FBI's Allegation that Ivins was "Sole Custodian" is False → Washingtons Blog
FBI's Allegation that Ivins was "Sole Custodian" is False - Washingtons Blog

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

FBI's Allegation that Ivins was "Sole Custodian" is False

The FBI made numerous claims in today's official press conference. They are largely refuted by Dr. Meryl Nass, an expert on anthrax.

I want to focus on the FBI's primary piece of "evidence": That the anthrax suspect, Dr. Bruce Ivins "has been the sole custodian of RMR-1029 [the specific batch of anthrax used in the attacks] since it was first grown in 1997".

In fact, according to the New York Times:

"After four years of painstaking scientific research, the F.B.I. by 2005 had traced the anthrax in the poisoned letters of 2001 to a single flask of the bacteria at the Army biodefense laboratory at Fort Detrick, Md., according to government scientists and bureau officials."
(this is the flask containing RMR-1029 concerning which Dr. Ivins was the "custodian").

Sounds bad for Dr. Ivins, right?

Well, the Times article continues:
"But at least 10 scientists had regular access to the laboratory and its anthrax stock — and possibly quite a few more, counting visitors from other institutions, and workers at laboratories in Ohio and New Mexico that had received anthrax samples from the flask at the Army laboratory."
As Dr. Nass points out, "Having received a sample, or obtained it surreptitiously, they would be "custodians" of it too."

So concluding that the anthrax used in the attack to RMR-1029 narrows down the list of suspects to:
  • At least 10 scientists at Fort Detrick
  • Numerous visitors to Fort Detrick (including former Fort Detrick scientists, such as this one, who improperly accessed the lab)
  • Workers at labs in Ohio and New Mexico
  • And people who might have stole the anthrax from any of the people listed above
That's a pretty big list of suspects. The New York Times has confirmed in a subsequent August 6 article:
"Officials admitted that more than 100 people had access to the supply of anthrax that matched the powder in the letters."
Ivins' attorney puts the number at "hundreds of people".

The August 6 Times' article also notes:

"By 2005, genetic research had tied the anthrax to a supply in Dr. Ivins’s laboratory. But officials indicated that it took nearly four years to eliminate others who had access to the same supply.

***

[Ivins' attorney] said the flask was far from “controlled” by Dr. Ivins. 'Other scientists helped him create that anthrax and worked with it constantly,' he said. 'They kept no records of who took a sample.'"

Ivins' attorney also states that Ivins never denied to the FBI that the anthrax could have come from Ivins' batch.

Its not so clear that Ivins is guilty after all, is it?

Moreover, the sample of RMR-1029 possessed by Dr. Ivins was not weaponized. Many of Ivins' colleagues say that he simply did not have the knowledge to weaponize it into the dry form used in the attacks, while scientists at such facilities as the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah did.

Note: As of December 2001, the following labs worked with the Ames strain of anthrax:
  1. USArmy Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (Ft. Detrick, MD)
  2. Dugway Proving Ground (Utah)
  3. Naval Research Medical Center and associated military labs (MD)
  4. Battelle Memorial Institute (Ohio; plus laboratories in many other locations)
  5. Duke University Medical School, Clinical Microbiology Lab. (NC)
  6. VA Medical Center, Durham (NC)
  7. USDA laboratory and Iowa State College of Veterinary Medicine, Ames (Iowa)
  8. LSU College of Veterinary Medicine
  9. Northern Arizona State University (Arizona)
  10. Illinois Institute of Technology Research Institute (IL)
  11. University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, Albuquerque (NM)
  12. Institute for Genomic Research (MD)
  13. Chemical and Biological Defense Establishment, Porton Down (UK)
  14. Center for Applied Microbiology and Research, Porton (UK)
  15. Defense Research Establishment, Suffield (CA)
It is unclear how many of the above labs worked with RMR-1029, but it is possible that the New York Times missed some labs in its list.

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