Sunday, February 21, 2010

Ivins Case Closed

In the midst of the Tiger Woods mea culpa and the DOJ's Yoo/Bybee exoneration another document dump was executed on Friday--the closure of the anthrax letter case. Since I've wasted more than a few words on it here it's only appropriate to comment.

Do I think the FBI got their man? Probably. No, there's still no eyewitnesses to the production or mailing of the material and granted, it seems strange they weren't onto Ivins much earlier, but at the same time the evidence clearly wasn't invented. If they were framing him they certainly got lucky--this guy even admitted to driving hundreds of miles to mail packages to friends so they wouldn't know they were coming from him. How coincidental is that? He had no alibi for the windows of opportunity or the extra time spent in the labs during production. It would have been a heckuva circumstantial case.

Yes I know, few trust the government when it comes to lone wolves, me included. The vacuum between Hatfill and Ivins propagated many conspiracies. On the left some are disappointed because they believe in their heart of hearts the attack was either from Big Defense or BushCheneyBurton--the former to gain lucrative contracts and the latter to gain Iraq. But neither really required an attack. 9/11 itself was probably big enough to do the trick; Big Defense and Big Vaccine Contractor were probably going to get second looks for increased funding without the risk. Besides, they have lobbyists.

As to Iraq, had Bushitler ordered the attack one might think they would have left a better Iraqi fingerprint. Instead, they harassed Steven Hatfill for years and invaded Iraq without using the attack as a casus belli, and when reports surfaced about a bentonite/silica coating on the spores (used by Iraq) they quickly dismissed them.

Even more disappointing to the left--since the report was released using a Friday document dump this means their hero prezOne has either abandoned them, gone over to the dark side, or believes the FBI, since as president he likely knows the truth.

Some, primarily on the right, were figuring AQ was involved. However, many experts believe if they had acquired anthrax or any other WMDs they'd have had little hesitation in using them in a much less judicious fashion than the letters. This was pointed out today in the New York Times by former CIA and DOE analyst Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, who conceded Zawahiri was in charge of a bio-weapons program (and warned they may still be pursuing one--AQ Khan is free again).

The one theory that made some sense was the 'warning theory' from Saddam after 9/11, ie, Saddam ordered proxies or his own intelligence agents to send the letters as a warning to Bush not to attack Iraq in response to 9/11. He did send two rambling 'open letters' to America after 9/11 and the second one even mentioned the anthrax. At the time he was harboring one of the bomb mixers from the first attack on the Trade Centers, Abdul Yasin. The first anthrax letter was postmarked on the same day the administration leaked the "Atta in Prague" story.

Surely if the attacks were messages from Saddam the Bush administration wouldn't have had an appetite to divulge the 'brutal' truth, thinking more WMD attacks might be in the offing. Amateur sleuths took hints from Bob Woodward's book on the subject, and certainly one could tie Bush's tippy top secret terrorist surveillance program into that theory.

Maybe Hatfill was either a willing or unwilling dupe targeted by the government to give the impression of a lone wolf to ease public fears while they looked for the real killer(s). At last check Mr. Hatfill and his millions were last seen heading off into the sunset, so perhaps we'll never know (and BTW, this theory works just as well with Ivins as the perp).

But Dr. Ivins seems to shut the door. He had motive, knowledge, access to the material, and psychological issues. The latest documents suggest he lied, tried to finger others, and towards the end even admitted he wasn't a monster but might not remember his actions during that period. As caretaker of the RMR-1029 stock used to prepare the attack material he was evidently above suspicion for awhile but as we've seen in Alabama and Texas over the past ten days, just having a college pedigree or academic title does not remove all suspicion. And sometimes there really are lone nuts.

MORE 2/21/10

The ultimate anti-conspiracist Ed Lake has been going over the FBI pdf and points out a few smoking guns. First, the revelation that Ivins may have used secret codes in the letters that referred to DNA coding must sting because Lake has insisted for years that Ivins got a child to write the letters. Anyway, this does make some sense:
And, for me, on top of that "clincher" is a likely reason why Dr. Ivins probably put a secret message into the media anthrax letters in the first place: He expected to be a hero as a result of sending the letters. He didn't think anyone would be killed. Like many other scientists, he expected a real biological weapons attack from Muslim extremists to follow the 9/11 attacks. By alerting the media and the nation to that possibility with his letters, he probably imagined that he would be saving tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of American lives. And knowing the hidden code would allow him to prove that he sent the letters, even though he'd taken every other precaution he could think of to prevent the letters from being traced back to him.
In other words, Ivins knew the public wasn't prepared for such attacks and wanted to raise awareness but didn't want to kill anyone, while at the same time he was selfish and arrogant enough to want the credit at some future point. He points to the letters being sealed with adhesive and taped in such a way as to limit cross-contamination in the mails as a clue that it was more the work of a hero rather than a terrorist, which also makes sense.

But the most interesting bit of information might be the release of Ivins' email to CDC after the death of National Enquirer editor Bob Stevens, the first known victim (page 9 and again later in the document):
When Robert Stevens became the first victim of the anthrax attacks, Dr. Ivins sent an unexplainable e-mail to a contact at the CDC on October 4, 2001, the day after Stevens was diagnosed with inhalational anthrax. Dr. Ivins, one of the nation’s foremost anthrax scientists, speculated that Mr. Stevens’s infection could have been the result of Stevens drinking infected creek water. This proffered explanation, was impossible because the anthrax had been inhaled. Alternatively, he proposed to the CDC that Stevens could have contracted the disease from infected alpaca used in wool socks or a sweater. Both a renowned microbiologist at another lab and a scientist working at USAMRIID found these suggestions absurd. The microbiologist at the other lab described them as “laughable,” and the USAMRIID scientist called them “fishy, any reasonable scientist would say this doesn’t make sense.” 44
The FBI considered this a fishing expedition and proof of a guilty conscience while Lake sees it as absolute denial after Stevens' death, which wasn't supposed to happen.

Oddly, this very same 'creek water' explanation was actually floated in the press the very same day as the Stevens story broke. From Ari Fleischer's book, page 191, regarding a Tommy Thompson press briefing on Stevens:
"We do know that he drank water out of a stream when he was traveling in North Carolina last week.."
Where did Thompson get the creek water angle? A CBS reporter also asked whether Stevens had been in contact with wool, which was also mentioned in the email. That's certainly a weird one. If Ivins was just a thoughtful patriot who had just accidentally killed a man trying to prevent bio attacks why would he dialogue with CDC about such inane possibilities and not say something like 'hey, this might be AQ we better get prepared'?

The only explanation that makes sense is that he was more sociopath than patriot. Only a sociopath would send yet another batch of even more potent letters a week or so later, after Stevens' death and with the story still in the media, and knowing more deaths may occur.

Perhaps that's why the FBI took pains to reveal Ivins' many idiosyncrasies, which all pointed towards a sort of split personality, one good, one evil, something Ivins himself seemed to accept towards the end. Unfortunately dead men tell no tales, so we'll never know for sure. But as to the far-out Iraq angle--if the letters really were warnings from Saddam Hussein then Bush called his bluff, and we see the results.

MORE 2/24/10

The letter to CDC mentioned above (coming on the same day as the first anthrax media briefing regarding the verified case of inhalation anthrax in Florida) was described by the FBI as "unexplainable" in the summary report:
When Robert Stevens became the first victim of the anthrax attacks, Dr. Ivins sent an unexplainable e-mail to a contact at the CDC on October 4, 2001, the day after Stevens was diagnosed with inhalational anthrax. Dr. Ivins, one of the nation’s foremost anthrax scientists, speculated that Mr. Stevens’s infection could have been the result of Stevens drinking infected creek water. This proffered explanation, was impossible because the anthrax had been inhaled. Alternatively, he proposed to the CDC that Stevens could have contracted the disease from infected alpaca used in wool socks or a sweater. Both a renowned microbiologist at another lab and a scientist working at USAMRIID found these suggestions absurd. The microbiologist at the other lab described them as “laughable,” and the USAMRIID scientist called them “fishy, any reasonable scientist would say this doesn’t make sense.” 44
They didn't post any of that email, so apparently now the recipient has leaked the actual content:
From: Ivins, Bruce E Dr USAMRIID
To:
Subject: Florida case(?)
Date: Thursday, October 04, 2001 9:57:19 PM

Hi,

I just heard this evening (and read over internet news) that a case of pulmonary anthrax may have been identified in Florida. Is this true, or is this just hysteria? The only Florida strain of B. anthracis that I am familiar with is V770, which is the parent of V770-NP1-R, the strain used in production of the human anthrax vaccine. (I believe that V770 was originally isolated from a cow in Florida in the early 1950s.) The article said that this person was an “Outdoorsman,” and had drunk water from a creek in North Carolina. If he really does have anthrax, could he have gotten it this way, or did he get it by tromping around some dusty field area. (Has North Carolina been dry this summer?) I know that in the wild in Africa, animals are supposed to be able to get it from water holes by stirring up spores and presumably ingesting and possibly inhaling them as an aerosol. Could this have happened? What if an animal had died upstream and the stream was contaminated? (Drinking from a stream or creek without boiling or purifying the water first is an invitation to intestinal disease or parasites, but have any other human anthrax cases been documented from people drinking contaminated water?)

You called me several times in the recent past with regards to another anthrax issue. If there’s anything I can help with here (if you or coworkers are involved) please let me know. I don’t know if there’s anything I can do, but I’m certainly willing to provide whatever informational assistance I can. (I would have been less surprised if the Florida man had been hunting deer in Texas, where there is identifiable anthrax. I don’t recall North Carolina as having ideal soil for preservation of anthrax spores or for anthrax cycling of spore-vegetative cell-spore-vegetative cell etc., but I suppose there could be areas of higher soil calcium and alkalinity.)

Anyway, please don’t hesitate to give me a call if there’s anything I can do. We are currently testing the virulence (in immunized and unimmunized guinea pigs) of B. anthracis strains from all over the world, including China, and we’ve come up with some very interesting differences in virulence among the strains.

Take care of yourself,

Bruce
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Assuming this is the entire email mentioned in the summary report (and the only one) and the scientist in question didn't do some creative editing (or perhaps the blog he released it to), then it seems we can look at this two ways, a guilty conscience or within bounds of his scientific field.

Guilty: he's ticked off that Stevens died--nobody was supposed to die--so he's trying to suggest to CDC that it could have been something innocent, ie, creek water, dust, etc. A guilty person might do that, along with offering their services to 'help' solve things in hopes he could later manipulate the results showing his guilt. The fishing aspect would be that he knew there was a "AQ did it" letter with the powder so he wanted to see if CDC would confirm that in reply, confirming his involvement and his murder. After all, it could have been a coincidence. Based on the time and header of the email he was also in the lab working late, but this wasn't listed in the FBI time card release.

Within science: Ivins was one of the foremost b anthracis researchers in the world and the email showed he had had prior communication with the CDC contact. It is certainly within the bounds of natural scientific curiosity and human nature to contact a friend and get the inside skinny on an event so close to his field and one which he'd worked to develop vaccines against, especially a month after 9/11. My take- definitely fishing trip, leaning towards the guilty side but not all the way.

The only reason it's not 'all the way' is because the FBI misrepresented this email, claiming he was blaming it on creek water. And he never even mentioned wool or alpacas. Why play fast and loose with facts when trying to convince the public of a circumstantial case?

1 comment:

Debbie said...

I never saw the AQ connection either. Like you they would have had no hesitation to use it and use it in a big, open way.

There have been several cases marked closed, that to me still had many questions unanswered. That always makes me wonder why.

Debbie
http://www.righttruth.typepad.com