Bruce Ivins Wasn't the Anthrax Culprit
By RICHARD SPERTZEL. (Mr. Spertzel, head of the biological-weapons section of Unscom from 1994-99, was a member of the Iraq Survey Group)
Over the past week the media was gripped by the news that the FBI was about to charge Bruce Ivins, a leading anthrax expert, as the man responsible for the anthrax letter attacks in September/October 2001. But despite the seemingly powerful narrative that Ivins committed suicide because investigators were closing in, this is still far from a shut case. The FBI needs to explain why it zeroed in on Ivins, how he could have made the anthrax mailed to lawmakers and the media, and how he (or anyone else) could have pulled off the attacks, acting alone. I believe this is another mistake in the investigation.
Let's start with the anthrax in the letters to Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. The spores could not have been produced at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, where Ivins worked, without many other people being aware of it. Furthermore, the equipment to make such a product does not exist at the institute.
Information released by the FBI over the past seven years indicates a product of exceptional quality. The product contained essentially pure spores. The particle size was 1.5 to 3 microns in diameter. There are several methods used to produce anthrax that small. But most of them require milling the spores to a size small enough that it can be inhaled into the lower reaches of the lungs. In this case, however, the anthrax spores were not milled.
What's more, they were also tailored to make them potentially more dangerous. According to a FBI news release from November 2001, the particles were coated by a "product not seen previously to be used in this fashion before." Apparently, the spores were coated with a polyglass which tightly bound hydrophilic silica to each particle. That's what was briefed (according to one of my former weapons inspectors at the United Nations Special Commission) by the FBI to the German Foreign Ministry at the time.
Another FBI leak indicated that each particle was given a weak electric charge, thereby causing the particles to repel each other at the molecular level. This made it easier for the spores to float in the air, and increased their retention in the lungs. In short, the potential lethality of anthrax in this case far exceeds that of any powdered product found in the now extinct U.S. Biological Warfare Program. In meetings held on the cleanup of the anthrax spores in Washington, the product was described by an official at the Department of Homeland Security as "according to the Russian recipes" -- apparently referring to the use of the weak electric charge.
The latest line of speculation asserts that the anthrax's DNA, obtained from some of the victims, initially led investigators to the laboratory where Ivins worked. But the FBI stated a few years ago that a complete DNA analysis was not helpful in identifying what laboratory might have made the product.
Furthermore, the anthrax in this case, the "Ames strain," is one of the most common strains in the world. Early in the investigations, the FBI said it was similar to strains found in Haiti and Sri Lanka. The strain at the institute was isolated originally from an animal in west Texas and can be found from Texas to Montana following the old cattle trails. Samples of the strain were also supplied to at least eight laboratories including three foreign laboratories. Four French government laboratories reported on studies with the Ames strain, citing the Pasteur Institute in Paris as the source of the strain they used. Organism DNA is not a very reliable way to make a case against a scientist.
The FBI has not officially released information on why it focused on Ivins, and whether he was about to be charged or arrested. And when the FBI does release this information, we should all remember that the case needs to be firmly based on solid information that would conclusively prove that a lone scientist could make such a sophisticated product.
From what we know so far, Bruce Ivins, although potentially a brilliant scientist, was not that man. The multiple disciplines and technologies required to make the anthrax in this case do not exist at Army's Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. Inhalation studies are conducted at the institute, but they are done using liquid preparations, not powdered products.
The FBI spent between 12 and 18 months trying "to reverse engineer" (make a replica of) the anthrax in the letters sent to Messrs. Daschle and Leahy without success, according to FBI news releases. So why should federal investigators or the news media or the American public believe that a lone scientist would be able to do so?
Source. A Soviet origin would seem the only possibility
Britain: 'Fakeproof' e-passport is cloned in minutes: "New microchipped passports designed to be foolproof against identity theft can be cloned and manipulated in minutes and accepted as genuine by the computer software recommended for use at international airports. Tests for The Times exposed security flaws in the microchips introduced to protect against terrorism and organised crime. The flaws also undermine claims that 3,000 blank passports stolen last week were worthless because they could not be forged. In the tests, a computer researcher cloned the chips on two British passports and implanted digital images of Osama bin Laden and a suicide bomber. The altered chips were then passed as genuine by passport reader software used by the UN agency that sets standards for e-passports."
Iran faces new sanctions after missing deadline: "Six major world powers agreed Monday to seek new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program after the country failed to meet a weekend deadline to respond to an offer intended to defuse the dispute, the United States said. Representatives of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany decided in a high-level conference call that Iran's lack of response to an incentives package aimed at getting it to halt sensitive atomic activity left them no option other than to pursue new punitive measures, the United States said."
Oil prices dropping: "Oil prices plunged to a three month low Monday, briefly tumbling below $120 a barrel in another huge sell-off after Tropical Storm Edouard seemed less likely to disrupt oil and natural gas output in the Gulf of Mexico. Meanwhile, gasoline prices continued their downward trend, with the common price in Tulsa falling 7 cents from the weekend. Crude's steep drop - prices fell more than $5 at one point during the day - dragged down other commodities and mimicked the big nosedives of the past three weeks. Also weighing on prices Monday was a report by the Commerce Department that consumer spending after adjusting for inflation fell in June as shoppers dealt with higher prices for gasoline, food and other items. That fed investors' expectations that a U.S. economic slowdown is sharply curbing U.S. demand for fossil fuels."
Moqtada Packs It In: "Good news out of Iraq is becoming almost a daily event: In just the past week, we learned that U.S. combat fatalities (five) dropped in July to a low for the war, that key leaders of al Qaeda in Iraq have fled to the Pakistani hinterland, that troop deployments will soon be cut to 12 months from 15, and that Washington and Baghdad are close to concluding a status-of-forces agreement. Now this: Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr plans to announce Friday that he will disarm his Mahdi Army, which was raining mortars on Baghdad's Green Zone as recently as April. Coupled with the near-total defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq, this means the U.S. no longer faces any significant organized military foe in the country. It also marks a major setback for Iran, which had used the Mahdi Army as one of its primary vehicles for extending its influence in Iraq. The story, broken yesterday by the Journal's Gina Chon, marks the latest of serial defeats for Mr. Sadr"
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