Another question mark in the anthrax investigation

This doesn’t surprise me: the government’s case against the late Dr. Bruce Ivins has sprung another leak.

The deadly bacterial spores mailed to victims in the US anthrax attacks, scientists say, share a chemical ‘fingerprint’ that is not found in bacteria from the flask linked to Bruce Ivins, the biodefence researcher implicated in the crime.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) alleges that Ivins, who committed suicide last July, was the person responsible for mailing letters laden with Bacillus anthracis to news media and congressional offices in 2001, killing five people and sickening 17. The FBI used genetic analyses to trace the mailed spores back to a flask called RMR-1029, which Ivins could access in his laboratory at the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in Fort Detrick, Maryland.

At a biodefence meeting on 24 February, Joseph Michael, a materials scientist at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, presented analyses of three letters sent to the New York Post and to the offices of Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. Spores from two of those show a distinct chemical signature that includes silicon, oxygen, iron, and tin; the third letter had silicon, oxygen, iron and possibly also tin, says Michael. Bacteria from Ivins’ RMR-1029 flask did not contain any of those four elements.

But the government’s not going to give up on the official story so easily:

The chemical mismatch doesn’t necessarily mean that deadly spores used in the attacks did not originate from Ivins’ RMR-1029 flask, says Jason Bannan, a microbiologist and forensic examiner at the FBI’s Chemical Biological Sciences Unit in Quantico, Virginia. The RMR-1029 culture was created in 1997, and the mailed spores could have been taken out of that flask and grown under different conditions, resulting in varying chemical contents.

Yeah, maybe. But maybe Ivins simply had nothing to do with the attacks. He still hasn’t been placed at either of the mailboxes in New Jersey where the letters were supposedly sent.

[B]ased on the FBI’s own facts, it would be physically impossible for Ivins — as the FBI claimed to the Post — to have driven to New Jersey after taking administrative leave in the morning in order to mail the anthrax letters, since he returned that day to Maryland for a 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. meeting, and thus could not have dropped the letters in the mailbox after 5:00 p.m.

So what did the FBI do in response to that rather devastating hole in its theory being pointed out? It just leaked a completely different story to the Post about when and how Ivins mailed the September 18 letters from New Jersey.

Others with the background to know assert that Dr. Ivins did not appear to have “the technological sophistication to manufacture this super weapons-grade anthrax”.

This is a glaring example of the failure of major media, in this case, the Washington Post, to actually check the veracity of government sources — you know, what we used to call reporting — instead of simply repeating and amplifying the claims of government spokespeople.

From what’s been made public so far, this case, rather than being closed, has “reasonable doubt” stamped all over it. At best.

Which begs the question: why is the government so hell-bent on pinning the anthrax terror attacks of 2001 on a dead man?

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