The FBI Wants It Both Ways on Amerithrax

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Glenn Greenwald writes about new evidence in the Amerithrax case. In response to a lawsuit brought against the feds arguing that Ft Detrick was negligent, the DOJ is saying that the facilities needed to make weaponized anthrax were not actually available to Bruce Ivins. Which begs the question: Is the case against Ivins so rock-solid that it was rightly closed upon Ivins’s suicide — and therefore Ft Detrick may have been negligent — or is the case full of holes and ought to be re-opened?

My understanding of the DOJ’s new claims is as follows. They have not changed their claim that Ivins had access to anthrax (although the genetic evidence linking him definitively to the anthrax used in the attacks is not conclusive, but that’s another story). They also confirm that Ivins had access to a sealed room that would prevent an outbreak at Ft Detrick and protect Ivins while working with the anthrax (and this does seem to be true). They also maintain that the equipment necessary to dry the anthrax spores is at Ft Detrick (and a scientist at Ft Detrick confirms this). But, they now (correctly, it seems) say that this refrigerator-sized piece of equipment is not located in a sealed room. So, for the FBI’s case to hold, Ivins would have had to weaponize the anthrax in a lab that would have promoted the spread of this deadly bacteria at Ft Detrick. The problem is, there is no evidence of an outbreak or contamination at Ft Detrick. As Greenwald points out, this — at a minimum — indicates that there must be at least one co-conspirator if Ivins is indeed guilty. That alone should warrant re-opening the case.

I do want to comment about one other point in the PBS investigation that I think is not such a home-run in vindicating Ivins. The DOJ points out in its defense that “producing the volume of anthrax in the letters would have required 2.8 to 53 liters of the solution used to grow the spores or 463 to 1,250 Petri dishes.” However, PBS investigators report that, “Colleagues of Ivins at the lab have asserted that he couldn’t have grown all that anthrax without their noticing it.” However, the range of volumes needed is quite large. Growing 2.8 liters would be easy to do without drawing suspicion, but I do believe that growing much more could conceivably be noticeable to co-workers. A very smart scientist, however, could possibly come up with a work-around, but it would be risky. Nonetheless, Ft Detrick workers who knew Ivins seem convinced of his innocence.

H/T Jim McElroy

9:17 am on July 21, 2011