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Context of 'April 22, 2010: Ivins’ Colleague Tells National Academy of Sciences It Was Impossible for Ivins to Have Perpetrated Attacks'

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Security is extremely poor at USAMRIID, the Fort Detrick, Maryland, laboratory linked to the 2001 anthrax attacks, as well as other bio-weapons facilities, in the years prior to the anthrax attacks. The security flaws are documented in two reports that will be completed in 2002. One report will be produced by Sandia National Laboratories, which focused on USAMRIID, and the other by the US Army Inspector General’s office, which examined security at Fort Detrick, as well as other locations, including Battelle Memorial Institute. The existence of these reports will first be disclosed in a joint news report by McClatchy Newspapers, ProPublica, and PBS’s Frontline. According to the McClatchy/ProPublica/PBS article, the reports “describe a haphazard system in which personnel lists included dozens of former employees, where new hires were allowed to work with deadly germs before background checks were done, and where stocks of anthrax and other pathogens weren’t adequately controlled.” Additionally, “The existing security procedures… were so lax they would have allowed any researcher, aide, or temporary worker to walk out of the Army bio-weapons lab at Fort Detrick, Md., with a few drops of anthrax.” The FBI will later claim to have identified, and eliminated as suspects, 419 people at Fort Detrick and other locations who either had access to the lab where Bruce Ivins worked, or who had received samples from anthrax flask RMR-1029. The FBI and Justice Department will claim that RMR-1029 was the source of the anthrax used in the attacks, and that Ivins was the sole perpetrator of the attacks (see August 6, 2008). Both of these claims will be called into question (see August 1-10, 2008, August 3-18, 2008, August 5, 2008, August 9, 2008, April 22, 2010, and February 15, 2011). [Propublica, 10/24/2011]

Entity Tags: Office of the Inspector General (US Army ), Sandia National Laboratories, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Battelle Memorial Institute

Melanie Ulrich.Melanie Ulrich. [Source: Andrew Schotz]On August 1, 2008, it is first reported that Bruce Ivins, a scientist at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland, apparently killed himself after the FBI made him their chief suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). But many of Ivins’s colleagues at USAMRIID doubt that he was the killer.
bullet On August 1, one unnamed colleague says, “They took an innocent man, a distinguished scientist, and smeared his reputation, dishonored him, questioned his children and drove him to take his life.… He just didn’t have the swagger, the ego to pull off that kind of thing, and he didn’t have the lab skills to make the fine powder anthrax that was used in the letters.” [ABC News, 8/1/2008]
bullet On August 2, an unnamed USAMRIID employee says, “Almost everybody… believes that he had absolutely nothing to do with [the anthrax attacks].” [Washington Post, 8/2/2008]
bullet Former colleague Norm Covert says, “We’re looking at a man with a distinguished 30-something-year career, unparalleled and known around the world.… His career and his reputation are trashed and the FBI still hasn’t said what they have on him.” [CNN, 8/2/2008]
bullet Also on August 2, Dr. Kenneth Hedlund, the former chief of bacteriology as USAMRIID, says, “He did not seem to have any particular grudges or idiosyncrasies.… He was the last person you would have suspected to be involved in something like this.” [New York Times, 8/2/2008] Three days later, Hedlund adds, “I think he’s a convenient fall guy. They can say, ‘OK, we found him, case closed, we’re going home. The FBI apparently applied a lot of pressure to all the investigators there, and they found the weakest link.” He also says that Ivins was a bacteriologist and lacked the expertise to convert the anthrax into the deadly form used in the 2001 attacks.
bullet Former colleague Dr. W. Russell Byrne says he believe Ivins was singled out partly because of Ivins’s personal weaknesses. “If they had real evidence on him, why did they not just arrest him?” [Baltimore Sun, 8/5/2008]
bullet On August 4, David Franz, head of USAMRIID in the late 1990s, says, “The scientific community seems to be concerned that the FBI is going to blow smoke at us.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/4/2008]
bullet On August 6, more than 200 of his USAMRIID colleagues attend a memorial for him. Col. John Skvorak, commander of USAMRIID, praises Ivins’s “openness, his candor, his humor and his honesty.” [Wall Street Journal, 8/7/2008]
bullet On August 8, former colleague Gerry Andrews says, “Nothing is unimaginable. But I would definitely say it is doubtful” that Ivins was behind the anthrax attacks. [New York Times, 8/8/2008]
bullet Also on August 8, Melanie Ulrich, a USAMRIID scientist until 2007, says the FBI’s case against Ivins does not add up and their description of him does not match the person she worked with for six years. For instance, she said that shortly after 9/11, an intensive, all-encompassing psychological review was conducted of all USAMRIID employees with access to dangerous biological agents, and it does not make sense that some as supposedly as unstable as Ivins could have remained employed for years of such scrutiny. The FBI claims that an anthrax flask in Ivins’s custody was the “parent” of a certain anthrax strain, but Ulrich says different anthrax samples were genetically identical so any one sample can not be more of a “parent” than any other. The FBI suggests Ivins used a lyophilizer to make powdered anthrax, but Ulrich says Ivins signed out a SpeedVac, but not a lyophilizer, which is too large to fit in the secure protective area Ivins used at the time. Furthermore, a SpeedVac operates slowly and it would have been impossible for Ivins to use it to dry the amount of anthrax used in the letters in the time frame the FBI says he did. [Herald-Mail, 8/8/2008]
bullet On August 9, after the FBI has laid out its evidence against Ivins, Jeffrey Adamovicz, one of Ivins’s supervisors in USAMRIID’s bacteriology division, says, “I’d say the vast majority of people [at Fort Detrick] think he had nothing to do with it.” [Newsweek, 8/9/2008] He also says that the anthrax sent to Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) was “so concentrated and so consistent and so clean that I would assert that Bruce could not have done that part.” [McClatchy Newspapers, 8/7/2008]
bullet Former colleague Luann Battersby says Ivins was weird, but “not any weirder than a typical scientist.… He was not the weirdest by far I worked with down there.” She says that he was not a “strong person.… I would say he was milquetoast.… The fact that he was a terrorist doesn’t really square with my opinion with who he was.… I’m amazed at all this. I assume there’s evidence and that it’s true, but I certainly never would have suspected him.” She says she is unsure if he had the technical skills to commit the crime. [Evening Sun, 8/10/2008]

Entity Tags: Bruce Ivins, David Franz, Gerry Andrews, Luann Battersby, John Skvorak, Jeffrey Adamovicz, Melanie Ulrich, Kenneth Hedlund, Norm Covert, W. Russell Byrne

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Experts disagree if recently deceased anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins had the skills needed to make the anthrax used in the attacks.
Bioweapons Expert - “One bioweapons expert familiar with the FBI investigation” says Ivins did have this skills. This expert points out that Ivins worked with anthrax at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, and regularly made sophisticated preparations of anthrax bacteria spores for use in animal tests. “You could make it in a week,” the expert says. “And you could leave USAMRIID with nothing more than a couple of vials. Bear in mind, they weren’t exactly doing body searches of scientists back then.”
Former Weapons Inspector - But others disagree. Richard Spertzel, a former UN weapons inspector who worked with Ivins at USAMRIID, says: “USAMRIID doesn’t deal with powdered anthrax.… I don’t think there’s anyone there who would have the foggiest idea how to do it. You would need to have the opportunity, the capability and the motivation, and he didn’t possess any of those.”
Unnamed Former Colleague - An unnamed scientist who worked with Ivins says it was technically possible to make powdered anthrax at USAMRIID, but, “As well as we knew each other, and the way the labs were run, someone would discover what was going on, especially since dry spores were not something that we prepared or worked with.” [Washington Post, 8/3/2008]
Former Supervisor - Jeffrey Adamovicz, who had been Ivins’s supervisor in recent years, says that the anthrax sent to Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) was “so concentrated and so consistent and so clean that I would assert that [Ivins] could not have done that part.” [McClatchy Newspapers, 8/7/2008]
USAMRIID Division Chief - Gerry Andrews, the chief of USAMRIID’s bacteriology division at USAMRIID from 1999 to 2003, says the anthrax in the Daschle letter was “a startlingly refined weapons-grade anthrax spore preparation, the likes of which had never been seen before by personnel at [USAMRIID]. It is extremely improbable that this type of preparation could ever have been produced [there], certainly not of the grade and quality found in that envelope” (see August 9, 2008).
FBI Scientist - On August 18, FBI scientist Vahid Majidi says, “It would have been easy to make these samples at USAMRIID.” He believes that one person could make the right amount of anthrax in three to seven days (see August 18, 2008). [US Department of Justice, 8/18/2008]

Entity Tags: Vahid Majidi, Jeffrey Adamovicz, Gerry Andrews, Bruce Ivins, Richard Spertzel, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

The Wall Street Journal publishes an op-ed by Richard Spertzel entitled, “Bruce Ivins Wasn’t the Anthrax Culprit.” As a UN weapons inspector, Spertzel headed the search for biological weapons in Iraq from 1994 to 1999. Spertzel does not believe the FBI’s case against deceased anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins mainly because he maintains that the anthrax used in the 2001 attacks was weaponized and Ivins did not have the skills to weaponize anthrax. Spertzel writes: “The spores could not have been produced at [USAMRIID], where Ivins worked, without many other people being aware of it. Furthermore, the equipment to make such a product does not exist at the institute.” He says the anthrax spores were “tailored to make them potentially more dangerous.” He cites comments by government officials in the months after the attacks which claimed that the spores were coated with silica and the particles in them were given a weak electric charge, making it easier for the spores to float through the air. He concludes: “From what we know so far, Bruce Ivins, although potentially a brilliant scientist, was not… [someone who] could make such a sophisticated product.… The multiple disciplines and technologies required to make the anthrax in this case do not exist at [USAMRIID]. Inhalation studies are conducted at the institute, but they are done using liquid preparations, not powdered products.” [Wall Street Journal, 8/5/2008] The FBI will present more evidence against Ivins in subsequent days (see August 6, 2008), and will assert that the anthrax spores were not weaponized with silica or anything else. But Spertzel will remain skeptical. On August 13, he will say of the case against Ivins: “Until we see the details, who knows?… There are too many loose ends.” [Time, 8/13/2008]

Entity Tags: Richard Spertzel, Federal Bureau of Investigation, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Jeffrey Taylor at the press conference.Jeffrey Taylor at the press conference. [Source: Agence France-Presse / Getty Images]The FBI holds a press conference laying out their evidence against recently deceased anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins. Some evidence is unsealed by a judge, and US Attorney for the District of Columbia Jeffrey Taylor presents the evidence to the media several hours later. Taylor says, “We consider Dr. Ivins was the sole person responsible for this attack.” Government investigators also allege:
bullet Ivins alone controlled anthrax flask RMR-1029, which matches the anthrax used in the attacks (see February 22-27, 2002). Taylor says RMR-1029 was “created and solely maintained” by Ivins and that no one else could have had access to it without going through him.
bullet Ivins worked an unusual amount of overtime in his lab around the time the anthrax letters were mailed and he could not give a good reason why.
bullet In counseling sessions, he allegedly threatened to kill people. He also sent a threatening email to a friend involved in the case.
bullet He sent a defective anthrax sample when asked to send a sample to investigators (see February 22-27, 2002).
bullet He was having severe psychological problems at the time of the attacks. At one point, he told a colleague that he “feared that he might not be able to control his behavior” (see April-August 2000 and September-December 2001).
bullet Print defects in envelopes used in the letters suggest they were bought at a post office in 2001 in Frederick, Maryland, where he had an account.
bullet He was re-immunized against anthrax in early September 2001.
bullet He sent an e-mail a few days before the anthrax attacks warning that “Bin Laden terrorists” had access to anthrax. This e-mail allegedly used similar language as the anthrax letters.
bullet He frequently wrote letters to the editor and often drove to other locations to disguise his identity as the sender of documents. [BBC, 8/6/2008; US Department of Justice, 8/6/2008]
But many are not impressed with the FBI’s case. Over the next two days, the editorial boards at the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal argue that an independent inquiry should review and judge the evidence against Ivins (see August 7, 2008, August 7, 2008, and August 8, 2008). Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald will note, “One critical caveat to keep at the forefront of one’s mind is that when one side is in exclusive possession of all documents and can pick and choose which ones to release in full or in part in order to make their case, while leaving out the parts that undercut the picture they want to paint—which is exactly what the FBI is doing here—then it is very easy to make things look however you want.” [Salon, 8/6/2008]

Entity Tags: Bruce Ivins, Jeffrey A. Taylor, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Glenn Greenwald

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks, US Domestic Terrorism

Gerry Andrews, the chief of the bacteriology division at USAMRIID from 1999 to 2003, publishes an editorial in the New York Times. USAMRIID is the US Army’s top biological laboratory, and one of Andrew’s subordinates there was Bruce Ivins, the FBI’s main suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) and also a friend of Andrews. Andrews says that the FBI’s recently revealed case against Ivins is unimpressive and lacks physical evidence. He states that the anthrax contained in a letter to Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD) was “a startlingly refined weapons-grade anthrax spore preparation, the likes of which had never been seen before by personnel at [USAMRIID]. It is extremely improbable that this type of preparation could ever have been produced [there], certainly not of the grade and quality found in that envelope.” Andrews also complains that the FBI has not provided “enough detail about their procedure to enable other scientists to tell whether they could actually single out Dr. Ivins’s spore preparation as the culprit…” [New York Times, 8/9/2008]

Entity Tags: Gerry Andrews, Bruce Ivins, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Microbiologist Dr. Henry Heine, a former colleague of alleged anthrax attacker Bruce Ivins, appears before a National Academy of Sciences panel tasked with reviewing the FBI’s scientific work on the investigation. Dr. Heine testifies that it would have been impossible for Ivins to have produced the number of anthrax spores alleged without his colleagues noticing. Dr. Heine also indicates that biological containment measures were inadequate in Ivins’s lab to prevent escape of anthrax spores. [New York Times, 4/22/2010]

Entity Tags: Bruce Ivins, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Henry Heine

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) finds that the source of the anthrax involved in the 2001 attacks was not established by the FBI’s science. This conclusion is in contrast to that of the Justice Department and the FBI, which have asserted unequivocally that RMR-1029, an anthrax flask linked to USAMRIID vaccine researcher and deceased alleged anthrax-killer Bruce Ivins, was the source of the anthrax used in the attacks. The NAS was contracted by the FBI in 2009, for nearly $880,000, to review the science underlying the FBI’s investigation. The NAS council did not review other types of evidence assembled by the FBI, did not have access to classified materials, and did not do its own research. In its report, it makes no judgments regarding the guilt or innocence of any parties, or judgments about the FBI’s conclusion that Ivins was the sole perpetrator. [Associated Press, 5/9/2009; Justice, 2/19/2010, pp. 28 PDF pdf file; National Academy of Sciences, 2/15/2011; McClatchy-ProPublica-PBS Frontline, 10/11/2011] The primary conclusion of the NAS is that “it is not possible to reach a definitive conclusion about the origins of the anthrax… based solely on the available scientific evidence.” The NAS says there were “genetic similarities” between the samples from the letters and RMR-1029, but that “other possible explanations for the similarities—such as independent, parallel evolution—were not definitively explored during the investigation,” and “the data did not rule out other possible sources.” The NAS agrees with the FBI that “RMR-1029… was not the immediate source of spores used in the letters,” and that “one or more derivative growth steps would have been required to produce the anthrax in the attack letters.” The NAS says the FBI did correctly identify the anthrax as Ames strain. It also agrees with the FBI that there was no evidence that the silicon present in the samples had been added in order to weaponize the anthrax, but says that, based on the information made available to it, “one cannot rule out the intentional addition of a silicon-based substance to the New York Post letter, in a failed attempt to enhance dispersion.” Silicon had not been present in the anthrax in RMR-1029 and it is not a normal part of anthrax spores, though it may be incorporated if it is present in its environment as the spores develop. The reason for the presence of silicon (up to 10 percent by bulk mass in the New York Post sample, though this differed with the amount measured in the spores), as well as other elements such as tin, remains unresolved. [National Academy of Sciences, 2/15/2011] At a NAS press conference accompanying the report’s release, questions are raised regarding the amount of time needed to prepare the anthrax. Committee Chair Alice P. Gast responds, “There’s a lack of certainty in the time and effort it would take to make [the powders]… the FBI has not determined what method was used to create the powders.” In some situations several months might be required, but, according to Vice Chair David A. Relman, it would have been possible to complete the work in as little as two days. Regarding the low end of the estimate, Relman says: “There are a number of factors that would have to go into that calculation, including the skill set of the person or persons involved, the equipment and resources available, and the procedures and process selected. And, on that last point, that low end would rely upon the use of batch fermentation methods—liquid cultivation methods—which are available in a number of locations.” Co-workers of Ivins and other experts previously expressed doubts that Ivins had the skill, equipment, or opportunity to prepare the anthrax used, let alone do so in as short a time as the FBI has alleged (see August 1-10, 2008, August 3-18, 2008, August 5, 2008, August 9, 2008 and April 22, 2010). [National Academy of Sciences, 2/15/2011; ProPublica, 2/15/2011] In response to the NAS report, the FBI says in a press release that it was not the science alone that led it to conclude that Ivins was the sole perpetrator: “The FBI has long maintained that while science played a significant role, it was the totality of the investigative process that determined the outcome of the anthrax case. The scientific findings in this case provided investigators with valuable investigative leads that led to the identification of the late Dr. Bruce Ivins as the perpetrator of the anthrax attacks.” [Department of Justice, 2/15/2011] The FBI has claimed to have identified, and eliminated as suspects, 419 people at Fort Detrick and other locations, who either had access to the lab where Ivins worked or received samples from RMR-1029. However, the NAS finding that RMR-1029 has not been conclusively identified as the anthrax source indicates the pool of suspects may be wider than just those with links to RMR-1029. The NAS press release notes that, in October 2010, a draft version of the NAS report underwent a “required FBI security review,” and following that the FBI asked to submit materials to NAS that it had not previously provided. The NAS says: “Included in the new materials were results of analyses performed on environmental samples collected from an overseas site.  Those analyses yielded inconsistent evidence of the Ames strain of B. anthracis in some samples.  The committee recommends further review of the investigation of overseas environmental samples and of classified investigations carried out by the FBI and Department of Justice.” [National Academy of Sciences, 2/15/2011]

Entity Tags: FBI Headquarters, Dugway Proving Ground, National Academy of Sciences, Battelle Memorial Institute, “Justice Department”, Bruce Ivins, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

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