Tuesday, August 19, 2008

FBI = Fed's Believability Imploding (on Anthrax Case)

The FBI's briefing for reporters and editors of scholarly journals (FBI Elaborates on Anthrax Case) was presumably intended to bolster the government's posthumous case against Army scientist Bruce Ivins, but after reading the Washington Post report today, I'm starting to think the case includes some conspicuous Factoids, Blarney, and Innuendo.

The WAPO reported, but didn't question or explain, some large inconsistencies in the government's briefing:

The bacteria used in the attacks contained precisely the same mix of normal and mutated cells [as those that were in Ivin's custody], the officials said. Of more than 1,000 samples of anthrax bacteria collected by the FBI in the years after the attacks, only eight contained the same four genetic mutants. All eight could be directly traced to the flask in Ivins's lab, the officials said.

That sounds highly incriminating. But a few paragraphs later we learn that there was a second source of the very same anthrax bacteria:

Ivins possessed a flask of anthrax bacteria unlike any other -- a blend of spores from dozens of batches made in Army labs at Fort Detrick and at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. Ivins's concoction -- labeled RMR-1029 -- was a mix of normal anthrax cells and four mutated varieties, or genetic oddballs. The FBI said it gathered 1,070 samples of anthrax bacteria from labs all over the world and only eight tested positive for the genetic markers. Those samples came from two institutions: USAMRIID and another they declined to identify.

The first sentence of the above paragraph is undermined by the last sentence, isn't it? If the flask Ivins possessed was "unlike any other" then how is it that anthrax samples from this mysterious second institution had the identical mix of normal and mutated varieties?

And exactly how exclusive was Ivins's possession of the USAMRIID flask, if more than 100 people could easily access it or samples from it?

While the FBI has acknowledged that more than 100 people could have had either access to Ivins's flask or samples of material from it, investigators say they eliminated all others as suspects.

Finally, did the FBI reproduce the anthrax used in the attacks with materials and equipment Ivins had in his lab - thereby showing that he could have created the stuff in the one-week window between the 9/11 attacks and the first anthrax mailing - or didn't it?

FBI scientists easily reproduced it with gear that Ivins regularly used ... [Then, four paragraphs later we learn] Government scientists also acknowledged yesterday that they could not figure out how to reproduce silicon that appeared inside the dry spores, making an exact match elusive.

If this is the best the FBI can do, then a final closure of the anthrax mailings case might be as elusive as that silicon inside the spores.

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