Join 3,496 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Amerithrax case closed
February 20, 2010 1:00 PM   Subscribe

The investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks (dubbed "Amerithrax" by the FBI) is now closed. Yesterday, the Department of Justice released a 92-page summary [pdf] of their investigation. Their conclusion -- that USAMRIID scientist Bruce Ivins was the culprit -- was backed by an impressive amount of evidence, including microbiological detective work (p. 23 ff). But some of the investigation was downright bizarre....

On page 59, the FBI starts deconstructing the language of the (very short) anthrax notes, and soon devolves into a Bible-Code-like hunt for hidden messages in the NBC note. After having read Douglas Hofstadter's Godel, Escher, Bach, a copy of which Ivins had tossed in the garbage can, the FBI concluded that Ivins had hidden either the message "FNY" or "PAT" in his letter.

Of course, the FBI misunderstood GEB, interpreting a whimsical demonstration of Cantor's diagonal argument for a steganographic how-to. Even Hofstadter himself says that the supposed connection was a "red herring."

This is not the only example of how the FBI, even when it has highly-sophisticated scientific techniques at its disposal, can't let go of pseudoscientific, mystical thinking. Their reliance on the polygraph, for example, will continue undiminished even though Ivins, like other high-profile criminals before him, passed a polygraph test (p. 84).
posted by cgs06 (46 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Previously. *cough*
posted by availablelight at 1:15 PM on February 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Previously. *cough*

Here we go again... *duct tapes windows*
posted by unsupervised at 1:18 PM on February 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Huh. They posted it twice .... must be a clue.
posted by R. Mutt at 1:29 PM on February 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


A majority of Americans and their Congresspeople can't let go of pseudoscientific and mystical thinking. Who is supposed to hold the FBI to higher standards?
posted by kuujjuarapik at 1:42 PM on February 20, 2010 [10 favorites]


Don't worry, kuujjuarapik, that's all part of God's plan!
posted by defenestration at 1:43 PM on February 20, 2010


I literally work next door to the USPS sorting facility in Wallingford, CT which had to be de-contaminated.

Notice all those trailers at the far end of the parking lot? I've never seen one of them move. What do you suppose is in them?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:57 PM on February 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


You possibly shouldn't be telling us that, ZMT.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:10 PM on February 20, 2010


Cantor's diagonal argument sounds like a great D&D spell.


That is all.
posted by The Whelk at 2:10 PM on February 20, 2010 [17 favorites]


Fantastic post
posted by KokuRyu at 2:15 PM on February 20, 2010


Before this gets closed as a double, let me just say it's completely wrong. I read the FBI report. The GEB book is a tiny part of the proof against this guy. The FBI takes pains to say that GEB is a very complicated work that is difficult to explain, and only plays a role because: (1) it has stuff about codes and it helps show that Ivins was really into codes; and (2) Ivins acted very suspiciously with respect to this book - essentially trying to hide it from the FBI.
posted by Mid at 2:29 PM on February 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


The "red herring" quote from Hofstadter has nothing to do with point 1 or 2, above. It appears he was asked whether is book had any "influence" on Ivins in his commission of the anthrax crime. The FBI is not saying that it had any "influence," so, yes, that is a red herring, but it is not responsive to the FBI report.
posted by Mid at 2:36 PM on February 20, 2010


...the FBI concluded that Ivins had hidden either the message "FNY" or "PAT" in his letter.

And the media are trumpeting this conclusion.

For example, last night NBC Nightly News [video] covered this aspect of the FBI investigation saying that 'PAT,'a co-worker with whom he was obsessed was a significant clue. Other outlets focused on the FBI's "interpretation" of FNY as Ivins hating New York (FNY).
posted by ericb at 2:36 PM on February 20, 2010


What is the evidence or theory suggesting that the "PAT" and "FNY" conclusions are wrong or unfounded?
posted by Mid at 2:39 PM on February 20, 2010


Mid/Mutt-- This post isn't a double, the previously linked article above is to a post in January '09 and is posted more as reference then to indicate this is a double. Did you click the link?

Perhaps the mods can delete some of the 'this is a double' messages to not put commentators off?
posted by Static Vagabond at 2:39 PM on February 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Previously. *cough*

STAY AWAY FROM ME!
posted by Elmore at 2:42 PM on February 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


The guy did have some quirks. For example, his obsession with the sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma. After all the toxin-laced letters were sent from a mailbox less than 100 yards away from the sorority chapter in Princeton, NJ.
posted by ericb at 2:48 PM on February 20, 2010


NPR's Robert Siegel and Dina Temple-Raston:
"TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, the fact that Ivins killed himself without a note before he was charged means that I think there will always be doubts in this case. But basically this is how the FBI lays out the case - that the strain of anthrax that was used in the attacks was a strain that Ivins and only a handful of other people had access to. And the FBI says that they've eliminated the other people as suspects.

Back during that timeframe in 2001, Ivins was spending a lot of long hours in the lab alone and there was no big project going on the lab in September 2001 that would've justified his time there. And then Ivins explained the hours by saying he was having a difficult home life and was trying to get away from it. But he kept changing his story, so it made the FBI sort of doubt that excuse.

SIEGEL: There were reports in 2008 of some disturbing emails that Ivins had sent.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Exactly. The last time they released some information about this, the FBI released some emails that showed that he might have had some mental health issues, talking about feeling like he was two people and not one. He was stalking a co-worker. He was sending her presents and going to different cities to send them. These were all things that worried the FBI because the anthrax mailings were actually mailed from various cities with fake addresses."
posted by ericb at 2:53 PM on February 20, 2010


Seems like lots of early clues pointing to Ivins. How to explain the glacial speed by which the FBI closed in on him?
posted by telstar at 2:57 PM on February 20, 2010


Below are the key paragraphs from the report regarding GEB. What specific part of this is pseudoscientific, mystical thinking?

On November 1, 2007, Task Force agents executed a search warrant at the Ivins residence. A few days later, on November 7, 2007, agents conducted a “trash run” at his house in an effort to see what he threw out that they may have missed. As will be described more fully in the Consciousness of Guilt section infra, on the night of the trash run, Dr. Ivins behaved in a bizarre fashion after he put out his trash, going so far as to confirm that the trash bag had actually been removed from his trash can. Recovered from his trash that night were a number of written materials dealing with codons, including (1) a 1992 issue of American Scientist Journal which contained an article entitled “The Linguistics of DNA,” and discussed, among other things, codons and hidden messages; and (2) a book entitled Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (“GEB”), published by Dr. Douglas Hofstadter in 1979. It is difficult to summarize what the book is about – indeed, in the 20th anniversary edition of the book, Dr. Hofstadter lamented the fact that it was poorly, if at all, understood. However, the basic premise is that there are surface meanings (the “frame message”) and then there are meanings within mathematics (Godel), art (Escher), and music (Bach) that are hidden (the “inner message”). There are numerous pages of puzzles, theorems, and other challenges to the reader, some of which someone, in what appears to be the handwriting of Dr. Ivins, actually tried to decipher on the pages of the book itself. . . .

While the subject matter of GEB may be confusing to some, it nonetheless remains of evidentiary value to the investigation. In the days following the search of Dr. Ivins’s residence,
office and cars, he threw out a book that made direct references to hidden messages and codes, specifically involving the bases of DNA and bolded letters – both of which were present in the anthrax mailings. The night he did so, Dr. Ivins behaved in the fashion of a nervous man, watching for the garbage truck, and then checking the garbage can to ensure that it was gone, and finally checking the bushes to see if he was being watched (see Consciousness of Guilt section).

posted by Mid at 3:00 PM on February 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't know whether I'd be able to find this out, but if the Obama administration is running true to form in this investigation, they didn't bother to replace any of the investigators who were running it under Bush, or to add their own people.

I'd love to be able to ask them what the hell they think they're doing, but whatever it is, no one could confuse it with actually governing the country.

I thought I was electing a Democratic President, but it turns out I was only hiring some guy to do a little house-sitting at 1601 Pennsylvania Ave. NW til the Republicans are ready to move back in.
posted by jamjam at 3:17 PM on February 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


I had worked this case as a reporter. In December 2001, a colleague and I had a pretty complete article, no suspect, but pretty well pinned down as domestic and tied to the anthrax vaccine program. Editors turned it down because the conclusion that it was domestic rather than Iraq was "radioactive."

It's the type of story that's hard to break once the editors have been bamboozled by sufficient wild speculation, axe-grinding and political skullduggery. Nobody wants to go first if everybody else has got the story wrong.

As has happened to me before when I had the story too early, I ended up a source and never got an assignment.

Without question, the very best reporting was done by Scott Shane while he was at the Baltimore Sun (now at the NYTimes.) He had big pieces of the story before anybody else.

It's worth going back and reading the articles from Nov/Dec 2001 to see how wrong everybody had the story.

As regards the FBI, this case demonstrates that they are not very competent investigatively. The DOJ report doesn't mention, for instance, that Ivins was a consultant to the FBI on the Leahy letter.

You see, what the FBI does is collect evidence for prosecution. They rarely solve crimes on their own and they rarely prevent them. Most federal criminal cases originate with a witness walking in and demanding that they do something about a situation. The rest of their cases brought to prosecution usually come from paid informants (called "confidential witnesses.")

The FBI blundered badly in this investigation, partly because of the lack of expertise and partly because the expertise they initially recruited gave less than full cooperation. Ivins was not the only consultant who came under suspicion.

Probalby the most telling blunder (other than the Hatfill fiasco) was the failure to locate the mailbox for over a year. Then when it was located, agents canvassed the neighborhood with nothing but a picture of Hatfill, asking "Have you seen this man?"

Gathering evidence for prosecution is very different from figuring out what happened and who did it. Innuendo and mud-slinging will often bring a successful prosecution when the evidence is lacking.

The FBI, they sleep at night so you don't have to.

One unanswered question is if anthrax was "harvested" from victims and returned to Ft Detrich for use as a more virulent strain. There have been several instances of bioweapons "passaged" through victims of lab accidents being returned to weapons (or vaccine) programs because the organism becomes more deadly this way.
posted by warbaby at 3:24 PM on February 20, 2010 [36 favorites]


I thought I was electing a Democratic President

because the president has unlimited time with which to direct the investigation of years old crimes in which the prominent suspect is dead and it would have made a difference in the outcome

or are you saying that they have this wrong?
posted by pyramid termite at 3:25 PM on February 20, 2010 [5 favorites]


A majority of Americans and their Congresspeople can't let go of pseudoscientific and mystical thinking. Who is supposed to hold the FBI to higher standards?

God.

Now stop worrying and go shopping.
posted by philip-random at 3:32 PM on February 20, 2010


FBI blundering or no, I'm wondering if there has ever been a more successful individual terroristic act than Ivins' anthrax stunt. I recall that the anthrax letters cemented "Al Qaeda" in the public mind as a causus belli and helped smooth the way for the propaganda mantra "weapons of mass destruction" so loved and repeated in the run-up to the Iraq war.

I suppose one reason Ivins may have been so successful is that he "piggybacked" his acts onto the 9/11 tragedies. He recognized that the public mind was primed to be directed against anti-Israel/US groups and he took full, timely advantage of the situation.

Contrast Ivins with say, the Unabomber, who didn't really seem to have much effect on general public opinion. For example, in an office I worked in in late 2001, my next-cube neighbor was afraid to open his own mail after the anthrax mailings. Now that's terror.
posted by telstar at 3:50 PM on February 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


I recall that the anthrax letters cemented "Al Qaeda" in the public mind as a causus belli and helped smooth the way for the propaganda mantra "weapons of mass destruction" so loved and repeated in the run-up to the Iraq war.

Funny how that worked out. And no trial, because the guy who did it killed himself.

I've never bought the "9/11 was an inside job" argument. The anthrax attacks, on the other hand, look pretty suspiciously like an inside job.
posted by vibrotronica at 4:04 PM on February 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


I had worked this case as a reporter. In December 2001, a colleague and I had a pretty complete article, no suspect, but pretty well pinned down as domestic and tied to the anthrax vaccine program. Editors turned it down because the conclusion that it was domestic rather than Iraq was "radioactive."

warbaby - this article from the NYT from December 2001 says that the Anthrax is most likely domestic and not from Iraq:

"Shortly after the first anthrax victim died in October, the Bush administration began an intense effort to explore any possible link between Iraq and the attacks and continued to do so even after scientists determined that the lethal germ was an American strain, scientists and government officials said.

But they said that largely secret work had found no evidence to back up the initial suspicions, which is one reason administration officials have said recently that the source of the anthrax was most likely domestic."
posted by Mid at 4:04 PM on February 20, 2010


So... Since Ken Lay is innocent now because he died before his appeal was concluded, that means that Bruce Ivins is officially innocent too, right?
posted by mikelieman at 4:31 PM on February 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


The little vial that Colin Powell waved around at the United Nations represented anthrax.

This guy was a creepy weirdo, but I'd like less fixation on his oddball nature and more focus on hard facts about the case. Having an obsession with sororities doesn't make him any more of a terrorist than John Belushi in Animal House. What specific motive did he have for targeting media figures and Democratic congressional leaders?

For instance, all of the anthrax letters were mailed from a mailbox across the street from the main entrance to Princeton University. Is there any evidence that Ivins was Princeton on the dates the letters were mailed? According to the FBI report, "the mailing window for the letters to the New York Post and Brokaw was between 5:00 p.m. on Monday, September 17, 2001, and noon on Tuesday, September 18, 2001" and it's a "16-hour round-trip drive." Can they put him in Princeton during that window? Gas receipts, cell phone logs, security camera footage, eyewitness accounts, anything?

The January 3, 2009, New York Times article linked in the previous post 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." According to a February 28, 2009, postscript, "the water research ultimately was inconclusive about where the anthrax was grown."

Also according to the January 2009 New York Times article, "the Sunday night after the Sept. 11 attacks" (September 16) Dr. Donald "D.A" Henderson "was told intelligence reports indicated that there might be a second attack by Al Qaeda, most likely biological" at "an emergency meeting with the secretary of health and human services, Tommy Thompson."
posted by kirkaracha at 4:43 PM on February 20, 2010 [3 favorites]


Editors turned it down because the conclusion that it was domestic rather than Iraq was "radioactive."

As in the Stack plane incident, if there's one thing the mainstream media can be relied upon to do well, it is to largely ignore covering domestic right-wing terrorism.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:45 PM on February 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


Greenwald was great on this back in March 2009, pointing out that skepticism about the FBI's case was now completely mainstream.
posted by mediareport at 4:55 PM on February 20, 2010


I have to go, so I will bow out of the thread with this:

I do not understand the post at all. cgs06 says that the FBI's conclusion about Ivins is supported by "an impressive amount of evidence, including microbiological detective work." cgs06 does not point to any contrary evidence or suggest in any way that the FBI got the wrong guy. With you so far.

But then -- we get "some of the investigation was downright bizarre." But the only "bizarre" thing mentioned is the Godel, Escher, Bach book and the codes that the FBI thinks that Ivins hid in the Anthrax notes. As I noted above, Ivins threw out the GEB book after the FBI searched his house, along with a paper about genetic codes, and then behaved suspiciously (coming out of his house at 1am in his underwear to make sure the garbage had been picked up). It does not seem "bizarre" to think that something was up with this book and the code article. The "code" that seems to be in the letters does not seem implausible and seems to link back to the pitched reading materials and the fascination with codes. As one piece of evidence along with a lot more evidence, it seems to have some probative weight, even if it is not convincing on its own. And I haven't heard anyone yet suggest that the FBI got the "codes" wrong.

But, anyway, then we are suddenly into "pseudoscientific, mystical thinking," even though the main evidence against Ivins is scientific evidence that he grew the Anthrax in his own flask at work. Huh?

Kirkaracha -- the report documents a history of Ivins driving way out of town (hours and hours) and mailing mystery packages to his friends at work using false names and false return addresses. They do not have evidence of him actually being in Princeton at the time of the mailings, but it's not crazy to think that the guy was careful about not using his credit card nearby.
posted by Mid at 5:07 PM on February 20, 2010 [2 favorites]


Did he have time to make a 16-hour round trip on each occasion that the letters were mailed, or not? After the FBI being sure it was Hatfill for six years, I'm extremely skeptical that Ivins is solely responsible for the attacks.

One Month After 9/11, McCain Said Anthrax 'May Have Come From Iraq,' Warned Iraq Is 'The Second Phase.'

White House Pressured FBI To Link Anthrax Letters To Al Qaida
posted by kirkaracha at 5:12 PM on February 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


I appreciate the skepticism here. My comment makes me sound like I wholly buy the FBI's final assessment, which I most certainly do not. Fact is, the event is so old in the public mind, and the effect of the mailings played out so successfully at the time that it really doesn't matter anymore "who did it". This is the mark of a successful psy-op.
posted by telstar at 5:29 PM on February 20, 2010


Skepticism is warranted in a situation where the facts aren't (and reasonably can't be) disclosed, but not knowing isn't license to create conclusions.

It's a long and complex case, the FBI flailed around for far too long and Ivins suicide (and mental illness) precludes any certainty. the case against Ivins boils down to the FBI eliminating all other suspects and only Ivins was left. Not the same thing as proof. Which explains why Ivins was never taken into custody. A half-competent lawyer would have had him out very quickly and the prosecution would have tipped their hand making a conviction more difficult.

BTW, I'm not claiming credit for being first. The Monterey Institute (which has followed BW closely for years) issued a brief report raising the possibility of a right-wing domestic source. To my knowledge, they were one of the first. There was also Barbara Hatch Rosenberg of the FAS who released statements at a conference in Germany about domestic origins. I believe she was the very first to go public.

The suspicion at the time was the investigation was stalled because the attacks were a leak from an illegal US covert program. These issues never got resolved. The Battelle Ohio labs initially declared that they never had any anthrax research inside their inhalation delivery research unit. Much of this information was garbled and couldn't be clarified. Later reports after Ivins death stated that he worked with Battelle in trying to get the Bioport vaccine program back on track. So there was a lot of misinformation based on unsourced claims. It was a very confused situation and the FBI lacked expertise.

That in itself is a point of concern because the FBI was involved in an anthrax investigation in Las Vegas involving Larry Wayne Harris, an Aryan Nations member from Ohio who previously was busted for scamming some plague cultures out of a national research center. He later showed up in Las Vegas (itself a parole violation on his plague scam conviction) claiming he had anthrax and somebody dimed him. Like I said earlier, the FBI relies on informants to a very high extent. That turned into a fiasco - after far too much time had elapsed - when it was discovered that Harris' anthrax was a vaccine and not even a culture, much less spores. This was in early 1998. Three and half years later, they were no more competent.

A good overview of the anthrax case is at UCLA epidemiology

The anthrax case itself demonstrates there isn't any line separating BW defense from offense. If you have one, you have the other.

The basis for looking at domestic right-wing sources is historically based. Terrorism experts rely on historical databases of past incidents. With one exception (the Oregon salmonella poisonings) US CBW incidents have domestic right-wingers. This continues to be true. It you want to loose some sleep, dig around in the James Dalton Bell case. He was working on nerve gas when he was busted. The only thing that slowed him down was the difficulty in obtaining a few ingredients. He had the knowledge, skills and capability. A truly scary guy.

The FBI has been extremely inept at dealing with domestic right-wing terrorism for the last forty years and has shown no sign of improving their performance. Many believe this is because the FBI is and has always been too highly politicized to be an effective police agency. If they were less politicized, they would be able to take a more active preventive role. As it is, they are and will continue to be reactive and usually too late.

This is unfortunate because the current situation will probably devolve into political violence after the mid-term elections (the crazies will get frustrated with whatever the result is). It would follow past patterns to have in excess of 500 domestic deaths in the next five years or so. More if a mass-casualty event occurs.

We all have reason to be deeply concerned.
posted by warbaby at 6:04 PM on February 20, 2010 [12 favorites]


Wait, the FBI report said it was a "16-hour round-trip drive" from Ft. Detrick to Princeton? Frederick, MD and Princeton are only a couple hundred miles apart. You could easily make the round-trip drive in 8 hours.
posted by plastic_animals at 8:24 PM on February 20, 2010


Yeah, I don't get that claim; Google says 3h16m from Ft Detrick to Princeton Univ, going either down and around the Baltimore beltway and up 95, or up to Harrisburg and across 76.

So assuming he already knew where the mailbox was (which he conceivably would, if he'd gone up there to send stalky packages to his coworker from there), it could be a 6.5h trip if you did it at a time when there wasn't any traffic.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:45 PM on February 20, 2010


Speaking as a biochemist, SGK and OUR seem like equally valid translations of TTT AAT TAT. For a biologist using this DNA code would seem so transparent that it would feel like writing your name on your victim in sharpie marker.

For seriously magical thinking, this part did it for me - "Drying anthrax spores requires either a sophisticated drying machine called a lyophilizer, a speed-vac...etc." and all the raving about how there is no way these could be "garage spores".

I know people who have raised single cell cultures for brewing and have done a bit of home mycology (for drinking purposes) myself. Work right next to a lit bunsen burner and you can do cell culture on an open bench with high levels of success.

Similarly, I have a big assed vacuum pump in my basement that came from an old dying lyopholizer from a friend's lab at a local university (that I plan on using for a vacuum investment casting someday) and threw out an aging speed vac earlier this year.

OK, sure, Monday through Friday, nine to five I'm trying to cure cancer and stuff so I have a bit of experience in the field, but this is hardly the super high tech stuff the FBI makes it sound like. Or maybe I need to get off my ass and get a control throne and Persian cat and you will all pay my ransom of one million one billion dollars.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:03 PM on February 20, 2010 [4 favorites]


I haven't driven from Ft. Detrick to Princeton on the Google route Kadin2048 links, but I lived in Lawrenceville (about 5 miles down US 1 from Princeton) for a couple of years and you could drive from Baltimore to Princeton in under 5 hours including traffic on I-95 in the mid 2000s. I know because I've done it more than once.

And I'm nthing the wtfery about why the anthrax attacks, which are officially the actions of a single man now, are terrorism and Stack's case is not.
posted by immlass at 10:15 PM on February 20, 2010


If Hatfill had committed suicide a year after the harassment he and his family faced from the FBI, people would be sitting here talking about the damning FBI report pinpointing him as the anthrax mailer.
posted by dirigibleman at 10:53 PM on February 20, 2010


So I guess Karl Rove wasn't behind this after all
posted by MattMangels at 10:57 PM on February 20, 2010


The first rule of Karl Rove, is you don't talk about Karl Rove.
posted by Balisong at 11:51 PM on February 20, 2010 [1 favorite]


But the appropriate people were scared of the appropriate people, for the appropriate length of time, right?
posted by pompomtom at 2:08 AM on February 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


re: immlass -- the WTF on the DOJ's classification of individual cases as terrorism or not is exactly the politicization I'm talking about. You used to be able to get all their annual terrorism reports on the DOJ website. After 9/11, they got pulled like a lot of stuff in the new Bush web-paranoia policy (which has not been reviewed and should be.) Now you have to go to a federal document depository to see them. Many public and university libraries have such depositories. There's nothing classified about them, they are public reports to Congress and mostly chest-pounding PR flackery.

What is very telling about the annual reports is how transparently the FBI has been juking the stats to tell a very politicized story of who's a terrorist and (by omission) who's not. they still don't have a workable definition of terrorism that is applied in an even-handed manner to political violence.

This amounts to giving certain domestic terrorists permission to operate without interference and framing up some political interests as terrorist-related. the hysteria over eco-terrorism (which the FBI maintained was the greatest threat to national security on the morning of 9/11) is just the most pathetic example. the most dangerous example is their continued refusal to classify anti-abortion terrorism except on a case-by-case basis.

So that's why a continuous program of bombings, assassinations, arson and other clearly terrorist acts keep getting shuffled off into the institutional memory hole. the turning point was Eric Rudolph, but that was only due to the fact that he made it very clear he was stalking the FBI as one of his targets. Prior to that, they refused (in a way that can most kindly described as cowardly) to treat anti-abortion terrorism as terrorism. that cowardice still continues and would require Congress to confront through investigations like the Church Committee did with criminal activities by the CIA. The current political climate makes that impossible.

So the upshot is anti-abortion terrorism amounts to state-sanctioned domestic terrorism at worst and appeasement at best.

the anthrax case was typical of FBI performance in politically loaded cases, not the exception.

FWIW, the evidence on Ivins is persuasive and enough to bring an indictment if he was still alive, but it would be a coin toss if a jury would convict. Also, there was the ever-present possibility of a national security defense (basically, the prosecutors and the FBI were hamstrung by the secrecy surrounding US biological warfare programs.)

the revelations about the poor security at Ft. Detrick did lead to some changes, but the long term problems with leakage from secret programs are still a serious vulnerability. Part of the "rally around Ivins" noise coming from Detrick is part and parcel of the coverup on their childishly inadequate security. there should have been some serious and public ass-kicking accompanied by prosecutions. Instead, there's been nothing because the military operates beyond civilian control in some ways. (That last statement probably sounds better in the original German.)

As far as the technical difficulties of what Ivins allegedly did - the only other program that prepares dry anthrax spores for testing BW defense was not able to achieve the quality and purity of the spores used in the attacks. Spores that pure and that even in particle size are very hard. The first attacks were done with crude samples, hence only cutaceous cases. There appears to have been two batches, the second of which was very pure and deadly. It also appears the second batch was prepared after the first attacks escaped notice.

Be glad it's not as easy as some seem to think.

the main deterrent to BW attacks is they are too effective -- nobody is going to sit still when hit with this sort of stuff. The big problem is false flag attacks - exactly the what screwed up the anthrax investigation from the beginning.

In a couple of years Hollywood will create a false history like Mississippi Burning or State of Siege. I should probably call my agent and get to work on that.

*starts drinking heavily*
posted by warbaby at 7:35 AM on February 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


So I spent all yesterday morning closely reading the entire report. Persuasive but not beyond a reasonable doubt.

the GEB thing is persuasive because of related evidence. The notion of Ivins putting a coded message in the letters that could link back to him seems a stretch at first, but not inconsistent with the personality of a mass poisoner. the contents of the garbage can, the odd circumstances of that evening and the emails obliquely referring to the code are not the tea leaf reading that I first suspected.

Still and all, the state of the case at Ivins death was sufficient to indict, but probably not to convict without the sort of prosecutorial antics that would forever leave lingering unanswered questions. a good defense counsel would repeatedly drive trucks through the "we eliminated every other suspect on the planet" argument. there is lots of room for reasonable doubt about that claim, given the blunders over Hatfill.

Still and all, Ivins should have been summoned before the grand jury. Mentally ill or not, that omission is probably the biggest objection I have.

As usual, the certainty of the death penalty in the US for massively public cases is a huge stumbling block for many prosecutions because it effectively blocks the possibility of a defense proffer so often.

Wouldn't it be worth sparing one more life to know all the facts? Or is revenge more important than putting the facts before the public?

I opposed the death penalty for Tim McVeigh for exactly this reason. If you read American Terrorist you'll see that McVeigh very possibly would have made a full proffer if the death penalty was not a foregone conclusion.
posted by warbaby at 7:48 AM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think that's a pretty responsible reading of the report. I would encourage all of the "inside jobbers" and other skeptics above to read the actual report, which is quite convincing, if not perfect as warbaby notes.
posted by Mid at 8:05 AM on February 22, 2010


A minute quantity of human DNA was detected on the envelope mailed to Senator Leahy, but laboratory analysis revealed that this DNA was inadvertently contributed by the FBI Laboratory technician who conducted the initial DNA analysis.

Insidious jobbers.
posted by phoque at 5:26 PM on March 1, 2010


« Older The master of Spin Boldak: Undercover with Afghani...  |  You have reached 1-800-I Feel... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments