Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Anthrax Case Closed? Nope.

So it appears (from recent media coverage) that the long-standing mystery of the anthrax letters has been solved. I actually made a post about this matter right around the five year anniversary of the attacks (December 2006). I wrote about the way those events affected me at the time, and what I saw as a distinct lack of coverage of the crimes in the US media. For awhile the FBI justified their lack of progress on the case by explaining how difficult it was to trace the source of this biological weapon. That in itself was problematic, but the failure to tie the incidents in to the "War on Terror" was interesting. I wondered then just how much they did know about who had manufactured and distributed the anthrax. There seemed to be a lot more to the story then we knew.

One reader who left a comment on my blog pointed out that federal prosecutors had initiated grand jury hearings related to the letters (as of, once again, December of 2006). That meant that the FBI did indeed have some serious suspects as of two years ago. Interestingly, Senator Chuck Grassley said back then that he was bothered by the fact that Congress had not received a briefing about the ongoing investigation in over three years. He maintained that it was the right of the legislative branch to hear whatever relevant information had turned up. So the reality was that whatever was known about this case remained buried and out-of-sight, not just for the American citizenry, but for our elected federal lawmakers as well.

Now we are told that the lead suspect in the case has killed himself. Dr. Bruce Ivins worked for the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in Fort Detrick*, Maryland. He was employed as a microbiologist for 35 years, and had been working on an anthrax vaccine. In fact he was such a noted expert that he actually participated in helping the FBI investigate the tainted envelopes from 2001. Reportedly authorities are looking into whether Ivins initiated the crimes in order to profit from patents he developed at the laboratory. This chain of reasoning has Ivins causing a panic that results in huge profits reaped by the resultant rush to stock up on anthrax vaccine. The main flaw in this logic is that federal-funded researchers do not retain control of patents that they file for while in the employ of the government. I would assume that Ivins was well aware of the laws pertaining to his workplace.

Bruce Ivins turned up dead on July 29th after presumably overdosing on pain-killers. It is said that he was clinically depressed, and that his condition was exacerbated by the knowledge that the federal government intended to indict him and seek the death penalty for his supposed crimes**. Of course his passing allows the FBI to declare the case closed without having to go to trial with their evidence. It's a done deal, right? They caught the guy, threatened him, and he subsequently offed himself. Dead men tell no tales, and so the trail will remain forever cold. But what are the chances that there were others involved, or that Bruce Ivins was framed? A short internet search exposes plenty of outstanding questions.

This opinion piece from the Wall Street Journal by Richard Spertzel is an interesting read. If you are wondering about Spertzel's qualifications for casting doubt on the FBI, it should be noted that he served as the head of the biological-weapons section of Unscom from 1994-99, and was a member of the Iraq Survey Group. This dude is no garden variety journalist. And he's claiming that Bruce Ivins would have been incapable of developing the strain of anthrax used in the 2001 letters. In fact he points out that the disciplines and technologies required were beyond the capability of the Army's Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. He even points out that the FBI tried to "reverse engineer" the anthrax sent to Senators Daschle and Leahy... but they failed in 12-18 months worth of attempts. That makes their suspicions of Ivins rather suspect, no?

* What is it with Fort Detrick and the apparent suicides of civilian scientists doing clandestine research?? Have you heard of the strange story of Frank Olson?

**An odd bit of trivia in this case is that Ivins maintained his security clearance until July 1oth of this year. If it's true that he'd been considered as a suspect since 2002 (as the FBI claims), then why was he able to retain his privileges in a laboratory containing biological specimens that could devastate the American public in the wake of 9-11? Very curious indeed.

Addendum: (added 8/6) Apparently Bruce Ivins was a registered Democrat since 1982, which makes the "official version" of the anthrax attacks even stranger. Why would someone with such political affiliations target only politicians and media outlets with a "perceived liberal bias" ?

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Blogger Rick Byerly said...

of course the lone nut theory raises it's head again

5:15 PM  

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