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August 06, 2008

FBI/DOJ Briefing on the Case Against Bruce Ivins
Oh, PS: Ivins was a Registered, Real, Vote-in-Every-Primary Democrat; Lefty Blogs Begin Doubting His Guilt Based on This

An NPR report details evidence already mentioned.

Some highlights from the briefing:

* "Sole suspect" in investigation

* Focused on Ivins' (USAMRIID) lab in 2005; Ivins in 2007

* Identified a "genetically unique" parent material used in attacks called RMR-1029 from single, specific flask; "created and solely maintained by Dr. Ivins;" "no one received material from that flask without going through Dr. Ivins;" ruled out all persons who could have had access to flask, except Ivins


* Ivins skilled in techniques necessary to create weaponized spores; Ivins had access to freeze-drying machine called "lyopholizer" used to create dry spores from wet material; other technicians consulted him on the proper use of this machinery, demonstrating his expertise

* In days leading up to each mailing, Ivins was working "inordinate" number of off-hours, particularly at night and also on weekends, in the lab; records show he did not work such hours either before or after the attacks; Ivins was never able to provide "satisfactory" answer as to why he was working strange hours

* Demonstrated "consciousness of guilt" -- examples: during search, took "highly unusual" steps to hide book on DNA coding; submitted "questionable sample" of his parent spores to FBI when requested (presumably to deliberately get a false negative on a comparative test)

* Also: Made "far-reaching" efforts to blame others (Steven Hatfill?) and deflect attention from himself; made detailed threats to kill people in his group therapy sessions

* Had a history of mental health problems; in one email he wrote to a coworker, he stated he had "incredible paranoid delusional thoughts at times" and feared he "might not be able to control [his] behavior"

* Throughout his adult life, had frequently driven to other locations to send packages under assumed names to disguise his identity as the sender; admitted to using psuedonyms; was a prolific writer to Congress and the media (thus demonstrating his interests and habits seemed congruent with the "Amerithrax" mailer)

* Envelopes used in attacks were all pre-franked sold only by post offices during 9-month period in 2001; analysis shows defects in ink on pre-printed portions of envelopes; this defect is similar to defects in printing sold by the post office in the Frederick, MD area (where Ivins lived and maintained a PO box); spokesman calls it "very likely" envelopes were purchased in Frederick MD (though does not call it conclusive or a positive match)

Unexplained: It has been alleged (and not, as far as I know, disputed) that the FBI has been unable to reverse-engineer and recreate the anthrax spores; if this is true, the FBI does not explain yet how Ivins managed it.

Not Yet Addressed in Briefing But Important: ABCNews reported much earlier in the case that the spores were coated with bentonite, a coating that only the Iraqis were researching. It seems that not only was this report wrong, it was entirely spurious and made up wholesale. Glenn Greenwald, of all people, makes the interesting speculation that Ivins himself was the dishonest source for this report, hoping, perhaps, to get the media to pressure the FBI into investigating foreign suspects rather than domestic ones.

There are increasing calls for ABCNews to release the names of its source or sources for this claim, given that the sources in question do not seem to be actual sources so much as hoaxters. If ABCNews has multiple sources (which I believe they do), it's possible they all trace their information originally to Ivins.

More: A spokesman argues circumstantial evidence can be compelling, and further suggests there is in fact direct evidence against Ivins, including the flask, "effectively the murder weapon," and tool stamp defects on the pre-franked envelopes. (I know he earlier characterized those defects as ink defects, and now as tool-stamp defects; it appears he means the defects were in the inking, not the ink itself.)

* One of "key steps" was FBI's creation/refinement of new scientific techniques allowing more definitive identification of specific DNA family of anthrax used in mailings; these techniques were not available earlier in the case, until 2005 when they had this "breakthrough," thus explaining the long delay in focusing on this lab in specific

Comment: Skeptics have written that a DNA analysis is not very probative, as this broad strain of anthrax (the Ames strain) is fairly common and a large number of labs (including overseas labs) have it. The FBI seems to be claiming that while such analysis may not have been very helpful or definitive in the past, these new techniques now allow a positive ID of a strain, and that, of course, Ivins' creation (RMR-1029) is a positive match


* No handwriting match. But this is explained by what seems obvious, that Ivins was disguising his writing on the anthrax letters. Another guy, though, claims there were "similarities," but not of such a rigorous scientific threshold as to be admissible in court.

* An email he wrote shortly before the mailings stated that Al Qaeda had bioweapons, which suggests (weakly) his prior intent to pin the mailings on Al Qaeda

* Connection to 9/11: Ivins' strange behavior (including his off-hours working, and frazzled mental state due to fear of his vaccination program being canceled) begins well prior to 9/11 -- in August. So was it pure coincidence he already seemed to be planning the attack to coincide with an event he could not possibly have known was coming? Spokesman blows this off with "I don't want to speculate"

Comment: One of the reasons people like me strongly suspected AQ's (or Iraq's) complicity was the timing, the near-impossibility of a domestic suspect having both the ability and desire to send anthrax out, with a plan that was all ready to go, just happening to coincide with the fortuitous (to the domestic anthrax mailer, at least) occurrence of 9/11. It seems a strange and large coincidence.

It continues to seem that way -- though that doesn't mean it's impossible. The FBI does seem to be saying, though, that yes, it was a big coincidence: Ivins was working on this scheme in the weeks leading up to 9/11, possibly with an eye already to pinning it on AQ, and just happened to get insanely lucky by having AQ attack the country even as he was drying his spores.

Odd. I guess this may be a particularly ungainly Black Swan.

* Why didn't Ivins get sick? He had vaccinated himself.

* How could such an unhinged guy, paranoid and alcoholic, maintain his position in a high-clearance bioweapons lab? "I don't want to speculate."

* New technique of anthrax DNA analysis has been "validated" and can be used "going forward," that is, they're saying it's a generally useful (and admissible) bit of forensic science which has been tested and will be used in the future (i.e., they're saying it's not a weak bit of make-it-up rubber science used just to convict a dead man)

The IHT: Allah refers me to this IHT article.

Allah calls the below "damning," but I think the IHT reporter may have it wrong:

n addition, searches of Ivins's home in Frederick, Maryland, turned up "hundreds" of similar letters that had not yet been sent to media outlets and members of Congress, people who were briefed by the FBI on Wednesday said.

I believe the reporter has this badly wrong. He is suggesting the briefing stated these letters (which the FBI numbered as 68, IIRC, not in the "hundreds") were similar to the anthrax death-threat letters.

That would indeed be explosive and damning evidence, but that's not what I thought they were saying at the briefing. Indeed, I thought what they were saying was relatively inconsequential so I didn't bother mentioning it.

My impression -- and I may be wrong -- was that these 68 additional letters were similar to other "letters to the editor" and constituent-concern letters he had written in the past, all of a non-criminal nature, and demonstrating simply his longstanding and nearly obsessive interest in Congress and the media (similar to the Amerithrax mailer's interest).

I should note that the FBI mentioned this parenthetically, suggesting my interpretation is correct, and did not especially highlight this when asked about "direct" or conclusive evidence against Ivins.

If the IHT reporter's interpretation is correct -- that these were "Death to America/Death to Israel/Take penicillin now" type letters, one would imagine them being absolutely central to the FBI's case, not parenthetically mentioned as merely being additional, secondary circumstantial evidence.

Furthermore, surely such letters would have been written in the same disguised handwriting we see in the anthrax letters -- so the FBI would not have said there was "no handwriting match." They would have said, "Hell yeah, we matched his handwriting!"

The article goes on to throw doubt on the case, with some post office workers quoted as saying they just don't believe the FBI (we heard a bit of that at the end of the briefing), and allegations that the FBI acted improperly in attempting to turn Ivins' children (older children, I'm guessing) into witnesses against him.


Ivins Was an Out-and-Proud, Bona-Fide, Broken-Glass Democrat: Kudos to the Brad Blog for reporting it. I suppose it's sadly inevitable that, having found out the culprit was an out-and-proud partisan Democrat, the lefty blog immediately begins doubting he could have been the culprit.

"I asked for Bruce Ivins," he explained while detailing his call to the BoE. "I spelled the name, and they were well familiar with who I was talking about. I can't imagine that there could be many other Bruce Ivins in Frederick, Maryland."

The BRAD BLOG has reviewed the signed request that Kincaid says he sent to Stuart Harvey, Supervisor of the BoE, in which Kincaid noted that "Any response [to the request] may be made telephonically to the number above or to [his email address]. Inasmuch as this is information for a story on deadline, there is no need to mail the response."

"The purpose of this correspondence is to provide you with a written request," Kincaid wrote to Harvey, "pursuant to Maryland law as you expressed it to me, for all public voter registration information for an individual by the name of Bruce Ivins, included, but not limited to name, address of registration, party affiliation and elections/primaries in which the registrant has voted."

Kincaid was later called back by a deputy to the Supervisor of the Fredrick County BoE and informed that Ivins had been a registered Democrat and had voted in every election since 1996. The pertinent part of the initial email from Kincaid follows:

The nature of Maryland law was such that I had to provide them with a written request for info, signed by yrs trly. I complied by e-mailing a scan of a signed request letter.

They then informed me that the Board isn't allowed to e-mail such info in response. She instead conveyed the information by phone, said info being received by my lovely wife, Agnes. That information via Noreen, the deputy to Stuart Harvey, Supervisor of the Frederick County, Maryland Board of Elections, is as follows: Bruce Ivins, Date of Registration 24 November 1982. Party of Registration: Democrat. Records indicate he voted in every election since 1996.

Kincaid confirmed again, on the air today, that his understanding was that Ivins had voted in every Democratic Primary election in Frederick County since '96, since Maryland has a "closed" primary system, allowing only members of each political party to vote in their own primaries. "So it wasn't an Operation Chaos type of thing," Kincaid explained on the air, referring to rightwing radio host Rush Limbaugh's campaign to encourage Republicans to vote for Hillary Clinton in this year's Democratic Primary contests.

So if you're wondering why Ivins' political affiliation has not been reported -- as many of you were certain would be the main storyline here, assuming he had turned out to be Republican -- there's your answer. Surely the MSM would be calling him a Republican in every report, but, alas, it turns out he's a Democrat, and hence no reportage on this aspect of his political beliefs whatsoever.

I wouldn't read too much into his political affiliation; his main party was of course "Crazy."

But yeah, goddamnit, I do know that if he had been a Republican, the MSM and the left would be going beserkers and blaming this all on us.

And I find it a bit unsettling that members of the "Reality Based Community" immediately begin offering conspiracy theories based on little more than the fact that Ivins was a Democrat, so of course he can't be guilty.

Brad Blog's argument is slightly more nuanced than that -- he asks why a liberal (presumably, based on his letters to the editor) Democrat would send anthrax to liberals Daschle, Leahy, and Tom Brokaw ( a curious sudden admission from the left that a big MSM figure is in fact "liberal").

But the writer seems trapped in the thinking that political orientation determines bad behavior (of course Ivins must have been a Republican; only mean Republicans do stuff like this!), rather than accepting that insanity and not political belief is the main motivating impulse in this sort of crime.

So why did Ivins send the letters to liberals, mostly? Why not? For one thing, he was bonkers. For another thing, he wanted a lot of publicity, and, at the time, Daschle and Leahy were in the Senatorial majority. Republicans, at that time, were in the minority, due to Jumpin' Jim Jeffords.

And what conservative media figures were prominent enough to warrant an anthrax letter? George Will? Jonah Goldberg? Pshah. If you want to make a splash, you send letters to TV news anchors, and all of them, of course, were/are liberals.

For another thing, as the netroots proves day-in, day-out, the netroots hate what it considers heretics and apostates in the Church of Liberalsm nearly as passionately (sometimes moreso) than actual Evil Republican Malefactors.

The left's determination to find a Republican villain behind every single crime or misfortune that befalls the world is borderline insane -- nearly Bruce Ivins level paranoid, actually.

I myself was skeptical of Ivins' guilt. I am less so now, but I'm not entirely convinced. There is that question of bizarre timing, after all: Ivins just so happened to be finishing up his plot to send anthrax and pin it on Al Qaeda just as al Qaeda attacked America.

But I think that's a slightly more substantive reason for skepticism than "He belongs to my party, so I cannot believe he is capable of terrorism or criminality."

More from CNN: Major takeaway: the strength of the case rests chiefly on the FBI's "new techniques" of postively identifying the "genetic parents" of an anthrax sample. Only when they release these techniques to the public can scientists verify the techniques are sound.

They haven't done that yet. They've just asserted the techniques have been "validated' and will be employed in future forensic analyses.

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posted by Ace at 04:28 PM

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