Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Black Art of Weaponization

With respect to whether and how the spores were weaponized, I have both feet in the weaponization camp, having reviewed numerous anthrax epidemics and seen nothing like the Senate letters' effect elsewhere, except Sverdlovsk. Yeltsin later admitted the 1979 Sverdlovsk epidemic resulted from a leak of anthrax from a biowarfare program.

However, the problem remains that nearly all research on weaponization is unavailable in the open literature. Although we can make educated guesses about how the letter spores may have been prepared, the only way to be certain is to experimentally demonstrate that a particular method produces an identical product. While the FBI waffles about how Ivins could have dried the spores this way or that way, and they don't really care how, FBI has failed to demonstrate that any of the methods they don't care about would yield the correct product. FBI has further failed to demonstrate that Ivins could dry and prepare the volume of spores used, within the window of time available between September 11 and the mailings.

The new field of forensics has led us to a flask available to hundreds. The old field of weaponization could narrow down that number of suspects considerably, but has remained unexplored.

Since the weaponization field of study is classified TOP SECRET, it will require a classified venue to review this material. What is needed is a scientific and investigative review of the evidence, keeping in mind that this "black art" may be encumbered with more than its share of dis/misinformation.


Old Atlantic Lighthouse said...

The FBI has laid stress that any silicon was not present on the outside of the spores. They want to imply that this means the silicon had no electrical properties whatsoever. However, this is false.

If one searches on some combination of the terms: dielectric sphere, "image charge", "method of images",
"two dielectric spheres", potential, polarization, Green's function, homework solutions, etc. one finds lots of material. One can do an image search as well and see lots of pictures.

Two dielectric spheres, e.g. spores with silicon or silicon dioxide as internal shells will in the presence of an external charge or field, create an electric potential different than the point charge alone.

Radio waves, light, etc. are dynamic electromagnetic fields. They can kick electrons out of molecules and thus create charges. Such charges interact with dielectric spheres even if they are net charge neutral spheres.

If one searches on cortex, coat spore, one can see on image search spherical like shells of the same type as in the physics searches.

So if you dope spores with silicon or silicon dioxide, you do create a system of dielectric spheres which has electrical properties and which responds to the environment it is in. In addition, there may be chances for setting up in the lab using em fields and radiation charges on the spores. The silicon in internal shells changes the dielectric properties of the spores which can be thought of as spheres at this level.

One can also search on silicon, silicon dioxide, etc. with the em terms and get many results. The semiconductor industry in the US and USSR/Russia has extensive experience in the em properties of silicon in a variety of geometries and physical and chemical environments.

For the FBI to say the silicon is not on the outer surface of the spores so it has no electrical properties whatsoever is easily falsified by the above searches.

Gauss's law says on a conductor, the charge is on the surface. But spores with silicon in internal shells are not conductors and behave as the above dielectric searches indicate.

Anonymous said...

There was a lot of cross-talk and speculation in late 2001 that led to the "weaponisation" confusion. And today the Feds and public rumor spinners won't say so and so was absolutely wrong because hey, who can safely point fingers here with a finger pointing back.

My take on discourse on "weaponisation:" When the attacks came, the old cold war weapons guys and 1960's knowledge came back to try to explain the attack anthrax within the old "black arts." But they were unaware that science and its uses far outstripped them, for example, in pharmaceuticals. Viz., a 2000's nose-spray/asthma inhaler technician would know more relevant information about this anthrax and its production than the cold war bio-warriors.

That's my sense.

Washingtons Blog said...

Congressman Bartlett skeptical that Ivins sent anthrax, doubts that mail-sorting machines could have crushed anthrax into fine powder

Washingtons Blog said...

Here's my write-up:

Congressman and Physiologist: FBI Theory that Mail-Sorting Machines Crushed Anthrax to a Fine Powder "Patently Ridiculous"... Anthrax was Weaponized

Anonymous said...

Bruce Ivins' cremated remains on hold till stipulations in his will are met:

Anonymous said...

The FBI's "letter-sorting machines" explanation for the lethal, inhalation-anthrax-inducing particle size range of the anthrax attack powders has indeed been controversial. The FBI cited two factors in support of its conclusion during The Anthrax Briefing of Aug 18;

"Number one, we saw larger agglomerates. Number two, if you haven't done so, I suggest take a tour of the U.S. Postal Service and look at how those letters [were] handled through the metal -- through the letter-sorting machines. It's a very, very, rigorous process."

A question posed in response to the FBI's explanation cited a 2002 report in The Journal of the American Medical Association that "80-micron agglomerates [remaining in the anthrax attack powders] tended to disintegrate just on disturbance."

The FBI's answer was simply to dismiss the JAMA report on the basis that, "If 80 agglomerates – 80-micron agglomerates were tended to disintegrate, how did they survive the mail machine?"

Nevertheless, it is to be noted that the two factors cited in support of the FBI's letter-sorting machine theory are themselves also suggestive of a similarly dismissive analysis. Thus, if the force of the letter-sorting machinery was sufficient to convert anthrax agglomerates into a powder of much smaller particles, why did some large anthrax agglomerates emerge with no size reduction whatsoever?

The letter-sorting dialog, taken in its entirety does raise questions. If the FBI had actual evidence that negated the 2002 JAMA report, i.e., that the agglomerates it found were indeed strong and stable, why not just say so? But if the FBI didn't have evidence that the agglomerates were stable, isn't it at least possible that what the FBI saw were merely transitory structures, i.e., something other than stable anthrax agglomerates one would expect to find in a conventional anthrax powder?


The cumulative impact of the numerous strained and serendipitous theories found in the FBI's case against Ivins, considered as a whole, is somewhat disconcerting -- the unusually large silicon spike was an (apparently unreproducible) accident of nature -- the deadly particle size of the anthrax powder wasn't intended, it was caused by US Postal machinery -- Ivins, a skilled microbiologist, working in his own lab, accidentally produced contaminated anthrax -- the sorority mailbox theory -- the years past reference to the return-address-school in a couple of political letters -- etc.


Anonymous said...

At the end of the day the FBI's "overwhelming" case against Bruce Ivins boils down to Ivins must have done it because he could have done it and the FBI couldn't find a better suspect.

And please don't second-guess our case.

Washingtons Blog said...

The FBI's Mail-Sorting Theory Doesn't Add Up.

I welcome any criticism, error-correction or comments.

Anonymous said...

"At the end of the day the FBI's "overwhelming" case against Bruce Ivins boils down to Ivins must have done it because he could have done it and the FBI couldn't find a better suspect."

I agree completely. In my judgement, despite the FBI's bravado, they would not have been able to win a criminal conviction ("beyond a reasonable doubt") against Ivins.

Lots of holes in the case, among them:

(1) The bacillus subtilies found in the first batch did not match the bacillus subtilies used (to simulate anthrax) at USAMRIID.

(2) The FBI was unable to exactly duplicate the attack anthrax (including the silicon signature). How can you claim to understand how it was made if you can't duplicate it?

Old Atlantic Lighthouse said...

If the letters machines did it, they should have done it for the Sep 18 letters as well as the Daschle and Leahy letters.

Sic transit FBI Letters Machine did it.

Old Atlantic Lighthouse said...

Good comments at GW. To build on GW's points. The Daschle and Leahy letters were delivered intact with the powder in them. How can the insides be ground to within 1.5 microns while leaving the outside flat and even?

Robero said...

i know this is an old thread - but my interests in this haven't died. so forgive me if i go against the internet customs and BUMP!

seems to me the meaning of electrically charged or not charged, or silica covered or infused or not covered or not infused anthrax particle is only significant once you know how it was produced. to claim an "AHAH!!!" bacause you think you know the anthrax properties doesn't jibe with the facts - namely that you still don't know exactly who made it, when, how, or why.

anthrax detectives can claim jump to all the conlusions they want to... when someone finally recreates the anthrax exactly this still will not tell us who created the "we have this anthrax."