Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Ivins update II

The FBI held a technical session at its HQ this afternoon to discuss the anthrax whodunit in more scientific detail. The media was invited, sans cameras, for what that was worth.

The news clarified last Friday's New York Times report that said, seemingly contrary to previous reports and the affidavits themselves, that Ivins's initial sample actually did match the evidence anthrax. Not quite.

According to today's session the first sample indeed did match the evidence but was destroyed by the FBI because it didn't follow the protocol that Ivins himself helped to structure. Since it was not in the same format as the thousands of other samples under subpoena they claimed it wouldn't be admissible. Before destruction they sent a copy to a scientist at Northern Arizona University, then promptly forgot about it.

Ivins claimed to have known a few months after the attack that the evidence had similar qualities to his flask of RMR-1029. The FBI claims he was lying. By now saying they destroyed the first batch it takes away any possibility they could have told him or any other scientists three months after the attacks.

The fact the first batch was a match means he took a great risk by sending what he knew was the culprit anthrax to the FBI, even with incorrect format. We know it was viable because later it came back to bite him through DNA testing--he would have known that was possible. Incredibly risky, but we don't know what was being said around the water cooler at the time. Wonder if that April 2002 sample is still around for some independent testing?

It's interesting the stories say the FBI learned their error (destroying the sample) three years after 2002. Still somewhat confusing. When the Feds went to visit Ivins on March 31 2005 they were grilling him on why his April 2002 submission didn't match his RMR-1029 flask they had seized, not on why his first and second submissions in 2002 didn't match. According to reports they couldn't have known such a thing at the time because the NAU batch wasn't discovered until a year later in 2006, unless I've missed something, a decent bet with this mess.

Ironically, only nine days before the March 31 face-off an anthrax scare occurred at the Pentagon, hardly publicized by any major media:
Harris also said the anthrax in the initial samples was the same strain as the organism used during the first anthrax attack via U.S. Mail facilities in the fall of 2001. This was not surprising, however, he said, because it is the most common strain.
The material was tested at USAMRIID, who found nothing, but showed a positive when tested by a contractor who had never experienced a false positive in thousands of previous tests.

Greenwald and his co-conspiracists will probably claim the destroyed evidence was some kind of ruse after the fact to explain why Ivins had to be lying during the following conversations:
As indicated in previous paragraphs, the RMR- 1029 submission provided by Dr. Ivins in April 2002 did not match genetically or phenotypically. Therefore, neither SA Steele nor any other member of the Task Force could make a comparison between the Ames strain used in the mailing and RMR 1029, until after the June 17,2004 submission and subsequent laboratory analysis.

When interviewed again on May 7,2007, Dr. Ivins told investigators that, within three months after the letter attacks, he was aware that his stock of anthrax, RMR-1029, exhibited unique morphological similarities to the anthrax-used in the attacks, and that he allegedly learned this information from three coworkers at USAMRTID who participated in the forensic analysis of the anthrax in the letters. Each of those three coworkers was interviewed by the Task Force, and deny disclosing such information to Dr. Ivins.
We know someone had the February 2002 sample the entire time and it's not clear whether the botched sample could have been tested before being destroyed. That leaves open the possibility that although perhaps inadmissible, someone still tested it and could have told Ivins as he indicated.

Greenwald might also claim the seizure of RMR-1029 from Ivins's lab in 2004, which was tested off-site by the Navy and determined to be a match to the evidence anthrax, cannot be trusted without independent verification. They may also ask why the Feds would have needed Ivins's 2002 initial botched sample to crack the case when they had control of his entire flask of RMR-1029 (which the 2002 sample was based on) as early as 2004. Overall it seems somewhat odd they wouldn't have indicted him in 2005 based on the severity of the situation (WMDs). So far we've been told they were waiting to end the Hatfill defamation cases. As good an answer as any, I suppose.

MORE 8/19/08

Frankly, after re-reading the convoluted scribblings above I'm reminded of when Obama lost his train of thought on stage one time. This investigation seems to be going around in overlapping circles with bits of evidence being sprung on the public and press in little spurts, sometimes seeming to contradict itself. But frankly that's a drawback of speculating based on media reports. Even some trained microbiologists are falling into this trap, some perhaps because they don't want it to be a lone wolf--or one of their own. Just gotta be Cheney.

Like Spertzel, I thought it was Iraq or AQ. But after digesting this WaPo report and the ones from yesterday Ivins looks a lot worse, and my questions have narrowed:

1. They are saying the silicon was basically an environmental contaminant of the lab when the product was made. Was it in the first batch, and if not, why not? The labs were supposedly the same.

2. Are we going to get a timeline on when they determined RMR-1029 was the suspect source? When did they narrow it down to eight batches and two labs when they supposedly didn't have Ivins sample until seizing it in 2004.

3. Was Ivins really stupid enough to think he could use stock from his own lab, knowing his extra time spent there before the mailings would be highly incriminating as would the substance itself? This is why they've provided the emails, but at the same time he was together enough to be added to the investigation team in 2001 and win an award in 2003.

4. What effect did the Hatfill lawsuits have on whether and when Ivins was targeted for indictment?

5. As to the alleged coming indictment, we were first told it was imminent when the story broke, along with mention of the death penalty. Monday's briefing said they're months to even a year from getting all their forensic techniques accepted via peer review. Were they really that close to an indictment after all?

6. Was the 2005 Pentagon anthrax scare ever confirmed one way or the other?

7. How did he handle the letters during transit? Is it that easy?

8. Why are they protecting the name of the other lab?

9. What happened to Hatfill? Is there a book forthcoming? An interview?

I can easily imagine a scenario where Bruce Ivins could have committed this crime. He had weak motive, an unstable personality, worked for Red Cross (bringing in a preparedness angle), had access to almost everything he needed and the knowledge required to do it. He doesn't have a rock solid alibi for either mailing window, and has no rational explanation for why he was in the lab after hours before each mailing. He liked to mail things from distant post offices to throw people off, and also liked to take long drives for no reason. He messed up his samples after having helped FBI set up their evidence lab. And he spiraled down towards the end under growing pressure and better genetic testing.

Inconsequential items= the franked envelopes (anyone could have purchased); the Florida letter they never found (probably tossed and currently buried in the dump--nobody knew there was an anthrax threat at that point); the threats to the social worker (he was distraught and paranoid, so he could have figured people were trying to frame him if he wasn't guilty).

For what it's worth, Ed Lake still has the most rational coverage of all of this mess, quite a contrast to the sock puppet.

But I think it's important to remember one thing. Even if Ivins settles in as the likely culprit it doesn't mean there is no external threat, or never was. I'm still wondering what happened to Mubarak al-Duri, bin Laden's "WMD procurement" person according to the 9/11 Commission. Interview in 2001, but no rendition, only tracking. Weird.


Debbie said...

Whew! I'm getting a headache trying to follow all of this. There are those who think Ivins was a patsy, innocent as the driven snow. But when those close to him (family, brother, co-workers), he sounds like a nut who was most likely guilty.

I know you will keep on top of this one.

Debbie Hamilton
Right Truth

A.C. McCloud said...

Really, I don't know if I can follow the script anymore. Maybe that's the point.

Even if Ivins is guilty--and I'm leaning 75 percent that he is--it doesn't take away what the Robb-Silberman Report found in 2005, that AQ was much further along with bio weapons than imagined. Zawahiri had used threat letters before as well, back during the peace and prosperity years under Clinton (letter bombs sent to New York on behalf of the Blind Sheikh, which fortunately didn't go off).