Questioning the Science in the Case Against Ivins

Microbiologist Gerry Andrews points to additional weaknesses in the publicly disclosed evidence against Bruce Ivins:

Dr. Ivins, for instance, was asked to analyze the anthrax envelope that was sent to Mr. Daschle’s office on Oct. 9, 2001. When his team analyzed the powder, they found it to be a startlingly refined weapons-grade anthrax spore preparation, the likes of which had never been seen before by personnel at Fort Detrick. It is extremely improbable that this type of preparation could ever have been produced at Fort Detrick, certainly not of the grade and quality found in that envelope.

Does the FBI have a credible theory to explain where and how Ivins weaponized the anthrax? Could he have done it on his own? Some scientists think not. [more ...]

The anthrax was mailed from Trenton, New Jersey, but the FBI has no evidence that Ivins was in Trenton on the days the envelopes were mailed. Even if Ivins was involved, why would the FBI close the investigation if the possibility remains that he wasn't working alone?

Answering these unanswered questions should be a priority if the FBI wants us to believe it's done its job. That means providing a degree of detail that's so far missing from public disclosures.

In the summary of its findings, the F.B.I. states that investigators used four different genetic techniques to match the anthrax-laced attack letters to a unique DNA footprint of a single anthrax spore preparation in one flask that had been in Dr. Ivins’s custody.

Sounds reasonable. Yet the investigators present no details on the scientific methods they used to make this match or how they employed them. That’s a problem, because without such detail it is hard to tell if they specifically ruled out a similar match between the anthrax in the letters and anthrax preparations with the same DNA footprint kept at a number of other labs around the country. The basic methods of genetic analysis are well known. Why not provide enough detail about their procedure to enable other scientists to tell whether they could actually single out Dr. Ivins’s spore preparation as the culprit?

Andrews points to other unanswered questions raised by the public record:

First, isn’t it possible that the manipulation of the contents of the anthrax letters in Dr. Ivins’s laboratory might have contaminated the work environment enough to potentially jeopardize the integrity of subsequent samples taken from the lab? Might that perhaps explain why the anthrax powder used in the attacks was later found to have the same DNA footprint as the other anthrax preparations in Dr. Ivins’s lab? At the very least, wouldn’t this call his guilt into doubt?

If we're supposed to feel assured that FBI analysts completed a sound scientific investigation, we should all be worried. This is the agency that couldn't even get a fingerprint match right in Brandon Mayfield's case. This wouldn't be the first time the FBI cooked the science in response to pressure to solve a crime.

We can't feel secure in our homeland until the FBI releases detailed evidence that independent scientists can review. Until that happens, we can't know whether the FBI got it right in pinning the anthrax plot on Ivins alone.

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    Actually (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by Steve M on Sun Aug 10, 2008 at 01:15:37 PM EST
    Glenn Greenwald thinks that not only is there an absence of evidence that Ivins was in New Jersey to mail the letters, but that there may actually be affirmative evidence that he was not there.  Check out his post and see if you agree.

    I don't believe anything coming out of this (5.00 / 3) (#2)
    by Angel on Sun Aug 10, 2008 at 01:57:34 PM EST
    administration, especially with regard to the anthrax case, Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Iraq, Iran, or any other intelligence matter.  They are serial liars and manipulate, distort and conjure up "evidence" to suit their purposes.  

    If he was the investigator... (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by jerry on Sun Aug 10, 2008 at 02:31:57 PM EST
    Okay, I only read detective fiction, I am not nearly the detectives that Greenwald, Wheeler, everyone else, and all of Ivins' friends and professional colleagues are....

    But if he was the investigator, and his results weren't confirmed, we can't actually put too much faith into statements about how sophisticated the anthrax was.  That would be like the ballistics guy throwing us off the trail by falsifying his results.

    Anyway, more interesting, Ivin's has been well represented in death by bloggers and professional colleagues and friends.  Sad, if only he had been able to call on such support during the investigation itself, he may still be alive.  That's the nature of criminal investigations I guess, and the private nature can go both ways, but once again we see the value of open access and transparency.

    Doesn't the Patriot Act (none / 0) (#13)
    by ding7777 on Sun Aug 10, 2008 at 11:35:29 PM EST
    "gag" the very people who knew Ivin's was under investigation?

    Tidying up (5.00 / 2) (#5)
    by denise k on Sun Aug 10, 2008 at 03:16:05 PM EST
    The minute I heard about this guy's suicide, I thought this was less about finding the guilty party than it was about covering the guilty parties' tracks.  It is too pat, too convenient that the guy who supposedly committed the crime committed suicide.  I am with Randi Rhodes on this crime.  I believe it was the work of "dark side" forces in this administration who wanted to go to war in IRAQ rather than deal with bin Laden.  Now, seven years later, those who did those terrible things in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 realize that their free ride (Bush/Cheney) is about to end and they need to wrap up loose ends.  Whether it is the anthrax attack or Ivins, himself, who is the loose end, I don't know.  

    Ivins was weird (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by nellre on Sun Aug 10, 2008 at 03:24:56 PM EST
    He must therefore be guilty.
    Snark... but there are actually some people who "think" that way... and I think the FBI is trying to convict Ivins in the court of public opinion, and thus erase a black mark in their reputation.

    I'm suspicious of this administration using actual (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by jawbone on Sun Aug 10, 2008 at 04:27:48 PM EST
    science. Their record is more on the order of making stuff up, cooking the books, hiding actual scientific findings, etc.  And lying, covering up.

    The MCM* has tended to go along with this, reporting editing of reportts, etc., only when it's too late and there's a fait accompli to deal with. Even when scientists did contest the findings of the Maladministration, the MCM essentially ignored that science. NPR reported very early on that government scientists in the nuke energy field said those aluminum tubes, so important to the Cheney Get-Our-War-On Narrative, were not suited to the purpose the administration said they designed specifically to do.

    What story did the MCM push? The BushCo story. Later? Oh, yeah, well, we were really on the story bcz we did report about those scientists' opinions. The MCM did not admit to ignoring those statements, burying them in their rush to help Bush's Rush to War. Yikes.

    What Digby refers to as The Village does not want anything to rock Establishment any boats, even those carrying pirates of our Constitutional form of government. Alas.

    *MCM--Mainstream Corporate Media.  

    that there is no evidence that (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by cpinva on Sun Aug 10, 2008 at 05:08:28 PM EST
    dr. ivins was in trenton, NJ on the days the envelopes were mailed is not, by itself, dispositive. he could easily have had someone else go and mail them for him. for that matter, he could have mailed them to someone in trenton, with instructions to mail the envelopes from there.

    whether this is true or not, i've not a clue. nor, apparently, does the FBI. frankly, if this is an example of the fine analytical work being done by the FBI, we should all shudder in fear.

    Well (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by Steve M on Sun Aug 10, 2008 at 05:20:47 PM EST
    The FBI sure shouldn't be declaring the case closed if they have no idea whether a co-conspirator is out there somewhere.

    First I heard he was an investigator... tnx (none / 0) (#3)
    by jerry on Sun Aug 10, 2008 at 02:20:33 PM EST

    some of the men (none / 0) (#12)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Sun Aug 10, 2008 at 10:56:50 PM EST
    Remember one of the biggist criticisms of Bush post-9-11, was that at least Bill Clinton CAUGHT the men who bombed the WTC in '92.

    Not all of the men.  Abdul Rahman Yasin bugged out to live in  Iraq with a stipend from Saddam.