REMEMBER THE MOVIE SCENE FROM CLOSE
OF THE THIRD KIND?
Dead buffalo covered with vultures
compiled by Dee Finney
Bison death toll climbs to 80 in Flying D anthrax
By Andy Malby, editor
Nearly 80 bison have succumbed in a rapidly
spreading anthrax outbreak on Ted Turner’s Flying D
Ranch in the Spanish Peaks, and officials are
scrambling to contain the disease, a state livestock
agent said Monday.
“We’re in the process of cleaning up,” Steve
Merritt, a Montana Department of Livestock public
information officer, told the Belgrade News. “The
number of dead the last time I heard was
approximately 80 animals.”
Gallatin County commissioners on Sunday closed
Spanish Creek Road to make it easier for livestock
officials to implement a quarantine of bison in the
affected area, Commissioner Joe Skinner said. About
nine miles of the road traverses the Turner ranch
and parts of the affected area.
“The closure is in effect until further notice,
until we get a handle on” the infection, Skinner
In addition to the quarantine of several thousand
acres of Turner’s ranch, livestock officials are
working to “clean up” the infected site, which
entails gathering up the carcasses of fallen bison,
burning and burying them, Merritt said.
Stephanie Nelson, Gallatin County’s health officer,
said Monday the outbreak does not pose “a serious
health risk” to humans, and that the county is
working with the Department of Livestock to contain
the outbreak and provide education.
“It’s very much a concern for livestock, but does
not pose a serious threat to humans,” she said. “The
health department is doing support (tasks) for the
ranch and the DOL. We have provided educational
information to the people on the ranch and are
looking at the different exposures and making sure
everybody knows this really is a low-risk situation
for the general public.”
All animals in the “infected pasture” are under
quarantine, Merritt said.
“We do have a quarantine in place,” he said. “The
animals that were in the affected pasture have all
been quarantined. Physically and geographically (the
anthrax) has been contained within a certain area.”
That area, he said, is a single pasture of 13,000
acres, parts of which abut a nine-mile stretch of
Spanish Creek Road.
The county closed the road to help “protect the
integrity of the quarantine,” he said. “The purpose
of the quarantine is to prevent any further
Meanwhile, Flying D personnel have worked to keep
the bison contained.
“They have fenced a portion of that pasture to keep
the animals inside a smaller portion,” Merritt said.
Anthrax is caused by naturally occurring bacteria,
according to DOL. It is frequently present where
cattle and other animals are found. Spores of the
bacteria can lie dormant in the soil for decades
then become active under certain climatic or
ecologic changes such as heavy rains or flooding
preceded by drought.
Animals are exposed to the disease by grazing,
drinking water or eating forage contaminated with
Untreated animals may die within a day or two of
exposure, and one or more animals are typically
found dead without any recognition of early signs of
the disease, which include labored breathing,
staggering, unconsciousness and convulsions,
according to DOL.
The bacteria is fragile and easily killed with
common disinfectants or exposure to moderate
temperatures, “and as such, poses virtually no risk
to the food chain,” according to the DOL release.
As for livestock, vaccines work as a preventative
measure and long-term antibiotics work when the
disease has been confirmed or is suspected.
“Anthrax can pop up any place at any time, but this
outbreak was in a remote, well-contained area,”
Zaluski said Wednesday. “We’re fortunate that the
land owner recognized the disease early and took the
Turner, the media mogul who raises domestic bison on
the ranch in the foothills of the Spanish Peaks,
said Wednesday he and his ranch managers were
working with state livestock officials “and
following their protocol guidelines to control the
Turner stressed that his ranch is not unique in
terms of anthrax outbreaks.
“I’m not the first rancher to deal with an anthrax
outbreak, and certainly not the last,” he said.
“Other outbreaks have been successfully managed
throughout the U.S. and Canada, and I am confident
we will do the same.”
Anthrax can spread from animals to humans, usually
as a result of direct contact with infected animals
or animal products such as wool, hides and horns.
However, Montana has not had a reported case of
human anthrax since 1961 and Nelson said the present
outbreak does not threaten the general public.
Big Sky News Service contributed to this report.
Anthrax on Turner ranch prompts road closure
published on Monday, August 4, 2008 10:40 PM
A nine-mile stretch of Spanish Creek Road has been
closed at the request of the Montana Department of Livestock after an
outbreak of naturally-occurring anthrax that has killed approximately
80 domestic bison on Ted Turner’s Flying D Ranch.
Now, with the sick bison quarantined, there is minimal risk to
animals or people outside the closed-off area, DOL’s Steve Merritt
“We feel that it’s really well confined,” Merritt said, and the soil
on Turner’s ranch is being disinfected to kill the bacteria.
However, he predicted that more of Turner’s bison will likely fall
“I’m sure that there will be more animals that succumb to the
disease,” Merritt said.n conjunction with the road closure, the
Spanish Creek Trail will remain off limits, Marna Daley, Gallatin
National Forest spokeswoman, said Monday.
“It looks like it will be a minimum of one week, but maybe more,” she
Anthrax may be spread from animals to humans, but a person must come
in close contact with an infected carcass to get sick, Merritt said.
“The easiest way to get infected,” he said, “is through a cut in the
Anthrax bacteria grows in soil and grass after periods of wet and cool
weather, according to the DOL. Signs of anthrax usually appear three
to seven days after spores are inhaled or swallowed and include
labored breathing, trembling and staggering. Once symptoms begin,
animals usually die within two days.
Antibiotics, such as penicillin, are effective to combat anthrax if
administered early enough. And a vaccination is available to prevent
future livestock deaths.
While this is the first reported anthrax outbreak in Gallatin County,
it’s important that people remember anthrax is a naturally occurring
organism, he said.
“Every once in awhile it pops up,” Merritt said.
Montana has seen two other anthrax outbreaks since 2005, one in
Roosevelt County one another in Sheridan County, he said. They were
contained and did minimal damage.
Jessica Mayrer can be reached at
Anthrax kills 25 bison
on Ted Turner's Montana ranch
Published on: 08/01/08
Helena, Mont. — Twenty-five domestic bison
on Ted Turner's Flying D Ranch in Gallatin County have been killed by
naturally occurring anthrax, the state Department of Livestock said.
"The outbreak has been contained to a
single, fully enclosed pasture, and we are aggressively addressing the
situation with full cooperation of the landowner," state veterinarian
Marty Zaluski said.
He said the affected area has been
quarantined and disposal of the affected animals is under way.
Anthrax is caused by a naturally occurring
bacteria, Bacillus anthracis, which can lie dormant in the soil for
decades. It can become active when heavy rains follow drought.
Animals are exposed to the disease by
grazing or consuming forage or water contaminated with the spores.
Symptoms of the disease include labored
breathing, fever, staggering, depression, unconsciousness and
convulsions. Untreated animals may die within 24 to 48 hours of
"I'm not the first rancher to deal with an
anthrax outbreak, and certainly not the last," Turner said. "Other
outbreaks have been successfully managed throughout the U.S. and
Canada, and I am confident we will do the same."
Anthrax can be spread from animals to
people, but the state has not had a reported case of human anthrax
IS USA Framing Dead Scientist For Anthrax Attacks?
It is more and more obvious that the USA
government is responsible for framing anthrax to its citizens.
Now, experts speak about it.
The FBI’s prime suspect in the October 2001 anthrax letters case
died last week in an apparent suicide. Bruce Ivins was an elite
government scientist at the biodefense research lab in Fort
Detrick, Maryland. He was among the nation’s top experts on the
military use of anthrax. But many of his colleagues have expressed
deep skepticism over the FBI’s claims. We speak to anthrax expert
Dr. Meryl Nass and blogger Glenn Greenwald. [includes rush
AMY GOODMAN: The FBI’s prime suspect in the October
2001 anthrax letters case died last week in an apparent suicide.
Bruce Ivins was an elite government scientist at the biodefense
research lab at Fort Detrick, Maryland. He was among the nation’s
top experts on the military use of anthrax.
Scientist Ivins reportedly died soon after learning the Justice Department
was about to file criminal charges against him for the 2001
anthrax attacks that killed five people and sickened seventeen
others, crippling the national mail service. He had been part of a
team that helped the government investigate the attacks and won
the Pentagon’s highest civilian award in 2003.
Many of his colleagues are convinced Ivins was innocent and claim
he lacked the motive and the means to develop the fine powder used
in the letter scare. They’re also skeptical of the FBI’s
investigation, one of the largest in US history, given its false
starts over the past seven years. The investigation initially
focused on Steven Hatfill, the onetime colleague of Bruce Ivins.
But this June, the Justice Department settled with Hatfill for
Whether Ivins was guilty or not, the case also raises key
questions about how the anthrax scare was initially linked to
Islamic terrorists and Iraq. In a piece for Salon.com, attorney
and author Glenn Greenwald writes repeated claims by the
mainstream media linking the attacks to Saddam Hussein helped
shape American perceptions about Iraq in the lead-up to the
Glenn Greenwald joins us now by telephone from Brazil. We’re also
joined on the phone by Dr. Meryl Nass. She’s in Maine. She’s an
expert on anthrax and knew Bruce Ivins. On her blog,
anthraxvaccine.blogspot.com, she writes she believes Ivins was
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Glenn Greenwald, let’s begin
with you. When you heard about Bruce Ivins being the key suspect,
about to be indicted, apparently—we all learned this after his
suicide—can you talk about your reaction?
GLENN GREENWALD: It’s hard to have any reaction to anything that
the government and the FBI say about the anthrax investigation
other than extreme skepticism. In light of the fact that
everything that they’ve done and said over the past seven years,
by all accounts, has been either completely inept or, worse,
deliberately misguided away from the true source of the anthrax.
And so, all of these news accounts over the past several days that
have suggested that Bruce Ivins is the person behind the anthrax
attacks are lacking one critical ingredient, and that’s any
evidence whatsoever that those claims are true.
And the one thing that I would underscore is, as you said in your
introductory remarks, the L.A. Times, when they reported this
story originally, said that Ivins was about to be indicted, trying
to suggest that it was literally imminent, like a day or two away.
And yet, a New York Times story this morning spoke with various
investigators at the FBI who have now backtracked significantly on
that claim, and they’re saying that all of the evidence that they
have against Ivins is, quote, “entirely circumstantial” and that
the grand jury intended to hear evidence for at least several more
weeks before deciding whether or not to indict him. So there’s all
sorts of really mystifying questions that have plagued this case
from the start, and there’s even more now, in light of this recent
event, and what we need is a real public hearing of all these
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Senator McCain and his comments
soon after September 11th. He was on the David Letterman show. It
was October 18, 2001. And he brought up Iraq as a possible, quote,
“second phase” of the war in Afghanistan. He said the anthrax may
have come from Iraq.
DAVID LETTERMAN: How are things going in Afghanistan now?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: I think we’re doing fine. I think we’ve
removed what little anti-aircraft capability they have. These
C-130 gunships are pretty awesome weapons of war, and I believe
that the Taliban will be removed. I think we’ll do fine. The
second phase—if I could just make one very quickly—the second
phase is Iraq. There is some indication, and I don’t have the
conclusions, but some of this anthrax may—and I emphasize
“may”—have come in from—come from Iraq.
DAVID LETTERMAN: Oh, is that right?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: If that may be the case, then that’s when
some tough decisions are going to have to be made.
AMY GOODMAN: President Bush would echo what John McCain had to
say, linking Iraq to anthrax in his 2002 State of the Union
address just a few months later. This is an excerpt.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility
toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted
to develop anthrax and nerve gas and nuclear weapons for over a
decade. This is a regime that has already used poison gas to
murder thousands of its own citizens, leaving the bodies of
mothers huddled over their dead children. This is a regime that
agreed to international inspections, then kicked out the
inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the
AMY GOODMAN: That was President Bush in 2002. And now, the New
York Daily News is reporting in the immediate aftermath of the
2001 anthrax attacks, White House officials repeatedly pressed FBI
Director Robert Mueller to prove it was a second-wave assault by
al-Qaeda. So, Glenn Greenwald, take us from the point of the
attacks to the direction the investigation took, from the
government and this information to Steven Hatfill.
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, clearly, the focus in the initial phases
was on trying to link the anthrax attacks to Islamic terrorism and
as a second stage of the 9/11 attacks. And in fact, the anthrax
attacker or attackers clearly had the same goal in mind. I mean,
the letters that accompanied the anthrax, a lot of people have
forgotten, were dated 9/11/01, and they said things like, “We have
anthrax. Prepare to die. Death to America. Death to Israel. Allah
is great.” And so, there was a clear attempt on the part of the
attackers themselves to link the attack to Islamic radicalism.
And then all sorts of sources inside of the government were
claiming that there was evidence found
at the Fort Detrick lab, where the government now says the attacks
came from, that also linked the attacks to Iraq. There was one
particularly influential story from ABC News and Brian Ross, where
for days and days, on Peter Jennings and other shows, they claimed
that they were told by many sources inside the government that
tests had found the presence of something called bentonite, which
is the hallmark, they said, of the Iraqi biological weapons
program. It turned out that claim was totally false. There never
was any bentonite found in the anthrax, everybody now agrees, and
yet, as you showed from the clip from John McCain—there was clips
from Joe Lieberman several days later on Meet the Press—there was
a concerted effort to try and link the anthrax in the public mind
to Saddam Hussein and to Iraq, specifically, and Islamic
radicalism, more generally.
The FBI ultimately, through their tests, decided that all of the
evidence was actually pointing to US government facilities and US
government and US Army research labs, of the type where Bruce
Ivins and Steven Hatfill worked at Fort Detrick. And so, they were
aware from the start that it was almost certainly a domestic
source, and yet all kinds of factions, within the government and
out, tried continuously to depict it as something that was likely
coming from Iraq, and they continued to do that for several years,
even when it was clearly established that it was almost certainly
a domestic source.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to a break. When we come back,
we’ll also be joined by Dr. Meryl Nass, who is an anthrax expert,
physician and writer, blogs at anthraxvaccine.blogspot.com and
knew Bruce Ivins, the man who committed suicide last week. This is
Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report. Back
in a minute. [break]
AMY GOODMAN: We continue our discussion in this aftermath of the
apparent suicide of Bruce Ivins, the man who now the government
says was moving in on perhaps to indict holding him responsible
for the anthrax attacks of 2001. He committed suicide right after
being informed that he was the prime suspect in the investigation.
Our guests are Glenn Greenwald, constitutional law attorney and
blogger for Salon.com, his latest book is Great American
Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics; and Dr.
Meryl Nass joins us now from Maine, who blogs at
Did you know Bruce Ivins, Dr. Nass? Dr. Nass?
DR. MERYL NASS: Yes. [inaudible]
AMY GOODMAN: Did you know Bruce Ivins?
DR. MERYL NASS: Yes, I knew him.
AMY GOODMAN: Tell us about who he was.
DR. MERYL NASS: He was a very pleasant, sort of Midwestern
scientist, salt of the earth kind of guy, maybe a little bit
nervous. He did good work. I was able to rely on the quality of
his work in all the many papers that he published on anthrax
vaccine. And he was a generous scientist, in that he was always
willing to discuss work that I was doing and provide me with
papers or information about that work.
AMY GOODMAN: Were you surprised when you heard the government was
DR. MERYL NASS: Yes, I was completely shocked. And of course, I
found that out after he had committed suicide. He would be the
last person I would have suspected, not that I’m any expert, but I
have been told that there is no forensic personality for a crime
like this that’s been defined. So, I guess it’s possible that he
did it, but I absolutely cannot come up with a motive, with access
and with the complicated things that would need to be done if he
were a loner performing such an act.
And I am struck by the fact that there were at least two earlier
people who, in my view, appeared to have been set up as possible
patsies for the letter attacks, and Hatfill being one and Ayaad
Assaad being another. The week the letters were sent, a letter was
sent to Quantico implicating Assaad. And the Quantico letter
actually arrived before the anthrax letters, but it seemed that
there was a definite intent to link Assaad. So—
AMY GOODMAN: Explain who Assaad was.
DR. MERYL NASS: Assaad was an Egyptian scientist who previously
had worked at Fort Detrick. He was not an anthrax scientist;
neither was Hatfill. And he had had a difficult time at Fort
Detrick. There were a number of other scientists who used to make
fun of him. Laura Rozen outlined all this in an article in
Salon.com back about five or six years ago. As a result, he left.
He filed a—I think an age discrimination suit against Fort
Detrick. And he was called in for questioning after this letter
appeared. So it looked like somebody was trying to finger Assaad.
And then, later, there were a lot of odd coincidences with respect
to Steven Hatfill and his travels and his past history and living
in Rhodesia that had correspondence with features of the anthrax
attacks. So he had lived in Harari, which had a suburb named
Greendale, and there were these letters post-marked Greendale—not
post-marked, but Greendale was the return address. So there
were—it seemed that somebody who knew a bit about Hatfill’s life
also had attempted to implicate him in the letters.
So now we have Ivins. And the Defense
Department—sorry, not the Defense, Justice Department has failed
to provide to the public any shred of evidence that really would
link Ivins in any kind of definitive way to this crime. This
morning, we’re being told that there is forensic scientific
evidence to show that the strain in the letters was a strain that
came from his lab. But, you know, the old saw in bioterrorism is
that of course you select your agent from—so that it will make
somebody else look guilty. So, somebody else could have gotten a
strain from his lab in order to cast aspersions on Ivins. The fact
that it was found in his lab really means nothing. I mean, a smart
scientist who is going to create an attack like this is clearly
not going to choose anthrax that’s going to lead right back to his
own lab. So I think that no matter how fancy the forensics gets,
you’re not going to get an answer there. And if that is the basis
for the charges against Ivins, it is, in my mind, very weak.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to an interview that I did in
July of 2003 with Patrick Clawson, the friend and former
spokesperson for Steven Hatfill. I asked Clawson about the FBI
investigation that named Hatfill as a, quote, "person of interest”
in the anthrax case.
PATRICK CLAWSON: The problem that Steve Hatfill has is that his
life is a living nightmare right now. Every place he goes,
twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, he is followed by
squads of FBI agents. Just last week, Steve and I went out to have
some drinks and dinner, and as soon as I left his house, bam!, I
had seven FBI cars following me all over northwest Washington,
D.C. Sometimes these agents swear at him, they flip him the
finger. There’s nothing surreptitious about this. This is not a
surveillance. This is an open, in-your-face harassment campaign.
Steve Hatfill is a poster boy for abuses of the PATRIOT Act.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Patrick Clawson, friend of Steven
Hatfill, who just a few weeks ago won more than $5.8 million from
the US government. Glenn Greenwald, can you talk about that
campaign against Steven Hatfill—there was very little attention
about the fact he just won $6 million—and then the fingering of
GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, it’s really extraordinary. I mean, they
basically destroyed his life and destroyed his reputation. And
what was so amazing about that was that, for years, what they did
was, investigators inside the Justice Department and the FBI
continuously and systematically leaked to a whole slew of
reporters all kinds of accusatory innuendo about Hatfill,
information about his medical records, about things that they had
found in his garbage cans about parts of his personal life that
they had obtained as a result of a very widespread surveillance.
And they absolutely tailed him in a way that was designed to make
him in public appear as though he was clearly the guilty party.
And then, when it came—when he sued essentially everybody—the
government and all of the journalists who had published all of
this information—the journalists acted to protect the government
in every way. I mean, they refused to disclose who it was who had
fed them this information. And the court ultimately ended up
ordering the journalists to disclose their sources, so that
Hatfill was on the verge of finding out who inside the Justice
Department and the FBI had been disclosing all this information
designed to make him look like the anthrax attacker, when as the
government, ultimately, through its actions, ended up conceding,
by paying him millions of dollars and then by ultimately now
charging or accusing Ivins of being the attacker. All of this
information was untrue all along. And so, the investigation was
directed almost exclusively at someone who the government now says
had nothing to do with the attacks, and they used the media along
the way to publicly convict him and destroy his life. And the
media not only cooperated enthusiastically, but continues to
protect the people inside the government who did that.
And, of course, you see the same thing with the media doing that
with regard to who inside the government tried to lie to the
public by connecting the attacks to Iraq. And now, Ivins is
essentially being convicted in public, as well, through selective
leaks from the government to the media that then prints it more or
less uncritically. So the whole investigation has been a sham from
the start. And even if you want to be as generous as possible in
your interpretation, you would say that it’s been filled from
start to finish with pure ineptitude. And that’s why I think a
full-scale congressional investigation or the kind of commission
that was charged with investigating the 9/11 attack, with real
subpoena power, is absolutely vital here to having the public
believe that they’ve gotten even the basic facts about what
AMY GOODMAN: What about the court documents and tapes that reveal
his therapist Jean Duley’s concerns to the FBI after receiving
death threats from Ivins?
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, I find that whole part of the story bizarre
in so many ways. I mean, first of all, if you look at Bruce Ivins’
history, he doesn’t actually have a shred of a criminal record. By
contrast, Jean Duley, who is not actually a psychiatrist or a
psychologist, she’s actually a social worker who just recently
graduated from school and is the kind of social worker who does
things like, you know, lead group therapy sessions and the like.
She’s hardly a credible or authoritative expert on someone’s
psychological state, as she’s been depicted, but she actually has
a long history of being involved in various court proceedings. She
was convicted in 2007 and then again—in 2006, then again in 2007,
of driving under the influence of alcohol. She’s been on
probation. She’s still on probation, actually. She’s had
significant financial difficulties.
And all of a sudden, out of the blue, while working with the FBI,
she starts making some very extreme accusations about Bruce Ivins’
history, about his psychological condition, that none of his
co-workers or friends or people who know him confirm in any way,
shape or form—in fact, they vehemently contradict it. And so, so
much of the media’s depiction of Ivins as this kind of unstable,
violent, threatening psychotic is based on the claims of someone
who, for a lot of different reasons, really isn’t particularly
credible. I mean, it may turn out that Ivins is guilty, it may
turn out that what she said is true, but before anyone even forms
an opinion about those issues, we ought to wait and see what the
evidence really is. And so far, what the media has given us is
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Dr. Meryl Nass, there has been reports that
the investigation will basically be finished by the end of the
week, will wrap up, and there will be more information implicating
DR. MERYL NASS: You know, what I’m afraid of, Amy, is that we will
hear a lot of fluff and that the investigation will in fact wrap
up, and all the important information will be classified. We’ve
already gotten a tremendous amount of misinformation from an
unidentified government spokesperson, and that is not just this
weekend, but going back to the initial release of the letters.
There has been a tremendous amount of innuendo and information put
forward that has never been backed up and never been attributed to
And I fear that because a variety of the information that may be
used to convict Bruce Ivins after his death is going to be
classified, or perhaps we will be given false information, that it
will become impossible to defend him and impossible to really make
sense of the entire letters case. And I’m very concerned about the
whole concept of having significant amount of information in a
criminal case that is classified or that only the Justice
Department has access to and whether that precludes justice for
people who are ensnared in those cases.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for joining us, Dr.
Meryl Nass, anthrax expert, physician, writer, writes at
anthraxvaccine.blogspot.com, and Glenn Greenwald, speaking to us
from Brazil, constitutional law attorney, blogger for Salon.com.
America Sent Anthrax to Its Citizens in
VIDEO: Scientist In Anthrax Case
Said To Kill Self
Bruce Ivins Wasn't the Anthrax
August 5, 2008; Page A17
Over the past week the media was gripped by the news that
the FBI was about to charge Bruce Ivins, a leading anthrax expert, as the
man responsible for the anthrax letter attacks in September/October 2001.
But despite the seemingly powerful narrative that Ivins
committed suicide because investigators were closing in, this is still far
from a shut case. The FBI needs to explain why it zeroed in on Ivins, how he
could have made the anthrax mailed to lawmakers and the media, and how he
(or anyone else) could have pulled off the attacks, acting alone.
I believe this is another mistake in the investigation.
Let's start with the anthrax in the letters to Sens. Tom
Daschle and Patrick Leahy. The spores could not have been produced at the
U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, where Ivins
worked, without many other people being aware of it. Furthermore, the
equipment to make such a product does not exist at the institute.
Information released by the FBI over the past seven years
indicates a product of exceptional quality. The product contained
essentially pure spores. The particle size was 1.5 to 3 microns in diameter.
There are several methods used to produce anthrax that small. But most of
them require milling the spores to a size small enough that it can be
inhaled into the lower reaches of the lungs. In this case, however, the
anthrax spores were not milled.
What's more, they were also tailored to make them
potentially more dangerous. According to a FBI news release from November
2001, the particles were coated by a "product not seen previously to be used
in this fashion before." Apparently, the spores were coated with a polyglass
which tightly bound hydrophilic silica to each particle. That's what was
briefed (according to one of my former weapons inspectors at the United
Nations Special Commission) by the FBI to the German Foreign Ministry at the
Another FBI leak indicated that each particle was given a
weak electric charge, thereby causing the particles to repel each other at
the molecular level. This made it easier for the spores to float in the air,
and increased their retention in the lungs.
In short, the potential lethality of anthrax in this case
far exceeds that of any powdered product found in the now extinct U.S.
Biological Warfare Program. In meetings held on the cleanup of the anthrax
spores in Washington, the product was described by an official at the
Department of Homeland Security as "according to the Russian recipes" --
apparently referring to the use of the weak electric charge.
The latest line of speculation asserts that the anthrax's
DNA, obtained from some of the victims, initially led investigators to the
laboratory where Ivins worked. But the FBI stated a few years ago that a
complete DNA analysis was not helpful in identifying what laboratory might
have made the product.
Furthermore, the anthrax in this case, the "Ames strain,"
is one of the most common strains in the world. Early in the investigations,
the FBI said it was similar to strains found in Haiti and Sri Lanka. The
strain at the institute was isolated originally from an animal in west Texas
and can be found from Texas to Montana following the old cattle trails.
Samples of the strain were also supplied to at least eight laboratories
including three foreign laboratories. Four French government laboratories
reported on studies with the Ames strain, citing the Pasteur Institute in
Paris as the source of the strain they used. Organism DNA is not a very
reliable way to make a case against a scientist.
The FBI has not officially released information on why it
focused on Ivins, and whether he was about to be charged or arrested. And
when the FBI does release this information, we should all remember that the
case needs to be firmly based on solid information that would conclusively
prove that a lone scientist could make such a sophisticated product.
From what we know so far, Bruce Ivins, although potentially
a brilliant scientist, was not that man. The multiple disciplines and
technologies required to make the anthrax in this case do not exist at
Army's Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. Inhalation studies
are conducted at the institute, but they are done using liquid preparations,
not powdered products.
The FBI spent between 12 and 18 months trying "to reverse
engineer" (make a replica of) the anthrax in the letters sent to Messrs.
Daschle and Leahy without success, according to FBI news releases. So why
should federal investigators or the news media or the American public
believe that a lone scientist would be able to do so?
Mr. Spertzel, head of the biological-weapons section of
Unscom from 1994-99, was a member of the Iraq Survey Group.
See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video
And add your comments to the
Why Anthrax Matters
After listening to the podcast of yesterday's show I was
disappointed with Cenk's treatment of the Ivins story. Okay
disappointed is too strong a word, but I think he left out some
critical discussion of the significance of the original attacks.
Every one should
read Glenn Greenwald's recent piece on the Anthrax scare
and its larger significance to the post-9-11 period. He talks about
how ABC's reporting on the Anthrax mailers at the time was "perhaps
the biggest media scandal in American History". ABC world news
tonight reported via Peter Jennings at the time that the government
had discovered links between the Anthrax mailings and Saddam
Hussein's government by chemical signature (is it all coming back to
you now?). Reports that the white house denied. Sure. These
assertions were backed by "4 independent and well-placed sources".
When they were later proven false, ABC never retracted the story,
and noone at ABC has investigated their sources. There's a lot more.
The bottom line is that there are 2 things you should take away
from the Anthrax scare in retrospect.
1) The white house used the anthrax scare to connect Saddam
Hussein to terrorism and 9-11, by manipulation of the media and
right wing noise machines (tell me where one begins and the other
ends and I give you a prize!). This is not in any doubt.
2) The only things that remain unclear in the wake of Bruce E.
Ivins' death are who mailed the anthrax and for what reason. And the
lack of an autopsy just raises more questions.
I hate conspiracy theories, but Glenn Greenwald is no fringe
nutcase. I think there's smoke here, and I hope somebody does their
job and gets to the bottom of this.
Should ABC News Reveal Anonymous Sources in
Anthrax Probe? Bloggers Say Yes
Friday Aug. 1, 2008 05:36 EDT
Vital unresolved anthrax questions and ABC News
The FBI's lead suspect in the September, 2001 anthrax attacks --
Bruce E. Ivins --
died Tuesday night, apparently by suicide, just as the Justice
Department was about to charge him with responsibility for the
attacks. For the last 18 years, Ivins was a top anthrax researcher
at the U.S. Government's biological weapons research laboratories at
Ft. Detrick, Maryland, where he was one of the most elite government
anthrax scientists on the research team at the U.S. Army Medical
Research Institute of Infectious Disease (USAMRIID).
Kim E. Pearson 4:34:24 PM
The 2001 anthrax attacks remain one of the great mysteries of
the post-9/11 era. After 9/11 itself, the anthrax attacks were
probably the most consequential event of the Bush presidency. One
could make a persuasive case that they were actually more
consequential. The 9/11 attacks were obviously traumatic for the
country, but in the absence of the anthrax attacks, 9/11 could
easily have been perceived as a single, isolated event. It was
really the anthrax letters -- with the first one sent on September
18, just one week after 9/11 -- that severely ratcheted up the fear
levels and created the climate that would dominate in this country
for the next several years after. It was anthrax -- sent directly
into the heart of the country's elite political and media
institutions, to then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD),
Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt), NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, and other leading
media outlets -- that created the impression that social order
itself was genuinely threatened by Islamic radicalism.
If the now-deceased Ivins really was the culprit behind the
attacks, then that means that the anthrax came from a U.S.
Government lab, sent by a top U.S. Army scientist at Ft. Detrick.
Without resort to any speculation or inferences at all, it is hard
to overstate the significance of that fact. From the beginning,
there was a clear intent on the part of the anthrax attacker to
create a link between the anthrax attacks and both Islamic radicals
and the 9/11 attacks. This was the letter sent to Brokaw:
The letter sent to Leahy contained
We have anthrax.
By design, those attacks put the American population into a state
of intense fear of Islamic terrorism, far more than the 9/11 attacks
alone could have accomplished.
You die now.
Are you afraid?
Death to America.
Death to Israel.
Allah is great.
Much more important than the general attempt to link the
anthrax to Islamic terrorists, there was a specific intent --
indispensably aided by ABC News -- to link the anthrax attacks to
Iraq and Saddam Hussein. In my view, and I've written about this
several times and
in great detail to no avail, the role played by ABC News in this
episode is the single greatest, unresolved media scandal of this
decade. News of Ivins' suicide, which means (presumably) that the
anthrax attacks originated from Ft. Detrick, adds critical new facts
and heightens how scandalous ABC News' conduct continues to be in
During the last week of October, 2001, ABC News, led by Brian
continuously trumpeted the claim as their top news story that
government tests conducted on the anthrax -- tests conducted at Ft.
Detrick -- revealed that the anthrax sent to Daschele contained the
chemical additive known as bentonite. ABC News, including Peter
Jennings, repeatedly claimed that the presence of bentonite in the
anthrax was compelling evidence that Iraq was responsible for the
attacks, since -- as ABC variously claimed -- bentonite "is a
trademark of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's biological weapons
program" and "only one country, Iraq, has used bentonite to produce
ABC News' claim -- which they said came at first from "three
well-placed but separate sources," followed by "four well-placed and
separate sources" -- was completely false from the beginning. There
never was any bentonite detected in the anthrax (a fact ABC News
acknowledged for the first time in 2007 only as a result of my
badgering them about this issue). It's critical to note that it
isn't the case that preliminary tests really did detect bentonite
and then subsequent tests found there was none. No tests ever found
or even suggested the presence of bentonite. The claim was just
concocted from the start. It just never happened.
That means that ABC News' "four well-placed and separate
sources" fed them information that was completely false -- false
information that created a very significant link in the public mind
between the anthrax attacks and Saddam Hussein. And look where --
according to Brian Ross' report on October 28, 2001 -- these tests
And despite continued White House denials, four well-placed and
separate sources have told ABC News that initial tests on the
anthrax by the US Army at Fort Detrick, Maryland, have detected
trace amounts of the chemical additives bentonite and silica.
Two days earlier, Ross went on ABC News' World News Tonight
with Peter Jennings and, as the lead story, breathlessly
The discovery of bentonite came in an urgent series of tests
conducted at Fort Detrick, Maryland, and elsewhere.
Clearly, Ross' allegedly four separate sources had to have some
specific knowledge of the tests conducted and, if they were really
"well-placed," one would presume that meant they had some connection
to the laboratory where the tests were conducted -- Ft. Detrick.
That means that the same Government lab where the anthrax attacks
themselves came from was the same place where the false reports
originated that blamed those attacks on Iraq.
It's extremely possible -- one could say highly likely -- that
the same people responsible for perpetrating the attacks were the
ones who fed the false reports to the public, through ABC News, that
Saddam was behind them. What we know for certain -- as a result of
the letters accompanying the anthrax -- is that whoever perpetrated
the attacks wanted the public to believe they were sent by foreign
Muslims. Feeding claims to ABC News designed to link Saddam to those
attacks would, for obvious reasons, promote the goal of the anthrax
Seven years later, it's difficult for many people to recall,
but, as I've amply documented, those ABC News reports linking Saddam
and anthrax penetrated very deeply -- by design -- into our public
discourse and into the public consciousness. Those reports were
absolutely vital in creating the impression during that very
volatile time that Islamic terrorists generally, and Iraq and Saddam
Hussein specifically, were grave, existential threats to this
country. As but one example: after Ross' lead report on the October
26, 2001 edition of World News Tonight with Peter Jennings
claiming that the Government had found bentonite, this is what
Jennings said into the camera:
This news about bentonite as the additive being a trademark of
the Iraqi biological weapons program is very significant. Partly
because there's been a lot of pressure on the Bush administration
inside and out to go after Saddam Hussein. And some are going to
be quick to pick up on this as a smoking gun.
That's exactly what happened. The Weekly Standard
published two lengthy articles attacking the FBI for focusing on a
domestic culprit and -- relying almost exclusively on the ABC/Ross
report -- insisted that Saddam was one of the most likely sources
for those attacks. In November, 2001, they published an article (via
Lexis) which began:
On the critical issue of who sent the anthrax, it's time to
give credit to the ABC website, ABCNews.com, for reporting rings
around most other news organizations. Here's a bit from a
comprehensive story filed late last week by Gary Matsumoto,
lending further credence to the commonsensical theory (resisted by
the White House) that al Qaeda or Iraq -- and not some domestic
Ted Kaczynski type -- is behind the germ warfare.
The Weekly Standard published a much lengthier and more
dogmatic article in April, 2002 again pushing the ABC "bentonite"
claims and arguing: "There is purely circumstantial though highly
suggestive evidence that might seem to link Iraq with last fall's
anthrax terrorism." The American Enterprise Institute's Laurie
Mylroie (who had an
AEI article linking Saddam to 9/11 ready for publication at the
AEI on September 13)
expressly claimed in November, 2001 that "there is also
tremendous evidence that subsequent anthrax attacks are connected to
based that accusation almost exclusively on the report from ABC
and Ross ("Mylroie: Evidence Shows Saddam Is Behind Anthrax
And then, when President Bush named Iraq as a member of the
"Axis of Evil" in his
January, 2002 State of the Union speech -- just two months after
ABC's report, when the anthrax attacks were still very vividly on
the minds of Americans -- he specifically touted this claim:
The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas,
and nuclear weapons for over a decade.
Bush's invocation of Iraq was the only reference in the State of
the Union address to the unsolved anthrax attacks. And the
Iraq-anthrax connection was explicitly made by the President at a
time when, as we now know,
he was already eagerly planning an attack on Iraq.
There can't be any question that this extremely flamboyant
though totally false linkage between Iraq and the anthrax attacks --
accomplished primarily by the false bentonite reports from ABC News
and Brian Ross -- played a very significant role in how Americans
perceived of the Islamic threat generally and Iraq specifically. As
but one very illustrative example, The Washington Post's
columnist, Richard Cohen, supported the invasion of Iraq, came to
regret that support, and then explained what led him to do so, in a
2004 Post column entitled "Our Forgotten Panic":
I'm not sure if panic is quite the right word, but it is close
enough. Anthrax played a role in my decision to support the Bush
administration's desire to take out Saddam Hussein. I linked him
to anthrax, which I linked to Sept. 11. I was not going to stand
by and simply wait for another attack -- more attacks. I was going
to go to the source, Hussein, and get him before he could get us.
As time went on, I became more and more questioning, but I had a
hard time backing down from my initial whoop and holler for war.
Cohen -- in a March 18, 2008
in which he explains why he wrongfully supported the attack on Iraq
-- disclosed this:
Anthrax. Remember anthrax? It seems no one does anymore -- at
least it's never mentioned. But right after the terrorist attacks
of Sept. 11, 2001, letters laced with anthrax were received at the
New York Post and Tom Brokaw's office at NBC. . . . There was
ample reason to be afraid.
Cohen's mental process that led him to link anthrax to Iraq and
then to support an attack on Iraq, warped as it is, was extremely
common. Having heard ABC News in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11
attack flamboyantly and repeatedly link Saddam to the anthrax
attacks, followed by George Bush's making the same linkage (albeit
more subtly) in his January, 2002 State of the Union speech, much of
the public had implanted into their minds that Saddam Hussein was
not just evil, but a severe threat to the U.S., likely the primary
culprit behind the anthrax attacks. All along, though, the anthrax
came from a U.S. Government/Army research lab.
The attacks were not entirely unexpected. I had been told
soon after Sept. 11 to secure Cipro, the antidote to anthrax. The
tip had come in a roundabout way from a high government official,
and I immediately acted on it. I was carrying Cipro way before
most people had ever heard of it.
For this and other reasons, the anthrax letters appeared
linked to the awful events of Sept. 11. It all seemed one and the
same. Already, my impulse had been to strike back, an overwhelming
urge that had, in fact, taken me by surprise on Sept. 11 itself
when the first of the Twin Towers had collapsed. . . .
In the following days, as the horror started to be
airbrushed -- no more bodies plummeting to the sidewalk -- the
anthrax letters started to come, some to people I knew. And I
thought, No, I'm not going to sit here passively and wait for it
to happen. I wanted to go to "them," whoever "they" were, grab
them by the neck, and get them before they could get us. One of
"them" was Saddam Hussein. He had messed around with anthrax . . .
He was a nasty little fascist, and he needed to be dealt with.
That, more or less, is how I made my decision to support the
war in Iraq.
Critically, ABC News never retracted its story (they merely
noted, as they had done from the start, that the White House denied
the reports). And thus, the linkage between Saddam and the anthrax
attacks -- every bit as false as the linkage between Saddam and the
9/11 attacks -- persisted.
We now know -- we knew even before news of Ivins' suicide last
night, and know especially in light of it -- that the anthrax
attacks didn't come from Iraq or any foreign government at all. It
came from our own Government's scientist, from the top Army
bioweapons research laboratory. More significantly, the false
reports linking anthrax to Iraq also came from the U.S. Government
-- from people with some type of significant links to the same
facility responsible for the attacks themselves.
Surely the question of who generated those false Iraq-anthrax
reports is one of the most significant and explosive stories of the
last decade. The motive to fabricate reports of bentonite and a link
to Saddam is glaring. Those fabrications played some significant
role -- I'd argue a very major role -- in propagandizing the
American public to perceive of Saddam as a threat, and further,
propagandized the public to believe that our country was
sufficiently threatened by foreign elements that a whole series of
radical policies that the neoconservatives both within and outside
of the Bush administration wanted to pursue -- including an attack
an Iraq and a whole array of assaults on our basic constitutional
framework -- were justified and even necessary in order to survive.
ABC News already knows the answers to these questions. They
know who concocted the false bentonite story and who passed it on to
them with the specific intent of having them broadcast those false
claims to the world, in order to link Saddam to the anthrax attacks
and -- as importantly -- to conceal the real culprit(s) (apparently
within the U.S. government) who were behind the attacks. And yet,
unbelievably, they are keeping the story to themselves, refusing to
disclose who did all of this. They're allegedly a news organization,
in possession of one of the most significant news stories of the
last decade, and they are concealing it from the public, even years
They're not protecting "sources." The people who fed them the
bentonite story aren't "sources." They're fabricators and liars who
purposely used ABC News to disseminate to the American public an
extremely consequential and damaging falsehood. But by protecting
the wrongdoers, ABC News has made itself complicit in this fraud
perpetrated on the public, rather than a news organization
uncovering such frauds. That is why this is one of the most extreme
journalistic scandals that exists, and it deserves a lot more debate
and attention than it has received thus far.
One other fact to note here is how bizarrely inept the effort by the
Bush DOJ to find the real attacker has been. Extremely suspicious
behavior from Ivins -- including his having found and completely
cleaned anthrax traces on a co-worker's desk at the Ft. Detrick lab
without telling anyone that he did so and then offering extremely
strange explanations for why -- was
publicly reported as early as 2004 by The LA Times (Ivins
"detected an apparent anthrax leak in December 2001, at the height
of the anthrax mailings investigation, but did not report it. Ivins
considered the problem solved when he cleaned the affected office
In October 2004, USA Today
reported that Ivins was involved in another similar incident, in
April of 2002, when Ivins performed unauthorized tests to detect the
origins of more anthrax residue found at Ft. Detrick. Yet rather
than having that repeated, strange behavior lead the FBI to discover
that he was involved in the attacks, there was a very public effort
-- as Atrios notes
here -- to blame the attacks on Iraq and then, ultimately, to
blame Steven Hatfill. Amazingly, as Atrios notes
here, very few people other than "a few crazy bloggers are even
interested" in finding out what happened here and why -- at least to
demand that ABC News report the vital information that it already
has that will shed very significant light on much of this.
Ivins' local paper, Frederick News in Maryland, has
printed several Letters to the Editor written by Ivins over the
years. Though the underlying ideology is a bit difficult to discern,
he seems clearly driven by a belief in the need for Christian
doctrine to govern our laws and political institutions, with a
particular interest in Catholic dogma. He wrote things like this:
Today we frequently admonish people who oppose abortion,
euthanasia, assisted suicide or capital punishment to keep their
religious, moral, and philosophical beliefs to themselves.
And then there's this rather cryptic message, published in 2006:
Before dispensing such admonishments in the future, perhaps
we should gratefully consider some of our country's most
courageous, historical figures who refused to do so.
Rabbi Morris Kosman is entirely correct in summarily rejecting
the demands of the Frederick Imam for a "dialogue."
It should be noted that the lawyer who had been representing
Ivins in connection with the anthrax investigation
categorically maintains Ivins' innocence and attributes his
suicide to "the relentless pressure of accusation and innuendo."
By blood and faith, Jews are God's chosen, and have no need
for "dialogue" with any gentile. End of "dialogue."
On a note related to the main topic of the post,
macgupta in comments notes the numerous prominent people in
addition to those mentioned here -- including The Wall St.
Jorunal Editors and former CIA Director James Woolsey -- who
insisted rather emphatically from the beginning of the anthrax
attacks that Saddam was likely to blame. Indeed,
the WSJ Editorial Page -- along with others on the Right
Michael Barone of U.S. News & World Report and Fox News
-- continued even into 2007 to insist that the FBI was erring by
focusing on domestic suspects rather than Middle Easterners.
The Nation's Michael Massing
noted at the
time (in November, 2001) that as a direct result of the anthrax
attacks, and the numerous claims insinuating that Iraq was behind
them, "the political and journalistic establishment suddenly seems
united in wanting to attack Iraq." There has long been an intense
desire on the neoconservative Right to falsely link anthrax to
Saddam specifically and Muslims generally. ABC News was, and (as a
result of its inexcusable silence) continues to be, their best
this important point from Atrios about Richard Cohen's admission
that he was told before the anthrax attacks happened by a "high
government official" to take cipro. Atrios writes: "now that we know
that the US gov't believes that anthrax came from the inside,
shouldn't Cohen be a wee bit curious about what this warning was
That applies to much of the Beltway class, including many
well-connected journalists, who were quietly popping cipro back then
because, like Cohen, they heard from Government sources that they
should. Leave aside the ethical questions about the fact that these
journalists kept those warnings to themselves. Wouldn't the most
basic journalistic instincts lead them now -- in light of the claims
by our Government that the attacks came from a Government scientist
-- to wonder why and how their Government sources were warning about
an anthrax attack? Then again, the most basic journalistic instincts
would have led ABC News to reveal who concocted and fed them the
false "Saddam/anthrax" reports in the first place, and yet we still
are forced to guess at those questions because ABC News continues to
cover up the identity of the perpetrators.
John McCain, on the David Letterman Show,
October 18, 2001 (days before ABC News first broadcast their
LETTERMAN: How are things going in Afghanistan now?
ThinkProgress has the
video. Someone ought to ask McCain what "indication" he was
referencing that the anthrax "may have come from Iraq."
MCCAIN: I think we're doing fine . . . I think we'll do
fine. The second phase -- if I could just make one, very quickly
-- the second phase is Iraq. There is some indication, and I don't
have the conclusions, but some of this anthrax may -- and I
emphasize may -- have come from Iraq.
LETTERMAN: Oh is that right?
MCCAIN: If that should be the case, that's when some tough
decisions are gonna have to be made.
After all, three days later, McCain and Joe Lieberman went
on Meet the Press (on October 21, 2001) and both strongly
suggested that we would have to attack Iraq. Lieberman said that the
anthrax was so complex and potent that "there's either a significant
amount of money behind this, or this is state-sponsored, or this is
stuff that was stolen from the former Soviet program."
As I said, it is not possible to overstate the importance of
anthrax in putting the country into the state of fear that led to
the attack on Iraq and so many of the other abuses of the Bush era.
There are few news stories more significant, if there are any, than
unveiling who the culprits were behind this deliberate propaganda.
The fact that the current GOP presidential nominee claimed back then
on national television to have some "indication" linking Saddam to
the anthrax attacks makes it a bigger story still.
I tried to be careful here to avoid accepting as True the matter of
Ivins' guilt. Very early on in the article, I framed the analysis
this way: "If the now-deceased Ivins really was the culprit behind
the attacks, then that means that the anthrax came from a U.S.
Government lab," and I then noted in Update II that Ivins' lawyer
vehemently maintains his innocence. My whole point here is that the
U.S. Government now claims the anthrax attacks came from a
Government scientist at a U.S. Army lab, and my conclusions follow
from that premise, accepted as true only for purposes of this
It's worth underscoring that it is far from clear that Ivins
had anything to do with the anthrax attacks, and
someone in comments claiming (anonymously though credibly) that
he knew Ivins personally asserts that Ivins was innocent and makes
the case as to why the Government's accusations are suspect. As I
see it, the more doubt there is about who was responsible for the
anthrax attacks, the greater is the need for ABC News to reveal who
fabricated their reports linking the attacks to Iraq.
I'll be on Rachel Maddow's radio show tonight at 8:30 p.m. EST to
discuss this story. Local listings and live audio feed are
Numerous people have advised me in comments and via email that
ABC News is deleting any mention of my piece today in the
comment section to their article on the Ivins suicide (though
many such comments now seem to be posted there). Last year, ABC was
full denial mode when responding to the stories I wrote about
this issue. The key here, I think, will be to try to devise the
right strategy to induce the right Congressional Committee to hold
hearings on the false ABC News stories and the anthrax issue
generally. I hope to have more details on that effort shortly.
Two prominent journalism professors --
Jay Rosen of NYU and
Dan Gillmor, director of the Knight Center for Digital Media
Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University and a practicing
journalist for 25 years -- have added their names to the
list of people calling on ABC News and Brian Ross to reveal
their sources for
ABC's false bentonite story that was used to link the anthrax
attacks to Iraq. Rosen and Gillmor both write that ABC and Ross
should answer three questions which they jointly outline, and they
both set forth the reasons, grounded in widely accepted principles
of journalistic ethics, as to why ABC and Ross should do so.
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
organizations are accustomed to fending off demands
from judges and law enforcement agencies that they
reveal their confidential sources. But what happens
when this demand comes from news-savvy bloggers?
Currently, ABC News is facing this quandary. This
blog "meme" was sparked by two noted journalism
in response to Salon columnist
Aug 3) of ABC News' coverage of the 2001 anthrax
In fall 2001, five people died and 17 were
injured when someone sent a series of anthrax-laced
letters to several members of Congress and prominent
journalists. Last week, a leading suspect in the
case (Army biodefense expert
62) apparently committed suicide. According to news
reports, Ivins' lawyer said Justice Department
officials had informed them of their intention to
indict Ivins for the anthrax murders.
Greenwald noted that at the time, ABC ran a
series of stories citing "well-placed" anonymous
sources implicating Iraq in the attack. According to
Greenwald, these stories contributed to the
misinformation that fueled public support for the
invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussein.
Greenwald argued that apparently
ABC's "well-placed" sources lied, thus
forfeiting their right to anonymity.
What's remarkable is that Rosen and Gilmor turned
Ivins' argument into a blog meme by asking other
bloggers to pose these three "vital questions" to
- Was ABC lied
to or misled by its sources when it
reported several times in 2001 that anthrax found
in domestic attacks came from Iraq or showed signs
of Iraqi involvement? (Sources who are granted
confidentiality give up their rights when they lie
or mislead the reporter.)
- Who were the
"four well-placed and separate sources" who
falsely told ABC News that tests conducted at Fort
Detrick showed bentonite in the anthrax sent to
Sen. Tom Daschle, causing ABC News to connect the
attacks to Iraq in multiple reports over a five
day period in October, 2001? (It now appears that
the attacks were of domestic origin and the
anthrax came from within U.S. government
- What is ABC
News doing to re-report these events, to
figure out what went wrong and to correct the
record for the American people who were misled?
(ABC's substantially false story helped make the
case for the Iraq war by raising fears about
enemies abroad attacking the U.S. How that
happened, and who was responsible is itself a
major story of public interest.)
blog memes are quizzes, games, or questions that
people pass around from site to site for the sake of
novelty or entertainment. The creation of a blog
meme in an effort to hold a news organization
accountable for its reporting is an intriguing
strategy that seems to have
caught on with bloggers.
This isn't limited to blogs.
Commenters to current ABC News coverage of the
anthrax case are also raising these questions,
right on the ABC News site.
So far, I haven't seen a response from ABC news.
Poynter has directly contacted ABC News management
for comment. We'll update if and when they respond.]
Officially, the anthrax investigation hasn't ended,
and there is plenty of
about the case against Ivins set forth by mainstream
news organizations. At least one bioweapons expert
calling on the DOJ to continue its investigation
even if the
case against Ivins is deemed conclusive -- to
ascertain whether Ivins acted alone.
Emerging info from current reporting indicates
that ABC's original reports were probably
unsupported. Will ABC News explain what happened,
revisit these key stories, and discuss the role of
its reporting in the Iraq war fever of 2001?
Officials: Sorority obsession seen in anthrax case
WASHINGTON (AP) — The top suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks
was obsessed with a sorority that sat less than 100 yards away from
a New Jersey mailbox where the toxin-laced letters were sent,
authorities said Monday.
Multiple U.S. officials told The Associated Press that former
Army scientist Bruce Ivins was long obsessed with the sorority Kappa
Kappa Gamma, going back as far as his own college days at the
University of Cincinnati.
The officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because they
were not authorized to discuss the case publicly.
The bizarre link to the sorority may indirectly explain one of
the biggest mysteries in the case: why the anthrax was mailed from
Princeton, N.J., 195 miles from the Army biological weapons lab the
anthrax is believed to have been smuggled out of.
An adviser to the Kappa Kappa Gamma chapter at Princeton
University confirmed she was interviewed by the FBI in connection
with the case.
U.S. officials said e-mails or other documents detail Ivins'
long-standing fixation on the sorority. His former therapist has
said Ivins plotted revenge against those who have slighted him,
particularly women. There is nothing to indicate, however, he was
focused on any one sorority member or other Princeton student, the
Despite the connection between Ivins and the sorority,
authorities acknowledge they cannot place the scientist in Princeton
the day the anthrax was mailed. That remains a hole in the
government's case. Had Ivins not killed himself last week,
authorities would have argued he could have made the seven-hour
round trip to Princeton after work.
Ivins' attorney, Paul F. Kemp, did not immediately respond to
a message seeking comment Monday but has asserted his client's
innocence and said he would have been vindicated in court.
Katherine Breckinridge Graham, a Kappa alumna who serves as an
adviser to the sorority's Princeton chapter, said Monday she was
interviewed by FBI agents "over the last couple of years" about the
case. She said she could not provide any details about the interview
because she signed an FBI nondisclosure form.
However, Graham said there was nothing to indicate that any of
the sorority members had anything to do with Ivins.
"Nothing odd went on," said Graham, an attorney.
Kappa Kappa Gamma executive director Lauren Paitson, reached
at the sorority's headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, initially told an
AP reporter Monday afternoon she would provide a comment shortly.
She did not answer subsequent phone messages or e-mails seeking a
Some of the scientist's friends and former co-workers have
reacted with skepticism as details about the investigation surfaced.
They questioned whether Ivins had the motive to unleash such an
attack and whether he could have secretly created the powder form of
the deadly toxin without co-workers noticing.
Princeton University referred questions about Ivins to the
FBI. The university does not formally recognize sororities and
fraternities but chapters operate off campus.
Local police in both Princeton Borough and Princeton Township
said Ivins' name did not turn up on any incident reports or
Kappa Kappa Gamma also has chapters at nearby colleges in
Maryland, Pennsylvania and Washington. One official said
investigators were working off the theory that Ivins chose to mail
the letters from the Princeton chapter to confuse investigators if
he ever were to emerge as a suspect in the case.
Five people died and 17 others sickened by the anthrax plot,
which was launched on the heels of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist
The following August, investigators announced they'd found
anthrax spores inside the mailbox on Nassau Street, the town's main
thoroughfare. FBI agents immediately began canvassing the town,
showing residents a photograph of Army scientist Steven J. Hatfill,
who at the time was a key "person of interest" in the case.
That theory fell flat and this June, the Justice Department
exonerated Hatfill and agreed to a $5.8 million settlement with him.
In the past year, the FBI has turned a close eye on Ivins,
whom a therapist said had a history of homicidal and sociopathic
behavior. Prosecutors had planned to indict Ivins and seek the death
penalty but, knowing investigators were closing in, he killed
himself with an overdose of acetaminophen, the key ingredient in
With its top suspect now dead, the Justice Department is
considering closing the "Amerithrax" investigations. It has been
among the FBI's most publicized unsolved cases and, if it is closed,
authorities are expected to unseal court documents that outline much
of their case against Ivins.
Associated Press Writer Geoff Mulvihill contributed to
this report from Mount Laurel, N.J.
Copyright © 2008
The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Anthrax widow's lawsuit could get boost from
FBI's Ivins break
Associated Press - August 5, 2008 7:23 PM
MIAMI (AP) - Supporters of an anthrax widow's
lawsuit blaming the U.S. for her husband's death
are hoping the case gets a boost from the FBI's
break in the case.
The widow of a tabloid photo editor who died
in the 2001 anthrax attacks insists in a
$50-million lawsuit filed years ago that the
U.S. government was ultimately responsible. Her
attorney says they've contended all along it was
an "inside job." And her son-in-law says the
case now seems "pretty much a slam dunk."
The FBI is now pinning the blame on
government scientist Bruce Ivins, who killed
himself last week while being investigated.
The lawsuit says the government did not
safeguard anthrax bacteria at the Army research
center in Maryland where Ivins worked.
Federal attorneys are appealing a federal
judge's refusal to dismiss the suit. They're
arguing that even if a U.S. employee is found
responsible, that person would have acted
outside "the scope of employment" and the
government isn't liable.
Copyright 2008 The
Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Bush Pressured FBI to Blame
al-Qaeda for Anthrax; McCain fingered Iraq on Letterman;
Can't we Change the Name of Washington
by juan cole (reposted)
Tuesday Aug 5th, 2008 8:19 AM
From a Tuesday, August 5, 2008
entry on Informed Comment, Juan Cole's blog
Bush Pressured FBI to Blame al-Qaeda for Anthrax;
McCain fingered Iraq on Letterman;
Can't we Change the Name of Washington National Airport?
One thing I haven't seen mentioned with regard to
the attempt to implicate Iraq in the anthrax scare in fall
of 2001 is the reason Iraq was hard to rule out as a
source. It was that it clearly originated in labs in Ames,
Iowa. The Reagan administration had
permitted the provision to Iraq of anthrax precursors
. . . from Ames, Iowa. That is, the Republican Party was
proliferating weapons of mass destruction to Saddam
Hussein in the 1980s, even though his regime was known to
have deployed poison gas against Iran and against Iraqi
Kurds. And, because Iraqi anthrax would have shown the
Ames ancestry if analyzed, a foreign provenance-- however
unlikely-- could not be ruled out by investigators.
In the intelligence world, Iraqi anthrax, given Iraq by
Washington, showing up in the US would have been called
"blowback"-- the word for a covert operation that goes
rogue and ends up harming the original sponsor. But even
the inability to rule Iraq out was a form of blowback.
Reagan and Rumsfeld muddied the waters for terrorism
investigators by giving WMD to terrorist regimes.
The New York Daily News reveals that
'After the Oct. 5, 2001, death from anthrax exposure
of Sun photo editor Robert Stevens, [FBI Director
Robert] Mueller was "beaten up" during President Bush's
morning intelligence briefings for not producing proof
the killer spores were the handiwork of terrorist
mastermind Osama Bin Laden, according to a former aide.
"They really wanted to blame somebody in the Middle
East," the retired senior FBI official told The News.'
As usual, when Bush and Cheney could not get what they
wanted in the way of propaganda from the FBI or CIA, they
just made it up. That fall,
McCain piled on:
' LETTERMAN: How are things going in Afghanistan now?
MCCAIN: I think were doing fine. I think well do fine.
The second phase - if I could just make one, very
quickly - the second phase is Iraq. There is some
indication, and I dont have the conclusions, but some of
this anthrax may - and I emphasize may - have come from
LETTERMAN: Oh is that right?
MCCAIN: If that should be the case, thats when some
tough decisions are gonna have to be made. '
Hat tip to
posted by Juan Cole @
8/05/2008 12:43:00 AM
“Scientist’s Suicide Is Linked to Anthrax Inquiry” (front
page, Aug. 2):
Almost seven years ago, my phone started to ring early in
the morning. My friends were calling. “Martha! Matt Lauer says
you have anthrax!”
I was stunned — I had left the hospital a few days after
Bob Stevens, our co-worker at American Media Inc., died of
anthrax. The hazmat team from the Environmental Protection
Agency had found anthrax spores on my desk. But I had been
told that I had pneumonia.
This was only one of the alarms over several months when at
American Media we worried about our health and our jobs. I
lost a million-dollar library that had the largest clip
collection in the world next to that of The Times of London,
which also served a tabloid. It was an invaluable biographical
The building was sealed, and we never entered it again. The
F.B.I. in pairs interviewed us individually. As my interview
ended, one asked me, “Do you have a theory on who would want
to do this?” I was speechless. “No, do
you?” I managed.
Now, a man one could easily build a theory around has
committed suicide. If he proves to be the perpetrator, why did
it take so long to identify him?
Lake Worth, Fla., Aug. 2, 2008
The writer is the former chief
librarian at American Media Inc.
To the Editor:
Re “Anthrax Case Renews Questions on Bioterror Effort and
Safety” (front page, Aug. 3):
The death of Dr. Bruce E. Ivins, a government anthrax
specialist and the F.B.I.’s lead suspect in the 2001 anthrax
attack, should close a sad chapter in domestic terrorism. We
may never know whether the perpetrator’s intention was to draw
attention to our lack of national preparedness for
bioterrorism. But it is unmistakable that the legacy of the
anthrax event, and the ensuing national call to arms, was a
radical upgrade of our ability to respond to deliberate or
naturally occurring infectious disease outbreaks.
Some critics argue that the multibillion-dollar investment
in infrastructure and research diverts funds from more
pressing infectious disease problems, and they suggest that we
are less secure because more scientists have access to
restricted agents. But I stoutly dispute these notions, having
witnessed firsthand in 2001 the confusion and helplessness of
unprepared scientific and public health professionals.
I am director of a leading Northeast academic biodefense
and emerging infectious diseases research center. Our
investment has decidedly increased our knowledge of select
agent and naturally occurring epidemic pathogens. It has also
facilitated a new generation of countermeasures in the form of
new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines against dangerous
The anthrax outbreak caught a nation off guard, but we are
markedly stronger today. David Perlin
Newark, Aug. 3, 2008
The writer is director of the Public
Health Research Institute.
To the Editor:
Focus on Dr. Bruce E. Ivins’s suicide obscures the
remarkable fact that the anthrax that killed five people came
from a United States defense laboratory, even if evidence
against any individual is not conclusive.
Before 2001, some of us in public health described
bioterrorism as an exaggerated threat. No one had ever died
from bioterrorism, and we warned that the proliferation of
laboratories studying anthrax and other biological weapons
agents was a terrible mistake, diverting money from real
health needs and dangerously multiplying the number of people
After the 2001 anthrax letters, our warnings were buried in
an avalanche of fear-mongering; to this day, billions are
being spent to support many more such labs.
With the only bioterrorist casualties traceable to a
defense laboratory, isn’t it time for a new look at whether
the bioterrorism scare was as fictitious and harmful as the
W.M.D. scare that helped lead us into the Iraq war disaster,
and whether the huge spending on so-called bioterrorism
defense continues to increase the public’s risk from
accidental or purposeful release of the dangerous materials
Hillel W. Cohen
Bronx, Aug. 2, 2008
The writer is an associate professor
of epidemiology and population health, Albert Einstein College
Anthrax widow's lawsuit blames US for death
MIAMI (AP) — The widow of a tabloid photo editor who died in the
2001 anthrax attacks insisted in a $50 million federal lawsuit filed
years ago that the U.S. government was ultimately responsible for
Now that the FBI is pinning the blame on government scientist
Bruce Ivins, the lawsuit brought by Maureen Stevens looks positively
clairvoyant. And results of the FBI investigation could have a major
effect on the outcome of her case.
"We were right all along," Patrick Hogan, the son-in-law of
Maureen and the late Robert Stevens, said in a telephone interview
Tuesday. "It seems to me it's pretty much a slam dunk."
Stevens was a photo editor at American Media Inc., the publisher
of the National Enquirer, Sun and Globe gossip tabloids, when he was
exposed to anthrax that was mailed to AMI offices in Boca Raton.
Stevens died Oct. 5, 2001, the first of five people to be killed and
17 others to be sickened in the anthrax attacks.
Two years later, Maureen Stevens filed her lawsuit. In it, she
claims the U.S. government was negligent because it failed to
safeguard strains of the deadly anthrax bacteria at the U.S. Army
disease research center at Fort Detrick, Md.
The government, her lawsuit says, "owed a duty of care, the
highest degree of care" in handling of anthrax and supervising
employees who had access to it. Although she didn't know it when the
lawsuit was filed, Ivins was one of those employees, a
microbiologist who was working on an anthrax antidote. Ivins
committed suicide last week as he was being investigated.
"One of the real areas of satisfaction, if you can call it that,
is that we've maintained all along this was an inside job," said
Richard Schuler, Maureen Stevens' attorney.
The case is unique among the legal actions brought after the
anthrax attacks, according to the lawyers involved. Employees of a
postal facility in Washington, D.C., where two workers died, sued
the Postal Service for allegedly failing to protect them, but a
federal judge in 2004 ruled the service is immune.
If the federal government ultimately names Ivins as the anthrax
attack perpetrator, Schuler said the government's lawyers should
drop their long battle and settle the lawsuit. He noted that another
scientist wrongly implicated by the FBI in the plot, Steven Hatfill,
recently was paid $5.8 million to settle his lawsuit against the
"It's been a long road for this family," Schuler said. "I hope
somebody who has some authority will call us and make it right with
Maureen Stevens declined an interview request, deferring to her
attorney. The lawsuit, also filed on behalf of the couple's three
grown children, seeks a maximum of $50 million in compensatory
damages for the government's alleged negligence in Stevens' death.
Schuler said that figure represents the upper reaches of a possible
damage award or settlement.
Two of the Stevens children did not return phone messages or
e-mails seeking comment Tuesday. Hogan, husband of daughter Heidi,
said he's hopeful that the FBI has its man in Ivins.
"It seems to me they botched this thing from the beginning. It
was one of their own people," Hogan said. "I'm just very happy that
they actually found somebody."
A U.S. Justice Department spokesman declined comment Tuesday on
the lawsuit. But in court, federal attorneys have fought hard to get
the Stevens claim dismissed and currently are appealing a federal
judge's refusal to do so. The case is on hold pending the outcome of
One court document contends that even if a U.S. employee is found
responsible for the anthrax attacks, those acts are "beyond the
scope of employment" and the government isn't liable. In the
alternative, the federal lawyers say such actions were controlled by
someone else and not the government, so it shouldn't have to pay the
"The United States denies as a matter of law and fact that the
plaintiff is entitled to the relief sought," the government lawyers
said in court papers.
The next development in the lawsuit will be a ruling later this
year from the Florida Supreme Court on whether the U.S. government
and a private laboratory named as a possible second source of the
anthrax have a duty under Florida law to protect the public from
such lethal materials.
The state court was asked to resolve that legal question by the
U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, which is considering
the government's appeal of the ruling by U.S. District Judge Daniel
T.K. Hurley refusing the dismiss the case.
Anthrax Dryer a Key To Probe
Suspect Borrowed Device From
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, August 5, 2008; Page A01
Bruce E. Ivins, the government's leading suspect in the 2001
anthrax killings, borrowed from a bioweapons lab that fall
freeze-drying equipment that allows scientists to quickly
convert wet germ cultures into dry spores, according to
sources briefed on the case.
Ivins's possession of the drying device, known as a
lyopholizer, could help investigators explain how he might
have been able to send letters containing deadly anthrax
spores to U.S. senators and news organizations.
The device was not commonly used by researchers at the
Army's sprawling biodefense complex at Fort Detrick, Md.,
where Ivins worked as a scientist, employees at the base
said. Instead, sources said, Ivins had to go through a
formal process to check out the lyopholizer, creating a
record on which
authorities are now relying. He did at least one project for
the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency that would
have given him reason to use the drying equipment, according
to a former colleague in his lab.
Ivins committed suicide last week. As authorities in
Washington debated yesterday how to close the long
investigation of him -- a step that would signal they think
no one else is culpable in the anthrax attacks -- more
details began to emerge about the nature of the case they
developed against him.
In recent months, investigators have collected
circumstantial building blocks in an effort to establish
Ivins's alleged role in the attacks, which traumatized the
nation and prompted stringent mail-handling policies.
Letters containing the anthrax spores killed five people,
including two D.C. area postal workers, and sickened 17
Scientific analysis helped researchers pinpoint the U.S.
Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases as
the likely source of the powder, which was the Ames strain
of anthrax bacteria used in various projects at Fort Detrick.
Further testing allowed them to narrow down the age of the
substance, concluding that it had been cultivated no more
than two years before the attacks.
Eventually, through more elaborate DNA testing of the power
and tissue cultures from the victims, they determined that
the powder probably came from supplies made by Ivins, to
which about 10 other people had access. Authorities last
week cited "new and sophisticated scientific tools" that
helped advance the investigation.
Ivins was not charged before his death July 29. Paul F.
Kemp, his attorney, has repeatedly asserted Ivins's
innocence, and colleagues and friends say government
officials fixed on the wrong man in a race to close a
seven-year investigation rife with dead ends and missteps.
They also note that other U.S. scientists had access to some
of the same material and equipment that authorities
apparently used to focus on Ivins.
The lyopholizer Ivins used in the fall of 2001 is
commonly employed by pharmaceutical companies and
laboratories, as well as food processors, to freeze a liquid
broth of bacteria and quickly transform it into a dry solid
without a thawing stage.
Scientists and biodefense experts familiar with
USAMRIID's procedures say that Ivins's department rarely
used such freeze-dryers, because the researchers there
worked with anthrax bacteria in a liquid form.
"Dry anthrax is much harder to work with," said one
scientist familiar with Ivins's lab. A lyopholizer would fit
inside the ventilated "biosafety cabinet" at the lab and
could have been used without drawing notice, the scientist
said. The machine could have processed a few small batches
of anthrax liquid in less than a day, he said.
Other biodefense experts noted that the drying step could
have been carried out with equipment no more complicated
than a kitchen oven. "It is the simplest . . . but it is the
least reproducible," said Sergei Popov, a former Soviet
bioweapons scientist who now specializes in biodefense at
George Mason University. "If you go too fast you get 'sand,'
" he said, referring to the coarser anthrax powder used in
the first attacks, in September 2001.
The second batch of letters contained a much finer powder. "To
me, it all indicates that the person experimented with the
ways to dry the spores and produced small batches -- some of
them not so successfully -- he later used to fill up different
envelopes," Popov said. "The spores are naturally clumpy. As I
understand, he just overbaked the first batches."
Many of the key documents that would have supported the
prosecution of Ivins could be unveiled this week after
Justice Department and FBI officials meet with families of
the anthrax victims. Authorities were contacting relatives
yesterday and seeking a time to meet.
Investigators have been wrong before about who may have
perpetrated the attacks. In June, the Justice Department
agreed to pay Steven J. Hatfill, a former Fort Detrick
researcher once labeled a "person of interest" in the case,
a $5.8 million settlement to forgo a privacy lawsuit.
mysteries remain, including whether the
attacks that involved letters mailed from
Florida and Princeton, N.J., could have been
carried out by one person. And many questions
remain about Ivins.
Safety officials and lawmakers have
wondered how the scientist was able to
maintain his security clearance despite
emotional problems that led Jean C. Duley, a
therapist, to seek a protective order against
him last month.
The Army issued final rules last week that
would cover workers who act in an aggressive
or threatening manner. Those employees would
be denied access to toxic or lethal biological
agents under the revised regulations. Other
potentially disqualifying personality traits
include "arrogance, inflexibility,
suspiciousness, hostility . . . and extreme
moods or mood swings," according to the
A spokeswoman for USAMRIID said Fort
Detrick had been operating under interim rules
covering the same behavior for some time.
Staff writers Del Quentin Wilber,
Michael S. Rosenwald and Mary Beth Sheridan
and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to
How Solid Is the Anthrax Evidence?
A technician at the US Army's Fort Detrick biomedical
research laboratory in Maryland opens a letter
addressed to Sen. Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont,
which was suspected of containing anthrax, December,
HO / AFP / Getty
While the FBI waits to formally release its evidence
against Bruce E. Ivins, the microbiologist it claims to have
linked to the anthrax mailings seven years ago,
who killed himself on July 29, the public is getting a
sneak peek — by way of federal leaks to the media. The leaks
are piling up almost too fast to keep track of. Some seem
others perplexing, but the pause is creating a strange
void — in which leaks are followed by rebuttals from Ivins'
colleagues and his attorney (who steadfastly denies that his
client had any role in the attacks) and then followed by
more leaks. The result leaves neither Ivins nor the FBI
Most notably, unnamed federal officials are telling media
outlets that the FBI used new DNA technology to link the
anthrax that killed five people in 2001 to anthrax handled
by Ivins in his federal lab. But scientists who knew Ivins —
and some who didn't — tell TIME this is not a simple matter,
For one thing, a group of people have access to the
anthrax at any given lab. "What you can do with all those
forensic techniques is trace the anthrax to a lab, but you
can't trace it to a person," says Meryl Nass, a Maine doctor
who studies the anthrax vaccine and was a professional
acquaintance of Ivins for more than 15 years. What's more,
Nass adds, the link is not accurate with 100% certainty.
"You can't convict someone with that evidence."
Moreover, it is hard to understand why the match could
not simply be explained by the lab's prominent involvement
in the federal investigation, notes Randall Larsen, a
retired Air Force colonel and a senior associate at the
Center for Biosecurity, University of Pittsburgh Medical
The FBI itself sent the anthrax letters to Ivins and his
colleagues at the biodefense lab for analysis "almost
immediately" following the attacks in 2001, confirms Caree
Vander-Linden, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Medical
Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, where Ivins
worked. An FBI spokesperson referred TIME to the
spokesperson for the FBI's Washington Field Office, who did
not return a call requesting comment.
Part of the confusion comes from the fact that
bioterrorism cases do not generally produce stellar forensic
evidence. "The nature of biological weapons is such that it
is very difficult to figure out where something came from,"
says Larsen, author of a 2008 book on homeland security
titled Our Own Worst Enemy. "The FBI does a marvelous
job with guns and bombs, but anthrax is extremely
In the face of this challenge, Ivins' lawyer says, the
FBI stalked his client in pursuit of evidence he didn't
have, driving him to drink and to depression. Ivins took at
least two polygraph tests, says his attorney Paul Kemp, and
apparently passed both of them. "That certainly was our
impression," he says. "That's certainly what he was told."
Contrary to previous media reports, Kemp says his client
had not been negotiating a plea agreement at the time of his
death. Indeed, contrary to some suggestions in initial
reports, the grand jury investigating the case was at least
a few weeks from handing down any kind of indictment. Kemp
and Ivins met with the FBI four or five times, beginning
last December, after the bureau informed Ivins that "he
could be a suspect," Kemp says. Most recently, Kemp says, he
met with agents the day Ivins committed suicide, not knowing
he was already dead.
Ivins was "totally responsive to every single question
and never refused to answer," Kemp says. Over the past seven
years, before he was a suspect in the case, Ivins had been
interviewed 20 to 25 times in the case. He had cooperated
fully and had his security clearances renewed, Kemp says.
Given that the government already had to pay a
multimillion-dollar settlement for linking an innocent
government scientist, Steven Hatfill, to the attacks, FBI
officials are clearly worried about their reputation for
bumbling the anthrax case and are eager to share what they
know. But they are waiting to proceed publicly until a judge
unseals the evidence in the Ivins case and all the victims
and their families have been briefed on the details. More
information may become public in the next couple of days.
Amid all the leaks and whispers over this grim episode in a
grim case, some hard information will be a welcome
Many perplexing questions swirl around Bruce E. Ivins
and his sudden death. For one: what info did the FBI actually have
connecting him to the anthrax attacks?
The Sheep Incident
It was half past midnight on March 17th, 1968. Keith Smart, the
director of epidemiology and ecology at Utah's Dugway Proving
Grounds, was awakened by the ringing of a phone. On the other end
was Dr. Bode, a professor at the University of Utah, and the
director of the school's contract with Dugway. There was a problem.
Calls had been coming in. About 27 miles outside of the base, in the
aptly-named Skull Valley, thousands of sheep had suddenly died.
There were some survivors among the flocks, but it was clear that
their hours were numbered. Veterinarians were dispatched to
euthanize the few remaining animals.
Army officials began drafting their official denial. A few
days earlier, one of their planes had flown high over the Utah
desert at Dugway with a bellyful of nerve agent. The plane's mission
was simple: using a specially rigged delivery system, it was to fly
to a specific set of coordinates and spray its payload over a remote
section of the Utah desert. This test was a small part of the
ongoing chemical and biological weapons research at Dugway, and it
was one of three tests held that particular day. The flight would
soon prove to be far more important than anyone could have guessed
at the time.
The sprawling 800,000 acres of Dugway Proving Ground is a mix
of target ranges, dispersal grounds, laboratories, and military
bunkers. The facility was established in the 1940s to provide the
military with a remote locale to conduct safer testing. It was
briefly shut down following World War 2, but the base enjoyed a
grand reopening during the Korean War. By 1958, it was the official
home of the Army Chemical, Biological, and Radiological Weapons
School. The base tested all manner of unconventional military
hardware; from researching new toxic agents to developing antidotes
and protective clothing.
In March 1968, the toxin under scrutiny was VX, one
of the most potent nerve agents in existence. The original compound
was created by Ranajit Ghosh, a chemist working at Imperial Chemical
Industries. The liquid proved to be an effective pesticide and it
was quickly put on the market under the name Amiton. Not long
afterwards, however, it was taken off the market for being too toxic
to handle safely. The agent's extreme toxicity drew the attention of
government weapons research labs, whose scientists were always on
the lookout for more efficient ways to kill people. Amiton, the
pesticide too successful for its own good, was to become the “V”
class of nerve agent. The majority of the research done on V-Class
agents went into developing a potent weapons-grade version of the
chemical. That research birthed VX.
Target Epicenter at Dugway (Credit: CLUI)
VX was a triumph among the biological warfare community.
Odorless and tasteless, it's three times as toxic as Sarin. In
initial trials, this over-achieving compound was also found to be
highly stable, enabling long shelf life and environmental
persistence. VX works by blocking chemicals in the victim's body
from functioning. It prevents the enzyme acetylcholinesterase
from allowing muscles to relax, resulting in the contraction of
every muscle in the body. Exposure to a minute or diluted dose of VX
will cause muscle twitching, drooling, excessive sweating, and
involuntary defecation, among other unpleasantries. Exposure to a
lethal dose — about ten milligrams — will cause convulsions,
paralysis, and eventually asphyxiation due to sustained contraction
of the diaphragm muscle. Unless the affected skin is cleaned and an
antidote is administered immediately, a single drop of liquid VX
will kill a person in around ten minutes.
On March 13th, Dugway ran a series of three tests using VX.
The tests were routine, like any of the thousands of weapons tests
that were conducted there over the previous twenty years. In the
first test, an artillery shell packed with VX was fired onto the
range; and in the second, 160 gallons of the compound were burned in
an open pit. Both tests were completed without incident. The third
test involved delivery via airplane, with over a ton of a special VX
mixture sprayed over the desert. Unbeknownst to the pilot, the spray
nozzle that controlled the flow of the chemical had broken. As he
climbed to a higher altitude, the chemical continued to seep from
the plane. Winds that day were blowing between 5-20 mph, with gusts
reaching 35 mph. These strong easterly winds carried the VX straight
to Skull Valley. The next day, the sheep grazing in the area began
to die, and within days thousands of them had perished. The
government and local numbers differ, but anywhere between 3,483 and
6,400 sheep died in the aftermath of the test.
Skull Valley resident Ray Peck was working in his yard the
evening after the tests, but retired early after developing an
earache. The next morning the ground outside his home was littered
with dead birds, and he watched as a dying rabbit struggled in the
distance. A helicopter touched down soon after and unleashed its
cargo of equipment and scientists upon the confused family. They
quickly collected wildlife carcasses, performed blood tests on the
Pecks, and departed. Though they suffered no fatalities from their
exposure, the family complained of numerous ailments in the years
following the tests. Ray Peck said he began suffering from violent
headaches, numbness and paranoia. His daughters — children at the
time of the incident — experienced an unusually high rate of
miscarriage in their adult years. While there's no way of
definitively knowing what caused the problems, the Pecks believe
their exposure to VX is the cause of their many health problems.
The Army was characteristically roundabout in their comments
on the incident. They admitted to having tested a chemical in that
immediate time period. They even made mention that the plane
carrying the VX may have malfunctioned. However, they
assured the public that the massive, unexplained die-off could not
possibly have been caused by the ton of VX dropped less than 30
miles from Skull Valley. Despite their assurances that they were
innocent of any wrongdoing, the Army ultimately chose to pay the
ranchers for their losses and bury the animals on base property.
Satellite Image of Dugway Proving Grounds
The Army worked furiously to stuff all of the worms back into
the Dugway can, but the damage was already done. The Dugway Sheep
Kill received widespread attention both at home and abroad. The
outrage over the incident was intensified just a year later when the
US media was tipped off to the existence of CHASE. The
Cut Holes And
Sink 'Em program was
the Army's plan for discreetly disposing of dangerous surplus
materials. It involved the scuttling of ships loaded with the deadly
cargo up to 250 miles offshore. Unfortunately for the US Army's PR
department, some of the materials involved were mustard gas, Sarin,
and VX. Apparently a good many people had serious misgivings about
dumping dangerous chemicals into the ocean. These concerns were
further reinforced by the fact that the Army itself wasn't sure
whether or not the metal and concrete slabs that housed the
chemicals would survive the massive pressure during their 16,000
foot descent to the ocean floor.
In 1974 the US Senate ratified the international Biological
Weapons Convention which prohibited the use of toxin-based
weapons such as VX. Less than two years later, on July 4th, 1976,
the base was again in the news; this time after 20 wild horses were
found dead. The horses had died where they stood, many with open
oozing sores and ashen mucous membranes. Scott Baranowski, a soldier
on duty that day, was the first to arrive. He also took part in the
investigation and burial of the sick and dying horses. Within days,
fifty of the animals had died, and Baranowski found himself
bedridden with a high fever, severe joint pain, and headaches.
The government's internal testing on the carcasses came up
negative for all known chemical nerve agents. The Army refused to
officially admit fault for the deaths and ultimately attributed them
to dehydration. The official report states that the animals were
confused by a recent relocation of a watering hole and had died
before discovering the new one — a phenomenon that was later
observed in some populations of wild horses. The Bureau of Land
Management rejected this explanation, citing that some of the horses
had died within a few yards of the new water source, and that all of
them had died in a relatively short amount of time. Since the horses
were wild, there were no legal damages to be claimed or paid, so the
Army's explanation was reluctantly accepted. As for Scott
Baranowski, he reports that he has suffered chronic health issues
since that early July day. Attempts to obtain his medical records
from that time have met with little success. Baranowski has been
told they "don't exist."
Some of Ray
Peck's dead sheep. (Credit: Deseret News)
While the Dugway incidents cannot take all the credit, they
certainly contributed to the volatile politics of the late 1960s and
early 70s. The American public had grown weary of the Vietnam war,
and the Army's dangerous tests and reckless disposal of deadly
chemicals were too much for many people to accept. Animals had been
dying for decades to help improve the technology of warmaking, but
the casualties of Dugway and CHASE actually managed to impede
military progress: In response to public protests over these
incidents, President Nixon disbanded the Army Chemical Corp, and
took action to ratify the Geneva Protocol to prohibit chemical
weapons in war.
In 1998, the government's report on federal and state studies
from the incident
twenty thirty years earlier was
made public. The findings showed that the levels of VX were
“sufficient to account for the death of the sheep.” Even in the face
of this evidence, the Army has failed to take official
responsibility for the debacle.
Wikipedia: Dugway Sheep Incident
Wikipedia: VX Nerve Agent
Time article: "Sheep and the Army"
CLUI Dugway page
Article on Dugway's dehydrated horses
ANTHRAX DATABASE ON THIS SITE
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