Monday, November 17, 2008

Scientific impossibility: Did FBI get their man in Bruce Ivins?

"Bruce Ivins was a cold-blooded murderer, a deranged psycho-killer, who in the fall of 2001, cooked up a virulent batch of powdered anthrax, drove to Princeton, N.J., and mailed letters loaded with the lethal mix to five news organizations and two U.S. senators.

At least, that’s what the FBI says.

The letters infected 22 people, killing five, including two Maryland postal workers. The sixth victim of the madness was Ivins himself, a 62-year-old biodefense researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, who committed suicide rather than face charges.

Case closed? Neatly wrapped up? ..."

Deborah Rudacille of the Baltimore Examiner provides another in-depth look at the evidence in this case, exploring the time it would take to make the anthrax preparations. She also mentions the presumed contamination by Bacillus subtilis found in some of the letters, whose origin was not investigated by FBI, despite being an important clue. Read the complete article here.


Barry Kissin said...

Of course, in my view, this article is another one that does not go far enough.

In this article, we do arrive at the simple conclusion that "the evidence points to a high-volume, mechanized operation and not to a lone madman . . . " But no one even asks the simple question as to where there is such an operation -- with access to RMR-1029. (The answer is also simple.)

This failure has nothing to do with scientific rigor. This failure is the product of (quite unscientifically) ignoring evidence so as to intimidatedly adhere to the self-destructive ban on examining our so-called "national security" establishment. Enough of that already.

Anonymous said...

So, the judge orders that the Hatfill search warrant info be made public -- after the Justice Dept. argued that Hatfill should be allowed "to get on with his life." How thoughtful of DoJ, and how nice the judge wasn't buying it. Link to the story:

Anonymous said...

I agree with the comments that the silicon was added deliberately. But one has to distinguish between "deliberately" meaning deliberately adding an antifoaming agent to a fermenter, such as Dow antifoam, and deliberate silicon weaponization. Some Dow antifoam agents contain silicon, some do not. It's only needed in a fermenter (to prevent excessive foam), not in a flask preparation. It would be added "deliberately" but only to stop foam, not to impart any special properties on the final spores, such as anti-clumping. If present in an antifoam capacity method it's likely the concentration of silicon is only around 0.1%-0.5%.

In my opinion, the most likely scenario is that a siloxane agent was deliberately added not as an antifoam agent but to aid dispersability. Likely this was something like "Repelcote". Replecote is the trade name for dichlorodimethylsilane. It would penetrate the exosporium in it's still monomer form (single molecule) and then polymerize in situ. That is, the polysiloxane polymer would form on the spore coat, underneath the exosporium. That's why Sandia thought it wasn't weaponized - they were looking for silica nanoparticles OUTSIDE the exosporium. That was the problem with having metallurgists from Sandia work in secret for 7 years on a biological weapon problem. They didn't understand other forms of weaponization. If they had been allowed to discuss their results with any BW weaponeer with know-how they would have quickly concluded the true facts. One cannot conduct science in secret.

Incidentally when dichlorodimethylsilane polymerizes it loses HCl, so the final polymer does not contain the element chlorine. The EDX spectrum only shows a massive silicon peak accompanied by a smaller oxygen peak.

The presence of the polysiloxane coating on the spore coat would make the spores highly hydrophobic. Water droplets would not form on the surface of spores, and therefore spores would not clump through water-bridging mechanisms. Indeed, it seems Bruce Ivins reported that the powder was very difficult to get into water, as he needed to do to perform serial dilution and obtain spore counts.

In this case there would be much more than 0.1%-0.5% silicon present. More like greater than 5%.

Anonymous said...

Was genetically identical B. subtilis isolated from the AMI building in Boca Raton? That would at least help substantiate the assumption that the letter to AMI went out along with the other mailings on September 18. Remember, no letter from AMI was ever recovered, no warning about anthrax or 9-11, etc. I am guessing that the b. subtilis contaminant, although recovered from two of the media letters, was not found at the Floridia crime scene. Of course, this suggests that there were three mailings, and the FBI certainly doesn't want to have to explain how Ivins was able to go to Princeton undetected THREE times.

If there weren't three mailings, how come the index case (letter to Floridia) is an outlier, no warning to take penicillin, no mention of 9/11, caused inhalation anthrax instead of cutaneous (all the other media exposures resulted in cutaneous anthrax)?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous's comment about B. subtilis from AMI is a very good point. We know that B. subtilis was only found in the media letters - the so-called "lower quality" spores that the perpettrator made initially. And yet the material sent to AMI was able to cause 2 cases of inhalational. Another question, then, is was the AMI material of equal quality to the Daschle powder. If no B. subtilis was found in swabs from AMI, that would point to a different batch.

Clearly the FBI had the same thoughts. Note that they specifically stated back in August 2002 that they were returning to AMI to try to CHEMICALLY characterize large quantities of spores. Strange they would say that - considering they today claim that they knew by December 2001 that any extra chemicals (ie silica) were "naturally occurring".

Adams: And finally, we are looking for large quantities of spores in order to chemically characterize those spores and compare them against the spores found in the Senator Leahy and Daschle letters.