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Tag: anthrax

FBI Probes Threatening White Powder Letter Sent to Talk Show Host Craig Ferguson

Craig Ferguson

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

More often than not politicians have been the beneficiary of mysterious letters with white powder. This time it was the flip late night talk show host Craig Ferguson who got one of those letters.

The Associated Press reports that the FBI is working with police to determine who sent a threatening letter with white powder to Ferguson in Los Angeles  from overseas. The white powder ended up being harmless.

AP reported that two people at CBS Television City in Los Angeles, where “The Late Late Show” is filmed, were temporarily isolated Tuesday after being exposed to the powder around 3 p.m. They were released after authorities determined the material was harmless.

After the deadly anthrax letters in 2001, the U.S. Postal Service set up sensors in postal processing facilities to detect biological agents like anthrax.  Scores of fake white powder letters have been mailed around the country since then, but none have been found to contain dangerous agents like anthrax.

The White Powder We Fear: Packages Shut Down Alaska Congressional Offices in Fairbanks

Sen. Murkowski

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

The anthrax attacks of 2001 have left the U.S. with a collective paranoia about white powder and mail.

The latest: Authorities temporarily shut the offices of three Alaska Congressional members on Monday after their Fairbanks offices received suspicious packages with white powder, Reuters news service reported.

It ended up being harmless.

Reuters reported that it ended up that a man had sent samples of concrete material to the Congressional delegation, which includes Sen. Mark Begich, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Rep. Don Young.

After the anthrax attacks, which killed five people and sickened 17, the U.S. Postal service installed sensors to detect anthrax in mail processed through postal facilities around the country.

No anthrax has been detected in the mail since the 2001 attacks, but there have been endless false alarms that have shut down buildings and resulted in people being decontaminated for safe measure.

OTHER STORIES OF INTEREST

Judge Lets Justice Correct Anthrax Filing that Created PR Mess

One of the real anthrax letters in 2001/fbi photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

A federal judge has allowed the Justice Department to correct a court filing that created an embarrassment and public relations goof for the agency in the anthrax case.

ProPublica reported Friday that U.S. District Judge David Hurley of West Palm Beach, Fla., gave the ok to the government to withdraw a court filing that mistakenly said that the late scientist Bruce Ivins did not have access to “specialized equipment” to make the deadly anthrax, when in fact he did.

The revised filing says Ivins had access to a refrigerator-sized machine known as a lyophilizer, which can be used to dry solutions such as anthrax, ProPublica reported.

The filings were in response to a lawsuit filed by the wife of National Enquirer photo editor Robert Stevens, who died as a result of an anthrax mailing. She contends the government did not do enough to protect the anthrax supplies from being used against citizens.

The erroneous filing created a stir in the media, which printed stories saying the Justice Department had undermined its own claim that Ivins was to blame for the attacks. Ivins committed suicide in July 2008 before authorities could file criminal charges against him.

The erroneous filing provided more fodder for critics who are skeptical that Ivins was in fact the one who mailed the letters.

Judge Blocks Justice Dept. From Correcting Statement About Anthrax Suspect

Anthrax Suspect Bruce Ivins

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

A federal judge temporarily blocked the Justice Department from correcting a court filing that undercut the FBI’s conclusion that Army researcher Bruce Ivins was responsible for the anthrax letter attacks in 2001, PBS Frontline, McClatchy and ProPublica reported in a joint story.

U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley of West Palm Beach, Fla., on Monday issued a written order saying the government must “show good cause” before allowing Justice to amend the court filing.

The filing was part of a lawsuit filed by the wife of a National Enquirer photo editor Robert Stevens, claiming the government failed to do enough to protect people from an anthrax attack.

Monday’s court order  appeared more procedural than substantive.

The government in the original filing said that Ivins did not have access in the lab to the special equipment needed to make the deadly powder, the publications reported.

The Justice Department wants to correct that to say Ivin did in fact have access to the equipment at U.S. Army bio-weapons facility in Frederick, Md., where he worked.

OTHER STORIES OF INTEREST

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Justice Dept. Filing Casts Doubt on Guilt of Anthrax Suspect Bruce Ivins

Anthrax Suspect Bruce Ivins

By Mike Wiser, PBS FRONTLINE, Greg Gordon, McClatchy Newspapers, and Stephen Engelberg, ProPublica

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department has called into question a key pillar of the FBI’s case against Bruce Ivins, the Army scientist accused of mailing the anthrax-laced letters that killed five people and terrorized Congress a decade ago.

Shortly after Ivins committed suicide in 2008, federal investigators announced that they had identified him as the mass murderer who sent the letters to members of Congress and the media. The case was circumstantial, with federal officials arguing that the scientist had the means, motive and opportunity to make the deadly powder at a U.S. Army research facility at Fort Detrick, in Frederick, Md.

On July 15, however, Justice Department lawyers acknowledged in court papers that the sealed area in Ivins’ lab — the so-called hot suite — did not contain the equipment needed to turn liquid anthrax into the refined powder that floated through congressional buildings and post offices in the fall of 2001.

The government said it continues to believe that Ivins was “more likely than not” the killer. But the filing in a Florida court did not explain where or how Ivins could have made the powder, saying only that the lab “did not have the specialized equipment’’ in Ivins’ secure lab “that would be required to prepare the dried spore preparations that were used in the letters.”

To read more click here.

Rep. Nadler Criticizes FBI in Letter to Director Mueller Over Anthrax Probe

Rep. Nadler/gov photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

The top Democrat on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution fired off a letter Wednesday to FBI Director Robert S. Mueller accusing the agency of providing “incomplete and misleading” information on the 2001 anthrax attacks to the committee.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) letter focuses on the amount of “silicon” that was contained in the deadly anthrax letters. He asks that the FBI forward any information that could shed light on the subject.

The FBI told the ticklethewire.com on Thursday  that the bureau “received the letter yesterday and we  will respond directly to Congressman Nadler.”

The following is the letter:

May 25, 2011
The Honorable Robert S. Mueller, III
Director
Federal Bureau of Investigation
J. Edgar Hoover Building
935 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20535-0001

Dear Director Mueller:

I am writing with respect to the investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) into the 2001 anthrax attacks and information provided by the Department of Justice (DOJ)/FBI to me about that case, which appears to have been incomplete and misleading.

On September 16, 2008, the House Committee on the Judiciary, on which I sit, conducted an oversight hearing of the FBI at which you testified. At that hearing, I asked you the following: “[W]hat was the percentage of weight of the silicon in the powders that your experts examined?” You testified that you would get back to me. On November 26, 2008, I sent to you this follow-up question in writing: “What was the percentage of weight of the silicon in the powder used in the 2001 anthrax attacks?”

On April 17, 2009, then-Acting Assistant Attorney General M. Faith Burton, of the DOJ Office of Legislative Affairs, responded with the following answer:

FBI Laboratory results indicated that the spore powder on the Leahy letter contained 14,470 ppm of silicon (1.4%). The spore powder on the New York Post letter was found to have silicon present in the sample; however, due to the limited amount of material, a reliable quantitative measurement was not possible. Insufficient quantifies of spore powder on both the Daschle and Brokaw letters precluded analysis of those samples.

Read more »

How Sleuths Cracked the Anthrax Mystery Via Genetic Fingerprints

One of the real anthrax letters in 2001/fbi photo

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Inside a Rockville laboratory, a team of scientists labored in round-the-clock shifts to do something many colleagues thought impossible: decode the genetic “fingerprint” of a deadly anthrax sample to help the FBI solve a case.

The researchers had been swept into Amerithrax, the massive federal investigation into the 2001 anthrax mailings, and they yearned for a breakthrough. But finding unique markers in the organism’s vast genetic code was a long shot.

The big break came in a small package: tiny test tubes, delivered by the FBI, from a military lab at Fort Detrick in Frederick, where lab workers had spotted a series of odd-looking bacteria colonies. Those oddities would help the Rockville scientists decipher the genetic signature of the anthrax used in the nation’s most serious bioterror attack.

To read more click here.

Scientists in Anthrax Case Still Have Doubts and Questions

One of the real anthrax letters in 2001/fbi photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Like the JFK assassination, the mystery and the persistent questions about anthrax killings in 2001, won’t go away.

The latest is a detailed article in the magazine WIRED, by Noah Shactman, who writes that scientists involved in helping the FBI crack the deadly mystery still have lingering doubts and questions about the probe that concluded that civilian government scientist Bruce Ivins mailed the letters that killed five people and sickened 17 others.  Ivins committed suicide in July 2008 before prosecutors could file charges.

Schactman writes that Clair Fraser-Liggett, a  genetic specialist in Maryland who led the team that sequenced the DNA of the anthrax in the letters,  has reservations.  “There are still some holes,” she told the author.

In Flagstaff, Arizona, scientist Paul Keim, who first identified the anthrax strain in the case, told WIRED: “I don’t know if Ivins sent the letters.” The author also spoke to FBI agent Edward Montooth, who headed up the investigation, who said he’s convinced Ivins mailed the letters but he’s uncertain about the motivation and when he concocted the deadly anthrax.

“We still have a difficult time nailing down the time frame,” he says. “We don’t know when he made or dried the spores.”

The WIRED article was posted on the website on Thursday, just days after the FBI got some welcoming news from a report by the Expert Behavioral Analysis Panel, which concluded Ivins’  psychiatric records “does support the Department of Justice’s (DOJ’s)determination that he was responsible.”  A federal judge had ordered the panel to review the case and Ivins.

The FBI and Justice Department have faced a wave of skepticism from politicians on Capitol Hill, Ivins’ attorney and Ivins fellow scientists at Ft. Detrick in Maryland, who question whether Ivins was actually the culprit.

Their skepticism was bolstered in February by  a 170-page report by the National Research Council, which  found that the Justice Department overstated its case when it definitively concluded that the anthrax used in the deadly mailings came from a flask from Ivins’ laboratory at Fort Detrick labeled RMR-1029. The report, which was commissioned by the FBI,  said it did not rule out other possible sources.

“The scientific link between the letter material and flask number RMR-1029 is not as conclusive as stated in the DOJ Investigative Summary,” the report said.

However, Lehigh University President Alice P. Gast, who led the 16-member National Research Council Committee that reviewed the cutting-edge science used in the investigation, said: “We find the scientific evidence to be consistent with their conclusions but not as definitive as stated.

To read the full WIRED story click here.