& Changes: Sunday, December 27,
2009, thru Thursday, December 31, 2009
December 27, 2009 (B) - I got a bunch of rumors for Christmas.
The problem is: I don't know how much I should share. I wasn't told that they were "secrets," and I assume I was given the information because I was expected to put them on my web site. On the other hand, some may not really qualify as "rumors." For example,
Back in July of this year, several people told me that the FBI was notifying victims, victims' families and everyone who had cooperated with the Amerithrax investigation that the case was going to be officially closed on Friday, July 24. Like everyone else, I waited for it to happen. But, at the last moment, the Department Of Justice decided that there were still things that needed to be done, and they kept the case open. You may remember that, a couple days later, the media reported that the DOJ had been "on the verge" of closing the case before backing off.
The first part of that process appears to be happening again. The FBI is notifying people, but they can't give an exact date because the DOJ will again be making the decision about when to make the official announcement. So, people are being told the closing of the case is expected to take place "at the end of January." The FBI will try to call everyone again after the exact date is given to the FBI, which may be at 4 p.m. on the day before an 8 a.m. announcement.
That's not exactly a rumor because most of it was told to me by one of the people who was notified by the FBI. But, it's not exactly a "fact" either, because it's only a plan that may or may not happen on schedule. Theoretically and hopefully, having learned a lesson with the July attempt to close the case, the FBI and DOJ are being more careful this time to avoid raising everyone's expectations only to have them dashed at the last moment.
Other rumors, which are truly rumors, indicate that there are some very good reasons to believe that this time the Amerithrax case will actually be officially closed as scheduled.
Something evidently happened in mid-November that finally brought an end to the Amerithrax investigation. After it happened, all the remaining FBI personnel investigating the case were then reportedly reassigned to other cases. The only remaining chore may have been the writing, editing and getting acceptance of the case summary. (Back in July, it was reported that the summary document produced at that time started out at 110 pages, was then edited down to about 40 pages and then became even shorter before the kibosh was put on closing the case at that time. I have a contact who read the 110-page version, and he told me it "wasn't written very well" and really needed to be reviewed by "a good copy editor." It would be terrible to release an Amerithrax case summary that can be easily misintepreted or which is very difficult to read and understand. Good investigators are not always good writers.)
The rumors about the happenings in mid-November are numerous but not very clear. They all relate to this statement made by FBI Director Mueller in a September 15 letter:
There is also ongoing criminal and civil litigation concerning the Amerithrax investigation and information derived therefrom, and an independent review of the FBI’s “detective work” at this time could adversely affect those proceedings.
One rumor from early November indicated that someone was about to be indicted on a charge of "accessory after the fact" in the Amerithrax case. Another rumor from late November indicated that the same person was actually indicted on a charge of "lying to a federal officer." There's been nothing in the media about any of this. But there are rumors explaining that, too, rumors which I'd better keep to myself.
"Accessory after the fact" is defined this way in one legal dictionary:
An accessory after the fact is someone who knows that a crime has occurred but nonetheless helps to conceal it.
"Lying to a federal officer" might mean that, when asked, that same person lied and said he or she knew nothing, i.e., "helps to conceal" the crime. What's most interesting, of course, is that if charges were made and if an indictment was actually handed down, that means that there is evidence proving that the person indicted did indeed have critical knowledge of exactly who committed the anthrax attacks of 2001.
The truly surprising part of this is that the person supposedly indicted is not a scientist and did not work at Ft. Detrick. Yet, it's easy to understand how others might know details about the murders allegedly committed by Dr. Ivins when you recall that Dr. Ivins evidently saw no problem with emailing others to tell them about his suspicious actions before and after the attacks. He also didn't have any problem telling his psychotherapy group that he planned to murder his co-workers at Ft. Detrick in order to go down in a blaze of glory before he could be arrested for mass murder and terrorism. And, he was a diagnosed sociopath, which could mean that he didn't see anything wrong with what he did and would want to explain his actions to other people.
After analyzing all these rumors, one might deduce that, at some point in time, Dr. Ivins actually told someone that he had sent the anthrax letters. And others somehow heard or learned what Dr. Ivins said to that person. But that is just an interpretation. No rumor actually mentions any such a thing.
Yet, if it were true, spending time to clarify and document exactly what Dr. Ivins told that person would certainly be worth delaying the closing of the Amerithrax investigation. It would be as near as we're likely to get to an actual confession. And once all the details are clarified and documented, it would be all over. Investigators could be assigned to other cases, and a time could be set for the official closing of the case -- like at the end of January.
It all fits, but, so far, I have no official confirmation of anything. I'm merely analyzing what my sources told me. The sources seem to know what they're talking about and they seem to support one another. And, I've said about all I can say ... maybe more than I should have said. I don't want to mess anything up. I don't want to jinx anything.
December 27, 2009 (A) - The Associated Press is reporting that a New Hampshire woman is critically ill with gastrointestinal anthrax, evidently as a result of ingesting spores from a contaminated African drum.
& Changes: Sunday, December 20,
2009, thru Saturday, December 26, 2009
December 22, 2009 - A good example of how conspiracy theorists cite one another to support their conspiracy theories appeared on the Internet yesterday. Edward Jay Epstein seems to have turned conspiracy theory manufacturing into a profitable business. His latest blog entry is titled "The Anthrax Case Falls Apart." It's the first time in a long time that I've seen him focus on the Amerithrax case. The blog entry is just more distortions and misinterpretations of the facts and not very different from other conspiracy theory postings seen elsewhere. Example:
The Livermore scientists had tried 56 times to replicate the high silicon content without any success whatsoever. Even though they added increasingly high amounts of silicon to the media, they never even came close to the 1.4 percent in the attack anthrax. Most results were indeed an order of magnitude lower, with some as low as .001 percent. What these tests demonstrated is that the anthrax spores were not accidently contaminated.
That is totally false, of course. What the Lawrence Livermore scientists demonstrated was that increasing the amount of Silicon in the growth media had no effect on the amount of Silicon utilized by the Bacillus bacteria when forming spores. Some other factor caused the increase in the percentage of spores containing Silicon. For a time, scientists at Lawrence Livermore thought the amount of elemental iron in the growth media might be the "other factor," but that was also seemingly disproven. The exact nature of that "other factor" has not yet been determined (as far as we know).
Dr. Epstein's blog entry ends with this:
The supposedly closed case, thanks to the FBI’s science, is now re-opened.
Pure fantasy. The case is solved and will very likely be officially closed in late January, about a month from now.
December 21, 2009 - After I finished writing yesterday's comment, I sat down to read Newsweek and came across an article that looks at the same subject as my Sunday comment, but from a somewhat different angle. The article is titled "Red Mind, Blue Mind - The partisan divide over science." It begins by asking some interesting questions:
The fact that Republicans and Democrats differ on whether health-care reform should include a public option is no surprise. That they differ on setting a date for exiting Afghanistan, sure. On Sarah Palin, of course. But on physics? And biology? That the growing list of issues where there is a partisan divide now includes the accuracy of scientific findings may be lamentable for a democracy (if we can't agree on facts, how can we agree on policy?), but it's a gold mine for research on how personality and other psychological factors influence political ideology.
The article then describes how differently conservatives and liberals view science. It explains how the average person doesn't have the time to study the scientific details of subjects like global warming and mammograms, so they tend to just trust the "experts" from their political side of the fence. The article concludes with this:
It's comforting to believe our views on political and empirical questions are the product of rational thought and analysis. But belief doesn't make it so.
And this morning I was told about a new movie titled "New World Order." The title suggests it's a movie by conspiracy theorists, but it's actually a movie about conspiracy theorists. Web sites reviewing and describing the movie can be found by clicking HERE and HERE and HERE. The third link contains this description of the movie:
New World Order chronicles the daily exploits of those who have made it their mission in life to expose secret societies and inform the general public of the dangers of remaining passive against such powers. From setting up shop in front of the hotel housing the Bilderberg conference to passing out leaflets in front of ground zero, the leaders and members of these movements are ready at a moment’s notice to discuss their beliefs and why they believe them.
The thought processes of conspiracy theorists and True Believers has been the most fascinating part of my eight year analysis of the anthrax attacks of 2001. I'm glad that others are seeing this phenomenon and how fascinating it is.
December 20 - 2009 - In the years before I became involved in arguments about the anthrax attacks of 2001, I would occassionally get involved with arguments about the so-called "moon landing hoax" and arguments about how "FDR knew the Japanese were going to bomb Pearl Harbor and let it happen in order to start World War II." I tried to show people how their hindsight theories don't match the thinking in December 1941, and how theories about faked photography and mistaken beliefs about the laws of physics didn't hold up to any careful analysis of the moon landings.
The same kind of bizarre reasoning I saw back then and later in the anthrax arguments is now being used in arguments about health care and global warming.
I have no intention of getting into debates about those subjects. I have neither the time or the desire. I know they are very important issues, but I prefer to get involved with only one important issue at a time, and my current "important issue" is still the anthrax attacks of 2001. I just renewed the domain name anthraxinvestigation.com for another 2 years. That should take me through the closing of the case, the publishing of the NAS review and any congressional hearings that might possibly take place after the case is officially closed.
Nevertheless, I can't help but take notice of the kinds of arguments and the kinds of tactics that are used in the anthrax debates are also being employed in the health care and global warming debates.
Is it really that difficult to tell an idiotic argument from a serious argument? Is it really that difficult to tell a destructive tactic from a constructive tactic?
Yesterday, I had finished writing the words you've just read, and I was pondering what else to write about the idiotic and destructive arguments and tactics of the conspiracy theorists and True Believers when I started receiving emailed copies of a new article in The Wall Street Journal titled "A Conspiracy-Theory Theory." The essay/article is subtitled "How to fend off the people who insist they know the 'real story' behind everything."
Ah! There's no better way of writing about something that you've written about many times before without appearing repetitious than by quoting from something written by someone else! And it's a great essay! I probably wouldn't have come across it by myself (it doesn't mention anthrax), and I'm grateful to the people who brought it to my attention.
The author, David Aaronovich, describes the situation this way:
We live in age of conspiracies, or rather, we are more aware of conspiracy theories than we used to be. Theories involving the hidden hand reproduce on the Internet and instantly jump borders. Giving the stories plausible heft are the exotic sites and TV stations now beaming everywhere, their studios, anchors and Web sites looking as professional and reliable as those of CNN, ABC News or the BBC. Channels such as Russia Today, Iran's Press TV and Al Jazeera pass on theories involving the supposed "real stories" behind world affairs to millions. Globalization not only assists with the spread of conspiracy theories, but because it causes such rapid change—in migration, jobs, security threats and the way we live—it leaves people desperate for clear, comforting answers. It is better to think that someone is in charge of everything than that the world is more often prey to accidents, madness and coincidence. That's why movies are full of dastardly but brilliant plotters, and hardly anything happens by chance.
I couldn't have written that better myself. The essay delves into the tactics of conspiracy theorists, like claiming that because there were some actual conspiracies in the past, that somehow means that totally idiotic new conspiracy theories must be accepted as rational and valid. Another tactic of conspiracy theorists is to claim that they are "only asking questions" when what they are really trying to do is create doubt.
The section below is the part of the essay that really really hits home with me regarding the tactics of conspiracy theorists and True Believers who argue about the Amerithrax case:
Today no conspiracist publication or Web site wants for the outward flourishes of scholarship. The footnotes are compendious, the sources are seemingly authoritative. It is only when you get in amongst them that you discover what the footnotes actually refer to. Many are examples of that new art form, the cross-citation, in which, say, the French conspiracy author Thierry Meyssan cites American conspiracy author Webster Tarpley; Tarpley cites David Ray Griffin; and David Ray Griffin cites Thierry Meyssan. Others will be references to contemporaneous news reports which, because they were necessarily provisional, now supposedly establish "anomalies" between them and the "official" (i.e. later) version of what happened. It is another irony, this ascription of a final, almost biblical authority to immediate and necessarily provisional mainstream news reports of an incident—providing, of course that they can be used to demonstrate the inconsistencies that the conspiracists are seeking. Reporters usually do the best they can in frightening and confused circumstances, but early explanations of major disasters will contain much that turns out to be mistaken. But mistakes do not exist in the world of conspiracy.
I've seen countless arguments about how early reports must be correct because they support the conspiracy theories while later reports must be a cover-up because the new facts don't support the conspiracy theories. And there have been almost as many instances of people using old arguments by known conspiracy theorists as support for new arguments.
Then, there's this section about how conspiracy theorists twist the facts:
No inconvenient fact or refutation discombobulates the believer—conspiracists are always winners. Their arguments have a determined flexibility whereby reverses can be accommodated within the theory itself, or simply discarded. So, embarrassing and obvious problems in the theory may be ascribed to deliberate disinformation originating with the imagined plotters designed to throw activists off the scent.
And, of course, anyone who disagrees with a conspiracy theorist or True Believer is either a part of the vast conspiracy or just someone with a "closed mind" and unable to see "the truth"
The author's blurb is as follows:
David Aaronovitch is a columnist for The Times of London. This essay was adapted from "Voodoo Histories: the Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History," due out from Riverhead next February.
"Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History"? Wow. I really like that title! After arguing about the Amerithrax investigation with conspiracy theorists and True believers for the past eight years, I keep wondering if there is any way to put a stop to their crap. I don't want to stifle free speech, but in scary times it can seem like idiotic conspiracy theories aren't much different than yelling "FIRE!" in a crowded theater as a joke.
It's truly difficult to get people to look at the facts and to be rational when "Truthers" are yelling all kinds on nonsense in their ears, when Fox News is deliberately and maliciously distorting facts, and rabble rousers like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck are preaching mindless drivel that is the equivalent of falsely yelling "FIRE" in a crowded theater. It's all intended to get frightened people screaming and running in circles so that the "authorities" have to spend all of their time quelling panic instead of doing anything actually constructive. The tactic is: If you can't have things your way, prevent the "authorities" from getting anything done. Everything you can prevent from being accomplished can later be pointed out as a failure on the part of the people currently in charge.
It appears that the objective of these obstructionists is to gain the power to make laws which would prevent others from obstructing what they want to accomplish. And what they evidently want to accomplish is to attain personal wealth and power. Their objectives have nothing to do with the common good. If global warming is real and could bring about the end of the world, it won't happen for decades - perhaps centuries, and, meanwhile, there's money to be made by buying and selling beach-front properties in Greenland and around Hudson's Bay and along the Arctic Ocean.
Compared to some of these vastly larger issues where conspiracy theorists and True Believers are furiously active every day, the Amerithrax case seems trivial and largely forgotten by the American public. The conspiracy theorists and True Believers who have been trying to create distrust about the Amerthrax investigation in order to foster their own agendas and beliefs aren't getting big audiences anymore. Much of it is because the early theories have been shown to be totally false. Settlements in lawsuits tend to convince the public who is right and who is wrong.
Of course, another reason the remaining anthrax "Truthers" are no longer gaining any support is because in eight years they have never been able to produce any significant facts to support their theories. Everything they do is based upon convincing the public that the FBI hasn't produced enough proof to turn the theories and beliefs of the conspiracy theorists and True Believers into total impossibilities. Therefore, if it's still possible that they could be right, then they are right - until proven otherwise.
And that brings me back to David Aaronovich's essay. It says this about the beliefs of the conspiracy theorists:
belief in the conspiracy makes you part of a genuinely heroic anti-elite elite group who can see past an official version propagated for the benefit of the lazy or inert mass of people by the powers that be
That reminds me once again of the old saying: "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions." Global warming could possibly bring about Hell on Earth. Obstructionists might think that they are part of some "heroic anti-elite group," but any group that endlessly claims the other side hasn't produced enough proof to convince them that there's a problem is a major part of the problem.
When the subject is the end of the world, it's not a matter of whether the other side has convincing proof, it's a matter of whether what the other side says is even possible or not. If it's at all possible, then everyone should be concerned about determining if it is also probable. And if it's probable, can we stop it from becoming a scientific certainty?
& Changes: Sunday, December 13,
2009, thru Saturday, December 19, 2009
December 17, 2009 - It doesn't have anything to do with the anthrax attacks of 2001, but the BBC is reporting that two heroin users in Glasgow, Scotland, have tested positive for anthrax. One of the victims died - not from anthrax but from other causes. The belief is that the anthrax spores were either in the heroin or in some ingredient used to dilute heroin before it gets sold to users. There was an incident in the past where bone meal was reportedly used to dilute heroin, and the bone meal contained anthrax spores. I just thought I'd mention it before a lot of people send me emails about it.
December 13 - 2009 - I've lost all hope that the Amerithrax case will be officially closed before the end of the year.
There are still plenty of rumors indicating that the case is in the process of being officially closed, but it's evidently not going to happen this month. I have no idea what's taking so long. For awhile, I thought that the meeting of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) that took place during the past week might be delaying things. That still might be true, but it would be pure speculation on my part. It just seems it would be too awkward to oppose laboratory inspections while at the same time closing a criminal case and releasing a report that provides all the details about how a government scientist used pure anthrax spores he made in his laboratory to kill 5 people. And it was at the BWC meeting in July and August of 2001 where the U.S. opposition to inspections was first announced, causing a lot of conspiracy theorists to put two and two together and mistakenly conclude that the anthrax attacks which came shortly afterward must have used "weaponized" spores from secret U.S. stockpiles.
And it probably wouldn't do anyone any good to close the Amerithrax case around the same time that President Obama is accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, nor while he's in Copenhagen discussing climate change. It doesn't seem a good idea to distract people from important current events by releasing information about happenings from 8 years ago.
On the other hand, for all I know, the main reason for the delay may simply be a matter of not wanting to wreck everyone's holiday season. Or there could be a hundred other reasons - like proof-reading the final report and fitting the actual printing of the report into the schedule at the U.S. Printing Office.
The rumors and "signs" say that all the obstacles to closing the case have been cleared away, all the investigators have been assigned to other projects, there are no more grand jury sessions, and it's just a matter of wrapping things up.
So, until there is solid information about how and when the case will be closed, I'm just going to keep my ear to the ground while continuing to discuss the facts and evidence - literally a truly awkward position.
I can't discuss Jesse Ventura's TruTV program about 9/11 conspiracies that aired on Wednesday. I could only stomach about 7 or 8 minutes of it before turning it off. (I burned a DVD of it, in case I get into the mood at some future time.) It was just the same old thoroughly debunked crap seen many times before. The only difference was that this time it was presented by a "celebrity" evidently looking to make a quick buck by trading on his fame to get an audience.
I tried going through some old material to see if I could find something I previously missed that might be interesting to write about for this morning. I listened again to the September 25, 2009, talk by Dr. Paul Keim at the NAS meeting, and I found something I probably didn't pay enough attention to in my comment of September 25.
After the slide presentation ended, Dr. Keim answered questions for about 20 minutes. He talked about flask RMR-1029 and how the four mutations were used to determine that RMR-1029 provided the source bacteria to grow the attack anthrax. Then, at around the 46 minute mark, someone asks him about "silent mutations, " and Dr. Keim replies:
"Let's assume for a moment - this is not proven - but let's assume that these morphs actually have a selective advantage under large batch growth such as we saw. And so what that means is, if you repeat the experiment ... you know normally we like to compare a result against a random model, so let's go out and repeat the experiment a thousand times so that we'd get a confidence estimation of .001. Well, I would guess that 99 percent of the time you're going to see these morphs again - if you repeat this experiment exactly the same way. So, they're not a random event. I mean, the mutations themselves are random, but the numbers are very large here, so you're dealing with 10 to the 12th or 10 to the 15th spores, so you're dealing with twice or more generations. So, even rare events are going to happen predictably. The question is why do they come at such a large frequency. My guess is that they are actually under selection. So, if you would instead go to silent mutations, like you're suggesting, and that there are doubtlessly ... you know ... When you have numbers this big, every mutation you can imagine has occurred in that population. If instead you use a repertoire, and you could go to much higher numbers than four, if you used a repertroire of neutral and silent mutations, you would come up with maybe something that would be a distinctive fingerprint for this type of a batch that would not be replicated inevitably if you repeated the experiment again."
Wow. That's complicated. But, I think it's worthwhile to try to put it in layman's terms. So, here goes:
He's saying that if someone were to repeat what was done to create the contents of flask RMR-1029, the same four mutations would almost certainly appear again. The four mutations were "random" but predictable in such a high volume growth process - 35 production runs creating 164 liters of spores suspended in liquid which were then concentrated down to about just one liter. Do that again and there's a 99 percent probabilty that you'll get those same four mutations.
But, as far as anyone knows, no one ever did it again - before or since. Only the 35 production runs that produced the contents of flask RMR-1029 produced those four mutations. Roughly 1,070 other samples from other growths were tested, and none showed all four mutations except the eight samples that were "daughters" of the spores in flask RMR-1029. Some non-daughter samples had one or two of the mutations, but none had all four. One apparently had three of the four, but details about that sample appear to be part of the scientific evidence against Dr. Ivins that we won't see until after the case is officially closed.
The key point Dr. Keim was making, however, appears to be that if someone somewhere had created a similar batch of Ames anthrax spores, and if there was a need to determine whether that batch or RMR-1029 provided the actual source material for the attack, it probably could be done by using other mutations in the two batches.
According to the roundtable discussion of August 18, 2008, "well over a dozen mutations, were easily found by their appearance in the anthrax powders." The investigators only used four of them - the four which were most stable and the easiest to detect - to hunt for the source. They could also have used the others. In fact, they may have used the others to verify that they had indeed found the source of the attack material. "Blind testing" was done to make sure the results were not biased, so we cannot yet be certain exactly what additional tests were performed - if any. We have to wait until after the case is closed and the details are released to get that kind of information.
Mutations found by their appearance are evidently not the "silent mutations" to which Dr. Keim was referring. A "silent mutation" would seem to be one that does not change the appearance of a culture colony. The "silent" mutation would be detectable only by carefully examining the DNA.
So, if there had been a need to do so, the investigators could have searched for even more mutations beyond the "well over a dozen" that were found in the attack anthrax to further verify that they had indeed found the true source of the attacks.
United States Attorney Jeff Taylor said this at the Aug. 6, 2008 press conference:
First, we were able to identify in early 2005 the genetically-unique parent material of the anthrax spores used in the mailings. As the court documents allege, the parent material of the anthrax spores used in the attacks was a single flask of spores, known as "RMR-1029," that was created and solely maintained by Dr. Ivins at USAMRIID. This means that the spores used in the attacks were taken from that specific flask, regrown, purified, dried and loaded into the letters. No one received material from that flask without going through Dr. Ivins. 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.
That statement from the very beginning of the press conference couldn't be more clear. The spores in flask RMR-1029 were the "genetically-unique parent material of the spores used in the mailings." And "the spores used in the attacks were taken from that specific flask, regrown, purified, dried and loaded into the letters."
It was determined and verified, and for all we know it could have been re-verified and re-re-verified and re-re-re-verified.
The attack spores were also "daughters" of the spores in flask RMR-1029. That poses a question: When Dr. Majidi said, "The other eight samples were daughters of RMR-1029's," did he mean they could tell "mother" batches and "daughter" batches apart by testing for mutations? If so, would that mean that they could also distinguish "daughter" batches from "grandaughter" batches? Maybe after the case is closed we'll learn more.
It certainly appears very clear that as far as the evidence pointing to Dr. Ivins as the anthrax mailer is concerned, we've seen only the "tip of the iceberg." We've really seen only the general science of the anthrax case, not the scientific evidence which specifically points to Dr. Ivins as the anthrax mailer.
We know about only a few emails pointing to Dr. Ivins' guilt. We know about the emails which indicated that Dr. Ivins had taken some kind of action after 9/11 that he couldn't tell anyone about. We know about the emails which indicated he became a "basket case" when the spores in the anthrax letters actually started killing people despite the warnings in the letters. What other emails did investigators find which showed his thoughts and deeds during critical times?
And what was Dr. Ivins telling people during his psychotherapy sessions? He was in group psychotherapy. He was saying things which evidently caused more than one of his psychotherapists to suggest that he needed to be put in jail. We have no indication of what he was actually talking about to his group - other than during his last days when he was talking about murdering his co-workers. Why did he want to murder his co-workers? How can he say such things in a therapy session without explaining his reasons to everyone? Were his co-workers testifying against him at the grand jury proceedings? If so, what were they saying about him? Below the tiny "tip of the iceberg" that we've seen, there could be a mountain of testimonial evidence from co-workers, group therapy members and others who witnessed Dr. Ivins actions and comments before the attacks, during the attacks and during years following the attacks.
We've seen that Dr. Ivins used his key card to access the Ft. Detrick labs where the equipment was located which he could have used to create the spores in the anthrax letters - and to safely put the spores inside the letters. Every time he used his key card, a record was made in a computer log - which became evidence. But what about flask RMR-1029? We've heard that "No one received material from that flask without going through Dr. Ivins." Exactly what does that mean? Are we talking about rules or something more tangible? Was flask RMR-1029 in a refrigerator that anyone could open? Or was it a locked refrigerator to which only Dr. Ivins and the head of USAMRIID or some security officer had keys?
The "tip of the iceberg" that we've seen already makes it very clear that there is much more evidence against Dr. Ivins than against anyone else, and that evidence is enough to eliminate almost any doubt about Dr. Ivins' guilt - except for the irrational doubts held by people who have a vested interest in believing Dr. Ivins' was innocent.
The rest of the "iceberg" mountain of evidence against Dr. Ivins that is still hidden to us isn't entirely invisible. There are enough hints and clues about the science, about emails, about testimony, about logs and records to tell us that the rest of the evidence is truly mountainous and overwhelming.
The seemingly endless wait for the Department of Justice to close the Amerithrax case and to release the rest of the evidence to the public is probably a relatively minor wait compared to how long we'll have to wait for the conspiracy theorists and True Believers to acknowledge that they have absolutely no meaningful evidence to stack up against the mountain of evidence showing the Amerithax case to be conclusively solved. They just have irrational doubts and theories based upon junk science and mistaken but unshakable beliefs.
& Changes: Sunday, December 6,
2009, thru Saturday, December 12, 2009
December 7, 2009 - Proving once again that conspiracy theorists don't go away, they just go somewhere else, someone just pointed out to me that Jesse Ventura is hosting a show about 9/11 conspiracies on TruTV on Wednesday.
December 6 - 2009 - I'm still hoping that the Amerithrax case will be officially closed before the end of the year. As I understand it, officially closing a complex case like this involves a process much like getting a bill through Congress and onto the President's desk. A document is prepared with a detailed description of the case and why it can be closed, and the contents of the document have to be agreed to by every key person, or it goes back for revisions. The key investigators in the FBI have to sign off on it, the key lawyers in the DOJ have to sign off on it, and then it goes to the Attorney General for his signature. Attorney General Holder's signature would officially close the case.
Then, presumably, all the revelvant, redacted documents would be made public. Possibly immediately. I imagine that the Attorney General's signature (like the President's signature) is a formality that is proceeded by a statement that he will sign, which allows for the preparation of documents for public release immediately after signature.
But, I'm not getting my hopes up to high. After all, I'm just working with rumors and "signs." I have no actual inside knowledge that the case is about to be closed.
I tried tapping some media sources which might also hear rumors, but I got only silence. In the world of rumor tapping, silence tends to be a vague kind of confirmation. If media sources think they have less information than you have, they'll usually try tapping you to see what other things you might actually know. But they also know I'll be analyzing their questions to see what they might know. I'd be looking for confirmation of rumors. I'd want to know if the rumor is true that the last investigator assigned to the case was transferred to other cases just a few weeks ago. If so, is it also true he wasn't actually investigating the anthrax mailings but "information derived therefrom" which needed to be clarified and resolved before the Amerithrax case could be closed?
If any of it's true, it would be yet another indicator or "sign" that the case is nearing closure.
Then there's the fact that if there was any evidence that the case was NOT going to be closed soon, the conspiracy theorists and True Believers would have dug it up and told everyone in the world about it.
I'm also probably writing too much about this. The more I write, the more wrong I'll seem if nothing happens.
That may be why facts are so easily ignored by some people. I can envision them saying, "You see, you looked at the facts and you were wrong. We didn't use facts, we just believed the case would remain open, and we were right."
It wouldn't do any good to argue that, since I said I could be wrong and was, I was also right.
The entire case has been like that from Day One. I look at the facts, I analyze the facts, and I state what the facts indicate is "most likely" going on. Since I don't have ALL the facts, I acknowledge that I certainly could be wrong. Meanwhile, the conspiracy theorists and True Believers are logging all the times they believe I was wrong as proof that my practice of using facts instead of beliefs leads to wrong answers. Therefore I shouldn't be believed about anything.
I don't ask that people believe me. I just provide my analysis of the facts and ask if anyone has new or additional facts which show me to be wrong (or facts which confirm my analysis to be right). If they have solid facts which show me to be wrong, I make corrections immediately and explain my reasoning to everyone.
The "disadvantage" to using facts as a basis for an analysis is, of course, that I do have to change my analysis from time to time when new facts indicate that my previous analysis was "lacking sufficient facts" (a.k.a. "wrong"). Meanwhile, the conspiracy theorists and True Believers never have to admit to anything. When the case is officially closed and the evidence proving Dr. Ivins' guilt and that he acted alone is shown to the world, it will be a list facts and evidence. It's what the conspiracy theorists and True Believers have been ignoring all along. So, they can continue on believing what they want to believe. The True Believers will continue to believe that Dr. Ivins was NOT the anthrax mailer, and the conspiracy theorists will continue to believe that the anthrax mailer (whether it was Dr. Ivins or not) must have been part of some vast conspiracy perpretrated by the U.S. government, and the culprit did NOT act alone.
And, until they admit they were wrong (which they very rarely do), they will claim they are right because they believe they are right. If the case hasn't yet been closed, that's solid proof that it will never be closed.
And anyone who disagrees is "closed-minded."
Personally, I very much look forward to seeing the facts and evidence of the criminal case.
I also look forward to seeing how the conspiracy theorists and True Believers will ignore or rationalize, twist and distort all the facts and evidence to make sure that everything continues to fit their beliefs.
I didn't get into this case because I was interested in who did it. I became interested in the case because of all the people who were ignoring the facts and who were just arguing prejudices and beliefs. To me, pointing out the countless times they've been proven to be wrong by the facts has been by far the most fascinating aspect of all this, and it's been the factor that has really kept me poking around looking for new facts for the past eight years.
& Changes: Sunday, November 29,
2009, thru Saturday, December 5, 2009
December 3, 2009 (B) - Does it mean anything? Just another coincidence? The Washington Post reports that Joseph Persichini, Jr., the head of the Washington Field Office and also the head of the Amerithrax investigation, will be retiring on Christmas Day. Hopefully, he'll see his most important case officially closed before he leaves.
December 3, 2009 (A) - Hmm. Evidently, the visits to my site from StumbleUpon.com aren't as random as I thought. The visits come from people looking for sites about "terrorism." There's even a place where my site is reviewed. So, the surge in links from there could represent a surge in interest about terrorism. What caused it, I dunno.
December 2, 2009 - Uh oh! Because I was curious about all those visitors to my site on Wednesday, November 25, I did an analysis of my web site logs. I found that 183 of the 601 visitors that day came from a site called StumbleUpon.com, which sends people randomly to web sites depending upon their interests. So, the unusual increase in visitors that day and the unusual number of visits from Ft. Detrick during November are a coincidence. However, the rumors I'm hearing about closing the Amerithrax case and the high number of Ft. Detrick visits may not be a coincidence.
(I also got 181 StumbleUpon visitors on Thanksgiving and 277 on the day after Thanksgiving. The numbers drop off dramatically before and after those days ("normal" is about 20 visitors a day from StumbleUpon), so the sudden surge was apparently the result of the number of bored people who had nothing better to do during the Thanksgiving holiday than to browse random web sites. Groan.)
I guess what that means is that it's still possible that the DOJ might soon close the Amerithrax case, but it isn't everyone in the world but me who knows the details. And it could all still be nothing but false rumors and coincidences.
December 1, 2009 - I don't know if anyone except me cares about such things, but November ended up with more visitors to my site than May, making it the biggest month of the year - so far - the biggest month since September 2008, which followed the biggest month ever - August 2008 - when the FBI identified Dr. Bruce Ivins as the anthrax mailer.
November 29, 2009 (B) - Hmmm again. Rumors are still flying. I think I better keep quiet about the details, but the rumors seem to indicate that the way has been cleared for the closing of the Amerithrax case very soon. I hope so.
November 29 - 2009 (A) - Hmm. There were over 600 visitors to this web site on Wednesday. The last time I had over 600 visitors was May 8th, just after the FBI announced that it was hiring the National Academies of Science to review its scientific findings. And, yesterday, Saturday, there were 513 visitors. Saturday is usually my slowest day. The previous Saturdays this month had 382 on the 7th, 434 on the 14th, and 375 on the 21st.
And I've had 23 visits from Ft. Detrick so far this month. The last time any single military installation address made the Monthly Top Visitors list was in May when there were 5 visits from an address in the Pentagon.
And, perhaps strangest of all, this month is shaping up to be the month with the most visitors in the past full year. It's running neck and neck with May, if you consider that November isn't yet over and it has 30 days, not 31:
(The high numbers for "Hits" and "Files" and "KBytes" are skewed because I had all those pictures on the main page that were extracted from the Sandia NAS presentation. Each image counts as a "hit" in addition to the text.)
Have you ever gotten the feeling that something is going on that a LOT of people know about, but not you?
I probably wouldn't even have mentioned any of this if I hadn't received an email yesterday regarding a rumor that, if interpreted hopefully, could - once again - indicate that the Amerithrax investigation may soon be closed.
Or ... it could mean nothing at all. But the "Truthers" will probably be claiming I said it was a certainty.
Maybe all the activity relates to what Glenn Greenwald wrote about on Salon.com on Friday. He mentions old old news that the anthrax attacks helped the Bush administration drum up sympathy for invading Iraq. Then he adds:
What makes this particularly significant is that the anthrax attack is unresolved and uninvestigated. The FBI claimed last year that it had identified the sole perpetrator, Bruce Ivins, but because Ivins is dead, they never had the opportunity -- or the obligation -- to prove their accusations in any meaningful tribunal. The case against Ivins is so riddled with logical and evidentiary holes that it has generated extreme doubts not merely from typical government skeptics but from the most mainstream, establishment-revering, and ideologically disparate sources.
Of course, the anthrax attacks are neither unresolved nor uninvestigated. Univestigated? How wrong can a person be? The Amerithrax investigation was one of the biggest in history. But it's still not closed. Let's hope it soon will be.
Meanwhile, I've been doing a lot more thinking about the conspiracy theorists, True Believers and other "Truthers" who endlessly ignore the facts.
I've pointed out many times that the conspiracy theorists and True Believers do not agree with each other on much of anything, except that the government must be wrong in the claim that Dr. Bruce Ivins sent the anthrax letters and acted alone in preparing and mailing the letters. These so-called "Truthers" simply cannot believe that "the government" can be right and so many other people like themselves can be wrong.
After all, if "the government" is right, then all the conspiracy theorists, all the True Believers and everyone else with an alternate theory must be wrong. How can that be? How can so many people be wrong?
It's easy. It's because each one of the conspiracy theorists and True Believers and other "Truthers" thinks that ONLY he or she truly understands the evidence. In the process of ignoring all the facts which disprove their own personal beliefs, they also ignore the fact that if they are right, then that still makes everyone else in their own group wrong. It makes even more people wrong. It makes the government and the other 99.999% of the "Truthers" wrong.
For example, if the only person who is right is the guy who believes he was once in jail with the real anthrax mailer, then all the other True Believers, all the conspiracy theorists, all the other "Truthers" and "the government" must all be wrong.
It's very tempting to pick a half dozen top "Truthers" and to show how and where they disagree with each other. But, when you start doing that, you also start analyzing their motives and thought processes. And you want to start asking personal questions: Why does Person A have such blind and unreasoning hatred for "the government?" Why does Person B endlessly rant about irrelevant matters which just drive other people away? How can Person C justify his belief in one conspiracy by assuming that everyone agrees with him about other conspiracies? Why does Person D repeatedly use logic based upon unwitnessed discussions with unidentified people? Why does Person D use past beliefs as proof that all new findings are wrong? Why does Person E refuse to discuss his own beliefs while promoting a work of fiction? How can Person F believe the attacks have something to do with Iowa State University when all the facts say that's not true?
How can a half dozen people who don't agree with each other believe that most of America believes as they believe?
If I also want some kind of independent investigation to clear up unclear matters, does that make me one of them?
What about all those people who worked with Dr. Ivins and who still "cannot believe" that he did what he allegedly did? If you "cannot believe" someone did something, does that mean you do not believe it? Or does it just mean you find it difficult to accept because you thought you knew the guy pretty well and you never had a clue to what he was really like?
Waiting for proof is not the same as denying any possibility that any such proof can exist. It's also not the same as assuming that any forthcoming proof will either be maliciously manufactured by people in "the government" who are part of the conspiracy or will merely be the mindless babblings of "shills" who have been duped by "the government."
So, I've got my fingers crossed that we may soon see a lot more of the evidence in the Amerithrax investigation. It would certainly be nice to see something new. Right now, all I see is "The Lunatic Fringe" continuing to distort the facts and arguing the same things they've endlessly argued before.
& Changes: Sunday, November 22,
2009, thru Saturday, November 28, 2009
November 25, 2009 - This doesn't have anything to do with the anthrax attacks of 2001, but it does have something to do with 9/11, which I happened to discuss in my comment on Sunday. Click HERE to view about a half million text pager messages sent on that day. If you sent one, it's probably included.
November 22 - 2009 - Over a week ago, while browsing TV listings, I happened to notice that a program about 9/11 conspiracy theorists was about to air on the National Geographic channel. I immediately set my DVR to record it. Then, I let the recording wait until I had the time and the patience to check it out (and burn it onto a DVD). I watched on Wednesday evening of this past week. It's apparently a show that first aired on August 31, 2009, but nothing brought it to my attention at that time. (Google, however, quickly provides some responses to the program by the conspiracy theorists.) Watching the show and watching all the conspiracy theorists angrily stating their bizarre beliefs to the camera was creepy and chilling. Angry ignorance is something that really creeps me out. I kept waiting for them to all angrily chant in unison: "We don't care what the facts say, we're going to believe what we want to believe!"
The show made the point that conspiracy theorists jump in whenever there is some fact that is not known. And, in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, there was a lot that was not known. And, since it was a major event, the conspiracy theorists simply jumped in with their junk science to declare what was fact and what was not. How could the World Trade Center buildings have collapsed so quickly? Because the CIA planted explosives in the buildings before they were struck. Why wasn't there a lot of visible aircraft debris at the Pentagon? Because it was a guided missile not an aircraft that hit the Pentagon. Why weren't more aircraft parts visible in that field where Flight 93 crashed? Because there was no United Flight 93. They even had one guy stating that the people who died on Flight 93 probably never really existed. They endlessly harrassed the woman whose husband called her from the flight, accusing her of being a liar.
As with the anthrax case conspiracy theorists, some of the 9/11 conspiracy theorists have modified their claims after being repeatedly confronted with irrefutable proof that their claims were total nonsense. They still believe it was all a government conspiracy, they just accept that Flight 93 probably existed and the Pentagon was probably hit by an aircraft, not by a guided missile.
However, it apparently wasn't the endless flood of undeniable facts which changed their minds. It seems to be the loss of followers and supporters which convinced them they needed to adjust their preachings. If potential and existing followers could easily see that the conspiracy theorists claims were total nonsense and no one wanted to support or be associated with such total nonsense, clearly it was time for the conspiracy theorists to start making revisions. There's no point in being a conspiracy theorist if no one believes your conspiracy theory. If you cannot collect followers, you're either wrong or you're wasting your time trying to get people to listen to your theory.
The Nat Geo program about 9/11 conspiracy theorists suggested that the conspiracy theorists see themselves a the only people in the world who truly understand what's going on. That's certainly true for True Believers. And, since they believe only they truly understand the situation, anyone who disagrees with them must be either mistaken or lying.
The problem is: The unanswered questions that got them started into thinking they know better than everyone else don't always remain unanswered. And the new answers always help prove that their claims and beliefs are nonsense.
The reason conspiracy theorists, True Believers and others who ignore the facts in the anthrax case continuously return to things people said and believed back when the case first began is because all new information disproves their beliefs.
One truly important NEW fact that boggled my mind when I first learned of it in mid-2008 continues to be totally ignored by both the conspiracy theorists and the True Believers:
Only some of the attack spores contained Silicon inside their spore coats.
124 spores from the Leahy letter were analyzed and only 97 spores (76%) contained silicon.
111 spores from the Daschle letter were analyzed and only 73 spores (66%) contained silicon.
141 spores from the NY Post letter were analyzed and only 91 spores (65%) contained silicon.
They not only ignore those key facts, they also ignore some significant related facts:
1. None of the remaining spores in flask RMR-1029 contained Silicon in their spore coats.
2. 6% of the spores Dr. Ivins created in flask RMR-1030 contained Silicon in their spore coats.
3. Other tested samples contained Silicon in 1.2%, 1.5%, 4.4%, 8.8%, 18.7% and 29% of the spore coats.
4. No tested sample ever contained Silicon in 100% of the spore coats.
NEVER 100%! The goal of any military "weaponization" process using silica would be to affect 100% of the spores. Any process where Silicon is deliberately added would presumably also want 100% of the spores to be affected.
Why weren't 100 percent of the spores affected by whatever caused the Silicon to accumulate in the spore coats?
When there were two bacteria in the same culture and in the same growth medium, why does bacterium A utilize Silicon when creating its spore coat while bacterium B does not utilize Silicon when creating its spore coat?
If Silicon wasn't added for some "weaponization" purpose, and it wasn't added for some other deliberate purpose, what caused it to be utilized by some bacteria and not others? What determined which bacteria would be affected? What was the controlling factor?
The amount of Silicon in the growth environment isn't the controlling factor. Peter Weber at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories confirmed that. They did tests to specifically test that idea. Putting more ingredients containing Silicon into the growth medium did NOT create a higher percentage of spores with Silicon in their spore coats.
The fact that the Silicon got through the bacterial membrane and became part of the spore coat indicates that the Silicon was in a water soluble form. So, anyone who believes the Silicon came from particles of hydrophobic fumed silica used in some patented microencapsulation process is wrong on several counts: hydrophobic fumed silica is NOT water soluble, the hydrophobic fumed silica forms a microcapsule which contains the growth medium - it is NOT IN the growth medium, there is no evidence that anyone at Ft. Detrick ever used the microencapsulation technique, and it's absolutely ridiculous to argue that such a process must have been used because it's the only theory that fits a unshakable belief.
So, what is the factor which determines what percentage of bacteria in a batch will accumulate Silicon into their spores?
I dunno. But it appears that there is more than one factor. It is almost certainly a combination of factors.
Obviously, Silicon must be present in the growth environment. And the Silicon almost certainly has to be present in a water soluble form. Leighton-Doi sporulation media may also be a factor, since it was used in known processes which created spores with Silicon in their spore coats.
But that's not enough. Those factors alone create smaller percentages of spores with Silicon. There must be other factors which cause an increase in the percentage.
Looking at the known facts, two other factors keep jumping out at me: nonconformity and speed. The culprit didn't conform to standard procedures when creating the spores, since "standard procedures" didn't allow creating spores in secret in the middle of the night. And he'd want to do things as fast as possible in order to keep from getting caught. So, he'd take other measures which did not conform to "standard procedures" but which he knew would produce fast results.
For example, he could have used tap water instead of distilled water. (Factor: impurities.) He could have let things grow longer than the set standard. (Factor: time.) He could have adjusted the temperatures to higher or lower than standard for some reason. (Factor: temperature.) He could have used nutrient-X instead of standard nutrient-Y because he had a plentiful supply of nutrient-X. (Factor: chemicals in the enviornment.) If he was using plates, he could have dumped one plate into another to get faster results. (Factor: speed.) He could also have used Leighton-Doi media in an unusual a way to get speedier sporulation results. (Factor: non-standard procedure.)
The alleged culprit is dead. He didn't follow established procedures to create the spores, so he certainly didn't create a record of exactly how he did it. Therefore, his exact method is probably something that cannot be known. Uh oh.
Even if someone takes the time to figure out what causes Silicon to accumulate in spore coats, and as a result is able to repeatedly produce batches of spores with Silicon in 65% to 75% of the spores, that won't mean that they found the exact process that the culprit used. There may still be other ways to do it and get the same results. At best, they'll have found the "most likely" method.
So, there will always be something about the case that cannot be known, something which the conspiracy theorists and True Believers can use to try to promote their cause.
But, if it's something that cannot be known, then it's something they cannot know, either.
That's probably the way things will end up. The known facts will convince everyone who cares about facts that the case was conclusively solved and the culprit was definitely found.
And the conspiracy theorists and True Believers will endlessly try to gather followers by arguing that they know things which cannot be known, and the things which cannot be known prove they are right and the government is wrong.
& Changes: Sunday, November 15,
2009, thru Saturday, November 21, 2009
November 18, 2009 - Lawyer Barry Kissin has written a new essay titled "The Truth About the Anthrax Attacks." His theme appears to be a familiar one: In the beginning, when no one knew anything, we knew the truth, and all that has been learned and discovered since then is just a coverup of the truth. So, only the ignorant know the truth?
November 15 - 2009 - Since I long ago established a pattern of writing a new comment every Sunday morning, I spent a couple hours last week digging through all the materials that have accumulated recently to see if I could find something new and interesting to comment upon this morning. Listening to the September 24 NAS presentation by Dr. Rita Colwell again, while watching her slide presention, I found that she didn't seem to discuss the slides very much but mostly talked about the experience of having experts from all manner of laboratories, universities and agencies all working together to solve a common problem: understanding how to analyze materials that could be used in bioweapons.
She pointed out how an informal group got together while a formal group also got together. The key difference was that in an informal group, everyone wants to be there and wants to help and understand. In a formal group, people are often assigned to attend by their organization management, and, as a result, the attendee may be the only person who can be spared from his or her normal work, instead of the best person for the task. Both groups, of course, can and do seek out the advice of the top experts on a subject when such advice is needed.
Dr. Colwell went through the list of organizations that she worked with to solve the mutual problem, and it was quite an impressive list. Although she talked only about the work they did and how they went about it, her talk also made it very clear to me that the conspiracy theorists who think the Amerithrax scientific investigation was all some kind of plot by the FBI to mislead the public are truly truly on the Lunatic Fringe. There were a lot of scientists involved whose only goal seemed to be fully understand the science involved so that new scientific techniques could be developed and used to help quickly apprehend terrorists and others who might use bioweapons or try to use bioweapons in the future.
But I didn't spend as much time on that subject as I probably should have. Instead, I was repeatedly distracted by some very unusual discussions between members of the Lunatic Fringe. When I turned off my computer yesterday, the main discussion thread had 84 messages in it. This morning there are 126. Two members are in the written equivalent of trying to out-shout each other. Because one member was posting endless messages about matters not relevant to the Anthrax attacks of 2001, another member has begun posting long long messages about the Grammar of The New Greek Testament. And the first member is responding with even more of his long irrelevant messages.
It's all very bizarre, and the more I think about it, the more it shifts from bizarre to hilarious.
There were bizarre/hilarious happenings earlier in the week, too, as the arguments between individual members of the Lunatic Fringe became heated. In the process, they further confirmed that they each have their own theory. They are NOT a unified group where all members agree on what is "the truth." They only thing they fully agree upon is that the FBI must be wrong, because if the FBI is right, then every member of the Lunatic Fringe must be wrong.
One member even tried to argue the same things I tried to argue on FreeRepublic.com over a year ago, and got the same result - an endless flood of irrelevant off-topic information. It's a familiar debating tactic: If you don't have any facts to support your argument, bury your opponent in bulls**t.
And now two members are trying to bury each other in endless bulls**t.
Another member tried to stop the flood of irrelevant information by rewriting a hilarious routine from Saturday Night Live and applying it to the person who was trying to bury everyone in bulls**t. It was the most amusing and interesting post to Lew Weinstein's web site in a long time, but it was deleted the next day. (I managed to archive a copy).
Lately, a lot of stuff has been posted and then deleted soon afterward. It seems very likely that all the Greek Grammar messages will be deleted before very long. Whether the other irrelevant messages will be deleted will depend upon whether or not the point about irrelevant posts was made to the web site moderator.
But there were other postings last week which weren't exactly irrelevant nonsense. They were something else. One bizarre new thread was started where they seemingly tried to make people think that the image below was the entire slide presentation given by Sandia's Dr. Michael at the NAS meeting on September 25:
It's the image that came from HERE and which I explained last Sunday was NOT part of Sandia's slide presentation. I just combined it with Sandia's images because it showed how a Bacillus anthracis bacterium divides into compartments at the point in time where Sandia found such a bacterium in the New York Post powder with the growing spore containing silicon already inside the developing spore coat.
I'm not sure if those on the Lunatic Fringe were trying to ridicule me or if they were trying to ridicule Sandia when they created that thread. But, that thread was also deleted the next day. (Again, I managed to archive a copy. The text is gone, but the image is still on their site. Click HERE and note the image name).
As weird and bizarre as all this is, the strangest thread I saw last week was started on Tuesday, and then deleted on Wednesday (and, again, I managed to archive a copy). This one seemed to contain a call to take some sort of action against the FBI. Two of the members wrote:
It was all somewhat dramatic and perplexing. I wondered what they might be up to.
But, now they're just trying to "out-shout" each other by posting endless irrelevant messages.
After eight years of trying, there doesn't appear to be any way to get them to look at the facts. They seemingly know their beliefs are not supported by any facts. That's why they have to constantly distort or ignore the facts and make things up. They post irrelevant messages because they have nothing relevant to post. They consider their beliefs to be facts and the actual facts to be unproven to their satisfaction, therefore not real facts.
And they seem to know that it's just a matter of time until they will be officially proven wrong by the Department of Justice when the case is officially closed. At that time, a new avalanche of facts about the criminal case will presumably be made public - facts which they will have to truly struggle to distort and ignore.
It might be interesting to see how they try to manage it.
On the other hand, I and one or two others may be the only ones amused by all this. The best thing for me to do might be just to ignore the nonsensical rantings from the Lunatic Fringe. For all I know, everyone else might consider discussing their rantings to be a total waste of time, and I'm probably doing exactly what they want me to do: telling other people about them and their causes. Unfortunately, their nonsensical rantings seem to be the most interesting things happening right now.
NOTE added Monday November 16, 2009 - Someone reminded me this morning via email that Lew Weinstein's site promotes a novel, a work of fiction about the anthrax attacks of 2001. The emailer suggested that the argument has people promoting a fictional idea fighting with people who want to discuss facts. That makes sense - particularly if the people arguing the fictional idea believe they're really arguing fact but just can't prove it's fact. They dismiss the real facts because the real facts don't support the fictional idea (which they believe is real) and the novel. Hmm. The problem is: When you have True Believers arguing with conspiracy theorists, you have people arguing the fiction they believe against the fiction someone else believes. Neither side is arguing facts. It's just babble.
& Changes: Sunday, November 8,
2009, thru Saturday, November 14, 2009
November 11, 2009 - Lots of things to ponder today. I'm looking at NASA's astronomy picture of the day. Lots and lots to ponder there. And it's also Veteran's Day. American soliders are being killed in wars overseas ... and at home. More things to ponder about. The investigation of recent events at Fort Hood is underway. Should someone have realized that Major Nidal Malik Hasan was a powder keg ready to explode? Probably. But how can anyone have known that he would explode at the time, place and in the manner in which he did?
What about the person who was receiving emails from Dr. Ivins? Did he put two and two together when Dr. Ivins wrote about having taken some action shortly after 9/11 that he couldn't talk about. Probably not. In hindsight it seems obvious what Ivins was talking about, but almost everything seems obvious in hindsight. What about the psychiatric care professionals who talked with Ivins in the years before and after 9/11? Long before 9/11, at least one of them thought Ivins should be thrown in jail. Ivins himself wondered what would happen if his thoughts became known to his superiors at Ft. Detrick:
July 7, 2000: In an e-mail, Ivins offered to be interviewed as a case study, as long as it remained anonymous. Ivins indicated that he did not want to see a headline in the National Inquirer that read, "PARANOID MAN WORKS WITH DEADLY ANTHRAX!!!"
But if Dr. Ivins was a "powder keg" that could explode at any time, he was also getting psychiatric care. Theoretically, psychiatric care is suppose to defuse dangerous powder kegs. I can imagine someone rationalizing: He talks like he's dangerous, but he's getting psychiatric care, so that means others who are more knowledgeable than I know about his mental condition in greater detail than I do, so I'll just leave it to them to take action -- if any action needs to be taken.
Over the past eight years I've received emails from at least a dozen people who I would consider to be insane - or close to it. For years I received emails from some young woman in California who thought that markings on the street by utility workers identifying gas lines matched the handwriting on the anthrax letters and were some kind of new message. She carbon-copied me on emails she sent to dozens of politicians, reporters and law enforcement officials describing her beliefs and her "evidence." So, I felt there were plenty of others who were in a better position than I to take action - if any action needed to be taken.
On the other hand, I know that respected college professors can totally misinterpret facts but be influential enough to persuade reporters, scientists, politicians, magazine editors and many others to point the finger at an innocent man.
No sane person wants to point the finger at a totally innocent man. But no one wants to end up on the witness stand describing why you failed to tell anyone when it was clear that you knew someone was dangerous and about to explode.
It's a complex universe and a complex world. There are good people in it, there are bad people, there are people who seem to be good but aren't, and there may be people who seem to be bad but aren't. And you can easily get an argument from any of them about what is "bad" and what is "good."
Back in early 2002, when I thought I might have information about who sent the anthrax letters, I gave that information to the authorities. It turns out it proved nothing. But I trusted "the authorities" to do what they're supposed to do and to figure out if my information was important not. They did. It wasn't important information. So, "the system" worked as it was supposed to. No harm done.
Conspiracy theorists think "the system" is evil and is doing wrong. True Believers believe the people running "the system" are mistaken and are not doing what they should be doing. It was a conspiracy theorist who considered me to be "a menace to society and frankly dangerous." Most True Believers just consider me to be stupid.
I think I'm just a guy who generally trusts "the system" and who often does a lot of pondering.
November 8 - 2009 - One relatively new piece of information related to the anthrax attacks of 2001 showed up last week. A blogger found a letter from Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich to Senator Patrick Leahy dated September 15, 2009. Attached to the letter were some questions posed by politicians and answered by FBI Director Robert Mueller. The question and answer that seemed to set off the conspiracy theorists and True Believers was #46a, asked by Senator Grassley, which reads:
What does "ongoing criminal ... litigation" mean? Several people seemed to have strong opinions about it. I simply assumed it meant that the Amerithrax case still isn't closed. The blogger who found it suggested it means:
the FBI doesn’t want to admit to the full extent of its incompetence.
Elsewhere, someone else suggested that it means there is still a grand jury hearing the case:
An associate of mine says that the only criminal litigation that is secret is that involving grand juries.
That certainly seems possible to me. But I would totally disagree with her speculation:
if there is in fact “ongoing criminal litigation”, it is a pretty good bet that the existing “Amerithrax Task Force / Ivins theory squad” has no part in it.
If there is a grand jury still hearing the case, it's a virtual certainty that they are still hearing the case against Dr. Bruce Ivins. There is no meaningful evidence pointing to anyone else. All the known evidence clearly points to Dr. Ivins. Even the rumors point to ongoing activities related to investigating Dr. Ivins and solidifying the case against him. A grand jury was investigating the case against Dr. Ivins when he committed suicide. After the news broke, I looked for information that that grand jury had been dismissed because of his death, but I never found any such report. So, it seems quite possible that the grand jury is still investigating/hearing the case. Fantasies about evidence pointing to someone else are clearly just that - fantasies - until there is solid proof to the contrary.
Since no two conspiracy theorists or True Believers seem to have exactly the same beliefs, I tried to get some of them to identify who they think did it by asking 5 questions:
1. Who do you believe sent the anthrax letters and why do you believe it?
2. What was the culprit’s motive for sending the anthrax letters?
3. Was the anthrax powder in the letters “weaponized” in any military way? If so, how was it weaponized?
4. If you believe FBI is spreading false information about the Amerithrax powders, what is their motive for doing so?
5. If you believe the government is spreading false information about the anthrax attacks, how many people do you believe are involved in this effort, and what is their motivation?As expected, no one answered the questions. They just attacked me for asking the questions - and for my answers. One guy wanted me banned from posting anything else, and some of the attacks got pretty extreme. The web site moderator deleted most of those. However, I had already archived them. Here's part of one example:
I regard anyone who ... spends thousands of hours every year obsessively making ad hominem attacks on anyone else who disagrees with him as being a menace to society and frankly dangerous.
The web site moderator's act of deleting the more extreme messages seemed to quiet them down for awhile. Other than trying to get me banned from posting to that site, there were no other suggestions of how to shut me up or how to stop me from being "a menace to society" simply because I disagreed with them.
"Thousands of hours every year?" One thousand hours a year would be roughly 3 hours a day. I doubt that I average much more than an hour a day on the anthrax case. Some days are very busy, of course, but there are many many days when nothing happens at all. It takes less than a minute to check my email and the few discussion sites.
I write a weekly feature for an Australian magazine, which requires a lot of data mining and research, and much more of my time than the anthrax case. However, last week, the majority of my "research" and/or "analytical" time was spent on things that have nothing to do with that work or the anthrax attacks of 2001. I've been paging through amazing pictures on a NASA web site, creating a slide show of the most impressive images. When I encounter images like the ones HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE, I just stop and gape and ponder for awhile.
I'm easily fascinated by matters scientific. That's what got me into the anthrax case back in 2001. People were talking only theories and beliefs, so I started to examine and scientifically analyze the facts to show them where their beliefs and theories were clearly wrong. And, once I started doing that, things just became more and more interesting.
For example, below is another very interesting image from the Sept. 25 Sandia slide presentation at the NAS. I took their image and added in some information from another file to create this:
The image above is the one example that Sandia scientists were able to find where the spore was still inside the mother cell. It is proof positive that the silicon was incorporated into the spore coat while the attack spores were being formed. It was not applied afterwards.
That image convinced me that I should probably use the word "incidental" more often.
1. happening in connection with or resulting from something more important; casual or fortuitous
2. (postpositive; foll by to) found in connection (with); related (to)
3. (postpositive; foll by upon) caused (by)
The silicon which showed up inside the spore coats of the attack spores wasn't put there as a result of a deliberate action. The silicon served no purpose. Nor was its presence accidental, i.e., it wasn't the result of a mistake or carelessness. Its presence was incidental. Some normal process or modification to a normal process for growing bacteria caused silicon from the environment to accumulate inside the coats of some of the resulting spores.
If it hadn't been for the misinterpretations of its importance in the very early days of the investigation, the entire subject of silicon in spores would be totally irrelevant (another good word I should probably use more often).
The fact that the significance of the silicon had been misinterpreted was known just a few days after the silicon was first detected. As soon as real bioweapons experts took a look at the attack spores, they saw that the spores had not been weaponized. That was eight years ago! For eight years the conspiracy theorists have been trying to find ways that the experts might be wrong and the attack spores might still have been weaponized, even though it has been abundantly clear for eight years that the spores were not weaponized in any military sense of the term.
The conspiracy theorists must have spent countless hours trying to confirm their beliefs. They have to spend that amount of time because all the facts say they are wrong. But, I don't need to spend that much time on the case. When all the facts support your arguments and are readily available to everyone, it doesn't take much effort to show proof why conjured up nonsense produces nothing more than conjured up nonsense. Sometimes it seems the only hard part is finding better words to make the facts more clear.
& Changes: Sunday, November 1,
2009, thru Saturday, November 7, 2009
November 1 - 2009 - The documents I requested from The National Academies of Science (NAS) arrived on Friday. Of greatest interest to me were the materials from Sandia National Laboratories, as presented by Dr. Joseph Michael. (It's a very large .pdf file, and I'm not authorized to freely distribute it, so I can't provided a link to it.) As usual, a picture may be worth a thousand words. This is a Scanning Electron Microscope image of the New York Post powder:
The 100 µm reference bar represents the approximate width of an average human hair.
If you enlarge the surface of one of those boulder-like chunks about 25 times, this is what you will see:
That can be compared to what the surface of a chunk of spores from the Leahy letter looks like:
If the NY Post spores had been washed and filtered to remove sporulation debris, they'd look just like the Leahy spores. Clearly these spores are not weaponized. The term "weaponized" originally applied to spores that were coated with or otherwise employed silica particles to keep the spores from absorbing moisture and sticking together. There are no visible silica particles in these pictures. Click HERE to see what a spore coated with silica particles looks like.
On the Lunatic Fringe, however, they still argue that the anthrax spores must have been weaponized. It's what they believed eight years ago, it's what they believe now, and any new information or new facts about the spores is viewed as an attempt by evil government conspirators to destroy their beliefs with a bombardment of solid and relevant facts. To the Lunatic Fringe, solid or relevant facts mean nothing if they do not support their beliefs.
And, while the above pictures focus on large chunks, both preparations would also have very small clumps and individual spores. Plus, when these chunks of spores are rubbed against each other - as would happen inside an envelope going through mail sorting equipment - more of the smaller chunks and individual spores would be released. The New York Post chunks were 90 percent harmless dead bacteria and dried nutrients, so the released particles would be roughly 90 percent less lethal. But both powders can kill if enough single spores and/or small particles are inhaled. Both did. Bob Stevens and Kathy Nguyen were evidently killed by material like that seen in the NY Post pictures above.
Those who still believe that the attack spores were "weaponized" nevertheless appear to have finally accepted the fact that the spores were not "weaponized" with silica particles as claimed in a Washington Post article in 2002. They also appear to have also accepted the fact that spores do NOT stick together due to van der Waals forces as claimed in a conspiracy theorist's article printed in Science magazine in 2003, since no one mentions van der Waals forces anymore.
Now, they argue that the spores must have been "weaponized" with some kind of a "siliconizing monomer agent " a.k.a. "polymerized glass" which "penetrated the cell walls and polymerized in situ into a phase of SiOx on the spore coat." Those quotes are from an email sent to the NAS, which was in the materials I received on Friday. I cannot provide a link because the email includes the person's name and phone number, plus it is in .pdf format, which means I cannot erase or cover over that information. But they've said the same things again and again and again and again elsewhere.
But nowhere do they ever explain what "weaponization" effect or benefit would be achieved via this "weaponization" method, even if it had been applied. They evidently simply assume there must be some benefit the same way they simply assume the coating must be there. It's the only way their beliefs can work.
And nowhere do they ever explain why the silicon is inside the coat and not on the surface of the spore coat as their theory says it must be. They evidently simply assume that the "polymerized glass" must disappear everywhere else in a spore preparation, because that is the only way their beliefs can make sense even to themselves.
And nowhere do they explain or even acknowledge the solid scientific fact that only a percentage of the spores have detectable silicon inside their spore coats. How would their "weaponization" coating method only affect a percentage of the spores? And why do samples which even they acknowledge were not - repeat NOT - "weaponized" also include a percentage of spores which contain silicon in a way that is identical to the attack spores.
The Sandia presentation materials I received on Friday have new information about those percentages:
124 spores from the Leahy letter were analyzed and only 97 spores (76%) contained silicon.
111 spores from the Daschle letter were analyzed and only 73 spores (66%) contained silicon.
141 spores from the NY Post letter were analyzed and only 91 spores (65%) contained silicon.
304 spores from three flask RMR-1029 samples were analyzed and no spores (0%) contained silicon.
113 spores from one flask RMR-1030 sample were analyzed and only 7 spores (6%) contained silicon.
172 spores from one Dugway sample were analyzed and only 50 spores (29%) contained silicon.
In addition, Sandia Labs did some tests done on what the FBI described only as "evidence" spores:
1,051 "evidence" spores were analyzed and only 197 spores (18.7%) contained silicon.
982 "evidence" spores were analyzed and only 88 spores (8.8%) contained silicon.
986 "evidence" spores were analyzed and only 40 spores (4.4%) contained silicon.
476 "evidence" spores were analyzed and only 7 spores (1.5%) contained silicon.
989 "evidence" spores were analyzed and only 12 spores (1.2%) contained silicon.
The "evidence" also included some samples where none of the spores contained silicon. All the samples described as "evidence" were analyzed in May of 2008, years after the other samples were analyzed. They involved the testing of greater numbers of spores because the technology and techniques had dramatically improved over the intervening years, allowing scientists to analyze many more spores in a much shorter period of time.
The signature for every individual spore which contains silicon is virtually identical. Here are two examples:
That clear spectra signature also holds true for spores which contained silicon in flask RMR-1030, in the Dugway sample, in the Daschle sample, in the "evidence" samples, and in other samples from 1980 and elsewhere.
The images below show how spores which contain silicon have a spectral signature that is clearly and easily distinguishable from nearby spores from the same preparation which do not contain silicon.
So, what does this all mean?
It means that the silicon in the spores comes from laboratory processes which have nothing to do with "weaponization." The silicon is incorporated into the spore as the spore is formed inside the mother germ, not afterward. It's incorporated the same way Iron is incorporated into human blood when we eat raisins.
It means for "weaponization" purposes, siliCA is added to keep spores DRY, not to help them aerosolize. Individual DRY spores will aerosolize all by themselves under the right conditions, as we saw with the dry media and senate powders and with various cases involving drum makers. So, technically, the function of the siliCA has nothing to do with aerosolization per se. Storing the spores in a vacuum would have a similar effect. It would keep the spores dry. (In the old Soviet Union, spores were NOT weaponized by coating them with silica, they were merely mixed with silica.)
It means that in a situation where everything else is equal, dry spores with siliCON inside the spore coats will aerosolize no better than dry spores without siliCON in the spore coats. So, while only 66% of the Daschle spores contained silicon in their spore coats, 100% percent of the viable spores were lethal and could aerosolize.
It means that, as more and more information from the Amerithrax investigation becomes available, two firm conclusions become more and more inescapable: (1) The attack spores were NOT "weaponized" in any military sense of the term, and (2) Dr. Ivins made the attack spores alone in his lab at Ft. Detrick.
And the conspiracy theorists and True Believers on the Lunatic Fringe are encountering more and more facts which they must ignore, because, try as they might, they cannot dream up any explanations, nor can they twist and distort these facts to make them fit their beliefs. They never offer any proof of their beliefs, because they have no proof. They just argue, demanding that the other side present all the proof. And that proof has been presented and expanded upon and clarified until it is virtually undeniable. Gradually, the only argument the "Truthers" will have left is that everyone who disagrees with them must be lying because only the "Truthers" know the truth, even if they do not agree with each other. And that is what puts the conspiracy theorists and True Believers (a.k.a. "Truthers") in the Lunatic Fringe.
& Changes: Sunday, October 25,
2009, thru Saturday, October 31, 2009
October 25 - 2009 - I'd hoped that the documents I requested from The National Academies of Science would have arrived by now, but they haven't. And, it's still too early to start worrying. I don't know exactly when they were mailed. Plus, no one else seems to have gotten their copies, either.
So, while waiting, I've been thinking about how each of the various individual members of The Lunatic Fringe has his or her own theory about the anthrax case. No two theories are identical. Most are in near-total disagreement. Yet, they somehow believe they represent some kind of "consensus" because they all agree on one thing: The FBI must be wrong. They cannot even agree on why the FBI must be wrong. Conspiracy theorists believe the FBI is wrong because the FBI is covering up some vast criminal conspiracy. The True Believers believe the FBI is wrong because the FBI simply hasn't looked at the "right" facts. And when the moon is full, there might even be someone who believes the FBI knows it is wrong about Dr. Ivins but is deliberately hiding the "truth" for some "national security" reason. In short, each individual thinks the FBI is wrong because each individual believes that only he or she knows the real truth.
When they post their theories and beliefs to web forums, they generally maintain some order by avoiding criticizing each other. Criticizing a "truther" is considered rude by other "truthers." But they do not consider it rude for "truthers" to viciously attack anyone who provides evidence that the "truthers'" theories and beliefs are wrong - or anyone who accepts the facts and the evidence as outlined by the FBI. They attack FBI officials. They attack scientists. They attack organizations and agencies. And they attack experts and potential witnesses. The most recent examples of their vicious attacks are the attacks upon Dr. Ivins' therapist on one web site after another and in the media.
Last week, however, conspiracy theorists and True Believers actually did argue with each other for awhile. As a result, I decided to take a closer look at what they were arguing about. It was mostly about emails relating to Dr. Ivins' psychiatric visits. Because the conspiracy theorists and True Believers do not agree with each other, one side or the other (or both) must certainly be misinterpreting something. And since they were talking about "evidence," it was also a virtual certainty that the emails would somehow actually support the case against Dr. Ivins. So, I took another look.
They were discussing emails which were part of an Affidavit in Support of Search Warrant filed on October 31, 2007, many months before most of us ever heard of Dr. Bruce Ivins. The emails were also printed in an August 7, 2008, report in The Frederick News-Post after Ivins' death. The emails are mostly exchanges between Dr. Ivins and an unidentified friend, and they include a number of emails from Dr. Ivins which described the troubles Ft. Detrick was having with trials of a new anthrax vaccine in mid-2000, a full year before the attacks. Here are a couple examples:
June 29, 2000: "BioPort just tested its final lot of AVA (anthrax vaccine) in a potency test. If it doesn't pass, then there are no more lots to test, and the program will come to a halt. That's bad for everyone concerned, including us. I'm sure that blame will be spread around."
July 6, 2000: "[REDACTED], I think the **** is about to hit the fan ... bigtime. The final lot of AVA, lot 22, isn't passing the potency test, and now there's nothing to back it up. Plus, the control vaccine isn't working. It's just a fine mess. [REDACTED] are spending probably 95 percent of our time on this."And, around that same time, Dr. Ivins sent emails to his friend describing aspects of his psychiatric sessions. The first one says he was seeing a "counselor":
June 27, 2000: "Even with the Celexa and the counseling, the depression episodes still come and go. That's unpleasant enough. What is REALLY scary is the paranoia ... Remember when I told you about the 'metallic' taste in my mouth that I got periodically? It's when I get these 'paranoid' episodes. Of course I regret them thoroughly when they are over, but when I'm going through them, it's as if I'm on a passenger on a ride ... Ominously, a lot of the feelings of isolation -- and desolation -- that I went through before college are returning. I don't want to relive those years again ... I've been seeing the counselor once a week."
The second indicates he was talking with both a counselor and a psychiatrist:
July 4, 2000: "The thinking now by the psychiatrist and the counselor is that my symptoms may not be those of a depression or bipolar disorder, they may be that of a 'Paranoid Personality Disorder.'"
But it seems that Ivins mostly talked with the counselor (a woman):
July 23, 2000: "It's been a really stressful week, from all stand points. Home, work, and it's not going well with the counselor I'm going to. (She said she thinks [REDACTED]) I'm going to have to ask to get put with another counselor or into a group session ... Sometimes I think that it's all just too much."
Apparently, his request to get into a group session was accepted, since 9 months later he was in group psychotherapy:
Mar. 4, 2001: "The people in my group just don't pick up on what I try to say. They are not into the kinds of problems I bring up, so it's hard for them to deal with them. The psychiatrist is helpful only because he prescribes the Celexa. He's not that easy to talk to, and he doesn't really pick up on my problems. The woman I saw before I went into group wanted to get me put in jail. That wasn't very helpful either. I'm down to a point where there are some things that are eating away that I feel I can't tell ANYONE"
So, the female counselor Dr. Ivins was talking with before he went into the group sessions wanted to put him in jail. This is presumably a different woman than the therapist (Jean Duley) who actually went to the police eight years later. And it has nothing to do with the anthrax attacks. That email is dated six months prior to 9/11 and the anthrax attacks. The counselor may have wanted to put him in jail for his stalking activities and/or some of the other creepy things he did and talked about. Note, too, that the email seems to indicate that the group sessions involved a different psychiatrist than the one Ivins talked with before he went into group psychotherapy.
The next interesting email was written four days after the events of 9/11 and three days before the first anthrax letters were postmarked:
Sept. 15, 2001: "I am incredibly sad and angry at what happened, now that it has sunk in. Sad for all the victims, their families, their friends. And angry. Very angry. Angry at those who did this, who support them, who coddle them, and who excuse them."
One might suggest that those "who coddle them and who excuse them" would - in the anthrax mailer's mind - include anyone in the media or any politican who wasn't in favor of throwing into jail any Muslim who even looked suspicious.
Someone who talks about being "very angry" is also very likely to do something to vent his anger.
Next we have an email dated a week after Dr. Ivins allegedly mailed the first batch of anthrax letters to the media:
Sept. 26, 2001: "Of the people in my 'group,' everyone but me is in the depression/sadness/flight mode for stress. I'm really the only scary one in the group. Others are talking about how sad they are or scared they are, but my reaction to the WTC/Pentagon events is far different. Of course, I don't talk about how I really feel with them -- it would just make them worse. Seeing how differently I reacted than they did to the recent events makes me really think about myself a lot. I just heard tonight that Bin Laden terrorists for sure have anthrax and sarin gas. You [REDACTED]."
Hmm. He writes: "how differently I reacted." How differently did he react? In light of all we now know, it appears he reacted by doing something different than everyone else, but he couldn't tell anyone what he did. They wouldn't understand. That certainly could mean that he took action instead of just worrying and fretting. It could mean he set in motion a plan to awaken America to the need for protection against anthrax and/or to get his anthrax vaccine program back on track. He seems to be very proud of himself and of whatever action he took. And since he mentions that "Bin Laden terrorists for sure have anthrax" he is seemingly relieved that the anthrax letters will now almost certainly be accepted as coming from al Qaeda. After all, they "for sure have anthrax."
Pride cometh before a fall. And: The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
When the first mailing didn't get the planned reaction, and even though Bob Stevens had died from anthrax on October 5, 2001, the anthrax mailer sent out the second mailing to the two senators who were slowing down implementation of the Patriot Act. But then things suddenly changed dramatically. On the same day the two senate letters were postmarked, October 9, 2001, the possibility that Bob Stevens might have contracted anthrax from natural sources was ruled out. Another AMI employee, Ernesto Blanco, also had anthrax. On October 12, Tom Brokaw's assistant was confirmed to have cutaneous anthrax. It now appeared certain to everyone that the anthrax had been sent through the mails. Postal workers were being tested for anthrax. On the 16th it was reported that a infant child who had visited the ABC offices had contracted cutaneous anthrax. And the anthrax letter sent to Senator Daschle had been opened. It was confirmed: the anthrax had been sent via the mails. And people who weren't intended recipients of the anthrax letters were showing signs of infection. One had died. Others might die. And a massive hunt for the anthrax killer was underway.
We have this information about Dr. Ivins' state of mind at that point in time:
Oct. 16, 2001: Ivins' co-worker said to former co-worker in an e-mail, "Bruce has been an absolute manic basket case the last few days."
And all this was, of course, at least four years before Dr. Ivins became the prime suspect in the anthrax mailings and seven years before Dr. Ivins told his psychotherapy group (and his therapist and the psychologist or psychiatrist who was also present) that he was about to be arrested for the murder of five people and that he was thinking about going out in a blaze of glory by killing his co-workers at Ft. Detrick.
And because his therapist went to the police to tell them of Ivins' threats, she has been vilified by conspiracy theorists.
The conspiracy theorists and True Believers will argue that there is no proof of Ivins' guilt in any of these emails. They'll argue that there could be other interpretations for everything.
Yes, there could be. But there appears to be only one reasonable interpretation. And that reasonable interpretation totally supports all the other evidence in the case against Dr. Bruce Ivins.
Theories which offer up no solid evidence that tens of thousands of dedicated, hard-working people all conspired to cover up the murder of 5 innocent Americans cannot be considered "reasonable" theories.
A belief that all the professional investigators who worked on the Amerithrax investigation must be wrong because some person with no solid evidence believes someone else did it cannot be considered a "reasonable" belief.
Theories and beliefs become "reasonable" when they are reasoned out with solid facts and/or substantial evidence.
& Changes: Sunday, October 18,
2009, thru Saturday, October 24, 2009
October 18 - 2009 - Someone recently pointed out to me that over a month ago, in September, a group of "Truthers" with various issues held a 3-day conference at St. Mark's Church in the Bowery, New York City. It appears that the same pattern I've seen elsewhere held true at that conference: No two of the speakers seem to argue the exact same issue. I believe that is almost the perfect definition of the word "babble."
1. to utter (words, sounds, etc.) in an incoherent or indistinct jumble
2. (intr) to talk foolishly, incessantly, or irrelevantly
3. (tr) to disclose (secrets, confidences, etc.) carelessly or impulsively
It's difficult to summarize their issues in just a few words, but it appears they had a holocaust denier, an ex-CIA spy who thinks Dick Cheney had something to do with 9/11, an economist who talked about money-laundering, terrorism and 9/11, a lawyer with issues about how money is created, a musician/ investigative journalist who writes about "The U.S. Government’s Shepherding of the 9/11 Hijackers," an investigative journalist with issues about child-abuse and the Bush Administration, and a lawyer who believes in many different conspiracy theories. At least two of them talked about the anthrax attacks.
It's interesting that these people and others on the "Lunatic Fringe" all claim to be looking for "the truth," yet none seems to be looking for the same "truth." What each one really seems to be looking for is an audience, people they can try to convert to their specific belief.
It also appears that they have absolutely no interest in coherency or understanding. Coherency and understanding are what the other side is looking for.
Contrast their rantings with the methodology of the people on "the other side," i.e., the people who are looking for the facts and who are trying to make coherent sense of the facts.
The people looking to make coherent sense of the facts began with meetings where they discussed the best ways to gather the facts, the best ways to learn the significance of the facts, the best ways to validate the facts and the best ways for top experts in various scientific and investigative areas to assemble their specific facts and fit them into a coherent whole that everyone can understand.
They then set about implementing their plans. They collected data, they tested the data, they organized the data and they discussed the data to get mutual understanding and agreement on the significance of the data.
When data collection and analysis was complete, they gave presentations where the entire issue is summarized, and then the various speakers talked about their particular areas of expertise and their work in assembling the coherent whole.
If the objective had been a purely scientific finding, there might already be unanimous agreement on what they found. In the Amerithrax investigation, however, the individual experts can only agree that their particular findings are accurate, since much of the time they didn't know what other scientists were doing. They may still have questions about how and where their findings fit in the overall scheme of things, but they generally understand the need for validation of the coherent whole as well as each part of the coherent whole - which is why they are doing their best to aid the review of the science of the Amerithrax case being done by The National Academies of Science (NAS).
Of course, the scientific investigation is only part of the Amerithrax investigation. The "coherent whole" must also include everything that can be known about the anthrax attacks of 2001 and who was responsible. The things which cannot be known must still fit into the coherent whole. The coherent whole cannot be coherent if it includes impossiblities. For example, we cannot know what was going on inside the brain of a person who died without telling everyone what he was thinking. But it is sufficient to know he could have had a motive to do what the facts say he did. Also, if years of seaching found no travel records, we may not know exactly how he got from Point A to Point B at some critical point in time, but we can be confident that it is not impossible for him to have traveled from Point A to Point B, because all the known facts indicate he did indeed move from Point A to Point B at that specific time and no facts conclusively say otherwise.
There are no known facts which say that it would have been impossible for Dr. Ivins to have committed the crime. So, what we need now is to see the "coherent whole" of all the known facts - from the science and from the criminal investigation - to allow the interested public to understand how all the major conclusions were reached. In particular, we need to understand how the conclusion was reached that Dr. Bruce Ivins was the anthrax mailer and that he acted alone.
In a perfect world, everyone who views the coherent whole - the summary of the entire case - would fully agree on the findings. In our imperfect world, many of those who currently have other theories will probably continue to believe their own theories, regardless of what the facts say.
So, our imperfect world can be expected to produce two things: (1) a coherent summary of the case which will be accepted by the vast majority of people who study it, and (2) a small bunch of conspiracy theorists and True Believers with little agreement on anything except that they all disagree with the coherent summary of the case.
& Changes: Sunday, October 11,
2009, thru Saturday, October 17, 2009
October 16, 2009 - The NAS sent me an email asking a question about my request for files. I responded to the email yesterday, which probably means I won't be getting the CD with the files until sometime next week.
Also yesterday, near the end of my regular exercise routine at the health club, I watched Fox News for 20 minutes. The club has two TVs suspended from the ceiling in front of a row of exercise bikes. While peddling away, I got a good demonstration of how much incorrect and irrelevant information can be broadcast in just 20 minutes. It wasn't Fox's fault. The same information about the "Balloon Boy" was probably being broadcast on every news channel. It was evidently on TV for about 2 hours, but I was fortunate enough to only catch the final 20 minutes. The news was about a 6-year-old child believed to be inside a balloon that looked like a flying saucer. "Experts" were telling Fox News that the balloon could remain aloft "indefinitely." "Experts" were telling Fox News that the balloon was at 6,500 feet when it was actually only 200 or 300 feet above ground. There were reports that the parents of the child frequently put their kids in dangerous situations. There were reports that the family was on a sleazy reality show called "Wife Swap." With no easy way to judge size, the balloon looked two or three times its actual diameter. It looked huge. The TV images shot from moving helicopters also made the balloon seem to be travelling much faster than it really was. It finally settled down gently in a plowed field, and it was immediately clear that nothing was as it seemed. Nevertheless, when they didn't find the boy inside, we were immediately shown pictures of what looked like an object falling out of the balloon when it was high in the air. And all the time the kid was hiding in the attic at home - or in the garage.
It was interesting and even fascinating while it lasted, and it evidently captured the attention of the entire country - and much of the world. But when the facts became known, it turned out to be just a silly story about a silly balloon. It took roughly 2 hours for the important facts to catch up with the "important" news. So far, however, no one is arguing that the breaking news was "the truth" and the facts were some kind of attempt to cover up "the truth."
October 14 - 2009 - Have you ever had one of those days when you get all your routine daily work done in about 30 minutes? Today was such a day for me. There's nothing new in the anthrax case. All discussions are in a wait-state pending receipt of more information to argue about.
When I have nothing else to do, I tend to wax philosophical. I started thinking about my TV recording schedule:
House - Diagnostician and his team solve complex medical mysteries
Lie To Me - Consultants on analyzing facial expressions help law enforcement
Castle - Crime novelist is a consultant for the NYPD
NCIS - Naval investigators solve cases
Bones - Smithsonian anthropologist is a consultant for the FBI
Fringe - Scientist consultants help FBI solve cases involving strange phenomena
CSI - Crime Scene Investigators work for Las Vegas PD
The Mentalist - Mentalist consultant helps California Bureau of Investigation
FlashForward - FBI agent tries to solve a mystery that affected almost everyone in the world
30 Rock - A TV executive tries to keep a live TV variety show running smoothly
Numb3rs - Mathematician consultant helps FBI by doing mathematical modeling
Monk - Obsessive-compulsive former cop is a consultant for the San Francisco PD
Psych - Phony (but very observant) psychic is a consultant for the Santa Barbara PD
Every Sunday, I routinely set my DVR to record these shows (and two others, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report), and I watch them when the time is right and I'm in the right mood. I usually watch my favorites (House, The Mentalist, FlashForward, Castle, Bones) the same night they air, playing them as soon as I can zip past the commercials.
It hasn't escaped my notice that 12 of the 13 shows on the list are about solving mysteries. (Others that are currently off the air are added to the list when they return to the schedule: Lost, Eureka, Warehouse 13, The Closer, Saving Grace. They are also about solving mysteries.)
I also notice that 8 of the 12 mystery shows have consultants helping law enforcement agencies to solve the mysteries. That's not exactly something new, since Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot were also consultants who helped the police. But the number of such shows seems unusual. Starting next Friday on the USA Network, a new show, White Collar, will have a former con man working as a consultant for the FBI to help solve "white collar" crimes.
It makes me wonder if in real life there are more consultants helping law enforcement these days than in the past. The Amerithrax case probably involved more consultants than any other criminal investigation in history. Hundreds of scientists were consulted, and probably a lot of psychologists and psychiatrists, too. Various kinds of computer experts are also used as consultants by law enforcement agencies when a case shows a need.
As I see it, the biggest differences between what we see on TV and what happens in real life are (1) consultants are only brought in when needed and almost never work a case from start to finish, (2) consultants may only help law enforcement to solve a crime once or twice in a lifetime, instead of once a week, and (3) the work of a consultant is probably a lot less fun in real life than on TV.
But, the idea of law enforcement bringing in an expert to help when special expertise is needed is definitely a good idea.
They may not be needed 99% of the time, but when they are needed, they can be truly needed. And every time they are truly needed and truly help with a case is something that makes for great non-fiction books or, at minimum, a a good TV episode. There's nothing more important for human society than for people to truly help when their help is truly needed.
October 11, 2009 - Things suddenly became fairly quiet last week, possibly because everyone's waiting for their checks to get to the NAS and for the NAS to send back CD's with the presentation materials used in the Sept. 24 and 25 meetings. I'm certainly among those anxious to see the materials. Meanwhile, here are some other images that were in the NAS presentations given by both Dr. Chris Hassell and Dr. Claire Fraser-Liggett back on July 30 and 31:
Previously, I described the New York Post material as looking like loose dirt, and I described the Leahy powder as looking like flour. You can judge for yourself whether or not those descriptions were accurate.
Once again, a picture is worth a thousand words.
Although it isn't stated and we can't yet be certain, it's probably safe to assume that these images show the entire amounts recovered from the two envelopes. Also lacking in the pictures is some reference of scale. But, even it you assume that as much as 10 or 15 percent of the Leahy powder escaped the envelope or was left embedded among the paper fibers of the letters and envelopes, it still seems very clear that these are very small amounts of powder. And the images seem to confirm what those who know how to make such powders have said: the quantity of attack powders could have been easily created during the evenings and weekends the alleged culprit Dr. Bruce Ivins spent alone in his lab in August, September and early October of 2001. Those who do not know how to make such powders claim that it would have taken many months of continuous work by multiple people and many many flasks or plates to create such spore quantities. These pictures should illustrate to everyone how totally absurd such claims are.
However, the conspiracy theorists and True Believers don't seem to care how absurd or preposterous their claims are. Nor do they seem to care how unscientific their claims are. Nor do they seem to care how illogical their claims are. And they don't even seem to care how often they are proven wrong. All they seem to care about is convincing others to join their cause. Abraham Lincoln once said, "You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time." The conspiracy theorists and True Believers seem to be targeting that second group, the "some of the people" who can be fooled "all the time."
We disagree on amost everything else, so we undoubtedly also disagree on just how big that group that can be fooled all the time really is. The conspiracy theorists and True Believers seem to think it's the majority, since they seem to believe (and sometimes claim) they represent the majority.
But as more and more information from the Amerithrax investigation is made public, a lot of those who can be fooled "some of the time" are learning that, in the past, they were either fooled by the false reports in the media or by false claims by false experts. The newly released images and facts are showing everyone what is true and what is not true. And slowly but steadily, the conspiracy theorists and True Believers who have been working so long and hard to fool all of the people all of the time about the Amerithrax case will be placed where they belong: as part of the "Lunatic Fringe."
& Changes: Sunday, October 4,
2009, thru Saturday, October 10, 2009
October 8, 2009 - Tuesday's episode of the TV series "NCIS" was titled "The Inside Man," and it was about something I don't think I've ever seen before in a TV show or movie: A conspiracy theorist who was wrong. As far as I can recall, when conspiracy theorists were at the center of a movie or TV episode, they were always right. The conspiracy theorists who are wrong are usually "comedy relief," i.e., brief appearances by obvious nut cases who pester the police and hilariously rant about obviously nutty conspiracies. That's more like what we see in real life.
Another unusual element: the NCIS conspiracy theorist was also a blogger. In the episode, of course, the writers had to have the conspiracy theorist do something more than just argue that the Navy was covering up some kind of crime. That wouldn't make a good TV show. They had to have the conspiracy theorist actually participate in some kind of crime. Then the NCIS heroes we cheer for every week can uncover the crimes of the wannabe hero who tried to fool the real heroes at NCIS. Fictional story telling requires such convolutions to satisfy an audience.
I often wonder what drives most conspiracy theorists. Does each view himself as the storybook hero who sees facts others do not see, and only he can save the American people from being fooled by some vast government conspiracy?
If so, it's probably harmless as long as fantasies don't turn into obsessions and as long as all facts aren't viewed as misinformation and part of the vast conspiracy. And as long as they don't attack those who disagree with them.
True Believers, of course, are different. They don't usually see themselves as heroes. They usually see themselves as saviors. True Believers believe they know the truth and facts are the work of the Devil. Anyone who disagrees and/or uses facts in and attempt to disprove what is believed is just plain wrong and possibly in league with the Devil - regardless of what the facts say. They don't believe in conspiracies. They believe non-believers are just plain wrong, but due to the inability or unwillingness of non-believers to accept the truth, non-believers may not actually realize that they're wrong. Therefore, the right sermon presented in the right way might convert them to the truth.
Interestingly, on Monday night on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, author and historian Sarah Vowell discussed a True Believer: Roger Williams, the founder of the State of Rhode Island. Williams was presented as a very different kind of True Believer, someone who was fully tolerant of other people's beliefs and didn't consider himself to be a savior. He seemed totally content to wait for Someone Else to make all the evaluations and rulings on Judgment Day. Williams didn't see any need to try to convert people before then. Ah, if only all True Believers were like that.
October 7, 2009 - The National Academies of Science notified me today that the presentation materials from the September 24 and 25 meetings are now available on CD, in additon to the previous materials from July and other miscellaneous materials. I've sent them my check to pay for the copying and shipping costs, and I'll undoubtedly comment on the materials when I receive them, but I have no plans to put the presentation files on this web site for everyone to download. First, I'm not certain of the legality of doing that, and, second, I don't want to incur the bandwidth costs when Google indexes the files and sends me visitors who are just looking for information about "refrigerator" or "microscope" or "Florida" or "New York City."
To obtain the list of available materials by email, fill out the form you see by clicking HERE, and ask for "The List of Materials For The Public Access File." It now contains 21 items, and you can now get 20 of the items on a CD for $12.
October 6, 2009 - While eating breakfast this morning, I was reading last week's issue of Newsweek and came across an article which contains a very good description of how evidence is viewed by some people. The article "The Angry Evolutionist" is about evolution, but the discussion of evidence still applies here. This is the key part:
Let's use the analogy of a detective coming to the scene of a crime where there were no eyewitnesses. The baronet has been shot. Fingerprints, footprints, DNA from a sweat stain on the pistol, and a strong motive, all point toward the butler. It's pretty much an open-and-shut case, and the jury and everybody in the court is convinced that the butler did it. But a last-minute piece of evidence is discovered, in the nick of time before the jury retires to consider what had seemed to be their inevitable verdict of guilty: somebody remembers that the baronet had installed spy cameras against burglars. With bated breath, the court watches the films. One of them shows the butler in the act of opening the drawer in his pantry, taking out a pistol, loading it, and creeping stealthily out of the room with a malevolent gleam in his eye. You might think that this solidifies the case against the butler even further. [Consider the reaction from the defense], however. The butler's defense lawyer astutely points out that there was no spy camera in the library where the murder took place, and no spy camera in the corridor leading from the butler's pantry. "There's a gap in the video record! We don't know what happened after the butler left the pantry. There is clearly insufficient evidence to convict my client."
In vain, the prosecution lawyer points out that there was a second camera in the billiard room, and this shows, through the open door, the butler, gun at the ready, creeping on tiptoe along the passage toward the library. Surely this plugs the gap in the video record? But no. Triumphantly the defense lawyer plays his ace. "We don't know what happened before or after the butler passed the open door of the billiard room. There are now two gaps in the video record. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my case rests. There is now even less evidence against my client than there was before."As the publicly available evidence continues to pile up in the Amerithrax case, this kind of reasoning is about the only tactic left for the conspiracy theorists and True Believers -- besides attacking people who dispute their reasoning.
October 4, 2009 - I spent much of last week in some very detailed discussions with scientists about the presentation by Dr. Peter Weber at the NAS meeting on September 25. I was also able to obtain a copy of Dr. Weber's PowerPoint slide presentation from Lew Weinstein's web site and listen to the audio from the NAS web site as I flipped through the slides. It was almost like being there - maybe even better, since I had time to digest the presentation and to listen to it more than once before getting into the discussions.
The discussions were presumed to be "background only," and I didn't ask for permission to quote anyone, so I can only paraphrase and summarize.
As I understand it, Dr. Weber's study wasn't done as part of the Amerithrax investigation, and it had nothing to do with the subject of "weaponization." It was abundantly clear to everyone that the attack spores were NOT "weaponized" in any military sense of the term. Dr. Weber's study was done merely to answer questions posed by scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to each other regarding what causes silicon to accumulate in some spores but not in others. The findings were far from conclusive, but produced some interesting results nevertheless.
1. They found silicon in every spore they examined. The NANOsims equipment they used was more sensitive than the STEM equipment used at Sandia, so they would be able to detect silicon where Sandia could not. On the other hand, Dr. Weber's study didn't involve the attack anthrax, only simulants, so no firm conclusions can be drawn except that silicon accumulates naturally in spores even more commonly than previously thought. (The NANOsims equipment can even detect silicon in human tears, which tends to show that silicon is found in other biological specimens, too. Silicon is the second most abundant element found on earth, after Oxygen, and makes up more than 25% of the earth's crust.)
2. The study seemed to indicate that low or high amounts of silicon in the growth media had no direct relationship to the amount of silicon found in spores. So, another factor is probably involved. I speculated on what that factor may be, but I got only dead silence as a response. For awhile, the amount of the element Iron in the growth media was considered to be a factor, and it was thought that here might be a one-to-one relationship between the amount of Iron and Silicon in spores, but findings at Sandia seem to disprove that idea.
3. The study seemed to indicate that any effort to add silicon to spores after the spores have been formed would produce nothing like what was seen in the attack anthrax. It either resulted in clearly visible silicon deposits on the outside of the spores, or only extremely low deposits elsewhere, or the washing and purification process wiped away all traces of the added Silicon. One attempt to add Silicon to spores by including it in a washing detergent even had the effect of reducing the amount of Silicon in the spores instead of increasing it.
The false theory that silicon does not occur naturally in spores, and therefore the attack spores must have somehow been "weaponized" with silicon now seemingly belongs only to the Lunatic Fringe - and to people who consider the spores to have been "weaponized" if they were used as a weapon to kill people, regardless of how they were made.
We talked at length about the term "reverse engineering." Can what Dr. Weber did be called "reverse engineering?" It depends upon who you ask. As with the term "weaponization," the term "reverse engineering" has different meanings to different people.
If you want to learn what causes extra Silicon to accumulate in spores, that is not "reverse engineering," it is simply the search for new information. If you can accumulate enough information, maybe then you can try "reverse engineering," but that could be a long long way away. Or you can argue that every step is part of the "reverse engineering" process.
There are two basic ways to investigate what causes Silicon to accumulate in spores:
1. The "random walk" or "Edisonian" approach. Just try one method after another (as Edison did when trying to find the right filament material for the light bulb) until you stumble onto something that seems to work.
2. The "hypothesis testing" approach. Develop a theory based upon known data, and test the theory. That's what Dr. Weber did, what I did throughout this case, and what scientists would typically do. If the hypothesis doesn't produce the expected results, it will often produce information for a revised hypothesis.
The BIG problem is, of course, that when you find a way to increase the Silicon content in spores to what was found in the attack spores, you won't have proven that it was the method used by the anthrax mailer. There could still be many other methods which would produce the same results. The number of different methods is nearly infinite. But, if you can find supporting information in the suspect's lab or writings, you can argue that it is the "most likely" method ... based upon all the known information.
There is, of course, another approach:
3. The conspiracy theorist/True believer approach. Start with a belief and look only for facts which can be interpreted or distorted to fit that belief. Ignore all facts which disprove the belief, and attack those who try to disprove the belief.
I also noticed last week that the conspiracy theorists and True Believers were continuing to attack the National Academies of Science and anyone and everyone else who doesn't immediately do things the way they want things done. In addition to their usual bizarre interpretations of science, they're now using bizarre interpretations of the FOIA (Freedom Of Information Act) rules. They appear to want access to all the information the FBI gave to the NAS so that the conspiracy theorists and True Believers can do their own analysis and their own review before the NAS does theirs. That appears to violate a number of FOIA rules. (1) The NAS is a nonprofit private institution operating under a Congressional Charter, and FOIA requests may not apply. (2) Information from open FBI cases are exempt under FOIA rules (the Amerithrax case hasn't yet been closed). (3) You can't get FBI documents via a FOIA request to some other agency. (4) FOIA rules exempt requests which may (or are intended to) interfere with work being done by the agency.
Here's part of one message sent to the NAS:
I think the NAS is taking a very bad route in aligning itself with the FBI’s refusal to tell the American people the basis on which they concluded that Dr. Ivins was the sole perpetrator (or even involved at all) when there is no supporting science, no physical evidence, and no witnesses which point specifically to the man the FBI says is the anthrax killer.
In short, that letter writer evidently believes he already knows the all the facts, including the scientific facts, and he feels the NAS is "taking a very bad route" by examining the scientific facts. Even though the NAS was hired by the FBI to examine the scientific facts, the letter writer feels the NAS should join sides with the conspiracy theorists and True Believers and work against the people who hired them. (If the suggestion weren't so ridiculous, a prosecutor with a wicked sense of humor might call it "Solicitation to Commit a Felony (fraud)." And even though the NAS was formed under a Congressional Charter, the conspiracy theorists and True Believers want them to violate that charter and provide the conspiracy theorists and True Believers with whatever they want when they want it.
And, if they don't, the NAS will be helping the FBI to defame a totally innocent family man who never did anything to hurt anyone and who cannot defend himself because he committed suicide after being hounded to death by the FBI. The "correct" thing for the NAS to do, evidently, is to investigate who the conspiracy theorists and True Believers think did it - even though no two of them seem to agree on exactly who did it.
This morning, lawyer Barry Kissin's conspiracy theory is cited on Lew Weinstein's site. Mr. Kissin seemingly argues that things written in the media in 2001 and early 2002, and said by officials and "experts" before any of the actual facts were known, are what everyone should accept and believe, because all the research, discoveries and investigations that came afterward are just sinister efforts to cover up the facts.
& Changes: Sunday, September 27,
2009, thru Saturday, October 3, 2009
October 2, 2009 - For the past couple days, my local news has been talking about a story where a woman in Michigan was ordered by the State of Michigan to stop babysitting her neighbor's kids. The AP version of the story says:
Each day before the school bus comes to pick up the neighborhood's children, Lisa Snyder did a favor for three of her fellow moms, welcoming their children into her home for about an hour before they left for school.
Regulators who oversee child
don't see it as charity. Days after the start of the new school year,
Snyder received a letter from the Michigan Department of Human Services
warning her that if she continued, she'd be violating a law aimed at
the operators of unlicensed day care centers.
Under state law, no one may care for unrelated children in their home for more than four weeks each calendar year unless they are licensed day-care providers. Snyder said she stopped watching the other children immediately after receiving the letter, which was well within the four-week period.
"I've lived in this community for 35 years and everyone I know has done some form of this," said Francie Brummel, 42, who would drop off her second-grade son, Colson, before heading to her job as deputy treasurer of the nearby city of Hastings.This may seem unrelated to the Amerithrax investigation, but "babysitting" a first grader until his school bus picks him up in the morning or until his parents get home from work in the evening could be relevant to the case. On the news, I believe I heard they got around the law by having the kids wait on the porch. The law just says they can't have the kids inside the home without a Day Care Center license (like the one Mrs. Ivins obtained in Maryland on January 1, 2003).
September 28, 2009 (B) - I just noticed that the on-line version of The Frederick News-Post article from Saturday has been revised. I think it will be firmly within "fair use" guidelines to compare to the original and revised versions of the article. It's certainly educational. So, here they are with the differences highlighted in red:
Seems like an excellent and thorough correction to me. That's certainly something you don't see very often.
September 28, 2009 (A) - The National Academies of Science just informed me that the talk by Dr. Patricia Worsham of USMARIID is now available as "Part 5" of last Thursday's presentations. (Previously, Part 5 was just 2 minutes of mumbling prior to Dr. Worsham's introduction.) Dr. Worsham's talk begins with this statement:
I just wanted to mention that I am under limited release from my non-disclosure agreement, so I can disclose scientific and technologies and results that have already been in the public domain, but nothing else. So, that's what the FBI says, and that's what I have to abide by.
That's probably enough in that statement for conspiracy theorists to argue that she confirmed what conspiracy theorists believe, but I listened to the rest of her 52 minute presentation anyway.
I found it interesting that, if you follow standard procedures when growing Bacillus anthracis bacteria until they form spores, you may never see any mutations. But if you let things proceed longer than is standard, certain types of mutations not only appear, they can end up as most of the culture. As I understand it, normal Bacillus anthracis will quickly sporulate (stop growing and form spores) when the food supply starts running low or other conditions are no longer right. Certain mutations, however, are not as finicky and will continue to grow as long as any food is available anywhere around them and conditions are merely survivable. So, after the "normal" bacteria stops dividing, the mutations continue on growing and dividing until every accessable bit of nutrient is consumed. The result is that a mutation that was just a tiny fraction of the original sample can end up appearing to be most of the regrowth culture.
The mutations that were in the attack anthrax were noticed when a culture was allowed to grow longer than is standard.
But there's a problem with letting a culture grow for too long. If you do, you may get "novel" mutations, meaning: you may get new mutations that were not in the original sample. So, they'll tell you nothing about the original sample.
There's also the problem that many mutations do not reproduce well, so a mutation that is in the original sample might nearly disappear in a re-growth done under standard conditions. Another problem is that some mutations won't form spores if the temperature is "wrong" for the mutation but "right" for normal bacteria.
The questions asked of Dr. Patricia Worsham mostly related to mutations. Asking the wrong questions could make it appear that the mutations found in the attack anthrax and flask RMR-1029 are routine and might be expected in almost any sample. Asking the right questions makes it clear that some mutations are common, but others are not, and the chances of getting all four of the selected mutations in a new growth by pure chance is extremely unlikely if they weren't in the original sample.
A key point in Dr. Worsham's talk was that every sample of Ames stored at USAMRIID was included in the 1,072 samples in the "repository" used to locate the source of the attacks. And the only samples in the 1,072 which contained the four key mutations were the samples that were direct regrowths from flask RMR-1029 and the attack anthrax. So, while it may appear that the four mutations can readily form in a new growth, the actual evidence says that is totally untrue. It's something that is possible but extremely unlikely. And there is no evidence that it ever happened anywhere at any time except during the creation of the spores in flask RMR-1029.
This statement at the 46:36 mark makes it clear that things in microbiology are not always as they seem:
We always got some colonies that we picked that we thought looked aberrant, but which turned out not to be. I think part of this is just the physical difficulty of looking at plates in this way. Colonies on the edge of the plate always look a little funny. Colonies that probably come from spores that are late to germinate are smaller and harder to assess. And those in close proximity to another colony sometimes look different as well. So, that's one of the limitations of this.
At the 48 minute mark, Worsham makes it clear why the Ames strain became so popular for vaccine testing:
The reason that Ames was a popular strain come back to a paper from Steve Little back in the early 1980's, I believe, showing a group of Bacillus anthracis strains and their ability to overcome certain vaccines. And Ames was one of the ones that appeared to be vaccine refractory to a certain extent. That is, you couldn't protect animals as well against Ames. [The dead cow in Texas that provided the original sample of Ames had been vaccinated.] And that's what led it to be a popular challenge strain for vaccine studies. The other problem with Vollum, which had been used in the past is that - at least in my experience - there are a lot of Vollums out there and no two of them look alike.
Dr. Worsham's talk was very technical in parts, but unlike discussions about DNA, the technicalities were generally understandable with minimal research (and better yet if you've been studying the subject for nearly 8 years). Other than the opening statement, I didn't hear anything that I'd consider to be of use to conspiracy theorists. It was all about the complexities of microbiology and particularly the microbiology of Bacillus anthracis.
September 27, 2009 - Uh oh! I'd hoped there would be more news articles this morning about the NAS sessions held on Thursday and Friday. But I found nothing new when I did my regular Google search. The other reporters who were at the sessions (besides the reporter from the Frederick News-Post) apparently need more time to write something, or they decided not to write anything, or their editors need more time to find an open spot in their newspapers to fill.
I had nothing prepared for uploading as my comment this morning. I just have a lot of notes and ideas and things I want to study and research more carefully. So, I'm going to have to "wing it."
They say that "a picture is worth a thousand words." Okay. Here's a picture:
The image above is a slide from Dr. Chris Hassell's presentation to the NAS review committee on July 30. Based upon the audio of Dr. Michael's presentation on Friday, a slide very similar to this was included in his presentation.
Note that this is a spore from the Daschle letter, which means the spore was prepared at USAMRIID under the FBI's supervision before sending it on to the microanalysts at Sandia National Laboratories (SNL). The image was taken by Dr. Joseph Michael at SNL. SNL prepared their own spores from the Leahy and NY Post letters. But, since Dr. Michael repeatedly stated that spores from the New York Post letter and from the Leahy letter showed nearly identical elemental characteristics, this can be viewed as representative of all the attack anthrax spores that contained silicon. (Remember: 25% to 35% of the attack spores did NOT contain silicon.) Spores from the NY Post and Leahy letters, however, were also imaged without the heavy metal staining done to create this image. (Microbiologists typically stain biological specimens with Uranium (U) and Lead (Pb) and other heavy metals so that physical features will become more clear and highlighted when examining the specimens under various kinds of electron microscopes. But when the chemical composition is the subject of study, staining can complicate observations.)
It's my understanding that this is like a map of the U.S. where only the major features can be seen. But each pixilated square or combination of contiguous squares in the image can be viewed in much greater detail. And, of course, instead of combining elements into a single color as in this image, individual elements can be viewed as separate colors. That was apparently done for many of the images in Dr. Michael's presentation on Friday.
The most important parts of this image (particularly for the reporter from the Frederick News-Post) are the exosporium, which is clearly seen as an irregular red line around the spore, and the spore coat, which shows up as green in the image.
For a layman, the exosporium can be described as the OUTER coat of the spore. It's a loose fitting coat that expands when made wet and shrinks when dried. The image shows a spore that was made wet before it was fixed for imaging.
The INNER coat which is almost always described as the "spore coat," on the other hand, is relatively hard and is tightly bound to the inner core where the DNA for reproduction and growth is contained.
If this spore were "weaponized" with silica, there would be a thick layer of silica particles and a thick layer of green on the outside of the exposporium. Click HERE for a picture of what a silica coated spore looks like. Click HERE for more details about weaponized/coated and unweaponized/uncoated spores.
I can understand that someone might find it confusing that there is an inner coat and an outer coat on an uncoated spore, but of all the confusing things about this case, that should be one of the easiest things to make clear. Think of a roasted peanut. It has a loose outer shell and it has a thin skin film tightly wrapped around the peanut core itself. If you dipped the unshelled peanut into chocolate, it would be easily distinguishable from a peanut that was not coated with chocolate. And, people would call the parts the "chocolate coating," the "shell," the "skin" and the peanut. With a weaponized spore the similar parts are called the "silica coating," the "exosporium," the "spore coat" and the core.
And when the attack spores are examined under various types of viewing and detecting equipment, you can see very clearly that the silicon is NOT on the outside of the exosporium, it is NOT even on the outside of the spore coat. It is part of the spore coat. It is one of the materials used to form the spore coat. That fact, in addition to the key fact that 25% to 35% of the attack spores contained NO silicon, and that virtually identical silicon readings have been detected in other kinds of spores, makes it a virtual certainty that there was absolutely no form of weaponization involved in the creation of the spores used in the anthrax attacks of 2001. And beyond that, you can also add the fact that (1) Ames is not a good strain to "weaponize" because almost any antibiotic can kill it, (2) no one has ever "weaponized" spores of the Ames strain, and (3) Dr. Ivins created the anthrax spores in flask RMR-1030 which also contained silicon. Only the percentage of spores in flask RMR-1030 which contained silicon was different from the attack anthrax.
As more and more facts about the attack anthrax are made public, the idea that the attack spores were "weaponized" becomes more and more ridiculous, and the conspiracy theorists and True Believers have to go farther and farther away from any form of reality to conjure up bizarre theories about how the spores could still have been "weaponized."
But, as we saw in The Frederick News-Post yesterday, there are also people - including reporters and editors - who just haven't been paying attention, who haven't studied the facts, and who simply get everything wrong. What's incredible is that the reporter didn't just get the facts about the attack anthrax wrong, he totally distorted and erroneously reported what Dr. Michael said. How does that happen?
UPDATE at 1 p.m CDT: I've just been advised that the on-line version of the Frederick News-Post article will be revised and that a correction identical or similar to this will appear in tomorrow's print edition of the paper:
"In a story that appeared in Saturday's edition of The Frederick News-Post Dr. Joseph Michael was misquoted as saying silicon had been added to the anthrax spores used in the 2001 letter attacks. Amounts of silicon were found to be naturally occurring in the spores, not added, he said. Michael said the attack spores did not appear to be weaponized with the addition of silicon."
For me, this was like reading an article in a newspaper about how America's top historian had made a presentation to The American Historical Society claiming that the reason all Americans speak Japanese is because Japan won World War 2. Even without checking other sources to determine what the historian actually said, I can be fairly certain that the newspaper article cannot be correct.
& Changes: Sunday, September 20,
2009, thru Saturday, September 26, 2009
September 26, 2009 - Just when I was getting to the point that nothing could surprise me anymore, this morning I read an article by Adam Behsudi in the Frederick News-Post. The article titled "Expert: Anthrax spore coatings not unique" got everything wrong or backwards about what Dr. Michael said at yesterday's NAS meeting:
A microscopy expert said there was nothing unique about the silica coating found in the anthrax spores recovered from the 2001 letter attacks.
Actually, the expert said there was NO SILICA COATING on the attack spores.
He said previous studies have shown the same chemical make up of silica added to dried anthrax.
WRONG. Dr. Michael said that previous studies showed how the element SILICON can get into spores naturally. There is NO COATING on the attack spores. SILICA is commonly added to weaponize spores, and the attack spores of 2001 were NOT weaponized.
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.
TOTALLY BACKWARDS! TOTALLY WRONG! Investigators know that there was NO SILICA added to the dried anthrax. The attack spores were NOT weaponized.
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.
Dr. Michael said it was clear that NO SILICA COATING HAD BEEN ADDED. He said the siliCON that appeared INSIDE the spores came from some lab process that hasn't been clearly defined yet. (Peter Weber's presentation, which followed the presention by Dr. Michael, was almost entirely about detecting different ways that siliCON can get into spore coats via natural processes.)
After Ivins' alleged involvement was made public, colleagues of the scientist doubted Ivins would have the capability or know how to weaponize the spores.
Dr. Michael talked about flask RMR-1030 which was created by Bruce Ivins and which contained spores with siliCON just like the spores in the attack letters. Dr. Ivins may not have known how to "weaponize" spores in the military sense, but he created spores which contained silicon in the spore coats exactly like the attack spores.
How can a reporter get everything so totally wrong? And where was the editor? The report seems to have been written by some conspiracy theorist who wants to report what conspiracy theorists believe instead of what investigators and scientists have actually found or what was stated by scientists at the NAS meetings on Thursday and Friday. I listened to the presentation by Dr. Michael a second time, and it seems totally impossible for anyone attending the presentation to get things so totally wrong. Again and again, Dr. Michael explained in great detail with pictures how the attack spores were very different from weaponized spores.
Adam Behsudi and the Frederick News-Post will undoubtedly be hearing from Dr. Michael.
September 25, 2009 - The Frederick News-Post has written a report on yesterday's meeting at the NAS. A couple comments are worth noting. The first seems to confirm that some of the evidence pointing to Dr. Bruce Ivins' is still considered confidential, and will be considered so until the case is offically closed :
[Patricia] 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.
The second gives an indication of how things get done (but they don't get done smoothly) in times of crisis:
[Dr. Paul] 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."Paul Keim's actual talk mentioned the problem of money as a humorous anecdote. While waiting for the FBI and DOJ to provide funding to do the research and to pay people, Dr. Keim had to get temporary funding from the Department of Energy, money which was then repaid when the funding from the FBI came through in May 2002.
The links for the audio recordings of this week's sessions are HERE. The schedule for the sessions is HERE.
My summary of Thursday's session:
Part 1 (8 minutes) is the introduction to the session and introductions of the panel. The first speaker, Dr. Rita Colwell is also introduced.
Part 2 (26 minutes) consists of Dr. Colwell and her "Overview of the Scientific Investigation." The "overview" includes a lot of information about how the science has tremendously improved over the past 8 years. She talks about how the scientific work in the case was coordinated, and how information was shared and used. (She also describes what "sugar grants" are. They are small grants for innovative research.)
Part 3 (24 minutes) is the presentation by Dr. Steven Schutzer from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey on "Use of Preliminary Validated Assays in Exigent Circumstances." He talks a lot about "validation," and how that word means different things to different organizations, and how it was given new and stronger meaning in this case because evidence for court was being prepared. He talks about the Daubert standard. He also talks a lot about the difference between information that might be a "lead" in a criminal case but which wouldn't be used in court, and information obtained as a result of the "lead" which might be used in court. At the very end, Dr. Paul Keim is introduced.
Part 4 (55 minutes) is Dr. Keim's talk about the Ames strain, what it is, how it is distinquished from other strains of anthrax, etc. He begins by describing how they determined that Bob Stevens was killed by the Ames strain using technologies that seem to be from the "stone age" when compared to what is available today - not quite 9 years later. At that time, in October of 2001, they didn't even know where the Ames strain came from, how common it was or whether Stevens could have come in contact with it via natural sources. Dr. Keim talks about where anthrax is found around the globe. He also debunks the notion that someone can go to Southern Texas and find a sample of the Ames strain by poking around in the dirt where some animal died. Attempts to do this have all failed. The only samples of Ames they have ever found are from victims of the disease. Dr. Keim also said that all or nearly all of the 2,000 samples relative to the Amerithrax case were stored at Northern Arizona University (NAU), including such things as the sample found in the mailbox in New Jersey. He talks about how tests are done and witnessed. Since 2001, 43 papers have been published about Bacillus anthracis, and Paul Keim has given 120 lectures on the subject. At around the 37 minute mark, Dr. Keim talks about how some labs destroyed their Bacillus anthracis libraries when new laws were passed in 2002 regarding the possession of and working with lethal agents. He also talks about recreating the four select mutations found in the attack anthrax and in flask RMR-1029. He feels that if the same process that created RMR-1029 was repeated, or something very similar, you could or should end up with the same four mutations. But, as far as anyone knows, that process of combining many batches to create a large supply for vaccine testing has been done only once. (The scientific briefing on August 18, 2008 also went into this subject quite a bit. "Standard" analytical work with bacteria would never combine batches the way it was done with RMR-1029. So, while the same mutations might be reproducible, it would require doing something that is never done with bacteria - or is only known to have been done once before. The 8/18/08 briefing describes why Bruce Ivins did it. I'll try to summarize the reasoning here when I get a chance - and as soon as I thoroughly understand it myself.)
Part 5 (2 minutes) consists only of the moderator trying to unsuccessfully reconvene the session. This should be the part where Patricia Worsham from USAMRIID gives her talk. But the talk isn't (currently) there. I'll try contacting the NAS to find out happened.
My summary of Friday's session:
Part 1 (53 minutes) is the talk by Dr. Joe Michael of Sandia and begins with some nearly inaudible introduction mumbling that suddenly becomes fully audible at the 2:43 minute mark. Some of the slides he talks about contain images we've seen elsewhere. But a lot of it is about images we have not yet seen and which I hope will become available from the NAS if or when the presentations are added to the list of electronic material which can be purchased. The subject of the talk was "Microscopy/Weaponization of Bacillus anthracis." Unfortunately, many of the questions asked are inaudible or barely audible, but the answers are still very interesting. At around the 30 minute mark Dr. Michael talks about how he spent 3 days looking for a mother bacteria which still had the spore inside of it, and he talks about how the spore contained the same silicon signature seen in other spores. At about the 36 minute mark he shows and talks about analyzing the Dugway sample that contained silicon in some spores, and the testing they did of flask RMR-1030 which had silicon in some spores, and flask RMR-1029 which did not have silicon in the spores. At about the 40 minute mark he talks about a sample that was described as "evidence" which contains interesting information and which he suggests the NAS review committee find further details about. All or nearly all of the samples analyzed at Sandia were analyzed via "blind testing," which means Sandia didn't know where the samples came from. But, in many cases they later learned details about the samples. The "evidence" sample is one item they never learned anything else about. There is a lot of information in this talk, so I'll have to listen to it again, perhaps under higher amplification to better hear the questions. And I certainly hope that the slides become available the way slide information from the July sessions did.
Part 2 (37 minutes) is the talk by Peter Weber of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on the subject of "Nano-scale secondary ion mass spectroscopy." His talk was mostly about the NanoSIMS (high-resolution secondary ion mass spectrometer) LLNL acquired in 2002 and specifically the studies done on silicon found in spores. They did some tests where they tried to manipulate the amount of silicon in spores. Because the NanoSIMS is much more powerful, he says they essentially saw silicon in all spores - even in spores where the equipment at Sandia could not detect silicon. He discussed a number of experiments where they tried to add silicon to different kinds of spores and to germinating bacteria in various ways with mixed results. The talk was very interesting but also very technical and somewhat difficult to follow because so much of it related to slides that could not be seen. If or when the slides become available, it will be interesting to listen to the talk again while viewing the slides. As far as I could tell, all the experimenting was done with simulants, and they made no suggestions about how the tests related to the spores used in the anthrax attacks. Mr. Weber seems to suggest that the amount of silicon found in spores might have some relationship to the amount of iron found in spores. He also seems to toss out some very general suggestions as to how the high levels of silicon in the attack spores might have happened.
There's a great deal of information in these talks, and they'll undoubtedly be even more informative if and when the actual slide presentations are made available. But, no matter how thorough the science nor how high the pile of evidence becomes, the True Believers and conspiracy theorists will still see possible ways their beliefs could be true.
September 22, 2009 (B) - One item I received in the mail on Saturday that I failed to mention in my previous comment was the list of peer reviewed articles handed out at the July 30-31 NAS sessions. It's a 2-page listing of 16 published articles. Here's the complete list (with numbers, quotes and links added to help any discussion):
Peer-reviewed publications that are the result of analyses relevant to the investigation:
1. Read TD, Salzberg SL, Pop M, Shumway M, Umayam L, Jiang L, Holtzapple E, Busch JD, Smith KL, Schupp JM, Solomon D, Keim P, Fraser CM. "Comparative genome sequencing for discovery of novel polymorphisms in Bacillus anthracis." Science. 2002 Jun 14: 296(5575):2028-33. Epub 2002 May 9.Article #11 is available in .pdf format at the link provided. It's interesting because it addresses the issue of silicon in spore coats phenomenon from the well-known 1980 papers (see #10) where silicon was found in the coats of Bacillus cereus and Bacillus megaterium spores. In this report, Bacillus coagulans spores were examined. The article says:
2. Enserlink, M. (Editorial) Microbial genomics. "TIGR begins assault on the anthrax genome." Science. 2002 Feb 22; 295(5559)1442-3.
3. Read TD, Peterson SN, Tourasse N, et al. "The genome sequence of Bacillus anthracis Ames and comparison to closely related bacteria." Nature. 2003 May 1;423(6935):81-6.
4. Whiteaker JR, Fenselau CC, Fetterolf D, Steele D, Wilson D. "Quantitative determination of heme for forensic characterization of bacillus spores using matrix-assisted-laser desorption/ionizatíon time-of-flight mass spectrometry." Anal chem. 2004 May 15; 76(10):2836-41.
5. Easterday WR, Van Ert MN, Zaneckí S, Keim P. "Specific detection of Bacillus anthracis using a TaqMan mismatch amplification mutation assay." Biotechniques. 2005 May; 38(5):731-5.
6. Beecher, D. "Forensic application of microbiological culture analysis to identify mail intentionally contaminated with Bacillus anthracis spores." Appl Environ Microbiol. 2006 Aug; 72(8):5304-10.
7. Van Ert MN, Easterday WR, Simonson TS, U'Ren JM, Pearson T, Kenefic LJ, Busch JD, Huyhn LY, Dukerich M, Trim CB, Beaudry J, Welty-Bemard A, Read T, Fraser CM, Ravel J, Keim P. "Strain-specific single-nuceotide polymorphism assays for the Bacillus anthracís Ames strain." J Clin Microbiol. 2007 Jan; 45(1):47-53. Epub 2006 Nov 8.
8. Brewer LN, Ohlhausen JA, Kotula PG, Michael, JR. "Forensic analysis of bioagents by X-ray and ToF-SIMS hyperspectral imaging." Forensic Science International. 2008. 179:98-106.
9. Ravel J, Jiang L, Stanley ST, Wilson MR, Decker RS, Read TD, Worsham P, Keim PS, Salzberg SL, Fraser CM, Rasko DA. "The complete genome sequence of Bacillus anthracis Ames Ancestor." J Bacteriology. 2009 Jan; 191(1):445-6.
10. Stewart M, Somlyo AP, Somlyo AV, Shuman H, Lindsay JA, Murrel WG. "Distribution of calcium and other elements in cryosectioned Bacillus cereus T-spores, determined by high-resolution scanning electron-probe X-Ray microanalysis." J Bacteriol, 1980 vol. 143(l):481-491.
11. Stewart M, Somlyo AP, Somlyo AV, Shuman H, Lindsay JA, Murrel WG. "Scanning electron probe microanalysis óf elemental distributions in freeze-dried cryosections of Bacíllus coagulans spores." J Bacteriol, 1981 vol. l47(2):670-674.
12. Chen X, Zehnbauer B, Gnirke A, Kwok PY. "Fluorescent energy transfer detection as a homogeneous DNA diagnostic method." Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 1997 Sep 30; 94(20)10756-61.
13. Keim P, Klevytska AM, Price LB, Schupp JM, Zinser G, Smith KL, Hugh-Jones ME, Okinaka R, Hill KK, Jackson PJ. "Molecular diversity in Bacillus anthracis." J Appl Microbiol . 1999 Aug; 87(2):215-7.
14. Keim P, Price LB, Klevytska AM, Smith KL, Schupp JM, Okinaka R, Jackson PJ, Hugh-Jones ME. "Multiple-locus variable-number tandem repeat analysis reveals genetic relationships within Bacillus anthracis." J Bacteriol. 2000 May; 182(10):2928-36.
15. Didenko VV. "DNA probes using fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET): designs and applications." Biotechniques. 2001 Nov 31(5):1106-16 1118, 1l20-l Review.
16. Kotula PG, Keenan MR, Michael JR. "Automated analysis of SEM X-ray spectral images: a powerful new microanalysis tool." Microscopy and Microanalysis. 2003 Feb; 9(1): 1-17.
The layer of silicon which formed such a striking feature in the B. cereus spore cryosections (13), and which spot mode analysis also indicated was present in B. megaterium spores (5, 7), was absent from these B. coagulans spores. We have shown (unpublished data) that the silicon surface layer on B. cereus T spores was unlikely to be a preparative artifact associated with freeze-drying, since it was also present in spores dried in alcohol. But this feature was clearly absent from the B. coagulans spores, even though they were grown in glass vessels and processed for microscopy in a very similar manner. It would therefore seem unlikely that the silicon coating observed in B. cereus and B. megaterium is a completely general phenomenon that has a general role in the resistance of spores, nor would this seem to be true of the divalent cations found in the coats of B. coagulans and B. megaterium. However, this is not to say that these features may not have a specific role in the resistance properties of a particular spore species when they are present.
So, they seem to have found an entire Bacillus species which does not appear to absorb silicon into spores. Or, they did something different when preparing the spores, but didn't realize they were doing something different. Exactly what was happening to cause the silicon to appear in the spore coats was still a mystery then - as it is today.
I've also completed my first read-through of the 32-page transcript of the "Press Conference for Scientific Media," which was held immediately prior to the "General Media Press Conference" (a.k.a. "Roundtable Discussion") on August 18, 2008. I haven't had a chance to digest it yet to see if it contains anything truly new and worth mentioning. (The first reading suggests it doesn't.) It's much more technical than the General Media session. But one thing struck me: All the science writers present were fully aware of the need to restrict details about the science of the case until the peer review process and publication are completed. When these new science articles are published, many of the science writers at the Scientific Media session would be writing reviews of the articles for their magazines.
September 22, 2009 (A) - The NAS has advised me that, because they'll be using a smaller meeting room which cannot accommodate live webcasts, the meetings on Thursday and Friday will not be webcast the way the July meetings were. However, as with the July meetings, audio recordings of the sessions will be made available via the NAS web site.
September 20-21, 2009 - The documents I'd requested from the National Academies of Science (NAS) arrived via snail mail Saturday afternoon, which didn't give me time to thoroughly study them before writing the first version of this comment on Sunday morning. But, just a quick scan through the materials was enough to find some interesting things. First, this is evidently a picture of flask RMR-1029:
No copyright information was with this image. It appears to be in the public domain.
But, like so many other things in this case, the picture poses more questions than it answers. Presumably, (1) it shows the amount of material that was in the flask when it was removed from Dr. Ivins' control. Presumably, (2) the yellowish substance is mostly the liquid in which the spores were suspended, and (3) presumably the tan substance at the bottom is mostly spores that have settled in the liquid. But, it could also be a reflection of the shelving material on which the flask is standing, since the shelving material seems to be the same color. Presumably, (4) that's some kind of cotton gauze stopper at the top. Presumably (5) the flask identification is on a side or at the back of the flask somewhere.
My first thought when looking at the image is that the flask and stopper look like they were made in the 1940's. Does anyone make cotton gauze stoppers these days? How does someone wearing rubber gloves get the gauze stopper out? Is there a ring at the top? The cotton gauze looks like it's inside a small upturned jar which acts as a stopper. There appears to be a dividing line where the two parts would come together. But, after searching around the Internet, I can't find any Erlenmeyer flasks that have glass or polycarbonate stoppers like that. However, I found lots of pictures of flasks where the measurement markings on the flask don't photograph clearly.
On Monday morning I received emails from someone who has seen this picture many times before - vastly larger and shown on a large projection screen - and he points out that it is indeed a picture of flask RMR-1029 with an inverted beaker used as a cap to keep the cheesecloth stopper in place. On a large screen that is very clear. In this small image, it is verified by noting the pouring lip for the beaker, which I've indicated by a red arrow.
And this is just one image extracted from Claire Fraser-Liggett's July 31, 2009, slide presentation at the NAS. As soon as I posted it on Sunday, arguments about the picture began on Lew Weinstein's web site, suggesting that this is not flask RMR-1029. But there is nothing in Dr. Claire Fraser-Liggett's verbal description to suggest that, and the slide presentation seems to make it clear that it is indeed RMR-1029. Here's what the complete slide looks like:
I think it's possible that some of the questions about the flask result from the fact that it is a "heavy duty" flask, which is intended to be used in shaking machines. Therefore, the polycarbonate is thicker than normal, and in a photo with no way to measure or compare the actual size, the extra thick polycarbonate may make it appear to be smaller than it really is.
Here's how the 1000ml flask was described in the August 18, 2008, roundtable discussion:
QUESTION: What does the flask look like? Is it a little, glass thing with --
DR. MAJIDI: It's called an Erlenmeyer flask. Check it out on the web. It's a triangular flask.
QUESTION: With a glass stopper at the top? Is it a --
DR. MAJIDI: Well, this particular one did not have a glass stopper. It had a --
QUESTION: Piece of Saran Wrap over it?
DR. MAJIDI: I think it was a cheesecloth, or cotton.
This seems to indicate that, before he was interrupted, Dr. Majidi was about to say the flask had a cheesecloth or cotton stopper. That is certainly consistent with the picture. The beaker just holds the stopper in place.
Here's another statement from the roundtable discussion regarding the size of the flask:
DR. HASSELL: Let me, let me, let me -- let me correct the flask question, just so there is no confusion there. Originally, it was divided into two one-liter Erlenmeyer flasks, more or less equally. When we seized it, by that time it had been reduced into one flask -- one-liter flask of several hundred milliliters. So there’s not two flasks in evidence, there's just one.
"Several hundred milliliters" would appear to include the liquid atop the settled spores, while Dr. Ivins' log appears to measure only the settled spores at the bottom (121 milliliters, correcting for the 2/22/00 math error).
The slide also indicates that the spores produced at Dugway for flask RMR-1029 were grown in fermenter runs, while the spores produced at USAMRIID were grown in shaking flasks.
Other slides and files also include photos of the New York Post and Leahy powders. But they are regular photographs, not electron microscope images. They show the powders inside test tubes. The New York Post powder looks like loose dirt. The Leahy powder looks like flour. Identical images were in slide presentations from both Dr. Fraser-Liggett and Dr. Hassell.
I also have images of the mutations used to identify flask RMR-1029 as the source of the attack material. The photos show how unusual the mutation colonies look versus normal growth colonies.
I have a spectographic image from Dr. Hassell's slide presentation which shows the location of the silicon inside the spore coat and how it is not on the exosporium. However, the single image doesn't have the kind of detail I was hoping to see. Others images yet to be made public will undoubtedly have that kind of detail. (People from Sandia will be making a presentation to the review committed on Friday. More detailed images may come from that.)
There's a 32-page transcript of a "Press Conference for Scientific Media," which I believe was held immediately prior to the "General Media Press Conference" (a.k.a. "Roundtable Discussion") on August 18, 2008. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, much less study and analyze it.
I also received copies of two emails sent to the NAS committee by people with other theories about the case. One is from someone who I know via forums and emails; the other is from someone whose name is unfamiliar to me. That person accuses the FBI of being behind 9/11, the first World Trade Center bombing, the Oklahoma City Bombing and presumably the anthrax attacks. He seems to spend his days accumulating data about FBI agents who have been accused of crimes. Evidently, he believes the FBI as an evil organization that operates unrestrained and outside of the law under all administrations, probably even killing off Presidents and other officials who might want to change things.
It's interesting - and somewhat reassuring - that people who send emails or letters in vague attempts to influence the committee members to their way of thinking will be documented as part of the NAS review.
All these images and documents are available to the public. Just request them via the form found HERE. NAS people will tell you what's available and how much it costs. (At the moment, only 15 electronic documents are available. I paid $12 for ten of them. 11 to 49 would cost $20. 50 or more files would cost $50.) Presumably, the meetings to be held this week on Thursday and Friday will provide more slide presentations and more electronic material which will be added to the list. Paper documents cost 25 cents per page.
You have to be careful, though. One item I purchased was a .pdf slide presentation, and another was a PowerPoint presention. Exactly the same material, just in two different formats. Here's how they were described on the list:
8A. 7/30/09I thought it was a 2 part presentation, or perhaps too big for one .pdf file. Wrong. 8A is .pdf format. 8B is .ppt format. I sent them an email explaining that 8B is not a "PDF file." They're going to change the description for 8B.
submitted by Chris Hassell, Federal Bureau of Investigation
PDF file of Powerpoint presentation delivered to Committee during meeting 1 day 1 (with page numbers)
submitted by Chris Hassell, Federal Bureau of Investigation
PDF file of Powerpoint presentation delivered to Committee during meeting 1 day 1 (without page numbers)
And I'll go through these new materials carefully to see if they hold anything new or of particular interest. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile, I see another conspiracy theorist with another opinion about the anthrax attacks posted a comment on OpEdNews.com yesterday. His is another name I don't recall ever seeing before.
And, I'm picking up rumors that, in addition to the NAS meetings on Thursday and Friday, other meetings related to the anthrax case will be held this week. I'm not sure of the purpose of these other meetings, but they seem to be about preparing people for the media onslaught that will come after the case is closed and case documents are released. And, these days if you are identified as some kind of witness or expert in the Amerithrax investigation, it isn't just the media who will be looking into every aspect of your life to see what "interesting details" can be uncovered, it will be anyone with a computer and a theory about the case.
The only people who don't make mistakes are people who don't do anything. Unfortunately, the people who don't do anything sometimes get ahead in the world by pointing out the mistakes made by those who actually do good work.
Lastly, some people who have largely lost interest in the Amerithrax investigation have moved on to other mysteries, and they sometimes contact me to talk about them. A big part of my time last week was spent discussing aspects of the Annie Le murder case. The discussions began by wondering about motive (Who could have done it and why?) and ended by discussing motive (Even knowing who did it doesn't tell us why Annie Le was killed). In that case, the alleged killer is still alive. But he can't or won't explain why he killed Annie Le. Some psychologist or psychiatrist may provide an educated guess at his trial. But motive is not required in order to prove a case. That's a good lesson to remember. And the alleged killer's friends are saying they "can't believe" he would do such a thing. Mostly, though, even though they can't believe it, they do believe it - because the facts say so. That's another good lesson to remember.
& Changes: Sunday, September 13,
2009, thru Saturday, September 19, 2009
September 16, 2009 - The NAS will be holding another "Review of the Scientific Approaches used During the FBI's Investigation of the 2001 Bacillus Anthracis Mailings" on September 24 and 25. The schedule is HERE. Hopefully, as with the sessions in July, the sessions will "air" live on the Internet, and an audio file of each session will be available on-line the following day.
September 13, 2009 - Things were relatively quiet last week, but not uneventful. After asking around, I found that some documents that I really want to see are available - if I pay a small fee for copying and shipping costs. All I needed to do was send a check via snail mail. I did that on Tuesday. With luck, the documents will get to me sometime this week.
This morning someone sent me a link to another Onion magazine item about conspiracy theorists. This time it's a video. It shows a 9/11 conspiracy theorist arguing with a member of al Qaeda. The conspiracy theorist is arguing that the Bush administration was behind the 9/11 attacks, and the al Qaeda member is arguing that their organization did it, and they have documents to prove it. The conspiracy theorist, of course, claims the documents must be phony. Hilarious.
Meanwhile, real conspiracy theorists and True Believers are still on the attack, and the National Academy of Sciences remains their current primary target. The attack involves making accusations that the NAS is breaking the law by withholding information. If the NAS doesn't respond to demands for information, that fact can be claimed as "proof" that the NAS has no valid response, which is then viewed as a virtual admission that the NAS is breaking the law, and therefore the conspiracy theorists and True Believers will feel justified in not trusting any findings from the NAS.
The conspiracy theorists and True Believers have been doing the same thing with the FBI and the DOJ for years - and particularly so during the past year, ever since it was announced that the Amerithrax investigation had determined that Dr. Bruce Ivins was the anthrax mailer.
Along the same lines, on Wednesday I noticed an article on OpEdNews titled "Anthrax Attacks 2001 ... Why Won't the FBI Listen?" But the link stopped working the next day, and the article can no longer be found on the site. The article was authored by someone who was in prison in the year 2000 with another convict who made threats against Senators Daschle and Leahy. The author's conclusion was that this former convict must be the anthrax mailer.
The author has no real proof of any connection between his acquaintance in prison and the anthrax attacks of 2001. He only has personal memories of what happened in the year 2000. In the article, he described attempts in 2001 and 2005 to get the FBI to listen to his story. In February of 2008, the author contacted his Congressman, which resulted in a personal visit by an FBI agent, who the author identified by name. But the FBI agent didn't seem sufficiently interested. So, the author sent a complaint about the agent to the FBI. The FBI checked and responded with a letter saying they found no evidence that the FBI agent did anything wrong. So, the title of the article probably should have been:
"Anthrax Attacks 2001 ... Why Won't the FBI Believe Me?"
His story reminds me of another story that can be found on Lew Weinstein's web site. This story involves someone the author encountered at Iowa State University around 1990. This author also sees a connection to the anthrax attacks of 2001, and has also been trying to convince the FBI of the connection since 2001. Just like the first author, all this second author has in the way of "proof" is personal memories. And she can't get the FBI to listen to her, either.
Years ago, I exchanged numerous emails with someone in Pennsylvania who was absolutely certain that a college professor there was the anthrax mailer. He remembered the college professor discussing - sometime in 1998 - the idea of sending anthrax-laced letters through the mail, and he even remembered that the college professor mentioned Senators Daschle and Leahy as targets. He'd tried many ways to get the FBI to "listen"to him." The FBI even paid him several visits, but since they didn't arrest the professor, obviously they weren't listening carefully enough.
If I dug through my email archives, I could probably find a dozen more cases where other people tried to get the FBI to "listen" but the FBI didn't arrest their suspect, so obviously the FBI wasn't really listening.
And, of course, no two of these people with "suspects" had the same suspect. So, I've encountered 15 people who couldn't get the FBI to "listen" to 15 different stories about 15 different suspects. But the facts say, in nearly all cases, the FBI did listen. They just didn't arrest the "suspects." Nor did they explain why they didn't arrest the "suspects."
Of course, I'm leaving out the best known "suspect" who was pointed at by five or six amateur detectives, plus several people in the media. After nearly eight months of trying, they managed to get the FBI to "listen," but the only result was a lawsuit that ended up costing the FBI and the Department of Justice millions.
I know of one other "possible suspect" who was brought to the attention of the FBI. As with all the others mentioned above, the FBI listened to what I had to say, but they didn't make an arrest. But, unlike all the others, I knew that the "evidence" supporting my observation was very circumstantial and far from conclusive. And, unlike all the others, I trusted the system. I know it isn't perfect. But it's a system created to do jobs that individual citizens can't do or don't have time to do - and to do it as well as possible. I gave the investigators my information in January of 2002, and I left them to deal with it. I only contacted them one more time, a week or two later, to provide a new piece of information. I never contacted them again. When the FBI didn't make an arrest, I assumed it was for one of two reasons: (1) The FBI couldn't find enough additional evidence to prove me right, or (2) the FBI had found a lot more evidence pointing to someone else as the anthrax mailer. I rationalized about how microbial forensics might someday provide the evidence that I was right. And, because I didn't tell anyone else about who I suspected, there was no great concern about being proven wrong. I told everyone I could be wrong. I told everyone my facts were inconclusive and that the FBI could have lots and lots of facts totally unknown to me. Plus, I was patient. I knew it was a difficult case to solve. With so many potential suspects, it had to be a very difficult case. And, I trusted the system.
And I didn't trust the media. The media was publishing article after article telling the American people they shouldn't trust the system because the media had interviewed scientists and others with impressive credentials who had no direct knowledge of the evidence but who had theories that "the government" was hiding something.
My trust of the system wasn't blind trust. And my distrust of the media wasn't blind distrust. I was collecting my own facts and studying them. Many of those facts came from the media. Those facts told me very clearly that the "scientific theories" being printed in the media were unscientific to the point of being asinine - and possibly even malicious. I did research and conferred with experts in various scientific fields until I could explain exactly why the bad science described in the main stream media and even in scientific publications was totally wrong.
Plus, it was certainly clear that almost none of the people with theories had the same theory. Everyone had a different suspect. And none had any solid evidence. None even had more evidence pointing to their suspect than I had pointing to mine. They only agreed on one thing: If they were right, the FBI had to be wrong. And since they all believed the FBI was wrong, their combined opinions should be convincing to anyone. All you have to do is ignore the fact that they don't agree with each other on who did it.
The deluge of facts about Dr. Bruce Ivins instantly dissolved away my inconclusive facts about someone else. I had no regrets about talking with the FBI. It was my civic duty. And, as far as I know, no harm came from it. "The System" is supposed to insure that no one is harmed if a citizen provides information that is correct but not conclusive.
Which brings us to today. I'm waiting to see what additional information - beyond what is already known - the FBI has that points to Dr. Ivins as the anthrax mailer. Others are doing their best to make certain that, whatever the information is, it is not believed. Since they cannot dispute the scientific facts, and since they have no solid facts pointing to their own "suspects," they are trying to discredit any person or organization associated with the case.
Sometimes that tactic works. I hope "the system" is still solid enough to make sure it doesn't work on this case.
& Changes: Sunday, September 6,
2009, thru Saturday, September 12, 2009
September 6-7, 2009 - This coming Friday will be the 8th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Soon after, it will be time for "anniversary" articles about the anthrax attacks that followed 9/11. And, presumably, sooner or later, the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation will officially close the Amerithrax investigation and release vast numbers of documents and reports. But, at the moment, things are very quiet.
Even discussions about the handwriting have faded away. Those who do not accept the facts are evidently tired of trying to make me understand that the facts don't mean anything if people don't believe what the facts say.
Rantings from conspiracy theorists and True Believers continue, of course. They've even gotten more shrill, angry and preposterous than ever. It's a buzzing hornets' nest that I've decided to avoid for the time being. The last comment I made to them was to correct an error a conspiracy theorist was repeating over and over. But all he did was continue repeating the error as if he was saying that errors aren't really errors if the errors support his point of view.
I'm reluctant to provide a new link to the web site where these rantings are taking place. I've linked to it several times in the past, but now it seems wrong to send them any new visitors. Watching raving inmates in an insane asylum heatedly stating their beliefs and theories to one another might be interesting or even amusing, but do I want to advertise it as entertainment? I think not.
It now appears they're threatening to sue the National Academy of Sciences if the NAS doesn't provide them with all the science information from the Amerithrax investigation that was supplied to the NAS by the FBI. Evidently, the conspiracy theorists and True Believers want to do their own review of the science and to do it first.
They seem to be particularly concerned that if the NAS doesn't study what the conspiracy theorists and True Believers want studied, then the NAS will never learn "the truth" about the attacks.
If past patterns hold true, they'll soon be personally attacking the members of the review committee as being unfit to serve on the NAS review committee because of past mistakes, lack of credentials or just plain incompetence.
They also seem to be investigating the NAS itself in an effort to prove that the NAS makes mistakes and cannot be trusted to produce an accurate review of the FBI's scientific investigation. If the NAS does not support the point of view of conspiracy theorists and True Believers, then they must be wrong and should not be believed.
They also go on and on about how Freedom Of Information Act requests aren't being answered fast enough or in the way they think their FOIA requests should be answered. After all, how can the conspiracy theorists investigate the investigation if the government doesn't cooperate fully and immediately!
In other rants they went on and on about how the Department of Homeland Security was somehow unable to do their own investigation and prove that al Qaeda was behind the anthrax attacks because .... because .... because FBI was withholding information about their domestic investigation?
Those rants provided one bit of information I found mildly interesting. It appears that Tom Ridge, on page 58 of his new book titled "The Test Of Our Times" stated:
Of the known forms of anthrax, the highly toxic one called the Ames strain was the culprit. (It was named for a strain that had been worked on in the science department at Iowa State University, though the anthrax, it was determined early on, did not come from their laboratories.)
A strain named for a strain? What does that mean? Of course, it is totally untrue that the strain was ever "worked on" at Iowa State University. But the error is so different from other errors and from the known facts that you have to wonder where Ridge got his information. It's such a bizarre comment that no one jumped on it as proof of anything. However, it does seem to show that even eight years after the attacks there are still influential people with impressive credentials who have totally screwball beliefs about the anthrax attacks.
Coincidentally, last week, The Onion magazine printed an interesting satire about moon hoax conspiracy theorists. The article is titled, "Conspiracy Theorist Convinces Neil Armstrong Moon Landing Was Faked."
According to Armstrong, he was forced to reconsider every single detail of the monumental journey after watching a few persuasive YouTube videos, and reading several blog posts on conspiracy theorist Ralph Coleman's website, OmissionControl.org. [The actual web site appears to be HERE.]
Of course, anthrax case conspiracy theorists see no similarities between themselves and moon hoax conspiracy theorists. But they totally agree on one thing: Even though they both have theories about how tens of thousands of government officials and employees have conspired to deceive the American people, all conspiracy theorists truly hate being called "conspiracy theorists." The term "conspiracy theorist" suggests they cannot prove what they claim. But, they believe they can prove their claims. They'd do it tomorrow if the government would just release the information that would allow them to do so. But, you see, there are all these tens of thousands of people in the government who are conspiring to keep the information from the conspiracy theorists. Otherwise, no problem.
Going even farther afield (but directly into the area of conspiracy theories about Health Care and President Obama's upcoming talk with school children (Has everyone forgotten that G. W. Bush was reading to school children when he was notified of the 9/11 attacks?)), last week I found myself in the right mood to turn on the TCM cable channel and watch the 1939 movie "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington." It's probably the first time I'd seen it in fifty years. Because it was directed by Frank Capra, I was afraid that it would now seem painfully corny. There was some of that, but I was quickly hooked anyway. It was actually interesting. The movie described in detail how a bill is presented in the Senate, who can talk in the Senate and what the rules are for interrupting or stopping a discussion on the Senate floor. And it showed how people with their own objectives go about trying to destroy a good idea that doesn't fit their agenda: If you don't have the facts on your side, destroy the good idea with false information and personal attacks on those supporting the good idea.
Politics haven't changed much in seventy years. Politics probably haven't changed much since politics were invented. But, the Internet is definitely a new factor which allows angry people to find each other more easily. Anger is something that people with hatreds and prejudices have in limitless abundance. And what seems to anger angry people the most is that they cannot persuade everyone to become as angry as they are about what they're angry about.
& Changes: Sunday, August 30,
2009, thru Saturday, September 5, 2009
September 2, 2009 - The subject of handwriting remains the focus of discussions. People cannot understand why I think it would be so difficult for an adult to write like a child. It isn't difficult. But, on my page about the handwriting, I show that the writing on the letters and envelopes isn't just similar to the writing of a child, it's a perfect example of how a child's handwriting changes during the first weeks of first grade. Three weeks passed between the first mailing (to the media) in September and the second mailing (to the two senators) in October. During those same three weeks in first grade,
1. Children are taught to write smaller. The writing on the media letter is about twice as large as the writing on the senate letter.Plus there are many examples of a child-like lack of hand-eye coordination that an adult wouldn't display.
2. Children are taught about punctuation. The media letter has no punctuation, the senate letter does. The question mark in the senate letter looks like the writer never wrote a question mark before.
3. Children are taught the correct way to draw each character of the alphabet. The letter R was drawn incorrectly in the media letter and correctly in the senate letter.
Could all this have been done on purpose by an adult? Yes. But it would probably take a master forger to do it so well.
But, if a master forger did the writing, why did he make it look like the writing of a child in his first weeks of first grade? Wasn't the intent of the letters to make it look like the handwriting of a Muslim terrorist? (The return address on the senate envelopes is supposed to make them look like letters from a child in third grade. But the handwriting on the letters is presumably intended to look like the handwriting of an adult terrorist.)
August 30, 2009 - Early last week, I once again got involved in a discussion about the handwriting on the anthrax letters. I've been trying to get some forensic handwriting expert to critique my new analysis of the handwriting, but with no luck.
Years ago, I contacted about six or seven handwriting experts, but the first supplemental web page I created about the handwriting on the anthrax letters was rambling and unfocused. Much of it related to hoaxes because, at the time, some people were claiming that the handwriting seemed to match some hoax cases. Some of that page also related to the Maryland Sniper case, since that was a big deal for awhile around that same time, and some people were seeing similarities in the sniper's handwriting to the writing in the anthrax letters. Years passed before I realized I should only be listing the facts which seemingly cannot be disputed. (No one has disputed the facts, they just refuse to believe what the facts say.) In Chapter 3 of my book I looked at the handwriting that way for the first time. But, soon after the book was published I found an additional key fact about the handwriting that seemed absolutely undeniable: the Brokaw letter handwriting was kindergarten style, the Brokaw envelope was written first grade style. I mentioned it in comments on this web site for a long time before deciding that I should create the new handwriting page.
Handwriting analysis is not a science. In court, it's simply the opinion of an "expert." It is not about scientific proof. There are no laws of physics involved, and the scientific method does not apply. The prosecution's "expert" can say one thing while the defense's "expert" says another, and the jury has to decide who to believe.
My analysis, however, is about as "scientific" as one can get. It points out characteristics which can be easily seen in the handwriting samples and relates those characteristics to known facts about what is taught in the first weeks of first grade. And like most facts and evidence related to criminal cases, all the facts have to be viewed as a whole. Finding possible alternative explanations for individual facts is pointless and a waste of time. The only way to disprove the analyis is to present solid, undeniable facts which say a child did NOT write the letters.
While some people believe what the facts clearly say, most do not. Instead, they have opinions and beliefs which prevent them from even discussing the facts. Any attempt to start a discussion about the facts immediately turns into a discussion of opinions and beliefs. And everyone seems to think that their opinions and beliefs are better than everyone elses - particularly if there are others who seem to share the same opinions and beliefs. But, most importantly, their opinions and beliefs usually have nothing to do with the handwriting, they have to do with psychology and the context surrounding the writing of the letters.
Their opinions and beliefs are about how a child would act if he wrote the letters, about how the parents would act if they learned their child wrote the letters, and about how the FBI would act if they knew a child wrote the letters. And the people voicing these opinions and beliefs usually do not consider any alternative viewpoint to be valid. So, there's no hope of any meaningful discussions.
But when arguing about the same things for year after year, patterns can emerge. And I've realized that the facts I discuss in my new supplemental web page about the handwriting are only about the handwriting. And, as I stated above, the discussions are almost never about the handwriting. The beliefs and opinions are about psychology and the context in which the letters were written. There are important facts in that area that need to be remembered, too:
1. Bruce Ivins didn't become the prime suspect until three or four years after the attacks.
2. The FBI initially focused on New Jersey as the location of the writer of the letters.
3. The average American doesn't read newspapers.
4. The average American doesn't watch national news on TV.
5. Initially, nearly everyone thought al Qaeda was behind the attacks.
6. Handwriting examples that are all capitals or block handwriting are difficult to analyze.
7. After the first weeks of first grade, children are taught to write upper and lower case and their handwriting changes dramatically.
8. The prime suspect was a diagnosed sociopath, and sociopaths are cunning manipulators.
Below are the five main arguments I've been getting from people who cannot accept that the facts clearly indicate that a 6-year-old child wrote the letters. After each argument are my counter-arguments based upon the additional facts.
1. No adult would take such a chance in trusting a child to keep such a secret.
The culprit evidently had reasons for taking "such a chance." He may have thought it was a brilliant thing to do, since - as we've seen - few can even imagine that someone would do such a thing. What more perfect way is there to disguise one's handwriting than to trick someone else into doing the writing? It's something a sociopath might view as diabolically clever. Manipulating an innocent child would be be easy for a sociopath - any maybe even irresistible. He wouldn't make it an exciting secret the child might not keep. He'd make it a boring chore about school work that the child would soon forget.
2. The child would immediately tell his friends and parents that he wrote the anthrax letters.
Who would believe - or even listen to - a six-year-old child who claims to have written the anthrax letters? If the letter writing was viewed as a chore instead of an exciting event, it would likely be immediately forgotten. Children don't rush around excitedly telling people how they set the table or cleaned up their room. Practicing writing isn't automatically an exciting thing to do. To a typical child, it can be just a forgettable chore. The child doodled on the first letter, a clear indication that he was bored. And if he's in a babysitting situation while waiting for his parents to come home from work, he'll do as told because his parents told him to obey and do as told.
3. When the letters were shown on TV, the child would see they are his work and would tell everyone.
Six-year-old children do not typically watch the evening news. They do not typically read newspapers. The chances of him seeing the letters on TV are probably far less than a one in a million. And even then it might not register as important enough to mention. And if mentioned, the child would probably not be believed. If the culprit is believed by adults to be a Muslim terrorist or a scientist who lives in New Jersey, what adult would believe a six-year-old child who claims to have written the letters in Maryland?
4. The parents would tell the authorities and try to claim the reward.
You cannot claim the reward unless your information leads to the arrest and conviction of the anthrax mailer. How would it even occur to them that their child wrote the letters? Why wouldn't they assume like everyone assumes, that the anthrax mailer wrote the letters? Even if the parents somehow realized that their child wrote the letters, how would they prove it? Do all parents keep all handwriting samples from the first weeks of first grade? Who would believe them without solid proof? The only "reward" they could truly expect for telling their story is to have the media tear apart their lives looking for "newsworthy" details about their personal lives, the way they raise their child, and their motivation for coming forward.
5. The FBI could easily verify the facts and would use that evidence against the culprit.
The FBI originally thought the letters were written in the same area where they were mailed - New Jersey. They sent out postcards with the handwriting samples to tens of thousands of people between New York City and Philadelphia. Handwriting experts are typically called on to examine possible forgeries or to compare one handwriting sample against another. How many handwriting experts are experts on children's handwriting? If they are expecting to see the handwriting of an adult who tried to disguise his handwriting, why would it even occur to them that the handwriting might not be that of an adult? Before the FBI can do a search for the child, someone in authority has to agree that a child wrote the letters. Did the possibility that the letters were written by a child ever occur to anyone? Did anyone agree? Handwriting experts seem to rarely agree with each other about everything. And, if they've already given an opinion, they're unlikely to alter that opinion if someone comes up with an idea that no one believes. And what kind of solid proof could they find if they did indeed believe the story? Is the word of a fourteen-year-old remembering what he did eight years ago "solid proof" of anything? If it is so difficult to believe that a child wrote the letters, why even bother trying to convince a jury of it? Why not just rely on all of the other evidence?
I've had plenty of people say they don't believe that a child wrote the letters. But how do I get handwriting experts to critique my new handwriting analysis? How do you get someone to look at something they don't want to look at because they've already decided that it cannot be right? How do you get someone to look at something if they can't even imagine agreeing with something everyone else disagrees with? I can lead an expert to the facts, but I can't make him think.
Why do I want handwriting experts to critique my analysis if it probably won't definitively prove anything? Because there is no other way to determine if I'm analyzing the facts correctly. Even if the case is officially closed and enough evidence is made public to convince everyone of who committed the anthrax mailings, I cannot simply drop the question about the handwriting unless that question is satisfactorily answered, too. The facts will continue to nag at me forever.
& Changes: Sunday, August 23,
2009, thru Saturday, August 29, 2009
August 23, 2009 - I suppose I should be grateful to Katherine Heerbrandt for bringing Dr. Bruce Ivins' menacing phone calls to my attention. Listening to the voice of a diagnosed sociopath as he "thanks" his therapist for telling the police about his plans for another mass murder turned Ivins into more than just a solution to a puzzle that had lasted seven years. He became a sociopath with an agenda. If it hadn't been for Heerbrandt's opinion piece, I would never have looked up and examined all those search warrants to see what they had to say about those final weeks of Ivins' life and how he responded to being notified of his pending indictment by planning to kill his co-workers and others.
And that made me wonder: At what point do arguments from conspiracy theorists become totally absurd? We definitely passed that point when Heerbrandt publicly attacked social worker Jean Duley for advising the police of a sociopath's plans for mass murder. And we went far beyond that point when Heerbrandt also attacked the FBI for "character assassination" because the evidence had led them to that same sociopath. And beyond that, Heerbrandt also says:
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.
How totally removed from reality and preposterous can a person's opinions be? Yet, others share her beliefs. That is probably why they all seem so certain about what they believe. Facts seem to lose all meaning to conspiracy theorists if they can find someone else who believes as they believe. Then "group think" takes over. (We're also seeing that in the debate over health care.) Back on May 24, I quoted from a 1983 book "GroupThink" by Irving L. Janis:
Groups can bring out the worst as well as the best in man. Nietzsche went so far as to say that madness is the exception in individuals but the rule in groups.
The science that led to flask RMR-1029 and the person who controlled it - Dr. Bruce Ivins - is as solid as science can be. No one has debunked it in any way, shape or form. It cannot be debunked. It's solid science. The fact that someone with a PhD doesn't believe the facts doesn't "debunk" anything. It just proves that conspiracy theorists with PhDs can be as totally wrong as conspiracy theorists who do not have PhDs. All they have are fantasies about "other possible explanations." And, of course, they believe that whoever disagrees with them is part of the vast conspiracy that involves the entire FBI, the entire Department of Justice, Presidents Bush and Obama, most of the scientific community and anyone and everyone who believes the facts. I'm repeatedly called a "shill" for the FBI because I point out the facts instead of dreaming up fantastical ways that the facts of the case might be questioned and/or ignored.
There was a point when there were legitimate questions about whether or not the anthrax spores used in the attacks of 2001 were "weaponized." But that time has long passed. The attack spores were NOT "weaponized" in any military sense of the term. Solid facts make that clear. Conspiracy theories don't change the facts, they ignore the facts.
On June 9, 2008, Department of Justice lawyers advised Dr. Ivins and his lawyer of some of the evidence that was being presented to a Grand Jury that would prove that Dr. Ivins was the anthrax mailer. After looking at the evidence, Dr. Ivins' lawyer advised Dr. Ivins that he should prepare himself to be indicted by that Grand Jury.
Yet, according to Katherine Heerbrandt:
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.
Then why did Dr. Ivins' lawyer tell his client to be prepared to be indicted by a grand jury? Are only stupid people allowed on grand juries? The facts about how grand jury members are chosen indicate otherwise. Are grand juries who disagree with conspiracy theorists automatically part of the vast criminal conspiracy, too?
How many people who worked with Dr. Ivins were totally deaf, dumb and blind to the fact that they were working with a diagnosed sociopath? The media has interviewed and reported on those who thought that Ivins was a "nice guy." Were there no others? Sociopaths are very skilled at manipulating and conning people. But some people can detect when they are being conned and manipulated. Was everyone who worked with Dr. Ivins for decades totally ignorant of psychology to the point that they couldn't possibly detect that they are working with someone who even might be a sociopath?
It's tempting to dig into Ivins' writings and deeds and to psychoanalyze them as they related to sociopathy. Sociopathy is an "antisocial" disorder, but Ivins definitely wasn't antisocial - at least not in the way that term in commonly used. Some sociopaths get along very well with others, particularly in situations where manipulating others is part of their job.
But, I don't know if I want to dig into all the available information about Bruce Ivins' homicidal rants on the Internet and all the creepy things he allegedly did to others or the ways he avoided being caught doing the things he did. I think I'd rather wait for some professional psychologist or psychiatrist who has the stomach for such things to write a book about Ivins and his mental problems. I'm interested in why a person commits a crime, and how he went about doing it, but I'm far less interested in how much pleasure he got out of doing what he did.
I have, however, asked myself a question: What kind of person would manipulate an innocent 6-year-old into writing letters designed to frighten Americans into believing that Muslim terrorists were planning a bioweapons attack?
There's only one clear answer to that question: A sociopath.
People who simply cannot believe that a diagnosed sociopath would use a child that way endlessly point out that Ivins' wife didn't obtain a license to operate a day care center until January 1 of 2003. However, obtaining a license typically just means that you want to expand your existing day care, childcare or baby sitting business to the point where you might hire an employee or take care of more than three or four children at one time.
I'm also tempted to sit down and put the facts about Bruce Ivins together in order by date. It might make things more clear to people if they knew that Ivins was under psychiatric care for years before he committed suicide. And he'd tried to commit suicide before. And he'd known for a long time that he was the focus of the FBI's investigation. He told people about it. Sociopaths don't just suddenly become sociopaths. It's something they been all their lives. And there's no cure for sociopathy. But, again, that's something I think I want to leave for some professional psychologist or psychiatrist to discuss in detail.
Mostly, I just want the FBI to close the case and to make public all the evidence they have against Dr. Ivins. I doubt that any amount of evidence will change the minds of the conspiracy theorists who believe that everything is just made up lies and part of some vast criminal conspiracy involving tens of thousands of people, and only conspiracy theorists who ignore the facts know the "truth." But it could help to show the world how totally absurd some of their claims are.
& Changes: Sunday, August 16,
2009, thru Saturday, August 22, 2009
August 19, 2009 (B) - An "informed source" has advised me that the therapy session of July 9, 2008, where Ivins talked about murdering his co-workers was not taped. However, Jean Duley was not the only trained staff member present.
August 19, 2009 (A) - This morning I found an email in my inbox from someone who described a few items that were found in the searches of Dr. Ivins' home. Digging back through the search warrant information, I found the complete list. It's something else that has been around for a year, and yet I never noticed or paid any attention to it before. On page 32 of the 37 page document, there's a handwritten list of the items that were found in a 6 a.m. search of Bruce Ivins' home on July 12, 2008 (while Ivins was at Shepp-Pratt and three days after he stated his plans during a group therapy session to kill his co-workers and others). Among the items found during the search were these:
(3) gunpowder smokeless magnum
(6) 12-gauge shotgun round
(9) .22 cal ammunition
(10) 9mm round
(12) notebooks & jounals
(15) body armor
(16) ballistic vest
(21) assorted .40 cal & 9mm ammunition
(23) handwritten notes
(24) two (2) 9mm magazines (loaded)
(25) handwritten notes
(27) two (2) .40 cal magazines (loaded) & one .22 cal magazine (loaded)
(28) one (1) partially full box of .40 cal ammunition
(32) handwritten note regarding counlser Jean Dooley [sic]
The 9mm rounds were evidently for the Glock automatic which Ivins said he planned to obtain from his son. There's no indication of where he planned to obtain the .22 or .40 caliber weapons.
Since one of Ivins' sociopathic traits appears to have been a need to plan everything in detail, one has to wonder what was in the various "handwritten notes," in the "notebooks & journals, and particularly in the "handwritten note regarding counsler Jean Dooley."
It was about five hours after this search that Ivins called Jean Duley from the Sheppard Pratt psychiatric facility in Towson, Maryland, and left the third message on her answering machine.
What seems curiously missing in all this and everything else we've seen is any indication that Dr. Ivins was claiming innocence. Instead, he appears to have been doing everything that you'd expect a guilty sociopath to do - a sociopath who felt he was "God" (as his brother stated) and who felt that others should not question his actions or reasoning.
August 18, 2009 (B) - Continuing to look through the search warrants, I also found this in one of them:
The Social Worker further related that in addition to the threats articulated at the group session on July 9, 2008, Bruce Edwards Ivins had in the recent past articulated a plan to kill himself, specifically that he intended to use a combination of pills and alcohol to effectuate this plan. She related that he plans everything in careful detail, something consistent with reports from other sources in this investigation, that Bruce Edwards Ivins plans everything very carefully. The Social Worker noted that with respect to the suicide plan, he produced to her a paper from his wallet which contained a precise recipe of pills and alcohol, based on his body weight, to ensure death.
That Application for Search Warrant is dated July 12, 2008, more than two weeks before Ivins committed suicide. It might seem logical that Ivins should have been locked up in a padded cell and put under 24-hour suicide watch until he could be brought to trial, but the law doesn't allow that. Instead he was locked up for about two weeks and then let go. And he committed suicide a couple days after being let go.
But, this is another instance where his "Social Worker" did exactly the right thing, notifying the authorities of Bruce Ivins' suicidal plans. But, if someone is determined to commit suicide, there isn't much that can be done to stop it.
August 18, 2009 (A) - While the contents of subpoenas are probably still considered confidential until the official closing of the case against Dr. Ivins, that's not true with search warrants. Looking at an application and affidavit for a search warrant dated July 11, 2008 (the same day that Ivins made the menacing phone calls to his therapist), I noticed this:
Over the course of the past few years, Dr. Ivins has become aware that the Task Force considers him a person who warrants futher investigation in connection with the anthrax attacks. He has been interviewed a number of times by law enforcement throughout the course of the nearly seven-year investigation, most recently in the presence of his attorney on June 9, 2008. ..... Finally, in recent months in particular, he has told co-workers and friends that he is a suspect in the investigation, even revealing to one friend a few weeks ago that his attorney has told him to prepare to be indicted for the anthrax attacks.
His most recent statement regarding the attacks came two days ago on Wednesday, July 9, 2008. While at a group therapy session in Frederick, Maryland, he revealed to the Licensed Clinical Social Worker and other members of the group that he was a suspect in this investigation. He stated that he was a suspect in the investigation and that he was angry at the investigators, the government, and the system in general. He said he was not going to face the death penalty, but instead had a plan to kill co-workers and other individuals who had wronged him. He said he had a bullet-proof vest, and a list of co-workers, and added that he was going to obtain a Glock firearm from his son within the next day, because federal agents are watching him and he could not obtain a weapon on his own. Based on these statements, the Social Worker called the Frederick, Maryland, police department, and they took custody of Bruce Edwards Ivins on Thursday, July 10, 2008, for a forensic evaluation at Frederick Memorial Hospital, where he remains as of this writing.
So, the FBI didn't just tell Ivins' lawyer about the evidence against Ivins, Bruce Ivins was also present. (I should have assumed that. I've corrected the Aug. 16 comment were I assumed that Ivins was not present.) And the meeting was a month prior to Ivins' rant at his therapy session, it was not "shortly before" the session. (I corrected that, too.) The discrepancy over whether Ivins actually had a gun versus a plan to obtain a gun from his son, I'll leave as is.
It also appears that Dr. Ivins' lawyer told Ivins to be prepared to be indicted. So, the evidence was convincing enough for his lawyer to see that an indictment was a virtual certainty. That's a far cry from claims made after Ivins' death (the National Geographic show being the best example) that there was no evidence against his client.
Later in that same application for search warrant there is this:
The Task Force submits that a search [of] Subject Residence and Subject Vehicles may reveal physical or documentary evidence that will assist the investigation into these threats to witnesses related to the anthrax investigation, and obstruction of the investigation. The search is for firearms and other weapons, ballistics vests or other protective gear, and any writings identifying a plan to kill witnesses or names of intended victims, .....
So, it doesn't seem likely that Ivins named names during his rant.
What's probably most incredible to me is that these documents have been around for about a year, and yet somehow conspiracy theorists have found reason to attack and vilify Ivins' social worker instead of looking at the facts - particularly the fact that Ivins wasn't claiming innocence. He was preparing to go down "in a blaze of glory."
August 17, 2009 - Something occurred to me today, and after checking it out, it appears there is a very good chance that the July 9, 2008, group therapy session in which Dr. Ivins ranted about his plans to kill his co-workers was recorded. [NOTE added Aug. 19: I've been informed that the sessions were NOT recorded.] Recording therapy sessions seems fairly common. There are numerous transcripts on the Net, and they are sometimes used for training. Video taping is also sometimes done. Here's what one source says about the practice:
Taping Therapy Sessions
Taping therapy sessions solely to defend against accusations has never seemed to be a good idea to me. There are
settings in which it may be indicated, but, in general, to record for such an obviously defensive reason adds a nontherapeutic dimension to an activity that should be focused on clinical issues, not the potential for future
accusation. It makes a bit more sense to record trainee sessions, or those of clinicians who require some form of
probation or supervision. Recording creates documentation, and some may feel it is an extra “conscience,” but
practitioners who choose to record their sessions may be those least likely to transgress.
Jean Duley evidently holds a certified supervised counselor license and must work under the supervision of another clinician. That would almost guarantee that the sessions were recorded so that the psychiatrist in charge could check on how things went and could discuss aspects of the session with the therapist.
If the session was recorded, the DOJ undoubtedly would have subpoenaed Ivins' part of the session (the threats to kill his co-workers supposedly voided any doctor-patient confidentiality). I'd certainly like to read a transcript. One has to assume that if he ranted about killing his co-workers, he probably also stated his reasons for wanting to kill them.
August 16, 2009 - As a result of the absurd comments by Katherine Heerbrandt in the Aug. 12 issue of The Frederick News-Post, I've been doing a lot of thinking and researching into the circumstances which lead up to Jean Duley's request for a "Peace Order" (a.k.a. "Restraining Order") directing Dr. Ivins to keep at least 50 feet away from her.
The Peace Order dated July 24, 2008, has been available for viewing on thesmokinggun.com for a year. On page 2, in her own handwriting, Ms Duley states that she had received a subpoena and was scheduled to testify before a Grand Jury on August 1, 2008.
Conspiracy theorists have fantasies about some sort of "collusion" between the FBI and Jean Duley. They think it was some kind of plot to coerce Dr. Ivins into confessing to the anthrax mailings. But the facts show what really happened. The facts show what can happen when someone diagnosed as "sociopathic" is cornered by the evidence against him.
According to an NPR report dated August 2, 2008,
People close to the case told NPR that the FBI had a discussion with Ivins' lawyer and had presented him with some of the evidence in the case.
The NPR report also says the Department of Justice was still weeks away from issuing an actual indictment:
While they had written up the case and told officials at the Department of Justice they were prepared to go forward, the department had not yet approved the case. What is more, the evidence against Ivins had not yet been presented in its entirety to a grand jury and jurors had not yet been asked to vote on an indictment. That process could have taken weeks.
So, Dr. Ivins and his lawyer had been made aware that the Grand Jury was hearing the case. And some of the evidence had been presented to them in hopes that Ivins' lawyer would convince his client to admit to the mailings and avoid the whole process of indictment, arrest and trial. That is not coersion. That is following the law and making certain that someone who is about to be indicted and his lawyer are fully aware of the criminal case being prepared.
We don't know what his lawyer's advice was, but we know Dr. Ivins didn't follow the DOJ's plan. Instead, it appears that exactly a month later, Dr. Ivins told his group therapy session about his own plans.
According to the August 5, 2008, issue of The Frederick News-Post:
During a July 9 group session, [Jean] Duley described Ivins as "extremely agitated" and "out of control." When she asked him what was going on, he told the group "a very long and detailed homicidal plan" including killing his co-workers and roaming the streets of Frederick trying to pick a fight with somebody so that he could stab the person.
Since he was "about
to be indicted on capital murder
charges he was going to
go out in a blaze of glory that he was going to take everybody out with
him. ... That they weren't going to take him out without a fight," she
told the court.
Facing the prospect of murder charges, he had bought a bulletproof vest and a gun as he contemplated killing his co-workers at [Fort Detrick].
Dr. Bruce Ivins thought he was about to be indicted, which makes it clear that he did not think FBI was framing him for anything. He clearly knew there was evidence of some kind showing him to be the anthrax mailer. His lawyer would have shown him the evidence the DOJ lawyers had against Ivins. And it was the evidence he'd been shown which appears to have pushed Dr. Bruce Ivins over the edge. Instead of complaining that he was innocent, he started planning to kill his co-workers.
But why plan to kill his co-workers? What did they have to do with anything?
The only thing we've heard from is co-workers via the media is that they thought Bruce Ivins was a really nice guy who wouldn't harm a fly. But, did they all feel that way? Were there some who felt Dr. Ivins could be the anthrax mailer? If so, they would be talking with the FBI and not with the media. And that would be the kind of testimonial evidence which would still be strictly confidential and which cannot be released until after the case is officially closed - if then.
According to one Summary of Rules of Evidence:
Testimonial evidence is the most basic form of evidence and the only kind that does not usually require another form of evidence as a prerequisite for its admissibility.
Of course, we cannot know for certain that the Department of Justice had anyone from Ft. Detrick ready to testify against Dr. Ivins, but the facts clearly indicate that Dr. Ivins believed it or knew that to be his situation.
Unfortunately, we'll have just to continue waiting for the case to be closed in order to find out for certain.
& Changes: Sunday, August 9,
2009, thru Saturday, August 15, 2009
August 14, 2009 - I find it incredible that conspiracy theorists are attacking the therapist who had Dr. Ivins committed. She "colluded" with the FBI, they say. Checking back, I find an article from the August 2, 2008, issue of The New York Times which gives some additional details about what led up to the Emergency Petition:
Bruce E. Ivins arrived last month for a group counseling session at a psychiatric center here in his hometown with a startling announcement: Facing the prospect of murder charges, he had bought a bulletproof vest and a gun as he contemplated killing his co-workers at the nearby Army research laboratory.
“He was going to go out in a blaze of glory, that he was going to take everybody out with him,” said a social worker in a transcript of a hearing at which she sought a restraining order against Dr. Ivins after his threats.
The Times' article says those threats were made on July 9, 2008. And it wasn't just his therapist who felt that Dr. Ivins was homicidal. She worked for his psychiatrist. And, according to the Times article:
Dr. Ivins’s psychiatrist had “called him homicidal, sociopathic with clear intentions.”
Should a therapist hearing such threats made in a group counceling session keep such threats confidential and allow the plan to be carried out? If she goes to the authorities, is she colluding with them in some kind of conspiracy? Here is some information about Doctor-patient confidentiality that might be worth noting:
In recent years, many courts have held that doctors also owe duties to protect non-patients who may be harmed by patients. For example, without a patient's permission or knowledge, doctors may warn others or the police if the patient is mentally unstable, potentially violent, or has threatened a specific person. In some states, the duty to report or warn others "trumps" the right to confidentiality or privileged communication with a doctor. Courts will decide these matters by balancing the sanctity of the confidentiality against the foreseeability of harm to a third party.
And, when this homicial sociopath with "clear intentions" who was contemplating killing his co-workers calls his therapist at 4:25 in the morning to angrily "thank her" for having him arrested, who in their right mind would think that "no threat was made or implied"?
The people who simply cannot believe that Dr. Ivins was the anthrax mailer because it does not fit with their own personal theories or with their personal knowledge of Dr. Ivins need to start looking at all the facts - instead of just hunting for things they can twist and distort to support their bizarre theories and mindless beliefs.
August 12, 2009 - This morning's Frederick News-Post contains an opinion piece by Katherine Heerbrandt which includes a link to three phone messages left by Dr. Bruce Ivins on his therapist Jean Duley's voice mail. The messages were left after Duley obtained an Emergency Petition to have Dr. Ivins hospitalized.
Ms Heerbrandt's opinion piece begins with this paragraph illustrating her point of view:
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.
In Ms Heerbrandt's opinion, "No threats are made or implied in the messages." Evidently, she feels this first message time-stamped at 4:25 a.m., Friday July 11, 2008, is just a pleasant and friendly "Thank you" from a satisfied patient:
"Hello, Jean. This is Bruce. And I want to thank you for getting me arrested at Fort Detrick, and roughed up, and threatened with being handcuffed, guarded by six police officers with guns in a room, incarcerated. And also I want to thank you for your withdrawing from me our client-patient relationship so now the FBI can come and get all the information from you and from Dr. Ligeti, and you can't do anything about it, because it's already been made available."
Dr. Ivins' voice on the recording clearly seems both angry and menacing.
The second message is time stamped 4:28 a.m. (three minutes later) that same morning:
"Yeah. In our last phone call I forgot to tell you that I'm going to be leaving both you and Dr. Levy as therapist and psychiatrist, and I'll be seeking help from a preferred provider for Blue Cross Blue Shield. Thank you very much."
The third message is time-stamped at 11:17 a.m. on Saturday, July 12th, and has some parts that are difficult to hear clearly. This time, Ivins' voice is shaky, and he's undoubtedly upset. This is what the recording appears to say:
"Jean, this is Bruce Ivins. I'm calling from Shepp-Pratt [Sheppard Pratt psychiatric facility] in Towson. I just wanted to tell you how just disappointed and betrayed I feel about what happened with the E. P. [Emergency Petition] because not only did the information go to the police, it also went to the FBI, and now they're all over me on this. I was looking at the information on the E.P. and what difficult for it. It says, 'You must have a mental illness.' That's true. 'You must need in-patient care and treatment.' That's true. 'You must present a danger to yourself or others.' Okay. I agree with that. 'There's no available less constrictive care or treatment to meet your needs.' Okay, that's true. And then it says, 'You must be unable or unwilling to be admitted voluntarily.' I would never have said no. I never said no to what Peter suggested. When he wanted me to go to Suburban, I said 'Sure.' When you wanted me to go to Massey, I said, 'Sure.' If you'd said, on a scale of one to ten, you worry me at an eleven, you need to go away today, you may need to go away within an hour or two, I would have done it. But instead you see, I got arrested by the police, I had the guys with the guns, got roughed up. It was a terrible experience, it got me released to the FBI, and now they're all over my family and all over my case. I have to have a counsel that I can trust. And I don't have that trust anymore. I'm sorry."
Ms Heerbrandt sees these messages as merely the "sad ramblings of a broken man who felt betrayed," even though Bruce Ivins admits in the recording that he is a danger to himself and to others. Apparently, to Ms Heerbrandt, if a threat is not shouted in actual words like"I am going to kill you!" then there is no threat - even if the therapist has worked with the person and has heard him make other threats toward other people. Yes, there's a difference between "threatening" messages and a "threat" message, but both are clearly menacing. But, if she thinks you need to wait until someone makes an actual threat on a recording before it is considered "threatening," she is badly mistaken.
August 9, 2009 - This image of the New York Post anthrax powder spurred a long discussion last week:
The problem is that, like the image of the clump of spores from the Leahy letter, the image is obviously not representative of the entire powder. Here's how Dr. Chris Hassell of the FBI described the New York Post material during the first NAS meeting on July 30:
"The New York Post letter powder is rather granular in appearance, somewhat brown in color and has crystals and some amount of cell debris among the B anthracis spores themselves."
There's nothing "granular" to be seen in the image. No "crystals" are visible. And you can't distinguish "cell debris" from spores. To me, it looks like a bunch of peanuts covered with white chocolate. And there's a crack in the confection that starts at the top center and runs down toward the bottom right corner. So, it easily breaks into pieces.
The image Dr. Hassell was describing must have been an image showing a vastly larger section of the powder. The image above might be compared to a detailed image of the side of a rock photographed by the Mars Rover versus an image taken of the vast Martian plain upon which the rock was found.
It's truly frustrating that there's been presentation after presentation where many different images have been shown to hundreds of people, but, as far as I know, the only images available to the general public via the Internet are the three pictures which showed up without fanfare in a Sandia press release and a news article, and which required questioning of the photographers to verify that they truly are images of the attack anthrax.
It's not national security that prevents the releasing of the images. It's not (or isn't any longer) their confidentiality due to their use in the Amerithrax investigation. The only things holding up their release to the general public now are (1) the fact that the publishers of scientific journals will not publish anything that has been previously published elsewhere, (2) the lengthy peer review process that precedes the publication of such articles, and (3) the closing of the criminal case against Dr. Bruce Ivins. Presumably, the closing of the case will allow the public release of some of the images. And the publication of the scientific articles will include the release of other images.
The above image of the New York Post powder strongly suggests that the powder was scraped straight out of a Petri dish. The claims that it was "weaponized" in some way are even more laughable now than before. The reports that AFIP found the powder to contain between 10 percent and 90 percent silicon are even more nutty than before.
And roughly the same percentage of spores inside that crust contain silicon as in the clump of purified spores taken from the Leahy envelope. That strongly indicates that the media powders started out the same way as the senate powders. The differences began after the spores were formed. After the media spores were formed, the material was simply dried. After the senate spores were formed, they were repeatedly washed, purified to a high degree and then dried.
The claim that Dr. Bruce Ivins wouldn't have known how to do that are now even more preposterous than before. The claims were based upon false beliefs about the spores being "weaponized," beliefs about the spores being far more purified than they really were, and crazy beliefs that someone who was secretly making anthrax spores to illegally send through the mails would follow established laboratory procedures and would obey all the same rules he followed when making normal materials in the lab. In reality, the culprit would have no need to obey any rules. Consistency of results would be totally irrelevant. Repeatability would be totally irrelevant. Rules were definitely totally irrelevant. The only factors of any relevancy were his own safety, speed, secrecy and avoiding anything that might result in the spores being traced back to the person who made them.
When he learned that silicon had been found in the spores, that was undoubtedly a big surprise. When that discovery went nowhere, it must have been a great relief to the culprit. But then came the discovery of the mutations. Who could have predicted that? Everything known had been done to prevent discovery, and then by pure chance someone discovered something previously unnoticed and unknown that put the alleged culprit directly into the spotlight. You probably wouldn't get away with that kind of "out of the blue" revelation in a movie. But truth is stranger than fiction.
Representative Rush Holt and others may still view the Amerithrax investigation as a "botched" job, but it's becoming very clear that History will view it otherwise. History is written after all the facts are in. And many of the key facts won't be released until the case is officially closed, which should happen fairly soon. Then it will become an investigation that will be studied for decades. The errors that misled everyone at the beginning will be studied carefully in hopes that the same thing can be avoided in the future. The abysmally bad reporting by the media should be studied. It will happen again. The plague of conspiracy theorists and True Believers that tried to control the public's perception of the case must never be forgotten. They'll all be back for the next complex case.
The Amerithrax investigation was certainly not a "model" case, but it's a complex case that teaches many lessons. The culprit was smart. He covered his tracks well. There was no "smoking gun." There were no fingerprints. The culprit's DNA didn't show up anywhere. Seemingly exciting leads went nowhere. Tips from the public were more destructive than helpful. Dozens of "persons of interest" were investigated without finding the culprit. For a time, the investigation seemed to be totally without new leads. It looked hopeless. Then someone working with the attack anthrax let a test growth run longer than normal and noticed mutations in the growth. That resulted in an idea. History loves ideas. Ideas make History.
& Changes: Sunday, August 2,
2009, thru Saturday, August 8, 2009
August 5-6, 2009 - Something else worth mentioning came out of the NAS discussions last Thursday and Friday. It appears that there may have been a lot more sporulation debris in the senate anthrax than previously thought. For years on this web site, I've been referring to the senate powder as "almost pure spores" or "almost 100% spores." But, comments made during Thursday's meeting suggest that the senate powders could have had as much 10% debris. That would be just the reverse of what was in the media powders, which were 90% debris and just 10% spores.
At the 22:50 mark in Thursday's session, Chris Hassell of the FBI describes the New York Post material this way: "The New York Post letter powder is rather granular in appearance, somewhat brown in color and has crystals and some amount of cell debris among the B anthracis spores themselves."
At the 23 minute mark, he describes the Leahy powder this way: "This powder is different in color and texture from that in the New York Post letter. It has a higher purity and has less cell debris."
"Less cell debris" not "no cell debris" or "very little cell debris."
In Friday's session, at around the 3:00 mark, Bruce Budowle implied that one sample had 90 percent debris and the other was 10 percent debris. Here is what he said in response to a question about how the differences in the powders might be explained: "Why one had 90 percent contaminated with cells and the other was the opposite, I can't tell you because I don't know what was actually done. "
This could be significant in a number of ways. First, it would confirm that the senate spores were not taken directly from flask RMR-1029, since the contents of that flask were evidently almost "pure spores." The log describes them as "highly purified Ames spores." Second, it suggests that the spores were not at a purity that was unusual for Ivins (since the contents of flask RMR-1029 were even more pure). And third, it suggests that the senate spores were made the same way as the media spores, the only difference being that the senate spores went through a couple extra steps - they were also washed and somewhat purified via centrifuging and filtering.
That really makes me want to look at the senate spores to see what they look like. Fortunately, we have a electron microscope image of a clump of spores taken from one of the senate letters (most likely the Leahy letter). It is HERE.
(1) A dried cell is immediately spotted near the upper left edge of the clump. And (2) there's a long piece of something that doesn't look like spores along the bottom left edge, plus that (3) needle-like object that crosses it. (4) Running from the middle left edge inward a bit there's something that doesn't look like spores. (5) And there's something irregular just above it. (6) There's something like a half circle near the right edge. (7) There's something that doesn't look like a spore at the very top. And (8) there's a cluster of something else that doesn't look like spores near the bottom. I could go on and on. Here's a reduced-in-size version of the Sandia image:
Assuming that the picture is in the public domain (it was taken by a .gov lab), here's a screen capture of it:
Wow! I wonder what other images are out there that I don't know about and might stumble across by pure chance.
August 4, 2009 - Yesterday, I listened to Friday's NAS meeting again, this time taking notes. I paid close attention to the discrepancy over whether or not any of the 1,072 Ames samples tested by the FBI contained 3 of the 4 mutations. First Claire Fraser-Liggett says no, then Bruce Budowle of the FBI says yes.
At the 1:36:50 mark in the 3-1/2 hour session, Claire Fraser-Liggett of TIGR says: "As I understand it [without direct knowledge] .... There were no other samples that were screened as part of the repository that contained three out of the four mutations, and there were a few - and I don't know exactly what the number is when refering to 'a few' - but it was a relatively small number that contained one or two of these genetic mutations ."
Then, at the 2:23:30 mark, one of the NAS panelists asks if it is known if any samples that were known to be daughter samples from RMR-1029 did NOT have all four of the morphs. "Did anyone lose a morph along with the transfer?"
Bruce Budowle from the FBI replies that he doesn't know. Then he adds: "I do know - I will clarify one thing - there were two samples with three - there actually were three positive out of the four. I won't go into where they were related because I don't know what we can disclose and what we can't disclose. I guess you'll find that out. But closely enough related in a way that you might suspect something. But, I don't recall on that one."
Later he clarifies matters a bit. At the 2:50:30 mark, Bruce Budowle says, "There were two samples that had the three morphs. They had the A1, A3 and D morphs in them. They were negative for E."
I found this part of Bruce Budowle's earlier comment to be particularly interesting:
I won't go into where they were related because I don't know what we can disclose and what we can't disclose. I guess you'll find that out. But closely enough related in a way that you might suspect something,
He appears to be saying that the two instances where 3 of the 4 mutations were found in spore samples are evidence of some kind - almost certainly evidence related to the criminal case. And that's why he can't talk about them. At this point in time, about the only thing that Bruce Budowle wouldn't be allowed to talk about is evidence in the criminal case against Bruce Ivins. Release of that evidence has to await the official closing of the case.
It makes me want to sit down and try to imagine where they might have found a sample that contained 3 of the 4 morphs and what it might mean to the criminal case against Dr. Ivins.
August 2, 2009 - Nuts! I'd hoped that the Sunday papers would include new articles about the NAS meeting or some other aspect of the Amerithrax investigation so that I wouldn't have to think up something original to write about for my regular Sunday comment. It didn't happen. So, this is a hastily constructed comment.
The link to Thursday's NAS meeting is still available HERE. It's 49 minutes long. And the link to Friday's meeting is still available HERE. It's 3-1/2 hours long. Unless transcriptions magically appear somewhere, I'm going to have to find time to go through them again very carefully while transcribing key parts. A lot of information was provided in those sessions that is totally new to me.
For example, they named the four mutations they used to reduce the number of possible sources from 1,072 to 8. Also, I believe that Claire Fraser-Liggett stated at one point that some of the 1,064 samples which didn't have all four mutations had one or two of the mutations, but none had three. Later, however, someone - I think it was someone from the FBI - stated that two of the 1,064 samples did have three of the four mutations, and both of those were missing the same mutation from the four. Disagreements between experts always interest me.
They also talked about how the samples were created. None were growths made from the stored samples. All were material taken directly from the stored samples. A few of the 1,072 extracted samples failed to grow in Petri dishes.
As I stated before, they also proved beyond any doubt that the attack anthrax in the senate letters was NOT taken directly from flask RMR-1029, dried and placed in the letters. Freshly grown spores were in the senate letters. And they made it clear that they had obtained samples from all known sources. It wasn't a situation where only volunteers submitted samples, as some theorists have suggested.
As they viewed the slides, I heard mention of "crystals" being visible in one or more powders. I'll have to listen again to see if I can figure out what kind of crystals they were looking at and where they were found. Until then, I'm guessing that they were crystals of growth media and they were visible in pictures of the NY Post powder.
There's probably a lot more that I'm not remembering at the moment. They mentioned that some scientific papers have been printed, but I don't know if they were talking about the same papers they mentioned a year ago, or if some of the new papers everyone has been waiting for have been published, but no one has told the mainstream media (or me) about them - where they were published or when they were published. I asked a scientist if he knew about any new articles, and he suggested I use Google to search for them by using names of scientists who worked on the case. Groan. It's so much easier when some journalist or science writer finds them first and tells the world (including me) about them.
Lots of work to do. And I'm hoping the FBI will close the case and swamp me with new material that will make it even harder to get anything done that I'm planning to do. Life is what happens while you're making plans.