Monday, May 28, 2012

Additional Forensic Investigation of 2001 Anthrax Attacks

From the University of Pittsburgh Center for Biosecurity comes this short report, a reiteration that the spores in the anthrax letters could not have come directly from those prepared by Bruce Ivins at Fort Detrick, as they lacked two substances contained in the RMR1029 anthrax spore collection. Thanks to Ross Getman for the citation.
Additional Forensic Investigation of 2001 Anthrax Attacks
By Amesh A. Adalja, MD, FACP, May 25, 2012 
The FBI’s conclusion that USAMRIID scientist Dr. Bruce Ivins perpetrated the anthrax attacks of 2001 is largely built on an extensive microbial forensics investigation. That investigation linked the spores found in recovered letters to material contained in a flask labeled “RMR-1029” that was under Dr. Ivins’ control. According to the FBI’s analysis, RMR-1029 contained anthrax spores of the Ames variety, with specific genetic features consistent with the letter attack materials. The results of research by the Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Sciences Unit of the FBI just published in the Journal of Forensic Scientists provide additional data about the attack material.1
Evidence Based on Spore Purification Compounds. 
During the Amerithrax investigation, it was discovered that some laboratories that possessed the Ames strain were purifying the spores using a product that contained meglumine and diatrizoate. From lab records, it was determined that the spores contained in RMR-1029 were similarly purified using these compounds. This information gave rise to the question of whether the attack materials were taken directly from RMR-1029. To answer this question, the FBI developed a detection method that employed liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry to determine the presence of these compounds.1 As expected, the FBI investigators did find that anthrax spores taken directly from RMR-1029 contained both meglumine and diatrizoate. However, no evidence of these compounds was found when the spores from the anthrax letters were analyzed using the same method.1
          Source of Attack Material?
The major implication of this study, as the authors note, is “that the evidentiary spore material was not diverted directly from RMR-1029.” (1)  This fact means that if the anthrax spores used in the attack were taken from RMR-1029, their preparation would have required extra steps prior to mailing. That type of purification would have required specialized machinery and likely would have left traces of the material on machinery. No such material was found, though, and in a recently settled civil case in Florida, the U.S. Department of Justice acknowledged that the specialized machinery was not available at USAMRIID. (2) 
In the 2011 National Academy of Sciences report evaluating the FBI’s scientific conclusions in the Amerithrax case, this finding was cited in support of the report’s conclusion that “it is not possible to reach a definitive conclusion about the origin of the B. anthracis in the mailings based on the available scientific evidence alone.” (3) 
   1.   Swider C, Maguire K, Rickenbach M, et al. Trace detection of meglumine and diatrizoate from Bacillus spore samples using liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry. J Forensic Sci 2012; Accessed May 16, 2012.
   2.   Justice Dept. takes on itself in probe of 2001 anthrax attacks. Washington Post. January 27, 2012.
   3.   National Research Council. Review of the Scientific Approaches Used During the FBI's Investigation of the 2001 Anthrax Letters . Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2011.


r. rowley said...

Bravo! This is exactly the type of thing that, if verified, might get the Amerithrax Case reopened in the post-Mueller period.

Anonymous said...

I also recall that the first specimen that Dr. Ivins gave to the FBI was discarded by them because he gave it before the evidence receipt protocol was ready. The FBI discarded it but somehow an aliquot of it got to Arizona where it was shown to have the variants. From this thread I would say that the FBI lost the right to be confident in both the specimen they threw out and the aliquot that putatively came from it, i.e. in court a judge could throw out the only evidence of a connection to RMR 1029, I believe.

Savage Henry said...

With the short time period between 9/11 attack and then the reported 9/18 " mailings" of the first deadly anthrax letters shows possible problem with the DOJ TIMELINE.....This latest forensic paper shows clearly the lack of trace chemicals detected/reported attributable to Fort Detrick lab and indicates the mailed anthrax of the two very distinct production techniques. (The infamous floating dust versus wet glop spores ) Granted the deadly bacilli were from the same genetic stock found in Flask RM-1029..
.However it appears they were made in separate batches, at some prior time(s) using different production and purification / weaponization methods. Test batches made up at an earlier time for lab testing and stored for later use/ analysis? Frozen and made up to two years prior to 9/11 published WATER isotope analysis O16/O17?
Prior to 9/11 the laboratory inventory systems for tracking such Level III pathogens was abysmal
.The geographical profile of the crime is off the wall. Comfort zones..First time crimes seem to happen within a 20 minutes of the UNSUB'S residence. Far enough not to be seen but easily done and return to the safety of the home but revisit the crime scene.
Princeton a long way from Frederick, Route 15 North then the PA TURNPIKE, DC// BALTIMORE interstates with insane traffic loads- gonzo rush hours Dr..Ivins would be nervous enough just getting the bacteria into the envelopes WITHOUT LEAVING a trail of gas station receipts and toll tickets
DR. Ivins was not in his "comfort zone"Hagerstown, Maryland would be a more likely choice to mail the letters -p twenty easy minutes drive or less, from Frederick.This travel & distances do not make any sense with the patterns of a "spree killer"
Think of.the time,all the lab space necessary to grow a large amount bacteria and purify;in a open lab this would be difficult.Then to do this in seven days... for a clandestine set up by DR. Ivins of secret lab; large enough for anthrax production for multiple types of a single anthrax spores.PLUS Foortt Detrick Lab never used CAB-O-SIL for anti-static spore,nor was it used in vaccine research.
This silicon is of Soviet origin. DR. Ivins was unfamiliar with this method. Not having even one singlespore get loose; in his house or car?
AS FAR AS SUSPECTS...the anthrax was sent out in a very short time after the attack. The question arises of why were the two distinct anthrax batches, one poor quality and the second Senate mailings of high quality weapons grade.SEPT 18 TO SEPT 11= 7 days- TOTALLY UNDETECTED BY FAMILY,COLLEAGUES?
Source of original anthrax looking for an anthrax researcher who died, or retired sometime before 9/11. One to two year prior? A very close review of those who had ANY access to their lab facilities and storage areas,researchers, student interns, support employees, janitorial, lab visitors must be considered. It would be trivial to steal two small vials ..
As far as lab storage. ( -80 freezers are huge!!!) These behemoth lab freezers are found in very open, common areas; hallways, storage rooms, basements and even loading docks.Then the inside, the freezer shelves are often shared between unrelated research labs tags, covered in frost is the only catalog. Adding a personnel experience, finding a leaking freezer in a lab basement .A muted alarm going off among freezer lined corridor, a steady brown ooze under the freezer door seal, leaking onto the floor. The freezer was padlocked also with a faded typed paper note scotch taped above the lock..
The note said:--"AFRICA- UNKNOWN AIRBORNE VIRUS STUDY -OCT-1957" with a lab contact info. I called the number to let them know. be told " the person I was looking for had left our research institute ten years ago. long gone from the lab.
Who knows what bioterror lurks after the original researcher left ?.The deadly anthrax may have come from the INFAMOUS FLASK RM-1029 but....?

Anonymous said...

Consider the claim by Al Qaeda regional commander at Tora Bora that Al Qaeda has used anthrax in improvised explosive devices.

"An ITV camera crew filmed a bomb-making factory last week in caves at Tora Bora on the Afghan-Pakistan border. One bomb maker, identified as regional commander Mullah Doud, said: “We use anthrax so when a bomb explodes it produces a toxic cloud.”"

--"Anthrax threat to British Troops,"

Wouldn’t anthrax be destroyed in an explosion absent use of silica?

Hasn’t Dr. Ken Alibek explained that protection from destruction upon explosion is a central purpose of adding silica to the coat by incorporation in the growth medium?

In addition to protection from explosion, microencapsulation prevents the anthrax from being destroyed by sunlight.

Isn't this classified? Is that why there has been such delay and obfuscation?

Given that it was explained in 1999 and 2000 in best-selling books -- to include one that was on Dr. Aymans's reading list -- has overclassification merely interfered with the correct analysis of Amerithrax?

Dr. Ayman read about microencapsulation in 1999 in a book by a NYT correspondent and Michael Osterholm.

Anonymous said...

I believe the FBI has always claimed that RMR-1029 was the parent of the batches - at least two batches - that were used in the letters, so this may not be important evidence.

AnthraxSleuth said...

Now that we have seen executive privilege used to cover up the DOJ running guns to Mexican drug cartels in the hopes of subverting the 2nd amendment; is it really a stretch that the DOJ was involved with mailing the Anthrax letters of 2001 in the hopes of advancing the patriot act?

dancewater said...

"Fast and Furious" started in 2006 and was NOT done to undermine the second amendment.

And the DOJ could not have made the anthrax spores, and no one at the DOJ would know how to handle them.

Someone has quite the imagination.

AnthraxSleuth said...

"Fast and Furious" started in 2006 and was NOT done to undermine the second amendment"
Please dancewater do tell why the DOJ would run guns to drug cartels.

"And the DOJ could not have made the anthrax spores"
I never said they did.

"and no one at the DOJ would know how to handle them"
That is why the DOJ paid the field agent who did "handle" them 6 million dollars.

We know the FBI supplied the bomb for the 1993 WTC bombing. We only know this b/c their "informant" was secretly recording his conversations with his FBI handlers.

Someone has quite the inability to understand government corruption.