Friday, December 19, 2014

Media comment on today's GAO assessment of the FBI's flawed anthrax science

I chose the following short AP report from the WaPo because it gets right to the point:
NATIONWIDE (AP) - The Government Accountability Office says the science the Federal Bureau of Investigations used to investigate the 2001 anthrax attacks was flawed.
The GAO released a report Friday on its findings. The agency didn't take a position on the FBI's conclusion that Army biodefense researcher Bruce Ivins acted alone in making and sending the powdered spores that killed five people and sickened 17 others.
The report adds fuel to the debate among experts, including many of Ivins' co-workers at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Maryland, over whether Ivins could have made and mailed the anthrax-filled envelopes.
The GAO said the FBI's research did not provide a full understanding of the methods and conditions that give rise to genetic mutations used to differentiate between samples of anthrax bacteria. The report calls this a "key scientific gap." 
This is the crux of the matter.  Yet FBI has said it stands by its case. 

UPDATE: "A spokesman for the FBI said the agency does not intend to reopen the case.

Why would FBI say anything else? They have no need to provide any arguments or evidence, having successfully hounded one of their (several) suspect scientists until he committed suicide. Recall that FBI floated many different theories of the case before settling on Ivins as the perpetrator, a full 6-7 years after beginning its investigation.

They tried to close the case then, in August 2008.  But some in Congress were greatly dissatisfied, so at a September 2008 hearing in which he was the only witness, FBI Director Mueller promised a review of the scientific evidence by the National Academy of Science (NAS).  

An excellent team was assembled by the Academy, and they set to work.  But FBI learned the committee was doing too thorough a job, and its findings did not favor the FBI's claims in the case.  So FBI did an end run around the NAS, closing its case and issuing this report in 2010, long before the NAS was ready with its 2011 report.

Once the NAS report came out, FBI sang a different tune. It wasn't the science that was definitive; rather, it was the totality of the forensic evidence.  

Except: what evidence was FBI referring to?  There was no direct evidence linking Ivins to the crime, nor evidence it was even possible to manufacture a sufficient quantity of spores in the Army facility where he worked.

Here's what the FBI still claims about its case, despite everything:
"...New scientific methods were developed that ultimately led to the break in the case—methods that could have a far-reaching impact on future investigations. 
So the new scientific methods broke the case-- except they were in fact inconclusive and have not stood up to scrutiny by either the NAS or the GAO.  In fact, no agency or group besides the FBI has given them any credence. Members of Congress remained unsatisfied, like Senator Grassley.

Today, retiring Congressmember and physicist Rush Holt (who requested the GAO study and will lead the AAAS in February) said the report:
“confirms what I have often said — that the F.B.I.'s definitive conclusions about the accuracy of their scientific findings in the Amerithrax case are not, in fact, definitive. The United States needs a comprehensive, independent review of the Amerithrax investigation to ensure we have learned the lessons from this bio attack.”


Ross said...

The learned forensic scientist, Dr. Michael Garvey, PhD (former FBI, former CIA, current head of forensic science for the City of Philadelphia) has explained:

“In the Amerithrax investigation, the FBI report discusses OCONUS samples that had inconsistent results for the presence of B. anthracis and possibly even indications of the presence of the Ames strain. However, these results were ultimately discarded by the FBI due to the inconsistencies in the various testing results, sampling procedures, and methodology used by the FBI and IC. As this case never reached trial and the details of this intelligence based collection is mostly classified, it cannot be fully addressed.”

Separately he noted:

“The reporting suggests that B. anthracis consistent with Ames strain was identified from this location. However, without full disclosure of the scientific data, one cannot ascertain whether these results are reliable. If reliable, did these results indicate the presence of Ames strain in an Al Qaeda lab from a laboratory transfer or is there an isolate of B. anthracis that is located in the undisclosed region of the world that developed similar markers to the Ames strain through parallel evolution. More importantly, these results show the importance of fully understanding the limitations of an assay in order to better explain its results.”

Microbial Forensics and U.S. National Security: Science and Strategy
Garvey, Michael
Date: 2014-08

If the CIA concluded from the molecular evidence that there was Ames at the Afghanistan lab — and the FBI discarded those results — and Ames anthrax genetics expert Les Baillie was working for the FBI on Amerithrax at the NMRC in Maryland (where the FBI repository was kept), wasn’t that a conflict of interest beyond pale?

Dr. Garvey notes:

“While the FBI would perform extensive investigations on each consultant in order to verify his/her suitability to assist the investigation and rule them out as a subject of the investigation, this unique aspect of the investigation could be correlated to a forensic examiner, who is suspected of a sexual assault, being consulted on and examining the sexual assault evidence in the same case.” (p. 79)

Ross said...

Who gave Rauf Ahmad the samples taken from his luggage when leaving Les Baillie's “Dangerous Pathogens 2000″ conference? (I don’t know). See news reports of MI5 authorized biography. What about at the second lab he visited in 1999? (I don't know)

Was it Amerithrax scientist, UK’s Les Baillie? Dr. Baillie knew Rauf Ahmad was working with virulent anthrax killing mice with 100 injected spores — because the research was presented at the 2000 conference that Dr. Baillie organized and hosted.

Rauf Ahmad made this large bottle of "anthrax spore concentrate" in April 2001 before setting up Yazid Sufaat's lab in Kandahar. The boots on the ground apparently were too late to seize the bottle.

Didn't Les Baillie work at NMRC helping Amerithrax with the repository of samples? He is the one who organized the conferences attended by Rauf Ahmad and hosted him in 2000 when Rauf Ahmad's work with virulent anthrax was presented. Dr. Baillie, the Ames anthrax genetics expert, came to Maryland in mid-September 2001 to discuss anthrax and then came to work for the FBI's Amerithrax investigation for the NMRC, which handled the Amerithrax samples.

Ross said...


Who was the anthrax mailer? (Truth be told, the documents produced under FOIA now show that Ivins had an alibi both for his time in the lab where he was working with 52 rabbits and for his time at his regularly scheduled pain killer addictions group counseling session.)

Is Adnan El-Shukrijumah, the former head of Al Qaeda's external operations, the anthrax mailer? He was killed this past month in a major operation in Pakistan. (His mom says he was a "good boy" and just wanted to cause alarm and wake America up.)

DXer says: Adnan El-Shukrijumah is the anthrax mailer … on or about 9/13/2001, he phoned from KSM’s house to tell his mom he was coming to the US
Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 6, 2014

Senate Torture Report: KSM wrote bin al-Shibh a letter referencing “Jafar the Pilot” and indicating that “Jafar” “ought to prepare himself” to smuggle himself from Mexico ; the letter was seized in September 2002
Posted by Lew Weinstein on December 10, 2014

In February 2003, the FBI announced that “Jafar the Pilot” (aka Adnan El-Shukrijumah) had entered the country sometime after September 1, 2001
Posted by Lew Weinstein on September 26, 2014

In Sarasota investigation, who was the person associated with the hijackers’ flight school who was discovered to have re-entered the country after 9/11?
Posted by Lew Weinstein on September 21, 2014

Ross said...


Wasn't Yazid Sufaat the processor? He does not deny it when I questioned him extensively. He pled the Fifth Amendment and said he did what he did for the love of islam.

Rauf Ahmad had said he had made contacts and learned processing tricks (at the Porton Down-sponsored "Dangerous Pathogens" conferences which all the Russian and USAMRIID and Porton Down scientists attended in 1999 and 2000). Processing tricks travel in the mind of an individual.

In today’s installment of a continuing series, Al Qaeda anthrax lab technician Yazid Sufaat defends his decision to go to Afghanistan to work on his “anthrax project” for Al Qaeda
Posted by Lew Weinstein on March 20, 2012

Al Qaeda anthrax lab tech says he had been part of Malaysian Armed Forces biological weapons program
Posted on March 23, 2012

Al Qaeda anthrax lab tech Yazid Sufaat discusses Zacarias Moussaoui in this 2011 French language television interview
Posted by Lew Weinstein on March 28, 2012

Anthrax Lab Director Yazid Sufaat Wrote This Letter Of Introduction For Zacarias Moussaoui, Who Made The Cropduster Inquiries
Posted by Lew Weinstein on January 23, 2012

Ross said...

In the formal handwriting examination conducted in the Amerithrax investigation, it was concluded that “Bruce E. Ivins probably did not write the writings appearing on the ‘anthrax’ envelopes and letters.” The Assistant US Attorney did not disclose that fact in the Amerithrax Investigative Summary.

Posted by Lew Weinstein on August 13, 2013

The USG Has Denied FOIA Requests For Atta’s Handwriting Since The Fall 2001 Anthrax Mailings On Grounds It Could Interfere With Enforcement Proceedings

Posted by Lew Weinstein on November 1, 2013

The List Of Comparisons Done By FBI’s Handwriting Analyst Who Found Ivins Probably DId Not Write The Anthrax Letters Is 22 Pages Long; The FBI Advises DXer That No Comparison Of Mohammed Atta’s Handwriting Is Among The Many Dozens Listed That Were Provided The Amerithrax Task Force

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 28, 2014

Reporters Should Obtain Handwriting Exemplars Of Atta’s Associate El-Shukrijumah, Al Qaeda’s Head of External Operations, Who Promoted His Father’s Language Course

Posted by Lew Weinstein on May 15, 2013

r rowley said...

Since inevitably someone unfamiliar with the case will read this thread, it is worthwhile noting for the umpteenth time that:

1)there is no sign, let alone proof, that Bruce Ivins made either trip to Princeton to do the mailings.

2) there is no sign that he printed the texts of the letters (and the Task Force/DoJ hid a professional handwriting comparison in the matter).

3) there is no sign Ivins did any surreptitious drying/purifying of anthrax in the August to October period.

4)there is no sign Ivins xeroxed the texts.

5)Ivins passed two polygraph tests concerning Amerithrax, only to have the Task Force invalidate those tests years later.

6) searches of Ivins' domicile and vehicle failed to find any dry anthrax residue.

AnthraxSleuth said...

I see Ross is still peddling his Al-CIAduh theory.
Hate to break it to you Ross. I got Steven Hatfill to admit he was in North Carolina the same month I identified him casing my house and subsequently gave his last name to the local sheriff and the Charlotte FBI agent (agent name withheld so comment will be posted) You can find his name by googling anthraxsleuth.

BTW, as I have stated many times I still have Anthrax in my possession that I received in the mail on October 9th 2001.
Perhaps someone at NAS would be interested in it.