Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Monday's Briefing

I did not attend either FBI briefing, and the comments below relate to multiple news reports of the briefing.

1. Either one flask or two contained the specific anthrax strain in the letters--it was reported both ways in different newspapers, and apparently there was disagreement at the meeting.
2. Two labs had this strain, but the name of the other lab is still a secret. Why? Was it a lab that manufactures anthrax in powder form, and thus might be easier to link to the crime than the USAMRIID lab, which officially uses liquid anthrax only?
3. Yes, 100 people did have access to the strain--but FBI ruled every one of them out, leaving Ivins as the sole suspect.
4. FBI says it did re-engineer the powder, and it had the same properties as the anthrax found in the Leahy/Daschle letters--but the easily produced, engineered powder did not contain extra silicon, as reported by the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology for the letter anthrax. No explanation was provided, making the FBI claim questionable.
5. No one reported on the mix of B. cereus and B. anthracis that was previously said to provide evidence of where the anthrax came from.


The additional scientific information reported fails to clarify any of the persisting questions in the case. Many other people had access to this strain, and the science is unable to pin it on any one individual.

Maybe the FBI unequivocably ruled out 100 people as the lone suspect, by an inability to place them at the mailing sites, for example. But despite two lame attempts last week to make it appear Ivins could possibly have mailed the letters in Princeton (the first claim putting him at the mailbox too early for the postmark), there has still been no evidence presented establishing he made such a trip.

However, if you concede that the letter attacks are much more likely to have been the work of more than one individual, then the 100 people "ruled out" by FBI (using unreleased criteria) jump back in as suspects. Because perhaps all one of them had to do was to supply a tiny amount of anthrax to someone else who produced the final product. It would be very hard to rule that out.

Furthermore, we know how readily the spores leaked out of envelopes. The person who mailed the Daschle/Leahy letters had to have contaminated themself, simply by the act of placing the letters in a mailbox. This contamination should have extended to their vehicle (unless they showered and changed clothes before driving off), so the lack of contamination is a serious problem in the case against Ivins as sole suspect. Dr. CJ Peters was asked about this issue, and confirmed this point in an August 20 article here.


Anonymous said...

The non-matching "match" of the anthrax samples bothers me. It's like saying we've got this guy's fingerprint on one sample and then another fingerprint on another sample, and the fingerprints are "almost" the same so he's guilty. "Almost" doesn't cut it. It's also a joke to imply that there's something criminal about putting gas in your car. How dare him get gas on a date that fits their version of when a trip to Princeton was necessary. Never mind that we don't even know if the culprit had to drive to Princeton. Maybe the culprit lives there.

Anonymous said...

And I would bet everything I own that at least one Bioport employee is on that "list of 100" that had access to the famous flask... just call it a hunch. :)

Norn Cutson said...

On cspan wash journal this morning, USA TODAY reporter parrotting FBI's evidence as if the case has already been proven.
Also she referred to the "therapist" as "psychiatrist"...she breathlessly exclaimed "even his psychiatrist was about to testify against him!!!"
She also repeated the "sorority" theory.
Also she said he was conservative, even tho we know he was a registered democrat.
I hate when I feel more informed than the media.
NONE of the callers, on either dem or repub lines, was buying this story.
I'm glad people are more skeptical(and questioning) than the media!

Anonymous said...

so where was the other lab? New Jersey?

Ellen Byrne said...

Two former USAMRIID Bacteriology Chiefs doubt the material was produced there or by Dr. Ivins.


Washingtons Blog said...

Dr. Nass,

I have written an essay on the parallels between the anthrax and 9/11 investigations. As usual, the essay does NOT necessarily reflect your views or of anyone mentioned on, or who comments on, your website.

Indeed, your website does not even address 9/11. However, I think the parallels are interesting.

Anonymous said...

The FBI doesn't want to consider a two or more headed crime because there is likely no way to tie Bruce Ivins to anyone else that is credible or that fits with their "lone homicidal sociopath" caricature -- which he doesn't fit in the first place.

And if they "consider" another or other actors, then their own job of forcing this narrative becomes more difficult.

I'd like to know how they can rule out 99 other people with such a degree of certainty. This must be a first in the annals of law enforcement.

Anonymous said...


_Arthur said...

If one's carry the anthrax-laden letters in, say, a ziplock bag, and then drop the letters in the mailbox, what are the odds that he or she escapes contamination ?

Anonymous said...

It was one flask. Or another. This tale is silly. If they cannot relate the flask story straight, how should we believe their tale about the fellow who sent a different strain the second time? Perhaps the mistake there is on the government side.

Two labs, one is secret. Most interesting! They have no fear of relating that the parent material came from two labs, and named them, Dugway and Detrick. So the secret one that possessed the same genetic blip is unlikely Dugway. The secret lab is foreign, or in New Jersey New Jersey, something that would hurt the case against Messrs Hatfield and Ivins, unlike if the second lab were in California or Oregon.

"It was easily produced." Depends on the definition of "easily" is. Washington Post says government says it took "3 to 7" days to make the amount used. But there are 3 days, and then there are 3 days. As the process needs be reverse-engineered and the dna diced, so must prosecutorial verbiage. 3 days, to the civilians, feels like 3 days at work, which is how the words were dictated to be felt. But that is not quite the truth here. Dr., when you tell a patient a wound will heal in 3 days, you do not mean 3 eight hour shifts, but 72 hours. As with science, 3 days in this context means about 72 hours of work, of processing.

So "3 to 7 days" telegraphs that the processes took about 72 to 168 hours. Did Mr. Ivins have 72 hours of unmonitored overtime to do his dirty deed? I think not.

72 -168 hours is quite the time spread. This might relate that it will take 72 hours for a sophisticated bioengineer at dugway to do it, but 168 hours for a fellow with Ivins skills-set.

Take notice also of the change in tales. First it was Ivins with a lypoliser in his own department of Detrick. Now it is Ivins with "equipment" at Detrick. a. what is this equipment? b. Where at Detrick can it be accessed? I expect it was not in Mr. Ivins' department because we would have been told so if it were the case.

They cannot place him at Princeton, they cannot place them with the specific equipment.

As I understand it the silicon is "natural" to the spore or was "absorbed" naturally. Others argue silicon was applied to the spores to increase their danger. We know the attack anthrax was spectrographed and silicon was found. But we do not know if a sample taken directly from the suspected flask was also tested for silicon irregularities.
Do not be shocked if it were not so tested. This investigation has been a cockup. Also, from a prosecutorial stand, what good could would more testing do for the case? If it showed no silicon it harms the case and points to, supposedly, a more difficult technical feat of adding silicon to the spores.

I'll wager the dna duplicate was from a lab that due to location or control would harm the case against Mr. Ivins. New Jersey or foreign.

Anonymous said...

What We Learned From The FBI's Scientists

Anonymous said...

Ellen: Thank you for pointing to that AC article. There's so much "information" to plow through.

I read this morning that the hoax letters were sent out before there was a hue and cry. So, who mailed those from St. Petersburg? And unless FBI can have Dr. Ivins in Frederick, Princeton AND St. Petersburg, and while they maintain he acted alone, the FBI again disallows him by their own logic. Or, what they pass for logic.

Meryl Nass, M.D. said...

The pores in the paper comprising an envelope are approximately an order of magnitude greater than the size of the spores (about 1-2 microns). I don't see how they would not sprinkle out onto your hand from simply touching the envelope. To the best of my knowledge, it is impossible to completely clean up a contaminated car's interior without using products that would produce visible damage--or spending a fortune.


Anonymous said...

Excellent point Dr. Nass,

And as Robert Roos reports in one of ur articles:

“Richcard Spertzel, former head of the biological weapons section of the UN Special Commission and a member of the Iraq Survey Group, added support for this view in an Aug 5 opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal. He said information released by the FBI over the years pointed to "a product of exceptional quality," with particles just 1.3 to 3 microns in diameter.”

[4 some viewers]

What does the word micron mean? The word micron is another term for
micrometer (1 millionth of a meter). A micrometer is a unit of linear measure in
the metric system used to measure distance from one point to another. It is used
like the inch, foot, centimeter and millimeter to measure length, width or diameter
of objects. Its scientific notation is µ. Some linear equivalents are 1 inch is 25,400
microns and 1 micron is .000039 inches. Some comparative sizes are:
Diameter of average human hair 70 microns
Lower limit of visibility (naked eye) 40 microns
White blood cells 25 microns
Talcum powder 10 microns
Red blood cells 8 microns
Bacteria 2 microns
Carbon black 0.6 microns
Tobacco smoke 0.5 microns
Anybody who has ever purchased and used a small tube of powdered graphite from the hardware/gun store knows that if u ever over spray near ur clothes - it will not come off. And the graphite micron size is even greater than that of the anthrax spores in question.

[from the net]

Typical Physical Properties - EDM Graphite E-970
Average Particle Size (µ)<4
In regards to the letters shedding spores, a car enclosure is essentially a sealed enclosure and when u close the doors a massive turbulence in the air ensues; thus spores about the envelopes would be everywhere from top to bottom and side to side - except of course if protected.

Then 4 me, there is the issue surrounding freeze dryers, aren’t these devices operated with a vacuum pump; like how do u decontaminate that unit, let alone the entire apparatus?