Saturday, August 16, 2008

Smoke in the Eyes

One of the more incriminating items from the FBI's original document dump against Dr. Ivins was their contention he submitted erroneous material from his lab in 2002 when they requested samples from his RMR-1029 control flask. This is now down in flames.

The New York Times reported on Friday about a closed-door session the FBI had with selected government officials this past week where the following was announced:
But F.B.I. officials acknowledged at the closed-door briefing, according to people who were there, that the sample Dr. Ivins gave them in 2002 did in fact come from the same strain used in the attacks, but, because of limitations in the bureau’s testing methods and Dr. Ivins’s failure to provide the sample in the format requested, the F.B.I. did not realize that it was a correct match until three years later.
This was a very interesting revelation depending on when the "three years later" actually began. If it was 2002, discovered in 2005, then the evidence provided in this 2007 affidavit appears to be rather outdated:
On March 31, 2005 Dr. Ivins was informed that the slants of RMR-1029 material he provided to the FBIR on April 10, 2002 were found to be genetically distinct from the anthrax contained in the attack letters, and from the anthrax material recovered by the FBI from the RMR-1029 flask seized from Dr. Ivins' lab on April 7, 2004. Dr. Ivins was confronted with this and was asked to explain why he did not submit the genetically positive sample which was clearly responsive. Dr. Ivins was adamant in his response that there had been no omission from his submission, and he insisted that he had provided RMR-1029 to the FBI in his second submission of samples in April 2002.
If "three years later" actually means the discovery was made in 2008 that takes the postal inspector off the hook but still doesn't explain why they would release erroneous information to the public via the document dump.

Either way it certainly makes Ivins look a little better but it doesn't exonerate him. In 2007 he reportedly told the FBI that scientists investigating the case shortly after the attacks had told him the attack anthrax was genetically similar to his own RMR-1029 flask. This was before he was asked to provide a sample. The individuals named later denied telling Ivins but they were probably working under non-disclosure agreements and wouldn't necessarily want to admit a violation.

One can imagine a scenario where the FBI was trying to test Dr. Ivins by requesting a sample only to find it did match, then later trying to trip him up by announcing it didn't. Whatever the case Ivins seemed to know a switch would implicate him and therefore fingered an FBI special agent for giving him the info followed two years later by mentioning the insider scientists. Why wouldn't he have mentioned them in 2005? Maybe he didn't want to get friends in trouble. By 2007 the heat was high and maybe he felt less restrained out of sheer desperation.

The FBI appears to be in a hard spot, now forced to backpeddle probably because they know the scientific evidence being demanded by the press and skeptics will prove the two samples did indeed match in 2003, which was not evident in the affidavits and not explained with their release. They will be providing this scientific evidence in a briefing this week.

A strong scientific presentation might explain why Ivins spiraled downhill these past two years as he realized they were no longer blinded by his science while also explaining the initial confusion between the samples.

But an unpersuasive presentation will only further sully the credibility of the world's premier law enforcement agency, one already tarred by fumbled cases like El Sayyid Nosair, Richard Jewell, Ruby Ridge, and even TWA 800.

It might also open the possibility that Ross Getman might be closer to correct about the letters than Ed Lake. Getman seems to believe the crime was an inside job alright, but the perps were not government scientists, they were jihadi spies who had infiltrated our bio-lab network.

That could rationally explain the FBI's passion to finger lone wolf scientists with restricted access to high-level containment facilities (therefore limiting the field) rather than opening the door for any well-trained microbiologist operating in their basement (here or overseas). Such a move would be completely understandable given the circumstances and stakes involved but the bottom line is that nobody will ever be completely satisfied unless the government can put somebody at those mailboxes.

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