Friday, August 08, 2008

Suspension of Belief

While the Edwards love child story provides Greta Van Sustern a fresh batch of program material the tidy wrap-up of the WMD attack on America continues to wind down towards the obscure conspiracies from whence it came. Yesterday Slate's Farhad Manjoo outlined three major theories while Ace provided one of his own:
I have to say at this point I am seriously doubting the FBI. I simply do not believe one even bothers offering this sort of utter nonsense as evidence of any kind if one has smoking-gun "new techniques" which definitively prove the anthrax came from Ivins' flask. Why are they not releasing these techniques? Do they wish to hide these powerful new methods from their fellow criminologists?
He knows, along with Greenwald, that this case has featured a lot of BS from the get-go. Those unfamiliar might want to start with Vassar professor Don Foster's overview from 2003 that helped finger Steven Hatfill. What is Foster saying now? Well, pretty much nothing, thanks to Hatfill's defamation settlement.

It's surprising the truthers haven't been more active in this story due to all the conflicting and puzzling information released from day one. But let's be candid here--not buying the official line doesn't automatically make one a conspiracy nut. This makes one a conspiracy nut (somebody please warn her about the dihydrogen monoxide).

No, I'm talking about stories like this at the Pentagon in March 2005 for example:
An anthrax alert occurred at the Pentagon facility March 14 and was accompanied by a second alert at a mailroom in a Defense Department-leased building in Falls Church, Va. That building, along with the entire three-building complex, was closed for two days before being declared clean.

Robert B. Harris, president and chief executive officer of Commonwealth Biotechnologies Inc. in Richmond, Va., also said the anthrax found at the Pentagon was the same genetic strain used in the 2001 attacks.
Down the memory hole now.

In the interest of full disclosure I've always favored a foreign source for this attack. Since I can't possibly know all the facts you'll mainly find my observations and supporting links here, nothing more. All of this could be wrong, but at least it's free!

That said, I think Bush's psyche was altered by these mailings no matter what the source. Both Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan have said Bush was changed by these attacks and it seems no coincidence the highly compartmentalized secret surveillance programs were started in the fall of 2001. Sure, 9/11 was enough of an excuse on its own, but this was icing on the TSP cake. After all, we had been attacked with WMDs.

I'd venture a guess that most Americans don't want to believe that a respected government germ scientist working to invent vaccines would actually commit treason and attack his own country, much less a president. That leaves only terrorism (either foreign or corporate) as a culprit, and most probably don't want to believe corporations are routinely killing people in such a fashion either. But in the maelstrom of theories some have gone a little hard on the outsider theorists, at times calling them "jingoists" and "haters". Yep, the kitchen is hot and I've ragged the inside jobbers myself.

Of course Greenwald probably believes Bush ordered every aspect of this, perhaps right down to printing the letters himself. On the same token, people like former UNSCOM inspector Richard Spertzel and bloggers like Ace and others (including me) really don't want to believe the government would attack it's own, even though we have, preferring to let the evidence lead to a lone 'ends-justify-means' liberal with a god complex if it can't be terrorism. So there you have our biases. But in the end, beauty is truth.

After weighing the document dump there's no more likely suspect (we know of) in that lab than Dr. Ivins. Of course "in that lab" is the optimal phrase. It was clear from stories posted in 2002 that the FBI knew Ivins' sample didn't match the sample they had or the powder from the letters. This was a key point, since it narrowed down the strain to only one location on earth--Fort Detrick, narrowing the suspects along with it. Ivins adamantly denied he had switched samples, which may allow some to believe the FBI were the ones playing switcheroo.

That's why it doesn't make sense he wasn't picked him up in 2002 since they undoubtedly knew about the evening unsupervised hours before the attacks and about his clandestine clean-up. After all, we're talking about real WMDs, not theoretical dirty bombs. The document dump had nothing to say about their fixation on Hatfill, who seemingly had an alibi, although the trip from Frederick to Trenton is no easy jaunt either (not to mention a nervous non-criminal scientist carrying WMD might stand to get stopped by the police en-route and give the whole thing away. And he did it twice).

I suppose there's a more nefarious explanation to consider. Say they had arrested Ivins in 2002 while the nation was in the middle of ramping up to remove Saddam. Imagine the impact it might have, like throwing cold water on a private part. The left would have considered it proof Saddam's WMD threat was overhyped, something that Iraq's propaganda apparatus would have surely seized upon to enhance their worldwide PR status. In other words, Bush could have intentionally delayed the arrest to give him an opportunity to remove a real anthrax threat, Saddam, so he had to name someone who couldn't have done it to stall for time.

The problem remains the Daschle/Leahy letters.

Whether coated with bentonite or not the Daschle powder was certainly better than seen before, something that apparently even tripped Bruce Ivins' scientific trigger according to Wednesday's NPR article. It's odd he would marvel publicly at his own creation or lie about somebody else's for that matter. Could be a clue. Perhaps he was more in line with the government scientists who let the cat out of the bag to Brian Ross:
By WILLIAM J. BROAD Three top scientists all with experience in germ weapons and knowledge of the federal investigation said in interviews yesterday that the powder was high-grade and in theory capable of inflicting wide casualties.

And, two of the scientists said, the anthrax was altered from its natural state to reduce its electrostatic charge, a process that prevents small particles from sticking together and to nearby objects, thus making them more likely to become airborne.

The experts noted that turning anthrax into a weapon of mass destruction still required added steps, like making the powder in quantity and learning how to disseminate it effectively. One expert said that only the United States, the Soviet Union and Iraq were known to have developed the necessary technique. But the experts said some officials were playing down the powder's potency out of ignorance or an impulse to reassure a frightened public.
Or perhaps he was one. The FBI and Fort Detrick, along with Ari Fleischer and Bob Woodward, almost pulled groin muscles trying to dispel any such notion, which seems to shred Greenwald's inside job theory especially knowing what he thinks of Bush's overall intelligence (iow, Bush was so crafty he sent the letters then vigorously pretended they didn't implicate Saddam in order to frame Saddam).

So in my mind Greenwald is correct--Ross still looms large here, at least in part. If Ivins was his source (or a source for his source) that would seem an automatic case closed since a Democrat scientist would have no reason to lie other than to deflect attention away from himself.

If not, then there's still some splainin' to do. Were these folks simply trying to deflect attention off their lab network buddies by blaming foreigners? Craven, if true. Or, were they just a group of Bush-lovin' neocons who wanted to kick more Muslim ass by implicating Saddam? Considering the Decider's reputation with the scientific community, that's not very likely, but we won't know until they are revealed.

But if Ross won't release the sources it's questionable as to whether Waxman could reach them. He could subpoena Ross but timing is key. If things are going miserably bad for Obama in September it might be worth the gamble. But if things are going well it's risky, since Ivins could turn out to be a source and convict himself, collapsing the inside job house of cards. It also might rekindle the William Ayers terrorist story in the process, forcing Obama to eventually throw it all under the bus. Perfect.

MORE 8/9/08

The WaPo says that Hatfill was officially excluded from suspicion on Friday, effectively releasing him from his "person of interest" straightjacket. We eagerly await his interview with Diane Sawyer or Barbara Walters.

They also tried to close the door on the Brian Ross brouhaha by clarifying the substance found in the Daschle letter. Silicon. Not silica. And it was a contaminant, not an additive. Kinda strange, but I'm neither a microbiologist, FBI special agent, nor chemist. But these folks are experts and on their site you'll find an overview of the attacks, containing the following paragraphs:
The Daschle letter was opened in the sixth floor office at 9:45 am by an aide in the Senator's Hart Senate Office Building suite on October 15, 2001. It was believed to contain about 2 grams of powder comprised of 200 billion to 2 trillion spores. Based on nasal swabs, all 18 persons who were in the area of Daschle's sixth floor office tested positive for anthrax exposure, as did 7 of 25 (i.e, 28%) in the area of the Senator's fifth floor office (an open staircase connected the two offices).
Regarding the spore analysis of the Daschle/Leahy letters:
The anthrax spores in the Daschle and Leahy envelopes were uniformly between 1 and 3 microns in size, and were coated with fine particles of frothy silica glass.
Maybe they were just parroting news reports of the time. If you noticed, they referred to Senator Daschle's state as North Carolina, not North Dakota. But the site isn't old--it's been updated with recent material, fwiw.

MORE 8/9/08

Jean C. Duley has emerged from her secure location to give an interview to the WaPo, wherein she tells of her own twisting battle with substance abuse. She strongly denies being in league with the FBI, even chastising them for not helping her. Yet for some reason ("reasons that are unclear" is how the WaPo writer put it) her much-heralded restraining order, whereupon she misspelled several words in scratching out her nervous complaint, was never served on Ivins. Perhaps that's because the Feds were watching him like a hawk already. Guess we'll have to wait for the book.

It's tempting to throw out the term useful idiot here, but not with Ivins. He was probably more towards genius, and geniuses often have trouble with interpersonal relationships. Oddly, that makes him a prime suspect and prime fall guy at the same time.

This AP story paints a nice picture of an obsessed stalker (and why would this woman have reason to lie) but it seems more an indictment of Fort Detrick for keeping this guy around than anything else. Unless the whole Hatfill thing was a big diversion (with Hatfill's help) to fool Ivins while they figured out a way to prove their case.

MORE 8/10/08

One of the problems with speculation is that it's speculative, like most of the above, so take it with the grain it deserves.

If you pore through Ed Lake's site (scroll down for updates) it's obvious he's the leading web speculator on this case and he's looking more right by the minute.

Two links on his update page stand out to me. One is a clarification of Brian Ross's sources for the bentonite claim. First, Ross claims Ivins wasn't one of his sources and if he was it would have been reported it in a second. That sounds true, since with Ivins gone there would be no confidentiality issue with sources.

That takes Ivins out of the business of trying to deflect attention off his plot by blaming Iraq, which never made much sense anyway because he wouldn't have had sole access. Ross goes on to mention a brownish substance, which Lake says goes back a story about a "brown ring", later disputed. To me that's still up in the air without them releasing data to explain it to the greater scientific community for peer review, something probably not possible due to the sensitive nature.

But Lake's point about second and third party information seems strong--IOW, a couple of prominent scientists mis-analyze something then pass it to esteemed friends, who then become 'expert sources' for the media. As Ross says, the story would make a good journalism class.

The other link is to a series of questions posed by Senator Charles Grassley, which will be covered in another post.

There's still some question in my mind about the silicon versus silica and whether the United States government would ever announce it if the spores had a Russian signature. In that sense a guilty Ivins removes all the sticky questions but we must follow the rules of conspiracies--there are a lot of people in the circle of knowledge who would be privy to such a diversion.

Actually, it seems the Feds would have this nailed shut if they had any kind of confirmation Ivins was out of the Frederick area during the two mailing windows in question. We already know he wasn't in the lab after work hours (although he was during the day) and wouldn't be stupid enough to use gas or other credit cards on such a trip, so his wife or children, or perhaps friends, or perhaps his email account or web activity, could shine some light on that question.

Surely they've checked and there wasn't anything or else he wouldn't have been near indictment. It's an eight hour round trip to the mailbox from his home any web activity from his home IP address during off-work hours would have been critical to establising reasonable doubt in court. A civil trial against his estate might reveal some of that.

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