UPDATE HISTORY
2009 (Part 1)
(January 1, 2009 - August 1, 2009)
A log of comments and changes made to the main pages.
www.anthraxinvestigation.com
Updates & Changes: Sunday, July 26, 2009, thru Saturday, August 1, 2009

August 1, 2009 - This morning, The Frederick News-Post and The Washington Post both have articles about the NAS meetings on Thursday and Friday.  The News-Post's headline is "Experts urge panel to deepen forensic understanding" and The Post's headline is "Lawmaker 'Skeptical' of Anthrax Results."  The Los Angeles Times reprinted the Post's story with a slightly different headline: "Anthrax investigation too narrow, congressman says."

The News-Post article seems fair, but the Post seems determined to generate as much controversy as they can.   

July 31, 2009 - I've been listening to today's session of the NAS meeting, and it's fascinating stuff.  I'm writing this during a five minute break they took at 11:20 EDT.  The best comment I've heard so far was when a scientist compared the scientific investigation to going on a "voyage of exploration" while building the ship at the same time.  Many things done late in the investigation weren't possible at the beginning.  The technology hadn't been discovered or invented.  There was a lot of stumbling around in the dark as they hunted for things that would be meaningful in court.  And because they were looking for evidence, they did things slightly different than they would have if it was just pure science.

A transcript of this entire session would be a gold mine for everyone.  It would also be a good illustration of how people directly involved with the case do not know everything about the case.  I could answer some questions that stumped the people at the meeting, since I've accumulated data from many sources.  At the same time, of course, the people at the meeting had a vast amount of detailed information regarding subjects I know about only in summary.

Oops.  They've just come back from their break.

Hmm.  That was odd.  They had only one member from the public who made a comment.  (He may have been the only person who would agree to the "ground rules.")  His name was Barry Skolnick, and he talked for five minutes about environmental testing and how the committee should be expanded to include an expert in that area.   As soon as he was done talking, the session was over.  Now I'm going to wait for the replay to be made available to see what was said before I tuned in at 9:15 EDT or thereabouts.

Okay.  The link to today's session is HERE.  I couldn't find it on the NAS site, but I deduced that the link would be the same as yesterday's except for the date in the link.  And that seems to have worked.

I've listened to Rep. Rush Holt's little talk, and it's basically his theme that the investigation wasn't conducted according to the way he would have done it with his 20/20 hindsight.  He harps on the Hatfill "investigation" and wildly distorts everything about it.  And he questions all the conclusions from the FBI as if the FBI did all the work themselves instead of relying heavily on the expertise of top scientists around America to develop those conclusions.  Worst of all, his requests to the committee were that they look for holes in the FBI's scientific findings instead of just looking at whether or not the findings can be validated.  He evidently wants the NAS to conjure up ideas that are possible and which might support his own personal theory, so he can dismiss the FBI's findings and continue to believe his own theory, even if what may be "possible" isn't logical in any way whatsoever and makes no scientific sense.    

July 30, 2009 - As I'm writing this, I'm listening to the NAS meeting which is a bit frustrating because some of what they are talking about is visual.  Dr. Chris Hassell from the FBI is presenting slides of the attack anthrax and discussing what can be seen in the slides.  It appears that a lot of arguments could be resolved by making those slides public, but I gather that will continue to await the publication of the scientific articles.  (Hopefully, everyone now realizes that the public interest will be best served by releasing the pictures before then.)  I'm also frustrated that I failed to figure out a way to record the discussion, since there is a LOT of fascinating information being presented.  I had no idea they'd go into the kind of detail they are discussing.  I sincerely hope that someone is recording it who will also produce a transcription.

I know a lot of people from the media were at the session, and the media's questions would be addressed after the end of the web broadcast.  So, we can hopefully expect to be reading a lot about this session.

Oops.  The open session just ended.  I'm really bad at taking notes while listening carefully.  I was listening and took no notes.  I recall an interesting question about the 1,072 Ames samples and how it can be determined that it represents "the universe of relevant Ames samples."  That information will be presented in the documents about the criminal case that will be released when the case is closed.  It's a question that addresses the concern that the 1,072 samples were provided "voluntarily," and, therefore, some believe there could be some critical samples that were not provided.   Of course, some will  fantasize ways a sample could have been taken without anyone knowing about it, and they'll argue that unless such a fantasy is proven to be totally impossible, they'll continue to believe what they want to believe.

A question that was being argued elsewhere for days and days was also addressed.  There was a detailed examination made to determine if the Leahy and Daschle spores could have been taken directly from flask RMR-1029 and just dried before mailing.  The detailed scientific examination showed that they could not have been.  But, until the actual evidence is made public, I'm sure no minds will be changed.

The first news story about the meeting is from the Associated Press, of course.  And, of course, it contains some incorrect or distorted facts.  Here's the final paragraph:

Last week, the Justice Department tentatively decided to close the case, but reversed course after government lawyers raised a number of lingering legal questions, particularly about what officials can say publicly about the evidence in the case.

In reality, the Justice Department decided to close the case almost a year ago.  Recently, they set a goal of closing the case before the end of July.  And then they thought they'd be able to close it last week.  But it didn't happen.   The hold-up for the past year has been the fact that there are thousands of documents that must be examined to make certain that when they are released via FOIA requests, they do not contain the names of confidential informants, the names of Grand Jury members, the names of people unrelated to the case, etc.  Nor can the documents disclose secret Grand Jury proceedings or information about confidental matters unrelated to the Amerithrax investigation or confidential FBI investigative techniques.  All that information must be redacted, checked, verified and then formatted into .pdf files.  Then they must be reviewed again and changed if necessary.  What officials can publicly say about the evidence in the case is the least of the problems, and the best they can probably do in that area is issue guidelines which few will read.

On the positive side, today was just a preview, and it is now available for replay HERE.  Plus, tomorrow may be even more interesting than today.  According to the agenda, tomorrow's session begins at 8 a.m. Eastern Time.  Rep. Rush Holt will talk from 8:20 to 8:45 a.m.  That will be followed by discussions by scientists, and then at 11 a.m. they will hear questions from the public.  That could be the most interesting part if a lot of rabid conspiracy theorists show up.     

 
July 29, 2009 - Someone sent me a link to some new documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act that relate to Dr. Bruce Ivins.   Click HERE to get to them.   There might be something new in the emails Dr. Ivins sent that are worth mentioning, but I couldn't find any such thing.  There are .pdf copies of Ivins log for RMR-1029, his in-out times for lab B3, his in-out times for building 1425, but that's all old stuff that was available before in other formats. 

July 28, 2009 -
I'm being told that the National Academy of Sciences meeting on Thursday and Friday will be "web cast" via the NAS's web site at: www.national-academies.org

Presumably, a link will show up when they start broadcasting.

July 27, 2009 - I expected to see more in the media today about yesterday's report that the FBI/DOJ is on the verge of closing the Amerithrax investigation.  But, so far I'm seeing nothing new.

I also expected to see a lot of discussion this morning about last night's National Geographic Channel program "Hunting the Anthrax Killer."  But, I'm not seeing a word about it.   I think I can understand why.

Perhaps it was because I had such low expectations for the program, but I was pleasantly surprised by what they did.  They laid out a very good case against Dr. Ivins.  They showed how science had pointed to him, how he'd tried to mislead the investigation by providing a false sample of what was in flask RMR-1029, how he'd written emails shortly before the attacks that expressed his concerns about Muslims using anthrax to attack Jews and America, using terms the FBI considers to be very similar to what was in the letter.  (That's an item of evidence I don't have on my list.)  I'd worried about having an actor play Dr. Ivins, but they showed that actor doing things like mailing the letters.  (They showed him mailing a single crumpled letter in the rain, which was very odd.  It probably started raining as the camera crew set up for the shot, and they just went with it.)  

I was also concerned about how they'd address the subject of weaponization, but it was done in a way that didn't truly dispute the official findings.  Instead of using conspiracy theories to rebut the facts, they seemed to present the facts and then mention that some people had different theories and concerns.  The AFIP report which supposedly says that some samples of the spores contained more than 1% silicon was mentioned, but it seemed like a obscure and somewhat meaningless point.  Of all the "talking heads"  on the show, Rep. Rush Holt came off as  the least believable (from my point of view).   Everything he said was clearly based upon 20/20 hindsight.  Another "talking head," Ivin's co-worker Jeff Adamowicz, claimed it would have taken Dr. Ivins 35 weeks to prepare the tiny amount of anthrax that was in the letters.  That certainly seems like something which can be easily checked (and very likely thoroughly disproved).

I found it odd that Paul Keim wasn't mentioned in the show at all.  Instead, all the DNA stuff was about the dramatic findings by Jacques Ravel and Claire (spelled "Clare" on the show) Fraser-Liggett that only 8 of the 1,072 samples had "the same DNA" as the attack anthrax.  (The mutations weren't mentioned.)  The way it was presented made me think that the 8 samples did NOT include any sample from RMR-1029.  The show seemed to suggest that it was only after they found that all those 8 samples were descendants of spores in RMR-1029 that they learned that Ivins had not given them a sample from RMR-1029 as requested.  He'd tried to mislead the investigation by giving them a sample from some other flask instead.  That certainly makes sense.  I'd been assuming that a sample actually taken from RMR-1029 was one of the 8 samples.  The clarification doesn't change anything significant, but it's worth knowing.  It helps make it more clear just how Dr. Ivins tried to mislead the investigation and how he was found out.  

The show also made a very clear point that Ivins' motive for the attacks could have been to get his #1 life-time accomplishment reenstated.  They said on the show that the DOD had stopped vaccinating troops with his anthrax vaccine when many started arguing that it was the cause of the hundreds of cases of "Gulf War Syndrome."  And, the show pointed out that it wasn't long after the anthrax attacks that the vaccine Dr. Ivins had helped create was once again given to American troops.  [Comment added on July 28: Someone has pointed out to me that these National Geographic statements are totally untrue.  I don't really know one way or the other.  Click HERE for details about the "error."]

Dr. Ivins' lawyer was there telling everyone that there wasn't any evidence at all against his client, but we the jury had just been shown a great deal of very compelling evidence that Dr. Ivins was indeed the anthrax mailer.

Of course, the show also mentioned Dr. Steven Hatfill.  But, they very clearly explained that Hatfill was made a "person of interest" by many different tipsters pointing at him, not as result of any kind of evidence found by the FBI.  That was refreshing to see.  And, even better than that, they showed that Hatfill was the second person to be indentified as a possible suspect by tipsters - Dr. Assaad being the first. 

Lastly, the program was one of three hour-long shows on the National Geographic Channel last night about crimes that weren't easily solved.  The first was about the "Unabomber."  The last of the three was about hijacker "D.B Cooper."  I watched the anthrax show twice and then watched most of the other two shows.   All three seemed well-done.  They definitely made me think about interesting comparisons - particularly in the areas of psychology and how clever criminals cover their tracks.

"Hunting the Anthrax Killer" will air again on Friday.  If you missed it, be sure to check it out then.   


July 26, 2009 (B) - The Associated Press just released the article I've been waiting for.  But it doesn't say what I hoped it would say.  The article is titled "US on verge of closing anthrax probe after 8 years." 

I've been picking up rumors for almost a month that the case was going to be closed before the end of July.  And last Monday, someone with inside knowledge told me it was going to be closed last week.  It wasn't, of course, and the AP article explains why:

Several law enforcement officials told The Associated Press that the department had tentatively planned last week to close the case, but backed away from that decision after government lawyers said they needed more time to review the evidence and determine what further information can be made public without compromising grand jury secrecy or privacy laws.

Now they're saying it could be weeks before they actually close the case.  And the article repeats all the nutty arguments we've seen in prior articles.  It brings up the Hatfill "investigation" again:

Skeptics — including prominent lawmakers — pointed to the bureau's long, misguided pursuit of Hatfill, and noted there was no evidence suggesting Ivins was ever in New Jersey when the letters were mailed there.

And the implication that circumstantial evidence isn't real evidence is brought up again:

[Rep. Rush] Holt said the FBI built an "entirely circumstantial" case against Ivins.

Here's the really bad part:

In preparation for an announcement prosecutors had decided to close the "Amerithrax" case, investigators wrote a 110-page summary of their work, laying out the timeline of events over the past eight years, according to the officials speaking on condition of anonymity.

That 110-page review was pared down to about 40 pages, and then a still-shorter version. Now it's unclear if any of those documents will be released.

I'd heard that the 110 page summary was really difficult to follow and understand.   I'd hoped that the 40 page version would make it through the sign-off process and get approved by the Attorney General, but now there's no indication of how the case will be summarized.  I certainly hope they won't just close the case with a 1 page letter and dump thousands of redacted documents into the FOIA response pool.  And the AP article seems to imply that we won't see any kind of indictment document from the Grand Jury.  Groan.

I guess we'll just have to continue to wait and see.


July 26, 2009 (A) - The Frederick News-Post has three articles about the Amerithrax investigation this morning.  One is titled "Anthrax Case: Amerithrax debate lives online."  I was interviewed for that article back on July 15.   It does a nice, concise job of comparing my views against those of Lew Weinstein

The second article is titled "Anthrax Case: Seeking an ending."  It's a review of the case and why so many people refuse to believe it has truly been solved.  The fact that the evidence is all circumstantial is pointed out again and again as if circumstantial evidence isn't "real" evidence.  One after another, employees and former employees from Ft. Detrick state that they don't believe Ivins was the culprit.  After all, if Ivins committed the crime, he did it right under their noses.  They all seem to accept that flask RMR-1029 was the original source for the attack anthrax, but they don't believe it's possible for the FBI to have eliminated as suspects all the other people besides Ivins who could have used spores from RMR-1029 - particularly people at other labs.   They all seem to accept that the NAS will validate the science in the case.  But the science in the case does not identify Dr. Ivins as the culprit. 
No one ever suggests any other possible suspect.  They just don't believe the FBI's case against Dr. Ivins is proved.  Whether or not their minds can be changed by additional information when the case is closed and documents are made public is an open question. 

The third article is titled "
Anthrax case: Studies scrutinize lab security, shy away from federal investigation."  It's about lab security and two studies which were done after the anthrax attacks.  The key point is probably that there's no way to be absolutely certain that someone working in a laboratory with lethal pathogens does not have something going on in his (or her) mind that would make him (or her) a security risk.  But the work is necessary if there is any risk of a terrorist attack.  And the anthrax attacks of 2001 did awaken everyone to the risk of such an attack being "an inside job."

The past week was another week of heated debates.  Some of it was very interesting, but it proved nothing that wasn't proved many times before: that it's virtually impossible to change the minds of conspiracy theorists and True Believers.

Tonight, along with many others I'll be watching "Hunting The Anthrax Killer" on the National Geographic Channel.  Hopefully, it will show us or tell us something new.   Undoubtedly, it will also raise doubts about the FBI's case.

Tomorrow, Joe Michael and Paul Kotula of Sandia National Laboratories will be giving their presentation about their scientific findings in the Amerithrax case to the Microscopy and Microanalysis meeting in Richmond.  Hopefully, they'll specifically address some of the areas that generate the most questions from conspiracy theorists who feel that Sandia is part of the Grand Conspiracy to cover up the believed "fact" that the anthrax spores sent through the mails in 2001 were weaponized in some secret and illegal U.S. government bioweapons program.

And on Thursday and Friday, the NAS will be holding a public meeting to discuss their upcoming
"Review of the Scientific Approaches used During the FBI's Investigation of the 2001 Bacillus Anthracis Mailings."  That could generate some interesting arguments about whether or not the NAS can produce an impartial review if anyone from the FBI comes anywhere within a hundred miles of any member of the review committee.

So, there could be lots of things to discuss here during this coming week.   Hopefully, it won't be same-old same-old.

I think I should also mention another conspiracy theory that was talked about in the Main Stream Media last week: the theory that Barack Obama isn't really an American citizen.   Apparently, politicians are avoiding doing "town meeting" type discussions because someone will almost certainly stand up and declare that Barack Obama isn't really President since the constitution says the President must be "a natural born citizen" of the United States, and they don't believe that his birth certificate is real or that he was born in Hawaii.  On NBC, they showed one such town meeting where it seemed that the entire audience was in a fury because they believed that Obama was not eligible to run for President, much less serve as President.  And it appears that no argument and no amount of evidence can change their minds.  Such people were labeled as "conspiracy theorists" on the TV news programs, but it's difficult to imagine what kind of complex "conspiracy" could be behind such a belief.  (It would require "planting" false birth announcements in Hawaiian newspapers back in 1961.)   It's more likely that these people are True Believers who unshakably believe that something must be wrong if someone they truly hate was elected President.

It's the same type of thinking as in the Amerithrax case, just a different subject.

Updates & Changes: Sunday, July 19, 2009, thru Saturday, July 25, 2009

July 25, 2009 - Hmm.  In addition to the National Geographic show tomorrow and the Microscopy and Microanalysis meeting in Richmond all next week, there will also be a two day meeting at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC, on Thursday and Friday, the 30th and 31st, where the NAS's upcoming 
"Review of the Scientific Approaches used During the FBI's Investigation of the 2001 Bacillus Anthracis Mailings" will be discussed.   Congressman Rush Holt will talk for 20 minutes.  And a lot of other familiar names will also be present. 

Lots of interesting stuff coming up.

July 23, 2009 - As I set my DVR to record Sunday's National Geographic program about the Amerithrax investigation, I noticed it was just an hour long, not the 90 minutes previously advertised.

July 22, 2009 -
We now have a new  video "sneak peak" about what will be on the National Geographic channel on Sunday.  Click HERE to view it.

It's different from the video I mentioned yesterday.  This one is VERY interesting.  It shows images of the New York Post spores for the first time.  Unfortunately, the 60-minute National Geographic show also seems to consider theories and beliefs to have the same weight as solid facts.

But, it definitely looks like a show to watch -- AND record.

July 21, 2009 - There now a preview video on-line which supposedly gives a look at what Sunday's program on the National Geographic Channel titled " Hunting The Anthrax Killer" will be about.  Click HERE to view it.

July 20, 2009 - This morning I was contacted by a lawyer who pointed out to me that "circumstantial evidence" isn't really "evidence" unless or until it is presented in a court of law.  The fact that Joe Blow was seen on the corner of State and Main isn't evidence.  It's a meaningless fact.  In court, when combined with other facts, it may become evidence.

July 19, 2009 - On Wednesday of last week, I had a discussion about the Amerithrax investigation with a reporter, and during part of the discussion I made this statement: "
There was no evidence of any kind against Dr. Hatfill."  I realized as soon as the words were out of my mouth that that was not a true statement.   I later corrected myself.  The conspiracy theorists and reporters who were pointing the finger at Dr. Hatfill for seven months before the FBI paid any attention to him were using what might be considered "circumstantial evidence" to support their belief that Dr. Hatfill was part of some vast criminal conspiracy organized by the Bush administration.

Much of what they believed to be "evidence" turned out to be total nonsense, simply false beliefs.  The "CIA safe house" cabin in the woods where they believed that Dr. Hatfill made the anthrax turned out to be a three-bedroom home owned by a friend and where Dr. Hatfill attended a few parties.  Dr. Hatfill was not an expert on anthrax.  Dr. Hatfill was not up-to-date on his anthrax shots.  Etc.  Plus, of course, we later learned there was a lot of evidence that Dr. Hatfill could not have been the anthrax mailer.  He didn't work with anthrax at Ft. Detrick.  He didn't have the necessary "bench skills" to make the anthrax powders.  He didn't have unsupervised access to the right equipment.  Etc.

However, some of the conspiracy theorists' "circumstantial evidence" would qualify as such - if ever used in a court of law.  Dr. Hatfill was in Africa at the same time an anthrax outbreak occurred there.  He did once work for USAMRIID.  He did write an unpublished novel about a bioweapons attack.  It was not "evidence" that added up to any kind of case against Dr. Hatfill, but it might technically become "circumstantial evidence" if ever used in a court of law.

More interestingly and significantly, two items in the "list of facts that say that Dr. Ivins was the anthrax mailer" could also apply to Dr. Hatfill:

10.  He had multiple motives for sending the anthrax letters.

16.  The pre-stamped envelopes which were used in the attacks had print defects, and one of the post offices which sold those envelopes was a post office which Dr. Ivins used.

Motives are what is in a person's mind as he prepares to commit a crime.  Even if he later writes it down or states his motivation on TV, we can't truly be certain that it was his real motive.  And there are usually multiple motives behind a crime.  Money may be the official motive for a robbery, but the culprit evidently also thought he could get away with it.  That's a motive by itself.  He may also have gotten a "thrill" out of it.  Another motive.  And the court psychologist might opine that the robber did it to demonstrate his power to a world which too often made him feel powerless.  A motive.

The conspiracy theorists claimed that Dr. Hatfill's motive was vengeance because he was upset over losing his security clearance at Ft. Detrick, even though he'd never had a security clearance and didn't need one to do the work he was doing there.  They also theorized that Dr. Hatfill committed the crime in order to help sell his unpublished novel.  They appear to have also theorized that he sent anthrax letters to Leahy and Daschle to punish them for arguing against the Patriot Act.  It's relatively easy to come up with multiple motives if a person had any connection to any crime.

We cannot know exactly what was going on in Dr. Ivins' mind at the time he allegedly prepared the anthrax and mailed the letters.   The court documents indicate that he was concerned that they were going to shut down the vaccine projects he was working on.  There's indication of a profit motive - although the profits from his patents wouldn't have been great.   He was working on vaccines at a time when a bioweapons attack from Muslim terrorists seemed imminent.  That suggests all sorts of motives.  The court documents suggest he sent letters to Senators Daschle and Leahy for reasons related to their stand on abortion.  That seems unlikely to me, but who can say with certainty that it isn't true?  It seems more likely that he would have wanted to get Daschle and Leahy to stop arguing over civil rights and to start finding ways to protect America from Muslims who could be preparting bioweapons attacks - particularly Muslims in New Jersey where the first attack upon the World Trade Center was planned.

Lack of motive would be a serious problem when making a legal case.  But Ivins appears to have had multiple motives.  Therefore, the prosecution would not have been burdened with trying to find a motive for someone who clearly had none.

Here's what it says in "The People's Law Dictionary" about motive:

motive: n.  in criminal investigation the probable reason a person committed a crime, such as jealousy, greed, revenge or part of a theft.  While evidence of a motive may be admissible at trial, proof of motive is not necessary to prove a crime.

The pre-stamped envelopes and their print defects could be circumstantial evidence against either Dr. Hatfill or Dr. Ivins.  It appears that, since Dr. Hatfill lived just outside the gates of Ft. Detrick, and Dr. Ivins could walk home from his lab, they both probably used the same post office.  Everyone who worked at Ft. Detrick and who also lived nearby might have used that same post office.  The pre-stamped envelopes would be "circumstantial evidence" against every single one of them.

Why, then, is it evidence?  Because all the circumstantial evidence must be viewed together.  The principle behind circumstantial evidence is that when viewed in its entirety, it can be made totally clear to a jury that there is only one person who could have committed the crime. 
(Or it can show that the circumstantial evidence proves absolutely nothing, as in the Dr. Hatfill situation.)   This is how I discuss circumstantial evidence in Chapter 3 of my book:

    Here are some typical examples of “circumstantial evidence”:
1. The accused made prior threats to the victim.
2. The fingerprints of the accused were found at the scene of the crime.
3. The accused owned the murder weapon.
4. The accused was seen in the neighborhood around the time of the crime.
    And here are common “alternative explanations”:
1. Lots of people make threats, but they don’t all go out and kill people.
2. The suspect was in the house the day before the killing, not at the time of the killing.
3. The weapon must have been stolen without the suspect knowing it.
4. The suspect passed through the neighborhood on his way to see someone else.
     The prosecuting attorney knows the defense will put forth alternative explanations during the trial. He or she knows it before the arrest is even made.
    One circumstantial item of evidence might not be convincing. But, how likely is it that the accused could (1) have made threats, and (2) could have left behind fingerprints, and (3) could own the murder weapon, and (4) could have been seen in the vicinity and (5) could still be innocent?
   
The circumstantial evidence in the case against Dr. Bruce Ivins must be viewed the same way.  

True, hundreds of people who worked at Ft. Detrick may have used that same post office, and many of them may have had some kind of motive for sending the anthrax letters, but (1) how many had access to flask RMR-1029?  (2) How many had unsupervised access to the equipment needed to make the attack anthrax?  (3) How many had all the expertise needed to make the attack anthrax?  (4) How many were working with the contents of flask RMR-1029 at the time the culprit would have been working with the contents of flask RMR-1029?  (5) How many were working alone late at night and on weekends at that time without any good explanation? 
(6) How many broke their normal work patterns and started working long hours around the time the attack anthrax would have been prepared?  (7) How many had prepared spores which contained silicon just like what was in the attack anthrax?   (8) How many cleaned up and bleached the area where the attack spores were most likely made?  (9) How many had no verifiable alibi for the time the letters were mailed?   (10) How many made a practice of driving long distances to mail things anonymously so that they could not be traced back to the mailer?  (11) How many people could have accessed flask RMR-1029 without Dr. Ivins knowing about it and identifying that person as a possible suspect?  (12) How many people tried multiple times to mislead investigators?  (13) How many others were known to make homicidal threats via the Internet?  (14)  How many others acknowledged lying to their spouses to hide what they were doing at night?  And, (15) how many others at Ft. Detrick were trusted to such a degree that they could pull off such a crime without anyone questioning what they were doing?

When you make a list of all the people who can be identified for each one of these fifteen questions, how many people would be on all fifteen lists?  How many would be on 14 lists?  13?  12?  10?  5?  The fewer the number of people who are on multiple lists, the greater the certainty that the only person who appears on all the lists is the culprit.  In this case, certainty beyond a reasonable doubt seems assured.  All that was needed was for a jury to look at all the evidence. 

The conspiracy theorists dismiss all this as meaningless and prefer to discuss imaginary evidence that someone else may have done it.  They combine their imaginary evidence with circumstantial evidence that adds up to nothing and declare it would be enough to convince a jury of Dr. Ivins' innocence.  The conspiracy theorists don't seem to care who did it, as long as it was part of a criminal conspiracy directed by some part of the U.S. government.  And True Believers who are certain that some Muslim or some Jew or some Right Winger or someone else was behind the anthrax attacks endlessly rant about their own circumstantial evidence as they point to their favorite culprit and declare their circumstantial evidence is better than the circumstantial evidence accumulated by the FBI.  But, it's not better.  It's evidence in support of a belief, instead of evidence about the crime that was actually committed.

(Of course, there are also those who actually knew Dr. Ivins and believed he was a "nice guy" who they believe couldn't possibly have committed such a terrible crime.  They probably don't think there's a conspiracy.  And they're probably not really True Believers.   They just think the FBI must be wrong, because if the FBI is right, then those who trusted Dr. Ivins are wrong, they made a terrible mistake in trusting him as much as they did, and they failed to prevent Dr. Ivins from committing the terrible crime that he allegedly committed.)       


Fortunately, most judges know the "the rules of evidence" and would never allow imaginary evidence, conspiracy theories or irrelevant evidence about irrelevant personal beliefs into court.


But, try convincing conspiracy theorists and True Believers of that and see how far you get. 

Updates & Changes: Sunday, July 12, 2009, thru Saturday, July 18, 2009

July 16, 2009 - Someone just sent me an article from Tuesday's New York Times.  It's about conspiracy theorists.  The first paragraph says:

They walk among us, seemingly little different from you or me. Most of the time, you would never know of their true nature — except that occasionally, they feel compelled to speak up.

Later, the article says:

Even though the so-called evidence from the conspiracists can clearly be proved wrong, Mr. Plait said, understanding the proof can require a working knowledge of history and photography and of science and its methodology. “You’ve got to do the work; you’ve got to put the elbow grease to it,” he said, “and most people don’t do the work. So these things get traction.”

And it also says:

Ted Goertzel, a professor of sociology at Rutgers University who has studied conspiracy theorists, said “there’s a similar kind of logic behind all of these groups, I think.” For the most part, he explained, “They don’t undertake to prove that their view is true” so much as to “find flaws in what the other side is saying.” And so, he said, argument is a matter of accumulation instead of persuasion. “They feel if they’ve got more facts than the other side, that proves they’re right.”

Mark Fenster, a professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law who has written extensively on conspiracy theories, said he sees similarities between people who argue that the Moon landings never happened and those who insist that the 9/11 attacks were planned by the government and that President Obama’s birth certificate is fake: at the core, he said, is a polarization so profound that people end up with an unshakable belief that those in power “simply can’t be trusted.”

The emergence of the Internet as a communications medium, he noted, makes it possible for once-scattered believers to find one another. “It allows the theory to continue to exist, to continue to be available — it’s not just some old dusty books on the half-price shelf.”

If anyone needs any testimony verifying any of this, I'm readly and available to provide it.

July 12, 2009 - I was involved in some really intense debates last week.  Some of them were very interesting. 

A couple people argued that Dr. Ivins committed suicide because he was being hounded by the FBI, not because he was guilty.  And since he killed himself before he could be proven guilty in a court of law, he should be "presumed innocent." 

Was Adolf Hitler innocent?  He killed himself before he could be tried for his crimes.

The standard response to that question, of course, is that "there is no comparison."  Why is there no comparison?  Because Ivins was innocent and Hitler was guilty.   Everyone knows Hitler was guilty.   But, doesn't that also mean that a person can be considered guilty even if he hasn't been tried in a court of law?    Clearly, there are exceptions.  And this web site is not a court of law.  It's intended to be an analysis of the facts.

What about O.J. Simpson?  He was tried in a court of law and was found "not guilty" for lack of sufficient evidence.  Does "not guilty" for lack of sufficent evidence really mean the same thing as "innocent?"

Some people "escape justice" by hiring good lawyers.  Others "escape justice" by committing suicide. 

We did research on "jailhouse suicides" finding many cases where the culprit was caught "red handed," so there can be no doubt about guilt.  We were also reminded that they routinely take away your shoe laces and your belt when you get thrown in the slammer in order to prevent you from using them to commit suicide by hanging.   And, we found that there appear to be a lot of lawyers who specialize in "jailhouse suicides," getting money from the government because the jail guards failed to prevent the suicide.  Whether or not the person was innocent is irrelevant in such cases.   We didn't find any cases where a person committed suicide and was later shown to be innocent - although if you dig deep enough you might find one.  Because the "norm" for "jailhouse suicides" seems to be where a person was caught "red handed," everyone seems to fully accept that the person is guilty in such cases even though he or she was never tried in court.  It's evidently okay to assume guilt under these circumstances but not under other circumstances.

And we seem to see stories about "murder-suicides" in the newspapers nearly every week.  There's a big one in the news today.  The only difference in those situations is that the murders and the suicides are committed close together in time.   It's still someone killing himself or herself to "escape justice" for a crime they committed.  And guilt is declared if the evidence shows it was a murder-suicide.   No trial.

No agreement on anything was reached, of course.  But they were still  interesting and stimulating debates.

Another debate was about whether or not any "reverse engineering" was done to determine ways that silicon can be made to appear in 65% to 75% of a batch of spores.  We know the answer is NO because of what was stated by one of the scientists who did the actual work, but since some others misspoke and claimed that "reverse engineering" was done, the argument continues.   The idea is that if they cannot "reverse engineer" the attack anthrax to create the same number of spores with silicon, then the spores must have been created in some supersophisticated, secret bioweapons lab as part of some secret and illegal U.S. government bioweapons development program.

The argument also resurfaced because of what was written in "Microbe" last week:

Attempts to grow fresh spores with silicon to determine whether it also would locate within the spore coat led to “variable” results, [FBI scientist Jason} Bannan adds. “We don’t understand why there is a varying degree of silicon from one batch to another.”

It's my understanding that, in addition to all the work done at Dugway and other labs to build a database of techniques and technique signatures for creating spores, the FBI tried a few other methods of growing spores, such as using silicon anti-foaming agents, just to see what would happen.  They ended up with silicon in very few spores.  But that's not truly "reverse engineering."  There were no second tests with other methods to find differences.  No one attempted to control the amount of silicon in the environment to see what affect different amounts of silicon would have on the end results.  Reverse engineering would require such tests.  All they did was perform a few simple tests to see what would happen.  The idea of doing actual "reverse engineering" was not pursued because it would not provide anything of "probative value."  I.e., it wouldn't prove that Dr. Bruce Ivins or anyone else did things that way to create the attack anthrax.

Another debate was over whether or not flask RMR-1029 was determined by the use of science to be the direct source of the attack anthrax.  Or was it determined by FBI gruntwork - asking questions, looking at logs, checking alibis, etc.?  The idea is that, if it was done by gruntwork, then it was probably done incorrectly, since nearly all conspiracy theorists and many True Believers assume that the FBI is incompetent.  And, the argument says, if the gruntwork investigation was done incompetently, then the attack anthrax could have come from some other lab besides Dr. Ivins' lab - making everyones' favorite theory potentially valid. 

My argument was that there certainly seems to be a number of scientific procedures which could be done to verify which sample was the source.   Finding the source amid 1,072 samples is one kind of problem, verifying that a given sample is truly the source is a different kind of problem.  There was little or no agreement on that.  (Any attempt to argue that the FBI is not incompetent is automatically met with examples of mistakes they've made, so I didn't pursue that argument.  The argument is that if the FBI ever made any kind of mistake, then they cannot be trusted with anything.)
 
But the most interesting and intense debate last week was over my analysis of the handwriting on the attack letters.   It was argued that no one believes my "theory," therefore it must be wrong.  I argued that it's not a "theory," it's a list of facts pointing to a conclusion, and I ask people to examine those facts and tell me if they see or know of any facts which contradict the conclusion that a child did the writing.  I also dug out an email where someone agreed with me.   But that was just dismissed as being "just one person."  When I explain that key facts originated with someone else who thinks a child wrote the letters, they simply ignore that.

They argued that I never tried to get any opinions about my "theory" from professional forensic handwriting experts.

I dug into my archives and found that years ago I made at least six attempts to get opinions from "experts," including a couple of the experts who call themselves "forensic handwriting experts."  The most notable thing about the expert responses was that no two agreed on everything, most had their own theories, and the forensic experts tended to avoid making any kind of statement without examining the actual documents.  And, of course, since I picked those "experts," they were viewed as not really being "experts," even though their web sites showed they were truly professionals in the handwriting analysis field.

I was urged to try writing to the forensic handwriting experts again.  But what would be the purpose of that if no one was going to accept the opinion of anyone - expert or not - who agreed with me, particularly if I picked the "expert?"

That's when things really got interesting and intense.  One of the people arguing with me chose a "neutral" observer to write to the experts he had extracted from a list of forensic handwriting experts to see if any agreed with me.  That was fine with me, as long as the experts were asked to examine my list of facts for flaws.   The "neutral" person didn't think that would be proper.  He felt it would tip the scales in my favor.  He felt the "proper" way would be to simply ask the experts if they thought the handwriting was that of a child.  That way the experts' responses would not be tainted by having them view my list of facts.  They didn't want anyone prejudiced by facts!

I argued heatedly that that his method would be not be the best way, it would not be the scientific way, and the results could be of little or no value.  It was illogical to assume that the experts would notice the facts I had noticed.  Nothing in science begins "from scratch."  Everything is done by "standing on the shoulders" of others who made prior discoveries.  If they didn't examine my list of facts, then we'd have no way of knowing if they ever noticed what I noticed.  And, we couldn't ask them after they gave their opinions, since that would be considered an "ambush."  They would claim they were led into a trap of giving opinions without first being told about important known facts.  The idea that experts would somehow automatically see all relevant facts is just plain preposterous to me, but it is clearly assumed by others.

I don't know if the "neutral" person is going to write the emails or not.  I expect not.  But it was a truly interesting and thought-provoking discussion - the most interesting of the week.

BTW, there are a couple things coming up later this month that could generate more debates.  First, there is the Microscopy and Microanalysis meeting in Richmond, VA, on the 26th through the 30th.   On Monday the 27th, Joe Michael and Paul Kotula from Sandia National Laboratories will be presenting a Plenary Session titled "
Microbial Forensics: Microanalysis of the 2001 Anthrax Letter Attacks."

Presumably, a lot of the same material presented at the ASM meeting back in February will be presented again to this different audience.  But, since microscopy and microanalysis are Sandia's specialities, Drs Michael and Kotula will probably go into a lot more detail at this meeting than at the ASM meeting of microbiologists.

Secondly, the 90-minute National Geographic show where they'll have an actor playing Dr. Bruce Ivins is scheduled for July 26 and again for July 31.  It seems a virtual certainty that a lot of debates will be generated by that show.  The conspiracy theorists seem to be assuming it will validate their theories and declare Dr. Ivins' to be innocent.

I'll mention those two events again on the 26th.

Lastly, there appears to be a distinct possiblity that the FBI and DOJ will officially close the Amerithrax investigation before the end of this month.  If so, I would expect a world-wide explosion of intense debates to come from that.

Updates & Changes: Sunday, July 5, 2009, thru Saturday, July 11, 2009

July 10, 2009 - Someone just sent me an article titled "
Questions Linger over Science behind Anthrax Letters."  It's from "Microbe," the journal of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), the same folks who held the conference back in February.   As seems to be the case everywhere in the media - including in the scientific media - the facts get distorted in order to make interesting headlines.  Consider this section:

Nonetheless, skepticism persists, as is evident not only from the forthcoming NAS review but also during the plenary session, “The Science behind the ‘Anthrax Letter’ Attack Investigation,” convened as part of the 7th ASM Biodefense & Emerging Diseases Research Meeting, held in Baltimore, Md., last February, and during the news conference that followed. “Everybody is frustrated by the lack of closure,” says plenary session participant Paul Keim of Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff.

The NAS review doesn't reflect "skepticism."  It's being done at the FBI's request in order to have the science of the case independently reviewed and validated.  And Paul Keim's comment is about frustration, not skepticism.   There's a big difference between frustration and skepticism.  Frustration is about not getting information, skepticism is about not believing information you've gotten.

Here's another seemingly distorted comment by the author:

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

Again, frustration is being expressed over not getting information, not doubts about the information they have.

There's an outright error in the report, too:

For example, USAMRIID held B. anthracis in aqueous suspensions, not as spores.
 
In reality, the B. anthracis was held as spores in aqueous suspensions.

There's nothing seriously wrong with the article, though.  It's just not as painstakingly accurate as one would hope to see in the journal for the American Society for Microbiology.  Nor is it particularly informative.  That's frustrating.

July 8, 2009 - It looks like the FBI should probably start teaching a course at Quantico titled "Defusing Conspiracy Theorists."  In hindsight, it is clear that the anthrax samples stored at Iowa State University should not have been destroyed.  It's given the conspiracy theorists enough ammunition to last for decades.

When Paul Keim was asked about the anthrax attacks o
n the PBS Nova ScienceNow web site, several of the quesitions were about the destroyed Iowa State samples.  Paul Keim didn't know why the samples were destroyed, but readers of this web site should, since it was made clear here on December 17, 2006.   But, in greater detail, here is the information again (as reported in the Iowa State Daily):

Cheville, Roth and Dr. Donald Reynolds, associate dean of research for Veterinary Medicine, gathered on Oct. 11 [2001] to discuss the fate of the ISU anthrax collection. They called the FBI, the Center for Disease Control and the USDA labs and asked them if they should destroy their originals. All said yes.

"We went through a logical thought process," Cheville said. "Were these strains that we had important in the criminal investigation in the terror event?"

The FBI said no.

"Would any other repository in the U.S. want these cultures?"

No - all the genetic material had been sent to the national repository already.

"Was there any educational value to the cultures? Students were interested by these old cultures, but the government offices were going to require that they be guarded 24 hours a day. That was going to cost $30,000 a month and we'd rather spend that money on students," Cheville said.

So, at 5:30 p.m. that evening, every strain in Iowa State's collection was placed in pink plastic autoclave bags and pushed into the autoclave, a steam oven that heats up to 120 degrees Celsius and creates 15 pounds of pressure.

"For most bacteria, 15 minutes is plenty," Roth said.

The anthrax was steamed all night. The next day, all the vials were incinerated.

The only items saved were the metal can the original 1928 vials had been stored in and the handwritten, lead-pencil notes made by Packer in 1978. Both are now kept under glass at the Merchant Museum in the Vet Med College.

"We would do it again because there wasn't any reason to keep them," Cheville said. "Of course, we thoroughly and very clearly thought out what we wanted to do. If there had been any thought that these would have been useful to someone, we wouldn't have destroyed them, but there weren't."

There was no reason to keep the samples - except that destroying them might generate conspiracy theories.  

But who in October of 2001 was anticipating any conspiracy theories?  And why would the FBI want Iowa State to keep some samples that had nothing to do with anything?   Even if the Ames strain had come from Iowa as some believed at the time, it would have been at the USDA labs, not in Iowa State University's labs.  The conspiracy theorists make a leap of crazy logic to suggest that the Ames strain could have been transferred to Iowa State for some unknown reason.  Why would it have been?  Because there is no conspiracy theory if it wasn't transferred?     

There are probably some rules that can be set up for what FBI case is likely to inspire conspiracy theorists.  On the other hand, this kind of reminds me of the Air Force One fly-by around the Statue of Liberty.  Someone called some busy bureaucrat to ask if it was okay, and the busy bureaucrat couldn't see any reason why it wouldn't be okay. 

Maybe the solution is to require that no government bureaucrat make any decision without first forming a committee to study all the ramifications.  Hmm.  That sounds too much like the way things were being done now.   


July 7, 2009 - On the PBS Nova ScienceNow web site, Dr. Paul Keim has answered a number of questions by members of the "Anthrax Traveling Circus" and a few others.  He appears to have shot down all the conspiracy theories, showing there is no real basis for any of them.  Unfortunately, he leaves open the DNA question I mentioned on Sunday: Did science reduce the number of possible sources for the attack anthrax to 8 or to 1?   Dr. Keim said:

The scientific evidence from the morphs only narrows the search to RMR1029 and cultures derived from it.

So, how did they determine the source was flask RMR-1029 and not one of the other seven sources (a.k.a. "cultures derived" from RMR-1029)?  The conspiracy theorists and True Believers assume it was done with flawed, careless FBI investigative procedures, meaning the anthrax could actually have come from Battelle or Dugway or somewhere else.

I'm still trying to find someone who can answer this question definitively:
How did the FBI determine the source was flask RMR-1029 and not one of the other seven sources?

July 5, 2009 - I'm becoming a bit concerned that the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) review of the science utilized in the Amerithrax investigation will primarily focus on newly developed areas involving genetic mutations instead of on the well established areas where virtually all the misunderstandings and bad information came from.

The DNA of the attack anthrax and the investigative methods involving mutations are interesting and new, but, as far as I know, there is no serious debate about them.  The debate begins where the DNA science leaves off - at the point where FBI and Postal Inspection Service agents have to go through the list of possible suspects to find the actual culprit.  The only scientific debate is: Where did the science end?  Did the scientific investigation end, as some believe, with the eight samples containing the four mutations submitted by two labs, or,
as the FBI and DOJ have clearly indicated, did the science lead directly to flask RMR-1029 and the lab at USAMRIID where Dr. Bruce Ivins worked?  If the science led directly to flask RMR-1029, how was it done?  How was the number of possible sources reduced from eight to one?  We may need the NAS to help confirm that it was done via solid scientific methods.     

But that is not a major area of dispute.  Nearly all the dispute about the identification of Dr. Bruce Ivins as the anthrax killer comes from two well-established and basic facts which some scientists and many others simply cannot accept:

1.  The attack anthrax was NOT weaponized with silica or silicon.

2.  The creation of the attack anthrax did NOT require more than one person.

If the attack anthrax was not "weaponized" and could have been made by a knowledgeable scientist such as Dr. Bruce Ivins working alone at night and on weekends, then all the scientific arguments claiming his innocence instantly dissolve away.
 
When the scientific arguments are gone, all that is left are (1) the flawed human belief that Dr. Ivins didn't seem the type of person to do such a thing and (2) the basic misunderstanding that "circumstantial evidence" cannot prove guilt.

When you spend nearly eight years reading arguments from people who have other theories about the case, as I have done, you can see that nearly all the debates come from people who simply cannot correct their first impressions.  And they are supported by all the people who haven't read anything about the case since the early days when the media was filled with incorrect information which they have never learned was incorrect.

The early days seemed to be an endless stream of false information about the attack spores being weaponized with silica and the product of a supersophisticated lab that only a few countries in the world could afford to maintain.  As more was learned about the attack anthrax, attempts by investigators to correct false information were met by disbelief and claims of conspiracies to cover up the truth.   First impressions are lasting impressions.   And correcting false first impressions is even more difficult when the media is working hard to encourage people to hold onto those false first impressions.

The NAS needs to explain to the world if the attack anthrax was or was not "weaponized" with silica or silicon, and whether or not it could have been made by a lone scientist working in a well-equipped lab like those at Ft. Detrick.  The facts are already known, but they haven't been laid out in detail for the public by a respected, unbiased authority.

If the NAS can do that, then politicians can set up Congressional committees to pick apart the FBI's case against Dr. Ivins all they want.   Everything will boil down to those who accept the facts and those who simply cannot believe the facts. 

There will always be a few who will believe what they want to believe, regardless of what the facts say.  The problem is making the facts clear for those who are willing to accept facts.  The NAS review could greatly help with that.

Updates & Changes: Sunday, June 28, 2009, thru Saturday, July 4, 2009

July 2, 2009 - Today's Frederick News-Post contains an article about the forming of the NAS committee.  Included in the brief article is this information:

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

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

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

One of the names on the roster is very familiar to me.  Dr. Driks has written many papers on the structure of spore coats.  I have at least 5 of his papers in my collection.   Other names have showed up in news articles here and there

It will be interesting to see how the 14 provisional members are viewed by conspiracy theorists and True Believers.  Will the conspiracy theorists dig into the backgrounds of each one of them to find something that indicates they are either incompetent or part of the grand conspiracy?   Will True Believers try to contact each and every one of them to convince them that their review cannot be valid unless it confirms what the True Believers believe?  Time will tell.  But, reading their rantings makes it clear that some are already prepared to dismiss the NAS review even before it starts, since the review was paid for by the FBI.  The others undoubtedly believe that an unbiased review by the NAS will confirm their beliefs and overturn what the FBI found.  If it doesn't, then the NAS review must also be biased.  So, there's no chance that the review will change any of their minds.  

July 1, 2009 (B) - The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has released the names of the people on the committee that will review the "scientific approaches used during the FBI's investigation of the 2001 Bacillus anthracis mailings."  Also, the scope of the project has been formally defined.   Project Duration: 18 months.

July 1, 2009 (A) - Nova Science Now's 14 minute segment about the anthrax attacks is now available on-line.   So is the "bonus video" titled "Was It Weaponized?"  I thought the show answered a few questions, but it seemed to end just as it was getting very interesting.   I also wonder why Alan Zelicoff was featured so much in the show.  He had nothing to do with the investigation.  All he could offer was speculation.  We should be far beyond the speculation stage.
   
The show
spelled out a couple things that might be worth mentioning here:

1.  It was stated once again that it was SCIENCE which determined that flask RMR-1029 was the source of the attack anthrax.   It was not routine police procedures as conspiracy theorists and True Believers insist.

2.  The process of finding the labs which had samples of the Ames strain was not some haphazard "process of self-submission" as some conspiracy theorists would like people to believe.  The FBI went to the CDC and got their help in determining which labs were authorized to work with anthrax.  They found 99 such labs.  Further investigation determined that there were 16  U.S. labs and 3 foreign labs which had samples of the Ames strain specifically.  The "nearly 1,100" samples of the Ames strain were obtained from those labs.

Science led the investigators to flask RMR-1029.  From there on, criminal investigators determined that Dr. Ivins was the culprit.  And, according to the show, the investigators are unanimous in their conclusion.  The show had Postal Inspector Thomas Dellafera giving the investigators' side of things.  Maybe it was a reminder to the conspiracy theorists that it wasn't just the FBI doing the investigating.  Conspiracy theorists must also include the Postal Inspection Service as part of their imagined conspiracy.

So, what we need now is to see the DOJ/FBI/USPIS's case against Dr. Ivins.  The official closing of the case can't be very far off.  When the case is closed and the redacted case files become available via FIOA requests, we'll hopefully be able to see exactly how the investigators determined that Dr. Ivins was the culprit.  I wouldn't be surprised if the case wasn't officially closed before the airing of the National Geographic show scheduled for July 26.  The official closing of the Amerithrax case seems long overdue. 

June 30, 2009 - Tonight's
Nova Science Now program on PBS will be an hour long.  I don't know if that's just because it's the "season premiere" or if it will be an hour show all season.  (In previous years, it was a half-hour show.)   Hopefully, that means they'll spend more than just a few minutes on the segment about the anthrax attacks.

Also, I just learned that The National Geographic Channel will be airing a 90-minute program about the anthrax attacks on July 26.  The program will be called "Undercover History: Anthrax."  Apparently it is (at least partially) a dramatized show, since I also found lots of advertisements where the producers were looking for an actor to play Dr. Bruce Ivins.   And Dr. Ivins' lawyer will also be featured on the show.   Hmm.  That could be interesting.  But why do I get a feeling it could also be like the Conspiracy Theory show about anthrax that aired on The History Channel a few years ago?

June 28, 2009 - Just to remind everyone:  On Tuesday, the 30th, the PBS program Nova Science Now will include a short segment about the science of the Amerithrax investigation.  (The segment will evidently also be available on-line on July 1.)  It might just generate more arguments instead of resolving them, but it should be worth checking out.

Meanwhile, the Italians seem to have created a new word that might be worth learning: innocentisti.  It applies to the amateur armchair detectives who do their investigating via the Internet and conclude that people in criminal cases are innocent.
   According to Newsweek:
   
The saga of Amanda Knox, the American student currently on trial in Perugia, Italy, for the murder of her British roommate, has garnered plenty of headlines on both sides of the Atlantic. And as the courtroom battle continues, a parallel public-relations skirmish is taking place on blogs and in newspapers across the world. In America, editorialists and armchair investigators, most of whom have never set foot in Perugia, have become known as the -innocentisti, convinced that Knox is the victim of a grave injustice.

It seems very likely to me that innocentisti could become part of everyone's vocabulary, just the way another Italian word "paparazzi" did.  I'm encountering members of the innocentisti nearly every day. 
They seem to think that almost anyone who has not been tried and found guilty by a jury is actually innocent.  I've been getting emails about the Tylenol killer and the Zodiac killer, where suspects have been identified, but the innocentisti claim that the suspects are innocent because they do not believe the evidence. 

The word innocentisti certainly applies in the Amerithrax investigation where many amateur armchair detectives (mostly Americans) are convinced by their own "investigations" via the Internet that Dr. Bruce Ivins was innocent.

Most of the innocentisti have no other suspects, and they're not just talking about "innocent until proven guilty."  They believe the official suspect is actually innocent because their own investigations show holes the the official cases and do not show the official suspect to be guilty.  They simply do not believe the authorities who think the case may be solved.  "Innocent until proven guilty" doesn't matter to them.  Innocent OR guilty seems to be the only concept they understand. 

True Believers have other suspects.  But, they are still innocentisti because their own amateur "investigations" show that the authorities are wrong about Dr. Bruce Ivins and the official investigation didn't identify "the real killer" (which they believe is some Muslim, some Jew, some Right Winger, some member of the Bush Administration, etc).

Most conspiracy theorists are innocentisti.  (There may be some who think Dr. Ivins was guilty but part of a much larger conspiracy.) 
The bulk of the conspiracy theorists seem to think that their own amateur "investigations" have shown that Dr. Ivins is totally innocent and the FBI and all the scientists involved in the case are working to cover up the truth.  Their investigations have concluded that real culprit(s) most likely worked in secret and illegal U.S. Government bioweapons programs at Battelle Memorial Institute or Dugway Proving Grounds.  That definitely makes them innocentisti. 

And the term innocentisti includes a lot of others -- people who have "investigated" the case and just do not believe the evidence and firmly believe that Dr. Ivins was innocent.  Mostly, they also do not appear to have other suspects.  They do not think there was a grand conspiracy to point the finger at Dr. Ivins.  They simply believe that the evidence they know about shows Dr. Ivins to be innocent. 
They don't believe Dr. Ivins could have made the anthrax by himself.  They don't believe he had the equipment to make it.  He believe he didn't have the knowledge to make it.  They believe he couldn't have driven to New Jersey twice without someone knowing about it.  They don't believe he had a motive for the crime.  And some who knew Dr. Ivins personally believe he wasn't the type to do such a thing.  Etc.  They endlessly cite "experts" who claim Ivins couldn't have "weaponized" the anthrax by himself.  Regardless of what the facts say, they cannot believe that the spores were NOT weaponized.  Therefore, Ivins must be innocent.  The FBI is simply mistaken.  Their amateur detective work shows that the FBI cannot be correct.  Period.

I think we need to remember that it was amateur detective work that caused Dr. Hatfill to become a "person of interest" and ruined his life.  And looking at Lew Weinstein's web site indicates that the amateur detectives are bugging a lot of agencies, politicians and scientists for answers to their questions.  If the questions are answered, new questions are generated.  Those answers are countered with new questions, until those being questioned stop answering.   When the people being questioned get fed up and stop answering, their silence is viewed as proof of some kind of secretive and evil doings by "the government."

However, this new deluge of investigations by amateur detectives has provided some benefits for an analyst like myself.  For example, Lew Weinstein used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain a copy of the log Dr. Ivins maintained to record all samples taken from flask RMR-1029.  The innocentisti are using it as proof that other labs obtained samples from flask RMR-1029, so someone at some other lab could have sent the letters and Dr. Ivins could be innocent.  The fact that two other labs (Battelle and Dugway) received samples from RMR-1029 has been known for some time.  The log reportedly also shows that the University of New Mexico received a sample.   Nevertheless, from an analyst's point of view, the important thing is that the logs appear to clearly show when Dr. Ivins took the spores from flask RMR-1029 that were allegedly used to create the attack anthrax:

Ivins Log for flask RMR-1029

The first sample of just 5 milliliters was taken on 27 August, 2001.  August is when Dr. Ivins suddenly started working long hours late at night and on weekends.   The second sample of 10 milliliters was taken on 4 October, 2001, five days before the letters in the second mailing were postmarked.   The small quantities indicate that the samples were for use within Ft. Detrick, as opposed to large samples to be sent to other labs.  That seems to clearly indicate that Dr. Ivins was working with samples from flask RMR-1029 at the time when the anthrax mailer would have been working with samples from flask RMR-1029.  But, that's nothing new.  It's just new to see a copy of the actual log.

Some might argue that a real culprit wouldn't leave such log entries showing he had taken samples from RMR-1029.  But, taking samples without recording it would be a lot more damning - if caught at it.  And someone might notice that the current quantity as recorded in the log didn't match the actual quantity in the flask.  It was Dr. Ivins' responsibility to keep that log accurate.  Plus, at that time Dr. Ivins was reportedly working on some tests involving “Anthrax vaccine efficacy in golden Syrian hamsters.”  So, he had an explanation for taking the samples - even if he couldn't explain why he was working long hours alone at night and on weekends to do what seems to be very routine work.

Plus, it's important to remember that, at the time the samples were taken from flask RMR-1029 no one even imagined that there would some day be a forensic capability to track the attack anthrax back to a specific flask.

To an analyst, this is all just more evidence of Dr. Ivins' guilt.  To the innocentisti amateur detectives, it's the basis for more questions which they feel will eventually lead to proof of Dr. Ivins' innocence.   If it doesn't, they'll continue looking until it does.
Updates & Changes: Sunday, June 21, 2009, thru Saturday, June 27, 2009

June 21, 2009 - I think it may be time to get somewhat philosophical again. 

The hundreds of nonsensical emails I've received in the past few weeks and the nonsense posted to Lew Weinstein's web site during that same time remind me of something I learned in IBM management classes many years ago. 

In one of those management classes, the instructors explained to us that a lot about managing people can be understood if you view employees as if they were divided into four basic categories:

Smart/Dumb image 

The idea was that Type-1 employees are people who you want to get more involved, and you want to encourage them to participate more in what's happening in the company.   They're smart, and you want to try to get them to become less passive.   You want them to put their brains to work for your company.

Type-2 employees don't provide much for a manager to work with, but they can often make up the bulk of a workforce, so you just try to keep them happy and hope they don't screw up too often as they do routine work. 

Type-3 employees are the people you truly need and want as employees and as managers.  They're the type you constantly look for.  You want all you can find, and you want to move them into management positions as soon as they are ready and positions come available.

Then there are the Type-4's.  If you have one of those as an employee, you will probably have to fire him sooner or later.  If you have one as your boss, you need to find another job.

There's certainly nothing preventing any of the four types from becoming a manager.  I've had bosses of all four types.   I've seen military officers of all four types.  As a country, we've had Presidents of all four types.  Type-2's like and elect Type-2's because they are folks just like them.  The other types can be too difficult to understand.        

But, before I go too far afield and start ranting about Type-4's like Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney, I need to get back to the subject of this web site: The anthrax attacks of 2001.

The biggest problem with Type-4 (dumb/aggressive) people is that they think THEY are Type-3's (smart/aggressive) and they think everyone else in the world is one of the other types.  And that is particularly true if they have impressive credentials.  As I state in my book, some of the dumbest people I've ever met in my life have PhD's.

From the very beginning, the most interesting discussions about the anthrax attacks have been mainly arguments between people with impressive credentials.  Very often it's PhD against PhD.  

While it may appear that I'm arguing with people who have PhD's, I'm really in the middle between two groups of them.  Smart/aggressive and smart/passive people with PhD's are generally busy at their real work and don't have time to get into eight-year-long arguments on the Internet.  Dumb/aggressive people with PhD's have found a home on the Internet and seem ready to argue anywhere at any time and for fifty years if necessary.  So, I use the arguments and facts from PhD's who don't have time to argue ... to argue with other PhD's who have time to argue. 

It's fairly easy to identify Type #4's.  Dumb/aggressive people ignore facts.   They prefer to argue their beliefs instead.  And, on the Internet they can surround themselves with like-minded people and argue that they are "the majority" and therefore they must be right.  But they are not.  They're just in their element. 
So, they aggressively try to show the world that their opinions and beliefs are more valid than any facts from people who they feel are less smart than they are. 

When you endlessly argue with the same people year after year, and every once in a while someone new pops in with some new screwball theory, it can sometimes seem like there are a lot more Type-4's than there really are.  

I was given a little "reality check" on Friday afternoon when I went for my regular workout. 

As I was logging in at the reception desk at my health club, I noticed that the guy behind the desk was viewing something on the Internet.  I asked him if he'd ever visited my web site.  He said he hadn't, and he asked me the web site name.  I told him: "anthraxinvestigation dot com."

He typed in anthraz investigation.com and got nothing.  I noticed the space in the middle of the name and told him, "No space after anthrax."  He started typing again: anthraz

Watching carefully this time, I pronounced the word for him: "That's anthrax.  X not Z." 

He finished typing in the correct address and seemed impressed by what he found.  I left him to read the site as I headed for the locker room to change. 

I found it interesting that the word "anthrax" seemed to be totally new to him.  When I returned from the locker room he asked if I still followed the case.  He'd read the Time Magazine article about me and noticed it was from 2002, and the crime happened in 2001.  Old news. 

I showed him the Thoughts and Comments section and how I'd added a comment the day before.  He was surprised by that, and he seemed to wonder:
Why would anyone be following some old criminal case that everyone's forgotten about?  I left him to his musings as I went off to begin my workout. 

It was clear to me that he had no memory of the anthrax attacks of 2001.  He looked to be in his mid-20's, so he was probably in his teens at the time of the attacks.  How many people in their teens paid any attention to the anthrax attacks when they happened?  He evidently didn't.  Or the attacks left no impression.  But, I don't really have any idea how many "average Americans" even remember the attacks.  And, if they do remember,
what do they remember?

I spend time every day hunting for news about the case.  I also read emails and check the blog postings by people who continue to voice opinions about the case.   But how many such people are there?   How many are still interested?

I need those long-promised scientific articles to be published!  I need the Amerithrax case to be closed!

I'd like to see the Amerithrax case wrapped up and the facts published before the attacks are totally forgotten.

Updates & Changes: Sunday, June 14, 2009, thru Saturday, June 20, 2009

June 18, 2009 - As expected, the discovery of more than 9,200 undocumented samples in USAMRIID's freezers and refrigerators is generating a lot of news stories and discussion.  Today's Washington Post reports that
"some serum samples from hemorrhagic fever patients dated to the Korean War."  The article also says:

[Col. Mark] Kortepeter [the institute's deputy commander] likened the inventory to cleaning out the attic and said he knew of no plans for an investigation into how the vials had been left out of the database. "The vast majority of these samples were working stock that were accumulated over decades," he said, left there by scientists who had retired or left the institute.

And

Sam Edwin, the institute's inventory control officer, said most of the samples found were vials with tiny amounts of pathogens that would thaw quickly and die once they were taken out of a freezer, making smuggling something off the base difficult.

And

Edwin said about 50 percent of the samples that had been found were destroyed. The rest were added to the catalog. Because the lab will now conduct an inventory every year, "it's really less likely that we will be in a situation like this again," he said.

Meanwhile, The Associated Press has a few additional details:

The material was in tiny, 1mm vials that could easily be overlooked in the 25-cubic-foot freezers or even covered by clumps of minus-80-degree ice, said Sam Edwin, the institute's inventory control officer.

Kortepeter said the inventory found nothing missing from about 70,000 items the institute began cataloging in 2005. He said Army criminal investigators have concluded that three vials of Venezuelan equine encephalitis that were discovered missing last year "were likely used up but for some reason were never recorded with the database."

In summary, there's nothing here that has anything to do with the anthrax case - except the loose security that allowed Dr. Bruce Ivins to spend long hours all alone and unsupervised in a lab filled with pathogens is part of the same problem.  Corrective measures have been instituted for that aspect of the problem, too.

Conspiracy theorists and True Believers can speculate that some super-terrorist could have snuck into USAMRIID and made off with a sample of Ames from flask RMR-1029, but that would be pure speculation.   On the other hand, it is a solid fact that the environment in which Dr. Ivins worked had lax security and was lax in all the ways that Dr. Ivins needed in order for him to do what he did. 


June 17, 2009 -  Hmm.  According to today's Frederick News-Post, when USAMRIID finished taking their physical inventory of more than 70,000 lab samples in 335 freezers and refrigerators on May 27, they discovered that they had "more than 9,200 unrecorded disease samples."

The 9,200+ unrecorded samples were accumulated over "several decades" and most of the samples probably represent "working stocks" that scientists created "temporarily" but never actually used and then simply forgot about.  It was also determined that about half of those 9,200+ samples were of no scientific value, so those valueless samples were destroyed.  That should give conspiracy theorists something else they can claim was actually "valuable evidence" that was deliberately destroyed in some attempt at a coverup of something or other.     


June 14, 2009 - I still haven't been able to determine why the conspiracy theorists and True Believers are sending out so many emails lately.  There were days last week when I received as many as 50 emails in a single day.  But, mostly they were just the same old arguments over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over.

Clearly, some of it might be due to no one paying any attention to them on another site where things have become totally ridiculous as the various theorists try to out-do each other with one crazy interpretation of the facts after another. 
The conspiracy theorists and True Believers just continue to distort the facts in attempts to create doubt about the FBI's findings.  They complain that the FBI's answers aren't phrased the way they want them phrased and don't use the words they want used.  They repeat arguments that have been thoroughly answered countless times.

However, that site provided some new information I haven't seen anywhere else.  It appears that, on April 17, 2009, the Department of Justice responded to three questions that had been posed to FBI Director Mueller by members of The House Judiciary Committee on September 18, 2008.   The three answers are criticized on the site, but I needed a complete copy of all the responses to verify what was said.  Fortunately, someone sent me a copy of the DOJ's complete response.  The first two questions are clearly answered.  The answer to the third question, however, is not so clear.

The third question, which was from Representative Nadler and is # 15 in the DOJ letter, was as follows:

How, on what basis, and using what evidence did the FBI conclude that none of the laboratories it investigated were in any way the sources of the powder used in the 2001 anthrax attacks, except the U.S. Army Laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland? Please include in your answer why laboratories that have publicly identified as having the equipment and personnel to make anthrax powder, such as the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Grounds in Dugway, Utah and the Battelle Memorial Institute in Jefferson, Ohio, were excluded as possible sources.

And, Acting Assistant Attorney General M. Faith Burton provided this answer:

Initially, the spores contained in the envelopes could only be identified as Bacillus Anthracis (Anthrax).  They were then sent to an expert, who “strain typed” the spores as Ames.  Once the strain type was identified, the FBI began to look at what facilities had access to the Ames strain.  At the same time, science experts began to develop the ability to identify morphological variances contained in the mailed anthrax.  Over the next six years, new scientific developments allowed experts from the FBI Laboratory and other nationally recognized scientific experts to advance microbial science.  This advancement allowed the FBI to positively link specific morphs found in the mailed anthrax to morphs in a single flask at USAMRIID.  Using records associated with the flask, the FBI was able to track the transfer of sub samples from the flask located at USAMRIID to two other facilities.  Using various methods, the FBI investigated the two facilities that received samples from the parent flask and eliminated individuals from those facilities as suspects because, even if a laboratory facility had the equipment and personnel to make anthrax powder, this powder would not match the spores in the mailed envelopes if that lab had never received a transfer of anthrax from the parent flask.

There was a lot of discussion yesterday about how the last sentence seems to make absolutely no sense.  Here it is again:

Using various methods, the FBI investigated the two facilities that received samples from the parent flask and eliminated individuals from those facilities as suspects because, even if a laboratory facility had the equipment and personnel to make anthrax powder, this powder would not match the spores in the mailed envelopes if that lab had never received a transfer of anthrax from the parent flask.  

It seems to say that the two labs that received the samples can be eliminated because they never received the samples. 

Wha ...?

Since I now have a copy of the entire April 17 response to the Committee's questions, it's clear that the problem is in the actual DOJ letter.  It appears that there was some sort of copying or transcription error somewhere at the DOJ, possibly by the person who typed the letter.  And AAG Burton probably just didn't check it thoroughly before she signed it.

Because the answer does not appear to include anything about Dugway and Battelle, even though the question specifically asked about those two laboratories, it appears that something is missing before the word "because."

I worked in offices for many years, and there are certain types of copying errors that are common for typists.  Here's one possibility for what could be missing, if you assume that a DOJ typist dropped everything after the first use of the words "as suspects" until those two words appear again:

Using various methods, the FBI investigated the two facilities that received samples from the parent flask and eliminated individuals from those facilities as suspects

by using standard investigative procedures, such as checking alibis, capabilities, motivation, etc.  This includes personnel at Battelle.

Personnel at Dugway were eliminated as suspects

because, even if a laboratory facility had the equipment and personnel to make anthrax powder, this powder would not match the spores in the mailed envelopes if that lab had never received a transfer of anthrax from the parent flask.  

If a transcription or copying error did occur that way, the missing portions make sense of the whole, and we would now have some very important new information.  It would appear to say that the two facilities which received samples from flask RMR-1020 did not include Dugway.  However, I've been told that 50 ml of anthrax spores from flask RMR-1029 was sent to Dugway on July 9, 2001. 

If the letter was supposed to say that personnel at Dugway and Battelle were eliminated because those labs did not receive samples from RMR-1029, it would mean that I was wrong in assuming that Battelle was most likely the other lab (besides Ft. Detrick) which had samples of the Ames strain which included the four key mutations that were also in the attack anthrax.  (If I was wrong, fortunately I was wrong about something that I never used as a basis for any other conclusions or statements.)  However, I have multiple other sources which indicate that Battelle was indeed one of the two labs which received samples from flask RMR-1029.

Since the DOJ and FBI have made it clear that they do not want to publicly identify the "quasi-governmental" lab mentioned in the Roundtable discussion of August 18, 2008, which received a sample from RMR-1029, it seems very possible that Battelle was initially included in the letter and then removed when someone realized that it would make public the name of the "quasi-governmental" lab.  And, in the process of removing Battelle, a mistake was made that turned the entire statement into jibberish.

But, it is almost pure conjecture that what I inserted into the middle of that sentence is similar to what seems to be missing.  The right thing to do is to check with AAG Burton to find out what was actually meant.  The DOJ letter was in my inbox this morning, so I'll start trying to find the answer on Monday. 

Meanwhile, there is another puzzle that requires some answers.  The FBI says that Ft. Detrick shipped samples from flask RMR-1029 to two other labs.  Yet, they also say that only one other lab (besides Ft. Detrick) had samples of Ames that contained the four mutations that were in flask RMR-1029.  What happened to the other sample shipped from Ft. Detrick?  Did it get used up?  Did the four mutations fail to transfer to the sample?

More information is coming.  It's just getting more and more difficult to wait for information when we have no idea of how long we're going to have to wait.         
Updates & Changes: Sunday, June 7, 2009, thru Saturday, June 13, 2009

June 11, 2009 - Hmmm.  Someone just pointed out to me that Fact #7 in my list of facts pointing to Dr. Ivins' guilt was somewhat incorrect.  Until this morning, Fact #7 was described this way:

7.  In December of 2001, Dr. Ivins secretly swabbed and bleached more than 20 areas in his lab that he said he suspected were contaminated by a sloppy lab technician.  He didn't tell anyone about it until April of 2002.

Today, it was pointed out to me that a Wall Street Journal article from August 5, 2008, contains this information:

Containment and safety were already an issue at the lab in 2001 when Dr. Ivins cleaned up anthrax contamination in his office without immediately informing his superiors, says Col. Arthur Anderson, a pathologist who also is an ethics officer at the lab. Col. Anderson says Dr. Ivins told him about the lapse in safety shortly after it occurred, contradicting Army findings in 2002 that Dr. Ivins had told no one. Dr. Ivins's failure to immediately report the incident to his superiors is now seen by law-enforcement authorities as key evidence against him.

"He didn't tell the safety office, he didn't tell the commander, but he told me," said Col. Anderson, director of the office of human use and ethics.

Okay, so Dr. Ivins didn't tell the people he was supposed to tell, but "shortly after it occurred" he told an officer who remembers it but who evidently made no official record or report of it.

Does that prove Dr. Ivins was innocent?  From the tone of the messages I received, it's clear that some think it does.  Evidently, any flaw that can be found in the evidence against Dr. Ivins is seen by some as proof that Dr. Ivins would have been found innocent in a court of law -- whether he actually committed the crime or not.

The fact that Dr. Ivins swabbed and bleached more than 20 areas in his lab in December of 2001 remains true.  And he did the swabbing in secret.  The fact that he reportedly told someone about it later doesn't change that.  However, I did revise Fact #7 this morning.  It now simply says:

7.  In December of 2001, Dr. Ivins secretly swabbed and bleached more than 20 areas in his lab that he said he suspected were contaminated by a sloppy lab technician. 

I tried to add something about not telling the proper authorities, but that took the "fact" into the area of opinions and conflicting information.  The key fact is that he secretly swabbed and bleached 20 areas of his lab in December of 2001.  Who he told about it afterward, and when they were told about it, doesn't change the fact that swabbing and bleaching areas of his lab appears to be an effort to prevent investigators from finding critical evidence in his lab.


June 10, 2009 - Oops!  It was just pointed out to me that the new "Fact #4" I created yesterday is a near duplicate of another fact in the list:

4.  Dr. Ivins created the anthrax spores in flask RMR-1030, and some of those spores contained silicon in their spore coats just like in the attack spores.  Only the percentage of spores with silicon was different.

9.  Investigators examined another flask of Ames anthrax spores created by Dr. Ivins for his own use in his work and found that a percentage of the spores in flask RMR-1030 contained silicon similar to what was in the attack spores.

So, I removed #4  and re-numbered the rest of the facts back to the way they were before yesterday.   But, because I like the wording of #4 better, I slightly modified the #9 when I changed it back to #8:

8.  Investigators examined another flask of Ames anthrax spores created by Dr. Ivins for his own use in his work and found that a percentage of the spores in flask RMR-1030 contained silicon just like what was in the attack spores.

I apologize for any confusion. 

June 9, 2009 - The conspiracy theorists and True Believers have become somewhat shrill and desperate lately.  I don't know why.  It still seems like they are desperately trying to get converts to their beliefs before the FBI/DOJ closes the Amerithrax case and the science gets published ... because facts are deadly to their beliefs.

Yesterday,
on our long-running email forum, a conspiracy theorist restarted the debate about weaponization.  And suddenly a fact popped out that had never been thoroughly discussed before:

Dr. Ivins created spores with silicon inside the spore coats when he created the spores in flask RMR-1030.

The spores in flask RMR-1029 that were the starter spores for the material used in the anthrax attacks did not contain silicon.  Those spores were made at Ft. Detrick and at Dugway using a different method than what Dr. Ivins used to create the spores in RMR-1030.     

So, we know that Dr. Ivins sometimes did something when making spores for his work at Ft. Detrick that resulted in silicon accumulating in spore coats.   We don't know exactly what he did or exactly where the silicon came from.  But the silicon must have come from something Dr. Ivins used at Ft. Detrick.

It's a "smoking gun" of sorts, since the spores in flask RMR-1030 were one of only two instances (besides the attack anthrax) where silicon was found in the spore coats in a sample.  The other instance was a sample created at Dugway using the same type media Dr. Ivins used when making the spores in RMR-1030 -- Leighton-Doi media.

Dugway's sample contained silicon in the spore coats of 30% of the spores.  RMR-1030 contained silicon in the spore coats of only 6% of the spores.  BUT, that's the only difference.  The individual spores containing silicon in the two samples and in the attack anthrax contained the same amount of silicon in the same place - in the spore coat. 

So, we have five samples where silicon was found in the coats of Bacillus anthracis spores:

1.  The New York Post anthrax letter.
2.  The Senator Leahy anthrax letter.
3.  The Senator Daschle anthrax letter.
4.  Flask RMR-1030, created by Dr. Ivins.
5.  A sample created at Dugway using the same type of media Dr. Ivins used.

The questions that immediately come to mind are:

(1) When creating spores using Leighton-Doi media, what did Dugway do that was different from what Dr. Ivins did when creating the spores in flask RMR-1030?

(2)  What did Dr. Ivins do differently when making the spores in flask RMR-1030 versus when he allegedly made the spores in the anthrax letters?

(3)  Where did the silicon in the spores in flask RMR-1030 come from?

(4) What causes silicon to accumulate in some spores and not in others?

(5)  Why do none of these samples contain silicon in 100% of the spores?

I don't know when we'll get the answers to all of those questions - or if it is even possible to determine the answers.  But, it seems clear that it's time to add a new fact to the list of facts pointing toward Dr. Ivins' guilt.  I added the new fact as fact #4, renumbering everything after it.  Here it is:

4.  Dr. Ivins created the anthrax spores in flask RMR-1030, and some of those spores contained silicon in their spore coats just like in the attack spores.  Only the percentage of spores with silicon was different.

I realize that adding a new fact at #4 and re-numbering everything after it might cause problems when people look at my old comments, but when creating the list I tried to put the facts in order of importance, and this is a very important additional fact pointing to Dr. Ivins' guilt.

June 7, 2009 - I've been watching conspiracy theorists and True Believers argue their theories about the anthrax attacks of 2001 since we all first learned about the attacks.  I became interested in late October, 2001, when a TV talk show host argued that we should atom bomb Afghanistan if it turned out that al Qaeda was behind the attacks.  It was already fairly clear to me by that time that al Qaeda was not involved.  On October 26, newspapers were reporting that "The Ames Strain" had been used, and that strain was used mainly in the United States for anthrax vaccine research.  Since it could be killed by many different antibiotics, it was not a strain used for bioweapons.

Nevertheless, in November of 2001, the fact that the American-controlled Ames strain had been used in the attacks prompted conspiracy theorist Dr. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg to begin her campaign to point the finger at Dr. Hatfill and some imagined, illegal U.S. bioweapons program run by the Bush administration.

Meanwhile, regardless of what the facts said, True Believers continued to believe that radical Muslims must have been behind the attacks, since radical Muslims were behind the attacks of 9/11, and the first of the anthrax letters were mailed just a week later.  The two attacks had to be connected.   

The number of conspiracy theorists seemed to peak just after June 13, 2002, when Dr. Rosenberg, published her article "What the FBI Knows" on the Federation of American Scientists' web site.   A couple weeks later, when Dr. Hatfill's apartment was searched for the first time and he became a household name, everyone learned who Dr. Rosenberg had been pointing at for seven months (and Nicholas Kristoff of The New York Times for five months).  That's when reality started setting in. 
The "evidence" the conspiracy theorists had been using to point at Dr. Hatfill turned out to be just unsubstantiated claims, baseless beliefs and malicious innuendo.  Of course, the True Believers didn't believe Dr. Hatfill was guilty, either, since the attacks had to have been the work of radical Muslims. 
 
By the time The Washington Post printed their conspiracy theory article "FBI's Theory On Anthrax Is Doubted" on October 28, 2002, falsely suggesting that the attack anthrax had been weaponized with fumed silica, the facts were already starting to add up.  Those looking at the facts knew that the attack anthrax was not weaponized, the culprit was almost certainly an American scientist, but American scientist Dr. Steven Hatfill was almost certainly not the culprit.

When no one could find any Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, it was a severe blow to all but the most dedicated True Believers who had been pointing at Saddam Hussein as the culprit.  It was clear that Iraqi scientists did not make the attack anthrax.  And no sophisticated bioweapons labs were found in al Qaeda caves in Afghanistan.  So, it was also clear that Afghani scientists did not make the attack anthrax.   All the True Believers had left was their firm belief that 9/11 and the anthrax attacks must be connected somehow.    

But, the conspiracy theorists still believed that the FBI was covering up some secret and illegal American bioweapons program, and that attack anthrax must have come from that program.  They continued to insist that the attack anthrax was "weaponized," regardless of who in the government said otherwise.   Since that theory was largely a Left Wing theory, they saw the Bush Administration as being behind the attacks somehow.  The fumed silica theory printed in The Washington Post was shown to be false.  The totally preposterous theory that silica particles were glued to the attack spores to ward off van der Waals forces as printed in Science Magazine was apparently believed (by some) for awhile, but it, too, was eventually shown to be totally false.

The general public lost interest.  Things were becoming too complicated.   Too many theories had already been shown to be nonsense. 

Then, of course, Dr. Bruce Ivins committed suicide and we learned that the FBI had determined that Dr. Ivins was the anthrax mailer and that he had acted alone.  Suddenly, the subject came alive again.  The True Believers still believed as they always believed - that radical Muslims were behind the anthrax attacks - so, all they could do is rationalize ways that the FBI could be wrong.  Or, as one True Believer preposterously believes, the FBI is covering up the fact that radical Muslims were behind the attacks by pointing to an innocent American
for some national security reason

Then, in November of 2008, the American people elected Barack Obama to be President.  His entry into the White House in January of 2009 was not immediately followed by announcements that the Bush Administration had been covering up some secret and illegal bioweapons program.   So, if there was such a program, Barack Obama was now also covering it up.   That theory could be believed only by those who saw everyone in the government as evil.  On their first day in office, it must be a requirement that they all take an evil pill to make them all evil.  There could be no other explanation.   But how many people can believe that?   Not many.

So, how many conspiracy theorists and True Believers are left? 

I know of less than 10 who argue their theories on the Internet.  It may be just 6 or 7.  They claim there are many who believe as they believe, but when you examine their beliefs, they don't even agree with each other.   Each has his or her own unique theory.  The only common belief is that the FBI must be wrong, because if the FBI is right, then all of the conspiracy theorists and True Believers must be wrong.  And they do not see that as a possiblity.

They claim to have Representative Rush Holt and Senator Grassley on their side, but Holt and Grassley do not support any conspiracy theory. 
(Their evil pills must have been the wrong strength.)  They do not talk about any secret and illegal bioweapons program.  They do not claim that al Qaeda was behind the attacks.   They just want more information.

Everyone wants more information.

I want more information.  

And it seems clear that more information is coming.  The ASM meeting in Baltimore on February 24 was a preview for what we can expect to see printed in scientific journals sometime soon. 
Scientists who attended that meeting didn't walk out in protest as some conspiracy theorists fantasized that they would.   The science was straightforward and clear.  The attack anthrax was not weaponized.  No conspiracy theorist could come up with any theory for why only some of the attack spores contained silicon.  Weaponization implies that every spore be treated, not just 65% to 75%.    And what weaponization purpose is achieved by putting trace amounts of silicon inside the spore coat of some anthrax spores?  That requires fantasizing beyond the imaginations of even the most rabid fantasizing conspiracy theorists. 

All the conspiracy theorists could do was ignore the information.  If it wasn't printed and available to everyone, then there could have been some misunderstanding.   There was still room for doubt.  If the articles haven't been printed, then maybe they will never be printed, or maybe they'll show something different from what was shown to scientists at the Feb. 24 presentations.

A few continue to claim it is "
a deception procured by powerful forces inside our government."  But how many people can believe that tens of thousands of scientists and thousands of FBI and DOJ employees are involved in some grand conspiracy to cover up a secret and illegal bioweapons program?   How many people can believe that only those who have NO FACTS actually know the truth?

This morning, my email inbox contains several emails about how Barack Obama stated on July 16, 2008 (at about the 9:21 minute mark), that "We have still failed to solve the anthrax attacks which killed Americans on our soil in 2001.  We know that al Qaeda was attempting to develop biological weapons in Afghanistan."

Evidently, the fact that Barack Obama put those two sentences together just two weeks before Bruce Ivins committed suicide is seen as evidence that, before he became President, Obama thought that al Qaeda was behind the attacks.  What does he think now?  We don't know.  But it seems a good bet that it will take more than swallowing an "evil pill" to convince President Obama that he should protect a secret, illegal Bush administration bioweapons program.   And it would take more than swallowing a "stupidity pill" to convince him that he should ignore his own beliefs (if he had them) that al Qaeda could have been behind the anthrax attacks in favor of blaming an innocent American scientist.   He seems to fully understand that uninformed beliefs carry no weight when measured against solid facts.   

So, a few conspiracy theorists and True Believers may continue to attempt to gather followers via the Internet, but all the facts seem to indicate that their numbers are dwindling rapidly.  It takes true blindness to facts to continue to believe that Iraqi scientists made the attack anthrax, or that al Qaeda made it in some cave, or that tens of thousands of honest Americans are conspiring to prevent "the truth" about weaponization and some illegal American bioweapons program (or Bruce Ivins' innocence) from getting to the rest of the American people.

More information is coming.  The fact that we don't know the exact date the science articles will be published or the exact date that the Amerithrax investigation will be formally closed doesn't mean it won't happen.  It's only a question of when will it happen?  That's something I would like to know, too.

Updates & Changes: Sunday, May 31, 2009, thru Saturday, June 6, 2009

June 4, 2009 - Are the conspiracy theorists and True Believers simply going nuts?  This morning, Gazette.net (which appears to be owned by The Washington Post) contains a letter to the editor by Barry Kissin that is just plain jibberish.  Mr. Kissin's rantings make absolutely no sense at all.  What is prompting this sudden flurry of activity from conspiracy theorists and True Believers?  I get the distinct feeling that they're desperately trying to convert as many people to their beliefs as they can before the FBI or DOJ or someone else releases some solid facts about the case - facts that will make their beliefs and opinions look ridiculous.  I hope that feeling is correct. 

June 2, 2009 - The conspiracy theorists seem to become very aggressive lately.  The same scientist I commented about yesterday has posted a new false claim on Lew Weinstein's web site.  He cites an Aerosol Science and Technology article from March 2008 which was thoroughly discussed here between April 30 and May 28, 2008.  In the Aerosol Science article, Dugway and CDC scientists had falsely assumed that there was some truth to the story printed in The Washington Post about the attack spores being coated with fumed silica.  That Post article was very quickly debunked.   But the Dugway and CDC authors evidently read only the nonsense, not the facts.

On May 6, 2008, I received this information from one of the authors of the Aerosol Science article:

Dear Mr. Lake

Our comment that you quote from our recent publication should not be attributed to anyone in particular. We chose the silica-coated spores at the time because they appeared to give similar particle properties as indicated by some of the exposures reported in the press. At the time we started this project, we did not have any specific knowledge of the nature of particles used in the attacks, but since the particles we used were designed to have a similarly high dispersion efficiency, we felt that they would be a reasonable simulant.

I cannot identify the author of that statement because he says I shouldn't.  But he makes it very clear that their beliefs about the attack anthrax came from the media, and they had no specific knowledge about the attack anthrax.

Meanwhile, this morning, someone sent me this information from The Roll Call:

Brothers in Arms. It always helps to have connections on Capitol Hill — especially when you’ve got a documentary to promote.

Filmmaker Eric Nadler, brother of Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), will screen his latest documentary, “Anthrax War,” on Wednesday afternoon in the Cannon House Office Building. The 90-minute film analyzes the 2001 anthrax attacks and its aftermath, studying the subsequent FBI investigation and the growing bio-defense industry.

Eric Nadler and his documentary partner, Bob Coen, will be at the screening to answer questions and also discuss their companion book, “Dead Silence: Fear and Terror on the Anthrax Trail.”

Nadler spokesman Ilan Kayatsky told HOH that the Congressman arranged for the documentary to be shown on Capitol Hill and will attend Wednesday’s screening — but it turns out brotherly support only goes so far. Kayatsky cautioned that the New York Democrat has yet to see the film himself.

“We’re not endorsing the views of the film,” he added, explaining that the Congressman “thought it would be a good, thoughtful, educational film for Members of Congress” and staffers to watch.

Eric Nadler invited guests to the screening, and the Congressman asked Members and their staff to attend via a “Dear Colleague” letter, Kayatsky said.

Even though Nadler hasn’t yet seen his brother’s movie, he has been involved in the anthrax debate, Kayatsky noted. Nadler is a co-sponsor of legislation introduced by Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) that would establish the National Commission on the Anthrax Attacks, and he’s taken part in several Congressional hearings on the issue.

So, members of Congress will be viewing a conspiracy theory film.  Okay.  I guess there's nothing wrong with that.  From what I can tell, there isn't very much about the anthrax attacks of 2001 in "Anthrax War" that's believable.  And, I'm totally in favor of anything that will get more information made public.   I want to see all those detailed scientific articles that have been promised since Dr. Ivins' death, ten months ago.  I want to see a Congressional investigation dig into the Dr. Hatill "investigation."  I want to see the National Academy of Sciences' report on the FBI's scientific investigation.

The facts we have already are very clear.  Some people just don't believe the facts.  The main argument these days seems to be that everything that was believed early in the case is true and all the facts we've learned since then are false.  That is just plain stupid.

There's nothing to fear from the facts.  But, as long as the details about some of the facts remain confidential, the conspiracy theorists will continue to spout their nonsensical beliefs - and some people will listen.  In the minds of conspiracy theorists, anything that is "confidential" is proof of some evil government plot.


June 1, 2009 (B) -
On Sunday morning, I wrote a long comment about last week's arguments that had started with the news that, on June 30, Nova ScienceNOW is going to do a segment about the anthrax attacks.  The segment will probably be only 5 or 6 minutes long, but the question "Was It Weaponized?" will be addressed.  And their "bonus video" is about "how scientists could tell whether [or not] the anthrax in the 2001 attacks was specially engineered to disperse through the air."

The long comment was on this site for less than an hour before I erased almost all it because a scientist pointed out some technical errors I had made.   Here's a corrected version:

The subject of that Nova segment has been the primary subject of debates about the anthrax case since we first learned of the attacks almost eight years ago.  And the past week was just a continuation of those debates.

But, we know a lot more now than we did in October and November of 2001.  We not only know a lot more about the attack anthrax powders, we also know a lot more about specific points of debate.  And we know exactly how conspiracy theorists twist the facts to create doubt where there should be no doubt.  That was immediately demonstrated when  a conspiracy theorist member began arguing that the reason the spore coat appears so bright in the image on a computer screen near the end of the Nova clip is because it is coated with polysiloxane to "weaponize" the spores. 

Back in January, the same member of the Anthrax Traveling Circus was arguing the same thing on Dr. Nass's web site.
  In one message at that time, he wrote, "The siloxane just polymerizes and stays put - under the exosporium - exactly where Sandia found it."  In message after message he described how the silicon that Sandia detected must be a polysiloxane coating that was deliberately applied to "weaponize" the spores, and Sandia must be in cahoots with the FBI and the DOJ and all the other institutions and branches of the government that are trying to cover up the "fact" that the attack anthrax spores were "weaponized" with a polysiloxane coating.   In other words, it's all one grand criminal conspiracy involving tens of thousands of conspirators.  Only conspiracy theorists know the "truth."

Unlike in public forums, in an email forum I can more easily contact the scientists involved and ask them about what they found.  A scientist at Sandia pointed out to me that Scanning Transmission Electron Microscope (STEM) details may appear bright on a computer screen because heavy metal stains (like uranium, lead and tungsten) are often applied to enhance the contrast - to make the different parts of the spore more visible on the screen.

The conspiracy theorist immediately shot back that heavy metal stains wouldn't penetrate deep enough into a spore to cause the spore coat to be that bright.

Experts advised me that they don't coat whole spores when viewing them in a STEM.   They fix the spores in a fixative and then slice the spores into thin sections with a ultramicrotome.  They stain the thin sections.  Therefore, penetrating into the spore is not an issue.  It can be clearly seen on the Nova computer screen (and HERE) that the spores have been cross-sectioned.  If any staining was done, the spores were cross-sectioned before staining.

The conspiracy theorist immediately shot back that that would mean that heavy metal staining would also block out any view of the polysiloxane coating.   So, they wouldn't be able to tell if polysiloxane was there or not.

He was shooting down his own claim that the brightness was the result of the polysiloxane coating.  The response to that was easy: Sandia did a lot more tests than simply viewing cross-sections of spores on a STEM.  The other tests made it a virtual certainty that the spores were NOT coated with anything, not polysiloxane, not anything. 

The other tests showed that silicon was inside the spore coat, not on the outside of the spore coat.  The silicon appeared in only some of the spores (65% to 75%) where a "weaponization" coating process would almost certainly affect all spores.  A coating process would have to leave traces on the outside of the exosporium, and there were no traces there.   Spores that were still inside their mother cell also contained silicon, but the mother cells did not.  Plus, there are good scientific studies in published literature about silicon appearing "naturally" in spores.  Etc.

The conspiracy theorist then began arguing that Sandia had said at the February 24 microbiologists meeting in Baltimore that they couldn't tell the difference between polysiloxane and ordinary silica.  The conspiracy theorist wasn't at the meeting, but he had talked with at least one journalist who was there.

The response was that that is not what Sandia's scientists had said.  The subject of polysiloxane evidently didn't come up during the presentations at all.  But, in a meeting with some with journalists afterward, Sandia scientists had pointed out that certain types of equipment wouldn't be able to distinguish between polysiloxanes and quartz in situations where long exposures are required, such as when examining tiny spores.  The X-rays evidently alter the polysiloxanes to give them a signal similar to quartz.  The scientists at Sandia explained that were fully aware of this technical problem and therefore did not use such equipment.  They used equipment that could tell the difference when doing their tests.

So, the conspiracy theorist appeared to be deliberately taking words out of context to create doubt.  He'd been claiming that Sandia said they couldn't tell the difference between polysiloxanes and silica.  But what Sandia had said was that they couldn't tell the difference IF they used the wrong equipment, and that is why Sandia did not use such equipment.

And so it went.  As was his common practice, whenever cornered by the facts, the conspiracy theorist would try to change the subject by asking why the FBI did this or that.  Clearly, he wanted to get into areas where it would just be opinion against opinion, since neither of us could state for certain why the FBI didn't provide Sandia with a copy of AFIP's report or why FBI Director Mueller said "reverse engineering" was done at Dugway while scientists at Dugway made it clear what they did was NOT "reverse engineering,"  it was database building.

It was all very educational - unlike the bizarre things currently going on at the place of our last meeting.  

The three-day debate on the email forum ended on Friday when I asked the conspiracy theorist this question:

What is the purpose of your deliberate distortion of the facts?

I'm still awaiting an answer.  I could speculate, but that would really generate an argument of only opinions.  No facts.

June 1, 2009 (A) - Email discussions yesterday and today have been about a new book "Dead Silence: Fear and Terror on the Anthrax Trail" by Bob Coen and Eric Nadler.  It appears to be similar to the TV documentary "Anthrax Wars" which was discussed here back in late March.   It appears to start with a theory of evil goings on with bioweapons and looks for proof of such evil goings on, while ignoring any evidence that might disprove any part of the theory.

I found it interesting that Lew Weinstein is the only reviewer of the book on Amazon.com (so far), and he plugs his own book in the process.

It's also interesting that a fellow believer, Barry Kissin just wrote an article titled "The Lynching Of Bruce Ivins," and his web site is kissinforcongress.com.    Evidently, the best way to make a buck off the anthrax attacks is to suggest some kind of government conspiracy.  Just analyzing the facts won't sell many books.  I can testify to that.

May 31, 2009 - Much of the past week was spent in some of the most intensive, heated and enlightening arguments I've been involved with in months.  The arguments took place in our home territory - an email ("listserve") forum where members of the Anthrax Traveling Circus debate issues while a half dozen journalists watch.  Unlike public forums, in the email forum everyone uses their real name.  So, there's no doubt about who is speaking and what expertise that person brings to the table.  We've all been fighting with our gloves off for many years.

Last week's arguments began with news that Nova ScienceNOW is going to do a segment about the anthrax attacks on June 30.  According to Nova's web site, one question that will be addressed is "Was It Weaponized?"  And they provide a "bonus video" showing "
how scientists could tell whether [or not] the anthrax in the 2001 attacks was specially engineered to disperse through the air.


That, of course, has been the primary subject of debates about the anthrax case since we first learned of the attacks almost eight years ago.  And this past week was just a continuation of those debates.

Much of the debate was very very technical.  This morning, I tried posting a summary of the three-day discussion here, but I immediately received a comment that my summary was misleading and wrong on several key technical points.   I was told that I need to do more research in order to fully understand the differences (if there are any) between a EDX, EDS, XPS, XRF, SEM, TEM and STEM.

If I got my terminology mixed up, that's not surprising, since, in the middle of the debate I almost gave up and decided it was all way over my head.  I tried revising what I had written for today, but the discussions just got more and more technical.  I'll have to figure out how to get back on the right track - easy to understand explanations.

Updates & Changes: Sunday, May 24, 2009, thru Saturday, May 30, 2009

May 29, 2009 - Yesterday, according to The Associated Press, the federal prosecutor in charge of the anthrax case has resigned to go into private practice.   He'd been in the position since 2006.  I see no particular significance in this, but others might try to twist it to make it appear significant.  So, I'm mentioning it.    

May 25, 2009 - One of the members of The Anthrax Traveling Circus just sent me a link to an opinion piece by someone who agrees with the group that the FBI must be wrong.  The opinion piece is titled "The Lynching Of Bruce Ivins."  The idea is, apparently, to show that if others share the group's beliefs, then the group's beliefs must be correct.  If the group can find other people who do not believe the facts, then the facts must be irrelevant and the facts should be ignored.

May 24, 2009
- While reading the current issue of Newsweek, I came upon a review of a new book titled "Going To Extremes: How Like Minds Unite and Divide" by Cass Sunstein.  Th
e review includes these observations:          

Polemical thinking feeds on itself: when we're with like-minded people, soft views harden, and we begin to resist challenges to our ideas.

The Web unites—and it polarizes. Online, it's possible to filter news into what Sunstein calls the "Daily Me": a flow of information that only reinforces one's previously held opinions.

Although the Internet aspects may be new, the psychology is very very familiar.   It reminds me of the 1983 book "GroupThink" by Irving L. Janis.    Here's a good quote from that book:

Groups, like individuals, have shortcomings.  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.

And, one of my favorite books of all time is Barbara W. Tuchman's classic from 1984 "The March Of Folly."   Here's a quote from that book, with one word changed:

Wooden-headedness, the source of self-deception, is a factor that plays a remarkably large role in [GroupThink].  It consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs.  It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by facts.

All three of these books describe how like-minded people can convince themselves that their beliefs and actions are correct - regardless of how totally mindless and wrong those beliefs and actions might be.  Tuchman's book and Janis's book are mainly about governments (I replaced "government" with "GroupThink" in the Tuchman quote).  Sunstein's book appears to be about ordinary people acting in groups.  But, although some may believe otherwise, people in government are really just "ordinary people" in a different group than you or I.   

Here's a bit more about how groups operate, as described in the book "GroupThink":

In studies of social clubs and other small groups, conformity pressures have frequently been observed.  Whenever a member says something that sounds out of line with the groups' norms, the other members at first increase their communications with the deviant.  Attempts to influence the nonconformist member to revise or tone down his dissident ideas continue as long as most members of the group feel hopeful about talking him into changing his mind.  But if they fail after repeated attempts, the amount of communication they direct toward the deviant descreases markedly.  The members begin to exclude him, often quite subtly at first and later more obviously, in order to restore the unity of the group. 

Why am I discussing this?  I'm discussing it because it's the "message" and "theme" of the latest performance of The Anthrax Traveling Circus, the performance I've been calling (since last week's comment) "The CTTB Virus."  

In the Anthrax Traveling Circus's performance of "The CTTB Virus" on Lew Weinstein's blog during the past two weeks, the non-conformist (me) challenged the beliefs of others in the group by presenting them with solid facts which showed their beliefs to be false.  For awhile, as the group tried to convert the non-conformist to their GroupThink, it was an informative and fascinating battle.  But, if you look at that link now, there's little evidence that the non-conformist was ever there.  The unity of the group has been fully restored.

From the very beginning, their "unity" was entirely based upon one unshakable belief: The FBI is wrong.   However, during the past weeks, questions from the non-conformist made it very clear that no two members of the group agree on details of the anthrax attacks or the investigation (exactly who did it, why they did it, how they got the anthrax, how the anthrax was made, where it was made, etc.).  They only agree on one thing:  The FBI must be wrong, because if the FBI is  right,  that would mean the every single one of the group members has been totally wrong for nearly eight years.

Lew Weinstein's blog is now primarily a web site about one woman's belief that she encountered the anthrax culprits while attending Iowa State University eleven years before the attacks and why she believes the attack anthrax probably came from the anthrax samples infamously destroyed by ISU shortly after the attacks in 2001.   Even the other members of the group who don't believe her story has anything to do with the attacks of 2001 have been drowned out by the continuing story of what happened in 1990.  As of this moment, the site is showing part 4 of an unknown number of parts.   Part 4 is appropriately titled "Will Someone Please Listen To me."

The member who challenged the non-conformist with one bizarre series of mistaken beliefs after another is still trying to convince people he's right, even though his beliefs were shown to be wrong again and again and again and again. Somehow, he's decided that the Department of Energy is behind the "cover up," and he can't convince people of that because
he's being drowned out by stories from 1990. 

The member who challenged the non-conformist with outright lies about the scientific investigation seems to have gone quiet.  It's certainly not because his lies were shown to be lies. More likely, it's because he simply got bored.

The member who tried to drown out the non-conformist with an endless stream of lengthy postings about unrelated matters is now trying - apparently in vain - to drown out the unrelenting tide of meaningless details from 1990.

The member telling the story from 1990 is now dominating the scene.

The host is using the tale from 1990 to promote his new book, and he's also attempting to validate the group's opinions with opinions from others.  Actual facts no longer have any part to play in this performance of "The CTTB Virus."  Facts have seemingly been banned from the discussion.  Facts only upset the beliefs of the group.  

And, the intrepid non-conformist has left the scene to analyze what happened.  His analysis is what you've just read. 

Updates & Changes: Sunday, May 17, 2009, thru Saturday, May 23, 2009

May 19, 2009 - Maybe it's just me, but I'm finding the latest edition of The Anthrax Traveling Circus to be hilarious.   I just noticed a "news release" that should be titled "Everything old is new again," but instead has a long convoluted title that proves the old saying, "Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it."

May 17, 2009
- The Anthrax Traveling Circus continued to perform at Lew Weinstein's blog site last week.  The size of the audience is not known.   However, if the number of audience volunteers is any gauge, we may have mostly just been performing for ourselves.   Clearly, the audience was far smaller than at our last show at Dr. Meryl Nass's blog site.  And the audience at Dr. Nass's site was much much smaller than our 13-week hit performance on FreeRepublic.com and the many other - shorter - performances there.

I've been thinking of calling our act "The CTTB Virus."  (CTTB = Conspiracy Theorist/True Believer.)  The show seems to act like a virus, jumping from host to host, infecting people until the intrepid Virus Hunter (me) enters to try to bring it under control by injecting a shot of reality.  But then, when it looks like the virus may have been finally halted, it just starts up again somewhere else.  (As in all good dramas about human conflict, the people spreading the virus think they are "the good guys" as they go about trying to convert people to their version of "the truth."  But why would the "good guys" use new false names every time they show up?  Using false names implies they are up to no good.)

I was totally unaware of Lew Weinstein's blog until I received an email advising me of the comments by Dr. Jeff Adamovicz.  The person who sent the email presumably believed that finding someone from USAMRIID who agreed with the conspiracy theorists and True Believers was proof that that the conspiracy theorists and True Believers were spreading "the truth."  Since the host of the blog clearly feels the same way and has even written a novel which evidently supports such beliefs, it appears that a lot of gestation and fermentation took place before this particular version of "The CTTB Virus" was released on the blog.

That's what keeps the show interesting.  The conspiracy theorists and True Believers appear to work together for a long time to assemble something new that will convince everyone of "the truth."  So, when the intrepid Virus Hunter is brought onto the scene, he finds new members in the cast, the old members are using new false names, and we have a new outbreak of "The CTTB Virus" in need of a good dose of reality.

Lew Weinstein's blog seems oddly organized.   It has a home page, but unless I'm missing something, unless you have the link, it's difficult finding the start of the anthrax discussion and even more difficult to put things in order.  There are pieces HERE and HERE and HERE.  The third link in that series contains some new information.  In message #5, "DXer" says that the 10 or more new science articles about the science of the Amerithrax investigation that we are all waiting for will be published in T
he Journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases I have nothing that confirms that statement, but I also have no reason to doubt it.   "DXer" claims the publishing delay is the result of a "lack of responsiveness" from the FBI.   Others have suggested the same thing.

For awhile, the last act of this particular performance of "The CTTB Virus" seemed to be HERE.  And, for awhile, the last line in the final act appeared to be from the intrepid Virus Hunter when he said:

The fact that the FBI hired the National Academy of Sciences to review the scientific findings in the Amerithrax investigation doesn’t mean that there is any doubt about the findings. It just means that a review by the NAS will supposedly remove any hint of bias from the findings. The science is really straight-forward. It just overturns a lot of prior beliefs that were based upon INCORRECT news stories from the early days of the investigation. The chances that the NAS will find that the FBI’s scientific findings were incorrect are just about ZERO.

Then, just as the curtain was about to go down, someone from the audience stood up and gave us his unique view of the entire investigation.   The intrepid Virus Hunter tried to reply immediately, but the host/moderator requested a change.  So,  "DXer" got in two long, long rambling responses before the intrepid Virus Hunter's response could be heard.

That's show biz.

Updates & Changes: Sunday, May 10, 2009, thru Saturday, May 16, 2009

May 14, 2009 (B) - Hmm.  Today's Frederick News-Post has an editorial titled "End Of Story?"  It's their take on the news that the National Academy of Sciences has agreed to review the science utilized in the anthrax investigation.  They seem to suggest that it's a coin toss as to whether the NAS will come back with a favorable or unfavorable review:

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

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

While I suppose it's possible that the NAS will find some "fault with the FBI's handling of the investigation," such a "fault" might just show that some different test could have produced even more concrete results.  I.e., instead of just being a 98% certainty, the other test might make it a 99% certainty.

Long before that happens, however, we will hopefully see the many scientific articles from the scientists who worked on the case that have already been written but not yet published, and we will see the FBI close the case and release its information on the criminal investigation that led to Dr. Ivins as the anthrax mailer.

May 14, 2009 (A) - Uh oh!  I just stumbled across an article from Fox News which states that President Obama is looking to have
Tara O'Toole as an "undersecretary for the science and technology directorate, the primary research and development arm of the Department of Homeland Security."   That name has been in my memory since the early days of the anthrax investigation when she seemed certain that the attacks originated in Florida.  Tara O'Toole seemed to be wrong about everything back then.   This is from a Los Angeles Times article dated April 21, 2002:

In its e-mail January to microbiologists, the FBI asked them to be on the lookout for a loner. "The perpetrator might be described as 'standoffish' and likely prefers to work in isolation as opposed to a group/team setting. It is possible this person used off-hours in a laboratory or [borrowed] equipment to produce the anthrax."

But the evidence points in a different direction for two theorizing medical professionals: Tara O'Toole and Thomas V. Inglesby of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategies.

Assessing a medical case in Florida, in which one of the Sept. 11 hijackers sought treatment for a leg wound in June, O'Toole and Inglesby concluded that the skin lesion might have been caused by anthrax. That was the conclusion too of the attending physician, Christos Tsonas of Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, but it was reached only after reviewing his notes taken while treating Ahmed Ibrahim A. Al Haznawi for what appeared to be a simple, if unusual, leg injury.

In a two-page memo for the FBI, O'Toole and Inglesby said the anthrax diagnosis was "the most probable and coherent interpretation of the data available."

.....

"I think that Barbara Hatch Rosenberg and Tara O'Toole may both be guilty of some degree of over-speculation," said one researcher who did not want to offend his colleagues by being named.


On the other hand, O'Toole's appointment seems to be upsetting a lot of Fox News regulars.  So, maybe there's a positive side to this, and I just don't know what it is.  But when Rosenberg and O'Toole are mentioned in the same sentence and are considered to be similar in their methods, that makes me uneasy.


May 12, 2009 - The conspiracy theorists and True Believers are abuzz this morning over some blog postings by Lewis M. Weinstein, and some interesting responses to his postings.  The first post, titled "FBI anthrax science to be reviewed; conclusions due 23 months after FBI says it is closing the case," is an obvious advertisement for a novel Mr. Weinstein has written about the anthrax attacks of 2001.  His novel is titled "Case Closed" and Mr. Weinstein says this about it:

I don’t claim that my novel tells what actually happened, but it sure lays out a possible scenario to explain the FBI’s ineptness.

It appears that the "possible scenario" detailed in Mr. Weinstein's novel will involve some complex plot to cover up the "fact" that Muslim terrorists were actually behind the anthrax attacks of 2001.  In a response to a response, Mr. Weinstein writes:

It seems ever more likely that the FBI’s intent in this case was to obfuscate and delay, and not to solve the case, and one must ask why.

The answer is presumably in his novel.  But more interesting than Mr. Weinstein's advertisement is the response by Leutenant Colonel Jeffery J. Adamovicz, PhD.  On my computer screen it appears as one big paragraph, but when broken apart into more readable segments it makes very interesting reading.  It opens with this statement:

I am Bruces’friend and colleague so I am somewhat biased on this topic. However, I was also the Chief of Bacteriology at USAMRIID and in Bruces supervisory chain and understand very well the science and the labs capabilities. So here is my take on the “evidence” surrounding this case.

Here is the first and main question Dr. Adamovicz asks:

1. Why did only two labs submit samples that are positive for RMR1029? Does this mean that a lot of places (including the real perpetrater) failed to comply with the FBIs voluntary sample submission scheme? Why didnt' the FBI themselves comment on the extent of compliance? They know or should know which labs legitimatley possessed RMR1029 so this knowledge should have been matched with the results as an internal proficinecy test ( a common quality control practice). While I no longer have access to detailed distribution records I can confidently state that more then two labs possessed aliquots of RMR1029.

This appears to answer a question I've been asking: Did other labs get samples from RMR-1029 which did not contain the four selected mutations?   The answer appears to be: Yes.  But, Dr. Adamovicz seems to miss the point.  The tests done on the 1,070+ samples to find the mutations were done to find sources that could have produced the attack anthrax.  It was not a test to see who got samples from flask RMR-1029.

Once the FBI had identified flask RMR-1029 to be the source of the four mutations, did they then check the records to see if all the labs which received samples from RMR-1029 were accounted for in the 1,070+ samples they analyzed?  Dr. Adamovicz seems to assume they didn't.  Following basic police procedures would mean they did.

If a sample did not contain the four mutations, then it could have have been the source of the attack anthrax - regardless of where it originally came from.   It would be next to impossible to grow the attack anthrax from a sample that did not have the four mutations and to have the new growth spontaeously generate those same specific four mutations.

If what Dr. Adamovicz says is true, that also means that a sample extracted from RMR-1029 does NOT automatically include all the mutations found in flask RMR-1029.  The extracted sample does not even have to contain the four most common and stable mutations.

After all, the four selected mutations showed up in only a tiny fraction of the total number of spores in the attack anthrax and in RMR-1029 - less than 1%. 

Is there any scientific certainty that mutations that are in approximately 1% of the spores in a flask will transfer in that percentage (or greater) to another batch?  It would depend upon the size of the sample taken from the originating flask.

A transfer of just 50 spores would mean a 50% probability that NO spores with the mutations would be transferred.       

And there were at least four different mutations in that 1%.   That does not mean that if you took 100 spores from flask RMR-1029 you would get all four mutations.  No.  Logically, it would mean that you would get only 1 of the four.  You would have to take 400 spores from flask RMR-1029 to have a theoretical probability of getting all four mutations.

How many spores were taken from flask RMR-1029 when someone requested a sample?  400?  4,000?  40,000?  400,000?  4,000,000?  40,000,000?  400,000,000?  or 4,000,000,000?

Conspiracy theorists and True Believers evidently assume 4,000,000,000 or so.  It provides a near certainty that all the mutations will transfer properly and in the right proportions.

But, if I was giving out samples of a "gold standard" to other labs, I'd keep the number of spores distributed to an absolute minimum in order to maintain the "gold standard" supply for the longest possible time.  The spores in RMR-1029 were created in 1997.  Roughly a quarter of them were still left in 2005 when flask RMR-1029 was identified as the source of the attack anthrax.   How many samples were taken from the flask in eight years?  Approximately how many spores in each sample?

Whatever the answers, it now seems a near certainty that every sample taken from RMR-1029 did not automatically contain every mutation.  And that means that there's a high probablility that further DNA tests for mutations could have verified exactly which of the eight samples containing the four mutations was the actual unique source for the attack anthrax.

Dr. Adamowicz asks a second question:

2. Was there ever a search for RMR1029 precursor samples that possess all four morphotypes? I asked the scientific panel a question about this at the ASM-biodefense meeting in February 2009. They claimed they couldn’t answer this as it related to the investigation of the case.

So, the exact details about how the FBI narrowed down the source of the attack anthrax to the unique contents of flask RMR-1029 and then to Dr. Ivins are still "confidential" and will remain so until the case is closed.  Hopefully, that will happen in the not too distant future.  But the answers seem fairly obvious.  The fact that they haven't yet been publicly disclosed doesn't change anything.

Dr. Adamowicz concludes his posting with some odd statements about the silicon found in the attack anthrax, and he criticizes the scientists at Sandia because he does not like their findings - and/or because they didn't investigate the FBI's investigation.   He complains that Sandia "
did not analyze the silicon content in the extracellular area" of the attack anthrax.  What would "extracellular area" include in a sample that was virtually  pure spores as the Leahy and Daschle samples were?  Dr. Adamowicz doesn't explain.

Interestingly, that same blog site includes another posting by 
Lewis M. Weinstein titled: "Stuart Jacobsen: regarding silicon content, the FBI made deliberate misrepresentations."   Mr. Weinstein appears to be posting something written by Dr. Jacobsen.   Among Dr. Jacobsen's many misrepresentations of what the FBI has said is this:

The FBI seem to be claiming that silicon is always found “naturally” in spores – as if the chemistry of silicon is a vital component of the spore microbiology and spores could not form without it.

No such claim or anything like it was ever made by the FBI.  It's a straw man argument - a totally made-up argument, evidently deliberately created so that Dr. Jacobsen can shoot it down.  And he proceeds to do so, providing examples of instances where silicon was not found in anthrax spores.

Dr. Jacobsen's argument boils down to this example of his scientific logic:

The bottom line here is really very simple.

If there are no spores inside Detrick containing amounts of silicon similar to the mailed spores then the mailed spores were NOT made at Detrick.

All you need to do in order to accept such an argument is assume that Dr. Ivins made the attack spores using exactly the same protocols and procedures used when making other spores at Ft. Detrick.   And that is preposterous.

Reality says that the culprit was primarily concerned with speed and secrecy when producing the attack anthrax.  He was doing something illegal and dangerous, so he was definitely NOT following standard procedures.  Therefore, the idea that he must get the same results as someone who makes spores following standard procedures is just plain stupid.   


But, it's nice to see some discussion.  It's been a long dry spell.   

May 10, 2009 - Last week, I tried a couple times to get a discussion going on how the National Academy of Sciences might go about assembling the experts to evaluate the scientific findings in the Amerithrax case.  But, my efforts failed.

The only problem with the NAS review, as I see it, is that the FBI utilized the top experts in just about every scientific field that became part of the investigation.  If the top experts were used, who does the NAS employ to check on the work of the top experts?  If the review of the FBI's investigation by the NAS is to be considered unbiased, the NAS cannot employ anyone who was directly involved in the FBI's investigation.

I don't really think that it's an insoluble problem.  It doesn't have to be like students evaluating the work of teachers.  It can just be scientists evaluating the work of other scientists.   But who evaluates the work of Paul Keim and his staff at Northern Arizona University on the subject of anthrax DNA?  At what level is the next level of experts?  Will the review team have to study the work of Paul Keim and his team in order to learn enough about the subject of anthrax DNA to be able to check on the work of Paul Keim and his team?

And what about the work done at Sandia National Laboratories with electron microscopy?  The field of electron microscopy isn't that large.  The people in the field periodically assemble to have meetings and seminars where they get to know one another and exchange details of their experiences.   The odds are that anyone chosen to review the work done by Sandia will be known by - and might even be friends of - the scientists at Sandia.

Again, it's not an insoluble problem.  It may not even be a difficult problem.  It's just something the conspiracy theorists can use to generate reasons why the NAS review should not be accepted as the final word.  They'll compare it to one college buddy evaluating the work of another college buddy.  Can such an evaluation be guaranteed to be unbiased?  If there can be doubt, then there is doubt.  And the conspiracy theorists will generate as much doubt as they can.

While it's amusing to contemplate, I do not think that in 15 months we'll be seeing headlines like these:

NAS spends $879,550 in effort to find objective scientists and fails!
Objectivity not a human condition, NAS finds!      

And I certainly don't expect that the NAS is going to hire a bunch of conspiracy theorists to do the review.  While total objectivity might be rare or nonexistant, mindless bias is easily recognizable and cannot be part of any valid scientific evaluation or review.

So, I think the NAS will assemble the best team of experts they can find, and that team will do their best to review the scientific work done in the Amerithrax investigation.  And that review will be published by the NAS for all the world to see.  Everyone will presumably do the best job they know how.  And that's the most we can hope for.

And we can also hope that the many scientific papers on the science of the case that have long been awaiting publication will be published fairly soon.  They should tell us if there is any chance at all that the NAS review might find something wrong.  The publication of the papers, the expected subsequent discussion and the NAS review and discussion might be a combination overwhelming enough to quash the rantings of all but the most die-hard conspiracy theorists.

Which just leaves the FBI's criminal investigation that led to the finding that Dr. Bruce Ivins sent the anthrax letters and acted alone when doing so.  Although the NAS will not be evaluating Dr. Ivins' guilt or innocence in any way, shape or form, the NAS scientific review will supposedly address the subject of whether the equipment available in Dr. Ivins' lab was sufficient enough to produce the attack anthrax in the amount of time Ivins had.   That is a pure scientific question.  Some scientists (who do not know how the anthrax was made) say it's impossible.  Other scientists (who know how the anthrax was made) say it's not difficult at all for someone with Dr. Ivins' knowledge and experience.  An objective review of that subject alone might be worth the cost of the NAS review.

So, when will the FBI close the case?  When will we see the case against Dr. Ivins presented in some form that can be studied and examined?  Does the agreement on the NAS review mean that the publication of the scientific articles and/or the closing of the case are not far off?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But it's a hopeful sign.   It is an indication of progress.

Updates & Changes: Sunday, May 3, 2009, thru Saturday, May 9, 2009

May 7, 2009 - Hmm.  In what may be the shortest article I've ever seen by reporter Scott Shane, The New York Times, reports that the FBI has agreed to pay the National Academy of Sciences $879,550 to review the scientific work done during the Amerithrax investigation.   The 15 month review will cover such things as the evidence which led to flask RMR-1029 and clues to how, when and where the anthrax was cultured, changed to spores and dried.

The question of whether or not Dr. Ivins could have perpetrated the attack anthrax with the time and equipment he had should be resolved by this review, even though the question of Dr. Ivins' guilt or innocence will not be addressed.

Science Magazine's web site contains a much more detailed article.  However, the title, "FBI Anthrax Investigation Under Scientific Review" seems to suggest that the FBI's findings are being questioned, when, in reality, the FBI is paying to have their work reviewed.  (Will nay-sayers claim that any review paid for by the FBI must be biased?)  The Science article includes a list of areas the NAS will examine, including this:

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

The part in red appears to be a euphemism for checking into whether the spores were "weaponized" or not. 

The article also makes it very clear that the NAS will not examine Dr. Ivins' guilt or innocence:

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

For information about exactly how the FBI determined that Dr. Ivins sent the anthrax letters and acted alone when doing so, we're going to have to wait for the FBI to close the case and release the associated documents.  And then, perhaps, we'll also get Rush Holt's congressional committee examination of the case.

I'm seeing no indication as to when the case will be closed or when the scientific articles will be published.  I imagine that the scientists involved are as anxious as I am to see their work in print.    

May 3, 2009
- Although I could find no new information in the media last week about the status of the Amerithrax investigation, I was still involved in a number o
f interesting discussions about the case.

A True Believer was furious at being called a True Believer in last Sunday's comment, and he appeared to declare that he was so angry that he was no longer going to send me any emails, i.e., he was no longer going to try to convert me to his beliefs.  So, the week began on a very hopeful note -- for me.

But, I don't think he'll be able to resist for very long in his efforts to try to convert me.  On Tuesday, I happened to rent and watch a recent movie called "Henry Poole Is Here," which coincidentally and totally unexpectedly contained a speech about what motivates True Believers.  It went something like this:

True Believers need to convert everyone to their beliefs, because if someone doesn't accept what they believe, then there is doubt about what they believe.  And they cannot tolerate doubt about something they know for certain.  Everyone must believe.  There can be no doubt.  When something is absolutely certain, doubt is wrong.  So, they'll persist with their conversion efforts until everyone is converted.  Only then will all doubt be eliminated.

But that was a fictional story with an "uplifting" message, so, of course, the True Believers turned out to be right.  In movies, True Believers and conspiracy theorists almost always turn out to be right.  In real life, not so much.

Coincidentally, last week someone sent me a link to an article about what motivates some conspiracy theorists.  It contained this explanation (which I've heard several times before):

Patrick Leman, a psychologist at the University of London who specializes in conspiracy theories, says people tend to be terrified by the fact that a few bad apples can profoundly alter the course of history. We prefer to believe that we live in a stable world where major events have understandable causes. The whole "9/11 was an inside job" theory helps many people sleep at night.

The article also contains a comment which I feel applies more to True Believers than to conspiracy theorists, but, to a degree, definitely applies to both:

Some research suggests that when confronted with evidence that contradicts closely held beliefs, people tend to cling even more tightly to their convictions. The more you challenge him, the more [that person] may suspect you're hopelessly naive—or worse, actually participating in furthering the conspiracy, as either a dupe or an agent of a government out to stymie truth-seekers.
 
Then someone else started another discussion or argument about conspiracy theorists.  The new argument was about why I didn't support all the conspiracy theorists who "are just asking questions."  I was told that I should support people who ask questions.

I do support people who ask questions.  I have to.  I ask questions all the time.  But, asking questions doesn't make you a conspiracy theorist.  In order to be a "conspiracy theorist," you need to believe or promote a theory that two or more people have been conspiring together to do something illegal.   Example: Promoting a theory that thousands of people in the U.S. Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Military and scientists in government funded laboratories are all conspiring together to cover up the fact that the anthrax sent through the mails in 2001 was "weaponized" and came from a secret and illegal bioweapons program run by the United States government.  

Interestingly, the conspiracy theory that was the focus of that particular discussion was the new theory that the swine flu outbreak was the result of a weaponized strain that was deliberately released for some - as yet unknown - reason.  And a possible reason was suggested: to kill Mexicans, since only Mexicans seem to be dying.

There are no facts which support such a thing, I told him.  If the outbreak had started in China, all the first victims would have been Chinese.  That wouldn't mean it was a weapon tailored to kill only Chinese.  (Fear mongering seems to be the bigger problem than conspiracy theorists with the swine flu outbreak.)

During the exchange, I wrote these three different comments (some admittedly heated) in three different emails:            

Assuming that a new virus MUST be from some bioweapons program is not only stupid, it's just plain wrong.  Such assumptions do NO good and can only do harm.  Such assumptions are based upon IGNORANCE, not facts and reality.

Conspiracy theorists seem to say that if it is "possible" that someone could have been involved in a conspiracy, then there was a conspiracy until proven otherwise.  And they use junk science to create doubt.  There is no justification for that.  It's pure malice as a result of some nutty desire to show that "the government is evil."

Conspiracy theories are not valid until proven invalid.  They are invalid until proven valid.  Any idiot can come up with a theory - no proof required, you only need a belief that the theory could be corrrect.  Proof is what makes a theory valid, not beliefs.  And junk science is not proof.

I also ranted a bit about the seven years I've spent arguing with conspiracy theorists and how they use one junk science argument after another to promote their theories.  As each junk science argument is shown to be total nonsense, they just move on to a new junk science argument.  Using junk science is a tactic used by people who have no real proof to support their beliefs.

I ended the discussion by pointing out that it was like "the boy who cried 'wolf!"  All those screwball conspiracy theories that are easily debunked could make it more difficult to detect a real conspiracy - should one be spawned.  (Yes, there have been real conspiracies.  Watergate was one.  "Conspiracy theorists" Woodward and Bernstein were right.  But people who use junk science to make preposterous claims aren't in that category.)  

And, on Friday, I was contacted by someone asking my response to the fact that the attack anthax spores supposedly consisted of 1.4% silicon.  The argument was that that somehow exonerates Dr. Ivins and somehow proves that the attack anthrax could not have been made at Ft. Detrick.

Same old, same old.   It does no such thing. 

Back in mid-February, someone described for me a scientific article in which the silicon content in a variety of spores was measured.  I haven't yet obtained a copy of the article for myself, but it was in a book titled "The Bacterial Spore," edited by G. W. Gould and A. Hurst, and published by Academic Press in 1969.  The title of the article is "Chemical Composition of Spores and Spore Structures," by W. G. Murrell.

The article says that a group of scientists averaged 13 species and 14 unidentified strains of bacillus and found that the average amount of silicon in the spores was 0.53% by dry weight.  The minium was 0.2% and the maximum was 1.2%.

If the attack spores contained 1.4% silicon by dry weight, that would be slightly above the maximum found in those tests done in the 1960's.  But those tests were never intended to be definitive and all-encompassing.  They were just the findings from one collection of spores intended to show the amounts of different elements that scientists could expect to find in spores.   Arbitrarily claiming that anything above 1.2% indicates "weaponization" would be pure junk science.

I'm awaiting for a response to that information.

Last week I also watched a movie that just came out on DVD: "Nothing But The Truth."  It's a fictional story "inspired" by the Valerie Plame case.  It's an okay movie about freedom of the press versus national security.  I found one particular comment to be worth remembering:   One lawyer tells another, "You're making a big mistake."  The other lawyer reponds, "Well, we learn from our mistakes."  And the first lawyer then says, "Well, there is the mistake of wearing white after Labor Day and then there's the mistake of invading Russia in winter."

Media reports insisting the attack spores were "weaponized" wasn't a mistake like wearing white after Labor Day.

Perhaps the most interesting discussion last week, however, had nothing to do with anthrax or swine flu.  It was about movies.  I tried to explain to someone who only watches new movies why I also like watching old movies that I've seen many times.  The other person seem to find that totally incomprehensible.  I told him that it was a very different kind of entertainment.  Watching new movies is all about quelling curiosity: Is it as good as others say?  Will I like it?  Will movie star X be as good as in another movie I liked?  Will movie star Y be better than in another movie I didn't like?

Watching old movies over again has nothing to do with curiosity.  The answers are all known.  It's more like listening to your favorite music.  It's all about pure enjoyment.  It's about enjoying "favorite parts" and "favorite artists."  It's about beats and patterns and riffs and themes that you found enjoyable in the past and want to enjoy again.

I don't know if my explanation was comprehensible or not.  I felt as if I was trying to explain the pleasures of listening to jazz to someone who hates jazz.       

But, as I was explaining why I like watching old movies, I made that comparison between movies and listening to music.  I'd never realized that before.   It wasn't just a matter of personal tastes.  It wasn't just something I liked doing.  There was an explanation for it.  And the explanation should be understandable to anyone who enjoys listening to music.  

Hmmm.  Finding solid and understandable explanations for things is also something I enjoy doing.

Updates & Changes: Sunday, April 26, 2009, thru Saturday, May 2, 2009

April 28, 2009 (B) - Everything seems to relate to the anthrax attacks of 2001 these days.  The screwball incident where the Air Force flew a jumbo jet at low altitude around the Statue Of Liberty while a combat photographer in a jet fighter took pictures should remind us that even though 9/11 and the anthrax attacks aren't talked about every day, they are definitely not forgotten - even if some clueless military officer or politician might think they are.

But more interesting is to think about how the fiasco happened.

Evidently, some bureaucrat saw that the old pictures of "Air Force One" were out-dated and need to be replaced.  So, he or she suggested that be done.  No problem with that.  He or she just assumed that everyone who would take care of getting the new picures would do so without causing any problems.

And the person at the very top received a request to authorize new pictures of "Air Force One."  He approved the request, undoubtedly assuming that everyone who would take care of it would do so without causing any problems.

The pilots and air crew were given instructions and, evidently, assumed that someone else would take care of notifying people on the ground of what was going to happen.

Air controllers must have been involved, but they probably assumed that everyone would be properly notified.

But, somewhere along the line, someone decided it was a "classified" mission and the public should not be notified. 

When you look at it in relationship to the anthrax attacks of 2001, what you see is the reason why - if Dr. Bruce Ivins was truly the anthrax mailer - no one paid any attention when he worked late at night in his lab.   Everyone assumed he was doing  something totally proper and that everyone in authority had approved.  In that case, the culprit undoubtedly knew that other people would be thinking that way.  In this instance, someone just wasn't thinking at all.  Otherwise, they are psychologically very similar examples of bureaucratic thinking of the most scary kind.    


April 28, 2009 (A) - What motivates conspiracy theorists?  Some of them are already jumping on the Internet to try to convince people that the Swine Flu epidemic was deliberately caused by some kind of bioweapon.   "New swine flu feared to be weaponized strain" is one crackpot headline.  "Is Swine Flu A Biological Weapons?" is another.  Both are deliberately manufactured nonsense by lone individuals using the Internet for some purpose.  But what purpose?  Are conspiracy theorists like pyromaniacs who get excited by starting fires?  Or do they just like creating doubt and watching people run around in fear?  Or do they have some kind of deep hatred for governments of all kinds and just blindly accuse the government of everything that goes wrong?   Or does each conspiracy theorist have a motive of his own?

The facts seem to indicate that this new swine flu virus mutates very quickly into something less serious.  About 150 people died near the source in Mexico.  But all the cases in the United States are mild cases.  Unfortunately, a quickly mutating virus could also suddenly mutate into something even more deadly than the original.  That's what happened in 1918.  So, it's a serious matter, but it's not something to panic over -- yet. 

But, meanwhile, conspiracy theorists will try to get you to look for some sinister government plot behind it all.  And the main stream media will help by pointing to other possible villains:  "Investors Buy Up Shares of Flu Drug Makers" is a headline in The New York Times.  "Venture capital firm set to reap rewards on swine flu" is a headline from Reuters.   "Firms Look to Prevent Swine Flu Pandemic, Turn a Profit" is a headline from ABC News.

The only plot here is the plot devised by the individual conspiracy theorists to get you to believe their particular brand of nonsense.  Turning a profit in a time of emergency isn't proof that you kill people in order to turn a profit.  Drugs are developed to cure diseases.  When there's an outbreak of a disease, it's not because someone is selling a drug to cure it, it's because past experience showed a need for such a drug.  But conspiracy theorists want you to believe otherwise.
    

April 26, 2009
-
With no news to discuss, it's becoming more and more difficult to come up with something different and (hopefully) interesting to write about each week.  Believe it or not, I spent a lot of time last week pondering the idea of relating the controversies over the anthrax attacks of 2001 to the TV series "Battlestar Galactica."   I really like good science fiction, and I recently bought Season 1 of the series because I hadn't seen it, a lot of people seemed to like it, and, most importantly, it was on sale for just $19.99.  Over the course of a couple weeks I watched the 4 hour miniseries from 2003 and all 13 episodes from 2004-2005, plus some commentaries and features.  From the very beginning, I found it to be stupid yet well-acted and interesting.  It's a science fiction series for people who do not like science fiction and who do not like or understand science.  It supposedly takes place hundreds of years from now, yet the female lead is dying of breast cancer, the #2 military officer is an alcoholic who has no trouble accessing booze in space, yet they don't have the technology to detect differences between a human and a creature with super-human abilities, they don't have any technology to help look for someone lost on a planet and must search visually while traveling at a thousand miles an hour, they call a radio a "wireless," their phones are connected to the wall with cords, and they print messages on paper.  In the commentaries and features, the series' creators explained why they did all that:  It wasn't done as a ridiculous parody or silly farce.  They did it because they felt it was more believable than true science fiction.

It's more believable to use paper messages instead of an LCD screen on a space ship?  More believable for whom?  And they make a big deal of the fact that they cut off all four corners of their computer paper printouts - evidently to make it more wasteful and stupid.

Uh oh.  If I'm not careful, I will end up writing this whole comment about that TV series and how some people following the anthrax case find things that are stupid and unbelievable to be clever and more believable than reality.

While there may not have been any real news about the anthrax investigation last week, that didn't prevent me from getting into a heated argument about the case.  A True Believer sent me some email messages attacking me for believing something that I do not believe, but which he believes I believe.

I know it's a total waste of time to argue with a True Believer.  But, last week I had time to waste, so I argued. 

He appeared to claim that I believe that Dr. Ivins' guilt has been scientifically proven beyond any doubt.  I pointed out the many times I've stated very clearly on this web site and elsewhere that science only led the investgation to flask RMR-1029, which Dr. Ivins controlled.  Because of where and how flask RMR-1029 was stored, however, about a hundred other people could have had access to that flask.  So, theoretically, they also might have done it.  It has been stated many times by many people that it was not science which reduced the number of possible suspects from around 100 to just Dr. Ivins, it was routine police investigative procedures - checking alibis, checking capabilities, checking lab access, checking motives, lie detector tests, etc.  It took the FBI years to check out and eliminate all the other possible suspects.

But, if you truly believe that the attacks were perpetrated by some al Qaeda member working at some other facility - not Ft. Detrick - then you cannot accept any science which says flask RMR-1029 was the specific source for the attack anthrax.  And that is what the FBI scientists are saying.     

In response to the arguments from the True Believer, I probably emailed him this quote (from United States Attorney Jeff Taylor at the Aug. 6, 2008 press conference) a half dozen times:

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."

But the True Believer evidently deliberately misinterpreted a statement made later which he feels suggests that "specific flask" doesn't really mean "specific flask."  Later in the press conference, U.S. Attorney Jeff Taylor said this:

One of the key steps was the science that the FBI was able to develop that, over time, allowed them to show that that flask, RMR 1029, was the parent flask for the spores used in those envelopes. That further shrunk the pool, if you will, and created additional interest in Dr. Ivins. But even at that point, the investigation still had a long way to go, because there’s still a universe of people who might have access to that flask, or people with whom Dr. Ivins may have shared some portion of that anthrax.

The argument was that "people with whom Dr. Ivins may have shared some portion of that anthrax" included those who provided the seven other samples which led to finding flask RMR-1029.  They are the people with whom Dr. Ivins shared some portion of the anthrax that was in flask RMR-1029.  And, it is known that at least one of those seven samples came from a different and unidentified lab - not Ft. Detrick.

Evidently, in the mind of a True Believer, a statement that is unclear and that can be deliberately misintepreted to fit a belief overrides any and every clear statement which disproves a belief.

         
We know that, in 2002, someone noticed there were an unusual number of mutations in the attack anthrax.  Later, FBI scientists selected four stable DNA mutations from "well over a dozen" mutations in the attack anthrax and used them to sort through over 1,070 samples from over 15 different labs to see which samples had those four mutations.  If a sample did NOT have those four mutations, then it could not logically be the source of the attack anthrax.

Only eight of the 1,070+ samples had the four mutations.  It was then learned that one of the eight was a sample taken directly from flask RMR-1029.  Furthermore, the other seven samples containing the four mutations were samples from flasks or vials containing material grown from samples taken from flask RMR-1029. 

Since Dr. Ivins controlled flask RMR-1029, it was known that Dr. Ivins shared some portion of flask RMR-1029 with others who grew new material was stored in seven other flasks or vials.  So, logically, once RMR-1029 was identified as the "genetically-unique parent material of the anthrax spores used in the mailings," the "people with whom Dr. Ivins may have shared some portion of that anthrax" would no longer include those who only had access to the other seven sample sources.   The term "that anthrax" refers to flask RMR-1029 specifically.  And that means that only the people who may have had access to flask RMR-1029 specifically needed to be checked out as possible suspects.

Needless to say, the True Believer didn't accept this logic.  To a True Believer, if there's any doubt, the doubt is proof that other possibilities are totally valid. 

And there are unanswered questions:  How did the FBI determine that flask RMR-1029 was the "genetically-unique parent material of the anthrax spores used in the mailings"?  How did they determine that "the spores used in the attacks were taken from that specific flask, regrown, purified, dried and loaded into the letters"?  How did they eliminate the other seven possiblities?  That has not been explained.  So, if you believe that one of the other seven samples was the source of the attacks, you need to argue that the eight samples must all be identical.  You need to argue that any one of the eight samples could have been the "genetically-unique parent material of the spores used in the mailings."

The FBI has merely implied that reducing the number of possible sources from 8 to 1 was done scientifically, just as DNA science was used to reduce the number of possible sources from 1,070+ to 8.  

The nay-sayers, however, don't accept this.  And the nay-sayers include just about everyone with doubts - True Believers, conspiracy theorists and people who simply do not believe that Dr. Ivins was the anthrax mailer - including scientists from Ft. Detrick and elsewhere.   Instead, they believe that reducing the number from 8 to 1 must have been done using sloppy, antiquated, error-prone routine police procedures.  They believe it's impossible to distinguish the spores in flask RMR-1029 from spores grown from a sample taken from RMR-1029.  They argue that there were simply not enough generations to establish genetic differences between the contents of flask RMR-1029 and the contents of another flask containing material grown from a sample taken from RMR-1029.

But, there can be enough generations to show a difference.   Spores grown from a sample taken from RMR-1029 are not just one generation removed from RMR-1029.  If there are a ten billion spores in the new batch, it took twenty billion generations to create that batch.  (When a Bacillus anthracis bacterium divides, it creates 2 new "generations," each of which could contain a mutation, and the original bacterium ceases to exist.  Any other interpretation of "generation" as it pertains to Bacillus anthracis is invalid.)   If mutations statistically form only once in a billion generations, that doesn't mean they occur every billionth time like clockwork.  The mutation could happen on the very first division, which would mean that half of the subsequent generations could be mutations.  Or the mutation could occur anywhere between the first and billionth generation.

And, if you start your growing process with 100,000 spores instead of just one spore, that won't alter the number of generations in the final batch.  When 100,000 bacteria divide, you have 200,000 generations.   And there's no certainty that there won't already be some unique mutations in the original 100,000.

Plus, if only four selected mutations from "well over a dozen" were used to reduce the number of possible sources from 1,070+ to eight, it should be possible to use the other mutations to further reduce the number.

But, most of this has not yet been stated clearly.  Presumably, it's coming in the scientific papers that are awaiting publication.

Until then, people can twist anything that is unclear into something that will support a belief.  And, if you cannot prove with absolute scientific certainty that they are wrong, to them, that means they are right.   
To some, beliefs are simply more believable than science - as long as there are some doubts about the science.

The owner of the freighter that kept the Battlestar Galactica convoy stocked with computer paper for hundreds of years would undoubtedly agree that paper printouts are more believable than LCD screens - particularly if you cut off the corners to make the paper more expensive to use and to store - and to purchase.  It's all a matter of point of view.

Updates & Changes: Sunday, April 19, 2009, thru Saturday, April 25, 2009

April 22, 2009 - Today's Frederick News-Post contains a column by Katherine Heerbrandt which states that there's an ongoing investigation at Ft. Detrick to try to locate some virus samples which seem to be missing.  It doesn't really have anything to do with the anthrax attacks of 2001 (which was about bacteria, not viruses), but a lot of people will probably be trying to make some connection.  It may just be a result of the physical inventory which is currently underway to pin down exactly what biological materials Ft. Detrick has in its various labs.  Previously, they'd found actual samples of bacteria which weren't recorded in their computerized inventory.  Now they appear to have samples of viruses recorded in their computerized inventory which do not exist or which are not where they are supposed to be in their labs.

The Washington Post has an article on the same subject.  It appears that the unrecorded extra samples which spurred the ongoing physical inventory and the missing samples are both
samples of the Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus. 

April 19, 2009 - While re-reading last week's Seed magazine article titled "The Anthrax Agenda," I noticed that it says that Representative Rush Holt's bill to form a National Commission to review and examine all the details about the FBI's Amerithrax investigation has some support, but not enough to assure passage of the bill.  It's simply not a high-priority item at this point in time. 

And, of course, the National Academy of Science (NAS) still hasn't been officially hired to examine the scientific details of the case.  That may be only a matter of finding the money in the FBI's budget to pay for the work.  But, it may also be a matter of determining whether or not such a detailed and costly examination is truly necessary. 

Almost all of the scientific nonsense about anthrax spores printed in the media and endlessly voiced by conspiracy theorist scientists in the early years of the case are now viewed for what they were: absolute nonsense.  Is anyone still arguing that the attack spores were weaponized with a coating of fumed silica as The Washington Post once argued?  Or that the spores were weaponized by gluing tiny particles of silica to the spores to dampen the effects of van der Waals forces as Science Magazine once argued?  Those arguments were long ago abandoned by even their most passionate believers.  And the arguments that replaced them - arguments about other imagined "weaponization" techniques involving "invisible" coatings utilizing some form of silicon  - were shown to be total nonsense when  it was made clear at the American Society for Microbiology meeting on February 24, 2009, that only some of the spores in the powders had absorbed silicon.   No deliberate weaponization process to coat spores with silicon for some nefarious purpose would leave 25% to 35% of the spores showing no trace of silicon.

When the scientific articles explaining the details of the science used in the Amerithrax investgation are finally published, will there still be a need to have an independent organization like the NAS review the science?  It would be nice to have such a review, and I hope there will be such a review, but is it really necessary?  After all the science is formally published and debated, who will still be asking for an NAS review besides a few non-scientists who do not understand science, who do not trust anyone in "the government" and who simply want "independent" scientists to give a second opinion - which they probably won't believe anyway because the facts won't support their beliefs? 

The science appears to be relatively straight-forward.  And it's not particularly complicated.  The only reason there was so much debate in the early years of the case was because so little information was made public - and because some government scientists speculated when they should have kept silent until they knew more.  That allowed for conspiracy theorists to generate additional endless speculation about coatings and super-secret, ultra-sophisticated weaponization processes that we now know were totally unnecessary for the attack spores to do what they did.   Tests have been done which show that normal, uncoated spores are just as lethal as those in the letters, confirming what those with actual knowlege about such things have been saying all along.

Once the scientific articles are published, the science of the Amerithrax case may be fully accepted by scientists without the currently perceived need for a independent review.  The only remaining need for an "independent review" may relate to the subject of whether or not Dr. Bruce Ivins could have created the anthrax powders in the time he had, using only the equipment known to be available to him.  But you do not need the National Academy of Science for that.   All you really need is for some knowledgeable scientists to explain - in different levels of detail for different audiences - how it was most likely done -- without at the same time providing an instruction manual that would tell every nut case in the world how to
create lethal biological powders if he just can get access to the same equipment and materials.

If there is nothing about the science left to argue, and if it can be shown that Dr. Ivins had the time, ability, materials and equipment to create the powders, that leaves only the debate over whether or not the Department of Justice lawyers could have convinced a jury that Ivins committed the crimes and acted alone when doing so.

That's where the Congressional hearings would come in.  The NAS wouldn't address the subject of whether or not the DOJ and FBI has a solid case.  That's not science.  That's opinion.  And opinions are the domain of politicians.

Before we can know whether or not a Congressional Commission is truly needed to review the Amerithrax investigation, we need to know exactly what the FBI and DOJ have as evidence of  Dr. Ivins' guilt.  And that requires that the case be closed and the information be released.  I'm told that is "not terribly far off" -- whatever that means.

Personally, I don't see any way of separating the "investigation" of Dr. Hatfill from the investigation of Dr. Ivins without a Congressional hearing.  The DOJ's case against Dr. Ivins may not even mention Dr. Hatfill.  Why should it?  Dr. Hatfill only fits into the public's and the media's interpretation of the case.   The case against Dr. Ivins has nothing to do with Dr. Hatfill in any way, shape or form.  But, without a Congressional hearing to clear up that matter, some in the media may continue to connect the two cases, claiming that the FBI only went after Dr. Ivins when they couldn't prove Dr. Hatfill did it - and implying that the case against Dr. Ivins is just as weak, but he's dead, so he can't fight back.        

I don't know if even a Congressional hearing can clear up the mistaken beliefs about the Dr. Hatfill "investigation."  I've been trying to clarify that matter for nearly seven years with little success.  But a Congressional hearing will get as many viewers listening to the arguments in a single day as I've had read my arguments in seven years.  So, who knows?

So, summing up: It's my understanding that the scientific articles are mostly completed and ready for publication.  They're just awaiting some kind of clearance by the FBI to release them.  That clearance may or may not be connected to the closing of the case against Dr. Ivins and the releasing of all the investigation documents that would result from that action.  The closing of the case is coming, but no one is saying exactly when.  The National Academy of Science review of the science of the case may or may not be necessary after the scientific articles have been published and analyzed by the scientific community.  The science seems straight-forward and largely indisputable.  It was only disputed when it was secret, when theory and speculation could be used instead of science to create arguments. 

And any Congressional hearing on the Amerithrax investigation may prove to be unnecessary after the DOJ closes the case.  As with the science, when speculation and beliefs about the evidence are replaced by actual facts, there may not be all that much left to debate.  Of course, some will continue to see sinister conspiracies perpetrated by "the government."  And True Believers will always believe what they want to believe - regardless of what the facts say.  But, it will become more and more difficult for them to argue that a secretive guy with murderous impulses, multiple motives and all the necessary equipment, materials and time must have been innocent - because he seemed like such a nice guy.

But, I'm an analytical optimist.  I'm sure all the conspiracy theorists, True Believers, angry conservatives and just plain pessimists will totally disagree with this assessment.

Updates & Changes: Sunday, April 12, 2009, thru Saturday, April 18, 2009

April 15, 2009 - Ah!  Some news!  Seed Magazine just published an article titled "The Anthrax Agenda" which revists a lot of the same territory visited many times before.   The article seems to point to the area where the critics will focus their arguments: The science may point to flask RMR-1029 but what FBI detective work proves that only one person with access to that flask could have sent the letters: Bruce Ivins?  And the assumption seems to be: If Bruce Ivins cannot be proven guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt, then he must be innocent.  Not true, of course.  Not proven guilty is definitely not the same as innocent.  Remember O.J.?

Meanwhile, The Palm Beach Post reports today that Maureen Stevens' lawsuit against the government won't go to trial before 2011.  The article is titled "Judge urges settlement in 'National Enquirer' anthrax case."  It contains this tidbit of information:

[J. Patrick Glynn, director of the torts division for the justice department] said today, the case still isn't closed. "They've identified the person, but it's still an ongoing investigation."     

And the Seed magazine article says that the National Academy of Science still hasn't been hired to review the science of the case.   So, still waiting ......

April 12, 2009 - Still waiting.  Last week, I was involved in only one conversation about the anthrax attacks of 2001.  A scientist sent me the title of a scientific article related to the attacks and asked me if I'd seen it before.   It looked familiar, but when I filed it, the file name -  p523767.pdf - didn't reject as a duplicate.  I.e., I didn't already have a file with that exact file name.  Did that mean I'd never seen it before?  Not necessarily.  I may have gotten a copy from someone who put their own file name on it.  Or I may have saved it using a more meaningful name.  I save everything, so it could be among the 400 or so .pdf files I have with names like Anthrax3.pdf or Arti05.pdf or 1.pdf.

The title of the article is "Estimating aerosol hazards from an anthrax letter," authored by J. Ho and S. Duncan from the Canadian Defence Research and Development facility in Medicine Hat, Alberta, and it was published in 2005 in the Journal of Aerosol Science, issue #36, page 701-719.  It describes some interesting tests where the two Canadian researchers simulated the anthrax letters using harmless spores to see how the spores would escape the envelope and disperse in a room during normal letter handling by a post office.

The report shows that normal (i.e., unweaponized) spores can easily escape an envelope and disperse, which proves that the attack spores did not have to be weaponized to do what they did.  But, the report doesn't specifically say that the spores were not weaponized.   It says the spores were obtained from Dugway.  Can we assume that, unless stated otherwise, all spores obtained from Dugway are not weaponized?  Conspiracy theorists generally assume that, unless stated otherwise, all spores obtained from Dugway are weaponized.

But, I digress.  The question was: Had I seen the report before?  It seemed familiar.  I decided to search through the 40,078 emails I've archived to see if the word combination "estimating aerosol hazards" appears anywhere.  It did.  In July of 2008, someone sent me only the text of a different article by J. Ho and S. Duncan titled "Estimation of Viable Spores in Bacillus atrophaeus" where the authors mentioned their earlier article and talk a lot about particle size and how it varies in unweaponized spores.  No other email contained the combination of words I searched for.  But that didn't mean I hadn't seen the first Ho-Duncan article before.  (Of course, I have a copy of the famous September 2001 report from Canada, but that's a totally different report.  It was written just before the actual attacks.  It's on my web site as canadiananthraxstudysep01.pdf.)   

$^%(#$^@^%$&!!!   A year or so ago, I started compiling a directory to the .pdf files I'd accumulated over the years.  The directory is in order by the file name I use in my archive (e.g. p523767.pdf) and shows the title of the article, the authors, their organization, and the time and place of publication.  But I deciphered only about a dozen file names before I got bored with the project and moved on to other things.  It was work, not fun.  For all I know, I could have a half dozen copies of the Ho-Duncan article in my files, each under a different file name.  And there could have been some very interesting discussions about the article in my email files where the title of the article was just never used.  Or it could have been discussed on FreeRepublic.com which I hadn't checked.  Or on Dr. Nass's web blog, which I also hadn't checked.  (I archive copies of those postings, too.)  I may even have corresponded with J. Ho.  But, when was it?  2005?  2006?  2007?  2008?  Where do I start looking?  I have a directory of my emails, too.  But, it only includes references to things that I realized were important at the time of the email exchange.  And I've been far from diligent at maintaining that directory in recent years.   If I could determine that I already had a copy of the Ho-Duncan .pdf file, I could check to see when I saved it, that would tell me where to start looking for emails about it.  Or if I was wasting my time because I didn't previously have a copy of it.

$^%(#$^@^%$&!!!  I need to buckle down and work on the .pdf file directory!  It could be a valuable resource.  I could put it on-line on my web site with links to on-line versions of the articles - if I can find on-line versions somewhere.

But would a list in order by the file name I use be of use to anyone else?  Sure.  It should be.  What other order would be of more use?  With the long titles they use on scientific articles, putting them in order by title isn't worth much.  With the long list of authors seen on most papers, there's not much point in putting them in order by author.  Or by date.  Or by journal name.  The list would be used by searching it, not by going to some particular title, author, date or journal.

Okay.  I'll work on it.  All I need now is some ambition.  After all, this would be work, not fun. 
$^%(#$^@^%$&!!!  Where did I leave my supply of ambition?  I must have had some or I wouldn't have accumulated all this stuff!    
Updates & Changes: Sunday, April 5, 2009, thru Saturday, April 11, 2009

April 5, 2009 - The past week was another very quiet one.  Yesterday, The Scotsman published an opinion piece by microbiology professor Dorothy H. Crawford titled "World waits for ground-breaking anthrax evidence," but it was basically just a summary of events thus far.  Like everyone else who is following the case, Professor Crawford wants to see all the scientific facts published so that everything can be openly discussed.

As with almost every article about the anthrax attacks, her opinion piece also contains errors.  For example,

With just one to three spores capable of causing infection, the seven envelopes sent in 2001, containing around 2 grams each, could have caused a massive epidemic. 

The Leahy envelope was recovered intact and contained only .871 grams of spores.  There's no reason to believe that any of the envelopes contained "around 2 grams" of powder.   Hopefully, when the scientific papers are published, the correct facts will gradually take the place of the pure speculation that has ruled discussions for over seven years.

In an interview back in August, FBI laboratory director Chris Hassell told Chemical & Engineering News that the FBI has a "publication plan" for the scientific articles.  Another source says that Hassell said that there will be "more than ten peer reviewed scientific articles" on the subject.  In a later interview, Paul Keim seemed to imply that many or all of the initial scientific articles may be published in a single scientific journal.  If true, that would seem to explain some of the delay.  And it seems to explain why there haven't been any scientific articles published since the FBI and DOJ released scientists from confidentiality agreements about seven months ago.  All the initial articles may be coming out at the same time, so all have to be ready before any can be published.  It makes scientific sense to publish everything at one time instead of releasing the articles in some random order, which would be like releasing pieces of a puzzle and asking everyone to speculate on what the entire picture might look like.  But, the price is to delay everything until the last article is ready - plus whatever publication problems might result from dedicating an entire issue to one subject.

Professor Crawford also suggests that the delay in closing the case and releasing documents to the public might have something to do with pending lawsuits from Bruce Ivins' family and the anthrax victims.  She seems to be repeating what was printed in New Scientist magazine.  My sources tell me that no such lawsuits are pending.  There is no basis for any lawsuit from Ivins' family, and statutes of limitations would prevent any new lawsuits from the victims.

Instead, and I could be totally wrong about this, it seems possible that there might be some effort made to coordinate the publication of the scientific articles with the closing of the case and the release of the legal documents pointing to Dr. Ivins' guilt.  Everyone interested in the Amerithrax investigation has complained for years about the gradual release of information bit by bit instead all at once.  Getting information bit by bit just generates speculation instead of knowledge.   Until now, however, the solution seemed even worse: to delay releasing any information until everything is fully ready to be released.  But, maybe we're all now ready to pay that price to see the what will hopefully be the final chapter.

Updates & Changes: Sunday, March 29, 2009, thru Saturday, April 4, 2009

March 29, 2009 - It's time to become philosophical again. 

There are still people who believe that the moon landings were a hoax and that it's impossible for a human being to survive a trip to the moon without being fried by the radiation in the Van Allen belt.  There are still people who believe the President of the United States knew in advance about the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.  There are still people who believe the assassination of John F. Kennedy was part of some massive CIA plot.  There are still people who believe that the World Trade Center was brought down by explosives planted by the CIA.  And, of course, there are still people who believe that the anthrax attacks of 2001 were part of some plot by the Bush Administration, and that a secret and illegal U.S. government bioweapons program produced the "sophisticated kind of anthrax" used in the attacks.   

All that is required to maintain such beliefs is to ignore any facts which prove otherwise. 

Here's what one of the film makers behind the "documentary" titled "Anthrax Wars," which airs tonight on the CBC network in Canada, told CBC News:

The [anthrax in the] two letters that went to the U.S. senators was highly refined. In fact, investigators and scientists … when they examined this letter … in a high-containment lab, it floated off the slide, into the air … It had been treated, refined not only [to] small particle size but treated with additives that gave it this dispersability, also [an] electrostatic charge. So, [a] very, very sophisticated powder, and one that would require a sophisticated team of people and sophisticated equipment. It's not something that could be made in your basement.…

It's as if nothing has been learned since early in 2002 when such incorrect beliefs were still appearing every day in the media.  All that has been added is the name of the person who "the government" claims was behind the attacks.

Bruce Ivins, whom the FBI have pinned as being the culprit, the sole person behind the anthrax attacks, was working in an army lab on vaccines. Apparently, they [the FBI] claim that he made this powder at his lab after-hours using fairly rudimentary equipment. And many scientists, experts really, said that's impossible. You could never make that sophisticated kind of anthrax with equipment that was available then.

There seems little hope that the "documentary" will provide anything new.  The only question is whether or not it will even provide anything that is accurate, since it is clearly a propoganda piece, not a true "documentary."   It appears intended to stir anger and to raise basic fears in order to gain support for some cause. 

For example, the trailer for the "documentary" shows an elderly Russian woman who says "It's a pity about the children mostly."  Standing in front of what appears to be a hospital, she points to it and says, "The majority of people died in this building."  And she adds, "Now everyone is sick, and all the kids are sick.  All of who worked in the factory, each day we waited for someone else to die."

It doesn't make the Sverdlovsk incident any less serious, but any discussion of the facts will show that NO ONE under the age of 20 died in the Sverdlovsk incident, and the vast majority of victims were over the age of 35.  (The youngest person to die as a result of the anthrax attacks of 2001 was 47 years old.)  But if you want to stir deep emotions and fears in people, just tell them, "Your children might DIE if you don't do something!!!!

What do the film makers hope to achieve by generating anger and fear?  Obviously, they want us to be concerned about the dangers of secret bioweapons programs.  It's a valid concern.  But will they convince anyone that such programs exist - and produced the 2001 anthrax - by revisiting and distorting events from The Cold War?   And why point to assumed evil doings by the Bush administration?  Are we supposed to believe that the Obama administration is continuing the "secret and illegal" activities of the Bush administation, which continued the "secret and illegal" activities of the Clinton administration, and that every administration continues the "secret and illegal" activities of all previous administrations because ..... why?

Why would "the government" still be continuing the "moon landing hoax"?

Why would "the government" still be continuing the "myth" that JFK was killed by a lone assassin?

Why would "the government" still be continuing the "myth" that Pearl Harbor was a "surprise" attack?

Why would "the government" still be continuing the "myth" that the two World Trade Center buildings collapsed just because two fully-fueled airliners crashed into them?

Why would "the government" still be continuing the "hoax" that a lone scientist was responsible for the anthrax attacks of 2001?

Obviously, there's only one answer:  Because "exposing the government" makes good entertainment on television, and almost everyone in "the government" watches television.  Everyone loves seeing themselves on TV.

Updates & Changes: Sunday, March 22, 2009, thru Saturday, March 28, 2009

March 26, 2009 - The trailer for the documentary "Anthrax Wars" is available on-line by clicking HERE.   There's no hint in the trailer that the movie is specifically about the "dead scientists" conspiracy theory, but it clearly promotes  one or more conspiracy theories and features Dr. Francis Boyle prominently.  The documentary will air on Canadian TV this coming Sunday in prime time.   Click HERE for the official CBC info.  The film makers tell me:

Europe, UK, US broadcasts and international theatrical release to follow.

There appears to be at least one other documentary about the 2001 anthrax attacks in the works.  Yesterday, I  received a couple emails from a well-known organization making such a documentary.   So, yesterday's AP news story could be about them or about some other documentary film crew still unknown to me.

March 25, 2009 - If you wait long enough, everything old becomes "new" again.  It looks like the old "dead scientists" conspiracy theory may become "new" again in movie and book form. 

Their next film, Anthrax Wars, is a documentary about the 2001 anthrax attacks and a trail of dead scientists. Bruce E. Ivens is one of them. He made national headlines when he was accused of being the anthrax killer. He allegedly killed himself in August 2008.

Since there are tens of thousands of working scientists in the world, the random deaths are most likely just a statistical certainty that merely looks like a strange "coincidence" when viewed in the wrong context.  However, I also have to wonder if today's AP news story about a documentary film crew sending out letters which looked just like the anthrax letters of 2001 is also a just a "coincidence" and about a different documentary film crew:

Federal authorities are investigating a documentary film crew that allegedly sent letters to Congress mimicking the anthrax mailings weeks after the 9/11 attacks.An official said the investigation started late last week and the letters were written to look exactly like the ones that were sent to Sen. Patrick Leahy and then-Sen. Tom Daschle in 2001. The official said the copycat letters did not contain any white powder.

Sadly, the AP news story also contains this tidbit of misinformation about the 2001 attacks:

After anthrax-laced letters were sent to lawmakers and media outlets in late 2001, the FBI and the Justice Department spent years searching unsuccessfully for the culprit.

The mailings sickened 17 people and killed an elderly Connecticut woman.

Those who don't remember the anthrax attacks of 2001 might be surprised to learn that four others also died.  It's been over seven years since the attacks, and even basic information is still being distorted by careless editors and reporters.


March 22, 2009
-
All the heated arguments that began with the ASM meeting on February 24 appeared to go dormant last week.  I was involved in no arguments of any kind.   However, I know that no minds have been changed.  It was just that arguing the same points over and over and over without making any perceptible headway became too tiresome and too pointless for all the parties.  But, clearly, all that is needed to bring things to a furious boil again is some new information.   In theory, new information is supposed to help end arguments.  But, in this situation it will just provide new fuel for various incorrect interpretations of the information and accusations of deliberate creation of false information by "the government."

Plenty of new information is coming.  So, we can look forward to new debates. 

While waiting for other people to do things I cannot do for myself, I tend to step back to look at "the big picture."   That generally causes me to become more philosophical than analytical.  You can't analyze the future.     

Last week, I couldn't help but notice some heated debates that were raging everywhere.  I wondered about the furor over the AIG bonuses.  It has nothing to do with the anthrax attacks, but it caused me to open my copy of Peter F. Drucker's book "Management," first published in 1973, and to re-read a paragraph on page 501:

Most managers know that they need better tools.  Most have learned by bitter experience that intuition is unreliable, if not downright treacherous, if used as the only basis for a decision.  Indeed, most experienced managers have long suspected what a leading management scientist of today, Jay W. Forrester of M.I.T., brilliantly demonstrated in two books ["Urban dynamics" and "World Dynamics"]: complex systems actually behave "counter-intuitively"; the plausible tends to be wrong.  And markets, technologies, and businesses are very complex systems indeed.  There's nothing more plausible, after all, than that the earth is flat or that the sun revolves around the earth.

I don't have any opinion on the subject of AIG bonuses, but I have an opinion on the opinions: The opinions from one side seem to be entirely emotional and based upon what seems right.   The other side isn't really arguing, since they would seem to be arguing against what is "right."  But, I've worked in large corporations, and I know how complex they can be.  And I know how few people in a large organization really understand what is going on.  In the AIG situation, I worry more about the experienced crew abandoning the sinking ship before it can get to the dismantling yard than I worry about rewarding key members of the crew for getting the ship to the dismantling yard.  Ships don't get to dismantling yards by themselves.  The crews who keep things working aren't necessarily responsible for what caused the ship to go in the wrong direction.   Those who were responsible at AIG, the captain and his top officers, are apparently not among those getting bonuses for staying aboard until the ship can be safely dismantled.

A lot of the facts about the anthrax attacks of 2001 were also "counter-intuitive."  When the news about the attacks first broke in October of 2001, it seemed natural to assume that the same people who committed the horrific terrorist acts of 9/11 must have been responsible for the lethal anthrax letters that were mailed shortly afterward.  But that assumption was wrong.  When the anthrax strain was linked to Ft. Detrick, it seemed natural to assume that the anthrax spores were "weaponized" in some some secret bioweapons program run by the military.  That assumption was also wrong.  The natural assumption that some group was behind the attacks was also wrong.  That assumption that checks and balances would prevent a scientist in a highly secure lab from creating substances illegally without any of his co-workers knowing about it was another false assumption.  The assumption that "mad scientists" are a myth turned out to be a myth.  One false assumption after another has been shown - or will soon be shown - to be wrong.  But few minds will be changed. 

Of course, many people who were uncertain about what the facts were may become convinced as to what is true, but very few who were previously convinced that they knew the "truth" will become convinced that they were previously wrong - even if they are scientists and their beliefs were based upon some incorrect understanding of science.

There will be rare exceptions.  So far, I know of only one example of a scientist realizing he was totally wrong about the nature of the attack anthrax and fully and publicly admitting he was wrong.        

In our everyday lives, there is only one thing more complex than the human mind, and that is the way all the complex human minds on this planet interact with one another. 

Every day we see example after example of one angry politician complaining that some other politician didn't do things they way "everyone" knows they should be done - even when no one knows exactly what should be done.

Every day we see case after case of people committing horrific crimes that seem to surprise everyone who knew the person who committed the crime.  "He always seemed like such a nice guy."  "Everybody liked him."

Every day we see example after example of frustrated and angry idiots preaching their beliefs to others who seem to accept every word they say as if it were gospel instead of brainless drivel.

And we know from experience and history that things are going to become more complex in the future, not less complex.

We can't all spend large portions of every day studying the facts about everything that's going on in the world.  There are times when we have to depend upon others to dig into the details to find the facts and/or the right course. 

It may have seemed intuitively obvious that, after 9/11, the anthrax attacks were the work of al Qaeda, and that Saddam Hussein was a serious threat and needed to be overthrown.  But there were important available facts which showed that what seemed intuitively obvious was also totally wrong.  The first anthrax letters contained medical advice, which is not something a true terrorist would normally include with a threat.  United Nations weapons inspectors hadn't been able to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a fact which should be more reliable than mindless distrust.

There are better ways of thinking than this example recently provided by a well-known TV pundit:

Believe in something!  Even if it's wrong! Believe in it!        

It may seem intuitively obvious that no one is dumb enough to say such a thing - much less believe it.  But in today's Internet world, it only takes a few minutes to do some research to determine if it is true or not.                

When things are so complex that it is necessary to let "experts" find the right path for us, that doesn't mean we must all become sheep relying on blind trust.  It just means we have to proceed with caution.  The need to find the right path means the right path is not fully known and understood.  In such a situation, the last thing we should want from those trying to find the right path is for them to tell us that everyone should believe in something, even if it is wrong.  It may seem counter-intuitive to trust the person who isn't sure about all the bumps in the path ahead than the person who is absolutely certain about everything, even though he's never been there before.  But when you're talking about the future and all the problems that human beings can create, no one can be absolutely certain about everything.  We just need to be sure that our leaders are concerned about us, not just about some personal beliefs or goals.

Thus ends my philosophizing for today.  

Updates & Changes: Sunday, March 15, 2009, thru Saturday, March 21, 2009

March 15, 2009
-
Last week was another week of really intense debate, although it was mostly via emails and not on any public forum.  It was also a week in which a few things were made clear to me.

I no longer think that the physical inventory taking place at Ft. Detrick might have something to do with the Amerithrax investigation.  If they stumble across some stored sample left behind by Dr. Ivins that proves something in the case, that would be fine, but no one is really looking for such things.  It's just a physical inventory to get their records straight.

The Amerithrax investigation has determined who sent the anthrax letters, but it was also one of the most complex and wide-ranging investigations ever undertaken by the FBI.  And it went on for nearly seven years.  The number of documents must be staggeringly enormous.  When the case is finally closed, vast numbers of documents will be accessable via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.  I can imagine that means going through every one of them to make certain that nothing gets released that names some innocent party who was once considered to be "a possible suspect."  And they don't want to make public any names of "confidential informants" who may have provided tips or leads.  "Confidential informants" are not the same as "witnesses."  Their information is usually "hear-say" or just "ideas" that occurred to them.  And the vast bulk of that information probably led nowhere.  Plus, there may be reasons to redact the names of FBI agents or scientists who weren't actually part of the case.  And, when done, everything will have to be checked and rechecked.

It seems likely to me that the evidence in Amerithrax case will barely mention Dr. Hatfill, if he's mentioned at all.   That "investigation" was entirely about "tips" from "confidential informants" and leaks of bad information, neither of which has anything to do with the criminal case against Dr. Bruce Ivins.   The facts about the "investigation" of Dr. Hatfill will likely only come out in Representative Holt's Congressional investigation, when and if that ever takes place.  Certainly, it wouldn't take place until after the FBI closes the Amerithrax investigation. 

And what about the thousands of other "potential suspects" people pointed out for the FBI?   How many Right Wingers contacted the FBI to point the finger at Dr. Philip Zack?  How many pointed to Dr. Ayaad Assaad or had theories about who sent the letter pointing to Dr. Assaad as a "potential" bioterrorist?   I've been contacted by dozens of people who have told me that they repeatedly contacted the FBI to name a possible suspect, and they don't think the FBI ever did anything about it (or, if they did, they didn't report back).  In the past week, someone contacted me with a theory that connects the Anthrax case to JFK's supposed relationship with Marilyn Monroe.  He complained that he FAXed the FBI about his theory many times, but they apparently never responded.  Another who writes to me (and to dozens of other people in the media and in politics) thinks that a well known computer company executive was behind the crimes.  Will their FAXes and letters and emails be part of the "investigative materials?"  Probably not.  But, if so, we're probably talking about millions of documents which would probably have to be converted into many many thousands of .pdf files.

The case is clearly solved, but, for me, it's becoming easy to see that closing it isn't just a simple matter of stamping "CLOSED" on the outside of some file folder and assigning all the people involved to other cases. 

*

Some of the most heated discussions during the past week were about a new version of a book by Leonard Cole which will apparently be officially released on April 1.  The publisher describes the new version this way:

With a new introduction and an expanded conclusion on the naming of a final suspect in August 2008, his subsequent suicide, and lingering doubts as to whether the actual Anthrax Mailer is still at large, The Anthrax Letters is a gripping account of the largest bioterrorist attack in America and a necessary primer to prepare for the next one.
    
I reviewed the original version back on October 8, 2003.  Interestingly, nothing is being said about corrections or revisions to the old edition in the new version.  The publisher only talks about "a new introduction" and an "expanded conclusion,"
which probably means additions.   The passages I've seen from the new material merely suggest that the FBI's conclusions could be wrong.  Presumably, that means the author still believes that Iraq and/or al Qaeda were (or could have been) behind the anthrax attacks of 2001.

That makes me wonder what a "revised" version of my book would look like.  Nearly everything in my book still seems valid, except for Chapter 21 ("Central New Jersey") and Chapter 22 ("A Working Hypothesis").   All the flimsy facts which pointed to Central New Jersey as the home of the anthrax mailer were made irrelevant by the mountain of new and solid facts pointing to Ft. Detrick.  And any "working hypothesis" based upon those flimsy facts is now irrelevant. The rest of the book is about sorting through facts and putting facts together.  That's almost all still valid.   But, much of it is now proved instead of just being what the facts appear to say about Dr. Hatfill, the J-Lo letter, the nature of the anthrax powders, the Kathy Nguyen case, hoaxes, the errors made by USAMRIID and AFIP, etc.  

The last two paragraphs from Chapter 22 ("A Working Hypothesis") are as follows:

     All the pieces fit. But, I also know that I probably do not have all the relevant information. Some solid piece of evidence that I’ve failed to find or properly evaluate could easily change things. That’s what a “working hypothesis” is all about: to present it for others to tear apart with new facts which the hypothesis cannot explain.

     But, after three long years of fielding challenges, this working hypothesis has remained virtually unchanged. Furthermore, the theories of the challengers have mostly proven to be largely based upon bad science or no science at all.

The "solid piece of evidence" that I "failed to find" turned out to be a vast amount of solid circumstantial evidence pointing to someone I'd never even heard of - except as a name in some scientific articles: Dr. Bruce Ivins.  When presented with that overwhelming evidence, I immediately changed my analysis. 

But the challengers haven't changed their beliefs.  And the media continues to distort the facts.

Any new book from me probably wouldn't be an analysis of the anthrax attacks, it would more likely be an analysis of the truly bad reporting from the media and the irrational and distorted thinking of conspiracy theorists and True Believers. 

But would any publisher care about a book by "some guy on the Internet" who admits to being wrong about who did it?  They'll probably find more sales with books from people who continue to believe they were right in pointing at who they always pointed at, and who would never admit to being wrong.  In the world of conspiracy theorists, True Believers and today's media, you're not wrong until you admit you were wrong.   And everyone who doesn't agree must be wrong, even if all the facts say they are correct.  If the facts say they are correct even though they must be wrong, that must mean they just haven't bothered to look for the right facts.  It's all very very clear if you just believe.

Updates & Changes: Sunday, March 8, 2009, thru Saturday, March 14, 2009

March 12, 2009 - This morning's Times of Trenton contains a message from Congressman Rush Holt stating his objectives in "reintroducing" the "Anthrax Attacks Investigation Act."   He includes this:

More than seven years after the attacks, many critical questions remain unanswered. Chief among them is why the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) "Amerithrax" investigation focused for so long on the wrong suspect.

As I've stated many many times before, until there's a good, official explanation for why the FBI spent so much time on investigating Dr. Hatfill, it's going to be very difficult for the FBI to convince people that the investigation of Dr. Ivins wasn't just "more of the same."

Representative Holt asks why "the perpetrator or perpetrators escaped justice."
 

March 10, 2009 - The Fox News video report I talked about on March 8 is available.  Go to the Fox article HERE and then click on "click here to see video" which is now in the middle of the article.

March 9, 2009 - I suppose I should mention The Los Angeles Times article titled "Anthrax hoaxes pile up, as does their cost."  Hoaxes seem to be a side issue here.  But they're still a very serious problem.  And they do show that a lot of people who seem to be perfectly "normal" to their friends and neighbors can commit very serious criminal acts.

March 8, 2009  - "Frustration" seems to be the word for today.  Someone sent me a .wmv copy of the video of the Fox News report that aired Friday evening in conjunction with their on line article.  I'm trying to find a link to an on-line version I can include here.  It's too big to put on my site, and doing so would probably violate copyrights.   The video seems to be a deliberate attempt to mislead people.  It begins with these words:

"Some new questions tonight about the man accused of the 2001 anthrax attacks.  The FBI said the case was closed months ago, but experts say that some of the evidence is not an exact match.  So, is it possible the feds got the wrong man?"

That's a blatant distortion of the facts.  The amounts of silicon, oxygen, tin and iron in the attack spores are not evidence pointing toward Ivins' guilt or innocence.   Here's the definition of "evidence" from one of my legal dictionaries:

evidence: n. every type of proof legally presented at trial (allowed by the judge) which is intended to convince the judge and/or jury of alleged facts material to the case.

Here's the definition from my other legal dictionary:

Evidence.  Everything that is brought into court in a trial in an attempt to prove or disprove alleged facts.

And here's the definition from Wikipedia:

Evidence in its broadest sense includes everything that is used to determine or demonstrate the truth of an assertion. Giving or procuring evidence is the process of using those things that are either a) presumed to be true, or b) were themselves proven via evidence, to demonstrate an assertion's truth. Evidence is the currency by which one fulfills the burden of proof.
 
The facts or truth that the "evidence" would prove in this instance is merely
that the attack anthrax was not extracted directly from flask RMR-1029, dried and placed in the envelopes that were mailed.   Instead, spores taken from flask RMR-1029 were used to grow new bacteria and to produce new spores for the mailings.  That would be true regardless of who actually prepared the anthrax and sent the letters.  So, by itself, it says nothing about Ivins' guilt or innocence.

The Fox interpretation that the mismatch suggests that the FBI may have gotten the "wrong man" is totally false.  It has nothing to do with who sent the anthrax.  It has only to do with how the anthrax powder was created.   The only real question is whether Fox News knew their interpretation was false and they deliberately misled their audience, or whether they were just inexcusably careless in their reporting.  Since they included Jason Bannan's statement in their broadcast, the "evidence" indicates that Fox News deliberately misled their audience.  They apparently distorted the facts to trick their audience into believing something that was totally untrue because it either serves some political agenda or because attacking the FBI's case gets better ratings than reporting the truth.

*

The word "frustrate" is defined as preventing someone from achieving their goal.  My goal here is to find and evaluate as many facts about the anthrax attacks of 2001 as possible so that I thoroughly understand what happened.  I have no goal of reforming Fox News or anyone in the media.  I have no goal of getting scientists and FBI employees to use more accurate and precise wording when they write and speak.  I have no goal of convincing the world that my analysis is the correct analysis.  My goal is merely to be as correct as I can be when explaining the anthrax case.  And I explain it because I firmly believe in the adage that you do not truly understand something until you can explain it well to others.  I write everything down in order to see and evaluate my own thoughts.  Putting those thoughts on the Internet allows others to show me where I may be wrong in what I'm thinking.

I'm not frustrated by conspiracy theorists and True Believers.  I'm somewhat fascinated by them.  I find it fascinating the way they play word games to prevent themselves from being proved wrong.  

I'm frustrated when someone who has key information about the Amerithrax investigation won't release it or won't explain it in a way that cannot be  easily misinterpreted.  I understand that the criminal investigation is not closed, even though the case is solved.  I don't quite understand why someone in the FBI doesn't explain how those two terms do not mean the same thing.  Presumably, it's because they do not want to explain why the case is not yet closed, since it could describe exactly what they are continuing to look for.  I understand the need to keep information confidential until the case is closed.  There are already too many examples people prematurely giving out interpretations that later turned out to be untrue. 

I'm frustrated when I cannot even be totally certain that the August 18 roundtable discussion and at the Feb. 24 ASM meeting in Baltimore were about the Amerithrax case.  It could have been only about the science used in the case. There's a big difference between talking about forensics used in a case and talking about details of how forensics proved a specific suspect guilty.  The former is not a problem, but the latter could be totally illegal if released before a trial.  There's very little in what has been said about the science used in the case that can be interpreted as pointing to Dr. Ivins specifically.  Does that mean there isn't any undisclosed scientific evidence pointing to Dr. Ivins specifically?  I seriously doubt that the only scientific evidence in the case is what has been talked about publicly.

Prior to Dr. Ivins' suicide, there was a lot of talk about getting the new microbial forensic science validated so that it would be acceptable for use in court.   That could be still going on - except that now we have specific examples of evidence from a specific crime being included in the validation and evaluation.  The purpose could be to evaluate the scientific processes, not the guilt or innocence of the suspect.   

When your goal is to present the facts, it's frustrating not to know exactly what all the facts are.  It's certain that the publicly known scientific facts about the Amerithrax investigation illustrate the scientific methodologies used in the case, but what other facts are there in the scientific case against the suspect?  Only a total idiot would assume there are none.  

Updates & Changes: Sunday, March 1, 2009, thru Saturday, March 7, 2009

March 7, 2009 (B) - Late yesterday, the FBI issued a press release about the scientific evidence in the Amerithrax investigation that begins this way:

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

They were evidently told about the Fox News story which came out this morning.  That story is titled "FBI's Evidence in Anthrax Case Leaves Puzzling Scientific Questions."  It should have been titled, "Fox News Report on Anthrax Case Leaves Puzzling Accuracy Questions."  Among other things the report says:

Some skeptics still question whether Ivins, as the FBI maintains, was the only person who created the anthrax and controlled access to the flask.

And that comment is followed by this:

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

Their "terrorism expert" appears to be stating that the fact that others handled RMR-1029 is a "chain of custody" issue.  It's not.  "Chain of Custody" applies to the handling of evidence after it is collected by law enforcement officers.  It has nothing to do with how many people had access to RMR-1029 before it became evidence in the case.  No one ever claimed that only Dr. Bruce Ivins had access to flask RMR-1029.   But, the media and others endlessly suggest that if others had access to RMR-1029, then it can't be used as evidence against Dr. Ivins.  That is ridiculous.  It's standard police procedure to investigate others with access to some item used in a crime to determine which person actually used it.

And, of course, the fact that there was silicon, tin and iron in the spores used in the attacks but none in the spores in RMR-1029 just means that silicon, tin and iron aren't inherited via DNA, which everyone knows.  Those elements are acquired from what the living bacteria ingested from growth nutrients during their lifetime.  In other words, the bacteria used to create the spores in RMR-1029 did not have silicon, tin and iron in their food.  The bacteria used to grow the spores used in the attack did have silicon, tin and iron in their food.  To suggest that this somehow implies that the spores used in the attacks were not grown from the spores in RMR-1029 is just plain ridiculous.  If
my mother had lots of tin in her blood because she often used food from tin cans, and I have no tin in my blood because I rarely use food from tin cans, does that mean we're not related?  That's the kind of junk science reasoning being used by the media and others who have some vested interest in disputing the FBI's case against Dr. Ivins.  These arguments are just plain stupid.

The same holds true with arguments over the fact that the stable oxygen and hydrogen isotopes found in the spores could not conclusively point to the water in the Ft. Detrick area.  People suggest that is proof the spores did not come from Ft. Detrick.  That is total nonsense.  It just means that stable isotopes couldn't pinpoint the water source that precisely.  Generally speaking, the stable isotopes in water would be similar over thousands of square miles.   


March 7, 2009 (A) - Meanwhile, according to the Associated Press, a Florida judge has ruled that Maureen Stevens' lawsuit against the government and the Battelle Memorial Institute can go forward, since the government had a responsibility to protect American citizens from "unauthorized release of lethal materials."  Maureen Stevens' husband was the first victim to die as a result of the anthrax attacks of 2001. 

However, the docket in the other lawsuit Maureen Stevens filed against Battelle specifically shows that that lawsuit was voluntarily dismissed on February 20, 2009.   Battelle will most likely also be removed from the remaining lawsuit.


March 5, 2009 - As expected, Representative Rush Holt's speech when introducing his
"Anthrax Attacks Investigation Act of 2009" mentions how the FBI investigated "the wrong suspect" before pointing at Dr. Ivins, he suggests that circumstantial evidence isn't real evidence, he suggests the fact that the water sample tests were "inconclusive" means something, and he doesn't seem to believe that only one person was involved.  Some people I've talked with think the bill will never pass because of all the more important critical subjects that are before Congress.  But, the case is clearly a popular political football with many ways to achieve political goals, so there seems a good chance that many politicians will want to use it to score some political points.  I hope something worthwhile will come from it.     

March 4, 2009 - Wrong again!  Sort of.   Back on December 28, 2008, I wrote:

2009 looks like it should be the wrap-up year [for the Amerithrax case]. 

Good thing I included the qualifier "should be"  in that prediction.  Now it appears that 2009 should be - but it apparently won't be - the wrap-up year for the Amerithrax investigation.

Representative Rush Holt wrote yesterday:

The Commission’s final report would be due 18 months after the Commission begins operations.

So, the Congressional Commission's report probably won't be printed until late in 2010.  And it's possible the review of the scientific case by the National Academy of Sciences could continue into 2010 as well.

And it's easy to see that arguments will continue for decades afterward.  Since there can be no trial of Dr. Ivins, there will always be people who will endlessly claim that no jury would ever believe the FBI's case.  And there's no way to prove otherwise - unless someone actually finds some way to bring a dead person to trial. 

Today, Glenn Greenwald on Salon.com has an opinion piece titled "Remembering the anthrax attack."  Part of his opinion is as follows: 

The FBI's case is riddled with glaring inconsistencies and numerous internal contradictions, enormous evidentiary holes, and pretenses of scientific certainty that are quite dubious 

The "Case against Dr. Ivins" I describe at the top of this web site is merely the publicly known case at this moment.   It doesn't include whatever evidence the FBI has not yet made public.  To me, the publicly known evidence already seems solid -
even if Glenn Greenwald sees things differently.   There's nothing even remotely comparable pointing to anyone else.  But, to people on the Internet who refuse to believe their own beliefs were wrong, nothing but home videos of Dr. Ivins making and mailing the anthrax will suffice to change their minds.  And even then, they'll probably assume there was some kind of digital fakery involved.   So, even after all the commission reports and scientific reviews are released, there will undoubtedly still be arguments for years to come.   But, when the commission publishes its report and the NAS review is released, I will probably wrap things up here.  In 2010.   Groan.

I'm truly looking forward to the Congressional investigation.  It's the only hope I can envision for getting an explanation of why the FBI spent so much time on Dr. Hatfill.   And without that explanation, people - particularly people in the media - will always be claiming that the FBI's "investigation" of Dr. Ivins was just as "bungled" as their investigation of Dr. Hatfill.  It needs to be shown that the"investigation" of Dr. Hatfill had nothing to do with evidence.   There was no evidence against Dr. Hatfill.  That investigation was all about "tips" from his co-workers and from conspiracy theorists who believed he was "a rogue CIA agent" who took some plot by the Bush administration too far.  And it was all about how much pressure their campaign applied to get Dr. Hatfill publicly investigated.

The "investigation" of Dr. Hatfill was totally different from the investigation which led to Dr. Ivins.  The investigation that led to Dr. Ivins was totally about evidence.  And it is solid evidence, even if it is circumstantial.  Most criminal cases which go to trial are cases based upon circumstantial evidence.  One of the dumbest of all the dumb beliefs I've seen voiced on the Internet is that circumstantial evidence isn't real evidence.   It definitely is real evidence.  Just ask any of the prosecutors who convicted countless criminals on nothing but circumstantial evidence.  Those who were convicted (the guilty and the innocent) will probably disagree, of course, but only if they haven't learned their lesson about circumstantial evidence.

March 3, 2009 (B) - Something a lot of people (including me) have been waiting for happened today.  According to Representative Rush Holt's web site,  Holt "
today introduced the Anthrax Attacks Investigation Act of 2009, legislation that would establish a Congressional commission to investigate the 2001 anthrax attacks and the federal government’s response to and investigation of the attacks."  Holt's site says,

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

MyCentralJersey.com also has an article about it.


March 3, 2009 (A) - The new information brought to light at the American Society of Microbiolgist (ASM) meeting on February 24 still boggles my mind, even though it didn't really change anything significant in my analysis.  It has been clear for seven years that the attack anthrax hadn't been "weaponized" with silicon, even though many in the media and some conspiracy theorist scientists kept insisting that it must have been.

What the new information shows is that all those beliefs about weaponization were false.   For years, the media reported one false belief  after another.   It was a false belief that only weaponized spores could do what the attack spores did.  It was a
false belief that the spores were weaponized with bentonite.  It was a false belief that only four countries could produce such a spore powder.  It was a false belief that a trillion-spore-per-gram purity was unheard of.  It was a false belief that only a few scientists in the entire world could make such powders.  It was a false belief that the spores were coated with fumed silica.  It was a false belief that "silica powder" was found in the attack anthrax.  It was a false belief that the spores must have come from some supersophisticated and illegal bioweapons lab.  It was a false belief that the attack spores were deliberately static-charged to make them disperse automatically.  It was a false belief that the attack spores were coated with Dimethyldichlorosilane.   It was a false belief that "polymerized glass" was deliberately applied to the attack anthax.  It was an absurd false belief that van der Waals forces would firmly bind the spores together in clumps unless tiny particles of silica were glued to the individual spores to reduced the binding effect.

Although I believed none of those things and argued against all of them, I wasn't totally immune to false beliefs.  I had a false belief that all of the spores in a batch would be affected by whatever process added the silicon to the spores in the batch. 

Being informed that that belief was false really boggled my mind, not because it changed anything in my analysis, but because it's a blockbuster I could have used in arguments every day during the past seven years.

All the weaponization processes people had argued about for years were intended to coat every spore with silica or some similar material to allow them to aerosolize more readily.  But the silicon in the attack anthrax was actually inside of the spore coat, it was one of the materials used to form the spore coat, it was not on the outside of the exosporium, where it might have some "weaponization" effect.   And we have now learned that, in the Daschle, Leahy and New York Post letters, the percentages of spores that contained silicon inside their spore coats ranged from 65% to 75%.   It appears that, if there is soluble silicon in the environment when a Bacillus anthracis bacterium is in the process of forming a spore, some unknown factor - possibly natural variation -  causes identical anthrax bacteria 1, 3 and 4 to absorb similar amounts of silicon while bacterium 2 absorbs none at all.  It never ever occurred to me that the silicon would only be absorbed by some of the bacteria during sporulation. 
It never occurred to me that those bacteria which absorbed silicon would all absorb similar amounts.  As stated above, it makes little or no difference to my analysis, but it appears to be the death blow to all the conspiracy theories about how the attack anthrax was weaponized.

Yet, I seen no sign that anyone who argued such beliefs has changed his or her mind.  All those who argued with me are still arguing the same basic belief - the spores must have been weaponized.  The only difference is that their main argument now appears to be that the entire government and everyone doing work for the government must either be lying or incompetent.  The focus now is on arguing that Dr. Ivins was innocent and was wrongly accused by the government, and just about everyone in the government is part of some grand conspiracy.  Dr. Meryl Nass's blog is one place where these people hang out, where most of them post messages under false names to hide their identities, and where they all seem to agree that Dr. Ivins was innocent.

They show no sign of abandoning their beliefs.  Using typical junk science, they seem to feel that their numbers prove they have a case - even though no one really knows how many people have such beliefs.  Many people have doubts, but that's not the same.  Doubts can be overcome with facts.  Heatedly argued beliefs rarely change. 

In one post, I listed all the facts that I know about which point to Dr. Ivins guilt, but, as usual, conspiracy theorists and True Believers can find possible alternative explanations for every item.  It makes no difference that all these facts only apply to one person, and in combination they are very damning.  If an alternative explanation can be found for just one item, that's all that is needed to convince a conspiracy theorist that the entire list is worthless.

While most just argue the same arguments endlessly, one conspiracy theorist scientist gets very vicious when his beliefs are shown to be nonsense.  He used FreeRepublic.com to attack Professor Matthew Meselson because Prof. Meselson wrote a letter to the editors of The Washington Post describing how the attack spores were not coated with fumed silica.  He wrote nasty emails to Ken Alibek for the same reason, even arguing that Dr. Alibek's funding should be withdrawn.

And lately he's been attacking Dr. Joseph Michael via Dr. Nass's web site for the same reason - for proving that his false beliefs were nonsense.   And he attacks me by attacking Dr. Michael with comments like this:

For Joe Michael to resort to swapping emails with the likes of Ed Lake shows just how far downhill our National Labs have gone. It's an embarrassment that we taxpayers are actually paying money to support these contracts.

My responses were evidently deemed too "impolite" for Dr. Nass to allow onto her blog.  Yet, she doesn't seem to see anything "impolite" in what "Anonymous" posted.  He calls me a liar if I don't name my sources, and when I do name my sources he attacks them all over the Internet.  That's why I usually avoid naming my sources.

I know who this scientist is, and I know he isn't just some obnoxious 12-year-old posing as a scientist, because he also writes me emails stating the same things.  Prior to the February 24 ASM meeting, he wrote email after email stating that Dr. Michael would be laughed off the floor when he made his presentation, that no intelligent scientist or journalist would accept any of it, adding: "assuming that is that this is real science conference and not a dog-and-pony show FBI sponsored meeting where all the scientists present are FBI-sponsored workers there by invite only."

As it turned out, it wasn't an FBI "dog-and-pony show," and Dr. Michael's presentation appears to have been accepted (and appreciated) by everyone in attendance, except for a Maryland lawyer who seems to see conspiracies everywhere.  To everyone's surprise, even a journalist who avidly supported anthrax conspiracy theories in the past stood up and pointed out where Dr. Michael showed that the lawyer's beliefs (and the journalist's past beliefs) were untrue.

So, except for discussions in conspiracy theorist hangouts like Dr. Nass's blog, progress is being made.

And all of the above is only about weaponized spore theories.  Dr. Michael's presentation took up only a 30 minutes in the 4 day meeting (plus some of the hour long Q&A session with the media).  I still haven't found out what was said at the meeting about how the 8 Ames samples which contained the 4 mutations were reduced to just flask RMR-1029 as the source for the attack anthrax.  That should also help us understand how the evidence led to Dr. Ivins.     

But, of course, the conspiracy theorists and True Believers will find ways to dismiss it - whatever it is - if it doesn't confirm what they believe.


March 2, 2009 - Things seem a little more calm today, but now it looks like I may have made some incorrect assumptions yesterday.   I thought that Dr. Ivins had gotten his 1995 sample from the USDA in Iowa because that is what he stated in the 1995 article.   But, I've been reminded of the error uncovered in 2001 when it was learned that the "Ames strain" had been misnamed.  From 1981 through most or all of 2001 everyone at Ft. Detrick thought that the sample they acquired in 1981 from Texas A&M and called "the Ames strain" had come from a cow in Iowa via the USDA in Ames.  According to The New York Times:

The Texas laboratory frequently sent shipments to Ames using prelabeled boxes with prepaid postage. In this case, it put on an additional label to redirect the box to Fort Detrick, with the national laboratory in Ames as the return address.

The return address blur soon became a scientific muddle.

At Fort Detrick, Dr. Knudson had gathered 27 anthrax strains. ''I called this 'Ames' since it came from Ames,'' he recalled in an interview.

In May 1986, his vaccine study and the Ames strain made their public debut. Dr. Knudson and Stephen F. Little of Fort Detrick reported in a science paper that the highly lethal strain, which killed six out of six vaccinated guinea pigs, had come from an Iowa cow.

It now appears that Dr. Ivins didn't get his samples from the USDA as he stated, he got his sample from Ft. Detrick and they thought it came from the USDA, so that's what Dr. Ivins meant.

So, as before, that means that when the FBI asked Dr. Ivins for a second sample from RMR-1029, the sample he sent to the FBI to mislead them was probably from the materials used in this 1995 (and 1996) articles, not from flask RMR-1029, which was created in 1997.  It was the Ames strain.  It just wasn't the version of the Ames strain that was in RMR-1029.  And the "specific genetic markers of the anthrax used in the attacks" mentioned by USA Today were something else, either slight variations in the strain resulting from the large production run or the mutations (even though they didn't focus on the mutations until much later).

Groan.  It's becoming easier for me to see why the main stream media hasn't reported on any of this.

March 1, 2009 - Okay.  I admit it.  My mind has been thoroughly boggled.

I'm really having a hard time getting my brain around all the new information that has come to light in the past week.  And, since I see nothing more in the media today about that information, it appears the main stream media may be boggled, too.  Or maybe they feel the subject matter is just too complicated for the general public to care about.

Here's an example of just how complicated things can get.  Yesterday, I quoted this sentence from a scientific paper written by Dr. Ivins in 1995:

The virulent Ames strain of B. anthracis, obtained from the US Department of Agriculture, Ames, IA, was cultured with shaking in Leighton-Doi mediumx2 for 4 days at 30°C.

It is a virtual certainty that Dr. Ivins was mistaken when he wrote that sentence (or supervised its writing).   The USDA at Ames never had a sample of the Ames strain.  They stated that, and it has been independently verified.  

It appears to me [SEE March 2 update] that Dr. Ivins may have asked the USDA for a sample of the "Ames strain," but the USDA didn't know what he was talking about and just and sent him a sample of Bacillus anthracis from their collection.   Dr. Ivins thought it was the "Ames strain" and that's what he called it when he used it in his tests in 1995.

That's interesting enough, but it gets better.

Remember how Ivins' first Ames anthrax sample sent to the FBI wasn't prepared correctly, so the FBI tossed it out?  (But Paul Keim kept his part of the sample, and it was evaluated later.)  That was considered a deliberate attempt to keep that sample taken from flask RMR-1029 from being usable as evidence.  A while later, Ivins sent a second sample.  USA Today wrote this about that sample:

Ivins submitted a second sample in April — one that court papers say was intended to mislead investigators. That sample did not contain the specific genetic markers of the anthrax used in the attacks.

The "specific genetic markers" evidently [see March 2 update] showed it was not the Ames strain.  Ivins evidently tried to fool the FBI by sending them a sample he thought was the Ames strain, believing they wouldn't know it wasn't from RMR-1029.  He sent them a sample from his 1995 study, which he thought was also the Ames strain.  But his sample didn't contain the "specific genetic markers" of the Ames strain and the mismatch immediately rang alarm bells at the FBI.

Wow. 

Yesterday, I also wrote this:

The "silicon signature" is NOT the amount of silicon found in an individual spore.  It is the percentage of individual spores that contain silicon in a specific sample of about 200 spores.  And, on top of that, of course, are the other "signatures" for oxygen, iron and tin which may or may not be present.

Technically, the "signature" is the combination of all the readings (not signatures) for all the various unusual elements (silicon, oxygen, iron and tin) and where they are located within the spore and what percentage of the spores in a given sample contains which elements.   Specific readings for specific elements are just part of that "signature."

That's all for now.  I think my brain is overheating. 

February 28, 2009 (B) - Hmm.  Someone sent me a copy of a scientific article from 1995 in which Dr. Bruce Ivins was the first author listed and which includes this information:

The virulent Ames strain of B. anthracis, obtained from the US Department of Agriculture, Ames, IA, was cultured with shaking in Leighton-Doi mediumx2 for 4 days at 30°C. Spores were harvested by centrifugation and washed in sterile distilled water as described previously6, then purified by centrifugation through 58% Renografin-76. The spores were washed again, resuspended in 1% phenol and stored at 4°C.
 
For aerosol challenge, spores were suspended to a concentration of ca 1 x lo9 c.f.u. ml-‘, then were heat-shocked at 60°C for 45 min. In groups of 12, guinea pigs received an aerosol challenge of the spores by a nose-only exposure system contained within a Class III biological safety cabinet.

So, if I read this correctly, Dr. Ivins used Leighton-Doi medium (which seems to contain silicon, since two other examples using that medium showed silicon in the spore coats), he cultured the virulent Ames anthrax spores in 4 days, and he then used the spores as an aerosol to test anthrax vaccines given to guinea pigs.

Since drying spores is not complicated, this article certainly seems to disprove all the claims that Dr. Ivins didn't know how to create dry spores and couldn't have created the attack anthrax in the time the culprit apparently had.


The only thing missing is flask RMR-1029, which wasn't created until 2 years after this article was printed.

February 28, 2009 (A) - The New York Times has added a postscript/correction to their Jan. 4 article which said this about the water used to grow the 2001 anthrax spores:

By early 2004, F.B.I. scientists had discovered that out of 60 domestic and foreign water samples, only water from Frederick, Md., had the same chemical signature as the water used to grow the mailed anthrax.

Their postscript corrects that report:

Postscript

A front-page article on Jan. 4 about Bruce E. Ivins, the late Army scientist who the Federal Bureau of Investigation says was responsible for the anthrax letter attacks of 2001, reported that F.B.I. scientists had concluded in 2004 that out of 60 domestic and foreign water samples, only water from near Fort Detrick, Md., where Dr. Ivins worked, had the same chemical signature as the water that had been used to grow the mailed anthrax. That information, provided by a former senior law enforcement official who did not want to be named in the article, suggested that the anthrax could not have come from military and intelligence research programs in Utah and Ohio, as some defenders of Dr. Ivins’s innocence had speculated. The F.B.I. declined to answer questions for that article, which said that the evidence against Dr. Ivins was circumstantial and that many of his colleagues believed the F.B.I.’s conclusion was wrong.

On Tuesday at an American Society for Microbiology conference in Baltimore, an F.B.I. scientist, Jason D. Bannan, said the water research ultimately was inconclusive about where the anthrax was grown. An F.B.I. spokeswoman, Ann Todd, said on Wednesday that the bureau “stands by the statements” of Dr. Bannan. The case will be reviewed this year by the National Academy of Sciences.

As I read it, the NY Times misinterpreted an official's statement that the anthrax could not have come from Utah or Ohio to mean "
only water from Frederick, Md., had the same chemical signature as the water used to grow the mailed anthrax." But, the water did not point to Ft. Detrick.  The water evidence was inconclusive about that.   (It still seems possible that the water evidence inconclusively pointed away from Utah and Ohio.)

February 27, 2009 -  Another article about the ASM meeting showed up this morning.  This one is from New Scientist magazine and is titled "Revealed: Scientific evidence for the 2001 anthrax attacks."  It does a much better job of reporting the facts than the Nature article, which was further distorted by Keith Oberman on MSNBC last night in his effort to include the Amerithrax investigation in a list of Bush administration failures. 

Meanwhile, I'm continuing to try to collect and put the pieces together to try to figure out exactly what was said at the meeting.  It's been pointed out to me by one of the presenters that I missed a key point and didn't accurately describe another very important point.

The point I didn't describe with total correctness is that flask RMR-1030 is not the only known example of where silicon was found in Ames anthrax spores - other than the attack spores.  Although I didn't know about it, at the ASM meeting, Dr. Michael described how Dugway had been asked to create Ames anthrax spores via different methods in order to see what the silicon signatures might be.  One of those samples also contained silicon in the spore coats.  So, there are three known instances of silicon being found in spores coats of Ames anthrax spores: (1) the attack anthrax, (2) RMR-1030 and (3) a sample created at Dugway in experiments to see what processes would create such a signature.

Very interestingly, both RMR-1030 and the Dugway sample were grown with Leighton-Doi media.

The key point that I totally missed and which Dr. Michael really wants me to explain in detail here is as follows:  The attack anthrax spores did NOT all contain silicon (and oxygen and the other trace materials - iron and tin). 

Only about 65-75% of the attack spores contained the silicon signature.  The other spores did not.
Only about 6% of the spores in RMR-1030 contained the silicon signature.   The other spores did not.
Only about 30% of the Dugway sample contained the silicon signature.   The other spores did not.

The "silicon signature" is NOT the amount of silicon found in an individual spore.  It is the percentage of individual spores that contain silicon in a specific sample of about 200 spores.  And, on top of that, of course, are the other "signatures" for oxygen, iron and tin which may or may not be present.

Generally speaking,  the spores which contained silicon in all the samples all contained about the same amount of silicon.  That was evidently not true for iron and tin.

I'm no expert, but I interpret this as meaning that, if there is soluble silicon in the environment, Bacillus anthracis spores will absorb a certain amount or nothing at all.  But, I could certainly be wrong about that interpretation.

However, it's important to understand that when the scientists talk about not being able to duplicate the exact silicon signature in the attack anthrax, they are talking about getting no less than 65% and no more than 75% of the spores in a sample to contain silicon AND the other elements.  And it has little or nothing to do with how much silicon is in each individual spore.

At this point in time, it seems quite possible that two samples prepared in the same way at the same time in the same lab may give different results for some reason possibly having to do with natural variability

The New Scientist article by Debora MacKenzie points out that the attack spores didn't all contain silicon.  She also highlights the questions people have about exactly how the FBI pinpointed Dr. Ivins as the lone culprit.

The presentations at the ASM meeting were about the science, not about the legal case against Dr. Ivins.      

February 26, 2009 (B) - I've been talking with some of the presenters at the ASM meeting, and I think it's safe to say they are generally pissed at the way Nature magazine misrepresented what was said at the meeting.  One presenter told me:

I think that the Nature post has a very misleading title that aimed at driving traffic and generating comments. It is taken out of context!

Presumably, some editor at Nature added the misleading title and subtitle just to create controversy.  That's usually the way things work.  The reporter writes one thing, and the editor "pumps it up" to create something more sensational.

I also managed to clear up some questions raised by Barry Kissin.
 

1.  Silicon was found in flask RMR-1030, but the quantity was not exactly identical to what was found in the attack spores.  Flask RMR-1030 was evidently a routine anthrax spore preparation of Bacillus anthacis AMES created by Dr. Ivins for his own use in his work.  The spores were grown at USAMRIID in shaker flasks using Leighton-Doi media.  As far as I know, this is the only reported occurance of finding silicon in Ames anthrax spores except for the attack anthrax.  [See Feb. 27 correction.]  Therefore, I'm adding a new fact #8 to my list of facts pointing toward Dr. Ivins' guilt, re-numbering everything after #8 to create an even 20 facts.  Here's the new Fact #8:

8.  Investigators examined another flask of Ames anthrax spores created by Dr. Ivins for his own use in his work and found that a percentage of the spores in flask RMR-1030 contained silicon similar to what was in the attack spores, but not in an exactly identical percentage to the attack anthrax.

2.  [Modified Feb. 27]  Bacillus subtilis contamination was found at USAMRIID, but not in any work done by Dr. Ivins, and the DNA of the samples tested did not include a match to the DNA of the spores in the New York Post and Tom Brokaw letters.   Due to the fact that Bacillus subtilis is nearly omnipresent and there are countless strains, it was considered impractical to attempt to analyze every possible source for the Bacillus subtilis contamination.  The contamination in the New York Post letter did, however, exactly match the contamination in the Brokaw letter.  So, it's clear both letters were prepared from the same batch at the same time.  

Hopefully, we'll soon see some other media reports about the ASM meeting that will provide information instead of distorting what was said in order to generate web site traffic and heated arguments.


February 26, 2009 (A) - One web site after another seems to be manufacturing bizarre, imagined, unscientific implications regarding the fact that tin was not found in the spores in flask RMR-1029 but was found in the attack anthrax.  All it really means is that the spores in the attack anthrax were grown in a different medium.  That's to be expected, since RMR-1029 was a special situation involving large production runs and a lot of care to create a "gold standard" for vaccine testing.  Very different procedures were used.  Here's how the creation of RMR-1029 was described during the roundtable discussion on August 18:

BACKGROUND OFFICIAL:  If I can clarify that for the record.  RMR-1029 is a conglomeration of 13 production runs of spores by Dugway, for USAMRIID, and an additional 22 production runs of spore preparations at USAMRIID that were all pooled into this mixture.  It is a total of over 164 liters of spore production, concentrated down to about a liter.  

So this is quite an unusual prep.  This is not a single culture.

But what really puzzles me are some comments made by Maryland lawyer Barry Kissin on Dr. Nass's blog.  I hesitate to repeat them here until I get some verification.  But some mention might be okay.  Mr. Kissin uses some new but  highly questionable information to argue that it shows Dr. Ivins' innocence, but in reality - if true - that information would be smoking gun evidence of Dr. Ivins' guilt.  Check out questions 1 and 3 by Mr. Kissin as the bottom of his post.  He's wrong about flask RMR-1030 being used to create RMR-1029, but what what was found in RMR-1030, and when was it created?  And did they really find the same strain of Bacillus subtilis contamination that was in the New York Post letter in other materials prepared by Dr. Ivins?  Do we have two smoking guns pointing to Dr. Ivins's guilt?
        

February 25, 2009 (B) - Ah!  The first media report about the ASM meeting just showed up.  It's on Nature Magazine's web site.  The title is "Anthrax investigation still yielding findings."  And it's their interpretation of what was said.   It's been known since August that the spores used in the mailing were not taken directly from flask RMR-1029, but this seems to be news to Nature.  The first paragraph of the article is this:

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

But the article does include some NEW information:

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

The presence of iron and tin in the attack anthrax is news to me.  I've never seen that reported before.  AFIP didn't mention it.   The Nature article also says:

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

The tin and iron weren't in the spores in the RMR-1029 flask, but the silicon wasn't in them either.  Nor the Bacillus subtilis contamination found in the NY Post letter.  And we've known that since August.

The article contains the same information about why the Bacillus subtilis contamination in the Post letter led nowhere, but the author uses different wording:


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

It's a good start.   Hopefully, we'll see more interpretations in other media reports tomorrow.

February 25, 2009 (A) - So far, I haven't seen any news reports about the presentations at the ASM meeting.  Today, I'm only getting information via emails that's second or third hand.  Evidently, someone asked FBI scientist Jason Bannan if the following report from The New York Times was correct:


By early 2004, F.B.I. scientists had discovered that out of 60 domestic and foreign water samples, only water from Frederick, Md., had the same chemical signature as the water used to grow the mailed anthrax.

The answer was no.  Whoever said that was mistaken.  There was no way to narrow down the source of the water to that degree.  Stable isotopes can narrow the range down to a section of the country (like "the northeast"), but no further. 

February 24, 2009 - I'm told that today's ASM presentations regarding the Amerithrax investigation went very well.  But, that's probably just the first "interpretation."  Others may see things differently.   My source says that, except for an attorney from Frederick, Maryland who didn't seem to believe any of the presenters and who even stood up in the middle of the press Q&A to state his beliefs and doubts, very little out of the ordinary happened.   The science regarding silicon in the attack anthrax appeared to be accepted as good science.  The only questions which went unanswered related to exactly how the FBI was able to eliminate all the other people who had access to flask RMR-1029 and determine that only Dr. Bruce Ivins could have been responsible for the anthrax mailings of 2001, and that he acted alone.  Those details are evidently still not being made public pending closing the Amerithrax investigation. 

That's one person's point of view as interpreted by me.  Hopefully, tomorrow we'll see some other reports on what happened at the meeting today.  A lot might have happened when my source wasn't present.


February 22, 2009
-
The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) meeting that starts in Baltimore today was the subject of much discussion last week - but the discussions I was involved in were only about the presentations scheduled for Tuesday February 24.  Here's what that part of the schedule looks like:  

Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Plenary Session
The Science Behind the “Anthrax Letter” Attack Investigation
Session Time: Tuesday, February 24, 2009 8:30:00 AM 12:00:00 PM

This session will act as a forum for scientists directly involved in the investigation of the
anthrax letter attacks of 2001 to present their analyses and conclusions. Innovative science was very important part of the investigation and yet, has been widely misrepresented in the popular press due to secrecy requirements imposed by the FBI. This secrecy veil is now being lifted by allowing the investigative scientists to present their finds.

Moderators:
P. Keim; Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ.
J. D. Bannan; ChemicalBiological Sciences Unit, FBI, Quantico, VA.

Presentations

8:30AM 132. The B. anthracis Ames Strain and the Development of an Investigative Strain Repository
P. Keim; Northern Arizona Univ., Flagstaff, AZ.

9:00AM 133. The Silicon Content in B. anthracis Spores Is in the Spore Coat, not Exogenously Applied

J. R. Michael; Sandia Natl. Lab., Albuquerque, NM.

9:30AM Coffee Break


10:00AM 135. Comparative Genome Analysis to Identify Minor B. anthracis Mutant Components in the Anthrax Letters
Spores
J. Ravel; Microbial Genomics, University of Maryland School of Medicine/Institute for Genome Sciences, Baltimore, MD.


10:30AM 136. A1 & A3 Assay Development

T. R. Reynolds; Commonwealth Biotechnologies, Inc., Richmond, VA.

11:00AM 137. Morph D Assay Development

V. T. Ryan; Florida Division, Midwest Research Institute, Palm Bay, FL.

11:30AM 138. FBIR Process, Validations and Synopsis of the Results

J. D. Bannan; ChemicalBiological Sciences Unit, FBI, Quantico, VA.

The heated discussions last week were almost entirely about
the presentation by Dr. Joseph Michael that will take place at 9 a.m. on Tuesday.  The conspiracy theorists, of course, still insist that the silicon detected in the attack spores must be from some sophisticated form of "weaponization" from some illegal bioweapons lab run by the U.S. government.  And they demand solid proof that the spores were not from such a program.  It's impossible to prove the negative, of course, so  it appears that some conspiracy theorists may be at the meeting to show that it cannot be proven that some secret and illegal government program was not involved.  Presumably, all that Dr. Michael can do is present the facts and show the facts clearly indicate that the silicon in the attack spores was accumulated as the spore was formed.  It was not applied after the spore was formed.  And since the silicon is inside the spore coat, it doesn't provide any "weaponization" purpose.  (It's only a 30 minute presentation, so arguments would have be take place at the coffee break afterward.  Or they could take place elsewhere - perhaps in the press room or in the hotel bar that evening.)

From my point of view, the facts about silicon are all scientifically straight-forward and indisputable.  And I'm somewhat amazed that only one person in the arguments mentioned Jacques Ravel's presentation at 10 a.m., claiming that since it didn't appear to support his personal beliefs, it could be misleading regarding the mutations which led to the identification of Dr. Bruce Ivins as the anthrax mailer.  And no one at all mentioned Jason Bannan's presentation at 11:30 a.m., which will reportedly describe how the FBI coordinated all the data from the 20+ scientific labs which worked on aspects of the Amerithrax investigation.

Some of the conspiracy theorists do argue, of course, that since a person from the FBI is one of the moderators and one of the presenters, the entire day could all be some massive hoax presented by the FBI to mislead all the scientists and journalists in attendance.

However, arguments on the Internet may not translate into real life arguments in places where you have to pay to get in, where strangers are present and where everyone is wearing a "Hello, my name is" sticker with their real name on it. 

I'm hoping that a lot of journalists will be in attendance.   I assume that each will write up his or her interpretation of what was presented, and then we'll all have to sort through their differing reports to try to figure out what was actually said.  I don't know what rules will be in place about recording the presentations.  I seriously doubt that any will be visually recorded.  We might be able to read transcripts of what was said, if audio recorders are allowed.  Unfortunately, digital .pdf and/or Powerpoint portions of the presentations will very likely be "embargoed" until the data and images are first published in some scientific journal - which could be months from now.

I truly look forward to reading all the various interpretations from the media and getting feedback from attendees of how the presentations went.  I really wish I could be there.  But, such travel expenses are just not in my budget for this year, and President Obama didn't include them as part of his stimulus package.  I guess he forgot.
Updates & Changes: Sunday, February 15, 2009, thru Saturday, February 21, 2009

February 20-21, 2009 - I've been involved in a great deal of intense anthrax discussion for the past few days, but it's difficult to summarize what was said.  It'll have to wait until a few things are clarified and verified. 

However, a reporter brought up something important.  In my list of 18 facts that say Dr. Ivins
was the anthax mailer, I failed to list a very important item.  I've added it as #7, renumbering everything after it.   Here is what I added:

7.  In December 2001, Dr. Ivins secretly swabbed and bleached more than 20 areas in his lab that he said he suspected were contaminated by a sloppy lab technician.  He didn't tell anyone about it until April of 2002.
 
I hate odd numbers.  Does anyone have a good fact I can add to make the list an even 20 facts?

February 15, 2009 - Last week, someone brought to my attention a very interesting "Podcast About Anthrax Investigation" from February 5 that I hadn't noticed before.  I don't have an iPod, so perhaps the term "podcast" just doesn't attract my attention.  But, it's just an .mp3 file that can be played on almost any computer.

In the 38 minute 40 second program, Paul Keim is interviewed by Dr. Merry Buckley, and they discuss the science behind the "Anthrax Letter" attack investigation process, the upcoming ASM Biodefense and Emerging Diseases Research Meeting scheduled for February 22-25, 2009 in Baltimore, MD., and many other aspects of microbial forensics, biology, microbiology and epidemiology.   But the first 17 minutes the program is almost entirely about the Amerithrax investigation.  (Interestingly, although she conducts an extemely interesting interview, Dr. Buckley evidently never heard the term "Amerithrax" before.)

At the time of the attacks, very little was known about the Ames strain.  Dr. Keim says, 

At the very beginning, we didn't know where this was coming from.   We were still scratching our heads over what exactly the Ames strain was.  We didn't know how common it was in the environment.  We'd only seen it once, but then our sampling of North America was incomplete.  In the past seven years we've gone back and sampled very intensively across North America.

Since that time, they've analyzed Bacillus anthracis strains from around the globe. 

The Ames strain and its very closest relatives are only found in the southern part of the United States - in Texas, in fact only in Texas along the Rio Grande river.

And, I found this exchange at about the 8:20 mark to be very interesting:

Dr. Buckley: So, in the beginning, you could tell it was an Ames strain, but you didn't really have a handle on whether Ames strains were limited to laboratories or whether they could be found in the environment.  And by looking at these single-nucleotide poly morphisms (SNIPS) and from strains all around the world, you found out that - yes - the Ames strain is - as far as we know - limited to laboratory use.   Is that right?

Dr. Keim: Yeah, that's right.  Even when we go back into the environment from where it originally came, in the southern part of Texas, we couldn't find it again.  What we found was very closely related, but was disguishable by these SNIPS.

I've probably had a dozen emails over the years from people who assumed that you could just go back to Texas, dig a hole anywhere along the Rio Grande and find exact matches to the Ames strain found in the letters.

Dr. Keim then explains that the new technologies developed to analyze the anthrax spores from 2001 have provided a  great advance in scientists' abilities to analyze and determine the sources of other diseases.  It's a subject he'll talk about at the meeting in Maryland next week.

The Maryland meeting is brought up at around the 13:30 mark, and Dr. Keim explains that an FBI scientist (Dr. Jason Bannan) who helped coordinate the Amerithrax investigation will be among the speakers.  15 to 30 different labs were involved in the investigation, mostly without knowing what other labs were doing, and the FBI scientists would put things together.  Dr. Bannan will apparently explain that process.  Dr. Jacques Ravel will talk about the mutations that led to the discovery of flask RMR-1029.   And, as stated before, Dr. Joe Michael will discuss how "The Silicon Content in B. anthracis Spores Is in the Spore Coat, not Exogenously Applied."

Dr. Keim then says,

One of the goals here is in fact to try to present the science as cleanly and rigorously as possible to the scientific community.   There is a lot of skepticism in the community.   And I think the one thing that we can do as scientists is present the science and let the scientists judge for themselves.

At about the 17 minute mark, the conversation starts going into Dr. Keim's background and a variety of other subjects.   Microbial forensics and microbiology are clearly subjects that Dr. Keim enjoys talking about and a field in which he enjoys working.  He uses the term "regulatory burden" to refer to the need to pay attention to all the rules about keeping track of samples, of experiments, of inventories and of the vast amount of data that comes from experiments with deadly bacteria.  It's a term that is probably being used all the time at Ft. Detrick right now.

The last half of the discussion also contains some fascinating anectodes about a bioweapon used to kill horses in WWII and how a wildlife biologist "just recently" exposed himself to plague from a dead mountain lion and died of the plague.

Updates & Changes: Sunday, February 8, 2009, thru Saturday, February 14, 2009

February 12, 2009 - [Note correction below]  Scientific American has demonstrated once again the precise wording is not something the scientific community is as concerned about as one might assume.  In an article titled "Army anthrax lab suspends research to inventory its germs," they ended with this paragraph:

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

The link under "determined the spores had been weaponized" leads to the September 19, 2009, article from Sandia National Labs which included this statement:

Using highly sensitive transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and scanning transmission electron microscopy (STEM), the researchers came to a startling realization: The silicon had grown organically inside the Bacillus anthracis samples, nothing had been added to weaponize the spores. "The silicon was not on the outside of the spore," says Michael, who headed up Sandia's investigation, "but rather incorporated on the inside."

And

The researchers could find no way that the silica could be placed inside the spore without leaving a residue on the spore's outermost layer. (They found none.) Instead, the researchers determined that the silica formed inside the spore naturally. After only a month examining the anthrax samples in March 2002, Michael and his team were convinced, contrary to other reports, that the anthrax used in the attacks had not been weaponized.

However, the link under "clues that led to Ivins being suspected" links to another Scientific American article from Jan. 5, 2009, which said:

Ivins, though highly skilled at handling anthrax, did not become a suspect even after the FBI determined that the anthrax had been weaponized and likely came from a domestic source, as Scientific American.com reported in September.

Or maybe it's not a matter of precise wording, but of simply getting the facts totally wrong.  It wasn't anything to do with "weaponization" that led FBI investigators to Dr. Ivins.  It was the fact that there were well over a dozen mutations in the attack anthax, which made it a near certainty that the source would also have many of those same mutations.
   Tests of 1,070 Ames anthrax samples from over 15 different labs finally led the FBI to Dr. Bruce Ivins.

NOTE: On the afternoon of Feb. 12, Scientific American corrected the errors.  The new article now says:

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

* Erratum (2/1209): The original sentence stated that the investigators determined the spores had been weaponized.


And the January 9 article was also changed.  It now says:


Ivins, though highly skilled at handling anthrax, did not become a suspect even after the FBI determined that the anthrax had not been weaponized and likely came from a domestic source, as Scientific American.com reported in September.*

* Erratum (2/1209): The original sentence stated that the FBI determined that the anthrax had been weaponized.

I'm not sure that's the first time I've ever seen an error corrected by the media, but it's certainly a rare event.  I assume I had very little to do with getting the correction made.   I imagine they got a lot of calls and emails about it.

February 9, 2009 - Yesterday's New York Times contained an article titled "Army Suspends Germ Research at Maryland Lab."   Contrary to what some might believe about missing bacteria samples, the main problem seems to be that USAMRIID has a lot of extra material that is not in their database.
 
A spokesman for the institute, Caree Vander Linden, said an earlier review had located all the germ samples listed in the database. But she said some “historical samples” in institute freezers were not in the database, and the new inventory was intended to identify them so they could be recorded and preserved, or destroyed if they no longer had scientific value.

One scientist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment, said samples from completed projects were not always destroyed, and departing scientists sometimes left behind vials whose contents were unknown to colleagues.

The physical inventory is expected to last as long as three months.  (My personal interest would be in anything left behind by Dr. Ivins that wasn't in the inventory system.)

The Times article also mentions that the lawsuit filed by the wife of Bob Stevens (the first person to die from the anthrax attack of 2001) has been given new life by the finding that the attack anthrax was made at USAMRIID.  Department of Justice lawyers are currently interviewing government scientists there to prepare for their defense against the lawsuit.  The Stevens lawsuit accuses the government of failing to adequately secure lethal bacteria in their labs, which directly resulted in the death of Bob Stevens.

Meanwhile, today's Baltimore Sun adds a few details. 

Army officials insisted there are no missing vials of lethal substances and no danger to the public.

They said the problem lies with unused, older samples of research materials that were in storage before the institute's records were computerized in 2005. Until then, the inventory of deadly stocks was kept on paper by hand.

"It's a record-keeping thing," said Caree Vander-Linden, a spokeswoman for the institute.

Accounting for all the material in the institute's freezers and refrigerators could take three months.

"We are not going to sacrifice accuracy for speed," she said.

And The Washington Post adds this:

the order could frustrate researchers because keeping inventories for biological materials is next to impossible. Unlike nuclear weapons materials, which can simply be weighed, viruses and bacteria are constantly multiplying and dying, meaning the amount of material changes from hour to hour

I've designed and installed inventory control systems.  What they are doing at Ft. Detrick is called "taking a physical inventory."  It's a tedious and costly thing.  And it really has very little or nothing to do with security problems.  It is almost entirely about record keeping and recording where everything is located.  In a large grocery store where computer systems are used to record deliveries and optical scanners are used to record sales, nearly everything is automated.  Yet they still need to take a physical inventory once or twice a year to get their books in order.  It must be a vastly more complicated problem in a lab where so little is automated and so much depends upon busy people correctly preparing paperwork or typing in computer entries when they much prefer to be working on experiments.

If you discover that your home or store has been burglarized, you will probably have to take a physical inventory to determine exactly what is missing.  But taking the physical inventory has nothing to do with preventing a burglary.

However, as one would expect, the media contacted Dr. Ivins' lawyer Thomas DeGonia, and WTOP.com produced a headline that reads "Lawyer: Evidence Against Bruce Ivins 'Undercut'." 

The lawyer for the scientist dubbed the FBI's sole suspect in the deadly anthrax mailings in 2001 says Fort Detrick's acknowledgement of inventory control problems "seriously undermines the assertions that he was the source of the anthrax."

However, 

Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman, tells WTOP:

"The recent inventory issues at USAMRIID highlight the difficulties confronted by the FBI in their efforts to trace the evidentiary material back to its source at USAMRIID, and reinforce our conclusion that samples of anthrax could easily have been removed from the facility undetected."

But Dr. Ivins' lawyer sees things differently:

DeGonia acknowledges revelation of the research facility's inventory problems is unlikely to sway people toward disbelieving Ivins was responsible for the killings.

"Unfortunately in the court of public opinion, I think he's still going to be labeled that way," DeGonia says. "I think as information comes out, such as this that really shows the holes in the allegations against him, and the scientific community begins to vindicate him, it'll be a slow process for him to regain the standing he once had in the scientific community as a result of these allegations."

So, any new information - no matter how trivial - can be twisted and manipulated to support someone's cause.  But the facts still fully support the case against Dr. Ivins.  "Inventory problems" certainly don't change that.

February 8, 2009 (B) - According to Science Magazine's ScienceInsider blog,

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

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

Officials have begun a complete inventory of all select agents and toxins at the facility. All experiments using select agents will remain suspended until the accounting is finished, which could take several weeks. Several USAMRIID researchers have been grumbling about the decision, which seems to have caught them by surprise, according to a government official not connected to the lab.
 
While anthrax isn't specifically named, presumably it's one of the "select agents."  I wouldn't read too much into this, however.  Accurate record keeping is a known problem in busy labs.  It's evidently just too easy to forget about a destroyed sample or to mislabel or misplace something when there are so many things going on at once.  It's a common procedure in many labs to take a complete physical inventory from time to time to get the records straight -- so people can stop wasting so much time looking for samples which no longer exist or which were mislabeled or misplaced.   It's a problem that has little or nothing to do with lab security.   Hopefully, scientists at USAMRIID are among the most careful, but they're still human, and to err is human.  So, inventory errors will happen.  Guaranteed.

February 8, 2009 (A)
-
Nothing new last week.  Same old, same old.  Once again on Dr. Meryl Nass's web site, one of the people who calls himself "Anonymous" ranted about his desire for some Congressional committee to investigate the information I supposedly "leaked" when I reported that there was roughly 1% silicon in the attack spores, and that a test on the New York Post powder at the FBI labs had technical problems and resulted in questionable data. 

Isn't it just plain silly when someone who keeps his identity secret by calling himself "Anonymous" demands to know the name of someone else who didn't even post any information directly?

I tried asking "Anonymous" why HE doesn't provide his own name for everyone on the Internet?  But, of course, my question couldn't get past the moderator.   Complicating matters beyond belief is the fact that more than one person  is posting as "Anonymous," each with a somewhat different point of view.

Meanwhile, the "Anonymous" looking for a congressinal investigation makes it very clear he wants to make all the trouble he can for the FBI employee - and for the FBI in general.  Yet, he wants me to provide him with a name.  "Anonymous" distorts facts, jumps to conclusions and makes claims that are simply his bizarre interpretations of things I've written and have very little to do with reality, yet he clearly wants people to take him seriously.  

Most interestingly, the way he deliberately distorts what I've said in order to suggest there was some improper conduct at the FBI labs seems to be the latest in a string of distortions with malicious intent.

Perhaps the strongest indicator of malicious intent is the deliberate distortion of the facts about the Repelcoat image.   In an older thread on Dr. Nass's blog, this was said by "Anonymous":

(1) It is a FACT that US military labs use an advanced technique of polymerized glass coating to weaponize spores. These coatings cause the individual spores to be highly hydrophobic. Liquid water droplets will not "bead up" on their surface and thus the water bridging mechanism cannot cause the spores to clump.

(2) It is a FACT that these spores look identical to uncoated spores. They do NOT look like the spores coated with fumed silica particles (a technology dating back to the 1960s) which is the picture published by Dugway.

Later, it was apparently the same "Anonymous" who wrote:

For the record, the actual silane monomer used by US military labs to weaponize anthrax is dimethyldichlorosilane. It is a known FACT that the resulting spores look identical to uncoated spores (contrary to the claims of Ed Lake that they somehow look different). I will be happy to provide side-by-side pictures of these spores (coated with polymerized glass and uncoated) to Meryl if she would like to publish them on her blog. These spores were produced in a US miltary lab.

But, then the person who evidently shared the Repelcoat image with that "Anonymous" responded:

I gave you the picture of what it looked like when dimethyldichlorosilane was added to the slurry.

It was part of a controlled experiment by my consulting scientist and his colleagues -- who now I'm going to have to pay twice as much if you try to make the pictures seem like something they are not.

It was not part of a "weaponization process." (as if the word has any illuminating meaningful). It was part of a controlled experiment making anthrax simulants in which a siliconizing solution was used in the slurry to see if that resulted in a comparable forensic signature. (Which is exactly what Sandia has been doing -- not once, but 200 times). Sandia of course knows best as to what the closest match was.

My friend creates aerosols for testing defenses.  He and I were noodling what it would account for the Silicon Signature. That is, I was asking stupid questions and he was trying to help me understand). But it would be a provable error to make it out to have been part of a "weaponization" process if there is an implication that anything nefarious was done.

The same or a different "Anonymous" then circulated a PowerPoint slide picture of spores coated with "Repel Coat" and tried to make people believe they looked the same as spores which were not coated with anything.  It was discussed at length HERE.  There seems to be malicious intent in that, too.  When it was pointed out that the differences seemed as clear as the differences between ordinary peanuts and candy coated peanuts, instead of providing clearer images, he just argued that people needed to imagine that things which were clearly visible in the picture weren't really there.  Or were those statements made by a different "Anonymous?"  Who knows?

And, the same "Anonymous" evidently tried to convince people that Sandia's TEM image of the attack anthrax showed spores without the exosporium layer.  That Powerpoint slide picture was discussed at length HERE.  There seems to have been malicious intent by "Anonymous" there, too, but it could also be just plain carelessness.  The exosporium is clearly visible on the spores, and, if there was any doubt, he could have checked very easily by contacting Sandia.  But, he chose not to.  That also implies a degree of malicious intent.

In August, five months ago, when Director Mueller was asked about the amount of silicon in the attack anthrax, he didn't have an answer at his fingertips.  Would he have an answer if he were asked the same question today?  Presumably.  Any suggestion by "Anonymous" that Dirrector Mueller still wouldn't answer is just another indication of malicious intent by "Anonymous," since the assumption must be that if I know the answer, Director Mueller must know the answer, too.

"Anonymous" clearly doesn't care that someone at the FBI might not want to be named on my web site in order to avoid having countless people try to contact him to argue their theories and beliefs.  And of course,  no one wants to be harrassed by some anonymous person on the Internet with malicious intent, either.   If congressional investigators want the name, no subpoena would be required.  It's not really a secret.  It's just common sense to avoid putting someone's name on my web site or on Dr. Nass's web site when someone else with malicious intent wants exactly that.  
Updates & Changes: Sunday, February 1, 2009, thru Saturday, February 7, 2009

February 5, 2009 - TickleTheWire.com has an interview with
Joseph Persichini Jr., the head of the Washington Field Office of the FBI.  It doesn't say much that we don't already know, but this Q&A might be worth noting:

Q. Are you convinced Bruce Ivins was the guy and Hatfill was not the guy?
A. Without a question. Dr. Bruce Ivins used anthrax to murder those individuals.

Persichini refused to discuss the investigation of Dr. Hatfill, but, it seems to me that, if the FBI and DOJ are ever to convince the bulk of the skeptics and disbelievers among journalists, scientists and the general public, the FBI and DOJ are going to have to thoroughly explain exactly why Dr. Hatfill was investigated so publicly and thoroughly, and how that investigation differed from the investigation of Dr. Bruce Ivins. 

February 1, 2009 (B) - On February 22 through 25, there will be a Biodefense & Emerging Diseases Research Meeting in Baltimore.

At that meeting, on Tuesday, February 24, 2009, from 8:30 a.m. until noon, there will be a “Plenary Session” titled “The Science behind the ‘Anthrax Letter’ Attack Investigation.”  The Moderators will be: P. Keim of Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ, and J. D. Bannan from the ChemicalBiological Sciences Unit, FBI, Quantico, VA.

Among the presentations will be this one:


That's just over three weeks from now.  Unfortunately, it will probably be a requirement that people who attend the presentations do not use any pictures or tape recordings of the presentations to make presentations of their own in the media, on the Internet or elsewhere.  Such secondary presentations will have to wait until the presented material is formally published in some scientific journal.

But, hopefully,
the main stream and scientific media will provide some analyses or discussions of what was said - even if it is a half dozen different points of view.  I doubt there are any rules forbidding attendees from publicly discussing what was said.  Presumably, that is encouraged.  I assume it is the purpose of the meeting. 

Three weeks!  Groan!  I could definitely use some good new information about the Amerithrax investigation right now.   Even scientific articles using solid science to confirm what is already known would be welcome.  That doesn't mean I wouldn't also like to see some solid science which disputes what is already known.  I'd welcome that even more.  I just don't see any reason to believe such evidence exists.

Of course, there are scientists who claim that such evidence would exist if the FBI just looked for it. 
Last week, someone pointed me to one such claim where a scientist uses this kind of reasoning regarding the 1,070 samples of the Ames strain tested by the FBI:

They could necessarily only test samples of Ames strain anthrax that they already knew existed. What if there are samples of Ames strain anthrax that the scientists did not test because they did not know they existed?  Aside from Saddam’s non-existent WMD anthrax research, I could easily imagine any number of other governments (including our own) with highly secretive bioweapons programs hiding this information from the FBI’s anthrax investigators.

All the FBI can say is that the flask in Ivins' possession is one possible source. They can't prove that it is the only source.

So, if the FBI cannot prove that there are no other possible sources for the attack anthrax, does that mean that scientists who believe what they want to believe can continue to believe what they want to believe?  Yes, it does.  Does it mean there actually are other sources for the attack anthrax?  No, it doesn't.  

Should purely imaginary samples have the same validity as actual samples?  Some scientists seem to think so.

On Dr. Nass's blog, a (presumably) different scientist states that she has "
an alternative theory as to how the silicon signature was created. And said theory points away from Dr. Ivins."  All she needs is for the FBI to attempt to prove the negative.   She wants the FBI to attempt to prove that the Bacillus subtilis contamination found in the New York Post letter was not also in the AMI letter.  Since the AMI letter was never found, this requires that the FBI swab the AMI building for Bacillus subtilis bacteria with a matching DNA.  One swab would undoubtedly be sufficient to prove her case if the single swab does not find bacteria with a matching DNA.  To her, that would mean it isn't there.  In reality, of course, it just means it wasn't found on that one swab. 

If you took a million swabs of the walls and floors of the AMI building and still didn't find Bacillus subtilis bacteria with DNA matching that in the NY Post letter, would that prove that it wasn't there?  No.  It would only prove that you didn't find it.  Finding NO evidence is not evidence, it is NO evidence.  But, why should the FBI go through that effort and expense?  Do they really have to prove that that one scientist's theory is incorrect?  I don't see why.  But, if the FBI does not spend the time and money to do the tests, that will undoubtedly be enough proof for at least one scientist to continue believing that the FBI is hiding something.

Interestingly, in that same thread on Dr. Nass's blog, another scientist argued that I was trying to stop debate - apparently by proving that false claims are false.  Yes, proving false claims are false does tend to end debate.  It appears that, to some scientists, proper debate strategy is where false claims are made and others discuss the meaning of the false claims and how the false claims prove that the government is involved in something sinister.  Disproving the false claims is forbidden in such debates.  It tends to stop such debates.

Such reasoning can be hilarious.  It really makes my day.  But, nothing was funnier to me last week than this:

If the FBI has information or input relevant to public debate, the FBI should release the information or make their comments publicly and on the record. Lake's claims of FBI leaks sully the reputation of the FBI. Personally, it burns me up to think that my tax dollars might be paying the salary of one or more FBI agents who spend their work hours writing secret messages to Ed Lake. This is a matter that the FBI can and should investigate. I would urge everyone to ask Congress to see to it that the FBI investigate Lake's claims of FBI leaks.

The "leaks" to which he was referring were my comments about the attack spores containing roughly 1% silicon inside the spore coats, and how a "technical glitch" produced some invalid or very questionable data about unusual amounts of silicon in the NY Post powder.   There's nothing confidential about such information.  If it was confidential, it wouldn't have been given to me.  The FBI and the DOJ have removed restrictions on discussing the science of the Amerithrax investigation.  That's why it was publicly discussed in news articles, at the roundtable discussion on August 18, and why it will be further publicly discussed three weeks from now in Baltimore.

Unfortunately, it's becoming more and more difficult for me to get anything posted to Dr. Nass's blog.  Many of my messages just don't pass the standards of the moderator.   It's very frustrating to write a very devastating rebuttal to some preposterous claim using solid evidence, and to have it never appear because ... because ... who knows why?  It's even more frustrating when it happens again and again and again. 

Are there really that many scientists who are so hyper-sensitive and delicate that if they see solid facts which dispute their beliefs they'll have the vapors and maybe even become hysterical?  Is that a real concern?   I've been arguing with most of these same scientists for years, and I've never seen any signs of such sensitivity and fragility before.

The endless discussions of conspiracy theories about the attack anthrax being coated with silica or silicon make it clear that information about silica or silicon in the attack anthrax is NOT really part of the Amerithrax investigation.  It only relates to claims by conspiracy theorists and others with over-active imaginations who believe that the attack anthrax was "weaponized" with silica or silicon.  There are certainly no restrictions on the FBI discussing correct information that disproves false information disseminated by conspiracy theorists and people with over-active imaginations.  But, I can see why conspiracy theorists do not want any correct information released.  Correct information tends to end debate about their false claims.

February 1, 2009 (A) - One of the more inexplicable concerns I've been encountering showed up again on The Blogger News Network yesterday.   The concern can be summarized this way:  What if Bruce Ivins didn't send the anthrax letters!?  That would mean the real culprit is actually alive and could strike again!  OhMyGod!  What'll we do then!!??

I find this concern inexplicable because: 
The anthrax attacks of 2001 were perpetrated by someone who took a LOT of precautions to avoid harming anyone. Among the precautions taken were sending medical advice in the first mailing, telling the recipients to take Penicillin.  In the second mailing, the culprit actually stated in the letter that the powder was ANTHRAX, making certain that the recipients would seek medical advice.  Plus, the culprit placed the powders inside a sheet of paper folded with the pharmaceutical fold, which is intended to keep any powder from escaping, and he also taped the envelopes shut to further prevent any powder from escaping.  On the senate letters, he used a phoney return address, apparently so that if the anthrax-filled letters were returned to sender for some reason, they wouldn't be returned to a real school.

THIS IS NOT A GOOD MODEL TO USE FOR POSSIBLE FUTURE ATTACKS!!!

Worrying that next time the same person may not be so concerned about hurting people is a step in the right direction, but the real concern should be that the next time some totally different entity will launch a totally different kind of attack.

It is inexplicable that some people seem to worry so much that the "cautious" and "helpful" quasi-terrorist who sent the anthrax letters seven years ago might suddenly have a personality change and become a real terrorist when there are lots of very real terrorists already out there!  Why not worry about them instead?

Updates & Changes: Sunday, January 25, 2009, thru Saturday, January 31, 2009:

January 28, 2009 - In the most active current thread on Dr. Meryl Nass's blog, this was stated by an apparent conspiracy theorist calling himself "Anonymous" as a way of declaring that the silicon in the attack anthrax was almost certainly deliberately added for some "weaponization" purpose:

Roughly speaking, the conclusions would be the following:

less than 0.1% - trace quantities, could come from contamination

0.1%-0.5% - minor quantities, more contamination from possibly using non-distilled tap water, or from silicone grease contamination from glassware stoppers.

0.5%-1.0% - fairly high concentration - could come from using a silicon based antifoam agent in a fermenter production run.

1.0%-2.0% - highly likely that a silicon containing compound was deliberately added.

greater than 2% - certainty that a silicon containing compound was added deliberately.

Another "Anonymous" challenged him to provide "citations" for such claims.  I commented that they appear to be "arbitrary conclusions derived from a few reports written decades ago where the sources for silicon were largely guesswork."  There is absolutely no meaningful data to support any of the above claims.  And, when challenged, "Anonymous" simply showed that he will never believe anything said by the FBI.

So, that "Anonymous" will almost certainly not believe what a source in the FBI told me about the percentage of silicon found in the attack anthrax spores sent to Senator Leahy.  He told me (and gave me permission to repeat) that FBI scientists estimated that the Silicon content in the Leahy spores was "about 1% by weight - (give or take)".


When I asked permission to repeat that information on my website, however, he qualified the information and advised caution when repeating it because, (1) it was a "ballpark figure," and (2) he wasn't absolutely certain that the number referred to the Silicon only and didn't include any Silicon coordinated with Oxygen (which would lower the percentage of Silicon).  He wasn't personally involved in the testing.  He merely summarized information obtained from briefings.

If the 1% figure is reasonably accurate, there's no reason to believe it couldn't easily have come from nutrients and/or some anti-foaming agent.  There are no studies which definitively show what percentage of Silicon ends up in spores when a variety of different nutrients are used - and/or a variety of different anti-foaming additives or different waters from different sources.   Simply making up rules or laws claiming that between X% and Y%  the source must be this or must be that is just plain junk science.   There is no basis in reality for making such declarations at this time.

It now appears, however, that something else I was told will attract all the attention:  One of the "Anonymous" scientists has been claiming for many months on different forums that the NY Post powder contained ten times as much silicon as the Senate powders.  When I asked a contact at the FBI about this, he told me that one FBI test of the powder in the New York Post envelope found a very unusual amount of silicon.  (Various other tests at the FBI and Sandia had shown that the silicon in the NY Post spores was approximately the same as in the Leahy spores.)   The extra silicon detected in that one test was apparently the result of a "technical glitch" in the testing equipment.  It was thought that it could have been something as simple as an undetected stray shard of glass in the mix.  After all, it was a very crude powder that was even contaminated with Bacillus subtilis bacteria.   There was nothing "weaponized" about it. 

But, when FBI figured out that the extra silicon was the result of a technical glitch, they wanted more tests.  However,  no further tests could be made because further tests required destroying another sample.   (I believe they have to burn the sample and analyze the ash.)  There wasn't enough of the NY Post material left to risk destroying another sample. 

Tests done at Sandia National Laboratories on the debris in the NY Post envelope just showed dead bacteria and other products of sporulation.  There were 
NO unusual silicon signatures.   The FBI considers Sandia to be the definitive word on the presence or absence of silicon in the NY Post powder.  Sandia detected no Silicon in the NY Post powder that wasn't also in the Leahy powder.  It was all in the spore coats. 

Glitch or not, whatever the Silicon was in that one sample tested by the FBI, it means
nothing to the case.      

Unfortunately, none of this is published and I cannot quote anyone directly.   That means that when I rephrase something that was told to me, I run the risk of misstating something or using a word that has a different meaning than what was intended to be said.  I'm trying to be as accurate as possible, but when there are conspiracy theorists laying in wait to pounce on any new information and to distort it for their own purposes, any mention of new information is a mine field.

January 25, 2009 (B) - Hmm.  Something that started out to be very petty has turned out to be very interesting.  On Dr. Meryl Nass's blog there is a thread where it is claimed that the Sandia TEM image shows spores without the exosporium layer.  It's another attempt by someone to try to show that the government is lying about something, or that everyone who works in or for the government is incompetent.  The blog entry shows a PowerPoint image that supposedly proves that the TEM image of the attack spores published by Sandia shows spores without the exosporium layer.  What would be proved by such a thing is unknown, but the object is apparently just to cast doubt wherever possible.

I performed an analysis of the images, and this is what I found (click on the image for a larger version):

  
The image at the left is a spore without its outer layer - the exosporium.  Only three layers can be seen, the core (C), the spore coat (SC) and a white or light layer inbetween. 

The image in the middle is a spore that has its exosporium intact with the hair nap clearly visible.  It shows 5 layers plus the hair nap, for a total of 6 layers.  One thing about this spore that seems apparent is that it is NOT a dry spore.   The exosporium is fully expanded and round as occurs only when the exosporium is saturated with water or some other liquid.

The images on the right are a few dry spores from the Sandia TEM image.  The exosporium is collapsed or shrunken because it is dry.  But it is still easy to see that there are more than just 3 layers.  Looking carefully, all 5 layers can be seen - including the exosporium and the gap between the exosporium and the spore coat. 

But there are important differences between the Sandia images and the two images on the left.  Those differences result from settings on the Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM).  The spore coat is dark on the two left images but very light on the Sandia spores.  The Sandia TEM was set to show the most dense parts of the image is the most bright or light.  The TEM for the images on the left seem to have been set for the reverse, the most dense parts are the darkest parts.  And, as if to confirm that, the open spaces between the main layers are light in the images on the left, but darker on the Sandia spores.

But, most importantly, it is undeniably clear that the Sandia spores show the exosporium.  It is the gray layer (#5) outside of the very light core layer (#3).  And the open spaces (#4) between the exosporium and the spore coat show as a layer of darker color.

So, once again the conspiracy theorists have tried to prove something (who knows what?) and merely proved that they can read things into images that aren't really there.  Or, in this case, they claimed the exosporium wasn't in the Sandia TEM images but it is clearly and undeniably visible.    

January 25, 2009 (A) -  This comment may seem petty.  If so, I apologize in advance.  But, yesterday, I tripped over some additional rules for posting on Dr. Nass's blog.   After attempting to post to one particular discussion, I learned that, if someone makes a false assumption, I cannot say they made a false assumption.  If someone says something ridiculous, I cannot say it's ridiculous.  Both terms are "demeaning" to other people.  If I use such terms, my messages will not be posted.  I used such terms, and they weren't posted.

I used the terms when one of many people calling themselves "Anonymous" posted modified version of a TEM image taken at Sandia National Laboratories (the original is HERE), to which he added little arrows pointing to what he claimed were "some of the numerous instances in which it is clear that the silicon in the attack spores extends fully to the surface of the spores."  That particular "Anonymous" (who evidently is a scientist) made a totally false assumption that the image somehow shows the element silicon.  But, it's not a spectographic image!  To verify what seemed totally obvious, I contacted a scientist at Sandia, and he immediately confirmed that the TEM image does not show any spectrographic signals.   "It is in fact an annular dark field image of the spores," the Sandia scientist advised me.  "These images are actually what we call Z contrast images, meaning that the brightness of the image is related to the atomic number of the illuminated region.  It is really mass thickness as well, so thicker areas will appear brighter.  So, it may be that those areas are thicker, or have a higher atomic number or both.  Without x-ray microanalysis not much chemical information can be reliably concluded from that image."

So, even though "Anonymous" made a false assumption and a totally ridiculous interpretation of the TEM image, it is improper for me to say so.   Apparently it must be viewed as a legitimate alternative point of view.

Meanwhile, a different person calling himself "Anonymous," made another observation.   He wrote:

I have prepared pictures of a side by side comparison of these pictures with the Sandia pictures. The Sandia pictures most clearly resemble the pictures from the paper at the link WITHOUT an exosporium. This is contrary to Sandia's claims that the exosporium is intact in the mailed spores.

The exosporium was intact on the mailed spores.  There is no doubt about that.  But I'm not 100% certain what the TEM image shows. 

The scientist at Sandia advised me that they have some images of the attack spores that are so sharp and clear that even the tiny hair-like appendages which extend from the exosporium can be clearly seen.  He also quoted something that Dr. Sergei Popov had said in a different discussion on Dr. Nass's site:

The Sandia pictures completely agree with my expectation of partially collapsed exosporium. It may be still there but hard to detect in the dry spores.

But the spores in the TEM image may have been prepared at another lab before they were examined at Sandia.  At the moment, it's uncertain exactly what the TEM image shows -- other than the absolute certainty that it does NOT show any spectographic features.  It does not show silicon.
 
While I thoroughly enjoy discussing science with conspiracy theorists, it's really really frustrating to try to do it in a moderated forum where it is okay to say "
repeated claims by Ed Lake (who seems to be attempting his usual tactic of deliberately misleading)", which is a personal attack, but it is not okay to say that a false assumption is a false assumption or that junk science is junk science because that's "demeaning".

This morning, I had planned to discuss some things I learned from a scientist at the FBI, but it'll have to wait for another day.  

Updates & Changes: Sunday, January 18, 2009, thru Saturday, January 24, 2009

January 23, 2009 - The Frederick News-Post has obtained copies of 16 emails (on 33 pages) sent by Dr. Ivins to various people, including to himself.  They are available in a .pdf file which can be viewed by clicking HERE.

January 22, 2009 - Hmmm.  I've been advised by email that the person calling himself "Anonymous" who posted the coated and uncoated spore images side by side on Dr. Nass's blog claiming that the spores "may" look alike is actually a different conspiracy theorist scientist than the "Anonymous" who listed the seven "facts" about the coated anthrax.

I sometimes feel like I'm in a horror movie where a lot of scientists look alike, talk alike and have one common purpose: to prove that the government is evil and involved in a massive conspiracy.  And I'm wandering amongst them.

January 21, 2009 - Is it really that difficult to tell the difference between the objects in the two pictures below?



That seems to be the dispute currently raging on Dr. Meryl Nass's blog.  Only, it's really an argument over uncoated and coated spores which seem equally easy to tell apart, but which at least one scientist claims in a different thread, "
It is a FACT that these spores look identical to uncoated spores."

The scientist has been making the same claim elsewhere, too, including via emails, so we know who it is.   We know it's not some precocious seven-year-old in his room in Peoria just posing as a scientist. 

The reason I'm making a comment about this is because it's the fourth time that conspiracy theorist scientists and/or journalists have used unrelated or totally false information to try to persuade people that the attack anthrax was coated in some supersophisticated way.  They use junk science to make their case, which means they use irrelevant or false data to claim that the attack anthrax was "weaponized," and then they wait for the government to prove them wrong.  When they are proven wrong, the conspiracy theorists then start again with some new claim based upon different false or irrelevant information.

Claim #3: The previous attempt was published in Science Magazine in late 2003.  So, we're not talking about some blog on some obscure web site.  In that attempt to convince the world that the attack anthrax was "weaponized," junk science was used.  False claims were made that "
Anthrax spores cling to one another if they get too close; sticky chains of proteins and sugar molecules on their surfaces latch onto each other, drawn by van der Waals forces that operate at a distance of a few tens of angstroms."  To ward off the effects of van der Waals forces, the article preposterously claimed that tiny particles of "polymerized glass" were glued to the spores.  Untold numbers of scientists were (and continue to be)  fooled by this total nonsense.   Van der Waals have only a very minor effect in binding dry spores together, an effect that is easily overcome by virtually any other force - such as a slight breeze.   More details are HERE.

Claim #2: The attempt before that was published in The Washington Post in October of 2002, in an article titled "FBI's Theory On Anthrax is Doubted."   In that article, it was claimed that :

Several sources agreed that the most likely way to build the coated spores would be to use the fine glass particles, known generically as "fumed silica" or "solid smoke," and mix them with the spores in a spray dryer. "I know of no other technique that might give you that finished product," Spertzel said.

More junk science.   If fumed silica had been used in the attack anthrax, it would be very easy to see and unmistakable under a scanning electron microscope, and probably even under a standard microscope.  The pictures below show what spores coated with fumed silica look like:



The picture on the right shows a spore coated with fumed silica strands. 

The picture on the left shows spores coated with the same fumed silica after the fuzzy strands have been pulverized in a milling machine.  That coating method has been used at Dugway Proving Grounds for many years to coat anthrax spores and simulants for testing purposes.   Much larger images of spores coated with crushed fumed silica can be seen HERE.

The claims in The Washington Post article were quickly discredited by knowledgeable scientists, but for every person who read the letter to the editor debunking the article, there were probably a hundred who only read the original article and accepted it as if it were gospel.  Even scientists at Dugway and the CDC believed what the Post article said and, as a result,  produced a scientific report on how spores coated with crushed fumed silica can be detected and evaluated.

Claim #1 and 1a: The first attempt to use junk science to persuade people the attack anthrax was "weaponized" occurred within days of the discovery of the anthrax letters in October of 2001.  The first story stated that the sophistication of the powder in the letters "suggests government expertise."  At the time, virtually nothing was known about the powders, yet the theories of government-made anthrax were already being peddled.  Then, less than two weeks later, in another article, ABC News claimed that the attack anthrax was weaponized with bentonite.

Four well-placed and separate sources told ABCNEWS that initial tests detected bentonite, though the White House initially said the chemical was not found.

One of the authors tried to keep the idea going when government scientists stated emphatically that bentonite was not used, and it could be clearly proven because bentonite contains aluminum.  And there was no aluminum detected in the attack anthrax.  In a later article, he tried to convince people that "aluminum-free bentonite" was used.   But there is no such thing as "aluminum-free bentonite."   It was just more junk science.   One of the reporter's sources evidently advised him that there was a way to reduce the amount of aluminum in bentonite, but that didn't mean it would be totally eliminated.  Aluminum would still be detectable.

So, now - more than seven years later - we're getting more junk science saying the attack spores were "weaponized" with a Repelcoat process.  Here's the entire list of junk science claims as posted to Dr. Nass's web site:

(1) It is a FACT that US military labs use an advanced technique of polymerized glass coating to weaponize spores. These coatings cause the individual spores to be highly hydrophobic. Liquid water droplets will not "bead up" on their surface and thus the water bridging mechanism cannot cause the spores to clump.

(2) It is a FACT that these spores look identical to uncoated spores. They do NOT look like the spores coated with fumed silica particles (a technology dating back to the 1960s) which is the picture published by Dugway.

(3) It is a FACT that polymerized glass coated spores show massive silicon and oxygen peaks in a EDX spectrum.

(4) It is a FACT that polymerized glass coatings begin with siloxane monomers (small molecules that can easily penetrate the exposporium). These small molecules penetrate the exosporium and then polymerize in situ on the spore coat. The spore coat then essentially becomes a composition of SiOx - exactly as found by Sandia.

(5) It is a FACT that although liquid water will be repelled by the spores, gaseous water can easily penetrate the polymerized glass coating and thus the spores can still germinate.

(6) It is a FACT that the FBI themselves, back in April 2002, leaked to the media that the spores were coated with polymerized glass.
http://www.ph.ucla.edu/epi/bioter/sophisticatedstrainanthrax.html
http://www.ph.ucla.edu/epi/bioter/anthraxpowdernotroutine.html
http://www.ph.ucla.edu/epi/bioter/unusualcoating.html

(7) It is a FACT that, when questioned under oath at senate hearings, Director Mueller refused to answer when asked what the concentration of silicon in the spores was. The references to "naturally occurring" silicon in other Bacillus species from the 1980s all had total elemental silicon contents of less than 0.5%.

"Facts" 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 have nothing to do with the attack anthrax.  The "advanced technique of polymerized glass coating to weaponize spores" is apparently just a one time experiment to create spores using that method for purposes of deterimining what kind of silicon signature would be produced.  The coating is clearly visible and coated spores definitely do NOT look like uncoated spores.  "Fact" #6 is total nonsense, since none of the links even mentions "polymerized glass."  And #7 is misleading, since Director Mueller did not refuse to answer the question.  He merely didn't have the answer at this fingertips.  

A hint at what junk science claim #5 will probably be is mentioned in "fact" #7 when the author suggests that "naturally occurring" silicon in spores would always be less than 0.5%.  There is no published definitive research on this subject.   No one knows what percentage of silicon would end up in spores based upon a wide variety of media, waters or other lab contaminants.  A few articles from many years ago indicated a 0.5% amount might be normal, but there is absolutely no reason to believe it's any kind of upper limit and that, above 0.5%, the only possible explanation must be deliberate weaponization.   That's just more junk science - another baseless claim made to put the government on the spot to disprove it.  And, until it is disproved, the conspiracy theorists will repeat it over and over and over and over to gain supporters wherever they can be found - hopefully in Congress, in the media and among scientists who don't bother to check facts. 

And, if the facts conclusively show that nutrients, water and/or lab contamination can easily result in silicon amounts in excess of 0.5% or even in excess of 1% or 2%, then the conspiracy theorists will just move on to junk science declaration #6, whatever that may be.  And if any junk science claim is just ignored and not disproved, that will be declared to be solid proof to the conspiracy theorists that the government refuses to tell the public the truth and that they're covering up the "fact" that the attack anthrax of 2001 was "weaponized" in some supersophisticated way that can only be done in a secret and illegal government bioweapons development facility.

January 19, 2009 - If you have Powerpoint viewing software, there's an image HERE that is supposed to show that uncoated anthrax spores look the same as anthrax spores where "an advanced technique of polymerized glass coating to weaponize spores" was used.  To me, the spores do not look alike in any way, except they are perhaps still similar in size.  Even then, some of the coated spores look to be multiple spores fused together by the coating process.   The images are on Dr. Meryl Nass's Blog in a comment titled "Coated and uncoated spores may look alike."

I've also posted a response to the earlier thread where the images were discussed, but all comments have to get through the moderator first.  Meanwhile, here's an image of uncoated spores and coated spores side by side:


Do they look alike to anyone?   To me, it seems like the coating is not only fully visible on the outside of the spores, it even fills in the areas between two spores that are stuck together and creates one solid particle.  It seems a virtual certainty that high resolution images would show vast differences.  That's probably why there are no high resolution images and why we have no information about why this coating was applied and by whom.  Evidently, we're supposed to assume that it is a secret and illegal "weaponization" process until firmly proven otherwise.

January 18, 2009 - As so often happens, the anthrax discussions on The Blogger News Network faded away (except for a True Believer just endlessly posting irrelevant messages to himself).   The discussions have temporarily moved to Dr. Meryl Nass's blog.

I've never discussed the anthrax case on Dr. Nass's blog before.  It's like walking into club where people with similar beliefs normally just talk with one another and nod their heads.   In this case, it's mainly a hangout for anthrax case conspiracy theorists.  And, unlike most other blogs, Dr. Nass moderates hers.   Among other things, that means it takes awhile for anything to get posted, because Dr. Nass has to read it over and approve it first.

In the discussion I joined, I've already violated two key rules.  Rule #1:  Conspiracy theorists are not to be referred to as "conspiracy theorists."  Labelling people is "rude" and not allowed.   Rule #2:  Junk science is not to be called "junk science."  Tossing out scientific "possibilities" without foundation as proof of evil-doing by the government is just discussing "possiblities," it is not "junk science."  Junk science, apparently, is what the government uses and the reason the government cannot prove that the "possibilities" discussed by the conspiracy theorists are totally impossible.

The main problem with discussing conspiracy theories with conspiracy theorists is that their entire argument is their conspiracy theory.   They believe the government is involved in some vast criminal conspiracy to cover up the facts (in this case about the sophisticated "weaponization" of the attack anthrax) and all the "facts" they cite are in support of that belief, they are not facts about the actual anthrax attacks of 2001

Interestingly, in an email with one of the people posting to Dr. Nass's blog, that person justified his beliefs about the weaponization of the anthrax by citing the "fact" that the government covered up who really killed John F. Kennedy and blamed an innocent man for that crime, too.  Plus they covered up who really killed Martin Luther King and blamed an innocent man there, too.  And if that wasn't enough justification, he also cited the "fact" that others agreed with him.

He seemed shocked - totally shocked - that I didn't see the absolute truth in his argument.

This morning, the conversation on Dr. Nass's site seems to be already petering out.   If so, that's too bad.  I was just warming up.  I love discussing conspiracy theories with conspiracy theorists in a public or private forum.  That's why I've been arguing with conspiracy theorists about the 2001 anthrax attacks for over seven years.


Updates & Changes: Sunday, January 11, 2009, thru Saturday, January 17, 2009

January 16, 2009 - Dr. Meryl Nass's web site seems to be the main soap box for conspiracy theorists these days.  Her latest post includes a long letter by Barry Kissin, who is described as
"an attorney in Frederick, Maryland."   It's a good example of the kind of junk science that conspiracy theorists use.  (NOTE added Jan. 17, 2009 - Mr. Kissin also posted his essay to OpEdNews.com.) 

Mr. Kissin opens his diatribe by questioning the statements made in Scott Shane's recent New York Times article where Shane asserted that,
“By early 2004, F.B.I. scientists had discovered that out of 60 domestic and foreign water samples, only water from Frederick, Md., had the same chemical signature as the water used to grow the mailed anthrax.”

Mr. Kissin seems to claim that the water came from Ft. Detrick is a "hoax" evidently perpetrated by the U.S. government to hide the fact that the attack anthrax was weaponized and made at some illegal bioweapons facility in Utah or Ohio.   His evidence of the "hoax" is just evidence that Scott Shane was almost certainly wrong in his statement, since other official goverment sources said other things.  Yet, somehow, Mr. Kissin seems to feel that the fault must lie with the government, not with the reporter supplying the questionable information from unnamed sources.

Mr. Kissin writes:
Part IV: The Purpose and Tragedy of the Hoax

          The DOJ-FBI must recognize the risk posed by exposure of this hoax. What compels the DOJ-FBI to resort to this hoax? The answer is clear. The DOJ-FBI is, at this point, desperate to dispel what the New York Times article itself refers to as the “widespread” belief that “the anthrax might have come from military and intelligence research programs in Utah or Ohio.”

and

The truth is that the anthrax weaponization projects being conducted in Ohio and Utah are the only possible source of the anthrax letters, given both the genetic make-up of the mailed anthrax and the way that the mailed anthrax was processed into a weapon.

What is Mr. Kissin's evidence for this "truth"?  He uses old news articles  from 2001 which contained totally innaccurate information about the nature of the attack anthrax.  His dissertation concludes with this:

Certainly not everyone involved in Amerithrax who work for the DOJ and the FBI understands all of this, but the ultimate decision-makers certainly do. These decision-makers turned Amerithrax into a deliberate cover-up of the evident source of the anthrax letters. The tragedy is the persecution to death of an innocent man named Bruce Ivins.

So, those who believe the attack anthrax was weaponized at some secret and illegal U.S. government bioweapons facility are still using the same arguments they've always used.  The spores were "weaponized" using Dugway methods.  The fact that we now have pictures of spores "weaponized" at Dugway and pictures of the attack anthrax , and they look nothing alike, evidently doesn't change any minds when a conspiracy theory is truly believed. 

January 15, 2009 -  It appears that if there is any inconsistency in any official document, the only explanation for some people is that there must be a massive government conspiracy at work.  There have been a lot of discussions about where the codeine came from, if Ivins died from an overdose of Tylenol and codeine.  And there are arguments about why the orange and red liquids observed by the police and by Mrs. Ivins weren't preserved as evidence.  Evidently, if anything isn't preseved as evidence, that is further proof that it was extremely important evidence and was deliberately destroyed by the agents of the U.S. govenment as part of some kind massive government conspiracy.

Looking over the Frederick MD police report regarding Dr. Ivins' suicide, it explains a few things that some people claim aren't explained:

It says the orange soda was still in the bottle and smelled like orange soda, so it wasn’t preserved as evidence.

The red liquid, however, was evidently a quart bottle of fruit juice which Ivins sometimes drank laced with vodka.  But no alcohol was found in Ivins’ system after his death.

On page 5, Investigator Loumis Gene Alston states “It is my understanding that B. Ivins overdosed on Tylenol with codeine July 27, 2008.”  And “Toxicology showed high levels of Tylenol with codeine in B. Ivins’ system.”  This appears to be the only source for the information about Tylenol and codeine.

On page 6, Investigator Pierce says that “an orange soda bottle” was on the sink where Ivins was found unconscious. Pierce opened the bottle and it smelled like orange soda.

On page 7, Medical Examiner Deborah Frye says “B. Ivins had a large quantity of Acetominophen (Tylenol) in his circulatory system.” She makes no mention of codeine.

At the bottom of page 7, it talks of Ivins’ March 19 suicide attempt where he used alcohol and valium.

On page 11, Investigator Alston mentions that Mr. Ivins saw “a quart water bottle filled with a red liquid setting on a small end table next to B. Ivins bed.”

Page 11 also says that Mr. Ivins slept in a second floor bedroom, and Mrs. Ivins slept in a first floor bedroom “due to her loud snoring.”

Page 11 also says that Mrs. Ivins believed the red liquid may have been fruit juice mixed with vodka.

On page 12, it says that doctors told Mrs. Ivins that her husband had overdosed on Tylenol and Valium.

On page 15, Inspector Alston writes about finding the proof that Ivins made TWO purchases of Tylenol PM on July 24 at a Giant Eagle grocery store.

On page 19 it says that, in the hospital, Ivins admitted to trying to commit suicide and even tried to pull out the I.V. tubes, so he was restrained.

On page 20, the LAB RESULTS say that Ivins’ blood tested positive for “benzodiazepines and acetaminophen.”  Tylenol is acetaminophen.

Benzodiazepines are a group of drugs that include Valium, Sobril, Xanax, Xanor, Mogadon, Rohypnol, etc.

Later on page 20, it says that no alcohol was found in Ivins’ system.

On page 22, it says “The patient died at 10:47 on 07/29/2008 from an intentional Tylenol overdose.”

Page 28 (the last page) says that the investigation was closed on November 4, although “this investigation has not uncovered how the acetaminophen was introduced into Dr. Bruce Ivins body.”

It looks to me like it was just the Tylenol which killed him. But he'd also taken some Valium.  Yes, there’s a conflict about what the toxicology reports said, but the conflict is easily resolved.   Benzodiazepines are what the doctors say was taken with the Tylenol, codeine is what the police report says.  Maybe the police misinterpreted benzodiazepines to mean codeine.  Codeine is easier to type.  But a little checking with the doctors would have shown that Ivins died of an overdose of Tylenol taken with one of the benzodiazepine drugs, most likely Valium.

It can be argued that inconsistencies are part of the human experience, and if there was a massive goverment conspiracy behind Dr. Ivins death, there would be absolutely NO inconsistencies.

January 13, 2009 - Some time ago, I sent an Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request to the FBI asking for some pictures related to the Amerithrax investigation.  Yesterday, I received a response that said:

The FBI is working with DOJ to begin the process of concluding the Amerithrax investigation.  Once this process is complete, the FBI in conjunction with DOJ will formally close the case.  Until the case is formally closed, however, nearly all of the documents responsive to your FOIA request remain subject to withholding in full pursuant to FOIA exemption 7(A), 5 U.S.C. [etc., etc., etc.]

Once the case is formally closed, the FBI, in consultation with DOJ, will begin to process and release non-exempt document responsive to your FOIA request which have not already been made available to the public.  On a parallel track, the FBI Laboratory is proceeding with its work on additional scientific publications which will be made available for peer review as more information from the investigation is released into the public domain.

Although the FBI cannot predict with absolute certainty when the Amerithrax investigation will be formally closed, we can assure you that the FBI has already begun to make initial preparations necessary to commence a FOIA review of the investigative file.  As a result, the FBI plans to make document releases on a rolling basis as soon as practicable following the formal closing of the investigation.

So, the case is still not formally closed.  When it is closed, a lot more information will be made available to the public.

January 12, 2009 -
A law enforcement official just sent me an email suggesting that I talk about how “a preponderance of FACTS” points to a child having written the letters, instead of talking about “evidence.”  Evidence implies that there will be a trial of some kind.  FACTS are FACTS whether there is a trial or not.  That's a very good point.

I just changed the title of my new supplemental page to: "The Facts Say: A Child Wrote The Anthrax Letters." 


January 11, 2009
- For some time, I've been thinking about creating a new supplemental page which would put together all the evidence I've gathered showing that a child just starting first grade almost certainly wrote the anthrax letters.  Until now, the support for that conclusion was scattered around in different places.  Some of it is in a supplemental page I created years ago, some of it was at the top of the front page I used from 2005 thru 2008, and much of it was only in Chapter 3 of my book.

People who refuse to accept the idea that a child
almost certainly wrote the letters do so for the same reasons that they and others refuse to accept the evidence against Dr. Bruce Ivins: it's purely circumstantial evidence.  There is no video of Dr. Ivins mailing the letters, and there is no video of a child writing the letters.  In the minds of many people, circumstantial evidence isn't really evidence.

However, in a court of law, it is evidence.  And it's also evidence in any objective analysis.  The fact that alternative explanations can be dreamed up to explain away each individual item of the circumstantial evidence means very little if the sum total of the circumstantial evidence is truly substantial.  In the case of Dr. Ivins' guilt, it seems to be very strong.  In the case of the handwriting being that of a first grader, the evidence establishes a near certainty.

A lawyer contacted me today to state that this circumstantial evidence about the handwriting wouldn't be admissible in court - in his opinion.  Whether it's admissible or not doesn't determine whether it's a child's handwriting or not.  The evidence says it clearly is a child's handwriting.  There is no evidence that says it isn't.  There are only people who refuse to believe it.    

This morning I installed a new supplemental page titled "Evidence That A Child Wrote The Anthrax Letters."   In it, I explain the various items of circumstantial evidence which clearly show that a child just starting first grade wrote the anthrax letters and addressed the anthrax envelopes. 

As always, I would welcome solid proof that my analysis is wrong.  Opinions won't do it, however.  The analysis is based upon evidence, and only new and better evidence can alter or disprove it.

Updates & Changes: Sunday, January 4, 2009, thru Saturday, January 10, 2009

January 9, 2009 - Yesterday, someone advised me that many of the links in the Contents section at the top of this new page weren't working properly - if at all.  I've fixed them.  

January 8, 2009 - While reading the January 12 issue of Newsweek during breakfast this morning, I came across a column by Sharon Begley titled "On Second Thought ..."   The column begins this way,

When politicians do it, they're tarred as flip-floppers. When lovers do it, we complain they're fickle. But scientists are supposed to change their minds. Having adopted their views on scientific questions— What killed the dinosaurs? Is the universe infinite?—based on a dispassionate evaluation of empirical evidence, they are expected to willingly, even eagerly, abandon cherished beliefs when new evidence undercuts them.

"Dream on," the article says.  In reality, ...

Proponents of a particular viewpoint, especially if their reputation is based on the accuracy of that viewpoint, cling to it like a shipwrecked man to flotsam. Studies that undermine that position, they say, are fatally flawed.

In truth, no study is perfect, so it would be crazy to chuck an elegant, well-supported theory because one new finding undercut it.  But it's fascinating how scientists with an intellectual stake in a particular side of a debate tend to see flaws in studies that undercut their dearly held views, and to interpret and even ignore "facts" to fit their views.

Having argued with scientists for over seven years, I can testify to that.   I've even had scientists attack me because I changed my mind when new evidence showed my previous position was clearly incorrect.   They argued that if I change my mind, that means nothing I say can be believed.  And, since I changed my mind from something they disagreed with to something else they disagreed with, that makes me doubly wrong - regardless of what the new evidence says.

On Dr. Meryl Nass's blog, a scientist who understandably hides his identity by calling himself "Anonymous," makes this statement about Scott Shane's recent article in The New York Times:

One problem is what is not said in the Times article. In particular, the Times article never mentions the alledgedly comprehensive investigation by FBI agents that eliminated everyone who had access to RMR-1029 but Dr. Ivins as the person who prepared the attack spores. Interviews, lab notebook investigations, background investigations, etc., of what the FBI claimed were over 100 different individuals (Ft. Dietrick personnel say the number is closer to 300). If the FBI had actually put in the man hours required for such a massive investigation of over 100 different individuals, how could that not be a part of the story of the Ivins' investigation? Yet there's not a single sentence, not one, reflecting this massive investigation. I suspect it never happened.

So, because Scott Shane didn't mention the massive investigation to clear the other 100+ individuals who had access to flask RMR-1029, the scientist calling himself "Anonymous" suspects that the massive investigation never happened.

I mentioned this blog entry to someone at the FBI, and he could only comment on how the group of people posting to the blog all seem to demand definitive proof of everything that disputes their beliefs, yet if they can twist or distort anything in the Times article to confirm their beliefs, then no verification of any kind is required or requested.

The following sentence from the Times article is discussed exhaustively in the Meryl Nass blog:  

By early 2004, F.B.I. scientists had discovered that out of 60 domestic and foreign water samples, only water from Frederick, Md., had the same chemical signature as the water used to grow the mailed anthrax.

The statement is used to attack the FBI, even though it came from The New York Times, not the FBI.  No FBI source is identified.  My FBI source says the scientific work that tried to track the source of the water was interesting, but it didn't provide anything of use in the Amerithrax case.  Perhaps Scott Shane has a more informed source.  Who knows?  But, until the FBI source is identified, the information about the water is from The New York Times, NOT from the FBI.

The Newsweek column concludes with this observation about changing minds:

Let's end on an up note. Like every other psychology researcher, Harvard's Daniel Gilbert believed that people are happier when they can change their minds. But in 2002 he and a colleague discovered that people are generally happier about irrevocable decisions: once you are locked in to a decision, you tend to focus on its positive aspects and ignore the negative ones. But if you are allowed to change your mind, you ruminate on both the positive and negative aspects of the choice, which makes you less happy. 

This is only true, however, if you have some kind of emotional attachment to a particular subject.  It doesn't make any difference to me who sent the anthrax letters.   So, when new and better evidence showed that the culprit was someone in Maryland and not in New Jersey, I immediately shifted to using the new evidence.  What makes me chuckle is watching scientists make up reasons to believe what they want to believe.  Scott Shane didn't mention the massive investigation?  Okay, that means there was no massive investigation.  That confirms what that particular scientist always believed: The FBI lies about everything, all day, every day, 24/7. 

It takes a very specific kind of scientist to come to that kind of conclusion based upon that kind of evidence: a scientist who is also a true conspiracy theorist.


January 6, 2009 - Today, CNN has an article about Bruce Ivins titled "'Let me sleep,' anthrax suspect wrote before suicide."  It doesn't add much that's new, but it also mentions Dr. Hatfill, of course:

Court records released by authorities showed that Ivins was "the custodian of a large flask of highly purified anthrax spores that possess certain genetic mutations identical to the anthrax used in the attacks." The government had taken steps in the weeks leading up to Ivins' death to restrict his access to his lab.

But critics point to the fact that then-Attorney General John Ashcroft publicly declared another Fort Detrick scientist, Steven Hatfill, a "person of interest" in the anthrax attacks. Hatfill was never charged, but sued over the matter, settling with the government for $5.8 million. His case has fueled skepticism about the allegations against Ivins.

It doesn't look like the media wiill ever discuss the seven month campaign by conspiracy theorist scientists to point the finger at Dr. Hatfill, nor the media's role in pointing the finger at Dr. Hatfill.  I guess it just makes better reading to promote the idea that the investigation of Dr. Hatfill can in some way be compared to the investigation of Dr. Ivins, even though that is totally ridiculous.

January 5, 2009 - Someone looked through the images that were with The New York Times article and noticed a picture Dr. Ivins took in 2004 of individual anthrax spores spelling out the words "Happy Holidays."  There's no agreement on the significance of this, but it appears to show that Dr. Ivins was fully confident that he could manipulate spores, even to the point of playing games with them.   In 2004 the Amerithrax case was three years old and still unsolved, and it would be another three years before the FBI would focus in on Dr. Ivins as their prime suspect.

ADDED NOTE:  Jeeze!  I'm supposed to be an expert in faked photographs, but it took someone else to point out that the photo of the words "Happy Holidays" that Dr. Ivins spelled out in spores is faked.   Someone wrote me: "
Look at the H in Happy. Each of its vertical stems is composed of the same two lines of four spores. The four spores comprising the bottom half of the left stem are simply rotated 180 degrees compared to the top half of the left stem. The top of the left stem is moved down and across to make the bottom half of the right stem, and the bottom left is moved to the top right. The crossbar is the same for spores at a 90 degree angle."

January 4, 2009 (C) - Discussions on The Blogger News Network caused me to have a idea about a possible way that they may have proved that RMR-1029 could be the ONLY source for the attack anthrax.  First, some known facts:

1.  There were "well over a dozen" mutations in the attack anthrax.

2.  Only four of the most stable of those mutations were used to search for matches among the 1,070 samples of Ames obtained from over 15 different labs.

3.   Only eight of the 1,070 samples had all four of the selected mutations.

4.  RMR-1029 was one of the eight and is said to be the parent of the attack anthrax and the other seven samples with the four mutations.

The question then becomes: What if only RMR-1029 had the entire collection of "well over a dozen" mutations?  What if the other seven samples had no more than seven or eight of the mutations?  Wouldn't that be solid evidence that from all the 1,070 samples, only RMR-1029 could have been the parent/source of the attack anthrax?

January 4, 2009 (B) - While my Internet connection was down for two days (as a result of a screwup by the cable company), The New York Times printed an article titled "Portrait Emerges of Anthrax Suspect's Troubled Life."  On my first pass through it, I noticed this bit of information that appears to be totally new: 

By early 2004, F.B.I. scientists had discovered that out of 60 domestic and foreign water samples, only water from Frederick, Md., had the same chemical signature as the water used to grow the mailed anthrax.

Previous information about the water simply indicated that it came for the Northeastern U.S.  There are now arguments over whether this is really "new" information or a mistake by the reporter.

The article repeats the information that Ivins would take long drives at night and did things without his family knowing:

The agents learned that Dr. Ivins had long maintained a post office box to receive mail without his family’s knowledge and took long walks or drives on sleepless nights. Once, he admitted, he drove all night to Ithaca, N.Y., and back to leave gifts for a young woman who had left her job in his laboratory to attend Cornell University.

Ithaca, N.Y. is a much longer drive than to Princeton.  285 miles one way to Ithaca.   About 200 to Princeton.

This comment is interesting, showing Dr. Ivins' thinking between the two mailings:

Of his group therapy program, he wrote on Sept. 26, 2001, between the two anthrax mailings, “I’m really the only scary one in the group.”

And these two comments verify that Ivins had the necessary expertise to produce the attack anthrax:

“He was in charge of producing large quantities of wet spores for research,” said John W. Ezzell, a Fort Detrick colleague whose anthrax expertise rivaled that of Dr. Ivins. “So if anybody could have produced a lot of spores without arousing suspicion, it was him.”
....
Without giving an opinion of Dr. Ivins’s guilt or innocence, both Dr. Ezzell and Dr. Mohr said they believed that any experienced microbiologist could have grown and dried the anthrax using equipment Dr. Ivins had in his laboratory. The trickiest step, they said, was producing anthrax with the letters’ high concentration of spores per gram, a skill Dr. Ivins had mastered.

This comment seems to suggest that Dr. Ivins and his wife did not sleep in the same room, which helps to confirm that he could be gone all night on long drives to New Jersey and no one would notice:

After a two-week stay, Dr. Ivins was brought home by his wife. She had left a heartfelt note in his bedroom,

The comments in the article about the investigation of Dr. Hatfill again fail to mention anything about the campaign to point the finger at Dr. Hatfill that was waged by Barbara Hatch Rosenberg and others for seven months before the FBI did their first public search of his apartment.  Even the bloodhound incident is mentioned as if it might have some actual basis for suspecting Dr. Hatfill, instead of being total nonsense dreamed up to trap a leaker in the DOJ. 

With no other viable suspects, it's easy to understand that even some FBI agents might consider Dr. Hatfill a possible suspect if so many scientists and others where pointing at him, but the "evidence" listed in the article doesn't tie him to anything.  It just makes him a guy with a big ego who talks about himself too much.  There's nothing even remotely incriminating in that.  Hopefully, some day we'll get the inside details.   Until then, I'll continue to grind my teeth and fume every time a reporter compares the "investigation" of Dr. Hatfill to the investigation of Dr. Ivins.


January 4, 2009 (A) - The biggest lessons I learned in the past week relate to what happens when your cable connection goes blooie, and they tell you they can't send anyone out to fix it for
2 days.  At the time, around Friday at noon, I was in the middle of a heated debate on The Blogger News Network.  Plus, I'd just sent out emails to a couple scientists asking some very important questions.  And I had an addition to my January 2 comment that I was ready to upload.  And I had my DVD recorder set to record a movie from Turner Classic Movies on Saturday afternoon, and my DVR was set to record a movie off the Sundance Channel on Saturday night.   Everything stopped.  For two days!

(I'm typing this on Sunday morning while waiting for the cable guy to show up.)

There was no practical way to update my web site, but on Saturday, I decided to go down to my local library to use a computer there to tell debaters on the Blogger Network what had happened.   I forgot to take my library card with me, so I was only able to use a computer with a 35 minute time limit.  (The 20 regular computers were busy anyway, with a waiting line.)  But, what I do on my own computer at home to get to the Blogger article wouldn't work there.  At home, I do a Google News search for "anthrax 2001" and the Blogger Network article is on the first or second page of results.  At the library, it wasn't anywhere in the first six or seven pages of results.  So, I typed in what Bruce Ivins typed: "Ed Lake."  That took me to my web site, where I found the link to go to the Blogger Network article.  But everything ran so slow, that I was barely able to post a brief message before the 35 minutes ran out.  There wasn't even any time to read what was new in the comments section of the Blogger News article. 

I'm going to have to set up a dial-up backup Internet connection -- something I only pay for when I use it.

I also learned that everyone else in the world seems to have a cell phone.  I don't.  But, fortunately, my telephone is connected to a telephone company.  So, I was able to call the cable company.  We spent a half hour on the phone going through various tests trying to figure out what the problem was.  We didn't find the problem.  I cannot help but wonder what would have happened if the only phone line I had was
also connected to cable.

I also wonder how long my inbound emails stay in my inbox at Newsguy.com before they get returned.  I think it's three days, but it may only be two.   (Update: I appear to have everything.)

And was there any news about the Amerithrax case while I was off-line?  That's the first thing I'll check when I get connected again.  I was able to watch DVDs on my TV, but I had no ability to get the news from TV, either.

The movie I wanted to record from the Sundance Channel will air again soon, but I don't see any repeat airing of "Invasion Of The Body Snatchers" on TCM's schedule.   When I get connected to the world again, will I gradually discover that everyone else has been replaced by pod people -- or do they call them iPod people these days? 

Updates & Changes: Thursday, January 1, 2009, thru Saturday, January 3, 2009

January 2, 2009 - The question of whether or not it is possible to determine that the attack anthrax was made from RMR-1029 and not one of the other seven sources which contained the same four mutants as RMR-1029 isn't just a question from one scientist on a blog.  In the discussion on The Blogger News Network, it was pointed out to me that Congressman Rush Holt asked the question in a letter to the National Academy of Sciences dated October 16, 2008:

Is it scientifically possible to distinguish a sample taken from Dr. Ivins’ flask from one taken from one of its daughter flasks in another lab? How many passages or how long is this mutation combination likely to remain?

And Senator Chuck Grassley asked the same sort of questions in a press release dated August 7, 2008:
  1. If those with access to samples of RMR 1029 in places other than Ft. Detrick had used the sample to produce additional quantities of anthrax, would that anthrax appear distinguishable from RMR 1029?
  1. How can the FBI be sure that none of the samples sent to other labs were used to create additional quantities of anthrax that would appear distinguishable from RMR 1029?
Fortunately, it looks like a question that will be answered.  But I probably won't be the first to get the answer.

It is a very meaningful question, since the FBI and DOJ were very unambiguous when they said:

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.”

I can't tell if the scientists disputing this are simply demanding proof that it is possible to distinguish a "parent" batch  from a "daughter" batch because they've always considered it impossible with Bacillus anthracis, or if they simply do not believe anything the FBI says that isn't backed up by published, peer reviewed and confirmed data.

January 1, 2009
- The new front page of this web site is now installed.  It appears to be working okay.

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