Miscellaneous Anthrax Articles - Part 18

Science Magazine
February 7, 2009

U.S. Army Lab Freezes Research on Dangerous Pathogens

The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) has suspended research activities involving biological select agents and toxins. Army officials took the step on Friday after discovering apparent problems with the system of accounting for high-risk microbes and biomaterials at the Fort Detrick, Maryland, facility.

The lab has been under intense scrutiny since August, when the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) named former USAMRIID researcher Bruce Ivins as the perpetrator of the 2001 anthrax letter attacks. Although the case never went to trial because of Ivins's suicide on 29 July 2008, FBI officials have claimed that the evidence against him is indisputable and that he carried out the mailings using anthrax stolen from a flask at USAMRIID.

Officials have begun a complete inventory of all select agents and toxins at the facility. All experiments using select agents will remain suspended until the accounting is finished, which could take several weeks. Several USAMRIID researchers have been grumbling about the decision, which seems to have caught them by surprise, according to a government official not connected to the lab.

The decision was announced by institute commander Col. John Skvorak in a 4 February memo to employees. The memo, which ScienceInsider has obtained, says the standard of accountability that USAMRIID had been applying to its select agents and toxins was not in line with the standard required by the Army and the Department of Defense. USAMRIID officials believed that a satisfactory accounting involved finding all the items listed on its database; the Army and DOD wanted the converse—that is, all select agents and toxins needed to be matched to the database.

According to the memo, any materials found without a corresponding record in the database must be reported to the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army. "I believe that the probability that there are additional vials of BSAT [biological select agents and toxins] not captured in our … database is high," Skvorak wrote.

A former USAMRIID scientist told ScienceInsider that in the past, inventorying of biological materials at the institute routinely turned up items that had not been listed on the database before. Those items would be added to the database without shutting down research.

—Yudhijit Bhattacharjee 

Lawyer: Evidence against Bruce Ivins 'undercut'

February 10, 2009 - 12:33pm
Scientific American
Feb 10, 2009 01:55 PM

Army anthrax lab suspends research to inventory its germs

By Jordan Lite in 60-Second Science Blog

The U.S. Army has halted research on most germs at the same biodefense lab fingered as the source of the deadly 2001 anthrax mailings, after discovering that some of the pathogens stored in its refrigerators and freezers aren’t listed in its database.

Col. John P. Skvorak, commander of the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick in Maryland, ordered the suspension Friday. The shutdown could last up to three months as investigators attempt to get to the bottom of the questionable inventory, and will affect "most or much" of the research projects at the lab, where government scientists study drugs and vaccines that could be used to make biological weapons, a lab spokesperson, Caree Vander Linden, tells ScientificAmerican.com. The blog ScienceInsider was the first to report the story and yesterday posted the memo from Skvorak ordering the review.

Fort Detrick scientist Bruce Ivins apparently committed suicide in July as the FBI was reportedly set to arrest him for allegedly sending anthrax spores through the mail, attacks that in 2001 killed five people and sickened 17 others.

In the wake of the attacks, officials tightened record-keeping requirements at government labs and, during a recent review, inspectors uncovered some germ samples at Fort Detrick that were not registered in its database. Officials want to identify and record them – or destroy them if they’re not needed for study, Vander Linden says. Ongoing animal studies and care will continue during the review, she adds.

In the past, viruses, bacteria and toxins referred to as biological select agents and toxin (BSAT) haven’t shown up in the lab’s database “due to accounting errors, transcription errors, or BSAT that had not been reassigned when an employee left the institute,” Skvorak noted in the memo. “I believe that the probability that there are additional vials of BSAT not captured in our … database is high.”

We’ve got more on the clues that led to Ivins being suspected in the anthrax attacks and why investigators didn’t zero in on him until they determined the spores had been weaponized. You can also read about the original anthrax suspect, Steven Hatfill, who’s since been exonerated.

Anthrax investigation still yielding findings

Chemical composition of spores doesn't match suspect flask.

The deadly bacterial spores mailed to victims in the US anthrax attacks, scientists say, share a chemical 'fingerprint' that is not found in bacteria from the flask linked to Bruce Ivins, the biodefence researcher implicated in the crime.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) alleges that Ivins, who committed suicide last July, was the person responsible for mailing letters laden with Bacillus anthracis to news media and congressional offices in 2001, killing five people and sickening 17. The FBI used genetic analyses to trace the mailed spores back to a flask called RMR-1029, which Ivins could access in his laboratory at the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in Fort Detrick, Maryland.

At a biodefence meeting on 24 February, Joseph Michael, a materials scientist at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, presented analyses of three letters sent to the New York Post and to the offices of Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. Spores from two of those show a distinct chemical signature that includes silicon, oxygen, iron, and tin; the third letter had silicon, oxygen, iron and possibly also tin, says Michael. Bacteria from Ivins' RMR-1029 flask did not contain any of those four elements.

Two cultures of the same anthrax strain grown using similar processes — one from Ivins' lab, the other from a US Army facility in Utah — showed the silicon-oxygen signature but did not contain tin or iron. Michael presented the analyses at the American Society for Microbiology's Biodefense and Emerging Diseases Research Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland.

The chemical mismatch doesn't necessarily mean that deadly spores used in the attacks did not originate from Ivins' RMR-1029 flask, says Jason Bannan, a microbiologist and forensic examiner at the FBI's Chemical Biological Sciences Unit in Quantico, Virginia. The RMR-1029 culture was created in 1997, and the mailed spores could have been taken out of that flask and grown under different conditions, resulting in varying chemical contents. "It doesn't surprise me that it would be different," he says.

The data suggest that spores for the three letters were grown using the same process, says Michael. It is not clear how tin and iron made their way into the culture, he says. Bannan suggests that the growth medium may have contained iron and tin may have come from a water source.

Hard to tell apart

The meeting offered scientists who collaborated with the FBI during the investigation an opportunity to share detailed data. The analyses will eventually be published in peer-reviewed journals, the FBI has said.

Jacques Ravel, a genomics scientist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, described his team's efforts to find genetic differences between various cultures of the Ames strain, the B. anthracis strain identified in the anthrax letters. At first, the team was surprised to find that the DNA sequences of a reference Ames strain and Ames samples from the investigation, such as bacteria isolated from the spinal fluid of the first victim, were exactly the same. "It was kind of a shock," says Ravel.

For help, the researchers turned to variants found by a team at USAMRIID. Patricia Worsham and her colleagues had noticed differences in shape, colour and rate of spore formation even within a single anthrax culture. Ravel's team identified the genetic mutations associated with four variants and developed an assay for one of them, called Morph E. Researchers at Commonwealth Biotechnologies in Richmond, Virginia, and the Midwest Research Institute's Florida Division in Palm Bay created assays for three other variants.

The FBI then used that arsenal of tests to pin down the origins of the anthrax letters, matching the mix of genetic variants in the mailed spores to Ivins' RMR-1029 flask. "It has the genetic signatures that identify it as the most likely source of the growth," says Bannan.

Ravel also sequenced the genome of a Bacillus subtilis strain that was found in one of the letters. That sample did not match a B. subtilis strain found in Ivins' lab, says Bannan, but the bacterial contamination still could have come from somewhere else in Ivins' institution.

The FBI has asked the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to convene an independent panel of experts to review the anthrax investigation data. The academy is still in the process of drawing up a contract with the FBI that lays out an agreement to perform the study, says NAS spokeswoman Christine Stencel.

Thomas DeGonia, Ivins' lawyer at Venable LLP in Rockville, Maryland, maintains Ivins' innocence.

Revealed: Scientific evidence for the 2001 anthrax attacks

  • 27 February 2009 by Debora MacKenzie
  • New Scientist Magazine issue 2697.

KEY forensic evidence in the US anthrax attacks of 2001 has been revealed. The FBI had previously prevented the scientists involved from speaking publicly about their findings in case this interfered with court proceedings, but last August, after chief suspect Bruce Ivins committed suicide, the case collapsed and the FBI lifted many of the restrictions. This week, some of the scientists involved revealed their results at a scientific meeting in Baltimore, Maryland.

These show how the FBI traced the spores used in the attacks to a single flask at a US government lab, but they don't explain why the FBI made Ivins - who worked at the US Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) - the chief suspect.

In late 2001, envelopes containing dry anthrax spores were sent to a number of US media outlets and politicians, leading to five deaths. Later that year, Paul Keim at the Northern University of Arizona in Flagstaff identified the anthrax bacterium used in the attack as the US army's Ames strain. The FBI then obtained 1072 anthrax samples from the 18 labs it knew to have Ames and got several research groups, including Keim's, to compare their genomes with that of the strain used in the attacks. The hope was this would uncover mutations that would finger one lab as the source.

But Keim and his colleagues told the Baltimore meeting that initial reports that useful mutations had been found were misleading. The full genome sequences revealed "no genetic differences at all", says Keim. Instead, the researchers say, the key clues came from a lucky discovery. A technician, also at USAMRIID, had noticed patches of unusual-looking spores in cultures of the attack anthrax, and recultured just those. Keim and colleagues sequenced their genomes and found 10 mutations that differed from the common Ames sequence. Because the spores made up a fraction of the total, these "minority" mutations hadn't shown up initially.

Next the team developed highly sensitive tests to screen all 1072 samples for four of the mutations. Eight samples had all four. One came from a flask labelled RMR-1029 that Ivins was responsible for at USAMRIID. The other seven came from cultures taken from that flask, only one of which was not located at USAMRIID. So while these findings show the attack spores came from one of these cultures, the FBI has gone further in concluding the attack came directly from the RMR-1029 flask.

Another question is how the attacker turned the water-based slurry of spores in the flask to the fine, dry powder in the letters.

Joseph Michael of the Sandia National Lab in Albuquerque, New Mexico, used specialised electron microscopy to show that 75 per cent of the attack spores had incorporated silicon into their coats while growing (see image). As spores taken directly from RMR-1029 following the attacks had no silicon in their coats, and the other seven genetic matches had either none or a lower percentage, the attack spores must have been recultured before they were posted.

During this process, they would have shed their coats, multiplied, then turned back into spores. Was Ivins's level of expertise needed to turn these recultured spores into dry powder? "What I am hearing is that the spores in the letter were not special. It would not take a lot of time or equipment to make them," says Keim. Michael's images show the attack anthrax contained spore clumps, unlike professionally produced powders.

The FBI may have evidence to show Ivins was the link between RMR-1029 and the envelopes, though with civil suits from Ivins' and the victims' families pending, the bureau won't be revealing it soon. For now, the researchers say their studies nail the spores as coming from the flask, but not the identity of the attacker.

Holt seeks congressional anthrax commission

By RAJU CHEBIUM • Gannett Washington Bureau • March 3, 2009

— A Central Jersey congressman seeks to set up a congressional commission to investigate the anthrax attacks of 2001.

Rep. Rush Holt, D-Hopewell Township, has introduced legislation that would also probe the federal government's reaction to and investigation of the anthrax scare.

The commission he proposes would be similar to the independent panel that probed the 9/11 attacks in New York and suburban Washington.

The FBI said last year an Army scientist, Bruce Ivins, was responsible for the nation's deadliest bio-terrorism attacks, though the Bush administration initially named one of Ivins' colleagues as a "person of interest." Ivins has since committed suicide.

Holt and Rep. Chris Smith, R-Hamilton, say there's strong circumstantial evidence linking Ivins to the anthrax mailings but they have expressed skepticism about the government's case.

Anthrax-laden letters killed five people and sickened at least 17 others as the nation was grappling with the psychological aftermath of 9/11. Some of the letters were mailed from Princeton, in Holt's district. Those letters were handled by a mail-sorting facility in Hamilton, in Smith's district, and some postal workers were affected, though no one died.

Two Democrats are cosponsoring Holt's bill, one each from Maryland and New York.

March 3, 2009

Contact: Zach Goldberg
202-225-5801 (office)


Bill Would Create 9/11 Commission-Style Panel to Investigate
Anthrax Attacks and Government Response

(Washington, D.C.) – Rep. Rush Holt (NJ-12) today introduced the Anthrax Attacks Investigation Act of 2009, legislation that would establish a Congressional commission to investigate the 2001 anthrax attacks and the federal government’s response to and investigation of the attacks. The bipartisan commission would make recommendations to the President and Congress on how the country can best prevent and respond to any future bioterrorism attack.  The attacks evidently originated from a postal box in Holt’s Central New Jersey congressional district, disrupting the lives and livelihoods of many of his constituents. Holt has consistently raised questions about the federal investigation into the attacks.

“All of us – but especially the families of the victims of the anthrax attacks – deserve credible answers about how the attacks happened and whether the case really is closed,” Holt said. “The Commission, like the 9/11 Commission, would do that, and it would help American families know that the government is better prepared to protect them and their children from future bioterrorism attacks.”

Under Holt’s legislation, the commission would be comprised of no more than six members of from the same political party. The commission would hold public hearings, except in situations where classified information would be discussed. The commission would have to consult the National Academies of Sciences for recommendations on scientific staff to serve on the Commission. The Commission’s final report would be due 18 months after the Commission begins operations.

“Myriad questions remain about the anthrax attacks and the government’s bungled response to the attacks,” Holt said. “One of the most effective oversight mechanisms we can employ to get answers to those questions is a 9/11 style Commission.”

FBI's Evidence in Anthrax Attacks Case Leaves Puzzling Scientific Questions

Saturday, March 07, 2009

WASHINGTON —  The FBI used science to make its case that Bruce Ivins was behind the deadly anthrax attacks of 2001 — but FOX News has learned that the scientific evidence in the case isn't as straight-forward as it first appeared.

When the FBI told reporters in August that its investigation had led to only one suspect, Ivins, the federal prosecutor in the case backed up the evidence against the defense researcher.

"We have a flask that's effectively the murder weapon from which those spores were taken that was controlled by Dr. Ivins," U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Taylor said. "Anthrax in that flask was created by Dr. Ivins."

The science clearly is the backbone of the FBI case against Ivins, who committed suicide last year as investigators closed in, and much of the evidence is based on highly sophisticated and specialized research by people like Joe Michael, who works at the Sandia National Labs in New Mexico.

But when Michael compared the bacterial spores in three letters, sent to the New York Post and Sens. Patrick Leahy and Tom Daschle on Capitol Hill, with the bacteria found in Ivins’ flask, he reached a striking conclusion: They do not share the same chemical fingerprint.

"I don’t think this exonerates (Ivins) at all,” Michael told FOX News, adding, "I don’t think it's not enough to say that he did it, as well."

Michael said the powder in the letters contains silicon, oxygen, iron and tin; the flask does not. But there is a good explanation for the lack of a chemical match, he said.

"What the FBI believes happened, and I think the evidence helps support them, is that this material was taken out of that flask and then re-grown before it was put in the letters," Michael said.

FBI investigators think there were at least two “re-growths” by Ivins. This, they say, accounts for the difference between the New York Post powder, which was darker and more granular than the batch sent to Capitol Hill. But the exact recipe or method used remains a mystery.

The FBI case centers on Ivins and his work as a military bio-defense researcher at Fort Detrick in Maryland. Some skeptics still question whether Ivins, as the FBI maintains, was the only person who created the anthrax and controlled access to the flask. Five people died in the attacks.

"When you do an investigation, you have what is called a chain of custody," terrorism expert Neil Livingstone told FOX News. "And the evidence always has to be in that chain of custody. You have to be able to explain it. And it doesn't appear that the FBI has an iron-clad chain of custody here."

At Quantico, Va., home to the FBI Laboratory's Chemical-Biological Sciences Unit , a bureau microbiologist told FOX that the chemical mismatch is of no consequence because the powder and the spores share the same DNA.

"There is no expectation they should have the same chemical profile," Jason Bannan, the FBI forensic examiner , told FOX News, adding, "we don't know what method was used to grow the spores."

The FBI has promised an independent review of their findings by the National Academy of Sciences, though, according to some reports, it has not yet begun. This week, two Democratic congressmen, Jerry Nadler and Rush Holt, whose districts were affected by the attacks, introduced legislation calling for the creation of a 9/11-style commission to independently investigate the attacks because they say the nation deserves to know whether the case is truly solved.

"All of us — but especially the families of the victims of the anthrax attacks — deserve credible answers about how the attacks happened and whether the case really is closed," Holt said in a written statement. "The commission, like the 9/11 Commission, would do that, and it would help American families know that the government is better prepared to protect them and their children from future bioterrorism attacks."

Friday afternoon, the FBI released a detailed statement about the anthrax powder's chemical signature and other elements of the bureau's scientific work. [See below]

For Immediate Release
March 6, 2009

Washington D.C.
FBI National Press Office
(202) 324-3691

FBI Responds to Science Issues in Anthrax Case

FBI Laboratory Director D. Christian Hassell, PhD issued the following statement:

During a recent American Society for Microbiology Biodefense (ASMBD) meeting in Baltimore , Maryland , questions were raised regarding two scientific analyses conducted during the course of the anthrax investigation. While this information is not new, it is important for the FBI to clarify the science since these findings continue to be misinterpreted by various media outlets.

The first item involves the elemental analysis of the anthrax spores that was conducted by Dr. Joseph Michael, a materials scientist at Sandia National Laboratories. At the conference, Dr. Michael presented analyses of three anthrax letters (Leahy, Daschle, and New York Post). He concluded that the anthrax powder in the three letters shared a chemical fingerprint but did not match the chemical fingerprint of spores in Ivins’ flask. Spores from the letters showed a distinct chemical signature that included silicon, oxygen, iron, tin, and other elements. Spores from Ivins’ RMR-1029 flask did not contain those elements in quantities that matched the letter spores. This is not unusual considering that Ivins’ RMR-1029 preparation had been submerged in water and other chemicals since 1997 and was a mixture of 34 different spore preparations. The letter spores were dried spores, produced from two separate growth preparations as indicated by differences in the New York and Washington, D.C. mailings. Although the chemical fingerprint of the spores is interesting, given the variability involved in the growth process, it was not relevant to the investigation.

It is important to note that the genetic profile of the spores from the letters and the spores from Ivins’ RMR-1029 flask was identical. Ivins’ RMR-1029 spore preparation had the same combination of anthrax mutations found in the letters. Only eight of the anthrax samples collected during the course of the investigation matched the genetic profile in the letter material and all were linked back to RMR-1029. This conclusion was the most significant and relevant scientific finding in the case.

By analogy, if one were to grow a corn stalk from a specific corn seed, the trace chemical fingerprint of the stalk might differ from that of the seed due to different compositions—for example iron—in the respective fertilizers used to grow each; however, the genetic profile of the seed and the stalk would be identical.

The second item involves isotopic analysis of the mailed anthrax. Media reports indicated that FBI scientists had concluded in 2004 that out of many domestic and foreign water samples analyzed only water from near Fort Detrick, Maryland, where Dr. Ivins worked, had the same isotopic signature as the water used to grow the mailed anthrax. This statement is incorrect. While water isotopic analysis was researched, the FBI concluded that there were too many confounding variables to precisely match bacteria that were grown using different materials and recipes. This technique was not relevant to the investigation.

While we have full confidence in our scientific approach, an additional independent review will provide further validation and thus benefit the larger scientific community. Consideration of an outside review began before any public disclosure of the scientific aspects of the investigation. This follows our approach throughout the investigation: to bring in external scientists to review and provide advise on our methodologies.

USA Today

March 10, 2009

15,300 government workers have access to agents of bioterror

Nationwide, about 390 labs are certified to work with microbes or toxin that might be used for bioterrorism, and 15,300 people have security clearances to work with these "select agents", reports a Congressional Research Service analysis.

"In an awkward and disturbing irony, the most significant bioterrorism incident in the U.S. to date — i.e., the 2001 anthrax attacks — apparently originated in a U.S. military laboratory that was engaged in biological defense research," writes Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News, which reported the analysis.  Despite the FBI linking the 2001 anthrax attacks to Bruce Ivins, a vaccine researcher at the United States Army Medical Research Institute for infectious diseases, Aftergood says, "the pursuit of such research, and perhaps the associated threat, has continued to expand."

The CRS report offers options for increased oversight of select agent labs, noting an estimated 12-fold increase in BSL-4 labs, those holding the most dangerous bugs, since 2004. Options include certifying facilities, standardizing training, expanding the select agent list, and forbidding further lab construction.

However, increased regulation may limit lab competitiveness and slow public health responses from labs, as well as add costs. "Regardless of U.S. domestic efforts, biocontainment technologies are widely dispersed around the globe and used by many scientists in many countries," concludes the report.

By Dan Vergano

The Times of Trenton

Preventing bioterrorism:

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Last year, the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism -- itself an outgrowth of the 9/11 Commission and its recommendations -- issued its report. It used alarming language to prod our government to act. It affirmed something that was demonstrated with the deadly anthrax attacks: Terrorists will likely use WMD attacks on America that feature biological weapons. The question now is: Have we implemented "lessons learned" from these attacks that took place in the fall of 2001, which caused such havoc here in New Jersey and across the nation?

I agree with the commission's assertion that "only by elevating the priority of preventing bioterrorism will it be possible to substantially improve U.S. and global biosecurity." To that end, the commission made a number of recommendations for improving biosecurity here at home, including the more thorough and persistent monitoring of personnel working at high-containment laboratories (i.e., those who work with dangerous pathogens) and the designation of a single federal agency for tracking the number of such labs in the United States.

I support those and other measures, but I do not believe Congress and the incoming administration can craft an effective biosecurity program for our country unless and until we take the time to investigate thoroughly the only major (and still unsolved, according to many) bioterror attack on our country to date.

Last week, I reintroduced the Anthrax Attacks Investigation Act, to examine and to report on how the attacks occurred and how we can best prevent similar episodes in the future.

Readers may wonder why the commission did not address the 2001 anthrax attacks in detail in its report. The answer is that examining those attacks was not an explicit mandate of the WMD Commission. This is in contrast to the 9/11 Commission, which was specifically charged with looking at how the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks happened, why the federal government failed to prevent the attacks, and what remedial measures are necessary to prevent a similar catastrophe in the future.

A thorough investigation into the federal government's response to the first modern bioterror attack on our soil is absolutely essential if we are to ensure that we have learned the right lessons from that episode to implement countermeasures and changes in policy that are directly tied to those "lessons learned" -- something that The Times of Trenton repeatedly has pointed out in its frequent coverage of this tragedy.

While many of the WMD Commission's recommendations for improving biosecurity look sound on the surface, none of their specific action proposals are based on a detailed examination of how the 2001 anthrax attacks occurred. More than seven years after the attacks, many critical questions remain unanswered. Chief among them is why the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) "Amerithrax" investigation focused for so long on the wrong suspect.

The FBI's performance in the wake of the attacks has left me and many other Americans wondering whether the Bureau is truly equipped to handle bioterrorism. Deterring such attacks in the future depends in part on at least the expectation of swift and certain detection and punishment.

Neither happened in the case of the 2001 anthrax attacks. We need to know why the first attack succeeded and why the perpetrator or perpetrators escaped justice.

Just as the 9/11 Commission looked not only at the attacks of that morning, but also at recommended changes in the structure of government agencies, screening methods and even congressional oversight, so should an anthrax commission look at the specific crime, but also at measures for prevention, detection and investigation of any future bioterrorism.

An anthrax attack investigation would help address these kinds of policy questions in a level of detail that the WMD Commission could not.

Rep. Rush Holt, D-Hopewell Township, is chairman of the House Select Intelligence Oversight Panel.
New Scientist Magazine

Columbus innocent over anthrax in the Americas

When Europeans invaded the Americas they introduced many Old World diseases that decimated Native Americans. Scientists had thought that anthrax was one of them. New research shows, however, that the deadly bacteria arrived in the Americas thousands of years earlier, when Stone Age humans crossed the Bering land bridge.

The military Ames strain behind the 2001 anthrax attacks, however, is a recent Asian immigrant.

Anthrax bacteria can live in soil for decades as tough spores, until they are inhaled by a grazing animal. Then they multiply explosively, kill the animal, and bleed into the soil to await the next victim.

The disease was a scourge of cows, cowboys and settlers in the Wild West: spores still mark the route of the Chisholm Trail and other cattle drives. It is only since the intense genetic analysis of anthrax that followed the 2001 attacks, though, that enough has been known about the bug to trace its family tree in the Americas.

Early invader

Anthrax initially evolved in southern Africa, earlier work has demonstrated. Paul Keim of the Northern Arizona University, who led the genetic investigation of the attacks, says that normally anthrax spores do not move far from their dead victims, so it was probably humans carrying scavenged, spore-infested hair and hides who moved one anthrax "family" into northern Africa, then across Eurasia.

That transfer then continued, Keim says. His new work confirms previous studies suggesting that many strains of American anthrax came on European wool and cattle in recent centuries. The Ames strain used in the anthrax attacks, for example, naturally occurs only in Texas, but differs from Eurasian anthrax by only about eight mutations, showing it is a recent immigrant.

But the analysis also shows that most of the anthrax lurking in the grasslands from northern Canada to Mexico differs by up to 106 mutations, showing it branched off from the Eurasian form long ago – roughly when humans and animals entered the Americas from Siberia then moved south as grasslands opened up in central Canada around 13,000 years ago. .

Mammal extinctions?

"The line of descent shows a clear gradient from north to south," Keim says. Moreover the family tree shows one introduced ancestor gave rise to all the more recent members of the family. The fact it moved from north to south shows it was carried by the invading humans, not animals moving back north as the glaciers retreated.

For anthrax, at least, Columbus is off the hook. But the finding may also have implications for the extinction of many American mammals shortly after humans arrived.

Tracing anthrax's American roots

Anthrax, the bioterror scourge and cattle killer, has a surprisingly ancient North American pedigree, report genetic researchers.

Best-known as the lethal bacteria mailed in the 2001 bioterror attacks that killed five people, anthrax is found naturally in the soil worldwide. Cows and goats — grazing animals — most often suffer from anthrax, with veterinary cases reported every year.

"With genomic analysis, we can really ask interesting questions about the origins of something like anthrax," says Talima Pearson of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, an author of a PloS ONE journal study that sought the hardy bug's origins. The introduction of cattle by Spaniards, and trade with Europe that started in the 1600s have often been pointed to as the start of the disease in North America, part of a wave of Old World diseases, such as the smallpox thought to have killed millions in the colonial era.

Call it a case of archaeology by biology. In the study, Pearson and colleagues looked at 285 anthrax-laced soil samples from throughout Canada and the United States. As an outgrowth of the 2001 terror attacks, the NAU lab has expanded its "molecular genotyping" capabilities for the bacteria, and looked at 2,850 gene markers common to all those samples to see how closely related each one was, and how those links changed with geography.

The researchers developed a "molecular clock" to estimate the age of the bacteria samples. Anthrax reproduces by cloning itself, so changes to its genes are relatively rare, says NAU study senior author Paul Keim, which suggested to the researchers that they should estimate its age based on the frequency of those changes.

Along the lines of the conquistador theory, the team expected to see the oldest varieties of Western North American anthrax residing in the south and diversifying as they moved northwards. Instead, says the study, the analysis found the oldest, "ancestral" bacteria populations in northern Canada, with newer ones further south."The pattern just jumped out for anthrax coinciding with the peopling of the New World," says geologist James Mead of East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, a study co-author, after the molecular clock roughly traced the oldest, northernmost, samples to around 13,000 years ago.

The team speculates that anthrax arrived in North America over the now-vanished Bering Land Bridge that connected Asia and Alaska during a past Ice Age. Rather than bison slowly carrying the bacteria south in their travels, the wide dispersal of the samples points to human hunters, the earliest immigrants to the continent, as the culprits who carried tainted furs and meat with them in their travels.

"The idea is speculative at this point," Mead says.

Related work by the same group, described by Keim at a recent biodefense meeting in Baltimore, finds a more recent origin for the well-known Ames strain of anthrax, best known as the type of anthrax used in the 2001 mailings. The strain was traced to soil samples in Jim Hogg County in south Texas in a 2008 Emerging Infectious Diseases journal study. Ames hides in the dirt amid the Western North American anthrax varieties in Texas and Oklahoma but not much farther north, Keim said at the meeting.

That Ames strain most closely, although still distantly, resembles strains found today in China, he added, suggesting it travelled by trade within the last 300 years. These Chinese strains transition toward European varieties along the path of Asia's ancient Silk Road trading routes, suggesting another area for historical anthrax investigation.

"I would like to compliment Keim and collaborators for their remarkable discovery that represents a real scientific breakthrough in being able to trace back the spread of a bacterial pathogen over a period of more than 10 millennia," says anthrax researcher Joachim Frey of Switzerland's Institute of Veterinary Bacteriology in Berne, who was not part of the study.

"It has been pretty clear for some time that Ames, as we know it, had originated in China and arrived somewhere in (New England) as a result of imported contaminated hair or hides, probably hair," says Martin Hugh-Jones of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, who was also not part of the study. "From the New England mills it made its way in the washing waters into local cattle downstream, and from their carcasses, into bone meals which were fed, eventually, to cattle in western and southern Texas."

But Hugh-Jones has doubts about the Asian-origins theory when applied to the more common Western North American strain.

Anthrax is thought to have arisen in Africa, which means it would have had to travel through Asia in prehistory "at a fair clip", he says, to reach Alaska by 13,000 years ago. "A simpler hypothesis is that it did come over with the early Spanish settlers in the 16th Century," says Hugh-Jones, which would mean that the oldest bacterial populations are instead in the south.

Dorothy H Crawford: World waits for ground-breaking anthrax evidence

Published Date: 04 April 2009
<>By Dorothy H Crawford, professor of medical microbiology at Edinburgh University

IN SEPTEMBER 2001, just one week after 9/11, someone placed anthrax spores into seven envelopes and mailed them to five media outlets and two US senators. As a result, 22 people caught anthrax and five of them died.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) immediately began an inquiry, codenamed Amerithrax – the largest microbial forensic investigation ever, and only now are the experts involved revealing their findings.

Anthrax is an ancient and much feared disease caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis.

It used to cause huge epidemics among domestic animals, and as spores are hardy in the environment, this is the usual source of human disease.

Infection may either cause a skin infection, known as a "malignant pustule", which generally affects animal handlers, or, more seriously, inhalation anthrax.

In the latter condition, the spores germinate in the lungs before spreading to other vital organs producing lethal toxins as they go.

These days, inhalation anthrax is extremely rare, with only 18 cases reported in the US in the whole of the 20th century.

Untreated, the death rate approaches 100 per cent, but the disease responds to antibiotics if caught early enough.

In the 2001 attack there were 11 cases of skin, and 11 cases of inhalation anthrax, with all five deaths among those who inhaled the spores.

Biological weapons are still under production in at least 13 countries, and anthrax spores are high on the desirable list for bio-warfare.

They are the ideal lethal agent – light (100 billion spores per gram), odourless, invisible, stable, easily aerosolised and lethal if inhaled. With just one to three spores capable of causing infection, the seven envelopes sent in 2001, containing around 2 grams each, could have caused a massive epidemic.

In the aftermath of 9/11, rumours about the perpetrator of the anthrax attack abounded, with al-Qaeda being the favourite suspect, but the FBI soon revealed that the origin was much closer to home.

Aided by US anthrax experts who analysed the DNA sequence from the dispatched spores and microbes isolated from victims, they found that all were of the same "Ames" strain of B anthracis, with radiocarbon dating showing them to have been produced within the previous two years.

The Ames strain of B anthracis was developed at the US army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick in Maryland, and then sent to 15 US research labs and six labs overseas.

The FBI analysed 1,072 samples of Ames obtained from 18 labs hoping to find a sample with unique mutations that would link it to the attack sample.

At first, the DNA from all samples proved identical, but then a lab worker at USAMRIID noticed a small number of strange-looking spores in the attack sample. When these spores were isolated and their DNA sequence determined, ten mutations were identified, which distinguished it from the common Ames DNA.

When all 1,072 samples were screened for four of these mutations, eight were found to contain all four. One of these samples came from flask RMR-1029 at USAMRIID, and the other seven had been sub-cultured from it.

With this evidence, the net closed in on USAMRIID as the source of the attack, and in July 2008 the FBI warned Dr Bruce E Ivins, the scientist from the facility who was responsible for flask RMR-1029, it was about to press charges against him.

But the case never came to court because on 27 July Ivins took a drug overdose and died two days later.

Scientists involved in the investigation say their findings point the finger at the source of the anthrax spores but not the attacker, and are pushing the FBI to publish its findings. But with potential law suits in the offing from both the victims of the attack and Ivins' family, the FBI is saying nothing.

Human DNA fingerprinting is now well accepted as evidence in a court of law, but the microbial forensic evidence presented at Ivins' trial would have been a ground-breaking.

This event will now not take place, but nevertheless the FBI will have to reveal its evidence at any civil hearings, and this test-case is eagerly awaited by scientists and the public alike.

The Anthrax Agenda

Eight years into an investigation that has consumed millions of dollars, some scientists and legislators remain unconvinced that the FBI's case is closed.

by Deborah Rudacille / April 14, 2009
SEED Magazine

In July 2008 anthrax vaccine researcher Bruce Ivins committed suicide, leaving behind a grieving wife, two adult children, and scores of baffled friends and colleagues. According to the FBI the 62-year-old had murdered 5 people and sickened 17 others in the anthrax letter attacks of 2001.

By late 2005 FBI investigators, using sophisticated genomic analyses, had linked the letters to a single flask of Ames strain anthrax, a particularly virulent strain of the anthrax bacterium. Ivins, a researcher at the US Army’s Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in Fort Detrick, Maryland, was the custodian of this particular flask, labeled RMR-1029.

Today, nine months after Ivins’ death and nearly eight years into an investigation that has consumed millions of dollars, some scientists and legislators are not convinced that the FBI’s case would have succeeded in court.

“Anything of this seriousness should be demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt,” says US Representative Rush Holt, who in March renewed his call for a national commission to thoroughly investigate the anthrax letter attacks of 2001 and the government’s “bungled response” to the crime. “It raises the bar when the person [FBI investigators] have fingered isn’t alive to defend himself, requiring an even greater standard of proof. I don’t think they have met that standard.”

Holt is not the only one in Washington calling for a more thorough look at the FBI’s handiwork. Patrick Leahy, a Democractic senator from Vermont and a target of one of the anthrax letters, along with Senator Arlen Spector, a Republican from Pennsylvania, challenged the FBI’s conclusions at a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting in September 2008. Both said they doubt that Ivins, acting alone, could have carried out the crime.

That month the FBI formally petitioned the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to form an independent panel of scientists to review the validity of the methods used to link the distinctive strain of anthrax in the letters with RMR-1029, and to provide expert opinions on other scientific questions related to the case.

In February at an American Society of Microbiology meeting in Baltimore, FBI researchers who had previously been bound by FBI confidentiality rules gave the first detailed scientific accounts of the case. “The science leads to the flask,” says Jacques Ravel, assistant professor of microbial genomics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, who spoke at the meeting. “There is no other flask that has the same signature.” Ravel sequenced the genome of the anthrax in one of the letters and helped identify four distinctive mutations that ultimately led to the flask of RMR-1029.

Identifying the unique strain of Ames anthrax in the letters was only the first step. Investigators then had to develop and validate assays capable of pinpointing the mutations and screen thousands of blinded samples from academic and government laboratories.

At the February meeting FBI scientist Jason Bannon said that though many laboratories known to work with the Ames strain voluntarily surrendered samples, the FBI also conducted search and seizure operations to retrieve others. Of 1,072 samples from 18 labs, only eight samples contained all four of the mutations in the distinctive strain of anthrax in the letters, according to Bannon. One of those samples came directly from the flask of RMR-1029 and seven others were cultured from the spores in the flask. Only one of the eight cultures was not sourced to Fort Detrick. The FBI has not disclosed the identity of the eighth lab.

Ravel vigorously defends the rigor of the procedures the FBI imposed on participating laboratories as they worked to validate the genomic “fingerprint”  that led investigators to RMR-1029. “It was almost insane, the precision of every step,” he says. “Nobody does it that way in a regular lab.”

Most critics dispute not the quality of the genomic science that led investigators to the flask of RMR-1029 but rather the conflation of Ivins with the flask. “There were other labs out there that were presumably sourced for RMR-1029,” says Gerard Andrews, Ivins’ former supervisor at USAMRIID. “What was the detective work that eliminated those labs?”

Skeptics also point to the mystery of a common bacterium called b.subtilis found in the attack spores but not in flask of RMR-1029. Anthrax-loaded letters sent to the New York Post and NBC News were heavily contaminated with subtilis, which must have been present in the media used to grow the spores, says Ravel, who sequenced the subtilis found in those letters.

Ravel’s team compared hundreds of blinded samples of subtilis provided by the FBI looking for a match for the letter subtilis. “We never found a match,” he says. “Not even close.” That fact, says Andrews, probably exonerates Ivins. “If it was a contaminant they would expect to find it all over Bruce’s lab. You should have been able to find it in the strain archives or in somebody’s freezer box at USAMRIID. It’s very significant that they didn’t find it. But that issue has been sort of pushed under the carpet because it doesn’t support their case.”

The FBI has asked the NAS to look into the subtilis contamination issue and other technical questions related to the investigation. But the FBI has not yet officially hired the NAS to appoint an investigatory panel, probably because of tight budgets, says William Kearney, deputy executive director of the office of news and public information at NAS. “We cannot appoint a committee,” he says, without a signed contract.

Meanwhile, Rep. Holt would like his proposed National Commission to look at “what happened, how and why it happened, and what we need to do to prevent any future occurrences.” His bill has some support, he says, though not enough to ensure passage. “It’s not high on the national agenda right now,” he says. “But it should be.”

— Deborah Rudacille is a freelance science writer and the author of The Riddle of Gender and The Scalpel and the Butterfly: The War Between Animal Research and Animal Protection. Roots of Steel, a history of Baltimore steelworkers, will be published in 2010.

Judge urges settlement in 'National Enquirer' anthrax case

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

WEST PALM BEACH — Maureen Stevens may have to wait until 2011 for justice in the 2001 anthrax attack that killed her husband who worked as a photo editor for the Boca Raton-based publisher of the National Enquirer.

In a hearing this morning, her attorneys and lawyers from the U.S. Department of Justice agreed that January 2011 was a good target date for Stevens' lawsuit against the federal government to go to trial. Stevens is seeking $50 million, claiming the government failed to secure the deadly agent, allowing it to be used to kill her husband, Robert, in the wake of the 2001 terrorist strike.

Noting that the case changed dramatically in July when the FBI fingered a delusional, and ultimately suicidal, government scientist for the anthrax attack, U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley urged the two sides to work together over the next 45 days to narrow the complex issues. A settlement, he suggested, might be possible.

After the hearing, attorney Robert Schuler, who represents Stevens, said it would be up to the government to decide whether it wants to avoid a public airing of how anthrax was secreted out of an Army research center at Fort Detrick in Maryland. Stevens died after opening a letter that contained anthrax powder. Four others were killed and 17 became ill after receiving similar anthrax-laced letters sent to Capitol Hill, news agencies in New York City and a home in Connecticut.

"The ball's in their court," Schuler said of the possibility of a settlement. "But they seem much more conciliatory today than they have before."

Indeed, before leaving the courtroom, J. Patrick Glynn, director of the torts division for the justice department, told Schuler: "We're not here to arbitrarily put sand bags in front of you."

The case that Stevens filed in 2003 has languished in the courts because of the unprecedented legal issues it raises. Hurley asked the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta to determine whether the government could be held legally responsible if deadly toxins were released from its lab. The appeals court kicked the question to the Florida Supreme Court, which ruled that it could.

In addition to being stymied by legal questions, until the FBI last summer announced it believed scientist Bruce Ivins had mailed the letters, the government blocked the flow of information, saying it was part of an ongoing criminal investigation.

Ivins killed himself shortly after the FBI told him they intended to charge him with murder. Many, including some federal lawmakers, have questioned the largely circumstantial case agents built against Ivins.

And, Glynn said today, the case still isn't closed. "They've identified the person, but it's still an ongoing investigation," he said. "Still, the hurdles aren't as high as they once were."

The Frederick News-Post
Columnist: Katherine Heerbrandt

Cold comfort
Originally published April 22, 2009

The Criminal Investigation Division at Fort Meade has been investigating USAMRIID at Fort Detrick since at least early February. Meade's CID pursues investigations of serious crimes and sensitive subjects of concern to the Army at regional bases like Detrick, which has no internal investigative arm.

A News-Post story in February reported that USAMRIID was shutting down most of its bioresearch while it tried to match its inventory to its records, citing an "overage" of BSAT, biological select agents and toxins.

Meade's CID, however, isn't concerned with overstock. Instead, agents are looking for what may have gone missing between 1987 and 2008.

"It's possible there are some viral samples missing," at USAMRIID, Fort Meade public affairs officer Chad Jones confirmed in a phone interview Monday.

"I don't know anything else. The investigation is ongoing," he said.

The investigation into possible missing pathogens began about the same time Col. John P. Skvorak issued a "stand down" memo halting research operations until an updated inventory is complete. The memo made no mention of missing samples.

A retired support staff employee who worked in the BSL-4 labs received a visit from Fort Mead's CID agents in February. Agents wanted to know if he'd taken anything out of the lab between 1987 and 2008, and how easy it was for others to remove samples.

"I said it was easy enough. It was a lock and key access to the suite of freezers," the retiree said in an interview.

In that time period, thousands could've accessed the freezers of deadly and/or infectious viral samples, he told investigators. Specifically, the man reported, CID asked about samples of VEE, Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis. According to the Centers for Disease Control, VEE is spread to humans by mosquitoes; symptoms range from mild flu-like illness to brain inflammation, coma and death. Mortality rate is one-third, "making it one of the most deadly mosquito-borne diseases in the United States."

Another support staff member in the BSL-3 labs left the job a few years ago. In February, he received a message on his answering machine instructing him to call one of two numbers about missing VEE. The phone numbers connected him to Meade's CID.

Perhaps we could find solace in the fact that the Army is trying to impose order on the process after more than 20 years, tracking missing viruses and adding others to its database.

Aside from the obvious -- the possibility that deadly viruses may be floating around out there unsecured -- two events, however, preclude us from taking one iota of comfort in this scenario: 1) the construction of a greatly expanded biolabs, which means more germs, more people, more risk; and 2) the government's own admission that the 2001 anthrax murders were an inside job.

Asked whether he supports an expansion of biolabs at USAMRIID, the former BSL-3 worker said "No."

"Not knowing what I know now. With that many people there, things get sloppy."

A belief that inventory controls, stricter protocols and psychological screenings will protect the public from USAMRIID's dangerous pathogens is na?ve. Even Detrick scientists were reportedly upset at the new controls, according to a Feb. 10 AP story, because they don't suit USAMRIID's operations.

Why? Because germ samples can be easily multiplied in the lab and it's difficult to track them.

Now that's comforting.



May 6, 2009

FBI Anthrax Investigation Under Scientific Review

A long-awaited review of the scientific evidence relating to the investigation of the 2001 anthrax letter attacks is finally getting off the ground. The study, to be conducted by the National Academies, will check the validity of the scientific techniques used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in solving the case. What the study will not do, as spelled out in the academies’ official description of the study, is issue a verdict on whether U.S. Army researcher Bruce Ivins was indeed guilty of the crime, as concluded by FBI officials.

The FBI has been under pressure to disclose its full case against Ivins since 29 July 2008, when the researcher committed suicide. The death precluded a trial and prompted accusations from some quarters that the FBI had hounded an innocent man to a tragic end. FBI officials responded with press conferences detailing some of the facts of the case including the scientific methods used to trace the anthrax in the letters to a flask under Ivins’s charge at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Frederick, Maryland. At a September hearing last year before the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, FBI Director Robert Mueller announced that the agency would ask the academies to vet the science behind the conclusion.

The FBI will pay the academies $879,550 for the study, which is expected to take up to 15 months. According to a statement of task from the academies, the areas of scientific evidence to be studied include but may not be limited to:

1. genetic studies that led to the identification of potential sources of B. anthracis recovered from the letters;

2. analysis of four genetic mutations that were found in evidence and that are unique to a subset of Ames strain cultures collected during the investigation;

3. chemical and dating studies that examined how, where, and when the spores may have been grown and what, if any, additional treatments they were subjected to;

4. studies of the recovery of spores and bacterial DNA from samples collected and tested during the investigation; and

5. the role that cross contamination might have played in the evidence picture.


The committee will not, however, undertake an assessment of the probative value of the scientific evidence in any specific component of the investigation, prosecution, or civil litigation and will offer no view on the guilt or innocence of any person(s) in connection with the 2001 B. anthracis mailings, or any other B. anthracis incidents.

—Yudhijit Bhattacharjee

End of story?
Originally published May 14, 2009
The Frederick News-Post

The National Academy of Sciences and the FBI have agreed on the scope of the NAS' independent review of the science that the FBI used in its anthrax mailings investigation.

At a cost of nearly $880,000, it won't be cheap. But when it comes to the government spending taxpayer money, it would be difficult to find a more worthy project.

Bruce Ivins apparently committed suicide last July after discovering that he was about to be indicted in the infamous anthrax mailings that killed five people and sickened many others not long after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

After Ivins died, the FBI publicly identified him as its sole suspect in a case that it had been feverishly working on for nearly seven years. The FBI turned to Ivins after its earlier prime suspect, "person of interest" Steven Hatfill — like Ivins, a researcher at Fort Detrick's USAMRIID — was finally ruled out. Not before, however, Hatfill's career and reputation were left in tatters by the FBI's long, public investigation of him.

Some scientists appear to believe that the science the FBI employed in coming to its conclusion that Ivins was the true culprit is suspect. The NAS appears aimed at discovering if those concerns are valid. The NAS states that its review will evaluate, "the reliability of the principles and methods used by the FBI, and whether the principles and methods were applied appropriately to the facts." In other words, was the FBI's investigation credible, and did it reach appropriate conclusions based on the scientific techniques it used? The academy will examine esoteric issues involving genetic, chemical, dating and other studies the FBI used in formulating its belief that Ivins was its man.

The academy will not issue any finding of guilt or innocence regarding Ivins or anyone else. It will not examine the persuasiveness of the scientific evidence in regard to the investigation or any prosecution or litigation. It will simply examine whether the bureau's techniques were sound and its conclusions appropriate.

If the NAS puts its stamp of approval on the FBI's investigative techniques and conclusions, that will go a long way toward closing the book on this case. However, should the NAS determine that the FBI's techniques or conclusions were flawed, skepticism will remain regarding the bureau's characterization of Ivins as its "sole suspect."

If the NAS finds fault with the FBI's handling of the investigation, the case will remain open in many people's minds, including in the scientific community. It will also mean that the truth about Ivins' guilt or innocence will remain at question — perhaps forever.

Barring a new revelation or another solid suspect surfacing, this review may provide the last, best answers the public will ever get on the anthrax mailings case. It remains to be seen whether the NAS' conclusions will ostensibly close the book on this story or result in it remaining open forever.

Publication:Frederick News-Post; Date:May 24, 2009; Section:Commentary; Page Number:A-9

The lynching of Bruce Ivins
Barry Kissin

Barry Kissin is a Frederick lawyer and longtime peace activist.

    On May 14, The Frederick News-Post’s lead editorial celebrated the agreement by the FBI to pay $880,000 to the National Academy of Sciences for a review of the science used in the FBI’s investigation of the anthrax letters case (“Amerithrax”). According to the FBI, it took years and millions of dollars to develop and apply the science that incriminated Bruce Ivins.

    It will take another 18 months or more for the NAS to complete its study. Though the NAS has announced that this study will not evaluate the quality of the case against Ivins, most observers, including FNP’s editor, assume that if the NAS finds the FBI science to be valid, this would “go a long way” toward confirming the guilt of Ivins.

    FNP’s editor deserves to be excused for his erroneous assumption, because the FBI has done its best to pretend that it is the science in Amerithrax that largely establishes Ivins’ guilt. Once one grasps a few basic facts, it becomes apparent that this reliance upon science is not only mistaken but fraudulent.

    Fact 1: Almost all of the FBI’s science relates to matching the genetic fingerprint of the anthrax in Ivins’ custody (called “RMR-1029”) to the genetic fingerprint of the anthrax in the letters (the “attack anthrax”).

    Fact 2: From 1997, when RMR-1029 was created, to September 2001, when the first anthrax letters were mailed, literally hundreds of scientists, technicians and others have had access to anthrax with the same genetic fingerprint as that of RMR-1029.

    Fact 3: The anthrax in Ivins’ custody was in the form of a wet slurry, the form that is suitable for testing vaccine efficacy. The attack anthrax, on the other hand (particularly the anthrax in the letters addressed to Sens. Daschle and Leahy), was in an extremely pure form of “weaponized” dried powder, the form that is suitable to causing death (by inhalational anthrax).

    The Department of Justice — FBI deals with Fact 2 by pretending that it “thoroughly” investigated “every ... person who could have had access” to RMR-1029 and that all but Ivins were properly ruled out as potential suspects. Though the DoJ-FBI has been repeatedly questioned about this, it has consistently refused to this day to give any information whatsoever about how all of the persons with access were identified, who they are, and how each one of them was ruled out as a potential suspect.

    The DoJ-FBI deals with Fact 3 by blatantly contradicting all of the initial reports (including its own descriptions) about the form of the attack anthrax. In 2001, a couple of days after the two postal workers died from inhalational anthrax, FBI Director Robert Mueller himself acknowledged that the attack anthrax was weaponized. But Ivins had neither the expertise, nor the equipment, nor the opportunity to produce weaponized anthrax from the wet slurry in his custody. And so the DoJ-FBI now resorts to pretending that there was no special process that went into the production of the attack anthrax.

    NAS review of the science underlying Amerithrax will keep all of the focus and attention upon the above Fact 1, and serves to obscure and distract from Facts 2 and 3.

    Let us not be distracted. It is established and acknowledged that for several years leading into 2001, anthrax weaponization projects were being conducted by the Army at Dugway in Utah as well as by the CIA in Ohio, all in laboratories contracted to be operated by the privately owned company named Battelle Memorial Institute. It is also known that Ivins was under order to send RMR-1029 to both of these locations leading up to the mailing of the anthrax letters.

    Let us also not avoid the implications posed by the DoJFBI’s fraud in persecuting Bruce Ivins. This is a deception procured by very powerful forces inside our U.S.A. President/Gen. Eisenhower’s warning about our military-industrial-intelligence complex must be heeded.
USAMRIID finds more than 9,200 unrecorded disease samples
Originally published June 17, 2009, 1:50 PM - Updated 1:50 PM, June 17, 2009

By Justin M. Palk
Frederick News-Post Staff

An inventory completed last month showed researchers at Fort Detrick had more than 9,200 more vials of disease samples than they had on record.

The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases searched all 335 of its refrigerators and freezers for the inventory, said Col. Mark Kortepeter, the institute’s deputy commander. The institute’s commander ordered the inventory Feb. 4, and the process was completed May 27.

Overall, the institute holds more than 70,000 samples of so-called select agents, or diseases the government believes pose a severe threat to human health.

The inventory process uncovered samples dating back several decades, and included vials of the pathogens that cause anthrax, ebola and rift valley fever.

The vast majority of the found samples were likely working stock accumulated by researchers over several decades, Kortepeter said.

Researchers determined that about half of the 9,200 samples had no further scientific value and destroyed them.

The institute halted most of its research while it performed the inventory, but is now up and running again, Kortepeter said.

Committee formed to review FBI anthrax investigation
Originally published July 02, 2009

By Justin M. Palk
Frederick News-Post Staff

The public has 20 days to comment on the makeup of an independent committee being assembled to study the science the FBI used in its investigation into the 2001 anthrax mailings.

The 14 provisional members of the National Academy of Sciences study committee include medical doctors, chemists, microbiologists and a U.S. District Court judge.

The academy will consider public comments on the proposed committee membership before finalizing the roster.

The FBI requested the study last year, after critics questioned the validity of the science it used in matching the anthrax used in the 2001 mailings with that in a flask controlled by Bruce Ivins, a Fort Detrick microbiologist.

Ivins committed suicide on July 26, 2008.

According to the academy, the review will examine the techniques the FBI used for their scientific reliability and use in forensic validation.

It will also examine whether the FBI reached appropriate conclusions based on its use of those techniques.

The study will specifically not examine how persuasive the scientific evidence might be in regards to an investigation or any prosecution or litigation. It will also not make any determination about the guilt or innocence of any person in regard to the anthrax mailings.

The study will take 18 months and will cost approximately $880,000.

The academy will take comments on the web at www8.nationalacademies.org/cp/CommitteeView.aspx?key=49105.

Microbe - The journal for the American Society for Microbiology

July 2009

Questions Linger over Science behind Anthrax Letters

Despite the outcome in mid-2008 of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) probe into the deadly and disruptive anthrax attacks of 2001, the FBI in May arranged for the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to review the microbial and other forensic efforts that bureau officials coordinated as part of its broader investigation. It led FBI officials to conclude that microbiologist Bruce Ivins of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md., was the sole culprit behind the letter-based attacks (
, October 2008, p. 453).

Nonetheless, skepticism persists, as is evident not only from the forthcoming NAS review but also during the plenary session, “The Science behind the ‘Anthrax Letter’ Attack Investigation,” convened as part of the 7th ASM Biodefense & Emerging Diseases Research Meeting, held in Baltimore, Md., last February, and during the news conference that followed. “Everybody is frustrated by the lack of closure,” says plenary session participant Paul Keim of Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff. Soon after the World Trade Center in New York, N.Y., and the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C., were attacked on September 11, 2001, letters containing spores of
Bacillus anthracis
were sent to members of the news media and Congress. Contact with those letters led to 22 cases of anthrax, including five deaths, along with cleanup measures that, for example, cost the U.S. Postal service $1.2 billion to decontaminate several of its facilities, according to Jason Bannan of the FBI Chemical-Biological Sciences Unit in Quantico, Va., and a participant in the ASM plenary session. “FDA never had a case like this before,” he says.

No spore-containing letter was recovered from the first attack that led to the death of a photojournalist in Boca Raton, Fla. However, investigators recovered spores as part of a granular, white powdery material from an envelope involved in the second incident. Bannan describes it as a “crude prep,” in part because it also contained
Bacillus subtilis. Additional material from other letters to then- Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD) and to Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in October 2001 appeared “more refined,” was “beige” instead of white, and contained no spores other than B. anthracis

The FBI quickly requested outside microbiologists to help in analyzing those materials. The available “research assays . . . didn’t meet forensic standards,” says Keim who, with his collaborators at NAU, worked closely with the FBI, as did other outside groups of microbiologists and investigators with other expertise. Moreover, efforts to develop such assays were complicated by the strictly clonal biology that
B. anthracis
follows during replication.

Those facts soon led microbial and molecular forensics investigators into conducting genomics-level analyses, according to Jacques Ravel, now at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and Institute for Genome Sciences in Baltimore, Md. A more conventional phenotypic analysis supplemented those genomic-level efforts, leading another group of microbiologists at USAMRIID, who were working with the FBI and others on the anthrax investigation, to take advantage of distinct
B. anthracis
“morphotypes” that could be observed on growth plates. Those morphotypes vary not only by colony appearance but also in sporulation efficiencies and in telltale mutations at a rare “hot spot” within the otherwise stable genome of this species.

That information became the basis for a PCR screening assay for
B. anthracis
specimens that then was validated at Commonwealth Biotechnologies (CB) in Richmond, Va., and the Midwest Research Institute in Palm Bay, Fla., to ensure that such testing could meet forensics standards applied by U.S. courts. By 2007, the “highly specific” PCR assay identified several samples during a “blinded” analysis that included “seized materials,” Bannan says. Ultimately, the PCR-based analysis along with other information from the criminal side of the investigation indicated that the anthrax- causing specimens from the 2001 letters derived from stocks produced several years earlier at USAMRIID for an aerosol challenge in anthrax vaccine studies, he says.

Based on that and other information from more conventional lines of evidence, FBI investigators concluded that Ivins, who died following a drug overdose in July 2008, produced spores from those stocks for the 2001 anthrax attacks.

Despite that painstaking analysis and the unequivocal conclusions put forth by FBI officials, doubts linger over some matters that are mainly scientific as well as others that intersect with the broader thrust of the investigation. For instance, none of the microbiologists, including Bannan and similar specialists at FBI, was privy to other evidence, including lab records from USAMRIID, that their FBI colleagues collected. “I know nothing of that information,” he says. “I’m a microbiologist, and was not involved in the seizure of evidence.”

Other lingering questions focus on more purely scientific issues, some of them pertaining to how the lethal bacteria were handled. For example, USAMRIID held
B. anthracis in aqueous suspensions, not as spores. Presumably, the spores sent via letters were produced in at least two separate batches, contaminated with B. subtilis at least once, but when and how remain unknown. “We don’t know the process used,” Bannan says. “We never found the equivalent B. subtilis
at USAMRIID in any of the evidence that we had.” Efforts to trace the source of that bacterial contaminant “didn’t lead anywhere,” adds Keim.

Early reports suggested that the spores were “weaponized,” possibly with “silica.” However, later analysis determined that the spores were not coated with silica, although silicon was found within—not outside—the coat of spores used in the attacks, according to Joseph Michael of Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, N.M. About two-thirds of the spores contain that silicon “signature,” he says. Attempts to grow fresh spores with silicon to determine whether it also would locate within the spore coat led to “variable” results, Bannan adds. “We don’t understand why there is a varying degree of silicon from one batch to another.”

Other questions regarding physical properties of the spores similarly remain unexplained. Asked whether the spores were milled, Bannan points out that
B. anthracis
spores in letters went through rollers in automated postal sorting equipment that subjected them to high pressures. “It’s a high-energy process, and [spore] plumes went up 30 feet [about 10 m] from the mail sorters,” he says. How those spores looked beforehand or whether they were pulverized after being dried and before being inserted into envelopes is not known.

Jeffrey L. Fox
 Jeffrey L. Fox is the Microbe Current Topics and Features Editor.
Anthrax case: Amerithrax debate lives online
Originally published July 26, 2009

By Adam Behsudi
News-Post Staff

For the past year, government officials have remained quiet on the case accusing Fort Detrick scientist Bruce Ivins of the deadly anthrax letter attacks.

Not so on the Internet, where a handful of people have turned Amerithrax into an ongoing discussion. Amerithrax is the Department of Justice's name for the investigation of the anthrax attacks.

Beyond conspiracy theories and other fringe beliefs, bloggers have been filing Freedom of Information Act requests and working sources just as any experienced reporter would.

"I think it's kept it alive. Its provided a place for reporters and others to go from time to time and look for facts and opinions," said Lew Weinstein, who wrote a fictional novel based on the Amerithrax case titled "Case Closed."

He maintains a blog with the same name, trying to debunk the FBI case against Ivins.

Weinstein, who splits his time between Key West, Fla., and Collioure, France, was once a congressional candidate, has business degrees from Princeton and Harvard and retired in 2005 as the CEO of a biomedical research organization.

"I am amazed at the level of scientific discourse that's going on on my blog," said Weinstein, who called from a side trip he was taking with his wife to Lithuania.

"This is not simply a crime story. There's more to it than that," he said.

Ed Lake has been studying the case since 2001. Eight years ago he started a website to compile facts, documents and his own analysis.

He wrote a book, "Analyzing the Anthrax Attacks," which looks at the first three years of the investigation.

Unlike Weinstein, Lake has found the FBI case against Ivins solid.

"I certainly don't have any information pointing to anyone else," Lake said.

The retired computer systems analyst, who lives in Racine, Wis., has saved 40,000 e-mails relating to the investigation on an external hard drive he keeps in a safe deposit box.

But Lake said he has no particular desire to see the case go one way or another. He stresses the difference between conspiracy theorists, who are distrustful of the government, and true believers, who firmly believe in one scenario.

Lake said he doesn't align himself with either group. He's just after the facts.

"When you look at it all together, it's a really damning set of circumstantial evidence," he said.

Despite opposing viewpoints, Lake and Weinstein share an interest in the Amerithrax case that goes beyond the curiosity of most people.

Weinstein said the facts, or what he perceives as a lack thereof, infuriated him to the point of writing a book.

Lake said it started as soon as he got into his first online debates about the case.

"There was no way of stopping it, dropping it after that," he said.

Anthrax case: Seeking an ending
A year after Bruce Ivins’ death, case remains open and questions persist

Originally published July 26, 2009

By Adam Behsudi
News-Post Staff

For Mary Morris, there is a difference between closure and something that's finished.

Eight years ago her husband, Thomas Morris Jr., died after breathing anthrax spores from contaminated mail at the Brentwood Postal Facility in Washington.

A year ago she attended a meeting at FBI headquarters, where Director Robert Mueller told Morris that her husband's killer had been identified.

"I've been thinking a lot about that word closure," she said. "I don't think that's the right definition for me."

The government's case against Bruce Ivins remains open after officials last August declared the Fort Detrick scientist and leading anthrax researcher at the post's U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases the sole suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five people and injured 17.

Ivins, 62, died from an apparent acetaminophen overdose July 29, 2008. Shortly after his death, the FBI presented a case against Ivins based largely on circumstantial evidence.

"In my mind it's over and done with," Morris said. "I know one thing for sure: My husband is not coming back, Mr. Ivins is not coming back, and we have to settle for the outcome."

But vital questions still persist as doubters wait to learn how the FBI concluded that Ivins, who by many accounts was a hardworking researcher and an affable man who was active with his family, church and community, was responsible for the attacks that paralyzed the country shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Answers to those questions and a better view of how the FBI proceeded with its investigation could be forthcoming.

"We expect (the case) to be closed very shortly," said Dean Boyd, a Department of Justice spokesman. "I'm not prepared at this time to give you an exact date."

For Ivins' family and former colleagues who have maintained his innocence, a closed case will mean the FBI is putting faith in circumstantial evidence and a scientific fact-finding process that brought investigators to a flask of anthrax spores under Ivins' control, but accessible to more than 100 people.

"We don't convict beakers in this country," said Rockville attorney Paul Kemp, who represents the Ivins family. "We prosecute, convict or acquit human beings."

He said no lawsuits have been filed by the family, but legal action is conceivable.

"They're still angry, and they are upset, and they want to maintain their privacy," he said.

A year of questions

In the past year, the FBI has released little additional information about Ivins' alleged role in the anthrax mailings.

In early August, Department of Justice officials unveiled search warrants and other documents establishing Ivins as their primary suspect.

Ivins, who was described by one colleague as having a fragile personality, may have been extremely distressed by an FBI inquiry. He swallowed enough Tylenol to poison himself before any charges were filed.

The last year of his life had been punctuated by mental instability as reported by police and a counselor, and alienation from his workplace of 21 years.

He had lost his lab access. In November 2007, as a result of an FBI search, Ivins was denied entry to the highest-level containment labs where the most dangerous pathogens are handled. In March 2008, he lost access to all labs after not immediately reporting a spill of anthrax spores. Sixteen days before he overdosed, Ivins was escorted from Fort Detrick by Frederick police and taken to the hospital for a psychological evaluation. He was barred from the post after that.

Ivins' mental health counselor, Jean Duley, filed a peace order against the scientist. Duley said she was fearful Ivins would hurt her and others.

"I think it would change anybody's behavior if there was a federal agent car sitting outside your house 24 hours a day, seven days a week," said Gerard Andrews, a former colleague of Ivins.

Also in the past year bureau scientists also in the past year had discussed the scientific process they used to genetically match the anthrax found in the letters sent to news agencies and Senate offices to the flask of RMR-1029, a batch of anthrax under Ivins' control.

The same scientific methods will become the subject of an FBI-requested study by the National Academy of Sciences set to begin later this summer.

The $880,000, 18-month review will be funded by the FBI. The project will look at genetic studies used to identify the source of the anthrax found in the letters, how and where the anthrax spores were grown, how the spores and bacterial DNA were collected and what role cross-contamination may have played.

The academy, in its own statement, said it will not consider the value of the scientific evidence as it relates to any specific component of the investigation, prosecution or litigation. The study will not be used to establish the guilt or innocence of any person, the academy said.

Former colleagues of Ivins question the purpose of the academy's study.

"It very likely came from that flask, but who cares, hundreds of people had access, if not more. Dozens of labs were sent that sample," said Andrews, former director of the bacteriology division at USAMRIID from 2000 to 2003. He supervised Ivins for about five years.

Andrews, now an assistant professor at the University of Wyoming, called the academy study "essentially meaningless."

"They're basically going to say the science was robust enough," he said.

The science will not uncover physical evidence directly linking Ivins to the production of the powderized anthrax spores and won't explain how the FBI ruled out other people and labs who had access to the RMR-1029 spores, Andrews said.

The FBI built its case on 16 points, including Ivins' mental health issues and long hours he worked in the lab before the mailings.

But no direct physical evidence was recovered that would have connected Ivins to the Princeton, N.J., mailbox where the letters were dropped, no anthrax was found in his cars or home, and no eyewitnesses saw him produce, package or mail the envelopes.

The FBI leaned most heavily on a scientific method never before used in a criminal investigation. More than 1,000 samples of Ames anthrax, a strain identified in the letters, were obtained from 16 government, commercial and university labs. Eight of the samples were genetically matched to the RMR-1029 spore batch.

Jeff Adamovicz, head of the bacteriology division after Andrews left in 2004, said the fact that samples obtained by the FBI were voluntarily submitted weakens the case significantly.

He is also certain other labs possessed RMR-1029.

Dangerous pathogens, known as select agents, are regularly sent between both public and private labs that are registered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Shipments from USAMRIID are recorded on an internal form and with the CDC, Adamovicz said.

"The FBI knows full well the distribution of that strain," said Adamovicz, who left USAMRIID in 2007.

He said he has no evidence to suggest any specific person or entity is responsible for the attacks, but wanted the FBI to fully explain how they ruled out two sites where RMR-1029 was likely to have been produced and shipped: U.S. Army's Dugway Proving Ground in Utah and Battelle Memorial Institute in Ohio.

"They've been focused on USAMRIID since day one," he said.

The Army this month released a document showing Ivins' record of RMR-1029, where he kept a log of when and the amount of spores, in liquid form, he took from the flask.

The record shows the 1000 ml of spores was created in October 1997 with anthrax from Dugway Proving Ground and the USAMRIID bacteriology division. The report show Ivins accessed the strain between September 1998 and November 2003.

Large portions of the document, which include entries next to the amount used, are redacted.

Adamovicz, who is still unable to believe his friend and colleague was guilty, is continuing to study the government evidence.

He said he was bothered by the way the Department of Defense "rolled over so easily" by neglecting to defend its own facility when Ivins was identified as the FBI's sole suspect.

Current employees of USAMRIID are barred from speaking publicly about the case, a spokeswoman said.

Critics have found no shortage of ways to rebut the FBI evidence and possibility that Ivins produced the deadly, weaponized anthrax spores.

Russell Byrne, one of Ivins' former colleagues, is a former director of the bacteriology division. He likened the scenario to someone using their own gun to kill somebody and leaving it on their desk.

He said there was no genetic evidence found in any of the USAMRIID lyophilizers, a machine that would have been required to dry the spores into a powder.

The fact that three division chiefs dispute the FBI evidence should be enough to question the validity of the case, said Byrne, who left the institute in 2003.

"You guys knew a lot about Bruce," Byrne said. "But you didn't know him."

Finding answers

Victims of the attacks hope the case is settled, but some remain skeptical.

"The evidence in my own mind wasn't enough to support a conviction," said Leroy Richmond, a worker at the Brentwood postal center who was hospitalized after coming in contact with anthrax-contaminated mail.

"I really have some doubts."

Richmond said he still suffers from memory loss and fatigue as a result of the infection. He has since retired from the Postal Service.

After the 45-minute FBI presentation he and other victims and families sat for last summer, he said he was concerned at the amount of evidence that was circumstantial.

"I think it will be questionable even after they say we've done all the investigation we need," Richmond said.

Mary Morris, the wife of Richmond's former co-worker Thomas Morris Jr., said she was satisfied with the case.

She said she does not want to find herself asking questions with no answers.

"Otherwise it will drown you, it will swallow you up," she said.

But at least one congressman wants answers to questions that, at the moment, have no answers.

Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., submitted the Anthrax Attacks Investigation Act in March. The bill aims to establish a national commission, similar to the one formed for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The letters were mailed from Holt's district.

"I think the families of the victims deserve it, all of the people affected: letter carriers, the residents of central New Jersey, people in Washington deserve to have a case that is really closed," Holt said.

"Not just a lot of loose ends or some surmises or some assertions."

The bill remains stalled in the House Judiciary Committee.

"I wish it were moving faster than it is legislatively," he said. "I think the public deserves answers."

Anthrax case: Studies scrutinize lab security, shy away from federal investigation
Originally published July 26, 2009

By Adam Behsudi
News-Post Staff

A Department of Defense study identified insider threats as one of the most grave concerns for military biolabs.

The assessment, which came from a study by the military's Defense Science Board, did not target the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.

But the finding indirectly supported the FBI case identifying USAMRIID researcher Bruce Ivins as the suspect in the 2001 anthrax mailings that killed five and injured 17.

In the year since the FBI laid out its case, the Department of Defense has completed two major reviews of government lab safety, security and operations.

In August 2008, the Secretary of the Army formed a task force on biosurety. The task force requested the study by the Defense Science Board, an advisory committee to the secretary of defense, to examine lab safety and security policies.

The Defense Health Board, another advisory board to the Pentagon, performed the other study requested by the task force. It looked at the need for biodefense labs and whether they were contributing a return on investment.

The study found military biodefense facilities such as USAMRIID were necessary, especially for response to bioterrorist events. But the report found challenges in transferring research into products people could use and no real system to measure a return on the government's investment in research programs.

Neither study focused on any one government lab. They also stayed clear of directly addressing the evidence the Department of Justice has used to establish Ivins as the sole suspect in the anthrax attacks.

Despite increased focus this past year, research at USAMRIID was suspended in February while employees recovered more than 9,200 samples of unrecorded disease samples. Inventory at the institute is now at 100 percent, but officials could not guarantee any of the samples were not improperly removed.

Caree Vander Linden, spokeswoman for USAMRIID, said the recommendations from the Defense Science Board report for biolab safety and security are being acted upon.

The top recommendation was guarding against a security breach of computers that control access to the lab's environmental systems' computers, which keep pathogens contained.

"USAMRIID's cybersecurity has been assessed and the results of that assessment are being acted on," Vander Linden said in an e-mail.

The 93-page report also recommends monitoring of personnel through video cameras and a two-person rule in the lab.

The report recommends managers review video footage of each lab worker at least once a month and keep all video footage for a year.

"USAMRIID uses an extensive video monitoring system and a two-person rule during specifically defined procedures," Vander Linden wrote. "USAMRIID, through various means, meets routinely with laboratory personnel to discuss standards and obligations."

Cameras were installed in USAMRIID laboratories between 2002 and 2008, Vander Linden said.

The report encourages the continued use of the Biological Personnel Reliability Program, which certifies people to work with dangerous diseases known as biological select agents.

The program includes background checks, drug testing and frequent interviews. Increased video monitoring and interviews were recommended to bolster the program.

Less than 0.1 percent of people screened under the program fail, according to the report.

The report acknowledges the lack of any reliable psychological tests measuring mental and emotional health.

Ivins shared through e-mails to friends that he suffered from depression. A counselor said Ivins revealed violent thoughts during a session. He also admitted to some bizarre behavior such as driving long distances to anonymously mail packages.

The defense report states that emotional monitoring increases intrusion, which could lead to the best researchers leaving the Department of Defense for jobs in the private sector.

Last December, Fort Detrick scientists who work with dangerous pathogens were given additional training on securing their labs and the samples they work with.

Vander Linden said the institute undergoes an annual security assessment.

In September 2008, the Government Accountability Office released a 10-month study on perimeter security for the nation's five biosafety level 4 labs, where the most dangerous pathogens are handled. USAMRIID contains a BSL-4 lab.

The GAO study report did not match its assessments with specific lab names.

Group begins scientific review of FBI's anthrax investigation
Originally published July 31, 2009

By Adam Behsudi
Frederick News-Post Staff

WASHINGTON -- Scientists this week will begin an 18-month review of the science the FBI used to identify Fort Detrick scientist Bruce Ivins as the sole suspect in the deadly 2001 anthrax mailings.

The panel of 15 experts was convened by National Academy of Sciences and held its first meeting Thursday.

The group laid out its responsibility to study the process and procedure used by the FBI and potentially validate its findings.

"We utilized established biological and chemical analysis techniques and applied them in a novel way to a very difficult problem," said Chris Hassell, an assistant director of the FBI who oversees the laboratory division.

But the study, which will cost the FBI nearly $880,000, will not explore the investigative methods or detective work that established Ivins as the primary suspect.

Ivins died of an intentional overdose of Tylenol after learning he was to be indicted in the mailings that killed five and sickened 17.

Instead, experts will review how the FBI matched the anthrax mailed in letters to a specific strain identified from thousands of samples obtained in the early stages of the investigation.

"Our principal challenge here, in this particular project, has been the fact that this is still an open case," Hassell said.

That fact has irked critics of the FBI case against Ivins, which include many of his former colleagues and supervisors at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.

The study will affirm the validity of the investigative science but will stop short of explaining how the FBI sorted Ivins from the dozens of people who had access to the strain of anthrax used in the mailings.

"Good scientists are confident in their findings but are open to scrutiny," Hassell said.

Dr. David Relman, a Stanford University professor who is co-chairman of the study group, said he wants the review to provide assistance and guidance for future investigations.

"As we look forward, we want to ensure the best possible science methods and approaches be applied and deployed for future work of this sort," he said.

Today, the board will continue with another open session. On the agenda is Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., who wants a formal commission to look into the eight-year FBI investigation.

The letters were mailed from a mailbox in Holt's central New Jersey district.

A group of scientists who worked with the FBI on its case will also address the board.

Dubious study
Originally published July 31, 2009
Frederick News-Post Editorial

Some months ago, we editorialized our hope that the FBI-commissioned National Academy of Sciences study on the anthrax mailings case would clarify the guilt or innocence of former Fort Detrick microbiologist Bruce Ivins.

Local lawyer and peace activist Barry Kissin took us to task for the editorial, saying, in effect, that the NAS study would not speak to Ivins' culpability, even though, as Kissin said, the FBI "has done its best to pretend that it is the science in Amerithrax that largely establishes Ivins' guilt."

Two quotes in News-Post reporter Adam Behsudi's Sunday story on Ivins and the NAS study speak volumes on this subject. The first is from Gerard Andrews, director from 2000 to 2003 of the bacteriology division at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Infectious Diseases -- and Ivins' supervisor for about five years.

Relating to the anthrax flask -- to which Ivins had access -- that the FBI asserts was the origin of the strain used in the fatal mailings, Andrews says: "It very likely came from that flask, but who cares, hundreds of people had access, if not more. Dozens of labs were sent that sample."

And from Jeff Adamovicz, who headed up the division after Andrews left: "The FBI knows full well the distribution of that strain. They've been focused on USAMRIID since day one."

The FBI's case against Ivins is almost wholly circumstantial. It includes his strained behavior while under suspicion and surveillance by the FBI, which he was aware of before apparently committing suicide in July 2008.

While the NAS study may well validate the scientific protocols used by the FBI in its investigation, that would not prove Ivins' guilt. That point cannot be too strongly made.

However, another avenue of discovery has been proposed. In March, Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., introduced the Anthrax Investigation Act in Congress. The bill would establish a national commission akin to the one created to study the 2001 terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, this bill remains stalled in Congress.

Ivins' family and those of the victims of the anthrax mailings -- and indeed, all those who worked with Ivins at USAMRIID -- need and deserve to have this case solved.

Even if Congress does create this commission, however, Ivins' guilt or innocence may never be proved. Still, it would be only fair and fitting that the FBI's characterization of him as the only viable suspect be re-examined in earnest. If there are a number of other facilities and individuals who cannot be excluded from consideration as the source of the anthrax used in the fatal mailings, that fact should be a major part of any conclusion about this case.

We urge our congressional representatives to support this legislation. The mailings took place in Holt's district, so he has a personal reason to be involved. But the accused man and the laboratory where he worked should also make it a personal issue for Maryland's congressional delegation.

Anthrax investigation probe underway

July 31, 2009

The US National Academies has launched its long-awaited review of the scientific evidence used to track down the alleged creator of the deadly anthrax attacks of 2001. A 15-member expert panel met in Washington DC on 30-31 July to determine whether the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) relied on appropriate scientific techniques when it implicated government biodefence researcher Bruce Ivins, who committed suicide last July as prosecutors prepared to indict him as the person responsible for mailing the Bacillus anthracis spores that killed five people and sickened 17 others.

"It is important that we understand what happened," Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) told the committee on Friday. "The illogic of the investigation that I witnessed leads me to question whether the scientific and technical steps were well undertaken."

"This type of study is unprecedented" because the agency doesn't normally divulge evidence from ongoing investigations, FBI laboratory director Chris Hassell told the committee on Thursday. But given the lingering doubts about the case, the FBI, which has already published nine peer-reviewed papers related to the investigation, according to Hassell, opted to open itself up to independent scrutiny. "This is what we did, please tell us what you think."

The committee, which is expected to meet around five times over the next 18 months, "provides a critique," said panel chair Alice Gast, president of Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The committee is charged with examining the FBI's genetic and chemical studies but not "any other aspects of the investigation not related to the science," she said.

On Friday, Claire Fraser-Liggett walked the committee through the genomic methods used to first genetically characterise the anthrax isolates in her former lab at The Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Maryland, and the subsequent assays developed to trace the strains back to Ivins' flask at the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in Fort Detrick, Maryland. "Ultimately, I think it was really this population genetics approach that provided the breakthrough in this case," Fraser-Liggett, who now directs the Institute for Genome Sciences at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltomore, said.

Other speakers included Bruce Budowle, executive director of the University of North Texas’ Center for Human Identification in Fort Worth and a former FBI scientist involved with the case, who described how the new field of microbial forensics emerged from the investigation, and retired FBI Special Agent Jennifer Smith, who urged the panel to "continue to probe" and push the FBI to release all the relevant documentation.

In the public comments session of the meeting, Barry Skolnick, an independent technical analyst, called on the committee to review the sampling methods originally used to collect anthrax from the infected facilities. Skolnick said that the committee is devoting too much attention to the microbial forensics. "It's clear that [sampling] is not in the forefront of their minds."

The committee's next meeting is planned for late September.

Experts urge panel to deepen forensic understanding
Originally published August 01, 2009

By Adam Behsudi
Frederick News-Post Staff

WASHINGTON -- A panel of experts convened for a second day Friday to examine the scientific process employed by the FBI to identify the anthrax used in the deadly 2001 mailings.

The meeting featured presentations from three experts who worked on the case. Scientific methods were explained, and the 15-member panel was asked to use the study as a means to prepare for future attacks.

A lawmaker also addressed the group, criticizing the FBI's handling of the country's first widespread bioterrorism event.

"If the technical and scientific procedures are as flawed as the nontechnical procedures, they certainly deserve a look," said Rep. Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat from whose district the letters were mailed.

Holt said the study sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences would be useful for answering some key questions but was too narrow in scope.

Investigators last year determined that Fort Detrick scientist Bruce Ivins was the primary suspect in the attacks that killed five people and sickened 17. A flask of anthrax under Ivins' control was identified as the origin of the bacteria used in the letters.

Ivins, who had a record of serious mental health issues, died July 29, 2008, of an intentional overdose of Tylenol after learning he was to be indicted in the mailings.

Holt has submitted legislation to form a special commission to examine the FBI's eight-year investigation highlighted by a multimillion-dollar settlement after investigators wrongly accused Fort Detrick scientist Steven Hatfill.

"Simply stated, the government suffers from a credibility gap on this issue," he said.

The FBI has not yet formally closed the case.

One of the experts who made a presentation at the meeting led a genetic study to sort through more than 1,000 samples of anthrax. The method found the anthrax in the letters matched eight samples that could be traced to the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, where Ivins worked.

Claire Fraser-Liggett, a professor of medicine at the University of Maryland, performed the analysis while director of the Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville.

The positive samples were isolated through the identification of four specific mutations. Those were genetically matched with anthrax gathered from the envelopes and the spinal fluid of the first victim, Robert Stevens, a photo editor at a Florida tabloid.

Fraser-Liggett said the work to find a match began in late 2001, but the successful method was not completed until 2007, when agents began to seriously investigate Ivins.

"I was hopeful that perhaps genomics would provide sufficient amount of information to be able to track the material to its source, but I then, and have always, asserted that in no way did I ever believe that this kind of genomics-based investigation was ever going to lead to the perpetrator," Fraser-Liggett said.

"That was going to require much more traditional police investigation."

The 18-month academy study will affirm the validity of the investigative science but will stop short of explaining how the FBI sorted Ivins from the dozens of people who had access to RMR-1029, the strain of anthrax used in the mailings.

Jennifer Smith is a retired FBI agent and biochemist who now leads BioForensic Consulting. Smith was involved in the agency's DNA unit when the investigation began.

"I want to say that I hope this committee is able to see information that was shared ... even if that information might currently be housed within the classified files," she said.

Bruce Budowle was a senior FBI scientist before his current post as director of the Center for Human Identification at the University of North Texas.

He said no new methodology was used in the case, but it significantly advanced the field of microbial forensics.

He advised the government to capitalize on relationships with the private and academic sectors to prepare a structure for examining microbial forensics.

"Get those experts ready today for the next event that occurs," Budowle said. "We would know who to go to in the process instead of having to search them out."

The committee will likely meet again next month.

Alice Gast, the committee chairwoman and president of Lehigh University, said the academy has the ability to pursue classified materials. The study will deepen as the group learns more and asks additional questions, she said.

"Really it remains to be defined -- the scope of all materials we'll receive," Gast said.

Anthrax case not closed: Panel reviews Bruce Ivins, mail probe

WASHINGTON — A year and a day after the death of anthrax mailing suspect Bruce Ivins, a panel met here at the National Academy of Sciences to dissect the investigative science behind the FBI case against him.

"The committee will only review and assess the scientific information," said Alice Gast of Lehigh University, head of the review panel. "We will offer no view on the guilt or innocence of any person or persons."

Just such questions, however, surround the still-open case, said Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., who spoke before the panel, which met Thursday and Friday. "This was the only documented bioterror attack on the U.S.," Holt said. "Simply stated, the government suffers from a credibility gap that raises questions about the guilt of Dr. Ivins."

An anthrax vaccine researcher at the United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases in Frederick, Md., Ivins died of a drug overdose July 29, 2008. One week later, U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Taylor formally announced Ivins was "the sole suspect" in the 2001 mailings that killed five people, shut congressional offices and paralyzed the U.S. Postal Service.

The first evidence listed against Ivins was "the genetically unique parent material of the anthrax spores used in the mailings," Taylor said, the now-famous "RMR-1029" flask of Ames strain anthrax spores, "created and solely maintained by Dr. Ivins at USAMRIID." In briefings, scientific meetings and publications over the last year, outside scientists engaged by investigators, such as Claire Fraser-Liggett of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, reported that four mutations in the genetic code of the anthrax used in the attack served as markers traceable back to the flask.

"We thoroughly investigated every other person who could have had access to the flask, and we were able to rule out all but Dr. Ivins," Taylor said, since the link between flask and scientist first became clear in 2005.

Proclaiming his innocence

One year later, "the department and the FBI continue working to conclude the investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks," the Justice Department's Dean Boyd said in a statement. "We anticipate closing the case in the near future."

The case against Ivins rests largely on a traditional police investigation, revealed in search warrant affidavits. Ivins acted strangely, worked late lab hours before the attacks, had sent packages under assumed names "throughout his adult life," Taylor said, and faced job worries because of a failing anthrax vaccine program in fall 2001.

Ivins' lawyer, Paul Kemp, has maintained his late client's innocence. The FBI said it long had suspicions about Ivins based on the strain of anthrax detected. But if the RMR-1029 flask link mattered so much, why didn't the FBI arrest him in 2005? Kemp asked.

Those kinds of questions emerged about the science behind the investigation, which led the FBI last year to request the panel, which is expected to produce a final report by next summer. The National Academy of Sciences' William Kearney said the $879,000 contract for the review involved negotiation between the academy and Justice Department over its scope and access to information. The committee is charged with examining at least five scientific questions:

•The validity of the genetic studies of the attack anthrax.

•Certainty that the four mutations identified in the attack anthrax are truly unique.

•Chemistry studies dating the growth time of the attack anthrax to times Ivins was working late hours in his lab.

•The validity of anthrax-collecting techniques used by investigators.

•The risks of cross-contamination in labs where analyses were performed.

"I think this review is a really good first step," said biological policy expert Cheryl Vos of the Federation of American Scientists. "What I would really like to know is how much did the scientific conclusions drive the investigation, and vice versa. There is a clear intersection between the two."

Calls for a broader review

"We're just getting started. We have a broad scope of experts, both on the panel and who we are getting information from," said Gast, the panel chief. Gast added she was "confident" of the panel receiving investigation background information.

A tension emerged at the panel between its narrow mandate to investigate the science linking Ivins' anthrax flask to the 2001 attack anthrax and calls for wider reviews. Holt, in particular, called for a look at the entire investigation.

Former FBI scientists Bruce Budowle of the University of North Texas and Jennifer Smith of BioForensic Consulting asked the panel to assess "lessons learned" for the next bioterror attack investigation.

"There was a bit of a tug of war in the FBI. Investigators had a desire to use whatever possible" science might yield clues, Smith said. Bad science, however, would yield false leads or exclude suspects wrongly, she said. Because the investigation will serve as a model for any future bioterror investigation, Smith added, "it's critical you assess how the bureau did."

Katherine Heerbrandt
A shocking mockery
Originally published August 12, 2009
The Frederick News-Post

With the anniversary of Bruce Ivins' death and subsequent character assassination by the FBI and Department of Justice, comes "new" information supporting what many suspected at the outset of the events leading to his apparent suicide: Ivins was a suspect of convenience, a vulnerable, despairing man who couldn't absorb the psychological blows dealt by a heavy-fisted FBI who sought to "beat" him into confession.

The science touted that narrowed the suspects in the 2001 Amerithrax case that killed five and sickened 17 is being debunked on a daily basis.

Still U.S. Rep. Rush Holt from New Jersey isn't getting far in asking for a panel investigation into the case, similar to the 9/11 Commission Report. Perhaps some are worried that shining the light of truth will reveal the government's role in Amerithrax. In the wake of Amerithrax, biolab funding grew from $4 million to $15 billion.

Holt should keep pushing hard. The proposed National Academy of Sciences study is a waste of time because we already know the science doesn't make a case against Ivins.

The only case to be made is that Ivins had a mental breakdown, likely caused by his own mental frailty aggravated by the FBI's harassment. Agents pounced on Ivins' deficiencies, real and contrived, and fed them to a public eager for answers.

For example, the phone messages from Ivins to therapist Jean Duley. A copy was obtained through a public information request to the Frederick Police Department, which did its own investigation into Ivins' death last fall.

The messages came from Ivins after Duley secured an emergency petition to have Ivins hospitalized. This happened less than a month before a grand jury was set to convene. Duley was signed on as a witness, despite her "confidential" relationship with Ivins.

As a result, Duley, encouraged by the FBI who recorded the voicemails, took out a peace order against Ivins, citing "threatening" messages. The July 24 order broke the Ivins' investigation to the world because the documents are open to the public. Duley made it known that Ivins was a suspect in the anthrax murders. She specifically referenced "threatening" messages. Listen for yourself, click here. No threats are made or implied in the messages. More the sad ramblings of a broken man who felt betrayed.

Was making the investigation public another FBI attempt to coerce a confession? Or was it a way to allow Duley to testify outside the confines of a client/patient relationship? Either way, it succeeded on one level. Three days after the peace order, Ivins reportedly overdosed on acetaminophen.

No grand jury hearing. No Duley testimony, which could've been extremely damaging. But, no trial meant Duley didn't have to testify that she was on house arrest during her last sessions with Ivins, according to court records. Sentenced to three months beginning in mid-April, her detention was complete a week before she filed the peace order that ultimately broke Ivins.

Surely that information, along with her lengthy list of DUI's and other troubles, would've shredded her credibility as a witness.

Trial or no, the public and the victims' families, including the Ivins, deserve the truth about Amerithrax. The evidence presented by the FBI makes a mockery of our justice system and insults not only our intelligence, but the memory of those who died.


Fort Detrick passes national accreditation
Originally published August 13, 2009

By Adam Behsudi
Frederick News-Post Staff

Inspectors from a national organization gave their stamp of approval to the clinical pathology lab at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.

The Fort Detrick lab received accreditation from the College of American Pathologists.

USAMRIID spokeswoman Caree Vander Linden said the lab provides support for researchers in the form of immunizations and blood tests.

The lab's rating at Biosafety Level 2 is "comparable to a laboratory in a hospital," Vander Linden said.

The USAMRIID lab is one of 7,000 labs the college inspects every two years by examining staff qualifications, equipment, facilities, record keeping and other areas.

The accreditation program is recognized as equal to or more stringent than the government's own inspections, according to a statement from the organization.

The USAMRIID lab has not gone unaccredited in recent years, according to the organization.

Separate USAMRIID labs where select agents or the most dangerous of pathogens are handled have been scrutinized in recent years.

The FBI identified one lab as the origin of the strain of anthrax used to carry out the deadly mailings of 2001. Investigators pointed to deceased USAMRIID scientist Bruce Ivins as the suspect in the attacks that killed five and sickened 17.

Ivins died of an overdose of Tylenol last summer, prompting the FBI to lay out its case against one of the nation's foremost anthrax researchers.

The case is not yet closed.

Despite the FBI case, the Army research center was recognized as having excellent perimeter security, according to a September 2008 report from the Government Accountability Office.

The report assessed five facilities that contain Biosafety Level 4 labs where researchers study life-threatening diseases that are transmissible through the air and have no known treatment or vaccine as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Identified as Lab B in the report, government inspectors found USAMRIID complied with all 15 of the security controls, including roving armed guards, vehicle barriers and video surveillance.

However, another report released in the past year identified insider threats as the most grave concern for military biolabs.

The report by the military's Defense Science Board recommended internal reviews of employee records, drug testing and frequent interviews. Also recommended was regular reviews of internal security camera footage.

USAMRIID installed cameras in its labs between 2002 and 2008.

Panel continues study of anthrax mailings
Originally published September 25, 2009

By Adam Behsudi
Frederick News-Post Staff

WASHINGTON -- A colleague of suspected anthrax mailer Bruce Ivins presented the methods she and others used to isolate the strain of the bacteria used in the deadly 2001 letter attacks.

The presentation by Patricia Worsham came Thursday during a meeting of scientists and experts who are part of an FBI-commissioned panel tasked to study the science behind the investigation of the anthrax mailings, also known as Amerithrax.

Ivins, a leading anthrax researcher at Fort Detrick's U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, died a year ago of an apparent suicide after the FBI identified him as the sole suspect in the letter attacks.

The FBI has yet to officially close the case, but the agency's forensic science methods are already being studied by a group of scientists working under the National Academy of Sciences.

The FBI is funding the 18-month, $880,000 NAS study, which will affirm the validity of the investigative science, but will stay clear of examining how the FBI connected Ivins to the crime.

On Thursday, the 15-member panel questioned the analysis and tests scientists used to isolate the RMR-1029 strain, which came from an Ames strain turned into powder form and mailed in letters that killed five people and sickened 17.

The flask of RMR-1029 anthrax under Ivins' control was identified as the origin of the bacteria used in the letters.

Worsham, who works in USAMRIID's bacteriology division, said she was prevented by a federal gag order from talking about certain aspects of the case involving Ivins. Instead, she presented how the lab identified morphological variants to identify the strain used in the attack.

During the investigation, federal agents enlisted the help of multiple agencies and organizations, including scientists at USAMRIID.

"We had to send every Ames strain we had to the repository," Worsham said.

She said the Ames strain was valuable to the work at USAMRIID because it worked well for vaccine tests. Ivins was a leading scientist in developing an anthrax vaccine.

"Ames had a good history," she said. "It had not been passed through the laboratory a great deal."

Paul Keim, a Northern Arizona University biology professor, explained to the panel how his team identified the anthrax Ames strain among nearly 2,000 strains collected.

Although researchers could only identify four or five new isolates from the Ames strain, Keim said he was positive about the match between the anthrax collected from the letters and the flask under Ivins' control.

"It would have been nice to have 100 isolates," he said.

Keim said he had criticism for the FBI, which used his lab as a repository for evidentiary samples.

"We weren't able to get money from the FBI to do these analyses until May 2002," he said. "For the next crisis it would have been nice if the federal government had a few sugar grants."

Expert: Anthrax spore coatings not unique [original]
Originally published September 26, 2009

By Adam Behsudi
News-Post Staff

WASHINGTON -- A microscopy expert said there was nothing unique about the silica coating found in the anthrax spores recovered from the 2001 letter attacks.

The presentation Friday to a scientific panel confirmed nothing new but provided the group, convened by the National Academy of Sciences, a glimpse into the investigative science used in the wake of the nation's first major bioterrorism event.

"I think the letter powders are not unique with respect to (silica) and (oxygen) elemental signatures," said Joseph Michael of Sandia National Laboratory.

He said previous studies have shown the same chemical make up of silica added to dried anthrax.

Investigators think the silica was introduced to the dried anthrax spores as a way to weaponize the bacteria by making it airborne longer and easier to inhale.

The FBI has yet to close its case but has accused Frederick resident Bruce Ivins, a researcher at Fort Detrick's U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, of processing and mailing the anthrax.

Michael's presentation is part of an 18-month, $880,000 National Academy of Sciences study commissioned by the FBI. It was the second day this week the panel met.

The study seeks to affirm the validity of the investigative science, but will stay clear of examining how the FBI connected Ivins to the crime.

After Ivins' alleged involvement was made public, colleagues of the scientist doubted Ivins would have the capability or know how to weaponize the spores.

Ivins died from an apparent suicide last year. The 2001 attacks killed five people and sickened 17.

Michael studied the powders recovered from letters sent to the Washington offices of Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy, and the New York Post.

He used Scanning Electron and Scanning Transmission Electron microscopes to study the structures of thousands of the irradiated, lifeless spores.

Michael said it was clear the silica coating had been added. The same study of the RMR-1029, a flask of liquid Ames strain anthrax investigators think Ivins drew from to create the weaponized powder anthrax, did not contain silica, Michael said.

He said the spore coatings on the Daschle, Leahy and New York Post letters were indistinguishable.

Expert: Anthrax spore coatings not unique [revised]
Originally published September 26, 2009

By Adam Behsudi
News-Post Staff

WASHINGTON — A microscopy expert said there was nothing unique about the silicon found in the anthrax spores recovered from the 2001 letter attacks.

The presentation Friday to a scientific panel confirmed nothing new but provided the group, convened by the National Academy of Sciences, a glimpse into the investigative science used in the wake of the nation's first major bioterrorism event.

"I think the letter powders are not unique with respect to (silica) and (oxygen) elemental signatures," said Joseph Michael of Sandia National Laboratory.

The FBI has yet to close its case but has accused Frederick resident Bruce Ivins, a researcher at Fort Detrick's U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, of processing and mailing the anthrax.

Michael's presentation is part of an 18-month, $880,000 National Academy of Sciences study commissioned by the FBI. It was the second day this week the panel met.

The study seeks to affirm the validity of the investigative science, but will stay clear of examining how the FBI connected Ivins to the crime.

Ivins died from an apparent suicide last year. The 2001 attacks killed five people and sickened 17.

Michael studied the powders recovered from letters sent to the Washington offices of Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy, and the New York Post.

He used Scanning Electron and Scanning Transmission Electron microscopes to study the structures of thousands of the irradiated, lifeless spores.

Michael said it was clear the silicon in the spores occurred naturally and were not added to weaponize the bacteria. The same study of the RMR-1029, a flask of liquid Ames strain anthrax investigators think Ivins drew from to create the powder anthrax, did not contain silica, Michael said.

He said the elemental signatures in the spores from the Daschle, Leahy and New York Post letters were indistinguishable.

Behind the scenes, system sniffs for biological attacks

A ringing telephone startled Tom Slezak from a sound sleep. It was 1 a.m. on Oct. 6, 2001. The caller gave Slezak three hours to pack for a chilling, top-secret mission: to protect Washington, D.C., and other U.S. cities from a major bioterror attack.

For all Slezak knew, an attack had begun. Hours earlier, a Florida photo editor named Bob Stevens had died after inhaling anthrax powder sent by mail, jolting a nation that was still reeling from the 9/11 hijackings. At the time, the scope of the anthrax attacks that eventually killed five people and sickened 17 others wasn't clear.

Slezak got the call because he helped pioneer the genetic analysis of biological agents at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. Today, eight years after the anthrax attacks, the system Slezak's research team started, known as BioWatch, is quietly operating in more than 30 cities.

A federally funded, locally run program with an $80 million annual budget, it depends on a network of vacuum pumps that draw surrounding air through filters, sniffing for signs of biological agents.

The pumps' precise locations are secret, but they are in high-traffic destinations such as subway stations and where prevailing winds might carry a toxic plume. Each day, technicians retrieve their filters and carry them to public health laboratories, where scientists test for the genetic fingerprints of a top-secret list of biological threats.

The program has made the USA dramatically better prepared for a biological attack — but it also has vulnerabilities, acknowledges Robert Hooks, a deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security Office of Health Affairs who now oversees the program for DHS.

Because the filters are collected as infrequently as once a day, a terrorist could release anthrax, plague or smallpox in a U.S. city and it might take 12 to 36 hours for anyone to find out. If the agent were anthrax, public health officials would have as few as 12 hours to confirm the attack, try to map its scope and dispense antibiotics to thousands, or tens of thousands, of people. Inhaled anthrax is nearly always fatal if people who are exposed to it go 72 hours without treatment, Hooks says.

Given the likelihood of delays, some critics question the need for BioWatch. They say the government's focus should be on a tighter public health surveillance network that could detect any epidemic, not just those that are man-made.

"I'm a little skeptical. Environmental sampling is something that hasn't been proven to me," says retired Air Force colonel Randall Larsen, director of the Commission for the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism. "The point of medical care delivery is the most important place to detect an attack."

But the anthrax attacks eight years ago convinced many other biodefense experts that depending on doctors to identify cases is too risky.

"Waiting for cases to turn up in emergency rooms isn't an option," says Richard Falkenrath, the New York Police Department's deputy commissioner for counterterrorism. "If you wait, they'll be mostly untreatable."

No room for error

As the anthrax attacks unfolded in 2001, the White House ordered Slezak to Washington, D.C., to deploy experimental technology that scientists from Livermore and the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico had developed to protect athletes and spectators at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

The detection system had never been put to a real-world test. Soon, the safety of many U.S. cities would depend on it.

"BioWatch has been the single most important federal-state program we've had in preparing the U.S. for a biologic event," says Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

"It is the one thing that has brought everyone together — law enforcement, public health, the medical assets of every community. No other program has ever done that."

The Department of Energy, which ordered the field detectors for the Olympic Games, demanded that they be made of cheap, off-the-shelf parts and that they be absolutely reliable, says Kristin Omberg of Los Alamos, who led their development.

There is no room for error, she says. "The last thing you want to do is shut down the Olympics because you thought you had something you didn't."

The Olympics weren't threatened. In the broader air sampling that began in 2003, 6 million tests nationwide have yielded several dozen alerts, all found to involve microbes that occur naturally in the environment, Omberg says.

In September 2005, BioWatch detected bacteria that cause tularemia — a known bioterror agent— on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., during an anti-war demonstration that drew thousands of marchers. Further tests suggested the bacteria occurred naturally and was no threat, officials said then.

"When one of these detection systems goes off for an agent that we're really concerned about, it's going to make our stomachs sink," Hooks says. "We have to make sure we have absolute confidence that it's accurate. We can't afford a miscalculation."

But delays in processing samples worry even BioWatch proponents.

Hooks says the best way to gain time would be to develop a "lab in a box" that could detect an attack and sound an alarm, from the field, within six hours. But a two-year experiment of such a device in New York ended in March when officials became concerned about its accuracy, Hooks says.

In May, Homeland Security called for proposals for the next generation of automated systems; contracts are to be awarded in November.

An attack somewhere in the world is all but inevitable, says former senator Bob Graham, the WMD commission's chairman. The commission's 2008 report, A World at Risk, predicts that a nuclear or biological attack will come by 2013.

"It's an informed judgment based on interviews with over 200 people, extensive document analysis and discussions with people inside and outside the U.S.," Graham says. "There's a general feeling that anthrax will be the most likely agent of choice. It's available in nature, it doesn't require heavy science to manipulate, and it can be granulized into a form that makes it easier to disseminate" and inhaled.

Another reason anthrax is appealing to bioterrorists, he says, is that it is difficult to detect. Anthrax detonates silently, without smoke or flame. Its spores are odorless and all but invisible. Like a deadly pollen, they can float on air.

"We're looking for aerosolized anthrax," Hooks says. "That's the No. 1 aerosolized biological risk agent."

A wary eye on al-Qaeda

Anthrax appears to be especially attractive to al-Qaeda, according to the WMD commission report. The terrorist network that orchestrated 9/11 had two biological stations in Qandahar, Afghanistan, that were unknown to Western intelligence services until U.S. troops found them in 2001, the report says.

"It's our information that the effort al-Qaeda started in Qandahar in the late '90s has been relocated to Pakistan," Graham says. "They've had eight years to regroup."

Graham says he can't discuss whether other terrorist groups also are tinkering with anthrax or other bioweapons.

Robert Kadlec, former special assistant to President Bush on biodefense — and the head of the White House group that ordered Slezak to Washington — says much of the specific information linking terrorists to weapons of mass destruction is shaky. "There's always the risk of strategic surprise from groups that are not on anybody's radar screen," he says.

It no longer takes a government bioweapons program to cook up a biological weapon, as the 2001 anthrax attacks showed, adds Kadlec, now with PRTM, an international management consulting firm. Although the anthrax case has not been closed because the lead suspect committed suicide, the FBI blames the attacks on a lone government scientist, Bruce Ivins of the United States Army Research Institute for Infectious Diseases.

"The Ivins case showed that this is now something that an individual can do, like the Unabomber," Kadlec says.

'We go the whole 10 yards'

The scenarios envisioned by Hooks and other Homeland Security officials are enough to keep anyone awake at night: A terrorist in a pickup in Charlotte, spewing a biological agent through an agricultural sprayer. A small plane releasing microbes into night skies upwind of Washington, D.C. Someone spraying anthrax from a briefcase in Pennsylvania Station in New York, the busiest transit hub in the USA, with 600,000 people streaming through each day.

"How many people would be infected? How far would it spread? They'd go right through there, jump on a train and be gone," Hooks says. "Those are the kinds of things I worry about."

The only way to know the detection system is capable of picking up such threats is to test it, says Omberg of Los Alamos. BioWatch analysts have released benign microbes upwind of likely terrorist targets and population centers. BioWatch sensors in the Washington, D.C., area have reliably picked up bacteria released near the Pentagon and Tysons Corner, a close-in office and retail hub in Virginia.

Real-world alerts, such as the tularemia incident in Washington, D.C., also have helped some cities gear up for a biological incident. Houston, even more than Washington, is home to the bacteria that cause tularemia, Francisella tularensis, which regularly triggers BioWatch alerts.

"When it occurs, we go the whole 10 yards," says David Persse, director of public health for the Houston Department of Health and Human Services. "We use it as an opportunity to do a real live drill."

Their greatest fears

In a real biological strike, Persse says, a call from the lab director would set a range of activities in motion, beginning with a series of planned conference calls to local, state and federal officials.

Public health officials would begin taking environmental samples to confirm the findings, and others would try to plot the size and the shape of the "plume" from weather conditions and "hot filters" at detection sites. Still others would set up drug or vaccination distribution centers, prepare emergency medical services and notify the public of what had occurred.

In August, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene conducted a full-scale anthrax-response exercise, opening an antibiotic distribution site at a high school in Manhattan.

In a citywide attack, health officials are prepared to open 200 such centers throughout the city, staffed by 40,000 people prepared to serve 8.3 million New Yorkers, says Isaac Weisfuse, a health department infectious-disease specialist.

That's the worst-case scenario, Weisfuse says, "a massive overflight of New York that sprinkles anthrax over the city." He says an actual event is likely to be more limited, with a response tailored to the specifics of the threat.

Persse says Houston, too, is ready.

"If something gets past us, it won't be because we didn't do everything we were supposed to do," he says. "I'll be darned if it will happen on my watch."

US wants tough bioweapons ban, but no verification

GENEVA — The U.S. unveiled a strategy Wednesday to crack down on biological weapons that doesn't include any international enforcement, continuing the Bush administration's rejection of binding verification plans.

The U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control, Ellen Tauscher, said she wanted to revitalize the Biological Weapons Convention, which Washington walked out of in 2001 when it rejected international monitoring of military and pharmaceutical research.

But Tauscher expressed the same key reservation.

"The Obama administration will not seek to revive negotiations on a verification protocol to the convention," she told diplomats in Geneva.

The 1972 convention prohibits the development, trade and use of biological weapons such as anthrax, smallpox and other toxins that could bring devastating effects to civilian populations. But the Cold War treaty was drawn up without enforcement provisions.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, diplomats began negotiating a new protocol for the ban that would have opened up signing countries to international monitoring. The talks dragged on for almost a decade and were nearly finished, when the Bush administration suddenly pulled out shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.

At the time, Washington said the proposed inspection system would not work and would expose U.S. secrets to enemies and rivals. There have been no advances in global disarmament talks since.

"Our long-term goal is to develop mechanisms to verify compliance with this convention," said Swedish Ambassador Magnus Hellgren, who was representing the 27-nation European Union.

Hellgren, one of about 100 diplomats who saw Tauscher's presentation, said the U.S. was making a "welcome contribution." But he told The Associated Press that he would reserve his verdict on the Obama administration's commitment to the process until 2011, when the entire convention will be reviewed.

Tauscher noted that the danger from biological agents has grown with the development of new science and global terrorism.

But she said "it is extraordinarily difficult to verify compliance."

A binding treaty on verification "would not be able to keep pace with the rapidly changing nature of the biological weapons threat," Tauscher said.

She added that countries should act in a "voluntary" manner to build greater confidence in the convention.

Tibor Toth, a Hungarian diplomat who chaired the biological talks until their 2001 collapse, said the U.S. support was significant.

"The threat is not diminishing," he told the AP by telephone from Vienna, adding that new dangers from biological weapons would need new approaches.

But Daryl Kimball of the Washington-based Arms Control Association called the U.S. reluctance to verification "extremely unfortunate."

"Today we have no internationally recognized method for investigating," Kimball said. "If we had such a mechanism ... it would serve as important deterrent against states who consider the use of biological weapons."

BBC News
Anthrax found in dead heroin user

Anthrax has been found in two heroin users from Glasgow - one of whom has died in hospital.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said the man died in the city's Victoria Infirmary on Wednesday. A woman being treated there has also tested positive.

A second man with "serious soft tissue infections" is being tested at Glasgow Royal Infirmary.

Police believe contaminated heroin or a contaminated cutting agent may be responsible for the infections.

Dr Syed Ahmed, consultant in public health medicine, said: "I urge all drug injecting heroin users to be extremely alert and to seek urgent medical advice if they experienced an infection.

"While this section of the community need to be on their guard the risk to the rest of the population - including close family members of the infected cases - is negligible.

"It is extremely rare for anthrax to be spread from person to person and there is no significant risk of airborne transmission from one person to another."

Hoofed animals

The health board said it would investigate cases of drug injecting heroin users who presents with serious soft tissue infections now or during the last four weeks.

Anthrax is an acute bacterial infection most commonly found in hoofed animals such as cattle, sheep and goats.

It normally infects humans when they inhale or ingest anthrax spores, but cannot be passed from person to person.

The last death from anthrax in Scotland was in 2006 when Christopher Norris died after inhaling the spores.

The 50-year-old craftsman, from Stobs, near Hawick, made drums with materials such as untreated animal hides.

Digital Journal

NH Woman Critcally Ill With Anthrax
December 27, 2009
By Martin Laine

African drums are suspected as a possible source of spores that have left a New Hampshire woman in critical condition with a case of gastrointestinal anthrax.
The Concord Monitor is reporting today that the Stafford County resident first became ill earlier this month, but the disease was not diagnosed until yesterday, after she had been transferred to a Massachusetts hospital. Naturally occurring anthrax, a potentially fatal disease which can be contracted from contaminated meat or animal hides, is rare in developed countries. New Hampshire public health director Dr. Jose Montero said the woman owns an African drum and had brought it to drum circle events at the University of New Hampshire during the fall. Two other recent cases of naturally-occurring anthrax infection in the United States were traced back to African drums. In August 2007, according to the Centers for Disease Control, a Connecticut drum maker and one of his children were diagnosed with a form of anthrax which was eventually traced back to infected goat hides from Guinea. A year earlier, a similar case was reported in New York City, also involving a drum maker using African hides. Health officials in New Hampshire are asking other owners of African drums to have their drums tested for possible contamination. The last cases of naturally-occurring anthrax in New Hampshire were in 1957, when several textile mill workers came down with the disease. In the last 50 years, there have only been 11 reported cases of naturally-occurring anthrax in the United States. In 2001, four people died after they were exposed to anthrax spores contained in letters mailed to journalists and two U.S. senators. No one has ever been charged in those killings.

Anthrax Found In Drums Linked To Infected Woman, US

Article Date: 29 Dec 2009 - 3:00 PST
Medical News Today

US health officials have confirmed samples from a pair of African drums used in a drumming circle attended by a New Hampshire woman who is severely ill in hospital with gastrointestinal anthrax have tested positive for the deadly bacterium.

The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) confirmed on Monday that test samples from two African drums stored at a building belonging to the the United Campus Ministry to the University of New Hampshire in downtown Durham have come back positive for anthrax, but stressed they have not been confirmed as the source of the infection and additional tests are still going on.

The DHHS said that over the weekend, members of the the New Hampshire National Guard, the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, and the US Environmental Protection Agency collected environmental samples from the United Campus Ministry building and African drums stored there: the infected woman, who is from Strafford County, took part in a drumming circle held in that building.

The samples are being tested at the New Hampshire Public Health Labs in Concord.

The United Campus Ministry is an ecumenical ministry formed of various denominational Christian bodies that provides spiritual leadership and services on college and university campuses across the US and beyond.

The authorities said they are continuing to investigate the source of the anthrax that infected the woman, and that the drums are only one possible source. In the meantime the building has been closed under an order from DHHS Commissioner Nicholas Toumpas until further notice.

In an earlier media communication on Sunday Toumpas said:

"Our thoughts and concerns are with this patient and her family."

"This is a difficult and unusual situation, and we are committing all possible resources to determining the cause of this exposure as quickly as possible."

Public Health Director Dr. José Montero told the media that:

"Gastrointestinal anthrax is very unusual."

"We have not yet been able to confirm that the drums are the cause of the patient's illness and we are continuing to follow up many leads. Anthrax is not an illness that you can catch from someone else."

Anthrax is an acute infectious disease caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis.

It is rare for humans to become infected with anthrax, as it most commonly occurs in wild and domestic animals such as cattle, sheep, goats, camels, antelopes, and other plant-eaters. Anthrax occurs naturally all over the world, but is more common in countries without veterinary public health programs.

Humans can't catch anthrax from an infected human: they catch it from being exposed to infected live animals or dead tissue from animals, including hides, meat, and fur (African drums are usually made from hollowed out logs and stretched cow skin).

Although it is very rare for people to become infected naturally by anthrax, public concern has been heightened in recent years because the bacterium has been been weaponized, as in October 2001, when mail containing spores of the bacterium was sent to US senator Tom Daschle, media offices, and others, killing five people and infecting 17 more. There are also concerns about its wider potential use in biological warfare.

There are three types of anthrax infection: cutaneous (skin), inhalation, and gastrointestinal. Symptoms vary depending on how it is contracted, but they usual appear within 7 days.

The intestinal form, which is what the woman at the centre of this case has been diagnosed with, starts with nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, and fever, followed by abdominal pain, vomiting of blood and severe diarrhea.

Mortality rates vary from 20 per cent of untreated skin cases, around 50 per cent for the gastrointestinal form, to fatal if it is breathed in.

The New Hampshire DHHS said that even though it is a remote possibility for transmission, because of the possible link to the African drums, they are asking:

"Anyone who brought their own drum to one of the events held at the United Campus Ministry between October 1st and early December 2009 to call DPHS at 271-4496 to discuss the possibility of having their drum tested."

Source: New Hampshire DHSS, Merck online medical library.

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD

Washington Examiner

Who was behind the September 2001 anthrax attacks?

By: Michael Barone
Senior Political Analyst
01/01/10 6:59 PM EST

Here’s some news I missed.Edward Jay Epstein reported on December 21 that the FBI’s anthrax case has fallen apart. In 2008 the FBI declared that Dr. Bruce Ivins, who died an apparent suicide in July 2008, was the perpetrator who sent anthrax-laced letters to members of Congress and others just days after the September 11 attacks. The FBI’s investigation, apparently the most lengthy it had ever conducted, was directed primarily at scientists who had access to anthrax materials. But, Epstein reports, it turns out that Dr. Ivins did not have access to the sophisticated form of anthrax used in September 2001.

Back in October 2001 I wrote a U.S. News column arguing that a state actor may have been behind the anthrax attacks, and I blogged on the subject twice in September 2006  and again in November 2007. It seemed to me then that the anthrax attacks were overwhelmingly likely to be the product of al Qaeda or another terrorist organization, quite likely aided by a state actor, and that the FBI by concentrating its investigation on domestic scientists had been barking up the wrong tree. The announcement in 2008 that the case was solved and a domestic scientist was responsible seemed to refute my conclusions. Now Epstein’s report that the FBI’s case has fallen apart has me thinking along the same lines as I was from 2001 to 2008.

Will we ever learn who was behind the September 2001 anthrax attacks?

Anthrax attacks still unexplained

By: Michael Barone
Senior Political Analyst
01/29/10 4:05 PM EST

This week in the Wall Street Journal, Edward Jay Epstein explains why the September 2001 anthrax attacks have still not been explained, despite the most extensive investigation in the FBI’s history. He demonstrates why the FBI’s pinning of the crime on a chemical weapons scientist who committed suicide is utterly unconvincing. 

I blogged on this on New Year’s Day, citing an earlier version of Epstein’s article that appeared on his website. It seemed to me in September 2001 and it seems to me today, eight years and four months later, that there is a high likelihood that a state actor was behind the anthrax attacks.

A reasonable retort: why then was there no recurrence of the anthrax attacks after September 2001? (One possible answer: because those attacks did not kill nearly as many people or incite nearly the panic that the instigator intended.)

But I still think that my theory seems more likely than the theory on which the FBI based much of its investigation, which is that the attacks were the work of a disgruntled or disturbed U.S. scientist. To a hammer, everything looks like a nail, and the main business of the FBI is to track down domestic crime and accumulate evidence that can stand up in court. An investigation that leads to a state actor, however, raises other and disturbing issues. What to do about a state actor that attacks America is not the province of law enforcement but of the president and Congress.

Ivins' attorney: Anthrax case to be closed today
Originally published February 19, 2010 - Updated 11:28 AM, February 19, 2010

By Adam Behsudi
News-Post Staff

The FBI is expected to issue a final report today on its six-year investigation of the 2001 anthrax letter attacks, according to the attorney representing former Frederick resident Bruce Ivins, a Fort Detrick scientist accused of planning and carrying out the attacks that killed five people and sickened 17.

“The U.S. Attorney called me and said they would close the case today,” said Rockville attorney Paul Kemp.

The report will close an investigation in which Ivins, a senior researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, was eventually identified as the only person suspected of mailing the deadly letters to the offices of U.S. senators and media companies.

Kemp said he was contacted Thursday by the office of U.S. Attorney for the Disrict of Columbia.

Ivins died from an apparent suicide in July 2008, one week before the FBI announced their findings. He had swallowed enough Tylenol to poison himself before any charges were filed.

The mailings wreaked havoc on the U.S. Postal Service causing fear among a population still reeling in the weeks following the Sept. 11 attacks.

The investigation was the largest and most involved in FBI history. Kemp said he was unsure of the scope of materials that would be released today.

“I’m sure the family will want to discuss it,” he said.

Government closes 'Amerithrax' case
Originally published February 20, 2010

By Adam Behsudi
Frederick News-Post Staff

Federal investigators closed the case Friday on this country's first major act of bioterrorism and sealed their findings that Bruce Ivins, a former Frederick resident and Fort Detrick scientist, acted alone in the 2001 anthrax letter attacks that killed five people and sickened 17 others in the weeks after Sept. 11.

The FBI issued a 92-page report summarizing a seven-year investigation, which concluded that Ivins, a senior researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, mailed the deadly letters to the offices of U.S. senators and news organizations.

Ivins died in an apparent suicide in July 2008, one week before the FBI announced its initial findings. He had swallowed enough Tylenol to poison himself before any charges were filed.

"This document sets forth a summary of the evidence developed in the 'Amerithrax' investigation, the largest investigation into a bio-weapons attack in U.S. history," a Department of Justice news release stated.

Information from the report also revealed evidence that Ivins suffered from a possible guilty conscience and severe mental instability highlighted by threatening, obsessive and odd behavior.

"Our pasts shape our futures, and mine was built on lies and craziness, and depression, and thievery, and things that make an honest man and woman cry," Ivins wrote in a 2008 e-mail to a colleague. "Alone. The farther I got, it's alone. The state smells its (carnivorous) death-blood sacrifice. I look into the mirror and cry out who it is."

Anthrax from the tainted letters killed two Washington-area postal workers, a photo editor at a Florida-based tabloid magazine, a New York City hospital worker and a 94-year-old Connecticut woman.

Two letters were addressed to the offices of Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and then-Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., in Washington. One letter was addressed to Tom Brokaw at NBC. One letter was addressed to the New York Post. The last letter was apparently sent to American Media Inc., a magazine and tabloid publisher in Boca Raton, Fla.

A representative from Leahy's office said the senator had a long discussion with FBI Director Robert Mueller but has no plans to comment about the case.

However, the FBI's report left many unconvinced. Rep. Rush Holt, a Democrat who represents the central New Jersey district where the anthrax letters were mailed, said Americans deserve a better investigation with thorough answers they can trust. He pushed for legislation that would have established a national commission, similar to the one formed to investigate the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"This has been a closed-minded, closed process from the beginning. Arbitrarily closing the case on a Friday afternoon should not mean the end of this investigation," Holt said in a news release Friday. "The evidence the FBI produced would not, I think, stand up in court. But because their prime suspect is dead and they're not going to court, they seem satisfied with barely a circumstantial case."

The report released Friday provides a more detailed account of the FBI investigation and how the inquiry was narrowed to Ivins, who was plunging deeper into depression just before the attacks due to professional and personal pressures.

"In late June 2001, shortly before the anthrax mailings, Dr. Ivins's prescription for anti-depressant medication doubled," the report states. "This evidence shows that Dr. Ivins's mental state was precarious in the months leading up to the mailings."

The report also outlines a motive. Shortly before the attacks, Ivins' life work of developing an effective anthrax vaccine was on the brink of failure, it said.

Ivins had spent much of his career working on an anthrax vaccine program, which was facing elimination after failing tests. He also reacted negatively to the criticism that the vaccine was a cause of Gulf War syndrome.

In his workplace at USAMRIID, the report states that Ivins felt abandoned by two colleagues on which he had become emotionally reliant. He became increasingly obsessed with one of those colleagues after that person left the lab for another job.

The FBI has touted its scientific methods for isolating the anthrax used in the mailings. Last summer, the National Academy of Sciences convened a group of experts to study the science behind the investigation. The $880,000 FBI-funded study is scheduled to be completed later this year.

Using a complex genetic analysis, the strain of anthrax used in the letters was isolated and traced to a flask Ivins had under his control at his Fort Detrick lab.

The report explains how investigators methodically ruled out hundreds of possible suspects, including people who had direct access to the flask. Inquiries were also expanded to people with knowledge of anthrax production, lab experience, allegations of wrongdoing and motive to carry out an attack. A task force of 25 to 30 full-time investigators spent hundreds of thousands of hours on the case, according to Friday's news release.

Ivins, regarded by many of those interviewed as one of the most expert anthrax researchers in the country, continued to deny his abilities to produce spores that matched the quality of those found in the envelopes, according to the report.

"Dr. Ivins seemed to try to downplay his skill-set in ways that were wholly inconsistent with reality," the report states.

Paul Kemp, a Rockville lawyer who has represented Ivins and his family, said Friday he would likely discuss the newly released information with Ivins' family.

"It doesn't mean anything for me, because my client is obviously deceased," Kemp said.

The FBI has also released 2,700 pages of material related to the case made accessible from the agency's website.

Richard Schuler, an attorney for the family of victim Robert Stevens, said the case looked convincing. He said it does not change the status of a lawsuit the Stevens family has filed in federal district court.

Stevens was a photo editor at a Florida tabloid owned by American Media. His widow is suing the federal government for damages.

Schuler said the family has had the report since October. He said the document bolsters their case showing a lack of security at Fort Detrick and the inability to identify an employee with severe mental health issues.

"Somebody should not have allowed him to be in a position to handle these ultra-dangerous organisms," Schuler said.

Staff writer Megan Eckstein contributed to this report.

U.S. closes case on anthrax letters

The inquiry concludes that researcher Bruce E. Ivins, who died in 2008 in an apparent suicide, was solely responsible for the 2001 attacks.

Reporting from Washington - The FBI and Justice Department on Friday officially closed their investigation into the 2001 mailings of anthrax-contaminated letters to Capitol Hill and journalists in New York and Florida, concluding that U.S. Army medical researcher Bruce E. Ivins was solely responsible for the five deaths that resulted.

Had Ivins not died in an apparent suicide in July 2008 as investigators were closing in on him, he would probably have been charged with the use of a weapon of mass destruction, authorities said in their report.

The announcement of the end of the case was accompanied by the release of voluminous supporting documents, including thousands of pages of summaries, e-mails, search warrants and other evidentiary material.

The FBI, working with postal inspectors and federal prosecutors, said Ivins had plenty of opportunities to create and maintain the spore batches of anthrax, noting that he often worked late at night alone in the lab at Ft. Detrick, Md., where the material was stored, grown and harvested.

"In addition," the report says, "Dr. Ivins was among the very few anthrax researchers nationwide with the knowledge and ability to create the highly purified spores used in the mailings." His motive, it says, was born out of "intense personal and professional pressure."

He had devoted his entire 20-year career to the anthrax vaccine program and feared that the project was being phased out. "Following the anthrax attacks, however, his program was suddenly rejuvenated," authorities said.

Ivins' lawyer, Paul Kemp, ridiculed the government findings.

"There's absolutely no evidence he did anything," Kemp said. Rep. Rush D. Holt, a Democrat from central New Jersey where the anthrax letters were mailed, also was not satisfied.

"This has been a closed-minded, closed process from the beginning," he said. "The evidence the FBI produced would not, I think, stand up in court."

According to the 92-page summary of the investigation, Ivins struggled with mental health issues. In the month before he died of an overdose of Tylenol, he posted violent messages on the Internet and leveled death threats at a group therapy session. His doctors considered him "homicidal and sociopathic." He also told a friend how he felt pressured by the FBI investigation, and how things were happening that he had no control over, but that "I don't have it in my, in my, I, I can tell you I don't have it in my heart to kill anybody."

Just months earlier he had tried to commit suicide at home in Frederick, Md. He had been taking antidepressants. He collected guns and body armor. Sometimes he wrote in code, fascinated with constructions like TTT and AAT and TAT, similar to the bold-face letters on the anthrax mailings, apparent references to a chain of nucleic acids in the DNA genetic chain.

The federal investigation was not without its missteps and false turns. Officials spent the first years running down suspicions that the mailings were the work of Al Qaeda.

They devoted blocks of time and resources investigating Steven J. Hatfill, a former researcher at Ft. Detrick, ultimately clearing him.

No physical evidence was found linking Ivins to the mailbox at Princeton University in New Jersey where the anthrax letters were posted.

However, the report says, "strong circumstantial links . . . were established." The mailbox is near the offices of the school's Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, which Ivins reportedly had obsessed over.

Kemp said the connection was preposterous. "I drove up there to see how long it would take me, and what was there," he said. "It's a mail drop for people interested in that sorority. Just a business drop. There were no girls there."

richard.serrano@ latimes.com

U.S. closes 2001 anthrax case
Government says one man to blame for attack killing 5
Saturday,  February 20, 2010 2:56 AM
The Palm Beach Post

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The federal government yesterday formally closed the books on the 2001 anthrax attack that terrorized Palm Beach County and a nation still reeling from the Sept. 11 attack just weeks earlier.

The Justice Department said yesterday that it was convinced that Bruce Ivins, an Army microbiologist, sent the letters laced with anthrax powder that killed five people, sickened 17 and shut down government offices and media outlets across the country.

The dead were Bob Stevens, a photo editor at American Media Inc. in Boca Raton, Fla., two postal workers in Washington, D.C., a New York City hospital worker and a 94-year-old Connecticut woman who had no known contact with any of the poisoned letters.

"As disclosed previously, the Amerithrax investigation found that the late Dr. Bruce Ivins acted alone in planning and executing these attacks," the Justice Department said in a statement.

The department also released a 92-page summary and 2,700 pages of FBI documents.

In July 2008, the 62-year-old Ivins committed suicide as the FBI was preparing to charge him in the attack and seek the death penalty.

At that time, authorities said that the anthrax-laden letters sent to lawmakers and media organizations might have been a warped plot for Ivins to test his vaccine on victims.

Ivins worked for 35 years at the warfare-defense labs at Fort Detrick, Md. He was one of the government's leading scientists researching vaccines and cures for anthrax exposure. But he also reportedly had a long history of homicidal threats.

The Associated Press reported yesterday that investigators nearly closed the case last year, but government lawyers decided to further review what evidence could be shared publicly.

"I'm glad the FBI took the extra time since 2008 to bolster their case," Palm Beach County Commissioner Steven Abrams said yesterday.

Abrams was Boca Raton's mayor when the attacks put the city on the map in the worst possible way.

"I think they (federal investigators) did reach the right conclusion," Abrams said. "For Boca Raton, the case was over a long time ago when the building was finally cleared for occupancy."

The first to die in the attacks was Stevens, 63, of suburban Lantana, Fla.

AMI, then headquartered in Boca Raton, is the publisher of the National Enquirer and other publications.

In 2003, Stevens' widow, Maureen, sued the federal government and Battelle Memorial Institute, a research firm that contracts with the military, for $50 million.

She alleged the government failed to secure the deadly agent at Fort Detrick.

Stevens' attorney, Richard Schuler, has questioned how a mentally unstable man (Ivins) could be allowed to continue working with dangerous substances.

"All the information (released yesterday) is very helpful to our case," Schuler said yesterday.

"If you look at what they wrote, the lapse in security was horrendous. They didn't have any way to keep track of these highly dangerous substances," he said.

Stevens' case is expected to go to trial this year or early next year.

Feb 19, 2010
USA Today

'Gödel, Escher, Bach' author downplays FBI anthrax case link

Gödel, Escher, Bach, author Douglas Hofstadter on Friday called anthrax investigation links to his book, a "red herring", after Justice Department documents revealed a role for the 1979 Pulitzer Prize winner in decoding the just-closed case.

The Justice Department "formally concluded" its investigation into the 2001 anthrax case,  on Friday, continuing to conclude the late anthrax vaccine researcher Bruce Ivins, was the culprit behind the 2001 mailings that killed five people. The prosecution documents show the investigation of Ivins drew Hofstadter's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1979 book , Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, into the investigation.

On November 1, 2007, Task Force agents executed a search warrant at the Ivins residence. A few days later, on November 7, 2007, agents conducted a "trash run" at his house in an effort to see what he threw out that they may have missed. As will be described more fully in the Consciousness of Guilt section infra, on the night of the trash run, Dr. Ivins behaved in a bizarre fashion after he put out his trash, going so far as to confirm that the trash bag had actually been removed from his trash can. Recovered from his trash that night were a number of written materials dealing with codons, including (1) a 1992 issue of American Scientist Journal which contained an article entitled "The Linguistics of DNA," and discussed, among other things, codons and hidden messages; and (2) a book entitled Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid ("GEB"), published by Dr. Douglas Hofstadter in 1979. It is difficult to summarize what the book is about – indeed, in the 20th anniversary edition of the book, Dr. Hofstadter lamented the fact that it was poorly, if at all, understood. However, the basic premise is that there are surface meanings (the "frame message") and then there are meanings within mathematics (Godel), art (Escher), and music (Bach) that are hidden (the "inner message").

According to the case documents, investigators linked the highlighted "A" and "T"' letters in the 2001 attack anthrax mailing messages to a code revolving around genetics.  The book discusses hiding codes in messages. Ivins implicated two of his lab mates, the investigation summary suggests, in a code hidden in the 2001 anthrax letters.

In an email response, Hofstadter told USA TODAY:

I was contacted by the FBI a couple of years ago about this case, and a couple of FBI people in fact came to my house and spent a few hours talking with me and then went through a bunch of correspondence (both electronic and postal) that I'd had for many years with hundreds if not thousands of people here, there, and everywhere, looking for possible connections with the person they suspected had done the mailings, but as far as I understood, they didn't come up with anything at all. I think they wondered if GEB had had some kind of influence on him, since he was apparently a fan of the book, but I don't see how it could have influenced him, and I don't think that they ever really found any link either. So I think it's basically a red herring, although for me it was interesting to meet the FBI people and to get a tiny glimpse into their way of investigating a complex and important case.

Anthrax myth persists despite evidence

By Dan Vergano, USA TODAY
February 20, 2010

Can science ever do away with bad ideas? Or do they just limp along forever?

Consider the federal investigators who have "formally concluded" their investigation into the 2001 anthrax killings, pointing again to the late anthrax vaccine researcher Bruce Ivins as the case's culprit.

Whatever history's verdict on Ivins, one brouhaha at the center of the case has already outlived him — the story of "weaponized" anthrax.

"One of my biggest frustrations with this has been showing people the data, and it doesn't matter," says researcher Joseph Michael of Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, N.M. Michael has presented electron microscope results that show the 2001 attack anthrax wasn't weaponized for two years, "but still the idea refuses to go away."

The notion took hold in October of 2001, as the Hart senate office building faced closure due to anthrax contamination, when then-House minority leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., described some of the anthrax used in the attacks as "weapons-grade material." The claim sparked a flurry of reports about the peculiar properties of the attack spores, their high quality and lightness, which hastened their spread through the building's ventilation system.

Fears centered around silica, the chief ingredient in sand, which allows small bacterial spores to float more freely in the air, or aerosolize, if applied as a coating, a Cold War bioweapons technique studied at the U.S. Army's Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah.

In particular, a 2001 warning that silica had been purposely added to the attack anthrax came from virologist Peter Jahrling of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The warning was delivered to White House officials (reported in Robert Preston's 2002 book, The Demon in the Freezer: A True Story), after U.S. Armed Forces Institutes of Pathology X-ray results showed silica present in samples of the attack anthrax. The fear gained currency in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war's beginning, which centered around fears of bioweapons, as well as chemical and nuclear weapons.

"The spores in the Washington, D.C. letters were of exceptional purity," says the Justice Department's just-released investigation summary.

So, as part of the investigation, Michael and his colleagues looked at the attack spores using electron microscopes, which can see at fine enough resolution, on the nanometer scale, to spot exactly where the silica resided.In so doing they knocked down the notion the attack anthrax had been weaponized with a silicon coating. Instead, they found silicon that occurred naturally inside the spores.

"I believe I made an honest mistake," Jahrling told The Los Angeles Times, in a 2008 response to this news, adding he was "overly impressed" by his initial views of the attack spores under the microscope.

Still the idea lives on, for example, in a January opinion column in the Wall Street Journal, that cited scientists who see the amount of silica in the attack spores as "blowing the FBI's case out of the water." (The FBI argued the lab where Ivins worked didn't have the facilities to weaponize the anthrax.)

Michael calls it "remarkable" that the opinion piece didn't note his team's well-publicized findings. "As a sheltered scientist, it kind of shocks me," Michael says. "People will believe what they want to believe."

So, how did the silica get inside the spores then? A January Journal of Bacteriology study led by Ryuichi Hirota of Japan's Hiroshima University offers one answer. Looking at Bacillus cereus, a bacterium closely related to anthrax, researchers find silica naturally ingest the stuff if grown in sand-laced Petri dishes. Further, the silica produces acid resistance in the bugs, something they need to survive a trip to the stomach of grazing animals, one way they spread in the wild.

But it doesn't make the spores float any more easily, Hirota and colleagues find. FBI scientist Vahid Majidi in 2008 suggested the crushing the anthrax letters underwent in postal sorting machines likely contributed to the fineness of the powders released in the Senate office building.

"I have to wonder if the controversial (Wall Street Journal opinion) piece didn't put pressure on the Department of Justice and FBI to close the case. Maybe they realized that continuing the case just encouraged such misinformation," says anthrax scientist Paul Keim of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, who managed the investigation's repository of 1,070 anthrax samples. "Everyone can judge for themselves how the investigation was handled and the strength of the conclusions. Not everyone will be happy with the FBI conclusions, but this is America and we revel in conspiracy theories."

AntiPolygraph.org News

DOJ Rationalizes Away Polygraph’s Failure to Catch Alleged Anthrax Killer Bruce Ivins

February 20th, 2010

On Friday, 19 February 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the conclusion of its investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks. The DOJ maintains that  Dr. Bruce Edwards Ivans, who in 2002 passed a polygraph test regarding the anthrax attacks, was the sole perpetrator.

In an investigative summary (640 kb PDF), the DOJ characterizes Ivins’ passing of the polygraph as part of an effort to “stay ahead of the investigation,” alleging (at p. 84, fn. 51) that he used countermeasures to fool the polygraph:

In some sense, Dr. Ivins’s efforts to stay ahead of the investigation began much earlier. When he took a polygraph in connection with the investigation in 2002, the examiner determined that he passed. However, as the investigation began to hone in on Dr. Ivins and investigators learned that he had been prescribed a number of psychotropic medications at the time of the 2002 polygraph, investigators resubmitted his results to examiners at FBI Headquarters and the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute for a reassessment of the results in light of that new information. Both examiners who independently reassessed the results determined that Dr. Ivins exhibited “classic” signs of the use of countermeasures to pass a polygraph. At the time the polygraph was initially examined in 2002, not all examiners were trained to spot countermeasures, making the first analysis both understandable under the circumstances, and irrelevant to the subsequent conclusion that he used countermeasures.

Although the summary doesn’t state what “classic” signs of countermeasures Ivins allegedly displayed, Michael Isikoff of Newsweek reported in 2008 that the FBI “concluded he’d used ‘countermeasures’ such as controlled breathing to fool the examiners.”

While FBI and DoD polygraphers claim that Ivins showed “classic” signs of countermeasure use, it should be noted that no polygraph operator has ever demonstrated the ability to detect polygraph countermeasures. There are no journal articles or book chapters on how to detect them. And retired FBI scientist and supervisory special agent Dr. Drew Richardson’s challenge to the polygraph community to prove its claimed ability to detect countermeasures has gone without takers for more than eight years.

With regard to the psychotropic medications that Ivins had been prescribed, there are no studies on the effects of such medications on polygraph results.

Also not mentioned in the DOJ summary is the fact that the FBI searched Ivans’s premises for, among other things, “materials on how to defeat a polygraph.” Evidently, no such materials were found, or they would presumably have been mentioned in the summary. It’s worth noting that if Ivins had Googled “how to beat  a polygraph” in 2002, he likely would have found AntiPolygraph.org’s on-line book, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector [1 mb PDF], which explains precisely how to do so.

The question of whether an alleged biological terrorist fooled the polygraph is a crucial one for national security. The polygraph remains the centerpiece of America’s personnel security policy–despite the conclusion of the National Academy of Sciences that it’s junk science.

While polygraphers claim that they can now detect countermeasures, they haven’t offered any evidence to support such a notion. It’s not hard to imagine how FBI and DoD polygraphers–armed with the knowledge that Ivins had become the sole suspect in the Amerithrax case–could review his charts and divine signs of countermeasures in them. In a similar manner, polygraph reviewers claimed that the charts of Aldrich Ames–the CIA turncoat who twice fooled the polygraph while spying for the Russians–showed clear signs of deception. But such signs only became clear once other evidence pointed to Ames’ guilt.

And Ames is but the most notorious of a litany of betrayers who have fooled the lie detector: others include Ignatz Theodor GrieblKarel Frantisek KoecherJiri PasovskyLarry Wu-tai ChinAna Belen Montes, and Leandro Aragoncillo.

Time and again, the polygraph has failed to protect America’s security. And time and again, these failures have been rationalized away. The polygraph operators say, “trust us.” But the failure of the polygraph to detect Ivins’ alleged deception in the Amerithrax case demands a reckoning. There must be no more rationalizations, no more sweeping the dirt under the rug.

The evidence that polygraphers can detect countermeasures generally, and that Ivins used polygraph countermeasures specifically, must be publicly disclosed so that it may be independently and critically scrutinized.

Update: An interview that Ivins gave to the FBI on 16 January 2008 undermines the notion that psychotropic drugs may have influenced his polygraph results or that he employed polygraph countermeasures. The report of that interview states regarding the 2002 polygraph examination that Ivins passed (at p. 199 of Section 4 of the Ivins’s FBI case file):

Years ago, IVINS submitted to a polygraph as part of the anthrax investigation. Prior to taking the polygraph, he did not research anything about the test, to include ways to defeat its accuracy. Likewise, he did not take any steps to defeat the tests [sic] accuracy or use countermeasures. In fact, IVINS stopped taking his anti-depression/anti-anxiety medication 48-72 hours before the polygraph, and he offered to provide blood and/or urine specimens at the time of the test to prove he was not medicated.
When IVINS was interviewed in March 2005, he was asked to consent to provide handwriting examplars. Shortly thereafter, he researched experts in the field of handwriting comparisons who could possibly be consulted about the technique. IVINS has no explanation why he researched the handwriting analysis but not the polygraph examination.

In addition, comments that Ivins allegedly made regarding his polygraph examination suggest that he really did not understand polygraph procedure. According to the FBI’s report of an interview of someone who knew Ivins conducted on 5 June 2008 (see p. 68 of Section 6), this person related that:

IVINS spoke about the polygraph he took [for the investigation] and that he passed some questions but failed the one about taking stuff from work.

The question about taking stuff from work is a very common probable-lie “control” question, asked for comparison purposes. Polygraphers secretly assume that everyone has taken stuff from work, and the examinee’s denial is assumed to be less than completely truthful. Polygraphers gauge reactions to relevant questions like, “Did you send those anthrax letters?” against reactions to control questions like “Did you ever take anything from work?” If reactions to the relevant question are stronger, the subject fails, and conversely, if reactions to the control question are stronger, the person passes. (For a fuller explanation of polygraph procedure, see Chapter 3 of The Lie Behind the Lie Detector.)

Ivins evidently didn’t understand the function of such control questions, something that anyone who has researched polygraphy would grasp.

Update 2: Note that in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2001, retired FBI polygraph operator Richard W. Keifer averred that ”[b]ased on the results of scientific studies, when conducting a screening polygraph, you will have high confidence (99.99 %) on decisions to clear people.” Regarding polygraph countermeasures, Keifer maintained, “The danger from countermeasures, while real, is overstated.”

FBI report fails to end questions about Ivins' guilt
Originally published February 23, 2010

By Megan Eckstein
Frederick News-Post Staff

The FBI may have concluded Fort Detrick scientist Bruce Ivins was responsible for the 2001 anthrax attacks, but many others aren't convinced.

Scientists, Ivins' friends and others maintain the report is too flawed to have held up in court had Ivins been alive for a trial by jury.

Jeffrey Adamovicz, former chief of bacteriology who supervised Ivins' work at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, said he found little new information in the FBI's final report.

"The evidence is still very circumstantial and unconvincing as a whole," Adamovicz wrote in an e-mail. "I'm curious as to why they closed the case while the (National Academy of Science) review is still ongoing. Is it because the review is going unfavorable for the FBI?"

The Academy of Science began reviewing the FBI's Amerithrax investigation last summer. The Academy will not seek to prove Ivins guilty or innocent; rather, it will only evaluate the validity of the FBI's scientific methods.

Questioning the FBI's science

A key issue for the Academy relates to how the attack anthrax was prepared and how much time it would take to produce such highly refined spores.

"There is an assumption by the FBI that the spores could have only been prepared in the week before each mailing. This is a fatal error in logic," Adamovicz wrote in an e-mail. "The only reason that I can derive why the FBI has proposed this is that it is the only period that helps provide circumstantial evidence against Bruce."

One such piece of evidence is a chart of Ivins' night hours in the lab, which spikes in September 2001. Gerry Andrews, another former chief of bacteriology at USAMRIID, said he "didn't think it was peculiar" to have a sudden increase in night hours and tried to stress to the FBI that the spike was irrelevant.

Ivins was in the middle of several projects in September 2001, some of which involved animals, so it made sense that he would forsake a conventional schedule and instead work when he could be most productive with those particular projects.

"The FBI, I think, is trying to give folks the wrong impression of the timeline" to make their case against Ivins more convincing, Andrews said.

Adamovicz agreed that focusing on Ivins' September 2001 hours was irrelevant, since the anthrax spores that were mailed out could have been made as early as 1997.

"The person would need to grow new spores from vegetative cells, concentrate them, purify them and dry them -- it's not physically possible" to do in the FBI's one-week timeline, Adamovicz said.

Andrews said it would take 25 to 50 weeks to create the attack anthrax spores if a scientist started with the samples in Ivins' lab.

"Bruce didn't have the skill to make spore preps of that concentration," which were two orders of magnitude more concentrated than the anthrax in Ivins' lab, Andrews said. "He never ever could make a spore prep like the ones found in the letters."

Another factor for the academy to look into is the genetic analysis that traced the attack anthrax to Ivins' anthrax. Andrews agreed with the FBI that the attack anthrax originated from Ivins' flask. But the FBI report states as many as 377 people had access to Ivins' lab, and samples of his RMR-1029 anthrax had been sent to 15 domestic and three international labs.

The report states all other scientists with access to RMR-1029 anthrax were investigated and found to not have means or motive. Many scientists have expressed doubts about that part of the investigation.

Wrong and misleading evidence

Adamovicz said no forensic evidence -- such as fingerprints or strands of hair -- was ever found that links Ivins to the letters. The evidence in the report is less convincing, such as a section about a hidden message in the anthrax letters. Some of the As and Ts appear to be bolded; the letters spell out the genetic code for three proteins, whose names could be abbreviated to PAT or, using the proteins' single letter designators, spell FNY. Investigators said Ivins was obsessed with a coworker named Pat and had a well-known hatred of New York.

"While I admit this is an interesting theory, that is all it is," Adamovicz said.

Andrews said many of Ivins' motives, as outlined in the report, are based on false information. The final report states Ivins' project "had run its course at USAMRIID, leaving him potentially without anthrax research to do."

But Ivins was assured funding through 2005, Andrews said. The report also said that, because the anthrax research "was viewed as menial in nature and a waste of Dr. Ivins's considerable talents, there was a suggestion that he should begin work on Glanders research." Andrews said that was true, but those discussions didn't take place until late 2002, well after the anthrax attacks.

Portrayal of Ivins' suicide

Anne Leffler volunteered with Ivins at the American Red Cross' Disaster Services for five years. After reading the FBI's report, she said she is most upset by its portrayal of his suicide as proof of his guilt.

Leffler said Ivins was loving and caring, but like many brilliant people, was also "emotionally fragile in many ways."

"You pick on them enough, you bully them enough, you scare them enough -- and let's face it, the FBI can do that -- and they feel like they have nowhere to go," she said. That was why Ivins killed himself in 2008, not because he was guilty and wanted to escape punishment.

"At this point, the government is just needing to see the case closed, and it's easier to accuse a dead man," Leffler said.

In theory, she said she'd like to see the case reopened and Ivins' name cleared. But she fears who else might get railroaded and driven to suicide in another investigation.

"Maybe it's better, other than to vindicate Bruce, to just let it go," Leffler said.


FBI closes anthrax letters investigation

By Lauren Christensen
Staff Writer
The Daily Princetonian

Published: Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

A Nassau Street mailbox has secured its place in the FBI’s books.

Last Friday, the Amerithrax Task Force issued its final report on the 2001 anthrax scare last Friday, closing an investigation that lasted more than eight years. The task force, which included FBI special agents, U.S. postal inspectors and other law enforcement officials, alleged that Bruce Ivins committed the bioterrorist attacks.  

Laced with lethal spores, the letters infected 22 people, killing five and exacerbating the nation’s post-9/11 panic. The tainted envelopes were addressed to Tom Brokaw, The New York Post, then-Senate majority leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

The task force confirmed early in its investigation that the letters originated from a mailbox at 10 Nassau St., across the street from the Rockefeller College dining hall. Last week, this detail was incorporated into the official report of the anthrax scare.

In 2001, the revelation of the letters’ origin raised a stir on campus, which was already shaken by the World Trade Center attack only an hour’s drive away. The Daily Princetonian published more than a dozen articles on the incident during the 2001-02 academic year.

But nearly a decade later, the memory of the incident has not remained with most students.

Agreeing with the prevailing sentiment among her classmates, Veena Putcha ’11, had not heard that the letters were sent from Princeton, she said, and found the news “shocking and truly frightening.”  

“Wow, I had no idea,” Ellen Chu ’12 similarly noted in an e-mail.

The immediate question surrounding the 2001 finding was why the letters were sent from Princeton.

The Amerithrax report suggests that Ivins, who committed suicide in 2008, may have driven more than three hours from his home in Frederick, Md. to mail the letters because of several connections to the University. His father graduated from the University, and he was alledgedly obsessed with the Kappa Kappa Gamma (KKG) sorority, which has a chapter on campus. The Amerithrax report noted that Ivins established a pattern of visiting Kappa chapter houses at different universities.   

Current Kappa members declined to comment.

The task force alleged that Ivins acted lone in committing the attacks. It concluded that the microbiologist used anthrax in his laboratory and had the opportunity, motive and mental-health issues to commit the crime. The report also stated that Ivins, an expert in Army biodefense, displayed knowledge of and an interest in the cryptic codes contained in the letters.

Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) is among those skeptical of the task force’s conclusions.

The congressman, a former assistant director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, said that the report’s level of certainty about the purported culprit was unjustified.

“Arbitrarily closing the case on a Friday afternoon should not mean the end of this investigation,” Holt said in a statement.

He added that the investigation resulted in “barely a circumstantial case,” one that he said “would not, I think, stand up in court.”

Unlike some of her classmates, Sarah Williams ’11 was nonchalant when told about the connection.

“That doesn’t surprise me,” Williams said. “Princeton tends to attract crazy people.”

Front Page
     Feb 25, 2010
Doubts cloud closing of anthrax case
By Peter J Brown
Asia Times

An investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks in the United States, described by the Department of Justice as the largest investigation into a bioweapons attack in the country's history, has come to a close.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation released 2,728 pages of its documents on the case, which it undertook with the department and the US Postal Inspection Service.

Five Americans died and 17 others fell ill as the result of exposure to anthrax, shortly after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The person the FBI identified as the perpetrator, Dr Bruce Ivins, committed suicide in 2008 before charges were filed. Ivins worked at the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), based at Fort Detrick in Maryland.

In the days after his death, many people who knew Ivins or had unusual encounters with him came forward. One was Ellen Byrne, a wife of one of his colleagues. In an interview with National Public Radio, she related an exchange with Ivins at a party, which took place after some suspect anthrax arrived at USAMRIID for analysis. Apparently, he found the perfect powder fascinating.

"He was leaning over the table, and I was on the other side of the table," Byrne said. "And he leaned forward and was just really excited at how finely milled the powder was."

Ivins gestured with his hands like he was trying to weigh it on a scale and told Byrne: "It couldn't even be weighed - it just hovered. That was the word he used - hovered."

FBI Director Robert Mueller made it clear right from the beginning that the FBI was not ruling out any possibilities, while at the same time he explained the enormous scope of the investigation.

"As most of you know, the FBI is investigating anthrax exposures and suspected anthrax exposures in Florida, in New York, here in Washington, DC, and elsewhere around the country where such exposures have been reported," Mueller said in mid-October, 2001. "While organized terrorism has not been ruled out, so far we have found no direct link." Since October 1, the FBI had responded to more than 2,300 incidents or suspected incidents involving anthrax or other dangerous agents, Mueller said. "And as all of you know, an overwhelming majority of these incidents have been false alarms or practical jokes. The FBI will devote whatever resources are necessary to investigate each of these situations."

More than eight years later, there are many critics who do not agree with the FBI's conclusions.

One is Norman Covert, public affairs officer and historian at Fort Detrick from 1977 to 1999, who wrote a column, "White Powder and 007" in 2008. Asked by Asia Times Online if this 2008 column needed updating in light of the FBI's release, Covert said: "With the FBI's latest decision, my words are still apropos."

Here is an excerpt:

The government mobilized its team of Double-oh (uh-oh!) secret agents seven years ago to identify a villainous mad scientist, who, without genuine motive or opportunity, single handedly:
  • Used a Bio-Containment Level Three lab suite at Fort Detrick's US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), to develop a highly bred, weapons-grade strain of Bacillus anthracis (a scientific achievement not accomplished before, except perhaps in the biological warfare laboratories of the former Soviet Union);
  • Manipulated this super bacillus with a silica coating and a slight electrical charge so that, when opened in the containment cabinet, each particle repelled others in a brilliant display;
  • Ensured each particle was no more than five microns in size so that it would penetrate the fabric of a normal No 10 paper envelope, a product sold by the US Postal Service in the District of Columbia, Northern Virginia, West Virginia and Central Maryland;
    Managed to remove the material from the laboratory with it already placed in at least one envelope, also likely encased in an impermeable container, which would be obscured from the security guard;
  • Managed to avoid leaving any evidence on his clothing, his two automobiles and van, his house, garage, office and other personal items despite the extremely "dirty" potential of the dry agent;
  • Managed, in a fashion unknown to the Department of Homeland Security and the "Double-Ohs", to have the envelopes placed in a mailbox in Princeton, NJ, with a note in a handwriting that cannot be identified with any known person;
  • Managed to obscure this cutting-edge science from a host of colleagues for the entire development period - a major feat in itself!
  • Simultaneously he managed to significantly improve an old anthrax vaccine to protect our troops during Operation Desert Storm; then was a key developer of the new recombinant DNA-based anthrax vaccine that was undergoing efficacy trials at USAMRIID.
  • US Representative Rush Holt of New Jersey sees the investigation's abrupt end as questionable at best.

    "This has been a closed-minded, closed process from the beginning. Arbitrarily closing the case on a Friday afternoon should not mean the end of this investigation," Holt said. "The evidence the FBI produced would not, I think, stand up in court. But because their prime suspect is dead, and they're not going to court; they seem satisfied with barely a circumstantial case. The National Academies of Science review of the FBI's scientific methods in this case won't be released until summer, but the FBI doesn't seem to care."

    This investigation as well as that of the 9/11 attacks coincided with the evolution of blogging and social networking. Via the rapid proliferation of blogs worldwide, the Internet provided multiple fora for uninformed conspiracy buffs and experts alike. The identities of the participants are masked sometimes, and yet are often out in the open.

    On Nass' blogsite, for example, an entry appears in the comments section from Dr Drew Richardson, who retired after a 25-year career as an FBI agent and former scientist in the FBI Laboratory. Richardson was head of the FBI's chemical biological counter-terrorism response unit (known as the HMRU), and he was also involved in "lie detection", or polygraph, research for the FBI.

    Contacted by Asia Times Online to verify that he had written the comments, he also made a few additional comments, which he requested not be included here.

    "Because I have not participated in this investigation and have not read the bureau's final reporting on the matter, I do not know which matters have been addressed and which have not," Richardson had said. "I do categorically believe that this investigation should remain open as long as there is but a single relevant and outstanding matter having any bearing on who and how many individuals were involved in the commission of these crimes.

    "Having been an FBI agent for a quarter of a century and having been involved in case investigations large and small, I can with complete assurance tell you that such conspiracy theories are complete nonsense. It is not that there is no possibility that a single individual might not have some misguided notion or motive that might lead to such, but I can tell you with assurance that there were hundreds of principled individuals working on this case. Any seed of misguided activity would not be hidden from the light of exposure for a single day, let alone for months or years," he added.

    Back in November 2001, a New York City Police Department detective named Lucas Miller wrote in the New York Times about the investigation: "Mistakes can be overcome; crime-solving is a long and painstaking process. In the end, it depends a lot on the ability to follow new leads, even as old ones go stale."

    He specifically mentioned Kathy T Nguyen, a Vietnamese hospital worker at the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital, who was the only New Yorker to succumb to anthrax. She died, aged 61, on Halloween night in 2001.

    "She might have inhaled random airborne spores somewhere in her travels - in fact, the city has started testing the subways regularly for traces of anthrax - but it's possible she somehow happened on the terrorist's anthrax stash. Perhaps the terrorist intentionally exposed her to spores as an experiment. It's a long shot, but reconstructing her last days might lead FBI agents to a killer," said Miller. "This is typical homicide work. Witnesses and friends have been interviewed. Her phone records and her MetroCard record have been subpoenaed. Video surveillance systems in places she visited will be searched to see if anyone accompanied her."

    According to Miller, "success in this investigation - as in any investigation - depends on three variables: the perseverance of the investigators, the resources available, and luck.

    "Luck includes the quality of the evidence as well as some cops' talent for 'stumbling' across the perpetrator. As many New Yorkers know, David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam killer, was caught due in part to the discovery of a parking ticket issued to his car near the scene of one of his crimes," said Miller. "The FBI and local police departments working on these cases are expending resources and manpower not available in ordinary murder cases. But in this crime, as in others they solve, they will still need a good amount of luck.

    By the way, the title for Miller's submission more than eight years ago is one that resonates today: "On the Trail of the Anthrax Killers."

    Peter J Brown is a freelance writer from the US state of Maine.

    Holt: Last word not in on anthrax attack case

    Friday, February 26, 2010
    Erin Duffy
    STAFF WRITER - The Times of Trenton

    Less than a week after the FBI announced it was officially closing its investigation of the 2001 anthrax letter scare, U.S. Reps. Rush Holt and Roscoe Bartlett are pushing for an "independent examination" to determine whether there was a foreign link to the attacks.

    The House of Representatives voted yesterday to include an amendment to the Intelligence Authorization Act introduced by Holt, D-Hopewell, and Bartlett, R-Maryland, that would require the inspector general of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to embark on a review of evidence.

    "Given that samples of the strain of anthrax that was used in the attacks may have been supplied to foreign laboratories, we think it prudent to have the inspector general of the intelligence community examine whether or not evidence of a potential foreign connection to the attacks was overlooked, ignored, or simply not passed along to the FBI," the congressmen wrote in a letter.

    The 2001 anthrax attacks, which the FBI have pinned on government researcher Bruce Ivins, killed five and sickened 13 more, including five postal workers in Hamilton, where some of the letters were processed.

    The FBI announced Feb. 19 it was concluding its investigation, in which the bureau determined Maryland scientist Ivins was the sole perpetrator of the deadly attacks.

    Holt has been vocal in questioning the FBI's investigation, which he alleged in a release was "botched ... from the very beginning."

    In their letter, he and Bartlett wrote, "To date, there has been no independent, comprehensive examination of the FBI's conduct in this investigation, and a number of critical questions remain unanswered. Now that the FBI has arbitrarily closed this case it is imperative that a review occur. Our amendment will help us begin that independent examination of our government's response to these attacks."

    Holt introduced other bill provisions to the Intelligence Authorization Act, including one that would require interactions between CIA officers and detainees arrested in countries including Iraq and Afghanistan to be videorecorded.

    Contact Erin Duffy at eduffy@njtimes.com or (609) 989-5723.

    FBI reports chronicle Ivins investigation

    February 28, 2010 - 8:38am
    by Megan Eckstein @ The Frederick News-Post

    The government's eight-year investigation of the 2001 anthrax mailings started with Fort Detrick scientist Bruce Ivins helping the FBI analyze contaminated letters and ended with Ivins being named the sole culprit in the attacks.

    Throughout the investigation, agents interviewed more than 10,000 witnesses on six continents and examined more than 5,700 environmental samples through rapidly advancing scientific methods.

    Though the FBI's case against Ivins will never be tried in a courtroom, the agency's investigation is well-documented in records released through the Freedom of Information Act.

    The Frederick News-Post is among the news agencies that obtained more than 2,600 pages of investigation reports compiled by the FBI.

    The documents show how the FBI narrowed its focus from more than 1,000 potential suspects to Ivins.

    Immediate aftermath

    The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick received its first piece of evidence to analyze Oct. 14, 2001.

    The letter, envelope and anthrax powder sent to NBC News anchorman Tom Brokaw in New York were transferred to USAMRIID custody and stored for 10 days until they could be analyzed.

    On Oct. 15, USAMRIID received the anthrax-laced letter addressed to Sen. Tom Daschle. Ivins analyzed and irradiated those materials two days later.

    USAMRIID received the materials sent to the New York Post on Oct. 20, and it finally received the materials sent to Sen. Patrick Leahy on Nov. 16 or 17.

    Ivins described the Daschle letter as containing the highest-quality anthrax. The Leahy anthrax was slightly less pure, and the New York Post anthrax was somewhat clumpy.

    "The nature of the spore preparation suggests very highly that professional manufacturing techniques were used in the production and purification of spores, as well as in converting the spores into an extremely fine powder," Ivins wrote in his report of the Daschle anthrax.

    1,000 possible suspects

    The FBI began investigating immediately after the mailings, though its task was complicated because anthrax had contaminated all the physical evidence.

    The Department of Justice's final report states that "investigators scrutinized more than 1,000 individuals as possible suspects, located both at home and abroad."

    FBI agents interviewed researchers at USAMRIID and other institutions.

    Did they have any ties to central New Jersey, from which the letters were mailed?

    Had they ever bought pre-stamped envelopes from a vending machine, which appeared to be what the perpetrator had done?

    What was the nature of their research, and where did they get their samples of anthrax?

    How might one sneak anthrax out of the USAMRIID labs? How might one gain unauthorized access to USAMRIID labs?

    Ultimately, a task force of 25 to 30 full-time investigators spent 600,000 hours interviewing witnesses and reviewing evidence.

    In a 2008 news conference, prosecutors said they began to focus on USAMRIID in 2005 and on Ivins in 2007.

    But records of FBI interviews, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, show that investigators were asking Ivins' co-workers questions specifically about him as early as 2004.

    Agents asked one co-worker, whose name is blacked out of the report, to locate several places on a USAMRIID lab blueprint, including Ivins' lab.

    Agents asked other co-workers about Ivins' involvement in lab cleanup and how well they knew him.

    Department of Justice spokesman Dean Boyd said Thursday that many questions were asked of many people during the investigation, and that Ivins was not being targeted in 2004.

    Rapidly evolving science

    What separated the Amerithrax investigation from traditional cases, and what is now being reviewed by a National Academy of Sciences panel, are the techniques used to trace the anthrax in the letters to a specific flask of anthrax that Ivins had developed.

    The newly created Department of Homeland Security established the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center at Fort Detrick to help test samples.

    "The people who were analyzing the samples were not privy to the source of the evidence" so as to not bias their results, said Jim Burans, associate laboratory director for NBACC, in an interview with The Frederick News-Post on Thursday.

    Between mid-2004 and 2008, Burans' staff members spent about a quarter of their time on the anthrax case alone. They looked for traces of anthrax in swabs from cars, windows, doorknobs, jars -- "samples of things that surround us in our everyday lives," Burans said.

    Researchers used traditional petri dish culture techniques, but they also used a more advanced technique called real-time PCR. The technique allows scientists to take small quantities of nucleic acid signatures and amplify them to a quantity great enough to study. Created in the 1990s, the method has become significantly more accurate and sensitive over the years.

    This and other scientific methods are under review by the National Academy of Sciences, and many prominent lawmakers and scientists are upset the Department of Justice closed its case against Ivins before waiting for the panel's final report.

    Burans, however, said he didn't think the case would have benefited by waiting because the scientific methods are well-tested and accepted.

    Boyd agreed, adding that the review wouldn't validate the FBI's scientific conclusions but rather review "the scientific support employed in the investigation and provide recommendations to potentially improve our ability to support investigations of future terrorist attacks."--

    Scientific findings

    By 2007, scientists had concluded the anthrax used in the attacks originated from Ivins' flask of RMR-1029 anthrax.

    While working on the case, Burans said scientists discovered a second strain of anthrax in the New York Post letter. The Bacillus subtilis strain is not dangerous to humans but could provide insight into where the letters were prepared.

    Burans said his staff never found any traces of Bacillus subtilis in samples from Ivins' home or office, but he said "it's not our job to draw conclusions, positive or negative."

    "I think the scientific evidence, as it has been presented, gave an opportunity to identify the flask," Burans said. "The science didn't solve the case, it provided investigative leads that were fruitful in other ways."

    After scientists identified Ivins' flask as the source of the attack anthrax, the FBI used traditional investigative methods to conclude Ivins was responsible. They obtained records of researchers who had taken the RMR-1029 anthrax from Ivins, but none were found to have means or motive to carry out the attacks, the Department of Justice's final report states.

    Several of Ivins' former bosses dispute this part of the investigation, saying that though his anthrax was used in the attack, Ivins did not have the knowledge or technology to turn his liquid anthrax cultures into high-quality powdered anthrax.

    Closing the case

    By January 2007, FBI records show Ivins was no longer speaking directly to investigators, but rather was assisting them through an attorney. Prosecutors were ready to file charges against Ivins in July 2008, and on July 29 Ivins died of an acetaminophen overdose.

    Officials held a news conference Aug. 6 to announce that Ivins was the sole perpetrator of the anthrax attacks, but the case was not officially closed until Feb. 19.

    Anthrax Letter Scientist 'Obsessed' With Bondage, Sorority

    March 1, 2010

    The government scientist blamed for the 2001 anthrax attacks was a secret cross-dresser who cultivated an obsession with bondage and blindfolding as well as the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, recently released FBI documents show.

    The government scientist blamed for the 2001 anthrax attacks was a secret cross-dresser who cultivated an obsession with bondage and blindfolding as well as the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, recently released FBI documents show. 

    The FBI has made public thousands of pages of records detailing police reports, e-mails and other files pertaining to Bruce Ivins, who committed suicide in 2008. 

    The documents paint the picture of a troubled government employee who battled his peculiar obsessions until he died, all the while plotting the deadly attacks. 

    One FBI document from November 2007 detailed Ivins' reaction when he was told search warrants were being executed for his materials at several locations. Asked by an agent whether he was worried, Ivins said "he does things a 'middle age man should not do' and that those things would 'not be acceptable to most people,'" according to the file. 

    Ivins told the agent that he kept a "bag of material that he uses to 'cross-dress'" in his basement. 

    The agent told Ivins that the authorities were not there to "judge him." 

    In an interview two months later, Ivins disclosed that he was obsessed with blindfolding and bondage and had opened a P.O. Box in Frederick, Md., in the early 1990s to receive "literature" on the topic. 

    "One such magazine he received was 'Bondage Life,'" the report said. Ivins also told authorities that he corresponded with an unnamed individual, or individuals, from Indiana on a "regular basis" about the subject and exchanged photos of "blindfolded and bound women." 

    Ivins said he "made a pact with himself" to stop using the address once he turned 60, according to the report. 

    In the same interview, Ivins explained in detail his obsession with the KKG sorority. It started in the early 1960s when at the University of Cincinnati he asked out a member of the sorority and she turned him down. 

    "Ivins soon became obsessed with all aspects of that sorority," the FBI report said. 

    The obsession started off as relatively mild. Ivins compiled a list of locations of "dozens and dozens and dozens" of KKG chapters in the eastern part of the country. 

    But from there, he started visiting those houses and eventually breaking into them. The FBI report said that between 1976 and 1978, he broke into a KKG house at the University of North Carolina so he could steal their "ritual material" and the "cypher" device used to decode it. 

    Ivins also confessed to breaking into the KKG house at West Virginia University a few years later and stealing similar material, but said he mailed it back after he copied the "ritual book." 

    The former scientist kept the visits from his wife, according to the report. He would travel to the sorority houses when she was away. 

    He later tried to part ways with that element of his past, throwing away "everything" KKG-related "some time after 9/11." 

    The anthrax mailings were responsible for the deaths of five people. 

    The Smoking Gun reports: Anthrax mastermind was cross-dresser

    The Register (UK)

    The anthrax scare: Case and flask closed

    But conspiracy theories still very much open

    When the US government closed the anthrax case recently, the committee to clear Bruce Ivins and all the conspiracy theorists again emerged from the closet. Because the case took so long and the bioterrorist was at the center of the US biodefense research community, careers and reputations were made and lost on it.

    The Department of Justice and FBI released a 96-page executive summary of the case. It contains a good picture of the flask of anthrax death, the gold standard for bioterrorism. In recapping, the scientific work teased out the unique mixture of genetic fingerprint - morphological variance, it's called - in the mailed anthrax, and matched it with the flask of spores in Ivins's control.

    Ivins was not the only person with access to the glass of horror. However, the bureau eventually cleared Steven Hatfill because he never had access to the area of Ft. Detrick where it was stored when he worked at the institution two years prior to the attacks.

    As the FBI continued its investigation, closing in on Ivins's lab, the scientist made a number of attempts to throw them off the case. At one time Ivins indicated in analysis that a freshly made culture plate of the mailed anthrax looked like that of a colleague's when it actually looked like his own. In another, he furnished a purposely a misleading sample to the FBI.

    At other times he downplayed his lab skills with anthrax, saying he could not have made a spore preparation consistent with the purity ("99 percent refractile," in his words) in the mailings when notation in his own work described the master flask of anthrax having the same purity, a quality he worked to maintain. Most unusual was Ivins opening of a sock puppet email account similar to that of a female colleague with whom he had an obsession, also someone whose email account he invaded.

    Then he sent messages from another sock puppet account under his control to the first, claiming that he'd solved the anthrax case, piecing together who'd done it. The information was promised in a further email which never arrived but points to not only increasingly erratic behavior, but a belief that he was being monitored.

    The government argues Ivins weakly tried to implicate two colleagues he felt had turned on him. Ivins further made use of an email snooper which employed monitoring attachments to mail he sent to colleagues.

    "The discovery of Dr. Ivins' use of this tool was the first glimpse into the level of counter-surveillance in which he engaged," the FBI summary notes dryly. Further description paints a picture of increasing levels of paranoia about what the FBI might be planting in its visits to Ft. Detrick.

    These personal details paint a picture of a man whose mind was racing, his mental state crumbling as the years of investigation rolled by. Also never well-publicized until now is the FBI's assertion that there was a hidden message in the anthrax letters.

    The printed warnings contained a series of bolded letters, which when assembled corresponded to a type of codons. The FBI explained this was derived from Ivins' fascination with puzzles and codes, in particular a scientific article entitled The Linguistics of DNA and Doug Hofstader's 1979 book Gödel, Escher, Bach.

    "It is difficult to summarize what the book is about," the FBI writes with some understatement. "However, the basic premise is that there are surface meanings... and then there are meanings within mathematics, art and music that are hidden."

    Ivins tried to dispose of this book, and the article on DNA linguistics, in his garbage.

    The bureau had seized both items. The executive summary argues that while the discussion is tough sledding, it was germane to Ivins's guilt, yielding the idea that not only was there a hidden message in the anthrax letters, but that the methods were derived from Ivins's personal readings, a book and a paper he tried to dispose of when he believed the FBI was on to him.

    The messages - and we leave it to you to read the detailed method of it in the FBI's summary - delivered in part of a 'genetic code' were an abbreviation of 'F--- New York' (one of the anthrax mailings went to the New York Post, another to Tom Brokaw at NBC) and 'PAT,' the name of a colleague Ivins was obsessed with. Whether a jury could follow this argument will never be answered.

    But certainly many people who read the government summary will find it fascinating and lucid. Obviously, much of the evidence against Ivins is circumstantial. The FBI admits as much. Unsurprisingly, with any case as famous, drawn out, terrifying and fraught with initial blind alleys as Amerithrax, there are a large number of people - in separate groups - who will never be able to accept that Ivins was the anthraxer. There are those with a professional interest in exonerating him in argument - colleagues at Ft. Detrick.

    Ivins's anthrax mailings from the heart of the country's biodefense research establishment impeaches it on many levels, and it is human nature that such a verdict is unacceptable. Ivins throws into question the very need for its work, exploding the trust, reliability and impeccable reputation that such an institution must have.

    In the days that followed the release of the Ivins case summary, the 'Clear Bruce' lobby immediately showed in the press. Ivins could not have done it, his colleagues knew him too well. However, to read the news is to know America has no shortage of those who do horrifying things, with their family and colleagues attesting complete ignorance of it. Ivins could not have done it because he did not either have the time or the professional skills needed to make the 'weaponized' dry spore preparation, particularly those found in the second set of anthrax mailings.

    The FBI persuasively argues that he did have the time, that he in fact took the time and expended extra effort in his preparations just before sending off the second mailing; and that other microbiologists indicated to the investigation that the anthraxer certainly would have been able to dry a spore preparation to the mailed standard using a lyophilizer, something Ivins really did know how to do.

    The FBI's argument is technical but not unreasonable at all. It is consistent, for example, with this author's scientific experience with bacterial preparations. Arguments to the contrary rely on equally technical details.

    The press, of course, cannot evaluate independently, being only able to deliver arguments from authority - all depending on who it believes to be authority. It is also said the National Academy of Science will get around to exonerating Ivins by blowing the FBI's methods out of the water. The case is closed but the conspiracy industry surrounding it will only increase.

    Paradoxically, Bruce Ivins - this very strange and unstable boffin who was one of the foremost experts on anthrax and the anthrax vaccine in the country, and whose motive in the mailings was apparently to rescue a vaccine research effort which was his life's work but which was headed for failure prior to the attacks - initially accomplished his aim.

    The "program was suddenly rejuvenated", writes the FBI. But Ivins' vaccine research has now been used as an argument by a small number within the US military who believe the vaccine in the national stockpile is not safe or approved, and that the scientist's work in connection with it constitutes fruit of the poison tree.

    And while the anthrax mailings caused explosive growth in the biodefense research industry in this country, it severely taints Ft. Detrick - the research institution that is seen as the beating heart of it.

    This leads to the rejoinder, arrived at by tarring through the company you kept, whenever an expert from somewhere within it emerges to recommend ever more spending against the danger of bioterrorism: "You would say that."

    The executive summary page is here, and more about the anthrax flask of death is here (pdf). ®

    Police: Ivins not linked to other unsolved cases
    Originally published March 04, 2010

    By Gina Gallucci-White
    Frederick News-Post Staff

    Local police do not think suspected anthrax mailer Bruce Ivins was involved in any other unsolved criminal cases.

    When the FBI announced the Fort Detrick scientist was a suspect in the anthrax poisonings, the Frederick Police Department received several allegations Ivins might have been involved in other cases in the area, patrol commander and spokesman Lt. Clark Pennington said.

    "We took each and every complaint brought to us seriously and have exhausted all avenues," he said. "We have not substantiated or developed any new information that would have brought charges against Mr. Ivins."

    In addition, Maryland State Police and the Frederick County Sheriff's Office had no cases in which they suspected Ivins' involvement.

    Ivins, 62, died July 29, 2008. His death was ruled an intentional overdose of acetaminophen.

    The FBI declared in August 2009 that an intensive, seven-year investigation led them to conclude Ivins was the sole perpetrator of the anthrax attacks that happened shortly after the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Five people died and 17 were injured by the mailings.

    The case against Ivins was officially closed Feb. 19.

    Through a Freedom of Information Act request, The Frederick News-Post has obtained more than 2,600 pages of investigation reports compiled by the FBI.

    While discussing the events surrounding Ivins' suicide, an Aug. 12, 2008, report states that Frederick police looked into contacting Ivins' therapists "to determine if Bruce may have been involved in other crimes in the area. ... They want to determine if he could have been a suspect in their cold case files."

    Testifying at a July 24, 2008, hearing to request a peace order, Ivins' therapist, Jean Duley, said Ivins had tried to kill several people in the past.

    "As far back as the year 2000, (Ivins) has actually attempted to murder several other people either through poisoning. ... When he feels ... that he has been slighted or has had ... especially towards women ... he plots and actually tries to carry out revenge killing ... ," Duley told the court.

    During a session at the Comprehensive Counseling Associates in Frederick on July 9, 2008, Duley testified, Ivins shared "a very long and detailed homicidal plan" that included killing his co-workers and roaming the streets of Frederick trying to pick a fight so he could stab someone.

    Duley told Frederick County District Judge W. Milnor Roberts she was scared to death of Ivins.

    Holt seeks investigation into FBI's case against Ivins
    Originally published March 04, 2010

    By Gina Gallucci-White
    News-Post Staff

    A New Jersey congressman is asking for a congressional investigation into the FBI's handing of the anthrax attacks.

    In a letter to the chairmen of the House committees on Homeland Security, Judiciary, Intelligence, and Oversight and Government Reform, U.S. Rep. Rush Holt claims that "the FBI's entire case against (Bruce) Ivins is circumstantial and that the science used in the case is still being independently evaluated."

    The letters containing anthrax were mailed from a postal box in Holt's congressional district, and his Washington office was shut down after it was found to be contaminated.

    "To date, there has been no comprehensive examination of the FBI's conduct in this investigation and a number of important questions remain unanswered," he wrote.

    Holt's questions include:

    n Why did the FBI believe very quickly that the source of the material used in the attacks came from a domestic lab?

    n Why was Steven Hatfill the focus of the FBI's investigation for so long?

    n Are the FBI's assertions about Ivins' activities and behavior accurate?

    n Have the involved agencies learned lessons from the attacks and implemented measures to prevent or mitigate similar future bioterror attacks?

    U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-6th, who represents Frederick County, also supports an investigation and cited the FBI's mishandling of the investigation at multiple points.

    "The American people need credible answers to all of these and many other questions," he wrote. "Only a comprehensive investigation either by the Congress or through the independent commission I've proposed in the Anthrax Attacks Investigation Act can give us those answers."

    Inside the mind of the suspected anthrax killer

    Joe Johns and Justine Redman
    March 5, 2010

    Jean Duley was an addiction counselor. She describes one of her clients as a slight, mousey, yet charming man, with a vodka and Valium habit. That wasn't his biggest problem though. By the time he started seeing Duley, Dr. Bruce Ivins was under suspicion by the FBI for launching America's age of bioterrorism by mailing letters laced with deadly anthrax to two senators and a number of news organizations in 2001, killing five people.

    The investigation had been going on for seven years. Ivins was a microbiologist who worked with anthrax at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, at Fort Detrick in Maryland. At times during their hunt for the killer, the FBI had consulted Ivins for his scientific expertise, and he'd been a willing adviser. Ivins told Duley he didn't do it, and said he believed one of his colleagues was the anthrax killer, but, in July 2008, authorities were closing in on Ivins as their prime suspect. He walked into Duley's counseling office almost out of control.

    "I'd never seen him that way before," Jean Duley recalled to CNN in an exclusive interview. She'd been seeing him twice a week for about six months, during which time he was hospitalized for what she called a suicide attempt. "He was extremely angry and nasty in his demeanor. The receptionist actually came back to me and said there's something wrong, you need to go deal with it. There's something wrong with him."

    Duley started the group counseling session as scheduled, but the focus was entirely on Ivins. "Immediately, he started in on his tirade and started talking about how he was not going to be indicted. He wasn't going to allow them to indict him on five counts of capital murder," she said. "And he was not going to go out willingly and he was going to go out in a blaze of glory."

    The other members of the group sat shocked and silent as Ivins detailed his plans. One left the room. As Duley remembers it, “He had said that the next day he was getting a Glock [hand gun] from his son. And he was going to take out his colleagues at Fort Detrick, the people that had wronged him at Fort Detrick, the FBI agents. And it wasn't a casual conversation. He was extremely angry and extremely rageful and he described it in detail: All the ammunition that he had. He had bought a bulletproof vest. He had made a bulletproof vest. He had written a detailed plan on how to do it."

    With threats so specific, Duley said that despite normal privacy rules, she was obligated to alert authorities. She called the police and they took him to a hospital. Shortly afterward, Ivins transferred to a Baltimore psychiatric hospital, an inpatient for drugs and alcohol under psychiatric evaluation.

    From the hospital, Ivins phoned Duley twice. While he acknowledged that he was a threat to himself and others, he accused her of betraying him. Duley felt threatened, and when Ivins checked himself out of care, she went to court to file for a temporary restraining order against him.

    Ivins went home with his wife to their house in Frederick, Maryland. According to police documents, she wrote him a letter, telling her husband she was "hurt, confused and angry about your actions over the last few weeks. You tell me you love me but you have been rude and sarcastic and nasty many times when you talk to me. You tell me you aren't going to get any more guns then you fill out an online application for a gun license."

    Just days after returning home, Ivins killed himself. He overdosed on Tylenol.

    Two weeks ago, the Justice Department officially closed the anthrax case, concluding: "The late Dr. Bruce Ivins acted alone in planning and executing these attacks."

    With that and the release of thousands of pages of documents from the case, Duley sat down with CNN to discuss her recollections. Many questions CNN asked, Duley said she could not answer because of confidentiality, and offered her insight only on what was made public in the case.

    Duley maintains it was not his addiction to vodka or pills that was responsible for all of Ivin's behavior, but that the root of his problems goes back to his childhood. One place this can be seen, she said, was in his fixation with bondage, which he disclosed to investigators.

    "He started that behavior when he was 5 years old," Duley told CNN. "A 5-year-old doesn't come up with that on their own. That's either something that was shown to them, taught them, something he had seen, done to someone else. A 5-year-old doesn't just start blindfolding their teddy bears and acting out towards their stuffed animals like he did."

    He was also fascinated with codes and puzzles. "Just secrets, period. Anything to do with codes and, you know, tricking people and figuring it out and trying to baffle people and that kind of thing. You know, he really felt he was morally superior to everyone else. And he had a God complex. He did have a God complex."

    But the biggest question still hasn’t been answered. If Ivins committed the anthrax attacks, why did he do it? What was his motive? How did he choose his targets? The letters were mailed to Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, then Senate majority leader Tom Daschle, NBC news, the New York Post, and the publisher of the National Enquirer. Duley says all she can do is speculate. "Without him telling us exactly what his motive was, you can speculate until the day we die what his actual motive was. However, he had no love lost towards Leahy and Daschle."

    Nonetheless, she believes Ivins had specific reasons, and dismisses theories that the anthrax attacks were the work of some foreign terror group.

    "Anyone who would do the anthrax attacks in the way that it was done was about control," she said. "It was about fear, intimidation and control, because, you know, it was done to very select people. If it was some foreign terrorist, why pick the National Enquirer? You know? I mean, it was very, very specific targets for very specific reasons to instill control and authority.

    Jean Duley said what she knows from his behavior, from the things he said to her and his mental character, leaves her without a doubt that her client, Bruce Ivins, was the man who plotted and mailed the anthrax that threw a nation into panic. The FBI's case is closed; the suspect committed suicide before any charges could be filed. We will never know Ivins' whole story, because it died with him.

    Bioterror preparedness needs a boost from Congress

    Courier News (New Jersey)
    March 7, 2010

    For two reasons U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, D-Hopewell Township, has taken a keen interest in the deadly anthrax attacks that took place soon after events of Sept. 11, 2001.

    As the lone physicist in Congress, Holt has a knowledge of science that helps gives him an understanding of what happened when the anthrax letters were mailed, and an appreciation of what could happen if our enemies in the War on Terror engaged in similar attacks.

    Also, the anthrax letters that killed five people and disrupted the lives of countless others were mailed from within Holt's district, at a Princeton mailbox. The return address was: "Greendale School Franklin Park NJ 08852." Though there is no Greendale School in the area, and the 08852 zip code is actually Monmouth Junction, the "clues" put the focus of the investigation into Central Jersey.

    Then all mail became suspect. It became common at offices around the country for someone to open mail with surgical gloves looking for suspicious white powder that might contain deadly anthrax spores.

    Last month the FBI closed its investigation, asserting that Bruce Ivins, who worked as a microbiologist at the U. S. Army Medical Research Institute in Fort Detrick, Md., acted alone. It was a circumstantial case that focused on Ivins' access to anthrax and his bizarre life story.

    The FBI finding has never sat well with Holt. Last year he introduced the Anthrax Attacks Investigation Act, calling on Congress and the president to establish a commission similar to the 9/11 Commission.

    Last week Holt inserted language into the 2010 Intelligence Authorization Bill that would require the intelligence community to examine the possibility of foreign involvement into the anthrax attack.

    What troubled Holt was the work of the Department of Justice and the FBI, which had initially labeled scientist Steven Hatfill a "person of interest." Hatfill sued the department, and reached a $5.85 million settlement.

    Ivins can no longer defend himself, nor will evidence be presented in open court. Ivins committed suicide in 2008.

    For Holt the "rush to judgment" that focused on Hatfill was simply repeated when the FBI judged Ivins guilty.

    In a letter this week to heads of the congressional committees that will consider the Anthrax Attacks Investigation Act, Holt asked a series of questions that deal with the investigations into Hatfill and Ivins. But the most important question, we believe, is about the future.

    He wrote, "We don't know whether the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Postal Service have learned the right lessons from these attacks and have implemented measures to prevent or mitigate future such bioterror attacks."

    The attacks of 9/11 took place on live television. Flying commercial planes into buildings was a simple act of piracy and terrorism. It is not as easy to comprehend the work of a terrorist dealing with weapons that are virtually invisible. An examination of events surrounding the attacks is important.

    Holt's message is as simple as a Boy Scout motto: Be prepared.

    Lawyer Doubts Case Against Anthrax Suspect

    March 10, 2010

    March 10) -- Just weeks before government scientist Bruce Ivins' suicide, a grand jury was convening on the third floor of the federal courthouse, near the U.S. Capitol, looking into the 2001 anthrax murders. Things weren't looking good for Ivins, the only suspect in the case.

    It was July 2008. His attorney, Paul F. Kemp, according to court documents reviewed by AOL News, had just filed court papers to become a death-penalty-certified attorney in the case -- a little-known fact. And the chief U.S. District judge in Washington, Royce C. Lamberth, had approved the request.

    "I thought this was a precaution to take. My job is to anticipate anything," Kemp said.

    He said he had told Ivins the investigation could turn into a death penalty case. "At some point in the near future I felt the government was probably going to the grand jury and would issue an indictment."

    What Kemp -- and the government as well -- didn't anticipate was the unthinkable. On July 27, Ivins, 62, loaded up on Tylenol with codeine in a suicide bid. Two days later, he died.

    "I was disturbed over it," Kemp said in an interview this week . "I never had a client commit suicide. It's a terrible experience. I'm much more distraught for his family."

    With the suicide, so died the chance for the government to prove its case before a jury or for Ivins to prove his innocence. No charges were ever filed in the case, in which letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to five media outlets and two senators. Five people died and 17 others were sickened.

    On Feb. 19, the Justice Department officially closed the case and issued a 92-page summary stating why Ivins not only did it, but acted alone. It concluded that his lab notes showed he "could, and did, create spores of the concentration and purity of the mailed spores."

    Kemp, a suburban Washington attorney, said he read the report, but didn't buy into it. Not at all.

    Kemp said Ivins repeatedly denied that he sent the letters or that he developed the deadly anthrax spores. And Kemp cited Ivins' fellow scientists, who insisted he was incapable of making such a high-grade, dried anthrax with the equipment available at his workplace at the Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases in Frederick, Md.

    "There's not one shred of evidence to show he did it," Kemp said.

    Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., echoes some of that skepticism. Last week, he called for a congressional investigation into the anthrax probe.

    "We don't know whether the FBI's assertions about Dr. Ivins' activities and behavior are accurate," Holt wrote in a letter to the chairmen of the House Committees on Homeland Security, Judiciary, Intelligence, and Oversight and Government Reform.

    Government investigators disagree with the skeptics.

    "Suggestions that this is an entirely circumstantial case are not accurate," said Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman. "We are confident Dr. Ivins acted alone in carrying out this attack. There is the direct physical evidence. The murder weapon was created by Dr. Ivins and solely maintained by Dr. Ivins.

    "We wish we had the opportunity to present this case and all the evidence to a jury, but we were not able to, given the circumstances."

    A Justice Department source familiar with the case insisted Ivins was "singularly capable" of producing the deadly product. The person said investigators spent an "extraordinary amount of time" researching who in the science world was capable of producing the high-grade anthrax used in the deadly letters and "Dr. Ivins came up as one of the pre-eminent anthrax researchers."

    Regardless, in his final weeks Ivins had been thinking about the prospect of facing the death penalty. News reports said that during a July 9, 2008, group therapy session, he mentioned that if he faced the death penalty he would go out with a blaze of glory and shoot some of his co-workers.

    Kemp acknowledges the government contacted him in the final weeks to say they were concerned about Ivins' state of mind and well-being.

    To many in the public, Ivins' suicide was viewed as an admission of guilt. But others -- particularly some who knew him -- saw a man who collapsed under the mighty weight of a government determined to indict him.

    Kemp says he still thinks about the suicide and wonders if he couldn't have conveyed the prospect of a death-penalty case to Ivins more gently. He won't get into specifics of the conversations with Ivins, citing client-attorney privilege. But he does share this much.

    "I question myself. Maybe I was too strong," he said. "I second-guess a lot the wording I used."

    Protecting agencies from oversight, Obama threatens to veto intelligence funding

    By Stephen C. Webster

    Monday, March 15th, 2010 -- 10:06 pm

    The White House is threatening to veto a key intelligence funding bill over what it considers to be a dangerous amount of oversight on covert agencies, according to published reports.

    The 2010 Intelligence Budget has gone through a number of key changes over the past few months, with House Democrats and the Obama administration butting heads over a number of provisions. Key among them for the latest White House veto threat is a provision that would allow the Government Accountability Office to investigate intelligence agencies.

    "Current law exempts intelligence and counterintelligence activities from GAO review, leaving oversight to the inspectors general at the various intelligence community agencies," Politico reported.

    In a letter to the House and Senate intelligence committees, Office of Management and Budget chief Peter Orszag highlighted several areas of the bill that have intelligence officials worried, including the GAO oversight provision.

    Orszag's letter also claims that proposed reforms to how Congress is notified of covert activities poses a "serious" threat that intelligence agencies object to.

    Strangely, Orszag additionally called out an effort to re-investigate the 2001 anthrax attacks, which have since been blamed on the deceased government scientist Bruce Ivins. An unnamed Obama administration official told Bloomberg News that if the 2010 Intelligence Budget demands another look at the FBI's conclusions, the bill would be vetoed.

    The FBI's probe has been heavily criticized by members of Obama's own party for "numerous" mistakes made by the FBI during the lengthy inquiry. Joseph Michael, a scientist at the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, also noted a key difference in "chemical fingerprints" between a flask linked to Ivins and the anthrax that was sent to government offices around the country.

    At the FBI’s request, the National Academy of Sciences convened a 15-member panel to review the scientific soundness of the  eight-year investigation. According to Elie Dolgin at Nature magazine, the FBI believes the scientific review of its own investigation to be “unprecedented,” but at least one member of Congress, Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), thinks the case deserves another look, suggesting that the FBI's investigators themselves be investigated.

    Ivins, 62, a biodefense researcher who spent years working on a better anthrax vaccine, overdosed on Tylenol and Codiene in 2008, after learning that the FBI was preparing to indict him on murder charges.

    In its' present form, the 2010 Intelligence Budget would also significantly revise the "Gang of Eight" requirement, under which the president informs key members of Congress about ongoing covert activities.

    As a reaction to the Bush administration's secrecy over its' massive electronic spying program, Congress last year approved the revisions that would allow House and Senate intelligence committees to write their own rules on who is told what. President Obama objected.

    Other revisions House Democrats made to the bill, noted by The Washington Post earlier in March, include:

    On Thursday, the House, as part of the fiscal 2010 intelligence authorization bill, approved a new plan that had been negotiated with the administration. Under it, the president would have to notify both committees that there has been a Gang of Eight disclosure and provide the other members with "general information on the content of the finding or notice." He would continue to be required to find it "essential to limit access . . . to meet extraordinary circumstances affecting vital interests of the United States."

    Another added element would permit any one of the Gang of Eight to break his or her silence and register opposition to the proposed intelligence operation with the director of national intelligence. That action would have to take place within 48 hours. The DNI would then report in writing to the president his response to the objection. A copy would also go to the lawmaker.

    A further modification is directly related to last year's controversy over what was disclosed in September 2002 about the waterboarding of the al-Qaeda terrorist known as Abu Zubaida to Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), then the ranking minority member of the House intelligence panel. Pelosi, now the speaker of the House, denied she was told of the torture-like process. Under the proposed law, the president would be required to record the date of a Gang of Eight briefing. After 30 days, the president would also be required to provide that information in writing to the committee of the lawmaker who was briefed.

    President Obama issued his first veto threat against the bill in late February, reacting to a provision that would have mandated prison sentences for intelligence operatives that employ "cruel, inhuman and degrading" interrogation techniques. As one of his first orders of business, President Obama banned the so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" that hallmarked the Bush years, requiring all interrogators to abide by guidelines in the Army Field Manual.

    "The torture provision, introduced by Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., defined cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees and provided a penalty of up to 15 years in prison for using such techniques during an interrogation," the Associated Press noted. "It also said medical professionals who enable the use of improper treatment could face up to five years in prison."

    In another reaction to Bush-era abuses of power, the bill would also prohibit private contractors from engaging in prisoner interrogations; a far cry from the prior administration, under which interrogators from U.S. IT firm CACI allegedly participated in torture through conspiracy, according to a lawsuit filed by four Iraqi men imprisoned in Abu Ghraib and later released without charge.


    Obama Veto Is Threatened on 2010 Intelligence Budget Measure

    March 15, 2010, 6:16 PM EDT

    By Jeff Bliss

    March 15 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama probably would veto legislation authorizing the next budget for U.S. intelligence agencies if it calls for a new investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks, an administration official said.

    A proposed probe by the intelligence agencies’ inspector general “would undermine public confidence” in an FBI probe of the attacks “and unfairly cast doubt on its conclusions,” Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, wrote in a letter to leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence committees.

    On Feb. 19, the Obama administration released a 92-page summary of a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe that said the late Bruce Ivins, a government scientist, was behind the attacks. Lawmakers including Representative Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat, have questioned the thoroughness of the investigation.

    Anthrax-laced letters sent to lawmakers and news outlets nine years ago infected 22 people, killing five.

    Orszag said the administration also opposes other provisions in the intelligence budget that allow more scrutiny of spy operations. “The president’s senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill” unless those restrictions are removed, he said.

    The White House objects to provisions that would require all members of the intelligence committees to receive briefings on matters that now are disclosed only to senior congressional leaders known as the “gang of eight,” Orszag said.

    The administration also opposes letting the General Accountability Office, Congress’s auditing arm, conduct investigations of spy activities, he said.

    The House and Senate are preparing to meet to resolve differences between their versions of the legislation.

    Obama Veto Is Threatened on Intelligence Budget Bill (Update1)

    March 15, 2010, 11:30 PM EDT

    (Adds proposed funding cuts in sixth paragraph.)

    By Jeff Bliss

    March 15 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama probably would veto legislation authorizing the 2010 budget for U.S. intelligence agencies if it resulted in more scrutiny and less money for spy operations, an administration official said.

    The White House objects to provisions that would require all members of Senate and House intelligence committees to receive briefings on matters that now are disclosed only to senior congressional leaders known as the “gang of eight,” said Peter Orszag, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

    He wrote the comments in a letter to leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence committees.

    The administration additionally opposes letting the General Accountability Office, Congress’s auditing arm, conduct investigations of spy activities, he said.

    The White House also doesn’t want the measure to set aside less money for the 2010 fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, than was already approved in previous spending legislation, Orszag said.

    The House version of the measure would authorize $65 million less for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair. The Senate version would allow some funding only if the FBI completes a report on the plan for its National Security Branch, Orszag said.

    “The president’s senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill” unless these aspects of the legislation are revised, he said.

    While not prompting a veto, a provision calling for a new investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks also is objectionable, Orszag said.

    Undermine Confidence

    A proposed probe by the intelligence agencies’ inspector general “would undermine public confidence” in a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe of the attacks “and unfairly cast doubt on its conclusions,” Orszag wrote.

    On Feb. 19, the Obama administration released a 92-page summary of the FBI probe that said the late Bruce Ivins, a government scientist, was behind the attacks. Lawmakers including Representative Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat, have questioned the thoroughness of the investigation.

    Anthrax-laced letters sent to lawmakers and news outlets nine years ago infected 22 people, killing five.

    The House and Senate are preparing to meet to resolve differences between their versions of the budget legislation.

    --Editors: Don Frederick, Paul Tighe

    To contact the reporter on this story: Jeff Bliss in Washington jbliss@bloomberg.net.

    To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jim Kirk at jkirk12@bloomberg.net

    Administration rejects call to further probe Amerithrax
    Originally published March 20, 2010

    By Megan Eckstein
    Frederick News-Post Staff

    President Barack Obama's administration is threatening to veto Congress' intelligence spending bill for this fiscal year, and further investigation of the anthrax mailings could be halted as a result.

    The administration is citing U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett's amendment to investigate the FBI's handling of the 2001 anthrax case as one of many concerns with the bills. Bartlett is a Republican from Frederick who represents Western Maryland.

    The House of Representatives adopted the anthrax amendment last month, which was proposed by Bartlett and Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., who represents the district from which the anthrax letters were mailed.

    The amendment asks the intelligence community's inspector general to look into whether intelligence suggesting foreign influence in the anthrax attacks was overlooked.

    The Senate never adopted the amendment, and the investigation would not take place unless the Senate agrees to it during a conference committee to sort out the differences in the two bills.

    But negotiations haven't gone that far yet. On March 15, Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag sent a letter to four congressional leaders, saying their versions of the budget bill "still contain several provisions of serious concern to the intelligence community."

    Orszag said three of the issues -- the anthrax investigation was not one of them -- are so serious they would advise Obama to veto the entire bill if Congress does not fix them.

    The concerns are outlined in a seven-page document, and the anthrax amendment is ninth on the list of issues. Orszag said an investigation would be "duplicative, and the Administration is greatly concerned about the appearance and precedent involved when Congress commissions an agency Inspector General to replicate a criminal investigation."

    The letter goes on to say "the FBI is confident that the attacks were planned and committed by Dr. Bruce Ivins, acting alone. The commencement of a fresh investigation would undermine public confidence in the criminal investigation and unfairly cast doubt on its conclusions."

    Holt disagrees, and he wrote a letter to Orszag on Thursday to express his disappointment.

    "Many critical questions in this case remain unanswered, and there are many reasons why there is not, nor ever has been, public confidence in the investigation or the FBI's conclusions, precisely because it was botched at multiple points over more than eight years," Holt wrote. "Indeed, opposing an independent examination of any aspect of the investigation will only fuel the public's belief that the FBI's case could not hold up in court, and that in fact the real killer may still be at large.

    "I am not surprised at the FBI's opposition to (the amendment), given the fact that they have stonewalled every House and Senate member who has sought information on (the anthrax) investigation over last decade," Holt wrote. "What surprises me is that an administration that has pledged to be transparent and accountable would seek to block any review of the investigation in this matter."

    FBI records, released through the Freedom of Information Act, show that employees at Fort Detrick's U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases mention Iraq as possibly having access to the strain of anthrax used in the attacks. They also discuss foreign scientists visiting the labs, and Ivins said a number of times he thought the strain could have ended up in Britain and other countries.

    Dean Boyd, spokesman for the Department of Justice, said he could not comment on the dispute over the intelligence spending bill.

    "Our findings are public," he said of the FBI's anthrax investigation. "We are happy to cooperate with anyone."

    Lisa Wright, Bartlett's spokeswoman, said the focus of Congress' dispute with the administration deals with sharing covert intelligence with lawmakers. It is too early to say how big an issue the anthrax amendment will prove, she said.

    Orszag's letter mentions that issue first. Previously, only a select "Gang of 8" congressmen were privy to certain information, such as details of covert intelligence activities, but some provisions in the bills would require the president to brief a larger pool of lawmakers. Orszag said the bills would throw off the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches of government.

    A second issue is that the bills give the Government Accountability Office authority to investigate the intelligence community. Orszag said the intelligence community is legally exempt from GAO oversight for good reasons.

    Orszag's letter also argues against budget cuts that would compromise several activities already in place.

    Anthrax questions

    Buzz up!

    Obama Obstructs Oversight of FBI in Anthrax Case

    AIM Column  |  By Cliff Kincaid  |  March 24, 2010

    Public confidence is already lacking because serious analysts do not think the FBI’s blaming of Ivins holds up under scrutiny.

    Despite bipartisan congressional support for examining the FBI's gross mishandling of the post-9/11 anthrax attacks, President Barack Obama is telling Congress that he doesn't want the agency to be scrutinized and held accountable.

    Dr. Steven Hatfill, one of the innocent victims of the FBI investigation, is preparing to go public with his account of how the Department of Justice (DOJ) violated his rights and tried to ruin his career and reputation. He will be the subject of a forthcoming Atlantic magazine article and will be sitting down for an interview by the NBC "Today Show's" Matt Lauer. The DOJ paid Hatfill $6 million in damages after finally admitting that he was not involved in the anthrax attacks that killed five people.

    Hatfill is adamant that justice has not been done because the formerly high-ranking officials who lied to the press about him and violated his rights have not been held accountable for their crimes. 

    Conservative "hero" John Ashcroft, then the Attorney General, had publicly labeled Hatfill a "person of interest" in the case. The lives of Hatfill and his friends and associates were turned upside down as the FBI unleashed dozens of agents and spent tens of millions of dollars in a fruitless effort to link Hatfill to the crime.

    Expert observers of the controversial case, known officially as "Amerithrax," also believe the FBI failed to seriously consider the role of foreign terrorist organizations and their sponsors in the anthrax mailings. 

    An amendment to the intelligence spending bill sponsored by Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) calls for the anthrax murder case to be re-opened and a foreign connection to be investigated. It passed the House. The amendment asks the intelligence community's inspector general to specifically look into the foreign angle.

    But rather than get to the bottom of what really happened and whether the U.S. still remains vulnerable to a foreign-sponsored biological terrorist attack, Megan Eckstein of the Frederick (Maryland) News-Post reports that Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag sent a letter to four congressional leaders on March 15 rejecting the probe and suggesting that if this measure remains in the intelligence spending bill, Obama may veto it.

    Orszag said an investigation would be "duplicative, and the Administration is greatly concerned about the appearance and precedent involved when Congress commissions an agency Inspector General to replicate a criminal investigation." The letter goes on to say "the FBI is confident that the attacks were planned and committed by Dr. Bruce Ivins, acting alone. The commencement of a fresh investigation would undermine public confidence in the criminal investigation and unfairly cast doubt on its conclusions."

    "I am not surprised at the FBI's opposition to [a Congressional investigation], given the fact that they have stonewalled every House and Senate member who has sought information on this investigation over the last decade," Holt has told Orszag in response: "What surprises me is that an Administration that has pledged to be transparent and accountable would seek to block any review of the investigation in this matter." 

    Public confidence is already lacking because serious analysts do not think the FBI's blaming of Ivins holds up under scrutiny. Plus, the FBI had previously tried to blame Dr. Steven Hatfill for the anthrax mailings before exonerating and paying him $6 million in financial damages.  

    Holt, whose congressional district is where the anthrax letters were mailed from, pointed out, "The Bureau has asserted repeatedly and with confidence that the Amerithrax investigation is the most thorough they have ever conducted-claims they made even as they were erroneously pursuing Dr. Steven Hatfill." 

    Megan Eckstein of the News-Post says, "FBI records, released through the Freedom of Information Act, show that employees at Fort Detrick's U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases mention Iraq as possibly having access to the strain of anthrax used in the attacks. They also discuss foreign scientists visiting the labs, and Ivins said a number of times he thought the strain could have ended up in Britain and other countries."

    Attorney Ross Getman, author of Anthrax and Al Qaeda: Infiltration of US Biodefense, has written extensively on the anthrax mailings and says the evidence implicates Dr. Ayman Zawahiri, the head of Egyptian Islamic Jihad who ran al Qaeda's biological weapons program, as conceiving a plan to use Islamic militants to infiltrate U.S. biological weapons labs and obtain the anthrax used in the attacks. A 1984 graduate of Harvard Law School, Getman has produced a series of documents and images examining how this occurred and how the FBI has misinterpreted and missed key evidence.

    Meryl Nass, MD, another leading authority on the case (http://anthraxvaccine.blogspot.com/), says Ivins didn't have the motive, means or opportunity to carry out the attacks.

    She points out that retired colleagues of Ivins have said he did not have the equipment to make the quality of anthrax in the amounts required using equipment available to him at Fort Detrick, where he worked. As for motive, she says, "The FBI has alleged a variety of motives at different times, but none of them seem to make any sense." In terms of opportunity, she asked, "Could Ivins have made it to the Trenton/Princeton area to mail the letters and return to Frederick [where he lived] in time to meet his other obligations? The FBI's first reported (2008) scenario of how this may have occurred was incorrect. I have not seen a convincing scenario since."

    The FBI's public case against Ivins relies on "circumstantial evidence and character assassination" and is unconvincing, she says.

    Nass questions why the FBI, which was conducting intensive surveillance of Ivins when he died, reportedly through a deliberate Tylenol overdose, didn't intervene to save his life.

    She asks, "Why wasn't he given a Tylenol antidote to prevent liver failure? Ivins was allegedly found unconscious on the bathroom floor with an orange liquid next to him. A Tylenol overdose requires several days before you die, and does not cause coma for days. If the benadryl in Tylenol PM led to unconsciousness (according to a later account by Scott Shane in the NY Times) there was still time to treat him successfully for Tylenol toxicity. Ivins was under 24/7 surveillance by FBI, from the house next door. The FBI should have identified an overdose before several days had passed, and the window of opportunity for treatment was lost. The FBI could have furnished Ivins' medical providers with information that might have saved his life. The medical records of Ivins' hospitalization have not been released."

    Nass has several other questions about the FBI's handling of the case, including its premature closing before the National Academy of Science has released its own report on the FBI's gathering of forensic data in pursuit of the perpetrator.

    Dr. Leonard Cole, a bio-terrorism expert and author of The Anthrax Letters, also believes that the case was closed too soon by the FBI. In a statement, Cole declared that:

    "It seems bizarre that the FBI would close the anthrax case now. A National Academy of Sciences committee that is assessing the bureau's purported scientific evidence has yet to issue its findings. The FBI's action is doubly perplexing since it commissioned the academy's investigation in the first place."

    Cole is described as the only person outside law enforcement to have interviewed every one of the surviving inhalation-anthrax victims, along with the relatives, friends, and associates of those who died, as well as the public health officials, scientists, researchers, hospital workers, and treating physicians. He holds a PhD in political science from Columbia University and teaches public policy at Rutgers University.

    Regarding the FBI's claim that Ivins did the attacks, Cole says it is possible but that "the evidence is circumstantial and no way can Ivins be considered guilty 'beyond a reasonable doubt,' as has been claimed by Justice Department and FBI officials, including FBI Director Robert Mueller."

    Cole added, "Since Ivins committed suicide (in July 2008), there will be no trial, cross-examination, or deliberation by a jury-so a conviction cannot have been assured."

    Concerning the "case" that the FBI makes against Ivins in the media, Cole points out, "There remain important gaps in the evidence." For example, Ivins lived and worked in Frederick, Maryland, and the letters were mailed from Princeton, New Jersey. "There are no witnesses or other evidence that placed him in Princeton at the times of the mailings," he notes.

    Cole says that even if you make the questionable assumption that Ivins had developed and stored the strain of anthrax sent in the letters, "more than one hundred co-workers had access to his laboratory, which was at the Army's Fort Detrick research facility" and "Several of his colleagues remain convinced that he was not the perpetrator."

    If Ivins didn't do it, as these analysts suggest, then the perpetrators are still free, America remains vulnerable to a biological weapons attack, and the FBI is clueless about the nature of the threat we face. 

    On top of this, President Obama doesn't want Congress to get to the bottom of what really happened.

    The Atlantic
    April 16, 2010

    The Wrong Man

    In the fall of 2001, a nation reeling from the horror of 9/11 was rocked by a series of deadly anthrax attacks. As the pressure to find a culprit mounted, the FBI, abetted by the media, found one. The wrong one. This is the story of how federal authorities blew the biggest anti-terror investigation of the past decade—and nearly destroyed an innocent man. Here, for the first time, the falsely accused, Dr. Steven J. Hatfill, speaks out about his ordeal.

    By David Freed

    Image credit: Melissa Golden/Redux

    The first anthrax attacks came days after the jetliner assaults of September 11, 2001. Postmarked Trenton, New Jersey, and believed to have been sent from a mailbox near Princeton University, the initial mailings went to NBC News, the New York Post, and the Florida-based publisher of several supermarket tabloids, including The Sun and The National Enquirer. Three weeks later, two more envelopes containing anthrax arrived at the Senate offices of Democrats Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy, each bearing the handwritten return address of a nonexistent “Greendale School” in Franklin Park, New Jersey. Government mail service quickly shut down.

    The letters accompanying the anthrax read like the work of a jihadist, suggesting that their author was an Arab extremist—or someone masquerading as one—yet also advised recipients to take antibiotics, implying that whoever had mailed them never really intended to harm anyone. But at least 17 people would fall ill and five would die—a photo editor at The Sun; two postal employees at a Washington, D.C., mail-processing center; a hospital stockroom clerk in Manhattan whose exposure to anthrax could never be fully explained; and a 94-year-old Connecticut widow whose mail apparently crossed paths with an anthrax letter somewhere in the labyrinth of the postal system. The attacks spawned a spate of hoax letters nationwide. Police were swamped with calls from citizens suddenly suspicious of their own mail.

    Americans had good reason to fear. Inhaled anthrax bacteria devour the body from within. Anthrax infections typically begin with flu-like symptoms. Massive lesions soon form in the lungs and brain, as a few thousand bacilli propagate within days into literally trillions of voracious parasitic microbes. The final stages before death are excruciatingly painful.As their minds disintegrate, victims literally drown in their own fluids. If you were to peer through a microscope at a cross-section of an anthrax victim’s blood vessel at the moment of death, it would look, says Leonard A. Cole, an expert on bioterrorism at Rutgers University, “as though it were teeming with worms.”

    The pressure on American law enforcement to find the perpetrator or perpetrators was enormous. Agents were compelled to consider any and all means of investigation. One such avenue involved Don Foster, a professor of English at Vassar College and a self-styled literary detective, who had achieved modest celebrity by examining punctuation and other linguistic fingerprints to identify Joe Klein, who was then a Newsweek columnist, as the author of the anonymously written 1996 political novel, Primary Colors. Foster had since consulted with the FBI on investigations of the Unabomber and Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park bombing, among other cases. Now he was asked to analyze the anthrax letters for insights as to who may have mailed them. Foster would detail his efforts two years later in a 9,500-word article for Vanity Fair.

    Surveying the publicly available evidence, as well as documents sent to him by the FBI, Foster surmised that the killer was an American posing as an Islamic jihadist. Only a limited number of American scientists would have had a working knowledge of anthrax. One of those scientists, Foster concluded, was a man named Steven Hatfill, a medical doctor who had once worked at the Army’s elite Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), which had stocks of anthrax.

    On the day al-Qaeda struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon with hijacked jetliners, Hatfill was recovering from nasal surgery in his apartment outside the gates of Fort Detrick, Maryland, where USAMRIID is housed. We’re at war, he remembers thinking as he watched the news that day—but he had no idea that it was a war in which he himself would soon become collateral damage, as the FBI came to regard him as a homegrown bioterrorist, likely responsible for some of the most unsettling multiple murders in recent American history. His story provides a cautionary tale about how federal authorities, fueled by the general panic over terrorism, embraced conjecture and coincidence as evidence, and blindly pursued one suspect while the real anthrax killer roamed free for more than six years. Hatfill’s experience is also the wrenching saga of how an American citizen who saw himself as a patriot came to be vilified and presumed guilty, as his country turned against him.

    “It’s like death by a thousand cuts,” Hatfill, who is now 56, says today. “There’s a sheer feeling of hopelessness. You can’t fight back. You have to just sit there and take it, day after day, the constant drip-drip-drip of innuendo, a punching bag for the government and the press. And the thing was, I couldn’t understand why it was happening to me. I mean, I was one of the good guys.”

    Don Foster, the Vassar professor, was among those who set the wheels of injustice in motion. Scouring the Internet, Foster found an interview that Hatfill had given while working at the National Institutes of Health, in which he described how bubonic plague could be made with simple equipment and used in a bioterror attack. Foster later tracked down an unpublished novel Hatfill had written, depicting a fictional bioterror attack on Washington. He discovered that Hatfill had been in Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe) during an anthrax outbreak there in the late 1970s, and that he’d attended medical school near a Rhodesian suburb called Greendale—the name of the invented school in the return address of the anthrax letters mailed to the Senate. The deeper Foster dug, the more Hatfill looked to him like a viable suspect.

    “When I lined up Hatfill’s known movements with the postmark locations of reported biothreats,” Foster later wrote, “those hoax anthrax attacks appeared to trail him like a vapor cloud.”

    In February 2002, Foster tried to interest the FBI in Hatfill, but says he was told that Hatfill had a good alibi. “A month later, when I pressed the issue,” Foster wrote, “I was told, ‘Look, Don, maybe you’re spending too much time on this.’”

    Meanwhile, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, a passionate crusader against the use of bioweapons, was also convinced that an American scientist was to blame for the anthrax attacks. In an interview with the BBC in early 2002, she theorized that the murders were the result of a top-secret CIA project gone awry, and that the FBI was hesitant to arrest the killer because it would embarrass Washington. A molecular biologist and professor of environmental science who had once served as a low-level bioweapons adviser to President Clinton, Rosenberg had taken it upon herself to look into the anthrax murders, and her investigations had independently led her to Hatfill. (Hatfill says he believes Rosenberg was made aware of him by a former acquaintance, a defense contractor with whom Hatfill had clashed over a proposed counter-anthrax training program intended for the U.S. Marshals Service.) Rosenberg wrote a paper she called “Possible Portrait of the Anthrax Perpetrator,” which was disseminated on the Internet. Although Rosenberg would later deny ever having identified him publicly or privately, the specific details of her “Portrait” made it clear she had a particular suspect in mind: Steven Hatfill.

    Foster says he met Rosenberg over lunch in April 2002, “compared notes,” and “found that our evidence had led us in the same direction.” Weeks dragged on while he and Rosenberg tried to interest the FBI in their theories, but the bureau remained “stubbornly unwilling to listen.” Two months later, her “patience exhausted,” Rosenberg, according to Foster, met on Capitol Hill with Senate staff members “and laid out the evidence, such as it was, hers and mine.” Special Agent Van Harp, the senior FBI agent on what by then had been dubbed the “Amerithrax” investigation, was summoned to the meeting, along with other FBI officials.

    Rosenberg criticized the FBI for not being aggressive enough. “She thought we were wasting efforts and resources in a particular—or in several areas, and should focus more on who she concluded was responsible for it,” Harp would later testify.

    “Did she mention Dr. Hatfill’s name in her presentation?” Hatfill’s attorney, former federal prosecutor Thomas G. Connolly, asked Harp during a sworn deposition.

    “That’s who she was talking about,” Harp testified.

    Exactly a week after the Rosenberg meeting, the FBI carried out its first search of Hatfill’s apartment, with television news cameras broadcasting it live.

    In his deposition, Harp would dismiss the timing of the search as coincidental.

    Beryl Howell, who at the time of the investigation was serving as Senator Patrick Leahy’s point person on all matters anthrax, recently told me that asking Harp and other lead agents to sit down with the “quite persistent” Rosenberg was never meant to pressure the FBI to go after Hatfill. The meeting, Howell says, was intended simply to ensure that investigators cooperated with other experts outside the bureau and objectively considered all theories in the case in order to solve it more quickly.

    “Whether or not Rosenberg’s suspicions about Hatfill were correct was really not my business,” Howell says. “It was really law enforcement’s prerogative to figure that one out.”

    There was enough circumstantial evidence surrounding Hatfill that zealous investigators could easily elaborate a plausible theory of him as the culprit. As fear about the anthrax attacks spread, government and other workers who might have been exposed to the deadly spores via the mail system were prescribed prophylactic doses of Cipro, a powerful antibiotic that protects against infection caused by inhaled anthrax. Unfamiliar to the general population before September 2001, Cipro quickly became known as the anti-anthrax drug, and prescriptions for it skyrocketed.

    As it happened, at the time of the anthrax attacks, Hatfill was taking Cipro.

    Hatfill’s eccentricity also generated suspicion among colleagues and FBI agents. Bench scientists tend toward the sedate and gymnasium-challenged. Steve Hatfill was a flag-waving, tobacco-chewing weight lifter partial to blood-rare steaks and black safari suits that showed off his linebacker’s physique, a physician with a bawdy sense of humor and a soldier’s ethos, who told stories over cocktails of parachuting from military aircraft and battling Communists in Africa. While few people who knew him could deny his intellect or his passion as a researcher, some found him arrogant and blustery. Others feared him. Even his allies acknowledge that Hatfill could sometimes come across as different. “If you try to link Steve and the word normal, they’re not going to match up,” says Jim Cline, a retired Special Forces sergeant major and anti-terror expert who worked with Hatfill from 1999 to 2002 at Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), a large defense contractor.

    It also happened that Hatfill was familiar with anthrax. He had done his medical training in Africa, where outbreaks of anthrax infections have been known to occur among livestock herds. In 1999, after going to work for SAIC, Hatfill had a hand in developing a brochure for emergency personnel on ways to handle anthrax hoax letters. In the long run-up to Operation Iraqi Freedom, he also oversaw the construction of a full-scale model designed to show invading U.S. troops what a mobile Iraqi germ-warfare lab might look like and how best to destroy it. But while he possessed a working knowledge of Bacillus anthracis, Hatfill had never worked in any capacity with the spore-forming, rod-shaped bacterium.

    “I was a virus guy,” he told me, “not a bacteria guy.”

    Still, when FBI agents asked to interview him 10 months after the anthrax murders, Hatfill says, he wasn’t surprised. In their hunt for what he believed were the foreign terrorists who had sent the letters, Hatfill assumed that agents were routinely interviewing every scientist who’d ever worked at USAMRIID, including those, like himself, who had never set foot in the high-security laboratory where anthrax cultures were kept. Hatfill answered the agents’ questions and willingly took a polygraph test, which he says he was told he passed.

    “I thought that was the end of it,” Hatfill says. “But it was only the beginning.”

    In June, agents asked to “swab” his apartment. Hatfill complied, feeling he had nothing to hide. On June 25, 2002, after signing a consent form at the FBI’s field office in nearby Frederick, Maryland, he came home to find reporters and camera crews swarming. TV helicopters orbited overhead. “There’s obviously been a leak,” Hatfill says one of the agents told him. He was driven to a Holiday Inn to escape the crush of news media and sat in a motel room, watching incredulously as a full-blown search of his home played out on national television. The experience was surreal.

    Agents conducted a second search five weeks later amid a repeated media circus. This time they came equipped with a warrant and bloodhounds. The dogs, Hatfill would later learn, had been responsible for false arrests in other cases. Hatfill says he innocently petted one of hounds, named Tinkerbell. The dog seemed to like him. “He’s identified you from the anthrax letters!” Tinkerbell’s handler exclaimed.

    “It took every ounce of restraint to stop from laughing,” Hatfill recalls. “They said, ‘We know you did it. We know you didn’t mean to kill anyone.’ I said, ‘Am I under arrest?’ They said no. I walked out, rented a car, and went to see an attorney about suing the hell out of these people.”

    The FBI raided Hatfill’s rented storage locker in Ocala, Florida, where his father owned a thoroughbred horse farm; the agency also searched a townhouse in Washington, D.C., owned by his longtime girlfriend, a slim, elegant accountant whom Hatfill calls “Boo.” (To guard her privacy, he asked that her real name not be used.) Agents rifled through Boo’s closets and drawers, breaking cherished keepsakes. “They told me, ‘Your boyfriend murdered five people,’” she said to me recently, unable to talk about it without tears.

    Hatfill was fired from SAIC. The official explanation given was that he had failed to maintain a necessary security clearance; the real reason, he believes, was that the government wanted him fired. He immediately landed the associate directorship of a fledgling Louisiana State University program designed to train firefighters and other emergency personnel to respond to terrorist acts and natural disasters, a job that would have matched the $150,000 annual salary he’d been getting at SAIC. But after Justice Department officials learned of Hatfill’s employment, they told LSU to “immediately cease and desist” from using Hatfill on any federally funded program. He was let go before his first day. Other prospective employment fell through. No one would return his calls. One job vanished after Hatfill emerged from a meeting with prospective employers to find FBI agents videotaping them. His savings dwindling, he moved in with Boo.

    By this time, the FBI and the Justice Department were so confident Hatfill was guilty that on August 6, 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft publicly declared him a “person of interest”—the only time the nation’s top law-enforcement official has ever so identified the subject of an active criminal investigation. Agents grilled Hatfill’s friends, tapped his phone, installed surveillance cameras outside Boo’s condo, and for more than two years, shadowed him day and night, looking for any grounds on which to arrest him.

    Many of Hatfill’s friends, worried for their own reputations, abandoned him as the FBI gave chase. Certain of Hatfill’s innocence, his former colleague Jim Cline was among the few who stood by him, afraid that his increasingly socially isolated friend would kill himself to escape his torment. “When you have the world against you,” Cline says, “and only a few people are willing to look you in the eye and tell you, ‘I believe you’—I mean, to this day, I really don’t know how the guy survived.”

    Virtually everywhere Hatfill went, the FBI went too, often right behind him—a deliberately harassing tactic called “bumper locking.” Hatfill believes that local authorities joined in tormenting him at the behest of the Justice Department. Coming home from dinner one Friday night, he was pulled over by a Washington, D.C., police officer who issued him a warning for failing to signal a lane change. Three blocks later, another cop stopped him, again for not using his turn signal. The officer asked if he’d been drinking. Hatfill said he’d had one Bloody Mary. He was ordered out of his car. “Not unless you’re going to arrest me,” Hatfill says he responded indignantly. The officer obliged. Hatfill spent the weekend in jail and would later be ordered to attend a four-day alcohol counseling program. The police, he says, refused to administer a blood-alcohol test that would have proved he wasn’t drunk.

    Connolly, Hatfill’s attorney, offered to have Hatfill surrender his passport and be outfitted with a tracking device, to have FBI agents ride with him everywhere, to show them that they were wasting their time. The offer was rejected. “They were purposely sweating him,” Connolly says, “trying to get him to go over the edge.”

    Much of what authorities discovered, they leaked anonymously to journalists. The result was an unrelenting stream of inflammatory innuendo that dominated front pages and television news. Hatfill found himself trapped, the powerless central player in what Connolly describes as “a story about the two most powerful institutions in the United States, the government and the press, ganging up on an innocent man. It’s Kafka.”

    With Hatfill’s face splashed all over the news, strangers on the street stared. Some asked for his autograph. Hatfill was humiliated. Embarrassed to be recognized, he stopped going to the gym. He stopped visiting friends, concerned that the FBI would harass them, too. Soon, he stopped going out in public altogether. Once an energetic and ambitious professional who reveled in 14-hour workdays, Hatfill now found himself staring at the walls all day. Television became his steady companion.

    “I’d never really watched the news before,” Hatfill says, “and now I’m seeing my name all over the place and all these idiots like Geraldo Rivera asking, ‘Is this the anthrax animal? Is this the guy who murdered innocent people?’ You might as well have hooked me up to a battery. It was sanctioned torture.”

    Hatfill decided to redecorate Boo’s condo as a distraction from the news. He repainted, hung wallpaper, learned to install crown molding. He also began drinking.

    An afternoon glass of red wine became three or more. At night, Hatfill would stay up late, dipping Copenhagen tobacco and getting drunk while waiting in a smoldering rage for his name to appear on television, until finally he would pass out and wake up gagging on the tobacco that had caught in his throat, or stumble around and “crash into something.” Boo would help him to bed. After a few anguished hours of sleep, Hatfill would see her off to work, doze past noon, then rise to repeat the cycle, closing the blinds to block the sun and the video camera the FBI had installed on a pole across the street. For a while, Boo bought newspapers, so the two of them could fume over the latest lies that had been published about him. But soon he asked her to stop bringing them home, because he couldn’t take it anymore.

    Steven Hatfill was born on October 24, 1953, and raised with a younger sister in Mattoon, Illinois. His father designed and sold electrical substations. His mother dabbled in interior decorating. He studied piano, soloed a glider at 14, and wrestled for the varsity team in high school. By his own admission, he was a poor student. “I never took a book home,” Hatfill says. But he read plenty on his own, especially about science and the military. In 1971, he enrolled at Southwestern College, a small liberal-arts school in Kansas affiliated with the Methodist Church, where he majored in biology and signed up for a Marine Corps summer leadership course with dreams of piloting jet fighters. But when his vision was measured at less than 20/20, he opted out of the program rather than accept a navigator slot. Midway through his sophomore year, he left college and went to Africa.

    Hatfill says he always wanted to help people in the developing world. He got his chance at a remote Methodist mission hospital in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he learned blood chemistry, parasitology, and basic hematology in a rudimentary lab. A year later, he returned to the United States; he graduated from Southwestern in 1975, and signed up for the Army.

    He took a direct-enlistment option to join the Green Berets, attended parachute school, trained as a radio operator, and was assigned to the Army’s 7th Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. When a back injury eventually disqualified him from serving with an operational A-Team, Hatfill reentered civilian life. He joined the National Guard, married the daughter of a Methodist surgeon he had worked with in Africa, and returned to Mattoon to work the night shift as a security guard at a radiator factory. His marriage soon faltered. After they separated, his wife delivered their only child, a girl. Hatfill would not see his daughter for 27 years.

    From 1978 to 1994, Hatfill lived in Africa. He earned a medical degree from the Godfrey Huggins School of Medicine in Salisbury, Rhodesia, and saw combat as a volunteer medic with the territorial forces of the Rhodesian army, eventually being attached to a unit called the Selous Scouts, which was renowned for its ruthlessness in battle. While he was in Rhodesia, Hatfill says, a truck he was riding in was ambushed by Marxist insurgents. Leaping from the truck, he landed on his face, badly breaking his nose. For decades afterward he would have trouble breathing—which is why, in September 2001, he finally elected to have surgery on his sinuses, an operation that would lead doctors to prescribe him Cipro, to guard against infection.

    Following his medical internship in Africa, he spent 14 months as the resident physician at an Antarctic research base. He went on to obtain three master’s degrees in the hard sciences from two South African universities and finish a doctoral thesis in molecular cell biology that described a new marker for radiation-induced leukemia.

    Hatfill returned once more to the United States in 1994. He painted barns for six months on his father’s horse farm before taking a one-year fellowship to study a cancer protein at Oxford University. He parlayed the Oxford fellowship into a job researching cancer, HIV, and Lyme disease at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. In September 1997, Hatfill accepted a two-year fellowship as a medical doctor and hematologist to study Ebola and other hemorrhagic fevers at USAMRIID. He was earning $45,000 a year.

    Part of his research involved fatal viral experiments on macaque monkeys. Sometimes, with permission from staff veterinarians, Hatfill would slip the animals Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups to assuage his own guilt over helping cause them harm. He found his USAMRIID assignment both anguishing and rewarding. Some months, he never took a day off. “It’s altruism, in a way,” Hatfill says. “You’re trying to find cures for diseases to help people who have no other means of help. It was a privilege just to be there.”

    The FBI would later speculate that Hatfill had somehow gained access to anthrax cultures while working at USAMRIID, perhaps through an inadvertently unlocked door. Drawing in part on the work of the Vassar professor Foster and the anti-bioweapons activist Rosenberg, federal investigators began trying to connect bits of circumstantial evidence, assembling them into a picture of Hatfill as the anthrax killer.

    He’d been in Britain and Florida, respectively, when two letters with fake anthrax were mailed from those locations. His girlfriend was Malaysian-born—and a hoax package had been sent from Malaysia to a Microsoft office in Nevada. He’d been in Africa during a major anthrax outbreak in the late 1970s. Rhodesia’s capital city has that suburb called Greendale—and, as noted, “Greendale School” was the return address on the anthrax letters sent to Daschle and Leahy. He’d written that unpublished novel, which Don Foster had unearthed, about a bioterror attack on Washington. He was close to Bill Patrick, widely recognized as the father of America’s bioweapons program, whom he’d met at a conference on bioterror some years earlier. And, of course, he’d taken Cipro just before the anthrax attacks.

    The government became convinced all of it had to amount to something.

    It didn’t.

    The FBI’s sleuthing had produced zero witnesses, no firm evidence, nothing to show that Hatfill had ever touched anthrax, let alone killed anyone with it. So thin was the bureau’s case that Hatfill was never even indicted. But that didn’t stop the FBI from focusing on him to the virtual exclusion of other suspects.

    In law enforcement, there is a syndrome known as “detective myopia.” Former Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates told me he suspected that FBI agents had succumbed to this condition, becoming so focused on Hatfill that they lost their objectivity. “This mostly happens when the case is important and there is pressure to solve it,” Gates says. “In the case of the FBI, the pressure most certainly can be, and is, political. When a congressman may be a victim of anthrax—well, the case needs to be solved or the suspect made impotent.”

    Special Agent Harp, who initially headed the anthrax investigation, conceded after Hatfill sued the government in August 2003 that the FBI had been sensitive to accusations that it had stumbled in other high-profile investigations, and that it had consciously sought to assure the public that it was working hard to crack the anthrax murders. Part of providing such assurance involved actively communicating with news reporters. Questioned under oath, Harp admitted to serving as a confidential source for more than a dozen journalists during the case, but he insisted that he had never leaked privileged information about Hatfill, or anyone else for that matter.

    Hatfill’s attorney has his doubts. After taking Harp’s deposition, Connolly says, he went home and half-jokingly told his wife, “We’re building a bomb shelter. If these are the guys in charge of our national security, we’re all in serious trouble.”

    In their own depositions, both John Ashcroft and Robert Mueller, the FBI director, said they had expressed concern to underlings about news leaks that appeared to single out and smear Hatfill. Both, however, denied any knowledge of who specifically was doing the leaking.

    In August of 2002, following the searches of his apartment, Hatfill held two press conferences to proclaim his innocence. He offered to undergo, and eventually took, blood and handwriting tests in an attempt to help clear his name. “I want to look my fellow Americans directly in the eye and declare to them, ‘I am not the anthrax killer,’” Hatfill told reporters. “I know nothing about the anthrax attacks. I had absolutely nothing to do with this terrible crime. My life is being destroyed by arrogant government bureaucrats who are peddling groundless innuendo and half-information about me to gullible reporters, who in turn repeat this to the public in the guise of news.”

    One newspaper reporter even called Boo’s former in-laws in Canada, inquiring whether Hatfill had had anything to do with the death of her late husband—who had succumbed to a stroke a year before Boo met Hatfill. The call, Boo says, prompted her former brother-in-law to fly to Washington and demand, “What are you doing, living with this murderer?”

    Months passed with Hatfill cloistered in Boo’s condominium, watching television and drinking alone. He binged on chocolate and fried chicken, putting on weight, growing too lethargic and depressed to even get on the bathroom scale. He developed heart palpitations. He wondered whether he was losing his mind.

    Remembering what her boyfriend was like back then, Boo grows emotional. “I got tired of cleaning up your vomit,” she tells him over dinner at an Indian restaurant down the street from her condo. Tears stream down her cheeks. Hatfill chokes up too, the trauma still raw nearly eight years later.

    “Every human being has to feel a part of a tribe,” he explains. “It’s programmed into us. And you have to feel that you’re contributing to something. They tried to take all that away from me. No tribe wanted me. I just didn’t feel of value to anything or anyone. I had Boo. Boo was my only tribe.”

    The next morning, driving through Georgetown on the way to visit one of his friends in suburban Maryland, I ask Hatfill how close he came to suicide. The muscles in his jaw tighten.

    “That was never an option,” Hatfill says, staring straight ahead. “If I would’ve killed myself, I would’ve been automatically judged by the press and the FBI to be guilty.”

    Some journalists became convinced there was plenty pointing to Hatfill’s guilt. Among those beating the drum early and loud, in the summer of 2002, was Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times. At least initially, Kristof stopped short of naming Hatfill publicly, instead branding him with the sinister-sounding pseudonym “Mr. Z.” Without identifying his sources, in a July column Kristof wrote:

    If Mr. Z were an Arab national, he would have been imprisoned long ago. But he is a true-blue American with close ties to the U.S. Defense Department, the C.I.A. and the American biodefense program. On the other hand, he was once caught with a girlfriend in a biohazard “hot suite” at Fort Detrick, surrounded only by blushing germs.

    With many experts buzzing about Mr. Z behind his back, it’s time for the F.B.I. to make a move: either it should go after him more aggressively, sifting thoroughly through his past and picking up loose threads, or it should seek to exculpate him and remove this cloud of suspicion.

    One of those threads, Kristof reported, pointed to the possibility that Mr. Z was a genocidal racist who had carried out germ warfare to slaughter innocent black Africans. Kristof addressed his column directly to the FBI:

    Have you examined whether Mr. Z has connections to the biggest anthrax outbreak among humans ever recorded, the one that sickened more than 10,000 black farmers in Zimbabwe in 1978–80? There is evidence that the anthrax was released by the white Rhodesian Army fighting against black guerrillas, and Mr. Z has claimed that he participated in the white army’s much-feared Selous Scouts. Could rogue elements of the American military have backed the Rhodesian Army in anthrax and cholera attacks against blacks?

    Kristof didn’t mention that the majority of soldiers in the Rhodesian army, and in Hatfill’s unit, were black; or that many well-respected scientists who examined the evidence concluded that the Rhodesian anthrax outbreak emerged naturally when cattle herds went unvaccinated during a turbulent civil war. Kristof also failed to mention that Mr. Z had served in that war as a lowly private. To have been involved in some sort of top-secret Rhodesian germ-weapons program “would’ve been like a Pakistani army private being brought in to work on a project at Los Alamos,” Hatfill says today.

    Kristof wrote that Mr. Z had shown “evasion” in repeated FBI polygraph examinations. He also claimed that following the anthrax attacks, Mr. Z had accessed an “isolated residence” that Kristof described as a possible safe house for American intelligence operatives where, the columnist reported, “Mr. Z gave Cipro to people who visited it.” Other journalists would later describe this mysterious residence as a “remote cabin,” a kind of Ted Kaczynski–style hideout where a deranged scientist could easily have prepared anthrax for mailing.

    In fact, the “cabin” was a three-bedroom weekend home with a Jacuzzi on 40 acres of land in rural Virginia owned by a longtime friend of Hatfill’s, George R. Borsari Jr., an avuncular Washington communications lawyer and retired Army lieutenant colonel. Borsari says he found speculation that his place had been a haven for spies or bioterrorists laughable.

    When an FBI agent asked Borsari if he would allow a search of the property, Borsari said no. “I told him, ‘I’m not going to be a part of your publicity game,’” Borsari says. No search was ever conducted, but by then the damage to Hatfill had been done.

    In late 2001, before being publicly implicated in the anthrax attacks, Hatfill had attended a weekend dinner party at Borsari’s Virginia retreat along with more than a dozen other guests, including some of Hatfill’s co-workers at the defense contractor where he was then employed. Borsari, who’d read a recent article about anthrax-fighting drugs, said he jokingly asked Hatfill, “Hey, by the way, we’re your friends. How come we don’t have any Cipro?” Hatfill advised him to go to a hospital if he felt he’d been exposed to anthrax. In subsequent news reports, Hatfill was alleged to have warned everyone to begin taking Cipro, as if to suggest that another attack was imminent. “You can’t make this stuff up,” Borsari later told me. “But, apparently, they did.”

    Though he cannot prove it, Hatfill says he believes that a friend-turned-political-enemy heard about the Cipro conversation from a co-worker who was at Borsari’s house that night, misconstrued it, and passed it on to federal agents. The same former friend, Hatfill asserts, also was responsible for undermining his efforts to secure a higher security clearance that would have enabled him to work on top-secret CIA projects when he was employed at SAIC.

    The former friend, who works today at a high level within the intelligence community and requested anonymity after I contacted him, denies Hatfill’s version of events. He says he never approached the FBI regarding Hatfill, but would not discuss whether he ever talked with agents about him, suggesting instead that simmering workplace conflicts between Hatfill and former colleagues at USAMRIID could have prompted someone there to “drop a dime to the bureau.” “Steve always saw himself as having the purest of motivations. I don’t think that was always apparent to everyone around him,” the former friend says. “There’s a line from Tom Jones, ‘It’s not enough to be good. You have to be seen as being good.’ I don’t think Steve ever learned that lesson.”

    Though the two have not spoken in more than a decade, he says he still regards Hatfill warmly.

    The feelings are hardly mutual. Hatfill believes that his former friend helped perpetuate false and damaging rumors about him. As evidence for this assertion, Hatfill says he once confided to him about having taken a shower with a female colleague inside the decontamination area of a USAMRIID lab. The story, according to Hatfill, was a fiction meant to amuse and titillate. He says he told the story to no one other than this one friend. As the FBI began focusing on Hatfill in July 2002, The Times’s Nicholas Kristof would report Hatfill’s fictitious laboratory dalliance as fact.

    Hatfill would later sue The New York Times for that and a host of other alleged libels. The case would eventually be dismissed, after a judge ruled that Hatfill was a public figure. To successfully sue for defamation, public figures must prove that a publication acted with “actual malice.”

    In late 2002, news bulletins reported that either an unnamed tipster or bloodhounds, depending on which report was to be believed, had led FBI agents to a pond in the Maryland countryside about eight miles from Hatfill’s former apartment. There, divers discovered what was described as a makeshift laboratory “glove box.” Reports speculated that Hatfill, a certified scuba diver, had used the airtight device to stuff anthrax microbes into envelopes underwater to avoid contaminating himself. The Washington Post reported that “vials and gloves wrapped in plastic” also were recovered from the water. Tests to determine the presence of anthrax produced “conflicting results,” The Post reported, yet so “compelling” were these finds that the FBI would later pay $250,000 to have the pond drained in search of more evidence. Nothing retrieved from the pond ever linked Hatfill, or anyone else, to the murders. According to some news reports, the laboratory “glove box” turned out to be a homemade turtle trap. But the pond story helped keep alive the public perception that FBI agents were hot on the trail, with Hatfill in their sights.

    At Connolly’s urging, Hatfill reluctantly agreed to a few informal, one-on-one get-togethers with journalists to show them he was no monster. The effort did little to stanch the flow of negative reporting. Two weeks after Hatfill met with CBS correspondent Jim Stewart, in May 2003, Stewart aired a story on the CBS Evening News. The anchor, Dan Rather, read the lead-in:

    Rather: It has been more than a year and half now since the string of deadly anthrax attacks in this country, and still no arrests, even though investigators believe they know who the culprit is and where he is. CBS News correspondent Jim Stewart is on the case and has the latest.

    Stewart: Bioweapons researcher Dr. Steven Hatfill, sources confirm, remains the FBI’s number-one suspect in the attacks, even though round-the-clock surveillance and extensive searches have failed to develop more than what sources describe as a “highly circumstantial” case.

    And now one possible outcome, sources suggest, is that the government could bring charges against Hatfill unrelated to the anthrax attacks at all, if they become convinced that’s the only way to stop future incidents. Not unlike, for example, the income-tax evasion charges finally brought against Al Capone, when evidence of racketeering proved elusive.

    After watching Stewart’s report that night, Hatfill recalls, “I just lost it.” He left an angry message on Stewart’s voice mail, vowing to sue. It was, as Hatfill looks back, the last straw. “I just decided I wasn’t going to let it get to me anymore. Screw ’em,” Hatfill says. “I mean, what more could the press and the FBI do to me than they already had?”

    Plenty, as it turned out.

    Boo was driving Hatfill to a paint store a week later when FBI agents in a Dodge Durango, trying to keep up with them, blew through a red light in a school zone with children present. Hatfill says he got out of his car to snap a photo of the offending agents and give them a piece of his mind. The Durango sped away—running over his right foot. Hatfill declined an ambulance ride to the hospital; unemployed, he had no medical insurance. When Washington police arrived, they issued him a ticket for “walking to create a hazard.” The infraction carried a $5 fine. Hatfill would contest the ticket in court and lose. The agent who ran over his foot was never charged.

    “People think they’re free in this country,” Hatfill says. “Don’t kid yourself. This is a police state. The government can pretty much do whatever it wants.”

    Sitting alone day after day, Boo’s condo by now completely redecorated, Hatfill realized that he needed something else to keep his mind occupied while waiting for his day in court. He decided to act as though he were starting medical school all over. He dug out his old textbooks and began studying. The hours flew by.

    “I was back on familiar ground, something I knew and understood. It was therapy,” Hatfill says. “There wasn’t any doubt in my mind that there would be a payday eventually,” from lawsuits against those who had destroyed his reputation. “At that point, it became a waiting game for me. Everything else became tolerable.”

    One afternoon, Hatfill was reading a scientific publication about problems researchers were having in developing promising new antibiotics, when he had a life-changing thought. Many antibiotics and anti-cancer agents, he knew, are synthesized from plants or derived from fungi found in jungles and rainforests. Instead of transporting samples to the lab, why not take the lab to the samples? The concept so excited him that Hatfill ran out and bought modeling clay to begin crafting his vision of a floating laboratory. FBI agents tailed him to a local hobby shop and back.

    In the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people, Hatfill joined a relief effort and flew to Sri Lanka in early 2005. Tending to the sick and injured reminded him that he still had something to contribute to the world. Finally, he says, he stopped worrying about the press and the FBI. He stopped constantly looking over his shoulder.

    By early 2007, after fresh investigators were brought in to reexamine evidence collected in the anthrax case, the FBI came to believe what Hatfill had been saying all along: he’d never had access to the anthrax at USAMRIID; he was a virus guy. The FBI, meanwhile, began to focus on someone who had enjoyed complete access: senior microbiologist Bruce Edward Ivins.

    Ivins had spent most of his career at USAMRIID, working with anthrax. Agents had even sought his advice and scientific expertise early in their investigation of Hatfill. Now they subjected Ivins to the same harsh treatment they’d given Hatfill, placing Ivins under 24-hour surveillance, digging into his past, and telling him he was a murder suspect. Soon Ivins was banned from the labs where he had labored for 28 years. In July 2008, following a voluntary two-week stay in a psychiatric clinic for treatment of depression and anxiety, Ivins went home and downed a fatal dose of Tylenol. He was 62.

    Less than two weeks later, the Justice Department officially exonerated Steven Hatfill. Six years had passed since he was first named a person of interest.

    As it had done with Hatfill, the press dissected the pathology of Ivins’s life, linking him, however speculatively, to the murders. Ivins was a devout Catholic, which could’ve explained why anthrax was sent to two pro-choice senators, Daschle and Leahy. Reports said that Ivins harbored homicidal urges, especially toward women. He had purportedly been obsessed with a particular sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma, ever since being rebuffed by one of its members while attending the University of Cincinnati, which could’ve explained why the anthrax letters were mailed from a box near a storage facility used by the sorority’s Princeton chapter. Ivins, of course, was no longer alive to defend himself. But in him, the FBI had found a suspect against whom tangible evidence existed.

    Ivins had been the sole custodian of a large flask of highly purified anthrax spores genetically linked to those found in the letters. He had allegedly submitted purposely misleading lab data to the FBI in an attempt to hide the fact that the strain of anthrax used in the attacks was a genetic match with the anthrax in his possession. He had been unable to provide a good explanation for the many late nights he’d put in at the lab, working alone, just before the attacks. Agents found that he had been under intense pressure at USAMRIID to produce an anthrax vaccine for U.S. troops. A few days after the anthrax letters were postmarked, Ivins, according to the FBI, had sent an e-mail to a former colleague, who has never been publicly identified, warning: “Bin Laden terrorists for sure have anthrax and sarin gas,” and have “just decreed death to all Jews and all Americans.” The language was similar to the anthrax letters that warned, “We have this anthrax … Death to America … Death to Israel.”

    Following his suicide, some of Ivins’s friends insisted that the FBI had pressured him into doing what Hatfill would not. Ivins’s own attorney, Paul F. Kemp, disagrees. “Dr. Ivins had a host of psychological problems that he was grappling with, that existed long before the anthrax letters were mailed, and long after,” Kemp told me.

    Though Hatfill’s apartment in Frederick was less than a quarter mile from Ivins’s modest home on Military Road, and both men worked at Fort Detrick at the same time, Hatfill says the two never met. Hatfill was surprised when the FBI ultimately pinned the anthrax murders on a fellow American scientist.

    “I thought it would eventually be proven that al-Qaeda was behind the attacks,” he says.

    In the years since the attacks, postal officials have equipped more than 270 processing and distribution centers with sensors that “sniff” the air around virtually every piece of incoming mail to detect deadly biohazards. The sensors have never picked up so much as a whiff of anthrax, according to a Postal Inspection Service spokesman, Peter Rendina. “Your mail,” Rendina says, “is safer today than at any other time in our history.”

    The same, Hatfill believes, cannot be said about American civil liberties. “I was a guy who trusted the government,” he says. “Now, I don’t trust a damn thing they do.” He trusts reporters even less, dismissing them as little more than lapdogs for law enforcement.

    The media’s general willingness to report what was spoon-fed to them, in an effort to reassure a frightened public that an arrest was not far off, is somewhat understandable considering the level of fear that gripped the nation following 9/11. But that doesn’t “justify the sliming of Steven Hatfill,” says Edward Wasserman, who is the Knight Professor of Journalism Ethics at Washington and Lee University, in Virginia. “If anything, it’s a reminder that an unquestioning media serves as a potential lever of power to be activated by the government, almost at will.”

    In February 2008, Reggie B. Walton, the U.S. District Court judge presiding over Hatfill’s case against the government, announced that he had reviewed secret internal memos on the status of the FBI’s investigation and could find “not a scintilla of evidence that would indicate that Dr. Hatfill had anything to do with” the anthrax attacks.

    Four months later, the Justice Department quietly settled with Hatfill for $5.82 million. “It allowed Doc to start over,” Connolly, his lawyer, says.

    For Hatfill, rebuilding remains painful and slow. He enters post offices only if he absolutely must, careful to show his face to surveillance cameras so that he can’t be accused of mailing letters surreptitiously. He tries to document his whereabouts at all times, in case he should ever need an alibi. He is permanently damaged, Hatfill says. Yet he still professes to love America. “My country didn’t do this to me,” he is quick to point out. “A bloated, incompetent bureaucracy and a broken press did. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today if I didn’t still love my country.”

    Much of Hatfill’s time these days is devoted to teaching life-saving medical techniques to military personnel bound for combat. They are his “band of brothers,” and the hours he spends with them, Hatfill says, are among his happiest. He also serves as an adjunct associate professor of emergency medicine at George Washington University.

    Then there is his boat.

    Hatfill has committed $1.5 million to building his floating genetic laboratory, a futuristic-looking vessel replete with a helicopter, an operating room to treat rural indigenous peoples, and a Cordon Bleu–trained chef. Hatfill intends to assemble a scientific team and cruise the Amazon for undiscovered or little-known plants and animals. From these organisms, he hopes to develop new medications for leukemia, and for tuberculosis and other diseases that have been growing increasingly resistant to existing antibiotics. Any useful treatments, he says, will be licensed to pharmaceutical companies on the condition that developing nations receive them at cost. Hatfill hopes to christen the boat within two years. Scientists at USAMRIID, where the FBI once suspected him of stealing anthrax, have expressed tentative interest in helping him mount his expedition.

    In addition to suing the Justice Department for violating his privacy and The New York Times for defaming him, Hatfill also brought a libel lawsuit against Don Foster, Vanity Fair, and Reader’s Digest, which had reprinted Foster’s article. The lawsuit led to a settlement whose dollar amount all parties have agreed to keep confidential. The news media, which had for so long savaged Hatfill, dutifully reported his legal victories, but from where he stands, that hardly balanced things on the ledger sheet of journalistic fairness.

    Three weeks after the FBI exonerated Hatfill, in the summer of 2008, Nicholas Kristof apologized to him in The New York Times for any distress his columns may have caused. The role of the news media, Kristof wrote on August 28, is “to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. Instead, I managed to afflict the afflicted.”

    Many others who raised critical questions about Hatfill have remained silent in the wake of his exoneration. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, the molecular biologist who spurred the FBI to pursue Hatfill, retired two years ago. Through a former colleague, she declined to be interviewed for this article. Jim Stewart, the television correspondent whose report compared Hatfill to Al Capone, left CBS in 2006. Stewart admitted in a deposition to having relied, for his report, on four confidential FBI sources. When I reached the former newsman at his home in Florida, Stewart said he couldn’t talk about Hatfill because he was entertaining houseguests. When I asked when might be a good time to call back, he said, “There isn’t a good time,” and hung up.

    “The entire unhappy episode” is how Don Foster, the Vassar professor who wrote the Vanity Fair article, sums up Hatfill’s story and his own role in it. Foster says he no longer consults for the FBI. “The anthrax case was it for me,” he told me recently. “I’m happier teaching. Like Steven Hatfill, I would prefer to be a private person.”

    Foster says he never intended to imply that Hatfill was a murderer, yet continues to stand by his reporting as “inaccurate in only minor details.” I asked if he had any regrets about what he’d written.

    “On what grounds?” he asked.

    “The heartache it caused Hatfill. The heartache it caused you and Vanity Fair.”

    Foster pondered the question, then said, “I don’t know Steven Hatfill. I don’t know his heartache. But anytime an American citizen, a journalist, a scientist, a scholar, is made the object of unfair or inaccurate public scrutiny, it’s unfortunate. It’s part of a free press to set that right.”

    This past February, the Justice Department formally closed its investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks, releasing more than 2,500 pages of documents, many of them heavily redacted, buttressing the government’s assertion that Bruce Ivins was solely responsible for the anthrax letters.

    When I asked FBI spokesperson Debra Weierman how much money had been spent chasing Hatfill, she said the bureau was unable to provide such an accounting. She would neither confirm nor deny that the FBI ever opened any administrative inquiries into the news leaks that had defamed him. The FBI, she said, was unwilling to publicly discuss Hatfill in any capacity, “out of privacy considerations for Dr. Hatfill.” Weierman referred me instead to what she described as an “abundance of information” on the FBI’s Web site.

    Information about the anthrax case is indeed abundant on the bureau’s Web site, with dozens of documents touting the FBI’s efforts to solve the murders. Included is a transcript of a press conference held in August 2008, a month after Ivins’s suicide, in which federal authorities initially laid out the evidence they had amassed against him. But beyond a handful of questions asked by reporters that day, in which his last name is repeatedly misspelled, and a few scant paragraphs in the 96-page executive summary of the case, there is no mention anywhere on the FBI’s Web site of Steven Hatfill.

    This article available online at:


    Foreign Policy Magazine

    The Elite Med Squad That Saved You from Anthrax

    A look inside the hunt for a white, powdery killer.


    Since its founding in 1951 by Alexander Langmuir as a service/training program, the Epidemic Intelligence Service, working out of the CDC in Atlanta, Georgia, has sent out more than 3,000 officers to combat every imaginable human (and sometimes animal) ailment.

    These young people -- doctors, veterinarians, dentists, statisticians, nurses, microbiologists, academic epidemiologists, sociologists, anthropologists, and now even lawyers -- call themselves "shoeleather epidemiologists." EIS officers have ventured over the globe in search of diseases, sometimes in airplanes or jeeps, on bicycles, aboard fragile boats, on dogsleds, atop elephants and camels.

    EIS officers generally have performed their tasks without fanfare or notice. They have saved uncountable lives, preventing uncontrolled spread of disease and diagnosing problems before they escalated.

    They even may have saved your life, though you were probably unaware of it. And in October 2001, they became deeply involved with containing the spread of anthrax in the United States.

    On October 3, the Florida state laboratory called the CDC about a likely anthrax case. A disoriented, feverish 63-year-old man named Bob Stevens had entered a Boca Raton hospital the day before, and then had a seizure. His spinal fluid had just tested positive for Bacillus anthracis.

    The next day the CDC lab confirmed the diagnosis. Stevens, a photo editor at the tabloid the Sun, was suffering from inhalational anthrax, a rare, deadly disease. There had been only 18 such cases in the United States during the 20th century, and the last had occurred 25 years before.

    On October 4 a CDC team, led by EIS alum Brad Perkins and including five EIS officers, flew to Boca Raton. There they joined Florida-based EIS officer Marc Traeger.

    Coming so soon after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the unusual inhalational anthrax case caused understandable concern, but the CDC investigators thought it unlikely to be bioterrorism. Why would terrorists pick on one obscure photo editor at an insignificant tabloid?

    At 4 p.m. on Friday, Bob Stevens died. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the George W. Bush administration tried to control and centralize communication, so CDC director Jeff Koplan was effectively muzzled, while HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, who knew little about medicine, gave a press conference. He asserted that Stevens may have contracted anthrax by drinking from a North Carolina stream. "We cringed when we heard Thompson's comments," Traeger said. No one could get inhalational anthrax from contaminated water.

    On Saturday CDC's Sherif Zaki arrived in Florida to perform the autopsy on Stevens, then returned to Atlanta along with all the environmental and clinical samples collected thus far. At 6:25 p.m. on Sunday, October 7, Perkins and the Florida CDC team were eating dinner at a cheap Italian restaurant. "We were feeling pretty good," recalls Josh Jones. "We had worked hard and had found nothing of real concern."

    Then Perkins got a call from Zaki on his cell phone. The samples from Stevens's computer keyboard and mail slot tested positive for anthrax. Bioterrorism, Perkins thought. It had to be an intentional exposure, probably from a letter.

    On Friday, October 12, the phone woke New York City epidemiologist and EIS alum Marci Layton around 3 a.m. The biopsy results on 38-year-old Erin O'Connor, assistant to NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw, were positive for anthrax.

    By the end of the day, three other media-related cases had been reported to Layton from ABC, CBS, and the New York Post. Over the next few days a total of seven media-related New York City cutaneous anthrax cases were identified.

    Only two anthrax letters were found, addressed to Brokaw and the editor of the New York Post. Both tested positive for anthrax, were postmarked on September 18 in Trenton, New Jersey, and contained the same message in handwritten block letters: 09-11-01. THIS IS NEXT. TAKE PENACILIN NOW. DEATH TO AMERICA. DEATH TO ISRAEL. ALLAH IS GREAT.

    The EIS officers conducting surveillance for bioterrorism in the city's emergency rooms reported to the NBC offices at Rockefeller Center, where they were each paired with a mental health counselor. For the next three days they handed out Cipro, took nose swabs (all negative), and tried to allay employee fears. As a member of the Armed Forces Medical Intelligence Center, recent EIS grad Mike Bunning was dispatched to test the thousands of suspicious powder specimens that concerned citizens sent. Public health laboratories across the country were overwhelmed with suspect powder samples.

    On Monday morning, October 15, an intern in Senator Tom Daschle's office in the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., opened a letter sealed with tape on all sides that released a puff of fine white powder. He placed the letter on the floor and called security. Daschle himself wasn't in the building, but 13 of his staff were in the room at the time and were immediately put on Cipro. It wasn't until 45 minutes later that someone thought to shut down the building's ventilation system. The letter's contents tested positive for anthrax, and it appeared to be of a finer consistency than the variety sent to New York -- more easily airborne.

    By the end of the day the entire building was shut down, as was mail delivery throughout the Capitol. Over the next three days EIS officer Scott Harper and his colleagues gave antibiotics to more than 2,000 people who had been in the building. Twenty-eight nasal swabs tested positive, though no one contracted anthrax.

    The Daschle letter featured the now-familiar handwritten capital letters, beginning with: YOU CAN NOT STOP US. WE HAVE THIS ANTHRAX. YOU DIE NOW. It had been postmarked in Trenton, New Jersey, on October 9, which meant that, like the New York media letters, it had traveled through a large postal distribution center in Hamilton, New Jersey.

    After hearing about the New York cases, two New Jersey doctors had notified the state health office of possible cutaneous anthrax in Teresa Heller, a postal carrier, and Patrick O'Donnell, who worked in the Hamilton distribution center. On October 18 Heller's wound biopsy tested positive for anthrax. With two likely cases of cutaneous anthrax in mail handlers, a CDC team led by EIS alum Beth Bell flew up to New Jersey that afternoon, accompanied by EIS officers Jennita Reefhuis and Michelle McConnell. By the time they arrived, the Hamilton facility, which processed approximately 2 million pieces of mail per day, had been closed.

    As several postal employees in D.C. and New Jersey contracted the disease and some of them died, it seemed as though the anthrax cases would never end. "It was like getting slammed by an ocean wave," CDC director Jeff Koplan said. "Wham! You just have to keep moving and dive right in."

    On November 16 an unopened anthrax letter addressed to Senator Patrick Leahy was found in mail that had been quarantined after the arrival of the Daschle letter. It, too, had been postmarked in Trenton on October 9. Three days after the Leahy letter surfaced, Ottilie Lundgren, a 94-year-old widow who lived alone in rural Oxford, Connecticut, was diagnosed with inhalational anthrax. She died two days later.

    Lundgren was the last anthrax victim of the 2001 bioterror spree. A total of 22 people had been infected, half of them with inhalational anthrax, and five inhalational victims had died. Of the 146 then-current EIS officers, 136 helped with at least one part of the investigation. Nearly a third of them went out twice, and some were redeployed four or five times.

    EIS alum Larry Altman, a New York Times science reporter, complained of the "distressing lapses in communication with the public" during the anthrax investigation, as did alum Philip Brachman. "You won't ever prevent hysteria," Brachman said, "but you feed hysteria by not releasing information." In future bioterror events, he advised that "a single and well-informed source" should be the spokesperson.

    CDC director Jeff Koplan probably should have been allowed to be that person, but at the onset of the anthrax scare, he was forbidden to make public statements. Tommy Thompson made his life miserable by insisting on personal updates several times a day.

    The FBI and most other experts concluded that the perpetrator was probably a U.S. citizen, perhaps an unhinged scientist with the expertise to produce finely milled anthrax spores. (In July 2008 military scientist Bruce Ivins, who worked with anthrax at Fort Detrick, Maryland, committed suicide as the FBI was amassing circumstantial evidence that he had sent the anthrax letters. Some critics remain unconvinced of his guilt.)

    In the wake of the anthrax letters, the Bush administration and Congress threw billions of dollars into bioterror preparedness, much of it going to the CDC and to state health departments. Tommy Thompson called for an EIS officer in every state, but some states had weaker public health infrastructure and lacked good supervisors. Instead, EIS alums called career epidemiology field officers (CEFOs) were posted to such states, though they focused primarily on terrorism and emergency response.

    The new bioterror money undoubtedly improved preparedness for many potential public health emergencies, but other problems were underfunded, according to EIS alum Barry Levy, editor of the 2003 book Terrorism and Public Health. "These bioterror initiatives have, in general, distorted public health priorities," complained Levy, "and drained human and financial resources away from addressing current public health problems, including tobacco- and alcohol-related diseases, gun-related injuries and deaths, HIV/AIDS, and mental health disorders."