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August 07, 2008

NPR: Yeah, Seems to Us It's Pretty Clear Bruce Ivins Sent Those Anthrax Letters Because He's a Pro-Lifer
Plus: Anthrax Trutherism Debuts (?) on the Left

He's Catholic, you know.

This story suggests that Ivins may have been trying to murder people because of their support for legal abortion. If you read or listen to the story, youíll see that there are three key pieces of evidence that, according to NPR, support this view. First, Ivins may have read an article critical of pro-abortion Catholic politicians. Second, Ivinsís wife is active in the Frederick, Maryland right-to-life movement. And third, Ivins and his wife sent their children to Catholic schools.

They seem very eager to fit this neatly into The Narrative as quickly as possible.

So we have half the left claiming Ivins is innocent (see Greenwald for this) and the other half saying he's clearly guilty, why look, he's a right-wing pro-lifer. (Without pausing to note that he was a Democrat.)

Let me say a few things about Greenwald. First of all, he's dogged in reading the documents, I'll give him that. And for a skeptical look at the FBI's case, I guess I can say read him, he's doing the most skeptical digging on this.

In some cases, he makes a valid point. The FBI offered, as circumstantial evidence against Ivins, the claim that he sent an email to a colleague that sounded a lot like the "Death to Israel, Death to America" anthrax letters.

ne of the pieces of circumstantial evidence which the FBI stressed most heavily and which has clearly impressed The New York Times is that Ivins, in a September 26, 2001 email to a colleague (which the FBI appears not to have released in full), wrote: "Osama bin Laden has just decreed death to all Jews and all Americans." After citing that email, the FBI then claims in each of its Search Warrant affidavits (emphasis in original) that this is "language similar to the text of the anthrax letters postmarked two weeks later warning 'DEATH TO AMERICA,' 'DEATH TO ISRAEL.'"

This is faintly ridiculous as an offer of proof. "Death to America, Death to Israel" is (as the torpid Greenwald notes) hardly some eldritch Islamofascist chant that the average person wouldn't have heard before. It's pretty much Iran's E Pluribus Unum.

To suggest that this silly shit constitutes evidence of any sort makes me doubt the strength of the rest of their case. If they're offering this nonsense as evidence, how strong can the rest of their evidence really be?

I always operate on the assumption that no one offers weak "evidence" if they have strong evidence at hand, and if they're offering the weak stuff, well, that must mean they don't have anything much stronger than that.


I also note that a scientific commenter here me the lypholyzer is a rather common machine and, in any event, may have been needed to produce the anthrax, but hardly was enough to produce the anthrax.

It all comes down to these "new techniques" the FBI say they've developed to positively ID the anthrax as coming specifically from a specific, distinctive strain found in a flask controlled by Ivins and no other people. I too am suspicious that the FBI's new, improved anthrax-identifying techniques may just be some rubber science being used to convict a dead man. And they're really going to have to reveal these new techniques soon. As in, they should already have done so.

I don't see any reason to keep these techniques secret. Scientists and criminologists need to be allowed to independently test whether these techniques are as case-breaking and definitive as the FBI says.

That said, I have to note the real reason Glenn Greenwald doubts Ivins' guilt: It's because he thinks Bush and Cheney did it. Check out the beginning of his long series of accusatory questions:

Given the significance of the anthrax attacks, it would be unconscionable for there to be anything other than a full-scale Congressional or independent investigation -- with a full airing of all the facts -- regarding everything that happened here. Those issues should include exploration of the following questions, many of which might well have perfectly reasonable and benign explanations, and some of which may not, but until there is a full airing, it will necessarily be the case -- and it should be the case -- that this episode will only serve to further erode whatever lingering trust there is in media and government institutions:
* Why were White House aides given cipro weeks before the anthrax attacks, and why "on the night of the Sept. 11 attacks, [did] the White House Medical Office dispense[] Cipro to staff accompanying Vice President Dick Cheney as he was secreted off to the safety of Camp David"? [Washington Post, 10/23/2001];

* Why, if Cheney was given cipro on the night of the 9/11 attacks, was he allegedly "convinced that he had been subjected to a lethal dose of anthrax" on October 18, and that this fear is what led him to seek refuge in "undisclosed locations" and thereafter support an array of hard-line tactics against suspected terrorists? [Jane Mayer, The Dark Side, 2008];

* Which "high government official" told Richard Cohen to take cipro prior to the anthrax attacks (it wasn't a "source" who did so, since Cohen didn't write about it and apparently never intended to; it was just someone high up in Government passing along a helpful tip to a media friend) [Richard Cohen, Slate, March 18, 2008];

* Did the FBI meaningfully investigate who sent an anonymous letter to the FBI after the anthrax letters were sent, but before they were made public, accusing a former Fort Detrick scientist -- the Arab-American Ayaad Assaad -- of being a "potential biological terrorist," after Assaad was forced out of Fort Detrick by a group of USAMRIID bioweapons researchers who had exhibited extreme anti-Arab animus? [Laura Rozen, Salon, 1/26/2002];

* Why did the FBI gives its consent in October, 2001 for the remaining samples of the Ames anthrax strain to be destroyed, thereby losing crucial "genetic clues valuable to the criminal inquiry"? [San Francisco Chronicle, 11/9/2001];

Further questions flesh out his theory that the anthrax was released by Bush in order to pin on Iraq to justify the invasions.

Yeah, that'll work. Bush did it, Hoss. Bush did everything.

Also: Someone mentioned the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority angle. I didn't know what he was talking about. Here's what that was all about:

Just to illustrate how utterly unreliable and often frivolous the Government-media leaking ritual has been, look at what happened yesterday. The AP's big, leaked scoop of the day to incriminate Ivins was this:

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 today. . . .

The bizarre link to the sorority may indirectly explain one of the biggest mysteries in the case: why the anthrax was mailed from Princeton, 195 miles from the Army biological weapons lab the anthrax is believed to have been smuggled out of.

That's not exactly convincing evidence. Its primary purpose seems to be to make Ivins look creepy -- he harbored a decades-long obsession with a college sorority -- but at least one could argue it would be enough of a circumstantial link to be worth noting. But as it turns out, the leaked information wasn't even close to accurate. Shortly after that leak appeared, it transformed into this laughable claim in an updated AP story:

The mailbox just off the campus of Princeton University where the letters were mailed sits about 100 yards away from where the college's Kappa Kappa Gamma chapter stores its rush materials, initiation robes and other property. Sorority members do not live there, and the Kappa chapter at Princeton does not provide a house for the women.

Good point, eh? Just for balance, let's look at a blogger he cites as an authority on the case:

14. The anthrax letters were sent for effect, not to kill. (See my 2002 article for more on this.) Here are the effects that resulted, at least in part, from the letters:

A. The Patriot Act
B. War against Iraq
C. A new bioterrorism industry, worth over $50 Billion so far, was created
D. The moribund Anthrax Vaccine Program was resurrected

Who benefited? Ivins was no beneficiary. (Had the Bioport vaccine been killed, as planned, maybe Ivins' vaccine would have taken its place.)

You know who benefited:

* The bioevangelists, who have made a ton of bucks on the threat
* The Neocons, looking for an excuse to attack Iraq. The Iraqis may not have attacked the World Trade Center, but by golly, everyone knew they had anthrax!
* Those seeking to consolidate more power in the executive branch, increase the surveillance of Americans, get rid of Habeus Corpus, and on and on.

Just so you know where Greenwald is coming from -- he's a Truther, at least on anthrax, but not quite gutsy enough to come out of the closet and say so.

That said: I have to say at this point I am seriously doubting the FBI.

I simply do not believe one even bothers offering this sort of utter nonsense as evidence of any kind if one has smoking-gun "new techniques" which definitively prove the anthrax came from Ivins' flask.

Why are they not releasing these techniques? Do they wish to hide these powerful new methods from their fellow criminologists?

I have a feeling these "new techniques" are not particularly conclusive or rigorous at all. A bit like handwriting comparisons, which are always of a pretty bullshitty, more-art-than-science-and-barely-an-art-at-that sort of evidence.

So that the case is really that Ivins had access to the Ames strain, which a lot of people do, and he was weird and kinda kooky, which, I admit, is certainly enough reason to investigate someone on, but not nearly, by itself, enough to convict someone on.

And if the FBI does have this definitive, super-duper new anthrax analyzin' technique that proves the case beyond the doubt, why are they gaslighting me with this bullshit about sorority-house obsessions and Islamist catchphrases that one could have lifted from the beginning of The Naked Gun?


Oh: I realize some of this weak crap (like the sorority thing) might have been included in previous applications for search warrants, and that's why it's coming out. It's in the record. And yeah, police sometimes have to strain for probable cause for a search warrant.

But if they had these new techniques conclusively proving the anthrax had come from Ivins' flask and none other, why wouldn't that and that alone be enough to secure all the warrants you might want?


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posted by Ace at 07:52 PM

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