Monday, August 4, 2008

Anthrax Evidence is Said to be Primarily Circumstantial

Scott Shane, who has always done terrific reporting on the anthrax letters story, first at the Baltimore Sun, later at the NY Times, has again hit a home run. His piece, Anthrax Evidence is Said to be Primarily Circumstantial, lays out the kind of case that may be made against Ivins.

Unfortunately, the evidence reported against Ivins looks much like the evidence collected against Hatfill; and this type of evidence might exist if someone were trying to implicate Ivins. For instance, the envelopes were said to have been purchased at a Frederick post office Ivins frequented. (Is it true the envelopes can be definitively linked to one post office?) But other Detrick workers must also use that PO. Sounds to me like the use of "Greendale" on the letters' return address: which happened to be a suburb near Hatfill's former home in Harare, Zimbabwe.

A reasonable hypothesis is that former Detrick scientists Steven Hatfill and Ayaad Assaad were each independently 'set up' to take the fall on the anthrax letters. The strategy might have succeeded were the case not so high profile, and if each man had not aggressively defended himself. If the same kind of evidence is being used against Ivins, he may have been set up too.

Shane notes that FBI agents lack any evidence that Ivins visited New Jersey on the dates the letters were mailed. But isn't such evidence essential for a determination that Ivins is guilty and acted alone?

CNN carried part of this story but its version omitted some crucial information included in Shane's story: that ten other people also had access to the anthrax strains said to implicate Ivins. Why the creative editing by CNN?

Here is the NYT paragraph:
While genetic analysis had linked the anthrax letters to a supply of the deadly bacterium in Dr. Ivins’s laboratory at Fort Detrick, Md., at least 10 people had access to the flask containing that anthrax, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.
Here is CNN's version:
The DNA linked the anthrax used in the mailing to a flask used in Bruce Ivins' lab at the U.S. Army Medical Institute of Infectious Diseases, said the source, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the case.
The media must refrain from acting as judge and jury, and give us the facts, ma'am, just the facts. Note that we are no better off today than all weekend: virtually none of the official sources have been identified. Why is it taking DOJ so long to get its story straight? Bruce died last Tuesday: if DOJ needs to brief the victims' families first, well, they have had six days to do so.

And Shane makes this most important point:
The stakes for the beleaguered FBI and its troubled investigation, now in its seventh year, could hardly be higher.
Is that what this is really about? Make the FBI look like a hero with its fancy new forensics, and close the case before the White House changes hands and some new officials start sniffing around?


Anonymous said...

Honestly, could you be more conspiratorial sounding?
You imply a cover up.
There's no evidence of that.
Certainly there were mistakes made, and serious questions need to be asked, but please, no need for your conspiracy theories.

daedalus2u said...

Something that I don't understand, a quote from the LA Times:

"The payout to Hatfill, a highly unusual development that all but exonerated him in the mailings, was an essential step to clear the way for prosecuting Ivins, according to lawyers familiar with the matter.",0,1751308.story?page=1

I can think of no reason what so ever that the government would have to settle with Hatfill (and pay him $2.825 million plus $150,000 a year for life) before charging someone else. Unless there is a part of the settlement that Hatfill will or will not testify or comment about the case? Unless the dirty tricks that were played against Hatfill were also played against Ivins and the FBI didn't want Hatfill to talk about them?

Some of what the FBI was doing was complete nonsense. Openly following Ivins 24/7? WTF is that supposed to find out? Evidence? Did the FBI think that Ivins would lead them to his secret mad scientist biological warfare laboratory? (for those of you who are not mad scientists, the first rule of being a mad scientist is to not go to your secret weapons laboratory when you are being followed.)

To me it seems like the biggest lead is who provided the multiple false leads that implicated the multiple individuals that have been set up. The multiple false leads implicating Iraq. Who was it who ordered the investigation to follow these bogus leads in series instead of doing appropriate investigations in parallel?

Who ordered the mail irradiated before it could be tested?

Who signed off on the Hatfill settlement? Which lawyers negotiated the “hold harmless” clauses which (no doubt) are there to protect someone. Does the settlement protect the “witnesses” who gave the false leads that lead the FBI to Hatfill in the first place? To those who “leaked” the false leads to the media? If so, that is a very peculiar release that protects a non-party for that non-party’s wrong doing.

I think they settled with Hatfill because Hatfill had standing to sue and compel disclosure. To have the standing to ask compel FBI employees to explain under oath why they told false stories to the press.

gyrfalcon said...

"Why is it taking DOJ so long to get its story straight? Bruce died last Tuesday: if DOJ needs to brief the victims' families first, well, they have had six days to do so."

FWIW, the grand jury materials, documents and testimony, are sealed, or so it's reported. So it's not even up to DoJ to release the info, they have to wait for the court's agreement.

Have they filed the paperwork for the request to unseal the case yet? I'd guess not, but honestly, six days is not a very long time when your case, which is complicated, circumstantial, and surely has a bunch of national security issues woven through it, just blew up unexpectedly in mid-stride.

I'm inclined to give them a break on this part.

What I'd like to know is the reason behind the odd series of leaks, such as the most recent one alleging that Ivins had some sort of an obsession with a sorority in NJ.

Anonymous said...

It's important to remember that expressions like "Dr Ivin's lab" or "Bruce Ivin's lab" sound like personal space, when the reality is that it's a group the laboratory under tight security and observation. A lot of misleading text, has harmed the reporting.

dobermanmacleod said...

I have seen published reports questioning Mr Ivin's technical ability to create the military grade anthrax used in the Amerithrax case.

Furthermore, I question Mr Ivin's political awareness in that the Amerithrax bioterrorist targeted two senior US Senators that could potentially block future legislation curtailing civil liberties.

I know it is counter-intuitive to laymen that Ivin could work on the vaccine end of biological weapons, but not be up to the task of creating such military grade aerosol anthrax.

Furthermore, it is counter-intuitive to many reporters covering the Amerithrax case that someone could be unaware of the key role of Daschle and Leahy in the US Senate.

I only wish the FBI was not so susceptible to political pressure, nor that they (presumably) accused an innocent person (Hatfield) for years before changing their minds. Frankly, I (and many other people) are worry that Ivins will be made a scapegoat, and justice will never be served.