Monday, January 25, 2010

The Anthrax Attacks Remain Unsolved/ Wall Street Journal

The Jan. 24 WSJ ran an Op-Ed on the anthrax letters investigation and meaning of 1.4% silicon in the letter anthrax, by Edward Jay Epstein. Subtitled "The FBI disproved its main theory about how the spores were weaponized," excerpts from the article follow:

The investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks ended as far as the public knew on July 29, 2008, with the death of Bruce Ivins, a senior biodefense researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in Fort Detrick, Md. The cause of death was an overdose of the painkiller Tylenol. No autopsy was performed, and there was no suicide note...

Consequently, Ivins, who was assisting the FBI with its investigation, as well as all the scientists who had access to the anthrax, became suspects in the investigation. They were intensely questioned, given polygraph examinations, and played off against one another in variations of the prisoner's dilemma game. Their labs, computers, phones, homes and personal effects were scrutinized for possible clues...

Livermore scientists had tried 56 times to replicate the high silicon content without any success. Even though they added increasingly high amounts of silicon to the media, they never even came close to the 1.4% in the attack anthrax. Most results were an order of magnitude lower, with some as low as .001%.

What these tests inadvertently demonstrated is that the anthrax spores could not have been accidently contaminated by the nutrients in the media. "If there is that much silicon, it had to have been added," Jeffrey Adamovicz, who supervised Ivins's work at Fort Detrick, wrote to me last month. He added that the silicon in the attack anthrax could have been added via a large fermentor—which Battelle and other labs use" but "we did not use a fermentor to grow anthrax at USAMRIID . . . We did not have the capability to add silicon compounds to anthrax spores."

...even though the public may be under the impression that the anthrax case had been closed in 2008, the FBI investigation is still open—and, unless it can refute the Livermore findings on the silicon, it is back to square one.

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