Wednesday, August 13, 2008

News: Analysis of the Spores, and Congressional Investigations

Itching to grapple with the scientific analysis employed by the FBI? Martin Enserink and Yudhijit Bhattacharjee of Science have done the best reporting yet on the kinds of microbial forensic evidence we are likely to see.

Meanwhile, Carrie Johnson reports on House and Senate Judiciary Committee oversight panels, which have proposed September hearings to investigate the case further, and will call on FBI Director Robert S. Mueller to testify.


Anonymous said...

The congressional oversight does sound promising, I am not totally convinced we will get the answers we want as part of The American Public.

Today, reports have Senator Tom Daschle who was once a target for one of these letters, claim he was satisfied with The DOJ's report on the case.

If this doesn't sound suspicious, I don't know what does. If someone or something tried to kill you, I am sure you would be making more of a fuss about it.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Nass, please share your evaluation if the Science article with us.

Also, please see Hair Samples in Anthrax Case Don't Match

Anonymous said...

Ok, the mailbox hair samples didnt match Ivins. Did they match any other anthrax lab employee in NJ or MD? Were DNA samples taken of those employees so they could be excluded?

Probably the hair was from some other random person who used the mailbox. But it would be nice to know.

Elizabeth Ferrari/ San Francisco said...

Look at this paragraph in the Johnson article:

"Investigators now believe that Ivins waited until evening to make the drive to Princeton on Sept. 17, 2001. He showed up at work that day and stayed briefly, then took several hours of administrative leave from the lab, according to partial work logs. Using receipts and interviews, authorities say Ivins filled up his car's gas tank, attended a meeting outside of the office in the late afternoon, and returned to the lab for a few minutes that evening before moving off the radar screen and presumably driving overnight to Princeton."

Presumably the FBI has nothing about that night.

Anonymous said...

I notice most of the science questions that senators seem to be interested in asking are concerned with the genetic aspects. I'm worried that there are not enough qualified scientists around to formulate the more important questions surrounding the nature of the powders and their theories on Ivins's ability to manufacture these powders in the alloted time frame. Here's the questions I'd like to ask:
(1) What is the dry weight percentage of elemental silicon in (a) The media spore powder, (b) The Daschle/Leahy spore powder, and (c) A dried sample of Ivins's stock RMR-1029 spores?
(2) What is the estimated total mass of spores used in the first set of mailings (media letters)?
(3) Did the FBI demonstrate that they could ferment and dry an equivalent mass of dry spores using the same equipment that they theorize Ivins used in the same time frame that he had avialable?
(4) What is the estimated total mass of spores used in the second set of mailings (Daschle/Leahy letters)?
(5) Did the FBI demonstrate that they could ferment and dry an equivalent mass of dry spores using the same equipment that they theorize Ivins used in the same time frame that he had avialable?
(6) If the FBI carried out this recreation were they able to obtain a powder with identical aerosol properties as the Daschle/Leahy powder, in terms of average aerosol particle diameter?
(7) Do the FBI have a theory about why the attack powders contained elemental silicon? What molecular form did the silicon take?
(8) The FBI announced that they had failed to reproduce the attack spore powder after a reverse-engineering project that lasted 12-18 months? Was this project dedicated to reproducing the physical properties such as aerosol properties and average aerosol particle diameter? Since the announcement of failure in 2003, were the FBI subsequently able to reproduce the powder?
(9) Do the FBI believe that Ivins used an additive or excipient to enhance the aerosol properties of thje powder?
(10) Which laboratories performed the analysis of the powder's physical properties?
(11) Will laboratory reports from these institiutes be available giving (a) elemental composition in weight percentage of all detected elements, (b) Scanning electron microscope images of media, Daschle/Leahy and stock RMR-1029 spores, (c) electron diffraction X-ray (EDX) spectra of media, Daschle/Leahy and stock RMR-1029 spores, (d) electron diffraction X-ray (EDX) images of media, Daschle/Leahy and stock RMR-1029 spores for all major elements found?

John Sawyer said...

Anonymous, you're right. Most senators, at least enough to make any such investigation relatively moot, don't know enough science, but will pretend to, or will think they do, so that they won't know all the right questions to ask, or how to interpret the answers. They'll try to simplify the investigation, to streamline it, sometimes with good motives, but will eventually go with whatever the "preponderance of evidence" seems to imply to them, or just conclude that the case is inconclusive, regardless of whether the evidence points in other directions. Unless there's some kind of "800 pound gorilla" piece of evidence waiting to be revealed, I think it's likely that's what will happen.

Anonymous said...

Another point is the following. My questions are asking for hard numbers, questions that cannot be responded to with "fluffy" answers - I'm afraid most of the answers to the genetic questions can be hidden under a plethora of ambiguities and non-answers.
It doesn't get more direct than "what is the fry weight % of elemental silicon in the Daschle powder"? Not much room to spin with that one.

John Sawyer said...

Anonymous, I think it's possible for spin, or at least an insufficient reaction, to be applied to practically any piece of scientific evidence in this and many other cases, no matter how specific and hard the numbers in the answers are, even if the evidence points in one specific direction or another, since all anyone (including senators) has to say, is something like "That's interesting", or "That disturbs me", etc., and then move on, and then they and the rest of the investigators simply can finish up with, "The evidence is contradictory, so we can't come to any real conclusions". Even if there are multiple pieces of evidence which DO point in specific directions. It's how it's usually done. Even murder investigations can be derailed, if the goal is to convince the public that someone committed suicide instead--even if the dead person was found to be shot from behind. No problem. Sorry to be so skeptical, but we've all seen it so many times. said...

What part did Dr. Barbara Rosenberg play? According to Ed Lake, she pointed to a single individual working at Detrick, then misid'd Dr. Hatfill as the culprit.

So-was she part of the problem, or part of the solution? Did the feds misdirect her, or vice versa? And can we trust Ed Lake?

Robert Pate said...

Dr. Barbara Rosenberg was convinced Dr. Hatfill was responsible for the anthrax attacks and was careful not to explicitly name him. She arranged a Senate hearing attended mostly by staff members to look into her theory that Hatfill was responsible for the anthrax attacks. Shortly thereafter the FBI gave in to Senate pressure and placed Hatfill under public investigation making sure the media knew he was their “person of interest”.