The National Academies today announced its committee membership to review the FBI’s scientific analysis of anthrax. In an unusual move, the NAS has issued a 20 day comment period in which the public may dispute proposed committee members on the basis of bias.
Why was the NAS committee formed? The first mention of such a committee was made by FBI Director Mueller at a House Judiciary Oversight Committee hearing last September. I attended the hearing. Mueller only brought up the subject of a National Academy of Science investigation to sidetrack his Congressional questioners. Here is what I wrote at the time:
… responding to Rep. Nadler’s question of whether the FBI would cooperate with an independent investigation, Mueller attempted to confuse the issue of an independent investigation, saying FBI was requesting this from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). However, the NAS will only be asked to review FBI’s “microbial forensic” science. (FBI’s M.O. is to keep trotting out the genomics, no matter what question is asked.) And NAS didn’t even know they were going to get this gig until today’s hearing, suggesting NAS’ study might just be a bone thrown to the committee to head off a truly independent investigation of the letters case.
The NAS will determine whether FBI’s genomics work used acceptable science. I certainly hope it did, given the national security implications if it didn’t, let alone the time and expense to complete the FBI-sponsored research program.
However, the very best the committee and FBI can do with all the scientific data is to determine whether the progenitor anthrax used in some of the anthrax letters came from a flask used by deceased scientist Bruce Ivins. Yet over 100 other people also had access to this flask, and might have been involved.
Therefore, what this committee finds will be entirely tangential to who sent the anthrax letters. To solve that problem requires old-fashioned police work, which includes developing a logical theory of the crime. Means, motive, opportunity and evidence will then assume their rightful places in this case.