Saturday, March 7, 2009

FBI Press Release details the meaning of the ASM presentations in Baltimore last week--with comments

For Immediate Release
March 6, 2009

Washington D.C.
FBI National Press Office
(202) 324-3691

FBI Responds to Science Issues in Anthrax Case


FBI Laboratory Director D. Christian Hassell, PhD issued the following statement:

During a recent American Society for Microbiology Biodefense (ASMBD) meeting in Baltimore , Maryland , questions were raised regarding two scientific analyses conducted during the course of the anthrax investigation. While this information is not new, it is important for the FBI to clarify the science since these findings continue to be misinterpreted by various media outlets.

The first item involves the elemental analysis of the anthrax spores that was conducted by Dr. Joseph Michael, a materials scientist at Sandia National Laboratories. At the conference, Dr. Michael presented analyses of three anthrax letters (Leahy, Daschle, and New York Post). He concluded that the anthrax powder in the three letters shared a chemical fingerprint but did not match the chemical fingerprint of spores in Ivins’ flask. Spores from the letters showed a distinct chemical signature that included silicon, oxygen, iron, tin, and other elements. Spores from Ivins’ RMR-1029 flask did not contain those elements in quantities that matched the letter spores. This is not unusual considering that Ivins’ RMR-1029 preparation had been submerged in water and other chemicals since 1997 and was a mixture of 34 different spore preparations. The letter spores were dried spores, produced from two separate growth preparations as indicated by differences in the New York and Washington, D.C. mailings. Although the chemical fingerprint of the spores is interesting, given the variability involved in the growth process, it was not relevant to the investigation.

It is important to note that the genetic profile of the spores from the letters and the spores from Ivins’ RMR-1029 flask was identical. Ivins’ RMR-1029 spore preparation had the same combination of anthrax mutations found in the letters. Only eight of the anthrax samples collected during the course of the investigation matched the genetic profile in the letter material and all were linked back to RMR-1029. This conclusion was the most significant and relevant scientific finding in the case.

By analogy, if one were to grow a corn stalk from a specific corn seed, the trace chemical fingerprint of the stalk might differ from that of the seed due to different compositions—for example iron—in the respective fertilizers used to grow each; however, the genetic profile of the seed and the stalk would be identical.

The second item involves isotopic analysis of the mailed anthrax. Media reports indicated that FBI scientists had concluded in 2004 that out of many domestic and foreign water samples analyzed only water from near Fort Detrick, Maryland, where Dr. Ivins worked, had the same isotopic signature as the water used to grow the mailed anthrax. This statement is incorrect. While water isotopic analysis was researched, the FBI concluded that there were too many confounding variables to precisely match bacteria that were grown using different materials and recipes. This technique was not relevant to the investigation.

While we have full confidence in our scientific approach, an additional independent review will provide further validation and thus benefit the larger scientific community. Consideration of an outside review began before any public disclosure of the scientific aspects of the investigation. This follows our approach throughout the investigation: to bring in external scientists to review and provide advise on our methodologies.

Nass comments: Even if everything stated above is accurate, the FBI has yet to prove that Ivins himself, not just his flask, provided the parent spores for the anthrax letters.

-- How did the FBI "rule out" as perpetrators over 100 other people who had access to spores from Ivins' flask?

-- How did the FBI ascertain that all of the secondary spore collections, derived from the flask, were 100% secure and could not have been surreptitiously obtained by others?

-- How was the FBI sure that no one else received spores from Fort Detrick, given that Fort Detrick's inventory problems were serious enough for there to have been a temporary "stand-down" of research just last month? Also consider that Ivins' flask was in a separate building from his lab, to which others had access, for over a year.

Since a thorough, complete accounting of its six year long, resource-intensive investigation has yet to be provided by the FBI, the following questions (raised by Representative Rush Holt on October 16, 2008) are additionally relevant:
"Are any of the FBI’s scientific findings inconsistent with the FBI’s conclusions?

Are there any scientific tests that the FBI has not done that might refute their conclusions?

Did the FBI follow all accepted evidence-gathering, chain of possession, and scientific analytical methods? Is it possible that any failure to do so could have affected the FBI’s conclusions?

Is it scientifically possible to exclude multiple actors or accessories?"
It is now 7 months since FBI announced the case was closed. During that time, FBI has released many pieces of (selected) evidence. The latest release, at a special ASM meeting convened for the purpose, was designed to make the scientific case.

The FBI charade has failed. The most basic questions remain unanswered.

13 comments:

Iron Man said...

There is a March 2009 Biochemistry article on iron acquisition systems in bacillus anthracis that might be a target for antimicrobial therapies. Pathogenic bacteria produce siderophores and multiple uptake systems as virulence determinants in their interaction with the host in an effort to adapt to iron inaccessibility.

Researchers from the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor had earlier explained:

"The dramatic growth of B. anthracis during infection suggests an efficient mechanism for nutrient assimilation. For example, results from the B. anthracis genome project suggest the organism's metabolism is geared toward exploiting a protein-rich environment (Read et al., 2003). Iron acquisition from the host represents another mandatory process of bacterial pathogens. For its part, the host maintains severe limitations on free iron for prevention of oxidative damage to itself and limitation of iron availability to any invading organisms (Weinberg 2000; Goswami et al., 2002). Thus, pathogens require specialized systems for iron expropriation (Braun and Killmann, 1999; Ratledge and Dover, 2000; Mazmanian et al., 2002)."

***

A determination of high-affinity mechanisms for iron acquisition genes was made from the B. anthracis Ames strain sequence. This was accomplished in conjunction with the B. anthracis genome project at the Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR). Directed searches were performed on the Ames strain genome sequence using the blast program tblastn (Altschul et al., 1997) resulting in the identification of several iron acquisition-related ORFs.

***
Given that B. anthracis encodes a plethora of high-affinity iron transport mechanism-like loci (Table 1), a focused approach on the role of the potential mediators of this uptake process, i.e. the high-affinity iron chelators produced by B. anthracis, was taken."

The authors acknowledged a lab in the Geological Sciences department (University of Michigan) for iron content analysis of culture media; to Tim Read and those at TIGR making available the B. anthracis sequence and those at Geneworks involved in the mouse experimentation. The work was supported in part by grants from the National Institutes of Health (AI45740) and the Office of Naval Research 14001–0422, 14011–1044 and 14021–0061.

Amerithrax science lead scientist James Burans was head of Naval biodefefense work and so could better explain the relation between iron uptake and virulence.

These Ann Arbor researchers were not the Ann Arbor researchers using the virulent Ames supplied by USAMRIID scientist Bruce Ivins for work on antimicrobials.

Source: Mol Microbiol. 2004 Jan;51(2):407-17.
Bacillus anthracis requires siderophore biosynthesis for growth in macrophages and mouse virulence.

See also "Houseplant Pest Gives Clue To Potential New Anthrax Treatment," ScienceDaily (Mar. 3, 2009) ("This new discovery could lead to the design of drugs that might eliminate the anthrax pathogen's ability to harvest iron and stop an infection dead in its tracks.")

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090223221355.htm

Anonymous said...

Some interesting comments and admissions from the FBI --

************************
"The first item involves the elemental analysis of the anthrax spores that was conducted by Dr. Joseph Michael, a materials scientist at Sandia National Laboratories... Spores from Ivins’ RMR-1029 flask did not contain those elements in quantities that matched the letter spores. This is not unusual considering that Ivins’ RMR-1029 preparation had been submerged in water and other chemicals since 1997 and was a mixture of 34 different spore preparations. The letter spores were dried spores, produced from two separate growth preparations as indicated by differences in the New York and Washington, D.C. mailings. Although the chemical fingerprint of the spores is interesting, given the variability involved in the growth process, it was not relevant to the investigation."

The FBI seems to be claiming that submersion of the spores in water probably changed their chemical profile. There are numerous implications from such a claim... One such implication in particular is that the method used by the FBI to "preprepare" the samples sent to Dr. Michaels (which were originally "dried spores" as noted by the FBI) could also have impacted their chemistry. How were the samples prepared?

The comment that the "chemical fingerprint... was not relevant to the investigation" is clearly wrong and speaks volumes on how the FBI looks at the evidence in this case. Clearly the fingerprint was relevant as it proves that the spores were not taken directly from the RMR 1029 flask stored in the lab of Dr. Ivins (the FBI's number one suspect, i.e., culprit until proven innocent). Thus if the attack spores were derived from the RMR 1029 flask, as the FBI contends, the crime must have also involved separate preparation of the attack spores -- an element clearly relevant to the crime investigation. Nevertheless since this element doesn't prove Dr. Ivins' guilt, the FBI views it as "not relevant".

The comment "Spores from Ivins’ RMR-1029 flask did not contain those elements in quantities that matched the letter spores.", conflicts with Dr Michaels' previous claim that it is "not possible" to obtain quantitative data on the silicon content. It is also noteworthy that despite this admission the FBI still hasn't released any quantitative data on silicon content.



************************
"... Only eight of the anthrax samples collected during the course of the investigation matched the genetic profile in the letter material and all were linked back to RMR-1029. This conclusion was the most significant and relevant scientific finding in the case."

In order to be accurate, the first sentence, above, should be changed to read "Only eight of the anthrax samples voluntarily submitted during the course of the investigation... (As noted many times previously by Barry Kissin).

The comment, This conclusion was the most significant and relevant scientific finding in the case." seems to be an admission by the FBI that none of the other scientific data helps their case against Dr. Ivins.



************************
"The second item involves isotopic analysis of the mailed anthrax. Media reports indicated that FBI scientists had concluded in 2004 that out of many domestic and foreign water samples analyzed only water from near Fort Detrick, Maryland, where Dr. Ivins worked, had the same isotopic signature as the water used to grow the mailed anthrax. This statement is incorrect. While water isotopic analysis was researched, the FBI concluded that there were too many confounding variables to precisely match bacteria that were grown using different materials and recipes. This technique was not relevant to the investigation."

Finally, despite numerous FBI leaks to the contrary, the FBI admits that the "iostopic analysis" was probative of absolutely nothing.

_

Anonymous said...

This statement from the FBI....

"Spores from Ivins’ RMR-1029 flask did not contain those elements in quantities that matched the letter spores. This is not unusual considering that Ivins’ RMR-1029 preparation had been submerged in water and other chemicals since 1997 and was a mixture of 34 different spore preparations."

....has to be one of the most childish scientific statements coming out of the FBI science labs since the lead in bullets fiasco. They have indeed surpassed their previously earned reputation of stupidity.

Are they claiming that all of the silicon in the RMR-1029 spores got leached out of the spores because the spores were submerged in water? Why even bother saying that? It's so stupid it only makes them look like idiots. It would be trivial to test that water for silicon content. They probably have tested it and it probably contains less than 1 ppm silicon.

It's a junk science statement meant to continue to propagate the fake conclusions they have reached.

But it sounds better than their reality which is "There was no silicon in the original RMR-1029 spores, we couldn't obtain the world record percentage levels of silicon in the mailed spores, but don't worry Ivins must have managed it somehow inside Detrick when nobody was looking".

Ed Lake said...

"The charade has failed."

Dr. Nass,

Why don't you explain to us what you mean by "charade?"

Bartlett said...

In the news story accompanying its video, Fox mistranscribed Dr. Michaels - he actually said

"I don't think it's enough to say he did it, as well."

In writing up the story, Fox added a "not". (It became a mangled double negative only by the mistranscription).

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,506727,00.html

BugMaster said...

From the same Fox article:

"FBI investigators think there were at least two “re-growths” by Ivins. This, they say, accounts for the difference between the New York Post powder, which was darker and more granular than the batch sent to Capitol Hill."

Where do they come up with this nonsense!?

"the exact recipe or method used remains a mystery"

I don't understand. There are only so many ways this could have been done. What is it about the characteristics of attack material that is so confounding to the FBI?

Anonymous said...

In our nation’s history there is another time when Government Bureaucracies sought to maintain total control over scientific information and the scientist involved did not show the vehemence of conviction or the pride of authorship. Those bureaucracies involved also tried to promote conclusions that were unproven.

It was latter shown that those scientists responded in various ways to uncertainty, not always upholding professional ideals and scientific principles, and sometimes submitting to organizational demands and private interests.(Reich, MR 1983).

What makes this truly remarkable and relative to the anthrax case is that it too involved a finely powered hazardous substance. The substance was Polybrominated biphenyls (PBB), which had been mixed with Calcium Polysilicate. The Calcium Polysilicate changed the substance’s color from brown to white and caused the particles to pick up an electro static charge which worsen the spread of PBBs.

What makes it even more remarkable and relevant is that it happened under another Presidency known for its secrecy and its lack of respect for our nation’s laws. The spread of PBBs began when the Vice President, Spiro Agnew, was arrested and charged in unrelated matters. The spread ended shortly before the resignation of the President, Richard Nixon.

What is needed now is publication of all of the research done in the anthrax investigation so that it can be reviewed and tested. Without the truth coming out there is only one thing we can be sure of and that is it will happen again!

Ed Lake said...

BugMaster wrote: "I don't understand. There are only so many ways this could have been done. What is it about the characteristics of attack material that is so confounding to the FBI?"

First, the media powder was about 10 percent spores and 90 percent sporulation debris. The senate powder was 100 percent spores. Also, the media powder was contaminated with Bacillus subtilis and the senate powder wasn't.

So, there were at least two different "re-growths," one to make the media powder and one to make the senate powder.

The ONLY problem in recreating the attack anthrax is getting the exact same amounts of trace elements (i.e., silicon, iron and tin) into the spore coats. And, even if you were able get the exact same amounts of trace elements, you can't be 100 percent certain that you've done it the same way as the culprit.

Contrary to your belief, there are many many ways to make the powders. There are many different media, there are many different processes, and there are many different steps that may or may not be followed precisely. One can also pretty much assume that the culprit did not follow standard lab protocols to the letter.

The exact method the culprit used to get the unusually high silicon content into the spore coats "remains a mystery." The significance of that "mystery" is minor to the case, but it is easily and frequently distorted by the media to make it seem much more important than it really is.

Ed Lake said...

I wrote: "getting the exact same amounts of trace elements (i.e., silicon, iron and tin) into the spore coats."

Wow. Breaking old habits is hard to do.

Of course, I should have written "getting the exact same percentage of spores to contain the same trace elements (i.e., silicon, iron and tin) in their spore coats."

Precise language is becoming more and more important.

BugMaster said...

Ed wrote:

"The exact method the culprit used to get the unusually high silicon content into the spore coats "remains a mystery." The significance of that "mystery" is minor to the case, but it is easily and frequently distorted by the media to make it seem much more important than it really is."

If the exact method could be determined, it would be the type of evidence NEEDED to determine who the culprit is. The only reason the FBI says it isn't relevant to the case is because they can't figure it out.

If the specific method was determined, then who in the scientific community was familiar with this "specific method", and had used it frequently in the past? In which labs was this method being used, not just for anthrax vaccine research, but other types of research as well? What reagents and other equipment were required?

Also, Ed, thanks for posting on your website two publications by Dr. Ivins describing in great detail the methods by which Ivins obtained his signature "liquid preps containing high concentrations of highly purified spores".

Those articles are proof of one fact, that the attack material could NOT have been produced using Ivin's "signature protocols", or anything even slightly similar.

"Contrary to your belief, there are many many ways to make the powders. There are many different media, there are many different processes, and there are many different steps that may or may not be followed precisely. One can also pretty much assume that the culprit did not follow standard lab protocols to the letter."

Yes, Ed, there are many different processes, including one in particular that could come close to duplicating the silicon, tin, and iron "signature".

But based on Ivin's published protocols, it wasn't a process he used.

Ed Lake said...

BugMaster wrote: "If the specific method was determined, then who in the scientific community was familiar with this "specific method", and had used it frequently in the past?"

I think it was made clear by the first mailing that the culprit was NOT using his ordinary lab technique. He create a very crude and contaminated powder. So, what reason is there to think that for his second batch, when he had more time to plan, he'd goof up and use some technique that could be traced back to him? That's absurd.

The FBI found one sample Dr. Ivins left behind (RMR-1030) that had silicon in coats of about 6% of the spores. It apparently came from Leighton-Doi media. So, we know he used processes that created a silicon signature in spores.

But, what would be proven if they modified Leighton-Doi media to get more spores to contain silicon? They could probably do it by adding soluble silicon. Would that mean that Ivins added soluble silicon to his media when creating the attack spores? I think not.

At Dugway, they used the same media that Ivins used and ended up with about 30 percent of the spores with silicon in their spore coats. It's still not the 65% to 75% in the attack spores, but it's closer.

They KNOW that getting 65% to 75% of the spores to absorb silicon IS possible. So, it's really a matter of sitting down to figure out different methods for how to get more spores to absorb silicon. And when they do get spores with 70% containing silicon, then what? Is that the way Ivins did it? Who knows? And if there's no way of knowing, why bother?

BugMaster said...

Ed!

Leighton-Doi could not have been used to produce the attack material!

If it had been, the FBI would have detected the distinctive characteristic of material produced in Leighton-Doi media:

The high level of maganese relative to the other divalent cations present!

But there has been no mention of such compelling evidence, has there?

Instead, the "evidence" consists of speculation regarding sorority obsessions, etc.

Why is the solid SCIENTIFIC evidence that should be there to link Ivins to the crime NOT THERE?

Maybe because he was innocent?

BTW: The so-called "first" mailing was actually the second mailing. The proof is the fact that the contaminating b. subtilis (the SPECIFIC SIGNATURE of the "media mailings") was not isolated from the AMI building.

It wasn't isolated from Fort Detrick, either.

Old Atlantic Lighthouse said...

One way to get a higher spore silicon concentration is to get as far as you can with whatever methods and then try to separate based on silicon. So use the properties of silicon, mass and dielectric. Centrifuge is one way to try. Silicon is heavier so separate by density. The other is to use em fields and use the dielectric properties of silicon. Either way its extra time for Ivins who didn't have much lab time for that.

If the method is use em fields, either during growth or after during separation, then Ivins is likely out.