Saturday, January 28, 2012

Justice Dept. takes on itself in probe of 2001 anthrax attacks/WaPo

The Washington Post reviews the spectacle of the Florida DoJ denying that Bruce Ivins had the ability to prepare the anthrax that killed five and made at least 17 people ill.  He didn't have the equipment within the hot room to dry anthrax.  That does seem to be a limiting fact.

But then the DC DoJ got into the act, forcing its Florida team to withdraw such damning assertions...and settle the case with Bob Stevens' widow that the Florida DoJ attorneys were defending.
Since it began a decade ago, the federal government’s massive investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks has been plagued by missteps and complications.

Investigators initially focused on the wrong man, then had to pay him a nearly $6 million settlement. In 2008, they accused another man, Bruce E. Ivins, who killed himself before he could go to trial.

Now, in the latest twist, the government has argued against itself...


r rowley said...

From the linked story:
The unusual spectacle of one arm of the Justice Department publicly questioning another has the potential to undermine one of the most high-profile investigations in years, according to critics and independent experts who reviewed the court filings.

“I cannot think of another case in which the government has done such an egregious about-face. It destroys confidence in the criminal findings,’’ said Paul Rothstein, a law professor at Georgetown University.

The documents were filed in a lawsuit over the October 2001 death of Robert Stevens, a Florida photo editor who was the first victim of the attacks. His survivors accused the government of negligence for experimenting with anthrax at Fort Detrick, a case that lingered in court until the Justice Department quietly settled it in late November.

The case, Stevens v. United States, offers a rare glimpse inside a typically unified and notoriously tight-lipped agency that collided with itself in a particularly controversial investigation. While the guilt of Ivins is likely to be a subject of public speculation and intrigue for years to come, the government’s inconsistency in the Stevens matter is sure to add another layer to that debate.
Okay, here's a dumb layman's question: could the documents which would further illuminate this (ie the documents from Stevens v. United States) be examined by a fact-finding body in any (however tentative)reexamination of Amerithrax? Or are documents from such civil suits forever sealed from further scrutiny?

Ed Lake said...

Richard Rowley asked: "could the documents which would further illuminate this (ie the documents from Stevens v. United States) be examined by a fact-finding body in any (however tentative)reexamination of Amerithrax?"

As I understand it, the main things sealed from public view in the case are testimonies from psychiatrists and counselors who treated Ivins.

The documents that contain the misstatements are available to anyone who wants to read them.

You can obtain them via PACER. The "Statement of Facts" document that contains the controversial statements is #154-1, and the corrected document is #170-4.

Here's the main erroneous statement:

28. USAMRIID did not have the specialized equipment in a containment laboratory that would be required to prepare the dried spore preparations that were used in the letters.

And here's the corrected statement:

28. Although USAMRIID had equipment that could be used to dry liquid anthrax in the same building where anthrax research was conducted, USAMRIID did not have a lyophilizer in the specific containment laboratory where RMR-1029 was housed to prepare the dried spore preparations that were used in the letters.


Anonymous said...

The difference between information gathered from witnesses who worked with or around Dr. Ivins by the FBI and what was gathered by the DOJ Defense Lawyers is that the defense lawyers actually listened to first hand information about the capacity of equipment Dr. Ivins had at his disposal, while the FBI drew conclusions about his use of equipment without checking whether it was actually possible. For example, the FBI should have attempted to duplicate the spore preparations with the equipment available to Dr. Ivins in his suite. Not only would they fail again to make a similar spore preparation, they would not be able to make enough of it in the time frame they alleged it was made. The DOJ Defense team clearly stated Ivins' colleagues that there was a firewall that separated them from the FBI. What was newsworthy about the Washington Post article was that the firewall is only there when both sides agree. Findings inadequately and uncritically founded do not deserve public confidence.

Ed Lake said...

Anonymous wrote: "the FBI drew conclusions about his use of equipment without checking whether it was actually possible"

That's not true. They checked with many people who said they could have made the spores using the equipment Ivins had in his lab.

The Summary Report says on page 37:

"A microbiologist at Dugway was capable of doing so, and he sent investigators a list of approximately 12 researchers whom he knew also might have the skill-set and access to necessary equipment. While this list was necessarily under-inclusive, because he did not know all of the employees at each lab (e.g., a former USAMRIID scientist was not on the list, but when asked whether or not s/he thought s/he could create spores of the quality used in the mailing, s/he agreed that s/he could), it is illustrative of the very narrow universe of those with the highly-specialized skill required to create the mailing material."

In the August 18, 2008, "Roundtable" discussion the FBI pointed out that the only problem they had with creating such spores was duplicating the silicon signature. And, that appears to be because they only created spores using STANDARD procedures. Tests of the attack spores, however, indicated that they were grown a LOWER THAN STANDARD temperatures.

They said again and again in the Roundtable discussion that there was no difficulty in producing spores like those in the anthrax letters --- except for the silicon signature. That doesn't mean that creating the silicon signature is DIFFICULT, it just means no one knows exactly how it was done. It appears to have been done UNINTENTIONALLY.

Any competent microbiologist should be able to produce such powders.


Ed Lake said...

Links to the documents:

The erroneous document:

The corrected document:


r rowley said...

Thanks to both Mister Lake and anonymous!

(Note: I can't post at a certain blog UNLESS I get a Google account....apparently)

Anonymous said...

There is a wealth of sworn testimony now available to that GAO from the USAMRIID scientists who testified in that court proceeding. There are also documents such as the Sandia and IG report.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Anonymous, but I hear much is being shredded. Hope someone saves cyber copies.

Gosh, what are they afraid of?!

Anonymous said...

FBI's Steve Jobs file: He will 'distort reality ... to achieve his goals'

Imagine that.