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My summary of unresolved issues in the anthrax letters case

Posted Mar 07 2010 12:00am
In terms of the strength of the FBI’s case against Ivins, I would break down an analysis in the following way
1. To prove that a person committed a crime, they must be shown to have all three of the following: means, motive and opportunity. Has the FBI proven that Ivins had all three?

a) Means: Retired colleagues have said he did not have the equipment to make Daschle-quality anthrax in the amounts required using equipment available to him at Fort Detrick. Anonymous colleagues at Fort Detrick claim he could. FBI has failed to clarify this major issue. FBI has not been able to “reverse engineer” the anthrax and therefore does not know what equipment was needed to produce it. FBI has made a series of changing claims over time about silicon found in the spore preparation. Ezzell and Mohr anonymous colleagues) told Scott Shane/NYT that Ivins had the equipment to produce the anthrax powder. After Ezzell was interviewed and allegedly said Ivins had the equipment to make the spores in the anthrax letters, another coworker queried Ezzell on this. Ezzell claimed that his statement had not been conveyed accurately, and that he had referred only to the first set of letter anthrax, which was clumped, not free-flowing and contained extensive debris. This "rough" preparation of anthrax could have been made in the available speed vac.

b) FBI has not identified the Bacillus strain contaminant (found in the first letters) in the Fort Detrick lab, suggesting the spore material was made elsewhere.

c) Motive: The FBI has alleged a variety of motives at different times, but none of them seem to make any sense. The latest report has errors of fact in its discussion of motive.

d) Opportunity: Could Ivins have made it to the Trenton/Princeton area to mail letters and returned to Frederick in time to meet his other obligations? The FBI’s first reported (2008) scenario of how this may have occurred was incorrect. I have not read a convincing scenario since.

2. What is the evidence amassed by the FBI for and against Ivins? The documents released in February 2010 were selected to prove his guilt using circumstantial evidence and character assassination. What about other evidence?

3. What evidence did the FBI have against earlier suspects, including Steven Hatfill and Perry Mikesell? Why did FBI wait until after Ivins’ death to exonerate Hatfill, months after he received a several million dollar settlement from the government?

4. Ivins’ death scenario begs many questions. Why wasn’t he given a Tylenol antidote to prevent liver failure? Ivins was allegedly found unconscious on the bathroom floor with an orange liquid next to him. A Tylenol overdose requires several days before you die, and does not cause coma for days. If the benadryl in Tylenol PM led to unconsciousness (according to a later account by Scott Shane in the NY Times) there was still time to treat him successfully for Tylenol toxicity. Ivins was under 24/7 surveillance by FBI, from the house next door. FBI should have identified an overdose before several days had passed, and the window of opportunity for treatment was lost. FBI could have furnished Ivins’ medical providers with information that might have saved his life. The medical records of Ivins’ hospitalization have not been released.

5. The FBI’s account of Ivins using “classic” countermeasures to outsmart a lie detector test is nonsense, according to a former FBI agent (Drew Richardson, PhD) with broad experience in this area, who has provided Congressional testimony on polygraph testing. Initially it was reported that Ivins had passed two polygraph tests. What did the second test show?

6. How were other potential perpetrators ruled out? (Dr. Drew Richardson says that polygraph tests would not be sufficient to rule other suspects out.) How was a crime involving more than one actor ruled out?

7. Why did the FBI "try" Ivins in the media during early August 2008, using a series of leaks, for which FBI later apologized?

8. Why did FBI close the case with no additional hard evidence, apart from a new theory about a DNA code within the anthrax letters, months before the National Academy of Science report on FBI’s forensic science, commissioned by FBI, was released?

There are a number of additional issues, but these should suffice to indicate the FBI’s case is entirely unsatisfactory.

Meryl Nass, MD
March 7, 2010
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