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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 8/12/08

FBI Frame-up of Bruce E. Ivins Made Simple

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On Wednesday, August 8, 2008, the Department of Justice held a news conference announcing that Bruce E. Ivins, a former anthrax researcher for the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), was the sole person responsible for the 2001 anthrax attacks.  Headed by U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Taylor and FBI Assistant Director Joseph Persichini, the presentation was noteworthy for often not answering relevant questions, but instead referring reporters to several dozen court documents they had just been provided.  After hurriedly reading one of these documents I decided to hedge my strong conclusion in an essay that the FBI had persecuted and framed Ivins in order to protect the actual perpetrators until determining enough facts to decide the matter.  I stated, "The most important question is whether Ivins was provided with fully weaponized cutting-edge anthrax that he could use by merely drying it out as the FBI case requires.  If not, then the cover-up explodes in the face of the FBI." See "911 Plotters Bury the Evidence of Anthrax as their Follow-up Punch"  And, indeed, the cover-up had exploded in the face of the FBI and DOJ.

Richard Spertzel, UNSCOM's biological weapons chief from 1994-199, had described an exquisitely weaponized anthrax contained in the letters to Senators Leahy and Daschle that "far exceeds that of any powdered product found in the now extinct U.S. Biological Warfare Program."  These included anthrax spores of 1.5-3.0 microns necessary to make a pure spore mix, a polyglass that tightly bound hydrophilic silica to each particle (to prevent clumping) and a weak electrical charge to optimize dispersion by means of repulsion with no other propellant required.  Spertzel concluded:

The multiple disciplines and technologies required to make the anthrax in this case do not exist at the Army's Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.  Inhalation studies are conducted at the institute, but they are done using liquid preparation, not powdered products.

Furthermore, the FBI spent 12-18 months trying to "reverse engineer" the Daschle-Leahy anthrax without success.  The FBI case against Ivins gives him 7½ hours in the evening over the course of three days to prepare his first concoction sent in letters postmarked September 18, 2001 and roughly 15½ hours over eight days to prepare the Senate anthrax letters postmarked October 9, 2001.  But after reading the first DOJ document, that was suggestive and not apparently made from whole cloth, I was seized by the possibility that the FBI might have been concealing that Ivins had been working with fully weaponized anthrax in order to disguise a violation of the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention treaty to which the U.S. is a signatory, hence the hedge in my essay (made on the final day of OPEDNEWS window for editing one's essays.)  Direct inspection of the BTWC rules out that concern.  Apparently what matters is in the heart or mind: one can make fully weaponized materials so long as the purpose in doing so is in some part defensive or prophylactic, as was Ivins's purpose in testing the efficacy of anthrax vaccines.

The question is thus whether Ivins was working with fully weaponized materials.  The answer is that he was not.  Neither the DOJ oral presentation, nor anything in any of its documents states or implies this during a public presentation whose purpose was to convince the American public that the FBI "got the right man" this time.  They cannot even bring themselves to say that the spores in Ivins's possession were of the same consistent tiny size of 1.5-3.0 microns that made them so deadly -- something they would surely say were it so.  In fact, the topic is sedulously avoided even though -- or precisely because -- it is essential to making the case against Ivins.  Better, Jeffrey Taylor, who seemed to have a weak grasp of the evidence, in his opening remarks gave away the fact that the anthrax in the letters did not come directly from the flask with the sample of spores "RMR-1029" that Ivins monitored and that were reportedly a genetic match to the anthrax that killed its victims.  Mr. Taylor advised:

As the court documents allege, the parent material of the anthrax spores used in the attacks was a single flask of spores, known as "RMR-1029," that was created and solely maintained by Dr. Ivins at USAMRIID. This means that the spores used in the attacks were taken from that specific flask, regrown, purified, dried and loaded into the letters.
So, that's the game and the frame-up right there.  Regrown spores don't weaponize themselves.  They do not regrow super-small and covered with state-of-the-art anti-clumping silicon with a weak electrical charge for dispersion.  And how do we know, aside from voluminous ongoing reports that we will soon examine, that there was such silica on the spores, and that it was cutting edge technology?  Search Warrant Affidavit 07-534-M-01 (available at USDOJ: Amerithrax Court Documents), dated October 31, 2007, states in pertinent part, p.4:
Microscopic examination of the evidentiary spore powders recovered from all four letters identified an elemental signature of Silicon within the spores.  This Silicon signature had not been previously described for Bacillus anthracis organisms.
This fundamental problem with the FBI case has been around for a long time, and helps us understand how covert action can take place in front of the public without being noticed.  Indeed, the entire emphasis of the DOJ and FBI is focussed on proving that there is a genetic match between the letter anthrax and the anthrax batch RMR-1029 allegedly in Ivins's possession while ignoring that RMR-1029 lacked the weaponized qualities found in the Senate anthrax letters.  That focus is a deliberate red herring to make it seem possible that Ivins was the lone nutcase perpetrator.  An October 2, 2002 Washington Post article by Guy Gugliotta and Gary Matsumoto underscores how committed the FBI has been to protecting the 911 plotters from the beginning, e.g., by starting with a conviction that the perpetrator had to be a lone nutcase:
A profile of the attacker issued by the FBI last November described an angry, "lone individual" with "some" science background who could weaponize the anthrax spores in a basement laboratory for as little as $2,500.  
Instead, the scientists who understood the spores opined as follows:
"In my opinion, there are maybe four or five people in the whole country who might be able to make this stuff, and I'm one of them," said Richard O. Spertzel, chief biological inspector for the U.N. Special Commission from 1994 to 1998. "And even with a good lab and staff to help run it, it might take me a year to come up with a product as good."
Instead, suggested Spertzel and more than a dozen experts interviewed by The Washington Post in recent weeks, investigators might want to reexamine the possibility of state-sponsored terrorism, or try to determine whether weaponized spores may have been stolen by the attacker from an existing, but secret, biodefense program or perhaps given to the attacker by an accomplice. ...

"Just collecting this stuff is a trick," said Steven A. Lancos, executive vice president of Niro Inc., one of the leading manufacturers of spray dryers, viewed by several sources as the likeliest tool needed to weaponize the anthrax bacteria. "Even on a small scale, you still need containment. If you're going to do it right, it could cost millions of dollars." ...

Several sources agreed that the most likely way to build the coated spores would be to use the fine glass particles, known generically as "fumed silica" or "solid smoke," and mix them with the spores in a spray dryer. "I know of no other technique that might give you that finished product," Spertzel said.

According to William C. Patrick III, the former chief of product development for the U.S. Army's now-defunct bioweapons program, U.S. government scientists made biological agents using spray dryers, but did not spray dry anthrax. ...

In spray drying, a technician mixes fumed silica and spores with water, then sprays the mist through a nozzle directly into a stream of superheated air shooting from a second nozzle into an enclosed chamber. The water evaporates instantly, leaving spores and additive floating in space.
What do the DOJ and FBI offer us for how Ivins could have done all this?  Silence and disinformation.  The aforementioned affidavit states:
Culturing anthrax and working safely with dried anthrax spores requires specific training and expertise in technical fields such as biochemist or microbiology.  It also requires access to particular laboratory equipment such as a lyophilizer or other drying device, biological safety cabinet or other containment device, incubator, centrifuge, fermentor, and various protective gear, all of which Dr. Ivins had readily accessible to him through his employment at USAMRIID.
The above paragraph is a carefully worded frame-up.  Yes, a special drying device is needed to coat the anthrax with silicon in the right way; it is a spray dryer -- a device that works with intense heat to vaporize nearly instantly a water suspension of silicon particles that then is drawn to the anthrax.  Ivins had access to a lyophilizer, but not to a spray dryer.  A lyophilizer freeze dries liquid anthrax into a powder.  So the affidavit slips the fact that Ivins lacks even the basic tools by including "or other drying device" and states (truly and deceptively) that Ivins had access to "all of which," i.e., the unhelpful lyophilizer but not the essential spray dryer, let alone the specialized silicon and team of colleagues to make it work.  The Post continues about the requirements:
"Surface tension will pull those little [silica] particles together onto the big one," said California Institute of Technology chemical engineer Richard Flagan. "You will end up with some degree of coating."

Whoever made such an aerosol would "need some experience" with aerosols and "would have to have a lot of anthrax, so you could practice," Edwards said. "You'd have to do a lot of trial and error to get the particles you wanted." It would also help to have an electron microscope to examine the results.

This would mean at least several hundred thousand dollars worth of equipment, several experts said. Niro's cheapest spray dryer sells for about $50,000. Electron microscopes cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In all, said Niro's Lancos, "you would need [a] chemist who is familiar with colloidal [fumed] silica, and a material science person to put it all together, and then some mechanical engineers to make this work . . . probably some containment people, if you don't want to kill anybody. You need half a dozen, I think, really smart people."

The following year, Gary Matsumoto wrote an article for Science 28, November 2003, Volume 302 that stated that "a schism now exists among scientists who analyzed it for the FBI."  Initially, there was consensus:

Early in the investigation [once it took to heart the science needed to produce the spores], the FBI appeared to endorse the latter view: that only a sophisticated lab could have produced the material used in the Senate attack. This was the consensus among biodefense specialists working for the government and the military. In May 2002, 16 of these scientists and physicians published a paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association, describing the Senate anthrax powder as "weapons-grade" and exceptional: "high spore concentration, uniform particle size, low electrostatic charge, treated to reduce clumping" (JAMA, 1 May 2002, p. 2237). Donald A. Henderson, former assistant secretary for the Office of Public Health Preparedness at the Department of Health and Human Services, expressed an almost grudging respect: "It just didn't have to be that good" to be lethal, he told Science.

As the [criminal] investigation dragged on, however, its focus shifted. In a key disclosure, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft revealed in August 2002 that Justice Department officials had fixed on one of 30 so-called "persons of interest":Steven J. Hatfill, a doctor and virologist who in 1997 conducted research with the Ebola virus at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Maryland. (Hatfill has denied any involvement in the anthrax mailing.)
Thus, the FBI had begun with the "backyard biokiller" profile, then was forced to abandon it by the advanced design of the anthrax that points the finger where it belongs at state-sponsored terrorism, and then embraced it again once it felt that Steven Hatfill could be made to fill the role of "patsy."  But in order to convict Hatfill, the FBI would need to demonstrate how Hatfill could have produced the anthrax in the Daschle-Leahy letters, hence their effort to "reverse engineer" the process.  One lovely comparable historical example is the FBI's fantasy that the WTC was car-bombed in 1993 by dozens of committed Arabs urinating to generate the "uric acid" needed for its imaginary "home-made" bomb in order to conceal that high-grade military explosives provided by FBI mole Emad Salem were used in that event.  But those were Muslim "terrorists," easy to convict with the help of Judge Michael Mukasey, since promoted to Attorney General.  Something better was needed for Hatfill, so the FBI tried, and failed:
Although the FBI did not spell out its theory [about Hatfill], this announcement and leaks to the media from federal investigators indicated that the inquiry had embraced the idea that a lone operator or small group with limited resources could have produced the Senate anthrax powder.

This premise now appears to have run its course. In September 2003, the FBI's Michael Mason admitted that the bureau failed to reverse engineer a world-class anthrax powder like the Senate material and expressed regret that Hatfill had been called a "person of interest."

Hatfill's story remains instructive for many reasons.  The FBI violated normal investigative procedures by leaking Hatfill's name to the press and keeping politicians informed about the ongoing investigation.  When Hatfill found a university position, the FBI forced the university to fire him.  The FBI deliberately informed the press in advance of their searches of Hatfill's residence, both when he voluntarily submitted to a search and when the search was done under warrant, in order to create a media circus and to antagonize and intimidate Hatfill.  The FBI harassed Hatfill by following him everywhere under the pretext that he would strike again if let out of their sight.  The wave of propaganda against Hatfill was so pervasive and effective that when Hatfill reported to D.C. police that the FBI had run over his foot while surveilling him, he was ticketed for "walking to create a hazard."  FBI sources stated that the Bureau had focused on Hatfill until 2006, but when a federal judge reviewed the case in 2008, including still-secret FBI summaries, he opined "There is not a scintilla of evidence that would indicate that Dr. Hatfill had anything to do with this." 

Former FBI counter-terrorism agent Brad Garrett, now working for the ABC network whose Brian Ross broadcast the manufactured leaks from four "well placed" sources that Iraq planted the anthrax and that now refuses to identify these plotters, is happy to tell us what went wrong with the Hatfill investigation in a June 30, 20008 "EXCLUSIVE: How the FBI Botched the Anthrax Case."  According to Garrett:

The anthrax investigation, almost from the beginning, was hampered by top-heavy leadership from high ranking, but inexperienced FBI officials, which led to a close-minded focus on just one suspect and amateurish investigative techniques that robbed agents in the field the ability operate successfully.

Garrett ignores the obvious implications of the fact that there was not a scintilla of evidence against Hatfill, viz., that the FBI modus operandi against Hatfill -- and Ivins as well -- was "frame 'em and break 'em." Garrett notes that "The original complaint accused several government officials, including Ashcroft, of deliberately leaking information about the criminal probe into Hatfill in order to harass him and to hide the FBI's lack of hard evidence," but he also states that the $5,825,000 settlement included no such admissions without seeming to understand that so much money was paid to avoid having to make that admission or having a jury so find.  One wishes for more hard facts, but instead of taking the convenient route that the FBI investigation of this crucial act of domestic terrorism was hamstrung by stupid, incompetent and inexperienced high-ranking officials, the better interpretation in this case is that the FBI's wild goose chase was grand political theater to keep the public confused and distracted from the actual terrorists.

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I am a retired forensic psychologist living in Los Angeles with enough time on my hands to have spent the past few years studying the deeds whose perpetrators pejoratively deride the correct analysis of which as (more...)
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