Wednesday, August 6, 2008

FBI Case Against Anthrax Scientist Ivins: Where's the Evidence?

The Federal government unsealed documents today in the case against Bruce Ivins. It was supposed to make the case for concluding that the dead scientist was behind the anthrax attacks of 2001. The only problem with their presentation: no evidence. Among the assertions:

_An advanced DNA analysis matched the anthrax used in the attacks to a specific batch controlled by Ivins. It is unclear, however, how the FBI eliminated as suspects others in the lab who had access to it.

_Ivins' purported motive — sending the anthrax in a twisted effort to test a cure for it, according to authorities. Ivins complained of the limitations of animal testing and shared in a patent for an anthrax vaccine. No evidence has been revealed so far to bolster that theory.

_Why Ivins would have mailed the deadly letters from Princeton, N.J., a seven-hour round trip from his home. In perhaps the strangest explanation to emerge in the case so far, authorities said Ivins had been obsessed with the sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma for more than 30 years. The letters were sent from a mailbox down the street from the sorority's office, which is across the street from Princeton University.

Investigators can't place Ivins in Princeton but say the evidence will show he had disturbing attitudes toward women.

The FBI paints a picture of a monster. Ivins' colleagues, friends, and family remember him as a good man and model employee:
Five eulogists, all of whom worked closely with Ivins, praised him as a scientist and friend. Col. John Skvorak, the commander of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, said that Ivins was a top-notch researcher and generous mentor to younger scientists, always full of questions. Lt. Col. Bret Purcell, another Army scientist, struggled to maintain composure as he spoke of Ivins's unyielding dedication to the lab where he worked and the people who worked with him.

Ivins's wife, Diane, and their two children, Amanda and Andrew, both 24, sat in the front row and were greeted by Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, the commander of Fort Detrick. The family was presented with a dozen red roses by a tearful lab technician who worked alongside Ivins.

Ivins came to USAMRIID in 1980, specializing in the genetics and immunology of Bacillus anthracis. He was a recipient of the Defense Department's highest honor given to a civilian. But at the service he was remembered for the joy he brought others: his juggling; teaching another scientist's son how to ride a unicycle; and giving Patricia Worsham, the deputy chief of the bacteriology division, a purple T-shirt that said, "The Queen Is Not Amused." Mourners laughed as Worsham held up the T-shirt.

Many soldiers and Ivins's fellow researchers filled the pews, including those who found the allegations against him inconceivable. "I'm so angry," one of them said to another, waiting for the service to begin. "I'm so angry." A statement issued later in the day by Ivins's attorneys concluded: "No one who attended [the] service could believe that Dr. Ivins committed any crime."

As for e-mails and envelopes, did the FBI do match the handwriting to Ivins? What about fingerprints or DNA on the envelopes? Who were the emails sent to? And why would he bring suspicion upon himself by writing them? And was the context? Make the emails public just as you made the letters public.
Two weeks after the 2001 attacks, he sent an e-mail warning "Bin Laden terrorists for sure have anthrax and sarin gas" and "have just decreed death to all Jews and all Americans."

That was language similar to the anthrax letters that warned "WE HAVE THIS ANTHRAX . . . DEATH TO AMERICA . . . DEATH TO ISRAEL," investigators said.

How come he didn't get that stuff on himself or his property?
It's long been claimed that the property that rendered so dangerous the anthrax sent to Daschle and Leahy was that it was airborne. At times it was even claimed that the anthrax was aerosolized. Under all circumstances, in order for it to be inhalation anthrax, it would have to disperse rather easily. Wouldn't one expect that the FBI's swabs would reveal traces of anthrax somewhere on the clothes, in the home or other physical surroundings of the anthrax attacker? Yet apparently those multiple swabbing episodes turned up nothing, at least based on the documents that were released today.

Nor are there any real answers to the question of how Ivins would have manufactured, on his own and without being detected, anthrax grade of the type that was used in the attacks. The numerous hours he spent alone in the lab doesn't address what many of his colleagues said would have been his technological inability to produce anthrax of this type.

How did Ivins get to New Jersey many miles away from where he lived? And there is no proof that Ivins was ever in New Jersey around that time. And how could he have developed airborn anthrax within a week, assuming he used the 9-11 attacks as a pretext? And go undetected?
Long-time anthrax expert Dr. Meryl Nass (Curriculum Vitae here) uses crystal clear rationality to point out just some of the glaring flaws in what the FBI presented today. The fact that the FBI is plainly unable to place him near Princeton, New Jersey on either of the two dates on which the letters were sent -- and, worse, the fact that the FBI included several facts which cut against such a finding -- is, as Dr. Nass points out, by itself an enormous omission:
Put up or shut up: this is the most critical evidence in this case. If Ivins cannot be placed in New Jersey on those dates, he is not the attacker, or he did not act alone.
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Bush "Scolds" China en Route to Olympics

Bush went to China to celebrate the Olympics. Don't kid yourself into thinking that his criticism of regime over there is sincere. Mr.Bush has shown himself to be a loyal lapdog for the Communist Chinese. China has been a great cash cow, and the President has devoted himself to furthering big business interests in that country. The Chinese rulers know very well that Bush's words of criticism are pure lip service intended for U.S. domestic consumption.

The same day of his arrival in Beijing for the Olympics, President Bush is carrying a message of "deep concerns" about the state of human rights in China and urging the communist nation to allow political freedoms for its citizens.

"America stands in firm opposition to China's detention of political dissidents, human rights advocates and religious activists," Bush will declare in the marquee speech of his three-nation Asia trip. "We speak out for a free press, freedom of assembly and labor rights — not to antagonize China's leaders, but because trusting its people with greater freedom is the only way for China to develop its full potential."

Bush delivers the address in a Bangkok, Thailand, convention center Thursday morning to a crowd of foreign diplomats, Thai government leaders and business officials, before flying to China later that day.

Of course the comments made by the President are not made on Chinese soil:
Bush arrived in Bangkok on Wednesday evening, and then traveled immediately to a meeting with Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej. The White House released the text of the president's speech earlier Wednesday, nearly 18 hours in advance, as Bush traveled to Thailand from South Korea.

The speech was planned as a summary of what Bush says is the "stronger engagement" with strategically crucial Asia that has marked his presidency. But his remarks on China, among his most directly critical ever in public, stand out.

He might criticize but Bush is still a friend of dictators everywhere, unless they are hostile to Israel and Western oil interests.
Bush's Bangkok remarks devote only a few sentences to criticism for the "tyranny" in Myanmar, Thailand's neighbor, which is ruled by a military junta. He called for the release of the country's democracy icon, Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as other political prisoners.

Though Samak, the Thai prime minister, regards himself as a friend of Myanmar's generals, Bush planned to heap praise on his Thai hosts, calling the country a leader in the region and saluting them for restoration of democracy.

And you won't hear Bush calling for the Chinese authorities to allow in people whom are critical of the government. Where is the praising of people whom are fighting for freedom for the people of Tibet and China?
Former Olympic speedskater Joey Cheek had his visa revoked by Chinese authorities Wednesday, hours before he was set to travel to Beijing to promote his effort urging China to help make peace in the war-torn Darfur section of Sudan.

Cheek, the president and co-founder of a collection of Olympic athletes known as Team Darfur, was planning to spend about two weeks in China, when he received an unexpected call from authorities.

The 2006 American gold medalist said they told him they were denying him entrance into the country and were "not required to give a reason."

Oh, by the way, the Communist China support the genocide in Darfur.
One of Cheek's key initiatives was urging the international community to persuade Sudan to observe the ancient tradition of the Olympic truce during the Beijing Games.

More than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million displaced in fighting in the western Sudanese region since ethnic African tribesmen took up arms in 2003.

The Olympic truce dates to the ancient games in Greece, when fighting was halted to ensure athletes had safe passage to travel to and from the competitions. Attempts to revive the truce in modern times have met with only modest success, most notably in the Balkans during the 1992 and 1994 Games.

Cheek said he has been upset by China's treatment of athletes involved in his cause and thinks the International Olympic Committee's rules that prohibit political protest go against the spirit of the games.

[...]Cheek said he has been greeted warmly on his previous trips to China.

"I don't begrudge them the Olympics, I think they'll do well with them," Cheek said. "But there are so many of their government's policies that I find repulsive, especially for athletes who have no intention but to help someone else."

He had planned to attend a United Nations Olympic celebration and some charity events but wasn't planning any big Team Darfur demonstrations. Now he's scrambling to figure out how to draw attention to his cause back home in Washington.