Thursday, May 7, 2009

Anthrax Prosecution 2001: At last, a little disclosure from the FBI

Date: Wed 6 May 2009
Source: Science Insider, American Association for the Advancement of
Science (AAAS) [edited]

FBI anthrax investigation under scientific review
A long-awaited review of the scientific evidence relating to the
investigation of the 2001 anthrax letter attacks is finally getting
off the ground. The study, to be conducted by the National Academies,
will check the validity of the scientific techniques used by the
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in solving the case. What the
study will not do, as spelled out in the academies' official
description of the study, is issue a verdict on whether US Army
researcher Bruce Ivins was indeed guilty of the crime, as concluded
by FBI officials.

The FBI has been under pressure to disclose its full case against
Ivins since 29 Jul 2008, when the researcher committed suicide. The
death precluded a trial and prompted accusations from some quarters
that the FBI had hounded an innocent man to a tragic end. FBI
officials responded with press conferences detailing some of the
facts of the case including the scientific methods used to trace the
anthrax in the letters to a flask under Ivins's charge at the US Army
Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Frederick,
Maryland. At a September hearing last year [2008] before the House of
Representatives Judiciary Committee, FBI Director Robert Mueller
announced that the agency would ask the academies to vet the science
behind the conclusion.

The FBI will pay the academies USD 879 550 for the study, which is
expected to take up to 15 months. According to a statement of task
from the academies, the areas of scientific evidence to be studied
include but may not be limited to:
1. genetic studies that led to the identification of potential
sources of _B. anthracis_ recovered from the letters;
2. analysis of 4 genetic mutations that were found in evidence and
that are unique to a subset of Ames strain cultures collected during
the investigation;
3. chemical and dating studies that examined how, where, and when the
spores may have been grown and what, if any, additional treatments
they were subjected to;
4. studies of the recovery of spores and bacterial DNA from samples
collected and tested during the investigation; and
5. the role that cross contamination might have played in the evidence picture.

The committee will not, however, undertake an assessment of the
probative value of the scientific evidence in any specific component
of the investigation, prosecution, or civil litigation and will offer
no view on the guilt or innocence of any person(s) in connection with
the 2001 _B. anthracis_ mailings, or any other _B. anthracis_ incidents.

[Posted by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee]

Communicated by:
Martin Furmanski

[Martin commented further: "As usual with politically sensitive
National Academy of Science (NAS) studies, the charge contains a
restriction that prohibits an assessment of the government's actions
in the investigation or the conclusions of the DOJ/FBI regarding
Ivins's guilt or innocence. This is completely analogous to
restrictions imposed when the NAS was charged with evaluating
mycotoxins as CBW (chemical and biological warfare) agents during the
Yellow Rain affair: in that case the NAS was prohibited from
examining the evidence or making conclusions on the scientific
viability of claims of actual mycotoxin use in SEA and Afghanistan.
But hopefully at least we will get some more specifics on the science
of Amerithrax. Not so much transparency as translucency?"

Our thanks to Martin for this report and his insightful remarks. - Mod.MHJ]

[see also:
Anthrax, human, 2001 - USA (02): evidence 20090227.0817
Anthrax, human, 2001 - USA: review 20090104.0033
Anthrax, human, 2001 - USA (12): comment 20080928.3074
Anthrax, human, 2001 - USA (11): review 20080924.3019
Anthrax, human, 2001 - USA (10): evidence 20080828.2696
Anthrax, human, 2001 - USA (09): evidence 20080819.2591
Anthrax, human, 2001 - USA (08): evidence, drugs 20080818.2566
Anthrax, human, 2001 - USA (07): letters, evidence 20080812.2492
Anthrax, human, 2001 - USA (06): letters, evidence 20080811.2488
Anthrax, human, 2001 - USA (05): letters, evidence 20080807.2428
Anthrax, human, 2001 - USA (04): letters, evidence 20080806.2412
Anthrax, human, 2001 - USA (03) 20080805.2406
Anthrax, human, 2001 - USA (02): letters, evidence 20080805.2392
Anthrax, human - USA 2001: letters, new suspect 20080803.2371
Anthrax, human - USA: 2001 review 20020920.5367]

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