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Context of 'Early-Late 2002: Scientists Map Anthrax Genome to Help Anthrax Attacks Investigation, but Make No Breakthroughs'

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Claire Fraser-Liggett.Claire Fraser-Liggett. [Source: University of Maryland]In late 2001, the FBI decides to try to decode the entire DNA sequence of the anthrax genome in an attempt to generate new leads for its anthrax attacks investigation. There are about five million units in the genome. The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR), a leader in decoding microbe genomes, is given this task. TIGR director Claire Fraser-Liggett forms a small team of scientists. By early 2002, this TIGR team completes the genome. Then they compare the anthrax used in the letter sent to the Sun tabloid to a sample of the same strain, the Ames strain, maintained at Porton Down, the British biological weapons facility. The team finds several differences between the samples, raising the possibility that they could learn exactly which laboratory the anthrax used in the attacks came from. The team then looks at the original Ames strain, taken from a dead cow in Texas in 1981, to attempt to see how the anthrax in the letter evolved from the original. By late 2002, this task is finished but investigators are disappointed to learn that there are almost no noticeable differences between the original Ames strain and the anthrax used in the attacks. [New York Times, 8/20/2008]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, The Institute for Genomic Research, Claire Fraser-Liggett

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Anthrax under magnification.Anthrax under magnification. [Source: T. W. Geisbert / USAMRIID]Scientist Bruce Ivins submits a sample of the anthrax he has been using to FBI investigators. Ivins works at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, and is helping with the anthrax investigation even though the FBI has reason to believe the anthrax could have come from USAMRIID (see Mid-October 2001 and Winter 2001). Ivins is using a variety of the Ames anthrax strain known as RMR-1029. A subpoena dated February 22, 2002 is issued to Ivins and other scientists, telling them to submit samples of their anthrax. Ivins submits his sample on February 27, apparently before he receives the subpoena. He is the only scientist to submit a sample before getting the subpoena. He had been discussing with investigators what kind of protocol to use for the samples, so he is familiar with the desire for the samples and how to submit them, but he does not completely the protocol with his sample. The FBI will soon destroy the sample he submits because it has not been prepared using the protocol, which is necessary for it to be used as valid evidence in trial. In April 2002, Ivins will submit a second anthrax sample. Around 2004, scientists will discover some unique genetic markers to the anthrax used in the 2001 attacks and will start comparing that anthrax to other anthrax. No match will be found between Ivins’s April 2002 sample and the anthrax used in the attacks. However, Paul Keim, a biologist at Northern Arizona University and an expert at distinguishing various strains of anthrax, keeps duplicates of all the anthrax samples sent to the FBI. In early 2007, it will be discovered that he still has a copy of Ivins’s February 2002 sample. A match will be discovered between that RMR-1029 sample and the sample from the attacks (see Early 2007). However, at least 100 scientists had access to this sample (see Late 2005-2006). [US Department of Justice, 8/18/2008; New York Times, 8/20/2008]

Entity Tags: Paul Keim, Bruce Ivins, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

In February 2002, scientist Bruce Ivins submitted a sample of the anthrax he has been using to FBI investigators, but it was destroyed because it was not submitted according to strict protocols. As a result, he is asked to submit a second sample in April 2002, and does. Ivins works at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, and is helping with the anthrax investigation even as the FBI has reason to believe the anthrax could have come from USAMRIID (see Mid-October 2001 and Winter 2001). Ivins is using a variety of the Ames anthrax strain known as RMR-1029. Around early 2004, scientists will discover some unique genetic markers to the anthrax used in the 2001 attacks and will start comparing that anthrax to other anthrax. No match will be found between Ivins’s April 2002 sample and the anthrax used in the attacks. As a result of this discrepancy, the FBI will raid Ivins’s lab in July 2004 and seize more samples of RMR-1029 (see July 16, 2004). Additionally, Paul Keim, a biologist at Northern Arizona University and an expert at distinguishing various strains of anthrax, keeps duplicates of all the anthrax samples sent to the FBI. In early 2007, it will be discovered that he still has a copy of Ivins’s February 2002 sample. A match will be discovered between that RMR-1029 sample and the sample from the attacks (see Early 2007). However, at least 100 scientists had access to this sample (see Late 2005-2006). [New York Times, 8/20/2008] It remains unknown if Ivins altered the sample he submitted. Keim will later say that the genetic markers found in other samples of RMR-1029 should have been found in Ivins’s sample. He will note that “the FBI is implying he did it on purpose.” However, he will say that “Ivins may simply have failed to collect a representative sample.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/1/2008] In an August 2008 press briefing (see August 18, 2008), a government official will be asked if the sample submitted was not RMR-1029. The official will reply, “I don’t want to speculate that far.” [US Department of Justice, 8/18/2008]

Entity Tags: Paul Keim, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bruce Ivins

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Jacques Ravel.Jacques Ravel. [Source: New York Times / Brendan Smialowsk]In 2002, scientists mapped the anthrax genome in an attempt to generate new leads for the anthrax attacks investigation. Initially, the results are disappointing because the anthrax used in the letters, which is from the Ames strain, do not seem to differ in any way from the original Ames strain used in many laboratories (see Early-Late 2002). But around early 2003, an unnamed US Army microbiologist at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, makes a breakthrough. He discovers a morph (also known as a morphotype) that allows scientists to detect differences between the genetic structure of the anthrax used in the attacks and other anthrax. Jacques Ravel, a leading member of the scientific team at the The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) that is decoding the anthrax genome, is asked to decode more morphs. After two years, the team is able to decode a total of eight morphs. The head of TIGR will later comment that it was not clear why the FBI did not ask other laboratories to share the task and speed up the process. Other scientists working with the FBI select four of the morphs as having the most reliable unique genetic differences, known as indels. All of the anthrax letters used anthrax containing these four indels. The FBI finally has a unique signature for the anthrax used in the attacks and starts looking for laboratories that have used an exact match. [New York Times, 8/20/2008] Apparently, by early 2004 scientists already know enough to notice a discrepancy with a sample scientist Bruce Ivins has submitted to the investigation, and the FBI raids Ivins’s lab in July 2004 to seize more samples from him (see Early 2004 and July 16, 2004).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bruce Ivins, Jacques Ravel, The Institute for Genomic Research, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Between 2003 and 2005, scientists working with the FBI’s anthrax investigation have been developing a system to compare the anthrax used in the 2001 attacks with other anthrax samples they have completed (see Early 2003-2005). By early 2004, the system apparently still is not complete, but scientists have discovered enough to focus their attentions on USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory (see Early 2004). They also note a discrepancy. In 2002, USAMRIID scientist Bruce Ivins had submitted a sample of a variety of the Ames anthrax strain known as RMR-1029 (see April 2002). The FBI had also collected some other samples of RMR-1029 from other scientists. All the samples of RMR-1029 had genetic markers that match the anthrax used in the attacks except for Ivins’s sample. As a result, in July 2004, the FBI will raid Ivins’s lab and seize more of his RMR-1029. These samples will also have the genetic markers matching the anthrax used in the attacks, raising more questions as to why the sample Ivins submitted does not (see July 16, 2004). [Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/1/2008]

Entity Tags: Bruce Ivins, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

The FBI closes some high-security laboratory suites at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland. The FBI apparently is searching for evidence related to the anthrax attacks investigation, although what the target of their search is remains unclear. For several days, investigators shut off access to bacteriology labs in two USAMRIID buildings where anthrax research is done or has been done. Numerous employees at USAMRIID were questioned by the FBI in the first months after the anthrax attacks, but then investigative activity targeting USAMRIID died down. In recent months, the FBI has seized medical records and computer hard drives there. Several days after the search, authorities say it failed to lead to any important breakthrough. The Baltimore Sun notes that USAMRIID’s labs were used extensively after the attacks to study the letters, so if trace amounts of anthrax are found it would very hard to prove if they came from the attacks or the subsequent investigation of the attacks. [Baltimore Sun, 7/21/2004] It will later emerge that the raid takes place at least in part to seize anthrax samples from scientist Bruce Ivins. In April 2002, Ivins had given investigators a sample of anthrax known as RMR-1029 (see April 2002). In early 2004, investigators determined that the sample did not match the anthrax used in the attacks, but other samples of RMR-1029 did (see Early 2004). So Ivins’s flasks of RMR-1029 are seized in the raid. These do show a match with the anthrax used in the attacks, raising questions why the sample Ivins had submitted in 2002 did not. [Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/1/2008] However, it appears the FBI will not begin to seriously focus on Ivins as a suspect until after the head of the FBI’s investigation is replaced in late 2006 (see Autumn 2006).

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

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

The FBI questions scientist Bruce Ivins about a marked increase in his after hours laboratory work from mid-August through October 2001 (see Mid-August-October 2001). Ivins tells investigators that he was working late at the time to escape troubles at home. The FBI is unable to find evidence of legitimate work Ivins performed during those visits. He is also asked to explain the differences in anthrax samples he submitted to the FBI in 2002 (see April 2002) and those seized in 2004 (see July 16, 2004). [Washington Post, 8/7/2008; Associated Press, 8/7/2008]

Entity Tags: Bruce Ivins, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

An aerial view of USAMRIID in 2005.An aerial view of USAMRIID in 2005. [Source: Sam Yu / Frederick News-Post]By the end of March 2005, the FBI clearly suspects Bruce Ivins for the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). Ivins works at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, and his lab was raided by the FBI to find Ivins’ anthrax samples (see July 16, 2004). He has been questioned about suspicious behavior around the time of the attacks and since (see March 31, 2005). Yet Ivins is still allowed to work with anthrax and other deadly germs at USAMRIID. McClatchy Newspapers will report in August 2008, “[A] mystery is why Ivins wasn’t escorted from [USAMRIID] until last month when the FBI had discovered by 2005 that he’d failed to turn over samples of all the anthrax in his lab, as agents had requested three years earlier.” In 2003, USAMRIID implemented a biosurety program that required all scientists working there to undergo regular intrusive background checks, which includes disclosure of mental health issues. They also have to undergo periodic FBI background checks to retain their security clearances. Jeffrey Adamovicz, head of USAMRIID’s bacteriology division in 2003 and 2004, will later say that USAMRIID officials knew at least by late 2006 that Ivins was a suspect, yet he maintained his lab access and security clearances until July 10, 2008, shortly before his suicide later that month (see July 10, 2008 and July 29, 2008). Adamovicz will say, “It’s hard to understand if there was all this negative information out there on Bruce, why wasn’t it picked up in the biosurety program or by law enforcement.” [McClatchy Newspapers, 8/7/2008] By contrast, anthrax attacks suspect Steven Hatfill lost his security clearance in 2001 after it was discovered he had misrepresented some items on his resume (see August 23, 2001).

Entity Tags: Steven Hatfill, Jeffrey Adamovicz, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Bruce Ivins

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

After years of work, by 2005, a scientific team working with the FBI has identified four genetic markers, known as indels, that make the anthrax used in the 2001 anthrax attacks unique (see Early 2003-2005). The anthrax is from the Ames strain, and the FBI has been slowly building a repository of 1,070 Ames anthrax samples from around the world. By late 2005 to 2006, it is discovered that only eight samples match the anthrax used in the attacks. Seven of these eight samples come from USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, and the eighth sample comes from another unnamed laboratory in the US. One of these samples is the ancestor of all eight, and this is a flask known as RMR-1029 kept by USAMRIID scientist Bruce Ivins (see Early 2004). The FBI soon determines that about 100 scientists had access to this flask and its seven descendants. Investigators begin a new phase, using traditional criminology techniques to narrow down the possible suspects. [New York Times, 8/20/2008]

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

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

According to a later report by the Los Angeles Times, the FBI’s investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) remains “fixated” on suspect Steven Hatfill into late 2006. Senior FBI agent Richard Lambert took over as head of the investigation in late 2002 (see Late 2002), and kept the focus on Hatfill. The change in focus comes just after August 25, 2006, when Lambert is removed as head of the investigation and reassigned to be the head of an FBI field office instead. The Times will later reveal that some FBI agents were frustrated with Lambert’s single-minded focus on Hatfill and sought a review of Lambert by the FBI’s Inspection Division. One agent will later say: “There were complaints about him. Did he take energy away from looking at other people? The answer is yes.” But Lambert was not alone; the Times will also report, “The fixation on Hatfill ran broadly through FBI leadership.” An FBI agent later says: “They exhausted a tremendous amount of time and energy on [Hatfill].… I’m still convinced that whatever seemed interesting or worth pursuing was just basically nullified in the months or year following when ‘person of interest’ came out about Hatfill.” Another investigator will say: “Particular management people felt, ‘He is the right guy. If we only put this amount of energy into him, we’ll get to the end of the rainbow.’ Did it take energy away? It had to have. Because you can’t pull up another hundred agents and say, ‘You go work these leads [that] these guys can’t because they’re just focused on Hatfill.’” [Los Angeles Times, 6/29/2008] In October 2006, NBC News reports: “the FBI recently installed a new team of top investigators to head up the anthrax case. Sources familiar with the case tell NBC News that the new managers are looking anew at all possible suspects, with a much broader focus than before. The sources say that the previous head of the case, inspector Richard Lambert, was moved to a new position within the FBI, in part because he had focused too much on Hatfill.” [MSNBC, 10/24/2006]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Steven Hatfill, Richard Lambert

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Paul Keim.Paul Keim. [Source: Public domain]The FBI matches an anthrax sample submitted by suspect Bruce Ivins with the anthrax used in the 2001 attacks. The sample, of anthrax used by Ivins in his work, was submitted to the FBI in February 2002, but the FBI then destroyed it since it had not been prepared using a strict protocol needed for it to be used as evidence in a trial (see February 22-27, 2002). By late 2006, the FBI suspects Ivins sent the 2001 anthrax letters (see Late 2006). Also in 2006, scientists have discovered unique genetic markers in the anthrax used in the 2001 attacks and they are comparing them to other anthrax samples they have collected. A sample Ivins gave to the FBI in April 2002 does not match the anthrax in the letters. However, Paul Keim, a biologist at Northern Arizona University and an expert at distinguishing various strains of anthrax, has kept duplicates of all the anthrax samples sent to the FBI. In early 2007, Keim discovers that he still has a copy of Ivin’s February 2002 sample, known as RMR-1029, and it matches the anthrax used in the attacks. However, at least 100 scientists had access to this sample (see Late 2005-2006), if not 200 to 300 scientists (see 1997). [Frederick News-Post, 8/19/2008; New York Times, 8/20/2008]

Entity Tags: Paul Keim, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bruce Ivins

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

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