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Secret Reports: With Security Spotty, Many Had Access to Anthrax

The Army laboratory identified by prosecutors as the source of the anthrax that killed five people in the fall of 2001 was rife with such security gaps that the deadly spores could have easily been smuggled out of the facility, outside investigators found.

A sign on the door of a Biosafety Level-4 laboratory at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Md. (Patrick Semansky/AP Photo)

The Army laboratory identified by prosecutors as the source of the anthrax that killed five people in the fall of 2001 was rife with such security gaps that the deadly spores could have easily been smuggled out of the facility, outside investigators found.

The existing security procedures -- described in two long-secret reports -- were so lax they would have allowed any researcher, aide or temporary worker to walk out of the Army bio-weapons lab at Fort Detrick, Md., with a few drops of anthrax -- starter germs that could grow the trillions of spores used to fill anthrax-laced letters sent to Congress and the media.

The two reports, which have not been made public for more than nine years, describe a haphazard system in which personnel lists included dozens of former employees, where new hires were allowed to work with deadly germs before background checks were done and where stocks of anthrax and other pathogens weren't adequately controlled.

Fort Detrick since has adopted new bio-security measures. But the security reports by independent government specialists suggest that deadly anthrax stocks may have been more accessible than investigators assumed in declaring Army scientist Bruce Ivins the perpetrator.

The letters, mailed to two U.S. senators and at least three media outlets, panicked the nation in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Justice Department says the letter spores derived from a flask controlled by Ivins at Fort Detrick.

Marked "for official use only," the two reports were completed in 2002. One was conducted by a seven-member team from Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M. The other was by auditors for the Army's inspector general's office.

The teams evaluated security at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), then the lead federal lab for developing vaccines and other medical defenses against biological weapons.

McClatchy, the online investigative newsroom ProPublica and PBS's "Frontline," which have collaborated in an examination of the Justice Department's case against Ivins, obtained copies of both reports.

The reports are expected to be made public later this week in a $50 million lawsuit filed in federal court in West Palm Beach, Fla., by family members of Robert Stevens, a photo editor for American Media Inc., who was the first person to die from the anthrax attacks.

"It's about time," said Richard Schuler, a lawyer for the family. "The public should know about the way security for deadly pathogens was being handled -- or mishandled -- by the Department of the Army and the government in the period leading up to the 2001 anthrax attacks."

A psychological report on Ivins, who committed suicide in July 2008, said Ivins had "diagnosable mental illness" when he was hired in 1980, and that his mental health should have disqualified him from obtaining a "secret-level" security clearance.

Ivins died of an overdose soon after learning that prosecutors were seeking approval to charge him with five counts of murder. The FBI case was largely circumstantial, although prosecutors say their most direct evidence was the genetic link between anthrax in the letter powder and spores in Ivins' flask of liquid anthrax.

Before posthumously declaring Ivins the killer, the Justice Department said, the FBI eliminated as suspects as many as 419 people. Those individuals would have had access to Ivins' flask, which was stored in an airtight "hot suite" at Fort Detrick, or to spores he'd shared with colleagues or outside researchers, including scientists at the Battelle Memorial Institute in West Jefferson, Ohio.

The Sandia report emphasized that terrorists had obtained germs from research labs before. It cited a February 2001 National Defense University study that found 11 cases in which terrorists or other "non-state operatives" had acquired biological agents from "legitimate culture collections," including three research or medical laboratories.

Despite USAMRIID's sobering mission, the Sandia report said, the western Maryland lab had developed a work environment in which employees failed to make the same "indisputable commitment to security" as they did to research.

"The current biosecurity system at USAMRIID does not adequately protect HCPTs (high-consequence pathogens and toxins) and related information," wrote the Sandia team, headed by security expert Reynolds Salerno.

The report said no rules governed movement of germ specimens from one building to another, for example, and that a test tube containing some of Ivins' spores was left for weeks in a refrigerator in a second building.

Fort Detrick's personnel database failed to list 213 of USAMRIID's employees but did include 80 who had left their jobs, the Sandia report said. A separate human resources roster listed 56 people who had left but not 12 who worked there.

Conflicting rosters didn't necessarily signal a security weakness, the Sandia team wrote, but they contributed to "perceived chaos in the personnel system" at the facility.

Even if all those things had been perfect, the examiners said, there was little way to detect diversions from flasks of germs, because a "malevolent" worker could grow more of the pathogen or find other ways to conceal the removal of a small amount.

Asked about the studies, a Justice Department spokesman said in a prepared statement that the FBI looked at everyone who had card-key access to the "hot suites," including researchers with up-to-date vaccinations, then thoroughly investigated "all individuals with theoretical access" to Ivins' spores in advance of the mailings.

The Army auditors, who studied security throughout Fort Detrick, not just at USAMRIID, made clear that pathogens in the bio-weapons facility were "not afforded a standard, minimum level of protection" similar to that for nuclear and chemical weapons.

Although a 22-year-old Army regulation governing the management of hazardous biological substances was in effect in 2001, the Army auditors wrote, two of the three labs at Fort Detrick weren't aware of it and the other ignored it as outdated.

The Army report also said that contractor labs, such as Battelle, had limited regulation and no screening of individuals working with anthrax and other pathogens, creating "the potential for unauthorized access to these materials."

USAMRIID has long since committed to a major overhaul of its security system and adopted a comprehensive Army "biosurety program" in 2003 that included closer tracking of inventories of various germs.

Employees with access to the "hot suites," which are designed to contain anthrax and other pathogens during experiments, must now submit to regular medical, mental health and behavior screening, including monitoring of their use of prescription drugs.

"The safety of the USAMRIID staff and the security of the biological agents on which it works," spokeswoman Caree Vander-Linden said, "have always been top priority, even before the events of 2001."

The problem is that the security valued by the administration is only as effective as the people in the trenches.  The first guy who picks an obvious password or sticks his password on the computer screen opens a computer network wide.  The first guy who doesn’t bother to escort his old friend to the restroom is making theft or sabotage trivial.  Once the sticky door is propped open, the expensive security system is worthless.  So it’s nice for the spokeswoman to say that security is a priority, but if it wasn’t put into action, it didn’t help much.

Meanwhile, and to be fair to the facility, it occurred to me that it might be worth (if possible) retesting the spores against the alleged source.  Anthrax primarily reproduces asexually, meaning that the two samples should be a very close match.  And in today’s biotech world, a far cry from ten years ago, you can get a full human genome worked up in an afternoon, so something like Anthrax could probably be done over a coffee break with a greater reliability than, say, a paternity test, and for not much more money.

It’s been known for a long time that security was lax at USAMRIID. 

Mentally ill Bruce Ivins was allowed to work with deadly pathogens alone and unsupervised at night and on weekends, and no one ever questioned what he was doing.

It’s a giant leap of logic, however, to think that some outsider would get into USAMRIID and steal a sample from a flask that was just one of 606 samples of Ames at USAMRIID.  There was nothing special about flask RMR-1029, and any black-garbed Ninja warrior sneaking into USAMRIID at night to steal Ames strain anthrax would be far more likely to go after an “ancestor” Ames strain sample, than some flask that meant nothing to anyone except Ivins and a few others who used spores from the flask.

I totally agree that security at USAMRIID was incredibly lax in 2001.  But, there’s absolutely NO reason to believe anyone but Bruce Ivins prepared the powders in the anthrax letters.

Ed Lake
http://www.anthraxinvestigation.com

Lewis Weinstein

Oct. 24, 2011, 3:51 p.m.

Finally, the FBI’s pathetic case against Bruce Ivins is beginning to unravel publicly. The FBI has presented no witnesses, no physical evidence, and no science. Their case is built on inaccurate assertions and flimsy innuendo. 

If the FBI has more support for its case against Ivins, they should make that information public. If not, they should admit (a) they don’t know who committed the anthrax attacks, or (b) they do know but they don’t want to say who it was. If there’s any other possibility, I can’t think of it. 

For those who want to follow this story in detail, the CASE CLOSED blog at ...http://caseclosedbylewweinstein.wordpress.com/ ... provides a wealth of information, updated daily as new documents are released. 

The conclusion of the CASE CLOSED blog ... IT WASN’T IVINS!

BS, Propaganda.  It was Military Grade, MADE IN THE USA.  The PATRIOT ACT was already written- READY TO GO.  NOBODY EVEN READ IT. Cui bono??

Stuart Davies

Oct. 25, 2011, 9:48 a.m.

Well, of course it wasn’t Ivins, and the government knows that their case against him is fatally flawed. Therefor, they need a plausible escape from their little dillema… thus this “secret report”, conveniently backdated to 2002 which has been “unearthed” and will now be released. Once again, Pro Publica appears to be an unwitting pipeline for the dissemination of a US intelligence disinformation scam designed to sow confusion and cover their tracks.
  Unfortunately for the keystone conspirators within the military/intelligence community, they made a whole series of boneheaded mistakes. They left a number of clues that were INTENDED to be found, tying the anthrax attacks to the same group of “Islamic terrorists” that the 9/11 attacks were pinned on. Of course, these very clues, blatant and absurdly overdone as they are, have now become prima fascia evidence of governmental involvement in the anthrax attacks, as well as further circumstantial evidence of governmental involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Check out this video below:

http://911blogger.com/news/2010-05-10/dr-graeme-macqueen-connection-between-911-anthrax-and-iraq-05-01-10-walkerton-1-5

Lewis Weinstein

Oct. 25, 2011, 10:11 a.m.

ProPublica and its partners have done a wonderful job exposing the nonsense in the FBI case - at least some of it. What is needed now is to pursue documents the FBI/DOJ are trying desperately to hide and to interview people who actually know what happened in many crucial aspects of the case. Specifics as to documents to obtain and people to interview can be found on my CASE CLOSED blog at ... http://caseclosedbylewweinstein.wordpress.com/ ... updated daily.

LEW WEINSTEIN
http://caseclosedbylewweinstein.wordpress.com/

I agree that Pro Publica has done a wonderful job exposing the nonsense in the FBI case - at least some of it. However, this isn’t the first time they have fallen for some obvious intelligence misdirection… someone there is a bit too credulous and shows a low capacity for deductive reasoning. They are not connecting some obvious dots and drawing some obvious conclusions.

Stuart Davies wrote: “Well, of course it wasn’t Ivins, and the government knows that their case against him is fatally flawed.”

The government knows that lots of people think that al Qaeda was behind the attacks.  But the only “evidence” supporting such a belief is “common sense,” which means they believe that because al Qaeda was behind 9/11, it’s “common sense” that a biological attack so soon after 9/11 must have been from the same people.  But, “common sense” isn’t really much evidence.  It means nothing in court.

The government also knows that a lot of people FALSELY believe the attack anthrax was weaponized with silica, and therefore the U.S. Government must have been behind the attacks in order to start a war with Iraq.  The only evidence people have who believe this conspiracy theory is the fact that they government has lied about things in the past, therefore they must be lying about who was responsible for the anthrax attacks, too.  And no amount of evidence is ever going to convince such conspiracy theorists that the attack anthrax was NOT weaponized.

When you get beyond those first two groups, you start getting into individual theories.  Some still think Steven Hatfill did it.  Some think their next door neighbor did it.  Some think Judy Miller and William Broad did it to promote their book “Germs” which came out shortly before the attacks.  I know a woman who thinks a record executive in California was behind the attacks.  I know another who thinks the mayor of Galevston, Texas, was behind the attacks.  I know another who believes some Pakistanis she went to Iowa State University with in 1990 were behind the attacks. And, I know at least a dozen others with similar theories, each theory very unique.

And, NONE of them have any evidence to support their theories except for “circumstantial evidence” that doesn’t add up to 1/100th of the evidence against Bruce Ivins. 

What all of these people have in common is that they all think Ivins was innocent BECAUSE THEY ALL HAVE THEORIES OF THEIR OWN.  And, they believe that if they can argue that there isn’t enough evidence against Ivins, that somehow means their own theory is a better theory.

It’s a game of “argue that the other guy is wrong, because if he’s wrong, that means you’re right, even if you have no facts of any kind whatsoever.”


Ed Lake
http://www.anthraxinvestigation.com

Lewis Weinstein

Oct. 25, 2011, 3:16 p.m.

You don’t have to have any theory about who did the anthrax mailings to know that the FBI’s publicly released case against Dr. Ivins is a pathetic brew of flimsy innuendos with no factual support ... no physical evidence, no witnesses, no science. It’s time for the FBI to admit this truth, re-open the case, and try to solve it.

Lew Weinstein wrote: “It’s time for the FBI to admit this truth, re-open the case, and try to solve it.”

The FBI HAS solved the case.  Looking at the same evidence a second time won’t change anything.  The case is solid against Ivins—whether you believe it or not.

So, what do you think the FBI is supposed to investigate if there is NO REAL EVIDENCE AGAINST ANYONE ELSE?

The case against Steven Hatfill involved NO evidence.  Hatfill was a “person of interest” only because EIGHT scientists and other individuals fingered him as the guy who did it.  They told the FBI, and when the FBI found no evidence to support their claims, those eight individuals (but mainly just one of them) started talking with the media, politicians, public gatherings and anyone else who would listen.  That went on four EIGHT MONTHS until politicians DEMANDED that the FBI investigate Hatfill.

If you believe that someone else did it, YOU NEED TO SUPPLY EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT YOUR BELIEFS. 

If you believe that there is evidence out there but the FBI just hasn’t found it, YOU NEED TO SUPPLY EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT YOUR BELIEFS. 

If you have ONLY BELIEFS AND NO EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT YOUR BELIEFS, you need to have your head examined.  It means you cannot think logically and your demands are just plain silly.

Ed

Lewis Weinstein

Oct. 25, 2011, 4:55 p.m.

Give me $100 million and 10 years, and I’m confident I would do a whole lot better than the FBI did. But the burden is not on me. It is on the FBI, which is struggling frantically to avoid its accountability. The lack of evidence to support the FBI’s assertions is in fact evidence that they do not have a case against Dr. Ivins. I make no claims except that the FBI case is pathetic.

LEW WEINSTEIN
http://caseclosedbylewweinstein.wordpress.com/

Lewis Weinstein wrote: “Give me $100 million and 10 years, and I’m confident I would do a whole lot better than the FBI did.”

The MOUNTAIN of evidence against Bruce Ivins is in fact evidence that you wouldn’t find anything that shows someone else was the anthrax mailer if you were given $500 million and 50 years to do it.

and: “But the burden is not on me.”

But the burden IS on you to show everyone SOMETHING other than that you will always believe the FBI is wrong no matter how much evidence they have against Bruce Ivins. 

and: “It is on the FBI, which is struggling frantically to avoid its accountability.”

The FBI has stated repeatedly that Bruce Ivins was the anthrax mailer which makes them fully accountable for that claim. The FBI and DOJ have released a summary of the case and THOUSANDS of pages of supplementary documents in support of their finding.  Where are they avoiding accountability - other than in your imagination? 

and: “The lack of evidence to support the FBI’s assertions is in fact evidence that they do not have a case against Dr. Ivins.”

And the burden IS on you to show what YOU think is “evidence” against someone else when you claim that the MOUNTAIN of evidence against Bruce Ivins isn’t really evidence and that the FBI has no case against Bruce Ivins.  Do you believe that criminals ALWAYS leave “smoking gun” evidence behind, evidence that you could find even if the FBI couldn’t?  Do you believe that criminals ALWAYS have clear motives and ALWAYS commit their crimes in front of reliable witnesses? 

and “I make no claims except that the FBI case is pathetic”.

You appear to claim that you know more about evidence than the FBI, and you claim the FBI was wrong in accusing Bruce Ivins of being the anthrax mailer.  So, you should show everyone some SOLID evidence against someone else that the FBI failed to find.  Otherwise, your claim is a baseless claim without merit. 

Ed Lake
http://www.anthraxinvestigation.com

Ed Lake, you are far too married to your website and theories to have any objectivity.  Ivins was a POSSIBLE suspect due to some evidence but he was never charged, not because he killed himself, but because there wasn’t ENOUGH evidence to convict him.

Just because the FBI couldn’t identify another possible suspect doesn’t make Ivins the only one who could have done it. 

Consider this from this installment:

“The report said no rules governed movement of germ specimens from one building to another, for example, and that a test tube containing some of Ivins’ spores was left for weeks in a refrigerator in a second building…

Conflicting rosters didn’t necessarily signal a security weakness, the Sandia team wrote, but they contributed to “perceived chaos in the personnel system” at the facility.

>>>>Even if all those things had been perfect, the examiners said, there was little way to detect diversions from flasks of germs, because a “malevolent” worker could grow more of the pathogen or find other ways to conceal the removal of a small amount. <<<<

Holes in the security system created the possibility that a “malevolent” worker could have taken home enough pathogen to grow more elsewhere.

Bruce Ivins couldn’t be ruled out but then again, someone else could have been ruled in - they just didn’t know who cold have gotten to insecure flasks but the public now knows that security was lax and it was possible that another or others could access the pathogens for nefarious purposes.

The concept of reasonable doubt exists and in cases like this, where the standards of security were well below that for other weapons of mass destruction, it is unreasonable not to be open to that concept.

Ed, you were not the proverbial “fly on the wall” so you can’t KNOW with absolute certainty that Ivins did it.  Mental illness does not a mass murderer make - otherwise at least half of Congress would have to be put under the same microscope lens.

David Efron wrote: “Ivins was a POSSIBLE suspect due to some evidence but he was never charged, not because he killed himself, but because there wasn’t ENOUGH evidence to convict him.”

Totally wrong.  You are clearly unaware of the facts.  A grand jury was hearing the evidence against Ivins.  But, the process of presenting evidence to a grand jury in such a complex case takes weeks or months.  (It would probably have taken equally long to present the evidence to the trial jury.)

Ivins had already testified before the grand jury.  Ivins’ lawyer had advised Ivins that the grand jury would most likely issue a indictment, Ivins would be arrested, and Ivins would most likely be facing the death penalty at trial.  Ivins’ lawyer had to get certified to work on a death penalty case.

The DOJ lawyers were still a few weeks away from completing their presentations to the grand jury.  So, when Ivins committed suicide, he was a few weeks away from being indicted and arrested.

David Efron also wrote: “Ed, you were not the proverbial “fly on the wall” so you can’t KNOW with absolute certainty that Ivins did it.”

It’s not required to know “with absolutely certainty that Ivins did it.”  It’s only required that a jury decide that Ivins did it beyond any REASONABLE doubt. 

There is no REASONABLE doubt in the case against Ivins.  The only “doubt” people express is the POSSIBILITY that someone else could have done it and left behind absolute no evidence of his or her existence.  Juries hear that kind of thing from defense lawyers every day, and the judge tells the jury before they go into the jury room that they are NOT deciding what is “possible” or “impossible,” they are deciding whether or not the evidence says the defendant is guilty beyond a REASONABLE doubt.

It’s POSSIBLE invisible aliens from outer space stole anthrax from USAMRIID and mailed the letters BECAUSE NO ONE CAN SAY IT IS IMPOSSIBLE.  But, no jury of ordinary citizens is going to believe that Ivins was innocent because it’s POSSIBLE that aliens from outer space could have done it.

Ed Lake
http://www.anthraxinvestigation.com

Partial post by Mister Lake:
—————————————
There is no REASONABLE doubt in the case against Ivins.  The only “doubt” people express is the POSSIBILITY that someone else could have done it and left behind absolute no evidence of his or her existence.
——————————————————————————————————————————————————-
Why do you say “absolute(ly) no evidence of his or her existence”?
But the very things being attributed to Ivins are the ‘evidence’ of the perp(s)’ existence!  You just need to be able to read that evidence.

Richard Rowley wrote: “You just need to be able to read that evidence.”

What are you saying?  Are you saying that you can read the evidence better than all the investigators at the FBI and lawyers at the DOJ who have viewed the evidence?  And you see the evidence points to someone else?

But, of course, you won’t explain how your view of the evidence is better than the FBI’s and DOJ’s because ... because why?  Because you know we’ll all get a great laugh over it?

Ed

Partial post by Mister Lake:
———————————-
Richard Rowley wrote: “You just need to be able to read that evidence.”

What are you saying?  Are you saying that you can read the evidence better than all the investigators at the FBI and lawyers at the DOJ who have viewed the evidence?  And you see the evidence points to someone else?
===========================================
You betcha.

At the PSYCHOLOGICAL level, what they should have been looking for was someone like George Trepal: fancy-schmancy, high-tech DNA analysis notwithstanding, this is a POISONING case. That’s no guarantee that the poisoner had a record of former poisonings before (he might have been too young in 2001 or he might just never have been caught in prior poisongings), but the psychological analysis in this case after the initial profile was worked up is just ABYSMAL:  they were looking for a criminal mastermind and ended up with…...Barney Fife in a lab coat!

Richard Rowley wrote: “At the PSYCHOLOGICAL level, what they should have been looking for was someone like ...”

So, we agree.  You don’t care what the evidence says, you’re going to believe what you want to believe.

You have your own personal theory about who the anthrax mailer was, and no amount of proof from the FBI is going to change your mind.

You should had just said that at the beginning.  It would have saved us both a lot of time.

Ed

Lewis Weinstein

Nov. 5, 2011, 10:42 a.m.

I have no theory as to the identity of the anthrax killer. What I do know, however, is that the case the FBI has asserted, and which you apparently believe without question, is total bunk. They have offered no evidence, no witnesses and no science. Every document which manages to elude their grasp destroys another element of their pathetic case. After 10 years and $100,000,000, we have a right to expect more.

Mister Lake:
——————
So, we agree.  You don’t care what the evidence says, you’re going to believe what you want to believe.
———-
Every time I think you can’t write a WORSE summary of what I’ve written in a blog, you then excel yourself.
===============================================
Mister Lake: as I’ve pointed out numerous times, there’s NO evidence

1) Ivins did any drying of anthrax in the entire calendar year of 2001.
(and no, citing lab entry and exit records does NOT establish what he was doing while in a lab on a particular night)

2) made even a single trip to Princeton in September or October of 2001. (And no, saying Ivins ‘had no alibi’ for hours when he was probably sleeping doesn’t establish that he made a trip to Princeton)

3) printed the Amerithrax letters.

4) copied the Amerithrax letters.

And that’s the whole case.

Just a note on the above exchange: in Mister Lake last-but-one entry he ends it with this question: “And you see the evidence points to someone else?” So Mister Lake asks a question. And I answer in the affirmative. And I cite the misguided nature of the government’s confusion over the nature of the psychological dimension of the case. THAT honest reply to Mister Lake’s own question (foolish me for answering it!) prompts this:
“So, we agree.  You don’t care what the evidence says, you’re going to believe what you want to believe.

No fair reading of what I wrote includes the concept of “r rowley doesn’t care what the evidence says”. But that’s Mister Lake’s problem, not mine.

I think I can conclude my part of this discussion by saying:

We agree that we disagree, and that it appears that no agreement is possible.

We disagree on what constitutes “evidence.”  I agree with what the FBI and DOJ consider to be evidence.  You have your own rules.

Therefore, I don’t see that further debate can achieve anything. 

Of course, I knew all this when I started, since I’ve had countless similar arguments over the past ten years with individuals who have their own theories about the case.  They all still have the same theories.   

Ed

In my own valedictory(?) post here I’d like to point out another of Mister Lake’s foibles, one on grand display on this very blog thread: he SIMULTANEOUSLY claims:

1) that it isn’t enough to criticize the FBI/DoJ case against Ivins, critics are OBLIGED to have some notion of who else could have done it
(Mister Lake pulled that off in this (partial) post above to Lewis Weinstein:
——————————————-
and: “But the burden is not on me.”

But the burden IS on you to show everyone SOMETHING other than that you will always believe the FBI is wrong no matter how much evidence they have against Bruce Ivins.
———————————————————————————————————————————————-
2)  those who HAVE other candidates (either in general or specific terms) in place of Ivins, are “prejudiced” by the fact that they have those other candidates! That’s what Mister Lake tried to claim about me!
(naturally, ANY critic of the government’s case is going to fall into either category 1) or 2))

Heads I win, tails you lose!