Rep. Nadler presses FBI for anthrax information/ McClatchy

Another story by Greg Gordon explores the false/misleading answer the FBI provided Rep. Nadler, a House Judiciary subcommittee chairman, when he asked about the silicon content of the anthrax letters in September 2008.  It took 7 months to get the wrong answer.

Nadler was told the Leahy letter contained 1.4% silicon (felt to be “naturally” present), and the Post letter was unable to be tested accurately.  But in fact, the FBI got a result of over 10% silicon in the Post letter:

A senior member of the House of Representatives is pressing the FBI to explain why he apparently was sent “incomplete and misleading” information that concealed a lab test showing a soaring level of silicon in one of the anthrax-laden letters that killed five people in 2001.

Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, a senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, demanded an explanation in a letter Wednesday to FBI Director Robert Mueller after a McClatchy story disclosed that the Justice Department gave a sketchy reply to Nadler’s 2008 inquiry.

McClatchy also reported in its May 19 story that FBI lab data suggests that a silicon-based chemical may have been added to the anthrax powder to heighten its potency. Some scientists say that concocting such a chemical formula would have been beyond the expertise of the late Bruce Ivins, a longtime Army anthrax researcher whom the FBI blames for the attacks.

Ivins committed suicide in July 2008 after learning that prosecutors planned to accuse him of capital murder. Nadler is among the congressional skeptics of the FBI’s decision last year, based solely on circumstantial evidence, to close the investigation and blame Ivins.

In his letter, Nadler noted that a National Academy of Sciences panel that reviewed the FBI’s handling of scientific issues declined in February to rule out the possibility that silicon was added to the powder mailed to the New York Post in a failed attempt to enhance its dispersion.

“Were additional samples tested to determine the extent to which the ones examined were representative of the New York Post letter material?” Nadler wrote. An anthrax-laced letter was sent to the newspaper in 2001.

If not, he asked, how would the FBI respond to the academy panel’s conclusion? Nadler requested that if additional tests were done, that the results be provided to the FBI and the academy.

At a Judiciary Committee hearing weeks after Ivins’ death, Nadler asked Mueller how much silicon was found in the anthrax-filled letters sent to Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and the New York Post.

Mueller demurred, asking whether he could respond later in writing. Seven months later, the Justice Department replied that the letter to Leahy contained 1.4 percent silicon by mass, but that “a reliable quantitative assessment” of the silicon content in the Post letter wasn’t possible because of the “limited quantity of material.”

However, a second sample from the Leahy powder contained 1.8 percent silicon, and the bureau advised the academy panel and others that an FBI lab test found 10.8 percent silicon by mass in the Post letter.

Nadler wrote Mueller that the response in April 2009 from M. Faith Burton, an acting chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legislative Affairs “appears to have been incomplete and misleading.”

The FBI said the bureau had received the letter and would respond directly to Nadler.

Allan Lengel also wrote about this story here, including a transcript of Rep. Nadler’s letter.

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

Please let me know if you are having trouble commenting. The site has had some problems today. Thx.

Meryl

Savage Henry
Savage Henry
11 years ago

Or just another Off-The-Wall-Thought ,,,,Thinking about the ecological geographical /geological niche that the AMES strain Anthrax bacillus naturally occupies in the United States. In the immediate aftermath of the 2001 anthrax attacks, there was a great deal of speculation by various anonymous government sources about the Silica compounds observed in the analysis of the anthrax. The clay material Bentonite was alleged to have been part of a secret anthrax weaponization recipe. (Implying that the anthrax was an Iraq type bioweapons grade because it contained Bentonite.)
Ames Anthrax is found though out the Western United States. (I am not sure of the extent of its actual range?) However, the area's prior geological history of volcanism makes volcanic ash deposits ubiquitous in these Western states; (particularly with the mega eruption of Yellowstone Park caldera.) (The high ash content of the soil is one of the reasons potatoes grow so well in Idaho.) Approximately four hundred thousand years ago Yellowstone erupted leaving deep volcanic ash deposits over large sections of the entire Western, Central, United States. These areas were completely buried with many meters of ash. This ash spread as far and wide into Eastern upstate New York leaving deposits there of 15 cm or deeper.
Rhyollitic Lava has relatively high SiO2 content above 68% and Basaltic somewhere near 50%. Where the flowing ashes are overlain by airborne ash, an ignimbrite or tuff is formed. This particular ash may have been up to 60% pure Silica in some areas. Bentonite is an absorbent aluminum phyllosilicate generally impure clay consisting mostly of montmorillonite. There are a few types of Bentonite and their names depend on the dominant elements mixed with the silica. Ca, Na, Al and K. Bentonite usually forms from weathering of volcanic ash, most often in the presence of water. Bentonite in large concentrations is sticky, used for drilling muds on oil rigs and also for forming clay molds for metal casting. Bentonite is also used to clarify wine and as a food additive However in low concentrations it will affect moisture content and electrostatic properties of mixtures. The volcanic ash and resulting clays are found throughout the Western United States coincident to where the Ames anthrax strain is found. The additional silica may help the anthrax spore infect the ruminants / infecting cattle grazing close to the dusty ground.
I was wondering if the incorporation of Silica into the Anthrax spore coat was a more natural evolutionary occurrence then we realized. The silicon improves the Anthrax organisms survivability; allowing it to spread easier in this windy and dusty environment? Silica anti-static properties additives needed for "weaponization of anthrax" may have been "discovered" by the magic hands of evolution long before our closest living relatives had opposable thumbs or developed secrets crushes on the hot girls gone wild over at "KAPPA KAPPA GAMMA" cave?
The weaponization may have been easily achieved by adding silica compounds to the anthrax growth media. Common anti gas stomach medicine sold over the counter at your local drug store was what Ken Alibek, of the Soviet Bioweapons maker Biopreparat, used in his secret Anthrax mix.
There are commeriical products used in auto body re[air and model makers…Cab-O-Sil. Cab-O-Sil ™. Fumed silica, colloidal silica. [SiO2] Fluffy white powder…. basically a very fine silica powder that floats in the air.
Used by the arch villian described in great detail as a dispersal agent for his deadly pathogens in the Bioweapons terror book THE COBRA EVENT.

Ed Lake
Ed Lake
11 years ago

Savage Henry wrote: "Ames Anthrax is found though out the Western United States. (I am not sure of the extent of its actual range?)"

According to the CDC: MLVA and the Ames-specific SNP assay indicate that the Ames strain has been isolated from nature only 1 time, in southern Texas, USA.

Repeat: only 1 time, in southern Texas.

Click HERE for the source.

I was wondering if the incorporation of Silica into the Anthrax spore coat was a more natural evolutionary occurrence then we realized. The silicon improves the Anthrax organisms survivability; allowing it to spread easier in this windy and dusty environment?

The siliCON (NOT siliCA) incorporated into the spore coat probably has something to do with evolution, but not with blowing in the wind. It probably has to do with helping to harden the spore coat to protect the core and DNA inside.

In nature, individual anthrax spores do not typically fly around all by themselves. If they did, a lot more people would get inhalation anthrax.

Plus, ultraviolet rays in sunlight will kill spores. So, it is deadly for spores to be exposed to sunlight for long periods of time.

In nature, spores are found safely embedded inside dust particles consisting of dirt, dried blood, dried vegetation and one or more spores.

The infected animal bleeds, vomits and defecates onto the ground. Living B anthracis bacteria in these liquids seep into the ground where they start to dry. The bacterium cannot survive under those conditions, so it forms a spore which can survive.

If the spore isn't already stuck to dirt, dried blood or whatever else is in the earth, it will be as soon as it rains and dries again.

By themselves, dry spores won't stick together in any significant way. But, moisture will cause them to stick together.

Weaponization methods involved MIXING particles of silica with dry spores. The silica absorbs moisture before the spores can absorb it. That keeps the individual spores dry and easy to aerosolize. That's what fumed silica does.

No silica particles (fumed or otherwise) were found in the attack anthrax.

Bentonite works the same way as silica. It keeps the spores from absorbing moisture and sticking together.

There's no reason to believe that silicon inside a spore coat will provide any "anti-static" properties to the spore. Spores with silicon in their spore coats should be affected by static electricity the same way as spores that do not have silicon in their spore coats.

Static electricity is a surface related phenomenon. It occurs when the surface of one substance rubs against the surface of a different substance. It can't occur when two identical substances – like spores – rub against each other. Click HERE for details about how static electricity affects spores.

Ed

Savage Henry
Savage Henry
11 years ago

…Static electricity is a surface related phenomenon. It occurs when the surface of one substance rubs against the surface of a different substance. It can't occur when two identical substances ….

Gee Ed is where lightning comes from?

If you eat to well take Di-Gel went the jingle.

The study of the incorporation of natural Tin and silicon into bacteria is wide open. There are many unanswered questions.

This was not all solved ten years ago!

No one knows what the natural concentrations really are or what it takes to affect surface charges and dispersal properties.

The dispersal properties could probably be more a level of the degree of moisture in the spore vs. anything else.
All Ken Alibek used for his super secret antharx …..
WAS TO MIX IN SILICONE BASED STOMACH MEDICINE, easily available, OVER THE COUNTER PRODUCTS, TO WEAPONIZE SOVIET ANTHRAX.
This would be small percentage of silicon but simply put it weaponized the anthrax spores.

If you eat to well take Di-Gel went the jingle.

Weaponization is not that complicated. The Senate Anthrax mailed was never recreated?
We simply do not know how or what was done? How it was really made is still a total unknown?
Everything else as far as comments is mere speculation from here.

The US bioweapons program and Fort Detrick did not have anything close to this method and product. The only known anthrax that was weaponized, with these properties that even slightly resembled the Senate anthrax was only the Dr. Alibek's recipes.

I have seen nothing that puts these methods or bio technology in Dr. Ivin's production personal tool kit.
The US program at Fort Detrick did not use this technology.

Back to the pre neolithic world…
Note. The incorporation of silica into saw grasses structure was a major evolutionary step requiring adaption by numerous species dependent upon grass/ like plants for food.
The silica in the grass wore down the teeth.
The silica incorporation is one of the main reason modern day cattle evolved..everything else with worn out teeth died off.
And so it goes.

To err is human too moo is bovine….

Ed Lake
Ed Lake
11 years ago

Savage Henry wrote: "The study of the incorporation of natural Tin and silicon into bacteria is wide open."

There are still unanswered questions, but enough is known to be certain that the answers cannot change the fact that the silicon and tin in the attack spores had nothing to do with weaponization.

"All Ken Alibek used for his super secret antharx ….."

I did an interview with Ken Alibek in late 2004, and we discussed his "secret formula" in detail. I described the formula in my book. It had nothing to do with stomach medicine.

Alibek's formula had to do with mixing dry anthrax spores with very tiny particles of silica (to keep the spores dry) and comparatively large balls of resin. The purpose of the balls of resin was to enable an explosive shell to create a large cloud of anthrax while at the same time preventing the explosion from burning up all the spores.

"The Senate Anthrax mailed was never recreated?
We simply do not know how or what was done? How it was really made is still a total unknown?"

It's far from being a "total unknown." There were various different ways that Ivins could have done it, there's just no way to prove WHICH of the available methods he used.

"The US bioweapons program and Fort Detrick did not have anything close to this method and product."

Nonsense. Any graduate microbiology student should be able to make spores exactly like what was in the attack anthrax – except for the high percentage of spores containing silicon in their spore coats. It would take a bit of experimentation to determine exactly how Ivins did that. The facts indicate that Ivins didn't do it intentionally, it was the result of the way he had to create the spores in secret, instead of the way he normally created spores as part of his job.

"I have seen nothing that puts these methods or bio technology in Dr. Ivin's production personal tool kit."

It wasn't part of Ivins job to make DRY spores like what were in the letters, but he could make a trillion PURE spores every week, and he knew multiple ways of drying spores.

"The incorporation of silica into saw grasses structure was a major evolutionary step …"

After responding to your theory about how evolution resulted in anthrax having the ability to incorporate silicon into their spore coats, I realized something. Tomorrow morning, on my web site, I'll be describing the evolutionary process that most likely resulted in that ability.

Ed

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

Ed Lake said, ""The Senate Anthrax mailed was never recreated?
We simply do not know how or what was done? How it was really made is still a total unknown?"

It's far from being a "total unknown." There were various different ways that Ivins could have done it, there's just no way to prove WHICH of the available methods he used."

Ed: The FBI and its contractors were unable to reverse engineer the letter anthrax preparation. We both speak English. That means that no bioengineers were able to produce a duplicate spore prep despite trying many dozens of methods and materials. You are guessing that there were various different ways it could have been done, since FBI failed to discover even one way.

We don't know who had this (unknown) expertise, nor what equipment was needed, nor how much time it would have taken. We certainly don't know who could have done it, since we don't know what the method entailed.

Please stop making up your facts.

Savage Henry
Savage Henry
11 years ago

If you eat too well take Di-Gel

Comments by Professor Sergei Popov on anthrax and on Dr. B.H. Rosenberg's paper
Dr. Popov worked in the former Soviet Union's Biopreparat Program and is a professor at George Mason University. Having met with him several years ago, I can attest to his impressive knowledge of anthrax. Here he demonstrates a deep understanding of the principles of weaponization.

Some of his other comments include the following:
1. The Sandia pictures completely agree with my expectation of partially collapsed exosporium. It may be still there but hard to detect in the dry spores. Treatment of the B. subtilis spores with urea helped reveal the exosporium-like layer (A picture from Nature 263, 53 – 54 is on the second of the attached slides). Please notice the similarities with Sandia spores. This technique could be useful to determine the amount of exosporium in Sandia samples. Your calculations present a strong argument that the silicon content is unnaturally high. However, I’m in doubt that the highly variable amount of Si in the samples can be used as a reliable forensic marker on par with genetic ones. The anthrax attack was a deliberate action, and there is nothing surprising to learn that the spores were treated deliberately. Can this conclusion help identify a particular perpetrator?

2. The nature of debris clearly visible in the spore prep is intriguing. It looks quite similar to dry agar from a Petri dish

3. I think you may overestimate the technical difficulty of the siliconization. It may be just a drop of an old-style school glue (liquid glass). A well-developed technology is supposed to give consistent results, but we see a high variability of the Si content, which indicates experimentation with different treatments. In your opinion the perpetrator is primitive and this effectively exculpates Detrick. In my opinion, even at Detrick there could be people with a creative mind who know chemistry beyond written protocols.

4. I don’t know what the FBI has tried for reverse engineering. Did they even consider soluble silicates, not siloxanes? I guess we have to admit that the perp was/is a clever guy. Why should he leave a trace ordering a reagent if it was available from Wal Mart? The person obviously realized the possibility to be traced back and therefore took advantage of his unique knowledge of how to accomplish his task in the most inconspicuous way possible?

5. As I wrote, a familiar example is the drug Simethicone, which is the active ingredient in drugs such as Gas-X. Simethicone is generally available over the counter under many trade names in varying dosage sizes, including: Flatulex, Baby's Own Infant Drops, Gas Relief, Gas-X, Genasyme, Maalox Anti-Gas, Maalox Max, etc. The use of antifoaming agent such as Simethicone will result in detectable Si without other inorganic component. I’m not talking about a paper glue, which is a pure sodium silicate.

Ed Lake
Ed Lake
11 years ago

Dr. Nass wrote: "Ed: The FBI and its contractors were unable to reverse engineer the letter anthrax preparation. We both speak English."

Not everyone who speaks English understands the exact meaning of "reverse engineering."

The scientists at Dugway who supposedly tried to "reverse engineer" the attack anthrax have stated that they did no such thing.

This is from Chemical & Engineering News:

Daniel Martin, a microbiologist in Dugway's Life Sciences Division, tells C&EN that Dugway was asked "to produce materials to see how they compared with the materials the FBI had in its possession." But, Martin says, Dugway did not reverse or back engineer the attack powder. "Back engineering implies that you know exactly what the material is and can replicate the material exactly, step by step." That isn't what Dugway did, he says.

Instead, Martin says, Dugway used the Leahy powder as the culture starter to "produce several different preparations using different media, and different ways of drying and milling the preparation" that the FBI could use for comparison purposes. Dugway, he says, never analyzed the Leahy powder and did no comparative analyses between the preparations made and the Leahy powder.

Other so-called "reverse engineering" efforts were done at Lawrence Livermore to see what would result from various standard processes. But LLNL had no access to the attack anthrax, so they had no capability to try "reverse engineering."

People use the term "reverse engineering" for things which are not really "reverse engineering."

The problem with "reverse engineering" is that it can produce the same thing that Ivins produced, but it would be worthless as evidence in court because there would be no way to prove that Ivins knew of the method or used the method.

Ivins had the ability, but he clearly didn't follow standard procedures for making the dried anthrax in the letters, since there were no "standard procedures" for making dried anthrax at USAMRIID. That makes it very difficult to prove exactly what procedures he DID use.

Ed

Anonymous
Anonymous
10 years ago

Regarding Dugway replicating the spores….that is just the point. If it was just natural anthrax there would be no need to try and replicate it. But since the anthrax had the ability to aerosolize easily (which it will do if milled to a smaller size and also treated with a coating such as silicon, apparently the government saw a need to try and replicate it. You can't say on one hand it wasn't weaponized, it was normal natural anthrax, and then on the other say that it couldn't be replicated in a lab.

Think people, think. Ed, got the thinking cap on ? I know you want to be right, but you are missing the obvious here.

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