Twists and Turns in the Anthrax Case

by dday

There is a very coordinated push to leak details about the late Bruce Ivins to certify that he is the "lone nut" anthrax killer, details which don't entirely hold up upon scrutiny. There's definitely a desire on the part of the government to make this an open and shut case seven years after the fact, but it doesn't completely hold together. In fact, the media reports are almost all contradictory.

The LA Times is claiming that Ivins stood to make money off of an anthrax panic, because he invented some bioterror vaccines, but inside the article it's made clear that we're talking about not much more than $10,000. A social worker who worked as a therapist with Ivins was reportedly scared to death of him and claimed that he tried to poison people in the past, but the social worker, Jean Duley, has her own checkered past, with a long rap sheet, and apparently knew about the grand jury investigation, as it's in her restraining order against Ivins:

client has a history dating to his graduate days of homicidal threats, actions, plans, threats & actions toward theripist. Dr. David Irwin his psychiatrist called him homicidal, sociopathic with clear intentions will testify with other details FBI involved, currently under investigation & will be charged with 5 capital murders. I have been subpoena to testify before a federal grand jury August 1, 2008 in Washington, D.C.

How would she know that before testifying? Why does she have intimate knowledge of the case? Why is she the recipient of FBI information?

The FBI is leaking to the LA Times that DNA evidence proves Ivins' guilt, and that after new genetic tests it was clear that only Ivins could have been the killer. But the New York Times Scott Shane calls the evidence circumstantial and that the grand jury was planning to continue to meet for weeks.

While genetic analysis had linked the anthrax letters to a supply of the deadly bacterium in Dr. Ivins’s laboratory at Fort Detrick, Md., at least 10 people had access to the flask containing that anthrax, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.

Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation also have no evidence proving that Dr. Ivins visited New Jersey on the dates in September and October 2001 when investigators believe the letters were sent from a Princeton mailbox, the source said.

The source acknowledged that there might be some elements of the evidence of which he was unaware. And while he characterized what he did know about as “damning,” he said that instead of irrefutable proof, investigators had an array of indirect evidence that they argue strongly implicates Dr. Ivins in the attacks, which killed 5 people and sickened 17 others.

And Ivins held security clearance as recently as last month and was only barred from the Ft. Detrick site after counselors warned of his "deteriorating mental condition."

This could be a guilty man knowing the walls are closing in, or a marked man who was harassed into suicide because many in government wanted to close the case. The point is that there are a lot of questions, and until the evidence is revealed there's no reason to accept the official story. It is called "unlikely" that Ivins even knew how to produce weaponized, dry anthrax and didn't have access to it. (The site Anthrax Vaccine is going to be indispensable going forward; Dr. Meryl Nass, the author, and Glenn Greenwald appeared on Democracy Now this morning.)

All we know is that US government labs are implicated in a domestic bioterror investigation, which was twisted at the time to further make the case for the invasion of Iraq. Regarding the false ABC report linking the attacks to Iraq (which was not the first, by the way, there was a lot of misinformation or disinformation out there at the time), Glenn Greenwald writes:

Relating to ABC, a reader exchanged emails with Brian Ross this weekend, and Ross wrote this (the email was sent from Ross' ABC address; yesterday, I emailed both him and ABC's Jeffrey Schneider to request confirmation of its authenticity, and they didn't reply):

As we reported more than six years ago our information came from current and former government scientists. The report was discointed [sic] and denied by the White House which we reported. I believe now the scientists got it wrong although they insisted they were correct long after.

Actually, this is the first time, to my knowledge, that Ross has ever acknowledged that his sources for the bentonite story were "current and former government scientists." Given that he previously described his sources as being "well-placed," that means, presumably, that they were scientists with extremely close proximity to Fort Detrick (where the anthrax tests were being conducted) if not Fort Detrick scientists themselves. That would mean, if the FBI's accusation against Ivins is true, that the same Government lab where the attacks originated was the source for falsely telling Ross that tests revealed evidence linking the attacks to Iraq. In light of that, how can Ross possibly continue to conceal which Government scientists disseminated this false story?

It is also worth noting that Ross, who was a key witness in the Steven Hatfill litigation (since he had published numerous incriminating leaks from the DOJ) badgered at least one of his government sources, FBI spokesman Edwin Cogswell, to provide Ross with a release authorizing Ross to disclose the source's identity (allowing Ross to avoid being held in contempt by the court). Has Ross sought a similar release from his bentonite sources? Clearly, at least in some instances, Ross is able to convince his sources to allow him to disclose their identity when he is properly motivated to do so. For the reasons Professors Rosen and Gillmor point out, no release should be necessary, since these sources fed him deliberate falsehoods, but one wonders if Ross has even tried to persuade them to give permission for Ross to disclose who they are.

There are far more questions than answers at this point. ABC and any other journalist who got tips about this case need to burn their sources if they believe that the sources have lied. Tom Daschle, who received one of the anthrax-laced letters, wants full disclosure on the botched investigation as well.

There's clearly going to be a sustained effort to close this case, finger Ivins as the killer, and turn away from any of the lingering questions. That would be a huge mistake.

UPDATE: There's also this.

After the Oct. 5, 2001, death from anthrax exposure of Sun photo editor Robert Stevens, Mueller was "beaten up" during President Bush's morning intelligence briefings for not producing proof the killer spores were the handiwork of terrorist mastermind Osama Bin Laden, according to a former aide.

"They really wanted to blame somebody in the Middle East," the retired senior FBI official told The News [...]

In the immediate aftermath of the 2001 anthrax attacks, White House officials repeatedly pressed FBI Director Robert Mueller to prove it was a second-wave assault by Al Qaeda, but investigators ruled that out, the Daily News has learned.

On October 15, 2001, President Bush said, "There may be some possible link" to Bin Laden, adding, "I wouldn't put it past him." Vice President Cheney also said Bin Laden's henchmen were trained "how to deploy and use these kinds of substances, so you start to piece it all together."

But by then the FBI already knew anthrax spilling out of letters addressed to media outlets and to a U.S. senator was a military strain of the bioweapon. "Very quickly [Fort Detrick, Md., experts] told us this was not something some guy in a cave could come up with," the ex-FBI official said. "They couldn't go from box cutters one week to weapons-grade anthrax the next."