Friday, September 5, 2008

House Judiciary Wants Answers From FBI Chief on Anthrax

CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS
Sept. 5, 2008

Members of the House Judiciary Committee made clear Friday they expect more answers from the FBI about its August announcement that a government scientist was responsible for the 2001 anthrax attacks on Capitol Hill and elsewhere.

Committee members submitted a list of questions they want Director Robert S. Mueller III to answer about the anthrax investigation in advance of his first Capitol Hill appearance since the FBI announced Bruce E. Ivins was solely responsible for the attack. Mueller is to appear before the panel Sept. 16.

Ivins, a microbiologist who worked at a U.S. military research institute at Fort Detrick, Md., committed suicide as federal officials prepared to indict him.

“Important and lingering questions remain that are crucial for you to address, especially since there will never be a trail to examine the facts of the case,” wrote Judiciary Chairman John Conyers Jr. , D-Mich., in a letter co-signed by two subcommittee chairmen.

Among the questions they want Mueller to address are whether White House officials initially pressed the FBI to show the attacks were linked to al Qaeda or Iraq and why another government scientist, Steven Hatfill, remained a suspect in the investigation. Judiciary Committee Democrats also want Mueller to explain why Ivins retained his security clearance after becoming the prime suspect in the attacks....

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Here are two of the issues I find quite troubling in the case against Dr. Ivins.

1. The Department of Justice Has Consistently Overstated The Strength Of Its Circumstantial Evidence Case Against Dr. Ivins

In a 2002 interview on the Anthrax Attacks, Tom Carey, then FBI Domestic Terrorism Chief, acknowledged the inherent weakness of circumstantial evidence in the following exchange with ABC's Brigid Glanville;

Tom Carey: While circumstantial evidence helps build a case, but at the end of the day you want to have what we call direct evidence, and a significant amount of direct evidence, along with circumstantial evidence in which you’re going to bring somebody to trial.

Brigid Glanville: So what would be an example of circumstantial evidence?

Tom Carey: Well circumstantial evidence could be testimony from other individuals that an individual had access say to a room where anthrax was stored. Or the records would indicate that the person had access, versus real evidence would be their fingerprint on the letter. On the letter that was inside one of the envelopes, that would be the real direct physical evidence.

"Anthrax: a Political Whodunit", ABC Radio National (17 November, 2002) http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/bbing/stories/s726834.htm


2. The Contamination Of The Anthrax In The First Letters Undercuts The FBI's Case

Dr. Ivins' entire life professional life had been devoted to preparing pure anthrax samples. Pure, contamination-free anthrax was fundamental in his two decades of professional experience. He was obviously experienced in using consistent procedures to avoid contamination.

According to the DoJ:

"Dr. Ivins is considered an expert in the growth, sporulation, and purification of Bacillus anthracis...

"He has personally conducted and supervised Ames anthrax spore productions for over two decades... Dr. Ivins was adept at manipulating anthrax production and purification variables to maximize sporulation and improve the quality of anthrax spore preparations..."

Yet according to the DoJ documents;

"Both of the anthrax spore powders recovered from the Post and Brokaw letters contain low levels of a bacterial contaminant identified as a strain of Bacillus subtilis..."

The government nevertheless acknowledges this contaminant wasn't found in Dr. Ivins' RMR-1029 anthrax sample flask;

"Phenotypic and genotypic analyses demonstrate that the RMR-1029 does not have the Bacillus subtilis contaminant found in the evidentiary spore powders..."

The FBI contends that the contaminant was introduced during the production of the Post and Browkaw spore powders;

"Since RMR-1029 is the genetic parent to the evidentiary spore powders, and it is not known how the Bacillus subtilis contaminant came to be in the Post and Brokaw spore powders, the contaminant must have been introduced during the production of the Post and Brokaw spores."

But the FBI also contends that Dr. Ivins produced those contaminated samples in his own lab;

"[Dr Ivins'] access to Suite B3 and USAMRIID afforded all of the equipment and containment facilities which would have been needed to prepare the anthrax and letters used in the Fall 2001 attacks."

The FBI doesn't even attempt to explain how Dr. Ivins, an acknowledged expert in producing pure anthrax samples, working in his own state of the art lab, produced contaminated anthrax samples. The FBI doesn't claim to have found any evidence of the contaminant anywhere in Dr. Ivins' lab. Everything we know about Ivins' and his experience is directly contrary to the contention that he somehow produced a contaminated anthrax sample. It just doesn't add up.

Anonymous said...

Typo or truth? Did Conyers really say there'd be no "trail" -- or did he say there'd be no "trial"?

Anonymous said...

I've been wondering about this issue, although I haven't seriously researched myself.

How did Ivins die? An overdose of Tylenol and Codeine?

How long was he in the hospital before dying? How was he treated?

Was an autopsy performed? Was Ivans buried or cremated?

Elizabeth Ferrari / San Francisco said...

Why only Mueller and not DoJ as well? Remember that when the "case" was presented to the public, it was Jeff Taylor that co-ordinated the briefing, not Mueller. Mr. Conyers should call him in as well.

Jeff Taylor, now US Attorney for DC, advised Ashcroft and then Gonzalez during the time the Bush Administration was politicizing DOJ. The attorney hiring and firings, the rationale to ignore Congressional subpoenas and to restrict testimony based on nebulous claims of privilege, he worked on all of that. And he was the one DoJ sent out to sell us Bruce Ivins . .

Mueller has been a fixer for the Bush family for years. But in this instance, he seems to be a buffer between decision makers at DoJ and Congress. We should ask Mr. Conyers to invite Attorney Taylor to chat with the HJC, too. It could be helpful.

I for one would be interested to know just how much of the FBI's activities were micromanaged by the administration via DoJ.

Old Atlantic Lighthouse said...

Talk to low level scientists alone and off camera. Talk to outside ones who were involved alone.

Elizabeth Ferrari/ San Francisco said...

I'm sorry, I left out, Mr. Taylor also helped draft the Patriot Act. So presumably he had a stake in that bill. He's not exactly a neutral party, is he?