Changes to Anthrax Mailing Statements
Judge Says U.S. Must Show Good Cause to Revise Anthrax Filing
FLASH - US Makes ANTHRAX Case DOCKET Entries Suddenly DISAPPEAR ...breaking...
Sent: Friday, July 22, 2011 [0645 ET]
Subject: FLASH: Stevens v. United States goes dark
This is an edited copy of the actual docket report
and is NOT automatically updated when the real report is updated.
Use the real docket for all legal matters.
Assigned to: Judge Daniel T. K. Hurley
Nature of Suit: 890
Lead Docket: None
Jurisdiction: US Defendant
Dkt# in other court: None
Cause: 28:2674 Federal Tort Claims Act
MAUREEN STEVENS, as Persoanl
Representative of the Estate
of Robert Stevenns deceased,
and on behalf of Maureen
Nicholas Stevens, Heidi Hogan,
and Casey Stevens, survivors
COMPLAINT filed; FILING FEE $150.00 RECEIPT #71959; Magistrate Judge James M. Hopkins (pa) [Entry date 12/03/03]
SUMMONS(ES) issued for United States by serving Attorney General (pa) [Entry date 12/03/03]
SUMMONS(ES) issued for United States (pa)
ORDER SETTING TRIAL DATE & DISCOVERY DEADLINES, REFERRING CASE TO MEDIATION & REFERRING DISCOVERY TO UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE setting Jury trial set for 11/1/04 Calendar call set for 1:30 10/22/04 ( Signed by Judge Daniel T. K. Hurley on 12/9/03) [EOD Date: 12/12/03] CCAP (kw) [Entry date 12/12/03]
CID/2; US/1; ATTN: HST/2
New Documents Cast Doubt on Federal Anthrax Case 18 July 2011
WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department has called into question a key pillar of the FBI's case against Bruce Ivins, the Army scientist accused of mailing the anthrax-laced letters that killed five people and terrorized Congress a decade ago.
Shortly after Ivins committed suicide in 2008, federal investigators announced that they had identified him as the mass murderer who sent the letters to members of Congress and the media. The case was circumstantial, with federal officials arguing that the scientist had the means, motive and opportunity to make the deadly powder at a U.S. Army research facility at Fort Detrick, in Frederick, Md.
On July 15, however, Justice Department lawyers acknowledged in court papers that the sealed area in Ivins' lab -- the so-called hot suite -- did not contain the equipment needed to turn liquid anthrax into the refined powder that floated through congressional buildings and post offices in the fall of 2001.
The government said it continues to believe that Ivins was "more likely than not" the killer. But the filing in a Florida court did not explain where or how Ivins could have made the powder, saying only that the lab "did not have the specialized equipment" in Ivins' secure lab "that would be required to prepare the dried spore preparations that were used in the letters."
The government's statements deepen the questions about the case against Ivins, who killed himself before he was charged with a crime. Searches of his car and home in 2007 found no anthrax spores, and the FBI's eight-year, $100 million investigation never proved he mailed the letters or identified another location where he might have secretly dried the anthrax into an easily inhaled powder.
Earlier this year, a report by the National Academy of Science questioned the genetic analysis that had linked a flask of anthrax stored in Ivins' office to the anthrax contained in the letters.
The court papers were uncovered by a reporter for the PBS program FRONTLINE which is working on a forthcoming documentary on the case with McClatchy Newspapers and ProPublica, the investigative newsroom.
They were filed by lawyers in the Justice Department's Civil Division who are defending the government against a wrongful death suit brought by the family of Robert Stevens, a photo editor at the Sun. Stevens was the first to die from a tainted letter and his family has accused federal officials of lax procedures that allowed someone to make a germ weapon using anthrax from a government laboratory.
In asserting that Ivins was culprit, criminal investigators pointed to his access to the specialized equipment at the laboratory. Officials drew up elaborate charts showing that Ivins' time in the hot suites spiked in the weeks before the letters were mailed. But Ivins' colleagues have said in depositions for the Stevens case that the powder could not have been made in the lab without sickening lab technicians and others who had not been vaccinated against anthrax.
A Justice Department spokesman Monday shed little light on the seeming shift in positions, saying that investigators still believe Ivins produced the anthrax at Fort Detrick and are unaware of evidence that he did so elsewhere.
The Justice Department filed the papers in federal court in West Palm Beach, Fla., last week. The lawyers were attempting to counter allegations by the Stevens family of negligence at Fort Detrick, including inadequate controls over anthrax controls, by arguing that the anthrax in the letters wasn't produced there.
Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman, said Monday that the court filing did not contradict the government's conclusion that Ivins sent the letters. Rather, he said, the lawyers merely argued that "actions were not foreseeable to his supervisors" because he did not have equipment to dry the spores in his containment laboratory. Boyd said this meant the United States should not be held liable for his actions.
"To clarify, this statement was intended to relate to the specific containment laboratory" where Ivins kept a flask of liquid anthrax with genetic markers similar to those found in the letters, Boyd said.
In excerpts from one of more than a dozen depositions made public in the case last week, the current chief of of the Bacteriology Division at the Army laboratory, Patricia Worsham, said it lacked the facilities in 2001 to make the kind of spores in the letters.
Two of the five letters, those sent to Democratic U.S. Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Thomas Daschle of South Dakota, were especially deadly, because they were so buoyant as to float with the slightest wisp of air.
Worsham said that the lab's equipment for drying the spores, a machine the size of a refrigerator, was not in containment.
"If someone had used that to dry down that preparation, I would have expected that area to be very, very contaminated, and we had non-immunized personnel in that area, and I would have expected some of them to become ill," she said.
In its statement of facts, the government lawyers also said that producing the volume of anthrax in the letters would have required 2.8 to 53 liters of the solution used to grow the spores or 463 to 1,250 Petri dishes. Colleagues of Ivins at the lab have asserted that he couldn't have grown all that anthrax without their noticing it.
The government's own summary of the case against Ivins, released early last year when the Justice Department formally closed its investigation, noted that "drying anthrax is expressly forbidden by various treaties," and "overt use of any of these methods, if noticed, would have raised considerable alarm and scrutiny."
Paul Kemp, Ivins' lead defense attorney, said Monday that the department's concession that the equipment wasn't available "is at direct variance to the assertions of the government on July 29, 2008," the day Ivins died, thus "invalidating one of the chief theories of their prosecution case."
Kemp said that government officials told him and a colleague, Tom DeGonia, that the FBI could "prove that Dr. Ivins manufactured the dried spores used in the anthrax attacks, and would prove this by the records of his presence in the hot suites in August and September.
Anthrax is one of the deadliest biological weapons. Once inhaled, the tiny spores germinate inside the human body, producing rapidly multiplying, highly toxic bacteria that, if untreated, typically kill a person within days.
The anthrax mailings came as a second shock to the nation just weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks. Beginning Sept. 18, 2001, the perpetrator sent at least five letters containing anthrax powder to three media outlets and to the offices of Sens. Leahy and Daschle. Two postal workers, a nurse and an elderly woman in Connecticut also died, some 32,000 Americans took long-term antibiotic treatments and teams wearing moon suits spent months cleansing a Senate office building and large postal facility of the deadly spores.
Read more: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/2011/07/new-documents-cast-doubt-on-federal-anthrax-case.html#ixzz1SWwyrVau
Bruce Ivins, who became a respected Army scientist and an authority on the laboratory use of anthrax, had a penchant for vendettas, especially against women.
By the mid-1970s, Bruce Ivins had earned his doctorate and was a promising researcher at the University of North Carolina. By outward appearances, he was a charming eccentric, odd but disarming. Inside, he still smoldered with resentment, and he saw a new outlet for it.
Several years earlier, a Cincinnati student had turned him down for a date. He had projected his anger onto the young woman's sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma. There was a Kappa house in Chapel Hill, N.C., and Ivins cased the building. One night when it was empty, he slipped in through a bathroom window and roamed the darkened floors with a penlight.
Photos: Bruce Ivins and the anthrax killings
Upstairs, he found something that fascinated him: a glass-enclosed sheaf of documents, called a cipher, necessary for decoding the sorority's secrets. The cipher would help him wage a personal war against Kappa Kappa Gamma into the sixth decade of his life.
This was the side of himself that Ivins kept carefully hidden. He devised sneaky ways to strike anonymously at people or institutions he imagined had offended him. He harbored murderous fantasies about women who did not reciprocate his overtures. He bought bomb-making ingredients and kept firearms, ammunition and body armor in his basement.
Yet Ivins managed to work his way into the heart of the American biodefense establishment, becoming a respected Army scientist and an authority on the laboratory use of anthrax. When a series of anonymous, anthrax-laced letters killed five people, disrupted mail delivery and briefly paralyzed parts of the federal government in fall 2001, the FBI sought him out for advice.
The anthrax attacks, coming on the heels of Sept. 11, had enduring effects. They deepened fears of terrorism and helped advocates of a U.S. invasion of Iraq make their case to Congress and the public. They prompted an expensive and risky expansion of federally funded biodefense laboratories.
In the anxious weeks and months after the mailings, the nation's defense and law enforcement establishments were consumed with finding out who was responsible. Was it Al Qaeda? Domestic terrorists? Some senior government officials suggested Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein might be to blame.
Investigators believed the poisoned envelopes were deposited in a curbside mailbox in downtown Princeton, N.J. Only years later would the significance of that location become clear.
The mailbox stood beneath the fourth-floor office of a college sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma.
Ivins grew up in Lebanon, Ohio, a small town 30 miles northeast of Cincinnati. His parents had planned the arrivals of their first two children, both sons, but by late 1945 the couple had no desire to add to the family. In conversations with a sister-in-law, Mary Ivins described how she tried to abort the unwanted third pregnancy:
Over and over, she descended a series of steps by bouncing with a thud on her buttocks.
Bruce Ivins, born April 22, 1946, would eventually hear the story himself.
His parents were a study in opposites. Randall, a pharmacist, was unfailingly generous, chatty and averse to confrontation. Mary's prim facade hid a penchant for violence.
"Mom could explode," recalled C.W. Ivins, Bruce's middle brother. "She inflicted terror on all of us."
Randall, the amiable proprietor of Ivins Drugs, would sometimes arrive at work bearing the evidence of her latest eruption.
"One day he came in and he had a black eye," said a former employee, pharmacist Don Hawke. "Of course, she hit him with a broom. He said, 'She missed me the first time.' He was scared to death of her."
On other occasions Mary took a skillet to Randall's head and a fork to his hand.
One night, the phone rang at 2 a.m. at the home of Dr. Ralph Young, a neighbor.
It was Mary: "Ralph, come down here. I've killed Randall."
To Young's surprise, the door was answered by Randall — alive but pressing a garment to his blood-spattered head.
As a young adult, Ivins struck others as painfully strait-laced. "Sort of a Mr. Goody-Two-Shoes," recalled microbiologist Priscilla Wyrick, who hired him in 1975 as a lab researcher at Chapel Hill. Occasionally, colleagues glimpsed a scarier side of him.
After he discovered that a doctoral student working across the hall, Lori Babcock, had been active in Kappa Kappa Gamma, Ivins startled her one night with a spot-on recitation of the group's secret initiation rituals. Then he pressed her for further details about the sorority.
"The hair on the back of my neck went right up," Babcock recalled.
By late 1978, Ivins, then 32, and his wife, Diane, had moved to suburban Maryland. But he remained fixated on Nancy Haigwood, a married UNC student studying for her doctorate in microbiology.
Haigwood mentored younger members of Kappa Kappa Gamma at Chapel Hill, and Ivins resented that she had spurned his attempts to forge a friendship. She found him "cloyingly nice," an oddball who craved constant attention.
In the spring of 1979, Haigwood suffered a career-threatening misfortune.
Everything that she had strived so hard for hinged on converting the data in her lab notebook into her doctoral dissertation. She kept the notebook, filled with hand-recorded hypotheses, results of experiments and other records of her scientific work, in a locked room in a lab building.
Suddenly, it was gone.
After a couple of days of agony, Haigwood received an anonymous note, saying the prized notebook could be found at a certain street mailbox in Chapel Hill. Police found it there and returned it to Haigwood. Many years later, Ivins would admit to the FBI what Haigwood had long suspected — that he was the thief.
Near his new place of work, the Defense Department's Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., Ivins spilled out his feelings about Haigwood to a psychiatrist, Dr. Naomi Heller. He said he experienced Haigwood's brush-off as a replay of his mother's mockery of him during childhood.
Ivins confided that he had thought through plans to kill Haigwood.
In December 1980, Ivins, then 34, was hired as a civilian microbiologist at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Ft. Detrick, Md. Amid fresh suspicion that Soviet scientists were creating biological weapons, Ivins would be assigned to grow and purify anthrax and test whether the Army's vaccine would protect military personnel and the public.
Without any evaluation of Ivins' psychiatric fitness, he was granted a "secret" level security clearance.
The Army knew very little about this man it had entrusted with one of the world's most dangerous microorganisms. One night not long after he was hired, he drove about three hours to West Virginia University, where Kappa Kappa Gamma had a chapter.
Ivins entered the house through a ground-floor window, forced open a locked cabinet and found Kappa's Book of Ritual, the complete compendium of its passwords and secrets. Since he already had the cipher, he would be able to decode all of the sorority's rituals.
At work, Ivins was thriving. He led research to develop an anthrax vaccine envisioned as superior to the existing one. Patent documents would list him as a co-inventor of this genetically engineered vaccine, putting him in line for career-crowning recognition if the product was a success — not to mention lucrative royalties if circumstances ever created a surge in demand.
He resented that the Pentagon did not spend more to develop the product — and he grew angry when troubles surrounding the old vaccine threatened the entire program.
Away from the lab, he continued to pursue bizarre vendettas.
On May 9, 1983, the Frederick News-Post in Maryland published a letter Ivins had written and signed "Nancy L. Haigwood."
"As a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma," Ivins wrote, "I am continually dismayed by attempts of the media and other outsiders to disparage the Greek system. I am especially incensed at vitriolic attacks on our practices of 'hazing,' which non-Greeks fail to realize serve numerous valuable functions.... No matter what the press may say about us, I'm still proud to be in a sorority."
Ivins took the ruse a perverse step further. He mailed a copy of the published letter to a woman whose 20-year-old son had died in a fraternity hazing incident. Eileen Stevens of Sayville, N.Y., had come to his attention through her efforts to raise awareness about hazing abuses.
Ivins also enclosed a personal missive in his own name in which he disparaged Haigwood and pressed Stevens to send him any information she might have about abuses within Kappa Kappa Gamma.
In another letter to Stevens, Ivins feigned renewed outrage about Haigwood's supposed comments. "I have personally gotten into several arguments about hazing with fraternity and sorority members, who have privately said that since I was not 'Greek' I had no right to criticize hazing," Ivins wrote Stevens on May 26, 1986, adding: "I wonder if only murderers have the right to criticize murderers, only Communists have the right to criticize Communists, only terrorists have the right to criticize terrorists."
His public self gave no hint of his private turmoil. Ivins appeared to lead a harmonious life: a successful scientist, married with two children and a home in a nice neighborhood. Yet over the years, he sought help from psychiatrists and counselors and was prescribed a battery of antidepressant and antipsychotic drugs.
A psychiatrist who treated him in the late 1990s, Dr. David Irwin, confided to a therapist that Ivins was the "scariest" patient he had ever known.
Army officials seemed oblivious to his instability — even if he was not. In emails to his current and former lab technicians, Ivins described disturbing thoughts and impulses and said he was struggling to control his behavior.
On July 18, 2000, Ivins told a mental health counselor that he had recently planned to poison his former assistant, Mara Linscott. In addition to having cyanide, he said that he had once obtained ammonium nitrate, to make a bomb.
He saw himself, Ivins said, as an "avenging angel of death."
After the anthrax letters were mailed in September and October of 2001, the FBI for nearly five years pursued a former Army virologist, Steven Hatfill, as the prime suspect.
Hatfill had filled several prescriptions in 2001 for Cipro, an antibiotic effective against anthrax, among other infections. He had also boasted of his expertise in biological warfare.
Based on this and other information, inspector Richard Lambert, handpicked by FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III to lead the investigation, was convinced that Hatfill was the perpetrator. With Mueller's backing, he drove his agents to find evidence to support an indictment against Hatfill. It never came.
On June 5, 2006, a visiting team of FBI employees arrived at the bureau's Washington Field Office for a long-scheduled audit of its general efficiency and effectiveness. A growing number of investigators were frustrated by Lambert's emphasis on Hatfill. They had felt powerless to do anything about it. Until now.
In a confidential report, the inspection team said more than 90% of the investigators on the anthrax case believed Lambert was concentrating on Hatfill to the exclusion of all other potential suspects. Lambert said the focus was never on one individual, exclusively.
In September 2006, Mueller replaced Lambert with two agents who had extensive backgrounds in criminal investigation, Edward Montooth and Vincent Lisi. A case that had foundered for years was reoriented: Investigators were told to focus on people who had verifiable access to a research batch of anthrax that geneticists had matched to the material used in the letter attacks.
On the Friday before Christmas 2006, Montooth and Lisi went to FBI headquarters for a briefing with the director.
"You've been there three months," Mueller reminded Montooth. "What's going on?"
Trying his best to keep expectations modest, Montooth let Mueller in on some news: "There's a guy that we can't wash out, no matter what we're doing. It makes us more suspicious."
The object of suspicion was an Army microbiologist who had created the batch of anthrax that matched the material in the letters. He had unrestricted access to this batch, and he had put in unusually long, solitary hours at the biocontainment lab, or "hot suite," at USAMRIID during the nights leading up to the mailings.
His name, Montooth said, was Bruce Ivins.
On the evening of Wednesday, July 9, 2008, Ivins arrived at Comprehensive Counseling Associates in Frederick, Md., for his weekly group therapy session. He was noticeably agitated. FBI agents had by now questioned him at length, and his lawyers expected he could soon be charged with murder in connection with the anthrax mailings.
When it was his turn to speak, Ivins, 62, said he was angry at the investigators and at the system that had dealt him this hand. He had a bulletproof vest and was going to obtain a new Glock handgun, he said. He had a list of people he was planning to kill.
"I'm not going to go down for five capital murders," he said. "I'm going to get them all."
The next day, police escorted Ivins out of Ft. Detrick, and he spent about two weeks at a psychiatric hospital near Baltimore before returning to his home in Frederick.
At 1:47 a.m. on Sunday, July 27, an ambulance rushed Ivins from his home to the emergency room at Frederick Memorial Hospital. He was comatose. Blood tests indicated a massive overdose of Tylenol. A few hours after he was admitted, Ivins showed responsiveness to those around him.
An intensive care nurse, Megan Shinabery, asked him: "Did you intentionally try to commit suicide?" Her handwritten notes reflect Ivins' response: "pt nodded yes."
Two days later, Ivins was dead.
Photos: Bruce Ivins and the anthrax killings
Advance praise for The Mirage Man “Finely drawn sketches of the individuals and forensics involved in a case that vexed investigators, politicians and the general public. A well-told true-crime story with vast ramifications.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Willman, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, offers a nuanced account of the bungled FBI investigation…Willman makes the case against Ivins—and against the political uses of the case—with admirable fair-mindedness and narrative flair.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“The Mirage Man is a mystery story about murder committed on the national stage. The characters include an innocent man hounded by investigators and the press, politicians fixated on justifying a foreign invasion, a mixed bag of FBI agents, and scientists who try to crack the code. And, at the story’s heart, we have a twisted villain whose secret life is laid utterly bare. Unlike most mysteries, this one is literally true, carefully documented and skillfully told by one of America’s finest investigative journalists.”—John S. Carroll, former editor of the Los Angeles Times
“This is a book of alternative history and alternative truth about one of the most misrepresented incidents of our 9/11 trauma. David Willman has set a grand standard for investigative reporting—and investigative history—in his account of America’s anthrax scare. There are few heroes in this story of psychosis, official dithering, and political scaremongering, but it is uplifting nonetheless. It is simply fun to read someone at the top of his craft.”—Seymour M. Hersh, author of Chain of Command:The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib
“Peering through David Willman’s magnifying glass into the anthrax-laced heart and soul of Bruce Ivins is chilling. Willman’s investigative chops and skilled yarn-weaving make for a compelling read. Most strikingly, Willman shows how this emotionally warped man pumped the bellows that fanned the flames of war with Iraq. It’s a haunting and heartbreaking tale.’’—Mark Thompson, national security correspondent, Time
The Mirage Man reveals how this seemingly harmless if eccentric scientist hid a sinister secret life from his closest associates and family, and how the trail of genetic and circumstantial evidence led inexorably to him. Along the way, Willman exposes the faulty investigative work that led to the public smearing of the wrong man, Steven Hatfill, a scientist specializing in biowarfare preparedness whose life was upended by media stakeouts and op-ed-page witch hunts.
Engrossing and unsparing, The Mirage Man is a portrait of a deeply troubled scientist who for more than twenty years had unlimited access to the U.S. Army’s stocks of deadly anthrax. It is also the story of a struggle for control within the FBI investigation, the missteps of an overzealous press, and how a cadre of government officials disregarded scientific data while spinning the letter attacks into a basis for war. As The Mirage Man makes clear, America must, at last, come to terms with the lessons to be learned from what Bruce Ivins wrought. The nation’s security depends on it.
American Anthrax: Fear, Crime, and the Investigation of the Nation's Deadliest Bioterror Attack [Hardcover]
It was the most complex case in FBI history. In what became a seven-year investigation that began shortly after 9/11—with America reeling from the terror attacks of al Qaeda—virulent anthrax spores sent through the mail killed Bob Stevens, a Florida tabloid photo editor. His death and, days later, the discovery in New York and Washington, D.C. of letters filled with anthrax sent shock waves through the nation. Federal agencies were blindsided by the attacks, which eventually killed five people. Taken off guard, the FBI struggled to combine on-the-ground criminal investigation with progress in advanced bioforensic analyses of the letters' contents.
While the criminal eluded justice, disinformation swirled around the letters, erroneously linking them to Iraq's WMD threat and foreign bioterrorism. Without oversight, billions were lavished on biomedical defenses against anthrax and other exotic diseases. Worst of all, faith in federal justice faltered.
American Anthrax is a gripping tale of terror, intrigue, madness, and cover-up.
About the Author
Jeanne Guillemin is a senior fellow in the Security Studies Program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in the Center for International Studies. She is the author of Anthrax: The Investigation of a Deadly Outbreak and Biological Weapons: From the Invention of State-Sponsored Programs to Contemporary Bioterrorism
BKNT--Once Again & STILL: SILICON CITY in FBI Anthrax Data--LD
FBI lab reports on anthrax attacks suggest another miscue
By Greg Gordon | McClatchy Newspapers – 19 May 2011WASHINGTON — Buried in FBI laboratory reports about the anthrax mail attacks that killed five people in 2001 is data suggesting that a chemical may have been added to try to heighten the powder's potency, a move that some experts say exceeded the expertise of the presumed killer.
The lab data, contained in more than 9,000 pages of files that emerged a year after the Justice Department closed its inquiry and condemned the late Army microbiologist Bruce Ivins as the perpetrator, shows unusual levels of silicon and tin in anthrax powder from two of the five letters.
Those elements are found in compounds that could be used to weaponize the anthrax, enabling the lethal spores to float easily so they could be readily inhaled by the intended victims, scientists say.
The existence of the silicon-tin chemical signature offered investigators the possibility of tracing purchases of the more than 100 such chemical products available before the attacks, which might have produced hard evidence against Ivins or led the agency to the real culprit.
But the FBI lab reports released in late February give no hint that bureau agents tried to find the buyers of additives such as tin-catalyzed silicone polymers.
The apparent failure of the FBI to pursue this avenue of investigation raises the ominous possibility that the killer is still on the loose.
A McClatchy analysis of the records also shows that other key scientific questions were left unresolved and conflicting data wasn't sorted out when the FBI declared Ivins the killer shortly after his July 29, 2008, suicide.
One chemist at a national laboratory told McClatchy that the tin-silicone findings and the contradictory data should prompt a new round of testing on the anthrax powder.
A senior federal law enforcement official, who was made available only on the condition of anonymity, said the FBI had ordered exhaustive tests on the possible sources of silicon in the anthrax and concluded that it wasn't added. Instead, the lab found that it's common for anthrax spores to incorporate environmental silicon and oxygen into their coatings as a "natural phenomenon" that doesn't affect the spores' behavior, the official said.
To arrive at that position, however, the FBI had to discount its own bulk testing results showing that silicon composed an extraordinary 10.8 percent of a sample from a mailing to the New York Post and as much as 1.8 percent of the anthrax from a letter sent to Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, far more than the occasional trace contamination. Tin — not usually seen in anthrax powder at all — was measured at 0.65 percent and 0.2 percent, respectively, in those letters.
An FBI spokesman declined to comment on the presence of tin or to answer other questions about the silicon-tin connection.
Several scientists and former colleagues of Ivins argue that he was a career biologist who probably lacked the chemistry knowledge and skills to concoct a silicon-based additive.
"There's no way that an individual scientist can invent a new way of making anthrax using silicon and tin," said Stuart Jacobsen, a Texas-based analytical chemist for an electronics company who's closely studied the FBI lab results. "It requires an institutional effort to do this, such as at a military lab."
Martin Hugh-Jones, a world-renowned anthrax expert who teaches veterinary medicine at Louisiana State University, called it "just bizarre" that the labs found both tin — which can be toxic to bacteria such as anthrax during lab culturing — and silicon.
"You have two elements at abnormally high levels," Hugh-Jones said. "That reduces your probability to a very small number that it's an accident."
The silicon-tin connection wasn't the only lead left open in one of the biggest investigations in FBI history, an inquiry that took the bureau to the cutting edge of laboratory science. In April, McClatchy reported that after locking in on Ivins in 2007, the bureau stopped searching for a match to a unique genetic bacterial strain scientists had found in the anthrax that was mailed to the Post and to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, although a senior bureau official had characterized it as the hottest clue to date.
FBI officials say it's all a moot point, because they're positive they got the right man in Ivins. A mentally troubled anthrax researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md., Ivins overdosed on drugs not long after learning that he'd soon face five counts of capital murder.
In ending the inquiry last year, the Justice Department said that a genetic fingerprint had pointed investigators to Ivins' lab, and gumshoe investigative techniques enabled them to compile considerable circumstantial evidence that demonstrated his guilt.
Among these proofs, prosecutors cited Ivins' alleged attempt to steer investigators away from a flask of anthrax in his lab that genetically matched the mailed powder — anthrax that had been shared with other researchers. They also noted his anger over a looming congressional cut in funds for his research on a new anthrax vaccine.
The FBI declared Ivins the killer soon after paying $5.8 million to settle a suit filed by another former USAMRIID researcher, Steven Hatfill, whom the agency mistakenly had targeted earlier in its investigation.
Anthrax is one of the deadliest and most feared biological weapons. Once inhaled, microscopic anthrax spores germinate into rapidly multiplying, highly toxic bacteria that attack human tissue. The resulting illnesses are lethal within days if untreated.
The letters, mailed just weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, not only went to the New York Post, Leahy and Brokaw, but also to American Media Inc. in Boca Raton, Fla., and to Democratic then-Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota. Five people died, 17 were sickened and about 31,000 were forced to take powerful antibiotics for weeks. Crews wearing moon suits spent several weeks eradicating the spores from a Senate office building and a central Postal Service facility in Washington.
The FBI guarded its laboratory's finding of 10.8 percent silicon in the Post letter for years. New York Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler asked FBI Director Robert Mueller how much silicon was in the Post and Leahy letters at a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee in September 2008. The Justice Department responded seven months later that silicon made up 1.4 percent of the Leahy powder (without disclosing the 1.8 percent reading) and that "a reliable quantitative measurement was not possible" for the Post letter.
The bureau's conclusions that silicon was absorbed naturally drew a gentle challenge in February from a panel of the National Academy of Sciences, which evaluated the investigation's lab work.
While finding no evidence that silicon had been added to the mailed anthrax, the panel noted deep in its report that the FBI had provided "no compelling explanation" for conflicts in silicon test results between the Sandia National Laboratories and its own lab.
Sandia — which used electron microscopes, unlike the FBI — reported only a tenth as much silicon in the New York Post letter as the bureau's lab did. Sandia said it was all embedded in the spore coatings, where it wasn't harmful.
The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology ran a third set of tests and found pockets of heavy silica concentrations, but it couldn't say whether they were inside or outside the spores.
Jacobsen, the Texas chemist, suspects that the silica pockets represented excess material that went through a chemical reaction and hardened before it could penetrate the spores.
The National Academy of Sciences panel wrote that the varying composition of the powder might have accounted for the differing findings.
While finding no evidence that silicon was added, the panel said it "cannot rule out the intentional addition of a silicon-based substance ... in a failed attempt to enhance dispersion" of the New York Post powder.
Tufts University chemistry professor David Walt, who led the panel's analysis of the silicon issue, said in a phone interview that "there was not enough silicon in the spores that could account for the total silicon content of the bulk analysis."
He said it was unclear whether the "trace" levels of tin were significant.
During the FBI's seven-year hunt, the Department of Homeland Security commissioned a team of chemists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California to grow anthrax-like spores under varying conditions to see how much silicon would end up naturally in the final product.
They found little, if any, silicon in most cases, far less than was in the New York Post letter, said Stephan Velsko, one of the two researchers. He called the tin readings from the FBI's anthrax data "baffling."
He suggested that further "micro-analysis" with a highly sophisticated electron microscope could "pop the question marks really quickly."
In a chapter in a recently updated book, "Microbial Forensics," Velsko wrote that the anthrax "must have indeed been produced under an unusual set of conditions" to create such high silicon counts. That scenario, he cautioned, might not be "consistent with the prosecution narrative in this case."
About 100 tin-catalyzed silicone products are on the market, and an even wider array was available in 2000 and 2001, before the mailings, said Richie Ashburn, a vice president of one manufacturer, Silicones Inc., in High Point, N.C.
Mike Wilson, a chemist for another silicone products maker, SiVance, in Gainesville, Fla., said that numerous silicon products could be used to make spores or other particles water-repellent. He also said that the ratios of silicon to tin found in the Post and Leahy samples would be "about right" if a tin-catalyzed silicone had been added to the spores.
Jacobsen, a Scottish-born and -educated chemist who once experimented with silicon coatings on dust particles, said he got interested in the spore chemistry after hearing rumors in late 2001 that a U.S. military facility had made the killer potions. He called it "outrageous" that the scientific issues haven't been addressed.
"America, the most advanced country in the world, and the FBI have every resource available to them," he said. "And yet they have no compelling explanation for not properly analyzing the biggest forensic clue in the most important investigation the FBI labs had ever gotten in their history."
As a result of Ivins' death and the unanswered scientific issues, Congress' investigative arm, the Government Accountability Office, is investigating the FBI's handling of the anthrax inquiry.
(Tish Wells contributed to this article.)
Read more: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2011/05/19/114467/fbi-lab-reports-on-anthrax-attacks.html#ixzz1MpvbxjeN
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