is a coded message in the
which appears to be "smoking gun" evidence proving Dr. Ivins' guilt
However, The coded message itself is not the key to understanding the significance of this finding, it's the entirety of the circumstances and the details of how the person doing the encoding notifies the recipient that there is a code in the message. And there is also the fact that Dr. Ivins attempted to destroy the evidence that he knew this code and all the details about it.
Dr. Ivins' Attempt to Destroy Evidence
On November 1, 2007, FBI and Postal Service investigators searched Dr. Ivins' home, his cars and his office for evidence related to the anthrax mailings of 2001. Knowing that that kind of search very often causes guilty people to destroy any evidence that the investigators failed to find, the investigators also initiated 24/7 surveillance of Dr. Ivins and began procedures for obtaining his trash after Dr. Ivins had desposed of it without letting Dr. Ivins know that this was being done.
A week after the search, the investigators observed odd activities by Dr. Ivins which they described on page 64 of their summary report. That part of the summary report reads as follows:
"Just after 1:00 a.m., on November 8, 2007, with the front porch light on, he walked out the front door of his house across the street from USAMRIID, wearing long underwear, and stood outside for a few minutes before walking back inside. A few minutes later, the municipal garbage truck pulled up in front of his house and took his garbage. Seven minutes later, Ivins again emerged from the house and walked toward the street. He walked to the garbage cart where the garbage once was and looked inside, closed the lid and pulled the cart back into the driveway. He then walked towards his neighbor’s house, and while standing in the street, looked into the parking lot across the street. He walked towards the wooded area across from his house (where the surveillance agent was making all of these observations) and peered into the wooded area and the parking lot for approximately a full minute. He then went back inside his house. In the other 15 or so trash runs conducted before and after this one, Dr. Ivins was never observed doing anything remotely like this."
Included among the trash that Dr. Ivins threw out that night was very important evidence of his guilt.
The evidence consisted of a copy of one of his favorite books, "Godel, Escher, Bach - An Eternal Golden Braid" (a.k.a. 'GEB'), published by Dr. Douglas Hofstadter in 1979, plus a 1992 issue of American Scientist Journal which contained an article entitled “The Linguistics of DNA” which discussed, among other things, codons and hidden messages.
On page 64 of the FBI/DOJ's summary it says this about "GEB":
"Within the book, there are several specific passages relevant to the anthrax letters. First, in a chapter entitled “The Location of Meaning,” the author explains that deciphering consists of three message layers. The first layer is the frame message, which conveys that there is a message from the sender. Once the frame message is recognized, the attention is switched to the outer message, which is a set of triggers, patterns, and structures, telling the recipient how to decode the inner message, which is the third layer and the actual message to be conveyed. The author comments that the sender cannot ensure that the inner message will be understood."
As it happens, I've had a copy of this book in my personal library for many many years, and it also fascinated me. I also appear to have the same edition of the book that Dr. Ivins had, since his page 404 is identical to page 404 in my copy. Thus, I am able to examine the same passages cited by the FBI & DOJ. Here is what "GEB" says on page 162 in my copy, in the chapter titled "The Location of Meaning" and in a section titled "Levels of Understanding of a Message."
"Nowadays, the idea of decoding is extremely widespread; it is a significant part of the activity of astronomers, linguists, archaeologists, military specialists and so on. It is often suggested that we may be floating in a sea of radio messages from other civilizations, messages which we do not yet know how to decipher. And much serious thought has been given to the techniques of deciphering such a message. One of the main problems -- perhaps the deepest problem -- is the question, 'How will we recognize the fact that there is a message at all? How do identify a frame?' The sending of a record seems to be a simple solution -- its gross physical structure is very attention-drawing, and it is at least plausible to us that it would trigger, in any sufficiently great intelligence, the idea of looking for information hidden in it."
More of the "smoking gun" is in the fact that Ivins followed all the steps. And he was known to be fascinated by codes. Here is what it says about that on page 60 of the FBI/DOJ summary report:
"According to statements Dr. Ivins made to investigators in his on-the-record interviews in January and February 2008, and his past statements to Former Colleague #1 and Former Colleague #2, from at least early adulthood, Dr. Ivins maintained an interest in secrets, codes, and hidden messages. For example, Dr. Ivins described in his interviews that, in the late 1970s, he broke into the KKG sorority house at UNC and stole their cipher – a decoding device for their secret sorority rituals – from a locked closet, along with some other ritual documents, though not the ritual book itself. Dr. Ivins held onto this cipher for a few years, before he traveled to West Virginia University (“WVU”) in Morgantown, broke into the KKG house there, and stole the actual ritual book from a locked cabinet. He later copied this book, and then mailed it back to the WVU chapter, with a note explaining that his fraternity brother took the book and he wanted to return it."
Step 1: Message Notification
The first step in the GEB code procedure is to make certain the person receiving the message realizes that there is a hidden message within what is written on the page. In GEB, on page 404, the example below is provided. The hidden message is within a list of great mathematicians:
The message contains an "attention-drawing" feature. There is a diagonal line of letters which are darker or bolder than all the others. That diagonal line spells out "Dboups," which appears to be totally meaningless. But clearly it means something. It is not the message. Along with the diagonal line, it is the message notification. It's the attention-drawer. It poses the question: Why are those letters highlighted.
Bruce Ivins used something very similar in the media letters. Here is the Brokaw letter. Click on it to view a larger version.
Here is the same media text with the highlighted letters in red:
For me, the first "attention drawing" item in the letter is the misspelling of "penicillin," which is spelled "PENACILIN."
A second "attention drawing" item is that not all A's and T's are highlighted. In fact, the A which does not belong in "PENACILIN" is highlighted, but the A in TAKE on the same line is not. Another indicator of a code.
The "frame" or third "attention drawing" item is the one the FBI sees as most important. The letters in the four corners of the message are all highlighted, i.e., the first and last letters of the first and last sentences are highlighted. That's another message notifier.
The FBI suggests that the fact the first T in the letter is highlighted is another attention drawer.
It is clear that the highlighted letters are intended to draw the attention of the reader. Anyone looking for codes would know that they are a signal that there is a code here. And, as in the GEB code, the highlighted letters contain the coded message.
Another "attention drawing" element in the letters is the fact that all the sentences are three words long. It might be just a coincidence, of it might be an indicator that three is a number that has some significance in the decoding process. It could be telling the reader: Look for three of something.
Step 2: How to Decode
So, the reader has been notified in several ways that there is a hidden message in the letter, and the message is probably to be found in the highlighted letters. But how do you decode them?
In the GEB example, under the list of mathematicians, the decoding information is provided:
"Subtract 1 from the diagonal, to find Bach in Leipzig."
That means go back 1 in the alphabet for each highlighted letter you see. In other words, D becomes C, b become a, etc. The result is "Cantor." That's the hidden message. Bach was a cantor in Leipzig.
The anthrax letter doesn't contain the same kind of spelled-out instructions for decoding as the GEB example does, but the highlighted letters themselves would have meaning to anyone familiar with DNA coding. The highlighted letters are:
TTTAATTATMany people familiar with DNA coding noticed that A's and T's were the only letters highlighted, and DNA coding uses A's, T's, G's and C's as abbreviations for adenine, thymine, guanine and cytosine.
Furthermore, people with knowledge
of DNA know that Adenine (A) forms a base pair with thymine (T), as
does guanine (G) with cytosine (C). Thus, combinations of
A's and T's have special meaning to someone with knowledge of DNA
The person with knowledge
of DNA coding would then notice that there are nine letters or three
sets of three, because there is another code which contains three
letters. TTT AAT TAT are
3-letter combinations which have a specific