9:39 PM – 1425 REAR DR OUT
10:00 PM – Claimed to check mice

CORR TO BACTI OU means he exited Suite B3 into the Bacteriology Division Corridor.

CORR TO BACTI IN means he entered Suite B3 from the Bacteriology Division Corridor.

CORR TO AR OUT means he exited Suite B3 into the Animal Resources Division Corridor (via the "crash door" at the rear of the lab).

CORR TO AR IN means he entered Suite B3 from the Animal Resources Corridor.

As anyone can plainly see, he ALWAYS left Suite B3 when it was time to check the animals. Also, the time he recorded as checking the animals was an approximate time.

The logs do not show him entering any other lab or suite during the period he was out of Suite B3, so the animals were almost certainly in Suite B5, which was a BSL-2 suite and FBI records show that it didn't require a keycard to enter Suite B5.

The notebook shows that Ivins checked mice at the same time as he checked rabbits, so unless he could be in two different places at the same time, the rabbits were located in close proximity to the mice.

Ed

r. rowley
r. rowley
10 years ago

For those who have become interested in Bruce Ivins' mental condition, I submit that an article in today's NY TIMES is instructive:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/23/health/23lives.html?_r=1&ref=todayspaper
——————————–
It, part of a series in the TIMES on those with mental health issues, focusses on a woman named
Keris Myrick who seems to have something very close to what Ivins had: schizophrenia/schizoaffective disorder with (perhaps) OCD. I think it very well done and an example of how one with such an illness can be a highly functional worker in a challenging job. As Ivins was for over a quarter century. I've grown to admire Ivins in the past 3 years.

A sidebar story in the NY TIMES:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/23/health/23livesside.html?ref=health

Also useful:
http://health.nytimes.com/health/guides/disease/schizoaffective-disorder/overview.html

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