FBI: Incompetent or covering up murders?

The deadly anthrax attacks that followed 9/11 were highly sophisticated. The anthrax escaped sealed envelopes and killed postal workers and even an old woman whose letter was perhaps briefly near one of the infected letters. The anthrax sent to leading Democratic Senators, Senate Judiciary chariman Pat Leahy and Majority Leader Tom Daschle, was military-grade biowarfare quality… as good as anything the U.S. or former Soviet Union could produce. Very few people in the world know how to make it, and only a subset of those people possess the expensive equipment to create it.

Further, whoever sent the letters covered their tracks exceptionally well and/or have powerful friends in Washington who prevented a real investigation of the evidence.

Immediately after the letters arrived, the Bush Administration immediately tried — without evidence — to blame Saddam Hussein:

At first, the finger was pointed at Saddam Hussein, but the focus quickly shifted to a home-grown perpetrator, when molecular typing made clear that the strain used was a laboratory strain, the Ames strain, which was originally isolated in the US. I remember that forensic applications of whole-genome sequencing were discussed at a meeting I attended in Florida in November 2003. At that meeting I met Paul Keim who did the anthrax typing and Jacques Ravel who was doing the genome sequencing. The talk in the bar was that the epidemiological typing results delayed the start of the Iraq war by at least a year, because unless Saddam had been ruled out, the Bush Administration would have used the Amerithrax incident as a pretext for invasion (of course, they found other reasons anyhow).

Instead of trying to find the murderers (likely plural, given the difficulty of producing and sending such sophisticated anthrax), the FBI fixated on Dr. Steven Hatfill. The FBI hounded him for years, attacked him in the press and did everything short of charge him with the crime. Hatfill steadfastly proclaimed his innocence and fought back, eventually winning a $5.82 million settlement from the government.

The FBI then shifted its spotlight to Bruce Ivins, a socially awkward man. The FBI pushed Ivins even harder than they had pushed Hatfill. U.S. Army colonel Dr. Lawrence Sellin writes:

It has been reported that Ivins underwent a similar degree of harassment and subjected to an equivalent amount of leaking of confidential information as Hatfill, before the case was officially closed in February 2010. The FBI allegedly told Ivins' children that he was a murderer, showed them photos of the victims and offered his son cash and a sports car if he turned against his father.

Perhaps the only difference between the two was Hatfill’s ability to withstand the pressure.

Eventually, Ivins apparently committed suicide. Whether he really killed himself or was murdered, Ivins' death was most convenient for the FBI because its target could no longer defend himself.

Most microbiologists who have studied the evidence against Ivins are extremely skeptical of the FBI’s case and Ivins' involvement. This is true of both microbiologists who knew Ivins and those who didn’t. Nevertheless, the FBI has closed its investigation.

In 2008, one of the world’s top bioweapons experts, Richard Spertzel, wrote “Bruce Ivins Wasn’t the Anthrax Culprit” in The Wall Street Journal:

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…

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?

Now, some who worked with Ivins for years are agreeing with Spertzel that not only is the evidence against Ivins ridiculously weak but that Ivins could not POSSIBLY have carried out these attacks:

A former Army microbiologist who worked for years with Bruce E. Ivins… told a National Academy of Sciences panel on Thursday that he believed it was impossible that the deadly spores had been produced undetected in Dr. Ivins’s laboratory, as the F.B.I. asserts.

Asked by reporters after his testimony whether he believed that there was any chance that Dr. Ivins, who committed suicide in 2008, had carried out the attacks, the microbiologist, Henry S. Heine, replied, “Absolutely not.” At the Army’s biodefense laboratory in Maryland, where Dr. Ivins and Dr. Heine worked, he said, “among the senior scientists, no one believes it.”

Dr. Heine told the 16-member panel… that producing the quantity of spores in the letters would have taken at least a year of intensive work using the equipment at the army lab. Such an effort would not have escaped colleagues’ notice, he added later, and lab technicians who worked closely with Dr. Ivins have told him they saw no such work.

He told the panel that biological containment measures where Dr. Ivins worked were inadequate to prevent the spores from floating out of the laboratory into animal cages and offices. “You’d have had dead animals or dead people,” he said….

Asked why he was speaking out now, Dr. Heine noted that Army officials had prohibited comment on the case, silencing him until he left the government laboratory in late February.

…[Anthrax] from the flask were widely shared, Dr. Heine said. Accusing Dr. Ivins of the attacks, he said, was like tracing a murder to the clerk at the sporting goods shop who sold the bullets.

“Whoever did this is still running around out there,” Dr. Heine said. “I truly believe that.”

I’ve read about this case with great interest and have always believed Ivins was innocent. Given the FBI’s need to “solve” this case, did it pick out Ivins as the most easily framed and suicide-prone? Or did the FBI make an honest mistake and simply choose to reject the conclusion reached by many, many top microbiologists and biological weapons experts?

Could the FBI be covering up for a small group of military biowarfare experts who carried out the attacks, perhaps because they believed the attacks would compel Congress to dramatically increase funding for “defensive” biological weapons research? Since letters were mailed to Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and Democratic Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy — who were best positioned to prevent passage of the Orwellian PATRIOT Act — and were quickly used to “justify” attacking Iraq, it’s quite plausible the letters were sent by Americans pursuing the Bush Administration’s agenda. This suspicion is even more plausible because White House officials began taking Cipro on 9/11 and secretly advised favored reporters to start taking Cipro, days before the first anthrax letters were mailed.

It’s even more plausible still when you realize that Dr. David Kelly, one of the world’s top biological weapons experts, was murdered, almost certainly because he had begun speaking out against the British government’s groundless claims about Iraq’s biological weapons program:

This now infamous “45-minute claim” fed through to the dossier of intelligence which was used as the justification for our involvement in the invasion of Iraq.

It was this dossier, and the 45-minute claim in particular, that David Kelly challenged in his crucial interview with the BBC.

By doing so, did he sign his own death warrant?

The “dodgy dossier” with its frightening 45-minute claim bolstered support for attacking Iraq. The author of the dossier’s first draft, John Williams, has confessed it was a lie. And the dossier’s final author, Sir John Scarlett, has also confessed. Sir Scarlett was not punished… he was rewarded for supporting the false claims, by being appointed head of MI6!

Though Dr. Kelly was obviously murdered, the British government investigation absurdly concluded he committed suicide. One Member of Parliament was so disturbed by the overwhelming medical evidence and widespread medical testimony contradicting the suicide claim that he quit his job to investigate full time, eventually declaring his conviction Dr. Kelly had been murdered:

The more I examined [Lord Hutton’s inquiry], the more it became clear to me that Hutton’s judgment was faulty and suspect in virtually all important respects.

I was not alone in these suspicions. Letters began to appear in the press from leading medical specialists, in which they queried the suicide verdict.

The letters were well argued, raising profound and disturbing questions that remain unanswered to this day.

Increasingly concerned, I decided to give up my post on the Liberal Democrat front bench to look into Dr Kelly’s death.

My investigations have since convinced me that it is nigh-on clinically impossible for Dr Kelly to have died by his own hand and that both his personality and the other circumstantial evidence strongly militate against suicide.

Given that his death was clearly not an accident, that leaves only one alternative – that he must have been murdered.

Who had the motive, means and opportunity to concoct false evidence against Saddam Hussein — both weaponized anthrax attacks in America and false claims Saddam could launch a WMD attack within 45 minutes — and the motive, means and opportunity to cover up the true culprits?

Posted by James on Friday, April 23, 2010