Friday, August 08, 2008

The Anthrax Letter Attacks

Media such as the BBC are talking about Bruce Ivins and the U.S. government's assertion that he was the person who mailed letters full of anthrax spores in September and October of 2001. The only "proof" that the government has is that Ivins had access to the Ames strain of Bacillus anthracis and that he had grown a sample that was unaccounted for. At most, this now deceased man was guilty of not logging the destruction of a culture of bacteria. That is all. If he was so mentally unstable or homicidal, why was he still given access to U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and why did he still have a security clearance? What is important here is what the government is not telling us.

1. The samples that were mailed were pure anthrax spores. There was no debris or remains of the bacteria that produced them.
2. The spores were milled or ground finely down to the size of individual spores (1.5-3.0 microns).
3. They were combined with a hydrophilic silica powder and given a weak electrical charge.

These three steps weaponized the spores and made them extremely deadly. There has not been one mention by the government of equipment that Ivins had access to at his job that could mill the spores, or that he had access to the silica powder used in the attacks. Ivins was a vaccine researcher. There are easier ways to give animals anthrax to test the efficacy of an experimental vaccine than brewing your own anthrax powder. Richard O. Spertzel asserts in this WSJ editorial that for the reasons cited above that Ivins could not have been the culprit. I tend to concur. It looks as if the FBI chose someone they felt might be unstable enough to buckle under pressure and kill himself during an investigation. This would benefit the FBI and allow them to end an embarassing investigation leading to nowhere and pin the blame on an innocent dead scapegoat. The failure of the FBI to reverse engineer the anthrax powder and the lack of the proper equipment where Ivins worked pretty much absolves Ivins. If the anthrax attacks has used a liquid aerosol instead of a powder, this might have implicated Ivins. The likely culprit is probably a former Biopreparat researcher working in biodefense research for the U.S. who worked on the Russian anthrax bioweapons program. A lot of those people are over here now doing more peaceful research, but some of them must know what equipment and powders to use to weaponize anthrax spores. They would also be immunized against anthrax so they could be sloppy in their containment technique if necessary.

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Comments:
I agree that a suspect killing himself is too convenient and automatic a way to resolve a case.

Rather than indicating guilt Ivins' suicide could easily be a response to heavy handed FBI surveillance. In turn this triggered constand media hounding and neighbours talking in Ivins suburb - addition pressures.

Pete
 
A friend of mine whose family has a law enforcement background posits that the FBI is staging this incident to make the culprit think they are free and clear and that said person will come out of hiding and make a mistake. I think that that is quite a reach. Whoever did make the powders and mailed them left very few clues and the FBI appears to be stumped. The alternative is that they are incompetent which is why the investigation went nowhere. The anthrax attack was a very atypical FBI case though. Most criminals are stupid. This person was not. I wonder if the British would have botched it. They caught the thallium poisoning episode right off which was quite clever.
 
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