Science review casts doubt on 2001 anthrax case

Science review casts doubt on 2001 anthrax case

WASHINGTON — A scientific review released Tuesday in the 2001 case of deadly anthrax mailings cast doubt on the US government's conclusion that scientist Bruce Ivins, who killed himself in 2008, was to blame.

There was insufficient scientific evidence to support the FBI's assertion that the anthrax in letters sent to prominent politicians and journalists in the wake of the September 11 attacks originated within Ivins' lab, it said.

"It is not possible to reach a definitive conclusion about the origins of the B. anthracis in the mailings based on the available scientific evidence alone," said the report by the National Academy of Sciences.

The anthrax mailings, which killed five people and injured 17, rattled an already jittery American public just days after Al-Qaeda militants hijacked passenger jets and plunged them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.

The review found that anthrax contained in a flask, known as RMR-1029, in Ivins' lab shared genetic similarities with spores in the mailed letters but "was not the immediate source of spores used in the letters."

"One or more derivative growth steps would have been required to produce the anthrax in the attack letters," the report said, adding that the letters sent to Washington had different characteristics than those sent to New York.

"They have enough physical and chemical differences between the two that they must have come from separate batches," said lead author of the report Alice Gast.

"The difference between those letters and the flask indicate there had to be an additional growth step to create letters with the additional characteristics that they found," she told reporters.

The FBI concluded that the mailed anthrax must have come from a single flask of parent spores that Ivins had created and which he alone had maintained.

The type of anthrax contained in the letters, mailed to NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, the New York Post and senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy, was correctly identified as the Ames strain of B. anthracis, which originated from a cow in Texas in 1981 and was shared with labs worldwide, the report said.

But a key problem arose from the way the FBI attempted to narrow down the source of the anthrax by creating a repository of potential samples provided by the labs that maintain them.

The repository was incomplete, leaving the possibility that other sources could remain unexamined, and also relied on scientists to provide their own samples, allowing for manipulation by potential suspects.

"Standards of custody of evidence would dictate that agents of the FBI should have obtained the samples," the report said.

"The sender could have been the instigator and may not have complied with instructions, as the FBI alleges with respect to Dr. Ivins."

Ivins, a bio-defense researcher at the US Army's Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, committed suicide by taking drugstore medications in July 2008 as FBI agents were about to bring charges against him.

Investigators began focusing on Ivins in 2007 after new forensic scientific methods traced the anthrax back to him.

The NAS report was delayed in November 2010 when the FBI, which had just received the final draft for security review, decided to release more, previously classified information for the panel to consider.

FBI investigators had looked at anthrax evidence from "an undisclosed overseas site at which a terrorist group's anthrax program was allegedly located," the report said.

"The information indicates that there was inconsistent evidence of Ames strain DNA in some of these samples, but no culturable B. anthracis," it said adding that the late-arriving information "deserves a more thorough scientific review."

The NAS reviewers also noted that their analysis of evidence was limited to "the biological, physical, and chemical sciences," and did not consider other traditional forensic science methods used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The FBI, which commissioned the NAS report, highlighted the panel's assertion that a definitive conclusion based on science alone "was not possible" and said a combination of factors led investigators to conclude that Ivins was the source.

"The FBI has long maintained that while science played a significant role, it was the totality of the investigative process that determined the outcome of the anthrax case," it said in a statement.


Panel Review Questions FBI Theory in Anthrax Attacks After 9/11

ABC News - Feb. 15, 2011


It's a case that's been marked by controversy and mystery for nearly a decade: who was responsible for the deadly anthrax-laced letters sent after 9/11?

Today, the National Academy of Science raised more questions.

A review panel said that the FBI overstated the scientific evidence that linked the anthrax flask controlled by Dr. Bruce E. Ivins to the anthrax used in the 2001 attack letters. Dr. Ivins, a researcher at Ft. Detrick, MD., was identified by the FBI as the primary suspect in the case. He maintained his innocence until his suicide in 2008.

The cornerstone of the FBI case against Dr. Ivins was that the anthrax in the flask to which he had access -- labeled RMR-1029 -- had a unique make-up that identified it as the parent material for the anthrax in the attack letters. It took years of research for the FBI to conclude that the anthrax in the letters came from Dr. Ivins' flask, and they cited it as "powerful evidence" against him.

The NAS has reviewed the FBI's scientific work on the anthrax, and today, Dr. David A. Relman, the vice chair of the NAS panel, said, "One cannot arrive at a definitive conclusion about the origins of the anthrax."

The review by the NAS concludes that while the anthrax in the letters was "consistent with" the RMR-1029 flask, that flask was not the "immediate source" of the spores used in the letters. The NAS found that one or more growth steps would have been required to produce the spores used in the letters. The NAS found that "the data did not rule out other possible sources" of the anthrax.

In addition, the NAS found that the anthrax used in letters sent to New York locations -- including ABC News, NBC News and the New York Post -- had different physical properties from the anthrax in letters that killed several postal workers and closed down some Senate offices in Washington, D.C.

The FBI says it did not rely on science alone to close in on Dr. Ivins. Investigators said they also used circumstantial evidence, including late-night lab visits by Ivins and e-mail messages describing his psychological turmoil, to identify him as a suspect.

In response to the NAS review, the FBI issued a statement saying, "The committee…concluded that it is not possible to reach a definitive conclusion about the origins of the B. anthracis in the mailings based on the available scientific evidence alone. The FBI has long maintained that while science played a significant role, it was the totality of the investigative process that determined the outcome of the anthrax case."

More Coverage:,0,4458653.story,0,5997244.story

AFP  |  The Associated Press

More at 9/11 Blogger

Link to the report

Mainstream breakthrough...

Clear evidence of a cover-up. Dr. Graeme MacQueen's work/lectures more important than ever: Anthrax and 9/11 are connected at the hip.


How is it the National Academy of Science...

is not playing along?

In these times of almost universal deceit it is almost shocking that an agency would tell the TRUTH.

I'm willing to bet their findings are diluted but this is better than what we are accustomed to.

The story appears to be getting some coverage as well

Pretty disgusting

The FBI still insists that its view is the correct one, subject to zero review by anyone else. No apologies whatsoever for a misleading analysis.

Not a govt agency

The National Academy of Science is not a government agency in the typical sense. Although it has central facilities and personnel, it is primarily a distributed network of the top scientists in the U.S. (and some foreign members). Most of these are university professors (all tenured) who have been elected to the academy. Other than a boost in status, election to the academy typically causes no change in their employment, daily duties, personal interactions, political affiliations, etc.. I interact with a few of them on a regular basis. One well known national academy member (Lynn Margulis; married for a time to Carl Sagan) has come out on the side of the 911 truth movement (see Patriots Question 911 website).
These scientists keenly understand the difference between an anthrax lineage that contains a certain set of polymorphisms (genetic markers) and the FBI's notion of genetic "mutations" that point definitively to Irvins' flask. The idea that a set of polymorphisms, which characterizes an entire lineage, could uniquely identify the source as Irvins flask was fed to the press by the FBI and represents either an inability to understand biology or a smokescreen.
It is not possible to get a panel of national academy members to toe a political line; they have all earned their credentials via many years of diligent and creative (world leading) work. None of them are there for political reasons and there is little mechanism for exerting political pressure on them. Herding cats would be considerably easier than getting this group to produce a report preordained by something other than the best scientific information.
I urge all readers of this blog to send words of thanks to the National Academy of Science for their independent report on the anthrax evidence. In the same email, attach the pdf file of the nanothermite paper and request that the academy produce a report on it and the possibly related gravitational acceleration collapse of WTC7, belatedly acknowledged by NIST without any adjustment to their gradual collapse scenario. Make some pleas that science has not been brought to bear on the forensic evidence of 911 and that you think the academy can play a critical role in either putting to rest these outrageous conspiracy theories or in bringing about an investigation that will consider this evidence. This could have real impact.

Thanks. Here's more:

Contact Us


Mailing Address:
National Academy of Sciences
500 Fifth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001

Location and Directions
Main number: 202.334.2000

William Skane, Executive Director
Jennifer Walsh, Media Relations Officer
Luwam Yeibio, Media Relations Assistant

Office of News and Public Information
202-334-2138; e-mail

About the NAS

NASThe National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is an honorific society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare.

The NAS was established by an Act of Congress that was signed by President Abraham Lincoln on March 3, 1863, at the height of the Civil War, which calls upon the NAS to "investigate, examine, experiment, and report upon any subject of science or art" whenever called upon to do so by any department of the government. Scientific issues would become more complex in the years following the war, and to expand the expertise available to it in its advisory service to the government, the NAS created the National Research Council under its charter in 1916. To keep pace with the growing roles that science and technology would play in public life, the National Academy of Engineering was established under the NAS charter in 1964, and the Institute of Medicine followed in 1970.

Since 1863, the nation's leaders have turned to these non-profit organizations for advice on the scientific and technological issues that frequently pervade policy decisions. Most of the institution's science policy and technical work is conducted by its operating arm, the National Research Council (NRC), which was created expressly for this purpose and which provides a public service by working outside the framework of government to ensure independent advice on matters of science, technology, and medicine. The NRC enlists committees of the nation's top scientists, engineers, and other experts, all of whom volunteer their time to study specific concerns. The results of their deliberations have inspired some of America's most significant and lasting efforts to improve the health, education, and welfare of the population. The Academy's service to government has become so essential that Congress and the White House have issued legislation and executive orders over the years that reaffirm its unique role.

The Academy membership is composed of approximately 2,100 members and 380 foreign associates, of whom nearly 200 have won Nobel Prizes. Members and foreign associates of the Academy are elected in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research; election to the Academy is considered one of the highest honors that can be accorded a scientist or engineer. The Academy is governed by a Council consisting of twelve members (councilors) and five officers, elected from among the Academy membership. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone is the president of the National Academy of Sciences.

Cool! Thanks so much for the brief.

Appreciate the inside skinny.

Serious doubt cast on FBI's anthrax case against Bruce Ivins By

Wednesday, Feb 16, 2011 06:17 ET
Serious doubt cast on FBI's anthrax case against Bruce Ivins By Glenn Greenwald

From the article by Greenwald:

"It is hard to overstate the political significance of the anthrax attacks. For reasons I've described at length, that event played at least as much of a role as the 9/11 attacks in elevating the Terrorism fear levels which, through today, sustain endless wars, massive defense and homeland security budgets, and relentless civil liberties erosions. The pithy version of the vital role played by anthrax was supplied by Atrios here and here; in essence, it was anthrax that convinced large numbers of Americans that Terrorism was something that could show up without warning at their doorstep -- though something as innocuous as their mailbox -- in the form of James-Bond-like attacks featuring invisible, lethal powder. Moreover, anthrax was exploited in the aftermath of 9/11 to ratchet up the fear levels toward Saddam Hussein, as ABC News' Brian Ross spent a full week screeching to the country -- falsely -- that bentonite had been found in the anthrax and that this agent was the telltale sign of Iraq's chemical weapons program, while George Bush throughout 2002 routinely featured "anthrax" as one of Saddam's scary weapons.

That there's so much lingering doubt about who was responsible for this indescribably consequential attack is astonishing, and it ought to be unacceptable. Other than a desire to avoid finding out who the culprit was (and/or to avoid having the FBI's case against Ivins subjected to scrutiny), there's no rational reason to oppose an independent, comprehensive investigation into this matter."

Anthrax Information Resources

Graeme MacQueen Interview.
MP3 file:

Washington Post Editorial: Answers in 2001 Anthrax Attacks are still elusive.

Wall Street Journal (2010) - The Anthrax Attacks Remain Unsolved
The FBI disproved its main theory about how the spores were weaponized.

Congressional investigators plan to examine how the FBI determined that one scientist was responsible for the deadly 2001 anthrax attacks -

"On the night of the Sept. 11 attacks, the White House Medical Office dispensed Cipro to staff accompanying Vice President Dick Cheney as he was secreted off to the safety of Camp David, and told them it was "a precaution," according to one person directly involved."
"Let me put it this way," Bush said. "I'm confident that when I come to work tomorrow, I'll be safe."

Anthrax War Documentary 1/7

ANTHRAX WAR is an investigative documentary about the 2001 U.S. Anthrax Attacks, a trail of dead scientists and the dark secrets of germ war research.
The film begins in the days following the 9/11 terrorist attacks when anthrax-laced letters, mailed to media offices in New York and to the U.S. Senate in Washington, spread fear and panic across the United States and beyond.

Additional Resources: