Saturday, September 20, 2008

Weaponization Blues

During Robert Mueller's Senate Judiciary Committee testimony this past Thursday a rather animated Senator Leahy asked what he thought was a trick question: which labs other than Dugway or Battelle could have produced anthrax similar to the letters? Mueller came back after the break with an answer, which he couldn't repeat in open session, but seemingly satisfying the Senator. Did Leahy think the spores were weaponized?

The weaponization question has the "govt did it" types flummoxed at the moment. Ed Lake points to this Scientific American article about the involvement of Sandia National Labs in unlocking the mystery of the spores. It doesn't seem to unlock the mystery of the case, though.

Beginning a few paragraphs down the article talks about Dr. Michaels discovery that the spores weren't really coated with frosty silica glass as earlier stated, rather the silicon naturally occurred in the spore casing itself as it was grown. But then came the headscratcher:
It was this key information that helped the FBI to rule out the likelihood that a terrorist organization was behind the anthrax mailings and prompted the agency to turn its attention to U.S. government labs as the possible source of the anthrax.
Actually, in 2006 the FBI announced a new direction on the case; new leadership in the investigation; and a view that anyone with biological knowledge and know-how could have manufactured the attack anthrax. In effect, this ruled out weapons labs such as Dugway, Battelle, and God knows what in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere, but not necessarily terrorists.

After all, we knew al-Qaeda wasn't capable of producing weapons grade material by themselves. We knew the material in the letters wasn't coated with bentonite, a typical Iraqi additive. So if the material was simply purely refined, not weaponized, why wouldn't that rule in al-Qaeda or other assorted terrorist groups, perhaps using rogue scientists in rogue labs working with stolen material? The CIA reportedly had a Zawahiri Task Force.

If a foreign country wanted to use AQ as a proxy to warn America to stay back after 9/11 then it might make sense for them to use their own product as a calling card. On the other hand, if AQ had clandestinely acquired material from a foreign country who didn't want to be known then it wouldn't make sense for them to implicate said country using a traceable product, unless they were trying to blackmail or frame that particular country.

But if AQ wasn't involved (and it seems a long shot) that strongly suggests Ivins was involved assuming everyone else with access to the 4-marker RMR-1029 sample had alibis. Did they? In the Spring of this year Fox News reported the FBI had narrowed down their investigation to 3 people at Fort Detrick and one outside (someone in an American lab), yet we've never learned how or why these other folks were eliminated. Nobody has asked.

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