But FBI’s report, documents and accompanying information (only pertaining to Ivins, not to the rest of the investigation) were released on Friday afternoon… which means the FBI anticipated doubt and ridicule. And the National Academies of Science (NAS) is several months away from issuing its $879,550 report on the microbial forensics, suggesting a) asking NAS to investigate the FBI’s science was just a charade to placate Congress, and/or b) NAS’ investigation might be uncovering things the FBI would prefer to bury, so FBI decided to preempt the NAS panel’s report.
The FBI’s handling of the investigation has been criticized by Ivins’s colleagues and by independent analysts who have pointed out multiple gaps, including a lack of hair, fiber other physical evidence directly linking Ivins to the anthrax letters. But despite long delays and false leads, Justice officials Friday expressed satisfaction with the outcome.
The evidence “established that Dr. Ivins, alone, mailed the anthrax letters,” the Justice summary stated.
Actually, the 96 page FBI report is predicated on the assumption that the anthrax letters attack was carried out by a “lone nut.” The FBI report fails to entertain the possibility that the letters attack could have involved more than one actor. The FBI admits that about 400 people may have had access to Ivins’ RMR-1029 anthrax preparation, but asserts all were “ruled out” as lone perpetrators. FBI never tried to rule any out as part of a conspiracy, however.
That is only the first of many holes in FBI’s case. Here is a sampling of some more.
- The report assumes Ivins manufactured, purified and dried the spore prep in the anthrax hot room at US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID). His colleagues say the equipment available was insufficient to do so on the scale required.
- But even more important, the letter spores contained a Bacillus subtilis contaminant, and silicon to enhance dispersal. FBI has never found the Bacillus subtilis strain at USAMRIID, and it has never acknowledged finding silicon there, either. If the letters anthrax was made at USAMRIID, at least small amounts of both would be there.
- Drs. Perry Mikesell, Ayaad Assaad and Stephen Hatfill were 3 earlier suspects. All had circumstantial evidence linking them to the case. In Hatfill’s case, especially, are hints he could have been “set up.” Greendale, the return address on the letters, was a suburb of Harare, Zimbabwe where Hatfill attended medical school. Hatfill wrote an unpublished book about a biowarfare attack that bears some resemblance to the anthrax case. So the fact that abundant circumstantial evidence links Ivins to the case might be a reflection that he too was “set up” as a potential suspect, before the letters were sent.
- FBI fails to provide any discussion of why no autopsy was performed, nor why, with Ivins under 24/7 surveillance from the house next door, with even his garbage being combed through, the FBI failed to notice that he overdosed and went into a coma. Nor is there any discussion of why the FBI didn’t immediately identify tylenol as the overdose substance, and notify the hospital, so that a well-known antidote for tylenol toxicity could be given (N-acetyl cysteine, or alternatively glutathione). These omissions support the suggestion that Ivins’ suicide was a convenience for the FBI. It enabled them to conclude the anthrax case, in the absence of evidence that would satisfy the courts.
- The FBI’s alleged motive is bogus. In 2001, Bioport’s anthrax vaccine could not be (legally) relicensed due to potency failures, and its impending demise provided room for Ivins’ newer anthrax vaccines to fill the gap. Ivins had nothing to do with developing Bioport’s vaccine, although in addition to his duties working on newer vaccines, he was charged with assisting Bioport to get through licensure.
- FBI’s report claims, “Those who worked for him knew that Nass was one of those topics to avoid discussing around Dr. Ivins” (page 41). The truth is we had friendly meetings at the Annapolis, Maryland international anthrax conference in June 2001, and several phone conversations after that. Bruce occasionally assisted me in my study of the safety and efficacy of Bioport’s licensed anthrax vaccine, giving me advice and papers he and others had written. I wonder if I was mentioned negatively to discourage Ivins’ other friends and associates from communicating with me, since they have been prohibited from speaking freely? Clever.
- The FBI’s Summary states that “only a limited number of individuals ever had access to this specific spore preparation” and that the flask was under Ivins’ sole and exclusive control. Yet the body of the report acknowledges hundreds of people who had access to the spores, and questions remain about the location of the spore prep during the period in question. FBI wordsmiths around this, claiming that no one at USAMRIID “legitimately” used spores from RMR1029 without the “authorization and knowledge” of Bruce Ivins. Of course, stealing spores to terrorize and kill is not a legitimate activity.
- FBI says that only a small number of labs had Ames anthrax, including only 3 foreign labs. Yet a quick Pub Med search of papers published between 1999 and 2004 revealed Ames anthrax was studied in at least Italy, France, the UK, Israel and South Korea as well as the US. By failing to identify all labs with access to Ames, the FBI managed to exclude potential domestic and foreign perpetrators.
- FBI claims that “drying anthrax is expressly forbidden by various treaties,” therefore it would have to be performed clandestinely. Actually, the US government sponsored several programs that dried anthrax spores. Drying spores is not explicitly prohibited by the Biological Weapons Convention, though many would like it to be.
- The FBI report claims the anthrax letters envelopes were sold in Frederick, Md. Later it admits that millions of indistinguishable envelopes were made, with sales in Maryland and Virginia.
- FBI emphasizes Ivins’ access to a photocopy machine, but fails to mention it was not the machine from which the notes that accompanied the spores were printed.
- FBI claims Ivins was able to make a spore prep of equivalent purity as the letter spores. However, Ivins had clumping in his spores, while the spores in the Daschle/Leahy letters had no clumps. Whether Ivins could make a pure dried prep is unknown, but there is no evidence he had ever done so.
- FBI asserts that Bioport and USAMRIID were nearly out of anthrax vaccine, to the point researchers might not have enough to vaccinate themselves. FBI further asserts this would end all anthrax research, derailing Ivins’ career. In fact, USAMRIID has developed many dozens of vaccines (including those for anthrax) that were never licensed, but have been used by researchers to vaccinate themselves. There would be no vaccine shortage for researchers.
- Ivins certainly had mental problems. But that does not explain why the FBI accompanied Ivins’ therapist, Ms. Duley (herself under charges for multiple DUIs) and assisted her to apply for a peace order against him. Nor does it explain why Duley then went into hiding, never to be heard from again.
- FBI obtained a voluntary collection of anthrax samples. Is that the way to conduct a multiple murder investigation: ask the scientists to supply you with the evidence to convict them? There is no report that spores were seized from anyone but Ivins, about 6 years after the attacks. This is a huge hole in the FBI’s “scientific” methodology.
- FBI claims it investigated Bioport and others who had a financial motive for the letters attack, and ruled them out. However, FBI provides not a shred of evidence from such an investigation.
FBI gave this report its best shot. The report sounds good. It includes some new evidence. It certainly makes Ivins out to be a crazed, scary and pathetic figure. If you haven’t followed this story intently, you may be convinced of his guilt.
On the other hand, there are reasons why a conspiracy makes better sense. If the FBI really had the goods, they would not be overreaching to pin the crime on a lone nut.
JFK, RFK, George Wallace, Martin Luther King, all felled by lone nuts. Even Ronald Reagan’s would-be assassin was a lone nut. Now Bruce Ivins. The American public is supposed to believe that all these crimes required no assistance and no funds.
Does the FBI stand for the Federal Bureau of Invention?
Older information on this blog, germane to analysis of the FBI’s case, includes the following:
Posts of mine that go into detail about these and other problems with the FBI’s claims are here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. Science magazine had additional questions. Vanity Fair published a fascinating article by Donald Foster that brings up more material the FBI ignored, here. Here I speculated on the emotional strain Bruce might have faced as a result of his knowledge of problems with the safety and effectiveness of currently used anthrax vaccines.