Editorial: Anthrax Attacks Still A Mystery After 10 Years/ Hartford Courant


Mrs. Lundgren and four others died; 17 were injured. Thousands were exposed and had to take powerful antibiotics. The government seemed paralyzed. The FBI investigators careened from one false lead to another. After 10 years, 9,000 interviews and 6,000 subpoenas, the anthrax attacks are still unsolved

For years, the FBI harassed scientist Steven Hatfill as the only suspect in the case until the agency was forced to apologize and award him $5.8 million for slandering him and destroying his career. After Army microbiologist Bruce Ivins committed suicide in 2008, the FBI announced that he was the likely source of the anthrax attacks. But the agency’s case is circumstantial and important questions remain unsolved:

  • The anthrax spores were “weaponized” with a high percentage of silicon, making the bacteria even more lethal. Yet there’s no evidence that Dr. Ivins either had the equipment or was capable of the elaborate process necessary to add the silicon.
  • One of the 9/11 hijackers, Ahmed Alhaznawi, reported to a Florida hospital with a dark wound that the attending physician told the FBI was consistent with cutaneous anthrax, which causes skin lesions.
  • The cave at Tora Bora where Osama bin Laden hid for a time twice tested positively for the same strain of anthrax found in the letters, according to Pulitzer-prize winning author Laurie Garrett, author of “I Heard the Sirens Scream: How Americans Responded to the 9/11 and Anthrax Attacks.”

The Government Accountability Office is currently examining the FBI’s botched investigation. U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, from whose New Jersey district the perpetrator mailed the anthrax-laced letters, has for years proposed congressional hearings into the anthrax attacks. So far, nobody’s listened.

Such hearings are the least that should occur. A decade without clear answers is infuriating — and unacceptable.

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Anonymous
Anonymous
11 years ago

I think that when push comes to shove, it will be discovered that the Amerithrax perps 'celebrated' the 10 year mark by…..sending a white powder package to the Vice President's brother.

But since the contents of the package (ie what was there besides the powder) won't likely be revealed, there'll be no way for an outsider to determine that for sure….

Anonymous
Anonymous
11 years ago

There are numerous white powder scares and so one would not want to make begin to make any inferences without knowing all the details.

The media should not bother reporting white powder scares.

and this is from someone who thinks the motivation is tied very much to the rendering of Dr. Ayman's brother Muhammad who was a senior EIJ leader. Dr. Ayman and his sister Heba were understandably extremely distraught.

Anonymous
Anonymous
11 years ago

It was the month Dr. Ayman's brother was rendered — March/April 1999 — that Dr. Ayman's former colleagues and the blind sheik's lawyer announced that Dr. Ayman was going to use anthrax against US targets to retaliate for the rendering of senior EIJ leaders. Senator Leahy was in charge of appropriations to Egypt and Israel. Vetting under the Leahy law permitted continued appropriations to members of security units who engaged in torture in the event of "extraordinary circumstances."

Anonymous
Anonymous
11 years ago

http://www.dtic.mil/descriptivesum/Y2000/DARPA/PE0602383E-R-1%2314.pdf

Evaluate methods for removing micro-encapsulation of disguised pathogens and/or sensing through the micro-encapsulation.

Ed Lake
Ed Lake
11 years ago

The Courant wrote: "The anthrax spores were "weaponized" with a high percentage of silicon, making the bacteria even more lethal."

That is totally untrue. How much evidence is needed to convince people that it is totally untrue? Or doesn't the editor of the Hartford Courant even bother to look at the evidence?

The attack anthrax was NOT weaponized. The silicon was located inside the spore coat and had accumulated there naturally from the silicon that was in the agar used to grow the spores.

The Courant also wrote: "One of the 9/11 hijackers, Ahmed Alhaznawi, reported to a Florida hospital with a dark wound that the attending physician told the FBI was consistent with cutaneous anthrax, which causes skin lesions."

That is also untrue. The doctor told the FBI that the wound was a "gash" and that it was consistent with what al Haznawi claimed: that he'd bumped into the corner of a suitcase. It was only after Tara O'Toole and some others with their own theories talked with the Doctor that he agreed that it was possible that the wound could have been a cutaneous anthrax lesion. His body was tested after it was found in that field in Pennsylvania, and it showed no signs of anthrax.

The Courant also wrote: "The cave at Tora Bora where Osama bin Laden hid for a time twice tested positively for the same strain of anthrax found in the letters"

Those were "false positives". When further testing was done, there was no sign of anthrax at that lab.

Ed

Anonymous
Anonymous
11 years ago

Contrary to Ed Lake's obsessive assertions, the attack spores were indeed weaponized. Silicon and tin were very clearly additives. Nobody with science qualifications and officially connected with this investigation can state with a straight face that 10.77% silicon and 0.65% tin in the New York Post sample was an "accident" as the FBI childishly claim.

If asked the direct question in very plain English "Could 10.77% silicon and 0.65% tin be accidental contaminants in the NYP powder"? none of the following would be able to say "Don't worry – just an accident – not important" – Dwight Adams, Chris Hassell, Joe Michael, Matthew Meselson.

Anonymous
Anonymous
11 years ago

Ed agrees that the spores appear to have been microencapsulated. see his webpage. He (like the FBI)just uses the word "weaponized" to refer only to "floatability". Lawyers would call that an Alice-in-Wonderland argument where words mean what they want them to mean.

Microencapsulation serves to protect from UV and heat and was discussed in the book seized from Dr. Ayman's material by Osterholm and a NYT correspondent from 2000. It is a straw man argument and semantics for the FBI scientists to use "weaponization" to refer only to "floatability." Chris Hassell says he is obscuring things somewhat and people will just have to understand that. see science press conference. But the FBI's approach obscures analysis — and given that has previously been described in a best-selling book, it only serves to confuse analysis.

It was the FBI's scientist who made dried powder out of Ames from RMR-1029 and that lab did not submit the Ames they had, they report, in early 2002 and then threw out the sample submitted by Dr. Ivins. Once one understands the silicon signature points to microencapsulation, you realize the importance of understanding where the DARPA research on microencapsulation was done.

Was it done at SRI which was doing the work with AMES for the researchers at the Center for Biodefense who invented the microdroplet cell culture method that involved growing anthrax with silica or a silanizing agent in the culture medium? The head of SRI (Voss who I last contacted at Tulane and the VP Franz) won't tell me when SRI first acquired Ames. In fact, DF lost touch with me when I pressed to find out.

The FBI director acknowledged there was a third lab that made a virulent dried powder (in addition to dugway and battelle) but could not say in open session. It is against a MD state law to identify a lab that works with a pathogen.

Chris Hassell should reconsider the wisodm of the "hold-back" here — especially given the role the FBI scientists played in making the dried powder out of Ames and the resulting conflict of interest, the scientists' failure to submit the AMES for testing revealed in the documens uploaded this week etc. If GAO does not address these conflicts of interest, it will not have fulfilled its most important mission.

Anonymous
Anonymous
11 years ago

Ed says his body was tested after it was found and it showed no signs of anthrax. To the contrary, the recovered pounds of flesh (not his body as such) that could be recovered tested positive for Ames strain of anthrax. The FBI argues that it must have been from cross-contamination but has not disclosed any documents bearing on the cross-contamination that resulted in the positive finding. Ed is not well-read on the subject and is mischaracterizing the record which he apparently has not read. The hijacker had just come in June from Kandahar which is where the anthrax lab was located.

Dr. Ayman in a memo to Atef explained that the plan was to move the lab every 3 months — which is consistent with what was observed at 3 locations. The walls were to be painted and then washed with insecticide to hide traces of the anthrax. And so they should have determined the insecticide used and been testing for that.

You can fault FBI all you like but it was DIA who allowed the infiltration.

Ed Lake
Ed Lake
11 years ago

"Nobody with science qualifications and officially connected with this investigation can state with a straight face that 10.77% silicon and 0.65% tin in the New York Post sample was an "accident" as the FBI childishly claim."

Scientists also found a microscopic piece of metal in one of the samples. After an exhaustive investigation, they determined that the metal came from a new tweezer that had been used to manipulate the sample. They examined other tweezers from the sterile bags they came in from the manufacturer, and they found the same tiny bits of metal on them from the manufacturing process.

Accidents happen.

Ed

Ed Lake
Ed Lake
11 years ago

"The FBI argues that it must have been from cross-contamination but has not disclosed any documents bearing on the cross-contamination that resulted in the positive finding."

The FBI has released thousands of pages which show that Ivins was the anthrax mailer, so we know that the attacks had nothing to do with the 9/11 hijackers. Details about lab contamination consist mainly of doing repeat tests and finding nothing.

David Willman wrote on pages 385 and 386 of his book: "In addition to scouring locations in Florida where September 11 hijacker Ahmad al Haznawi was known to have lived or visited, the FBI sought traces of anthrax from his remains and those of the other three terrorists who hijacked United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania. According to the author's interviews with investigators, after body parts and bits of tissue were painstakingly recovered from the crash site, investigators were able to assemble partial remains for the four hijackers. On May 15, 2002, FBI lab chief Dwight Adams informed Robert Mueller that twenty-two pounds of the hijackers' remains were recovered […]. At the FBI's lab in Washington, techicians probed the dehydrated materials, including sawing into the foot of one of the hijackers, and sent tissue samples to USAMRIID and the Armed Forces Institute of pathology. No anthrax was found."

As I recall, other reports say that some anthrax was detected in the body parts, but it was determined to be from lab contamination at USAMRIID.

Ed

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