Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The vial the FBI destroyed, or why there will always be a spore on a grassy knoll

Does this case hinge on the first samples Ivins gave to the FBI, of which one was sent to Dr. Paul Keim in Arizona? Why does that sample matter, if the flask the FBI later confiscated had the same strain and genetic variability?

Furthermore, if Keim's sample is critical to the case, one must ask, "was Keim its sole custodian?" -- i.e., was it definitely the sample Ivins provided? Is there a bulletproof chain of custody?

Why was the FBI's sample destroyed, while an identical sample was considered adequate to be sent to Keim in Arizona? And if the sample was destroyed, as claimed, because it "would never stand up to scientific or legal scrutiny" then why was Keim's (identical) sample used by FBI?

If, as stated, Ivins helped design the protocol for sample submission, it is bizarre that he would have submitted a sample improperly. Might someone have told him to submit it in a special way? Might he have been misdirected regarding sample submission, in an attempt to set him up as a potential suspect?

And why would Ivins send the FBI a first sample that would help to incriminate himself? And then change the sample to further incriminate himself? He had a security clearance, worked in a high-profile, specialized government biodefense lab, and could have lost his job and reputation if he submitted false samples for the investigation.

The story has now changed: CNN reports that, "They (FBI) at first viewed the change as "deceptive" but said they now consider it as simply "questionable." What??!

I am looking for a solution to this case that has a semblance of rationality. The FBI's WMD Directorate's Assistant Director, Majidi, implies in his "grassy knoll" remark that no matter how much evidence the FBI releases, some people will always suspect a cover-up. I found his remark a very smooth put-down of those who are unsatisfied with the FBI's story. But the holes in this case keep multiplying, despite the brilliant PR.


George Washington said...

Dr. Nass,

I like your take on the "spore on the grassy knoll" comment better than mine.

Ennealogic said...

The "false sample" charge against Dr. Ivins has me particularly frustrated. I posted a synopsis on my blog today. Here is a summary (please let me know if I'm missing any critical logic or facts):

The FBI and most of the media are claiming that Dr. Bruce Ivins submitted false anthrax samples designed to mislead investigators -- therefore, this goes to show that Ivins must be guilty of mailing the anthrax letters. If true, this would be a fairly strong, although circumstantial, piece of evidence. If untrue, I think we can reasonably accuse the FBI of trying to mislead us.

In February 2002 the FBI asked for anthrax samples from flask RMR-1029 in Bruce Ivins' lab. Ivins provided two; one went to the FBI (they subsequently destroyed it) and the backup sample went to scientist Paul Keim in New Mexico. These samples were smears -- a culture of the entire set of anthrax strains in the flask. After destroying the first sample, the FBI asked Ivins for another sample, which he provided early in April. The instructions were given verbally, but the subpoena with written details on the required protocol was not delivered until May 2002, a good month after Ivins complied. The sample Ivins provided this (second) time was a pure culture sample instead of a smear. Remember, he had already provided a smear.

The FBI now says the first sample was prepared in such a way that it would make for poor evidence in court, so they threw it away. The FBI also now says the second sample was false, that is, not from the RMR-1029 flask, because it did not contain the newly discovered genetic markers unique to the anthrax used in the attacks. The innocent (and truthful) explanation is that the second sample was a pure sample from a single culture in this flask of mixed cultures. Of course it didn't match the initial sample or the whole of the contents in flask RMR-1029.

Years later the FBI remembered there was a backup of the original, which they went and got from Keim. Surprise, surprise, it had the genetic markers -- and it is exactly what Ivins gave them in the first place.

So you tell me, who is misleading who? (links at my blog)

Anonymous said...

In February 2002, even before his subpoena arrived, Ivins submitted a sample that violated the protocol, the officials said. And because FBI officials concluded that the protocol violation would make Ivins’ sample inadmissible in court, the bureau destroyed it. In April 2002, Ivins gave the FBI a second sample, which did not match the RMR 1029 parent strain.'


So there was a casual request first for samples. There is nothing here to say he was first here notified about the "protocol". He probably prepared it the previously established manner.

The fact that he gave the FBI the correct strain at first, then a different one, is not the sign of guilt, but innocence. A guilty man would not have supplied the correct strain. Furthermore a guilty man would not compound attracting attention to himself by then substituting a different strain at the second request. With deep irony the FBI charges Ivins with trying to confuse them.

Maybe Ivins made a mistake. Maybe the FBI did, they have a clear record on that, esp. in this case. Maybe it isn't so clear that the two "strains" are so different, and the genetics isn't so solid.

The FBI seized the flask we are told. Isn't it interesting that we hear over and over that the "first sample" sent to Arizona matched the attack anthrax, but nothing like "we confirmed it with tests on germs from the seized flask."

Perhaps it mutates over time.

Anyway, downgrade to "questionable" because once the Feds get out of their mindset, tell the world, and the world tells them back their scenario makes Ivins look more innocent not more guilty, they have to make a quick retreat. And that's why this scenario will be discarded, even criticized and withdrawn by the FBI itself, because it makes Ivins look innocent and they won't be able to close the case, what they want more than anything else.

Also consider in light of the "number or flasks" dispute whether there were ten or twenty flasks. More? Surely Detrick had more than one "blend" or substrain of Ames. This enhances the possibilities for confusions or mistakes.

Anonymous said...

Does it make any sense that they couldn't use the first sample to convict anyone of the anthrax attacts, but they're using the back up sample from that same strain to convict Ivins? Maybe I'm missing something here, but that's how it appears to my untrained eye.

Elizabeth Ferrari/ San Francisco said...

Dr. Nass wants rationality and you seem to be concerned with logic. The problem is, the FBI has different goals and is playing by other rules.

The Justice Department has become so politicized that laws are being broken left and right in service of a political agenda. In other words, the FBI's goal is to make a political narrative accepted by the public, not to rationally solve a crime.

It becomes very transparent when their own logic is turned back on them. They claimed Bruce Ivins was misleading when he turned in his samples. He wasn't, as they themselves admitted to Congressional leaders last Friday.
But the FBI did destroy evidence and did mislead the public when they made those claims while withholding their own contribution to this mess.

spoonful said...

I wholly concur that Ivins' submissions are a sign of innocence, not guilt. In the context of the facts, science and protocol at the time, Ivins' efforts at responding to the request for submission of samples seems to have been done with nothing but a good faith intention to fully comply with such request. Thanks to the posters for this excellent analysis.

Maure said...

Keep up the excellent work, Dr. Nass! A couple of things pop into my mind….. 1.) That "Grassy Knoll" remark ridicules those scientists who have logical questions and places them in the same ranks with conspiracy nuts. This is highly offensive. Our FBI resorts to ridicule, not sound science. Since when is RIDICULE part of the scientific method?.... 2.) In response to a previous post, regarding the hoax letters, WHO could possibly be trying to frame Hatfill by sending a letter from London at the time Hatfill was there, mid-November 2001? Hatfill was not named a person of interest until well into 2002. Seems like someone in the know, someone WHO WANTED TO MAKE SURE Hatfill was implicated, i.e. the REAL anthrax mailer, sent this letter.
Previous Post:
August 16, 2008 11:15 AM robert pate said... <<<<<<<< "Another interesting anthrax hoax letter was mailed from London to Senator Daschle to implicate Dr. Hatfill who was in England at the time preparing to be a weapons inspector in Iraq."

Elizabeth Ferrari/ San Francisco said...

Maure: I used your remark re the scientific method to see if the WaHo was filtering the remarks to their editorial. Only 15 since about noon their time. That in itself is strange considering how much interest there has been, witness many, many comments on every other article. Hmm.

Robert Pate said...


You are welcome to read my article “The Anthrax Mystery: Solved” in which I explain who set up Dr. Hatfill. I know this is controversial, but since the FBI has apparently failed in providing the answers other theories have to be considered.