Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Jahrling: Honest Mistake

An LA Times article by David Willman discusses an email response by virologist Peter Jahrling, one of the first people to examine the Daschle anthrax, and to remark repeatedly on its properties that indicated deliberate weaponization:
After being informed of the events at the (9/16/2008 House Judiciary Committee) hearing, Jahrling renounced his earlier analysis. "In retrospect," Jahrling said, "I believe I was mistaken and defer to the experts."
In "The Demon in the Freezer," a 2002 book by Richard Preston, Jahrling:
...said that USAMRIID had found that the anthrax powder in the letter mailed to Senator Daschle was "professionally done" and "energetic". By "energetic" he meant that the particles had a tendency to fly up into the air if they were disturbed.
Please see Comments 3 and 4 for an informed and referenced discussion on this.

Mueller was also interviewed by Preston. He attended Jahrling's White House briefing, and:
Mueller thanked the Army for bringing the nature of the anthrax to the FBI's attention. He said that the FBI had received conflicting data on the anthrax. The FBI had been trying to sort this issue through, but Mueller now acknowledged that the Army had been right: the Daschle anthrax was a weapon.
Well, Jahrling may be correct now. Or he may have been correct then. Same goes for Mueller.


Elizabeth Ferrari/ San Francisco said...

David Willman also happily wrote that Bruce Ivins stood to benefit financially from the anthrax attacks.,0,5397220,full.story

Consider the source . . .

Old Atlantic Lighthouse said...

"tens of thousands of dollars"

Couldn't he have just stopped volunteering for the Red Cross?

Anonymous said...

The report regarding Jahrling actually just confuses the whole additives issue IMO.

Jahrling's mistake involved his observation that a liquid goop oozed from anthrax spores during his examination of the spores using a Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM or STEM). The oozing liquid was particularly apparent when he increased the magnification setting of the TEM. He concluded and reported to others that the goop must have been a weaponization additive.

Subsequently Maj. Gen. John S. Parker reported to Congress that Jahrling was actually examining hydrated anthrax spores. Most likely the goop Jahrling saw was water being released from the hydrated spores in response to the hot and intense conditions of the TEM.

The Jahrling story of 2001 can be found here. Note that it spans six pages.

Jahrling's error acknowledgment does not resolve or clarify the issue of silicon additives. General Parker publicly reported at a Homeland Security Briefing on October 29, 2001 that the anthrax powder in the second mailings contained silica. That report was confirmed in an AFIP Newsletter that discussed the silica finding and included the Energy Dispersive X-Ray Analysis spectrum of the anthrax powder showing the presence of silicon and oxygen (silica is a compound of silicon and oxygen). General Parker never withdrew, or modified in any way, his report of silica.

Confusion over silicon/silica stems from the fact that the AFIP work does not show that the silica and oxygen are chemically combined as silica, and does not show the precise location of the silicon in the anthrax spore as reported at The FBI Anthrax Briefing of August 18. Note however that the FBI scientists did confirm that they also found silicon and oxygen in the anthrax; that the silicon content was "high"; and like the AFIP report, the FBI scientists did not report any chemical data sufficient to determine whether the silicon was or was not combined, either with oxygen or with the anthrax (their speculation that the anthrax had "mineralized" the silicon was unsupported by chemical or other data). The FBI scientists also did not discuss how the thin slices of anthrax they examined via Transition Electron Microscopy were prepared and mounted, and what controls were used to ensure that silicon content was neither moved nor lost as a result of sample preparation. A peer validated scientific publication would inevitably have included the latter and many other details.

Back to Jahrling: there's really no big news here other than his personal clarification that he not have a basis in science (he did not conduct further scientific tests) to reach a valid conclusion as to the nature of the liquid he saw exiting the anthrax spores.

Anonymous said...

An additional note to my prior detailed comment on Jahrling.

General Parker's Congressional Testimony establishes that it was USARMIID, not Jahrling, that made the determination to characterize the anthrax attack powders as “professionally done” and “energetic”. ("At that time, USAMRIID revisited the term “weaponized” and decided the terms “professionally done” and “energetic” as more appropriate descriptions in lieu of any real familiarity with weaponized materials.") Parker's testimony hasn't been withdrawn or corrected in any way.

Jahrling's current acknowledgment of error couldn't have been directed at the “professionally done” and “energetic” terminology, since USARMIID (the entire agency), not Jahrling, decided that this characterization was appropriate for the anthrax attack powders.

Nevertheless, Jahrling did apparently jump to scientifically unsupported conclusions in reporting that he had observed silicon additives in the anthrax attack powders. As I read the LA Times article, this is the error he was discussing ("An acclaimed government scientist who assisted the federal investigation of the 2001 anthrax mailings said Tuesday that he erred seven years ago when he told top Bush administration officials that material he examined probably had been altered to make it more deadly...")

Anonymous said...

David Willman was the "journalist" who was given the first story, carefully manipulated. He told the story about Ivins' brother, who according to the brother, Bruce Ivins did it and was evil, evil, evil. Willman didn't bother to ask "when was the last time you saw your brother," which follow up journalists solved in nothing flat, 20+ years, and that a third brother loved Ivins, in fact almost everyone loved him, thought he was a good guy.

Willman is a tool. I bet he felt "special" having been chosen by the FBI for the opening shot of its disinformation/CYA campaign.

Anonymous said...

I saw the transmission electron micrographs [TEM] between the time they were made and when the FBI made them evidence. In a conversation with Laura Rozen about why I thought the idea put forward by Barbara Hatch Rosenberg that the perpetrator of the letters was from USAMRIID, I described what I saw in those TEMs as pure spores with no vegetative forms or debris. I also did not see any electron dense material of the sort you would see if there was silica or bentonite added. Because I had not seen the Scanning Electron Micrographs [SEM] and I also had not read Richard Preston's "Demon in the Freezer" I was not aware of the controversy surrounding Prestons reckless quote of what Peter Jahrling may or may not have said. Because I know Peter and regard him as a careful and responsible scientist who is not above re-examining his findings, I asked him to show me the SEMs and the other specimens described in Prestons book and what I saw and what we talked about is virtually identical to what is described in MG John Parker's Testimony linked in one of the posts here. Therefore, Peter Jahrling's willingness to reconsider and correct statements made on earlier findings is evidence of his outstanding professionalism and responsibility. The first specimens were negative stain preparations that obviously included hydrated spores that "leaked" spore contents when exposed to the heat of the electron beam. The sensationalized quote by Richard Preston was about an artifact and when later TEM and SEM analyses were available this got communicated to the proper channels and found its way contemporaneously into MG Parker’s Testimony. If that information did not get disseminated to all of you at that time the responsibility for that did not rest with Peter Jahrling.

Arthur O. Anderson MD