Pushing the envelope: Psychobabble “solves” FBI’s case/ NYT

A group of psychiatrists [UPDATE:  See Dr. Jeffrey Kaye’s analysis of the panel composition] offered their forensic expertise in solving the anthrax criminal investigation, by using their insight into the criminal mind.  Somehow DC Judge Royce E. Lamberth blessed them, and FBI paid the $38,000  bill.  The group only had one suspect, whose confidential medical records were supplied by the FBI.  The Executive Summary makes clear that the panels’ conclusions were built into its charge:

…the Panel was asked to offer, based on the available materials, a better understanding of Dr. Ivins’ mental state before and after the anthrax mailings, his possible motives — and the connections, if any, between his mental state and the commission of the crimes.

If the group’s trove of documents resembled that of the National Academy of Sciences panel, then it was carefully cherry-picked, designed to elicit a single conclusion.  The NY Times’ Scott Shane notes their conclusion:

“Dr. Ivins was psychologically disposed to undertake the mailings; his behavioral history demonstrated his potential for carrying them out; and he had the motivation and the means,” the panel wrote in its 285-page report, released at a news conference on Wednesday…  It also found that Dr. Ivins, who was 62 when he died, was “homicidal” in the last weeks of his life. Only his involuntary commitment for psychiatric treatment, the panel wrote, “prevented a mass shooting and fulfillment of his promise to go out in a ‘blaze of glory,’ “ the report said.

How much of their evidence is derived from Ivins’ alcohol abuse counselor, who was under house arrest at the time and working with the FBI in the final months of Ivins’ life?  Was her profound conflict of interest clear to these experts?

How could these experts possibly know Ivins had the motivation and means, when the FBI failed to produce a logical motive or provide evidence of means?

From the report’s executive summary:

The key themes were revenge, a desperate need for personal validation, career reservation and professional redemption, and loss. These themes guided him not only in making the attacks, but in choosing his targets and shaping his methods…

The [mail]box thus appears to have represented to him the two key reservoirs of his obsession and rage. Dr. Ivins’ statements to therapists and the FBI suggest that KKG represented authority and all the successful, talented, attractive people who had rejected him and inspired his rage. Princeton represented his father and perhaps his unmet college aspirations and the humiliation and rage wrapped up in these concepts for him. For him, dropping anthrax in this [mail]box appears to have represented both a conquest and a desecration — in short, payback.

Is psychobabble too strong a word to describe this outpouring of gibberish?

UPDATE:  Scientia Press has an analysis of Ivins’ criminal propensity/ lack of any history of aggression here.

This report was completed last August, but was pulled out of the deep freeze yesterday in a last-ditch attempt to trump the NAS report. The website that offers this report for sale, provides the Executive Summary and  bios of the authors ends with the following, in a clear attempt to link this psychiatric report to the NAS report, and presumably give it equal weight in future discussions of the case. 

National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Panel

Investigators in this case relied on new microbial forensic techniques developed by government, academic, and private-sector scientists to address these specific attacks. Because these techniques were new, the FBI requested the formation of a separate commission through the National Academy of Sciences to evaluate “the reliability of the principles and methods used by the FBI, and whether the principles and methods were applied appropriately to the facts.” At the time of this report’s submission to Chief Judge Lamberth in August 2010, that report had not yet been released.  The report was released on February 15, 2011.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
14 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Anonymous
Anonymous
11 years ago

From the blog entry:
————-
From the report's executive summary:

The key themes were revenge, a desperate need for personal validation, career reservation and professional redemption, and loss. These themes guided him not only in making the attacks, but in choosing his targets and shaping his methods…
The [mail]box thus appears to have represented to him the two key reservoirs of his obsession and rage. Dr. Ivins’ statements to therapists and the FBI suggest that KKG represented authority and all the successful, talented, attractive people who had rejected him and inspired his rage. Princeton represented his father and perhaps his unmet college aspirations and the humiliation and rage wrapped up in these concepts for him. For him, dropping anthrax in this [mail]box appears to have represented both a conquest and a desecration — in short, payback.

Is psychobabble too strong a word to describe this outpouring of gibberish?
———————————
No. It's enough to make one want to tear one's hair out.

I'm half-surprised they didn't claim that Jennifer Lopez reminded Ivins of his mom and fed into his Oedipus Complex.

Sad thing is, some people will be impressed by the CREDENTIALS of the panel members (all but one an MD) and just get the gist: 'panel confirms DoJ's conclusions'.

It's really weird when there must be SEVERAL professional psychiatric societies that could have put together a panel along the lines of the NAS panel on the science of the case……

Old Atlantic Lighthouse
Old Atlantic Lighthouse
11 years ago

One of the interesting things in this case is how things can transition from known fact to never having been part of the government case.

In the new Wired article, the FBI Agent in charge, Edward Montooth, says that Ivins may have grown the anthrax over months.

Up to that statement, the DOJ/FBI treated it as known fact that you can grow several grams of anthrax in 24 to 48 hours and process it into powder in the same time frame, notably Friday Sep 14 to Sunday Sep 16, 2001. They didn't admit that growth times are random and growth yields random. Nor the problems in creating that many grams of powdered anthrax without them spreading.

In the Wired article, they describe Ivins as opening the letter in a glovebox and the spores hanging in the air visible to those watching.

The DOJ/FBI still won't commit to a number of how many spores and how many grams of anthrax were in the letters or even a range. The NAS provided a broad range for these in its report.

DOJ/FBI still will not release the emails from Ivins home computer and Internet account, which Dxer at Case Closed has pointed out may help provide an additional narrowing of the window on the first weekend. Those emails would still be owned by Ivins' family not owned by the government since they were done on his own computer at home.

What about the psychology of not releasing a man's emails on his home computer to his family and to his lawyer? If psychology lacks a term for this, perhaps the law can provide it.

Anonymous
Anonymous
11 years ago

If you want to read even more Psychobabble you need to see the full report. Below are some gems:

Exerpt (page 45):

DEVELOPMENTAL HISTORY

The youngest of three boys, Bruce Edwards Ivins was born April 22,

1946 and reared in southwest Ohio, in Lebanon, where his father,

Randall, owned and managed the Ivins-Jameson Pharmacy. The Ivins

family traces its American roots to 17th century New Jersey. Bruce

Ivins’ great-great-grandfather Thomas Ivins was born in what was

then known as Monmouth, N.J., before moving to Ohio in the

19th century.

For reasons whose signifi cance will become clear later in this

narrative, it is important to note that Bruce Ivins was aware of this

family genealogy. In a fi le where he kept important papers, he saved

a letter, dated August 26, 1986, from a paternal relative. This letter

specifi cally related the genealogy of the Ivins family, and listed

Thomas Ivins and his father, Barzillai, whose ancestors had also

been born in Monmouth, N.J.

Exerpt (page 130 ):

By using the ZIP code of Monmouth Junction, Dr. Ivins may have been

portraying in code the connection between KKG and his own identity.

Monmouth Junction may have represented the union of father

(Monmouth, N.J.) and mother (Monmouth College, KKG), i.e., himself.

And it also represented his entanglement, his obsession with KKG.

In other words, in two inter-related ways, the Monmouth Junction may

have represented Dr. Ivins himself. With the return address on his

Senatorial letters, he appears to have revealed the identity — at the

deepest level — of the mailer. Dr. Ivins, in short, signed his letters.

Anonymous
Anonymous
11 years ago

http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/03/ff_anthrax_fbi/
Noah Schactman writes in Wired (3-24-11) …

extracted from Schactman’s excellent overview titled … “Anthrax Redux: Did the Feds Nab the Wrong Guy?”

The FBI unraveled the mystery, officials said, thanks in part to the microbiologists seated at a U-shaped table in the front of the room. Among them was Paul Keim, who first identified the anthrax strain used in the attacks, and genetic specialist Claire Fraser-Liggett, who led the team that sequenced the DNA of the anthrax in the letters, tracing the spores back to their genetic match: a flask of superconcentrated, ultrapure anthrax held by Ivins. Several of the researchers at the table had previously counted Ivins as a peer and even a friend. Now they were helping brand him a monster.
Between the officials and the scientists, it was a convincing display. It had to be. Ivins had killed himself three weeks earlier. There would be no arrest, no trial, no sentencing. Absent a courtroom and a verdict to provide a sense of finality or some measure of catharsis, all the FBI could do was present its findings and declare the case closed.
No one involved that day expressed any doubt about Ivins’ guilt.
But things are not always as clear-cut as they may seem in an FBI presentation.
Two years later, sitting in her office overlooking West Baltimore, Fraser-Liggett concedes she has reservations. “There are still some holes,” she says, staring out her window in discomfort.
Nearly 2,000 miles away in Flagstaff, Arizona, Keim has his own concerns. “I don’t know if Ivins sent the letters,” he says with a hint of both irritation and sadness.
Even agent Edward Montooth, who ran the FBI’s hunt for the anthrax killer, says that—while he’s still convinced Ivins was the mailer—he’s unsure of many things, from Ivins’ motivation to when he brewed up the lethal spores. “We still have a difficult time nailing down the time frame,” he says. “We don’t know when he made or dried the spores.”
In other words, it’s been 10 years since the deadliest biological terror attack in US history launched a manhunt that ruined one scientist’s reputation and saw a second driven to suicide, yet nagging problems remain.
Problems that add up to an unsettling reality …
Despite the FBI’s assurances, it’s not at all certain

that the government could have ever convicted Ivins of a crime.

lewweinstein
lewweinstein
11 years ago

Right on target, Meryl.

Anonymous
Anonymous
11 years ago

Meryl writes:“Somehow DC Judge Royce E. Lamberth blessed them, and FBI paid the $38,000 bill.”

Lamberth and Ed Meese go way back to when Meese was AG and Lamberth served as a DC judge. They also serve together on a board today (see link below).

Meese, of course, is Chairman of the group that wrote the Ivins Psychobabble and heaviliy influenced the main author Greg Saathoff.

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1316/is_4_34/ai_85107348/pg_5/

Anonymous
Anonymous
11 years ago

Because the emergency petition is a public court document, and
because the petition referenced Dr. Ivins’ own statements that he was
already a suspect in the Amerithrax investigation, local police notified
the FBI. On July 11, FBI investigators interviewed, for the first time,
both the therapist who had sought the emergency petition and her
supervisor, the other therapist who was present in the group meeting
where Dr. Ivins had made his explicit threats. Later, the FBI also
interviewed Dr. Ivins’ psychiatrist, who had authorized the petition,

Please note what it says – not months of involvement with the FBI contact with the FBI for the FIRST time I would be very careful what you write.

Anonymous
Anonymous
11 years ago

Comments and questions regarding the membership of the committee are in order. The Chair, Dr. Gregory Saathof, has been serving, according to the bio on the website, with the FBI since 1996, an obvious conflict of interest. The presence of the two Red Cross executives on the committee, neither of whom is a psychiatrist, is inexplicable. COL David Benedek is listed as a professor at USUHS and a former director of the National Capital Consortium Forensic Psychiatry fellowship at WRAMC. MAJ Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, is a graduate of USUHS and had completed a psychiatry residency at WRAMC before being sent to Fort Hood. The history of any contact, interaction, and involvement of COL Benedek with MAJ Hasan is an obvious issue for anyone intending to assess COL Benedek's capabilities for the recognition and assessment of criminal behavior and activity.

Anonymous
Anonymous
11 years ago

Anthrax Redux: Did the Feds Nab the Wrong Guy?http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/03/ff_anthrax_fbi/

A very good and detailed long article. Does not mention the non-biological forensics not matching anything at USAMRIID (silicon and tin) – but does a good job of explaining that the biological forensics on their own are not conclusive.

Ed Montooth, head of the investigation admits holes in the case – "little" details like – how could Dr Ivins make all these spores.

2 scientists hired by the FBI – Fraser-Liggit and Keim – express grave doubts.

Great quotes from Dr Fraser-Liggit – "It's part of our civil liberties to be peculiar" – meaning, so what if Dr Ivins private psychiatric records reveal imperfections?

Anonymous
Anonymous
11 years ago

More comments are in order regarding the committee. The conflict of interest associated with Dr. Saathof could have manifested itself in many ways. Perhaps he had already been consulted on the case by the FBI, and the committee was a platform to justify his own actions and recommendations. Perhaps Dr. Saathof was attempting to impress an FBI superior, or facilitate future employment with the FBI by telling them what they wanted to hear. Or perhaps he had worked with the FBI for so long that it would not have occurred to him to disagree with them, or question their methods, data, or selection of information provided to the committee. The point is that there is no way to prove that any of these possibilities are false. Dr. Saathof should have not have been allowed on the committee at all, let alone serve as Chair.

Meryl Nass, M.D.
Meryl Nass, M.D.
11 years ago

When/if all the records are ever available, we will see if the FBI first had contact with Ivins' therapist in July 2008. If he was truly their main suspect for many months (or years) and they were truly ready to close the case when he died, it is hard to understand why they had not contacted the therapist (nor obtained Ivins' DNA) sooner than July 2008.

Anonymous
Anonymous
11 years ago

Agreed, that's very curious. It just doesn't sound like the way FBI has operated. Another huge issue: the 299 page book "The Amerithrax Case: Report of the Expert Behavioral Analysis Panel" by Dr. Saathof et al, available from Lulu.com (the internet self-publishing company) for $41.73. To some, that looks like the most egregious violation of HIPAA ever perpetrated, and now the committee is making money off it.

anonymous
anonymous
11 years ago

A VANITY PRESS? THESE GUYS PUBLISHED "The Amerithrax Case: Report of the Expert Behavioral Analysis Panel" WITH A VANITY PRESS?

IS ANYONE PAYING ATTENTION? !PAGING SCOTT SHANE..

Meryl Nass, M.D.
Meryl Nass, M.D.
11 years ago

Anonymous, I don't see your name mentioned–Meryl

Scroll to Top