The zombie anthrax case

It's been a couple of months since we posted on the anthrax story, the story that refuses to die despite the fact the FBI has done its best to close the case out. But here we are again, our 11th post on the subject, this time because a colleague of the conveniently deceased alleged anthrax terrorist, Dr. Bruce Ivins, has defended him publicly while testifying before a panel of the National Academies tasked with reviewing the case:

Henry “Hank” Heine, who left the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in February 2010 after testing antibiotics there for 11 years, told reporters during an impromptu press conference this afternoon that by his estimates, it would have taken Ivins at least a year of dedicated work to grow the total amount of anthrax spores contained in the 8 letters. And that would have been impossible to do in secrecy. However, Heine said he had no experience making anthrax stocks himself. (Yudhijit Bhattacharjee, ScienceInsider)

Other anthrax scientists don't agree, saying it was more than possible for Ivin's to do it. We may never know, since he died before he could even be indicted. The FBI says he died by his own hand, which fits into a very convenient narrative. I'm not a conspiracy theorist so I don't think we was killed by someone in the government trying to cover their tracks and frame someone else. I think a very plausible case could be made that he died of liver failure from an accidental overdose of Tylenol combined with alcohol. His body was cremated so we don't even have good evidence of cause of death, which was said to be liver failure -- and probably was. The main question is whether hid death was accidental or intentional (suicide).

I have no idea what the National Academy panel will conclude after hearing all the evidence. It should be interesting.

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"I'm not a conspiracy theorist"

Do you deny that conspiracies exist? FYI, thousands of people have been convicted for conspiracy to commit a crime.

If you do not know for certain what happened, and nobody does, and you have a theory that fits the facts better than the official theory, then perhaps it is more correct. WE deal with theories every day. Conspiracy exists. So whats wrong with a conspiracy theory.

"so I don't think we was killed by someone in the government trying to cover their tracks and frame someone else"

Do you deny there was a conspiracy to cover up Watergate? If not, then you know people in government certainly can and do wrong. Not everyone of course, not even most, but it happens. Sometimes they even do wrong for good reasons.

They will be caught like in Watergate you say. But if the conspiracy involves someone in the highest levels in government, with authority over the investigation, why would you think they would not want to cover their tracks and frame someone.

Whistlebowers would come foreward you say? Oh yeah?. How about if wannabe whistleblower is told that what they know is protected by national security laws, and unless they want to end up in GITMO they need to keep quiet. But our free press would not tolerate it. Would our MSM really play it up like Watergate?. Sibel Edmonds got muzzled pretty good.

This refusal to even consider wrong doing by a government agency is the reason why things are such a mess. All they have to do is offer an official investigation and label anywone who questions it a conspiracy nut, and people go along with this Orwellian babble.

In any event, I have no idea what actually happened, but it does not pass the whiff test. I expect a whitewash by the NAS, as all such investigations are. The only purpose is to give the illusion the system works. Maybe thats for the best.

Thanks for writing that, pft. It's weird how theorizing about conspiracies involving members of one's own government is put down as nutty, whereas recognizing conspiracies in other governments is simply news reporting, and theorizing in general is regarded as anything from neutral to awe-inspiring.

This month's issue of "The Atlantic" has an interview with Dr. Steven Hatfill, who was the first suspect in the anthrax case. Excerpt:

The next morning, driving through Georgetown on the way to visit one of his friends in suburban Maryland, I ask Hatfill how close he came to suicide. The muscles in his jaw tighten.

âThat was never an option,â Hatfill says, staring straight ahead. âIf I wouldâve killed myself, I wouldâve been automatically judged by the press and the FBI to be guilty.â

The main question is whether hid death was accidental or intentional (suicide).

I'd say the main question is whether or not he sent the anthrax.

The public interest story that won't die has less to do with whether his death was accidental vs intentional, and more to do with whether his death gave some folks a convenient way to dispose of some very inconvenient questions.

Susan: good point. Yes, that is the main question. Did he do it?

amk's quote on Hatfill reminds me of a recent book I read, In Nixon's Web: A Year in the Crosshairs of Watergate by L Patrick Gray, acting director of FBI during Watergate (published posthumously). Like many of those in the Nixon inner circle, he was dragged into litigation for years. He eventually cleared his name, but for a period he was close to suicide, until he realized that his death would allow the administration to place all blames on him. It was that thought, that those responsible would get away scott-free, plus the damage to his family, that galvanized him to carry on through some 12 years of lawsuits.

When I read that, I immediately thought of Bruce Ivins....

All this also reminds me of another conveniently-dead person in history, Lee Harvey Oswald.

Let me be clear, just in case: I don't believe there's any connection between the murder of JFK and the anthrax attacks. But there are disturbing similarities when government agencies tasked with investigating such monumental crimes were/are also, at the same time, intimately linked to some of the protagonists. It's a systemic problem that rose its ugly head (in hindsight) in 1963, and has never been resolved.

A great book on that subject, still sobering and entirely relevant for today, is JFK and the Unspeakable

It sure sounds like the goal of the FBI investigation at the end was to drive Ivins to suicide. Trying to bribe his children to implicate him, harassing him continuously.

I think the real perpetrators did try to frame Hatfill and the FBI was lead down that path by some of the perpetrators. When that didn't stick, the case was cold and the perpetrators had covered their tracks. A lot of the early stuff the FBI and the Government did was completely crazy. Sterilizing all the mail by irradiating it? What better way to destroy all traces of evidence.

Re. what happened to Ivins:

Tylenol can persist in the body for days after it was last taken, where it can still interact with alcohol to cause serious liver damage.

I'm willing to bet that Ivins was getting dosed up on Tylenol while he was in the psych hospital, or shortly thereafter, and then went on a bender, and the synergistic effect is what killed him.

In other words, not suicide, and not conspiracy murder, but a complete accident.

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I'm not convinced that Ivins did the deed. The evidence is circumstantial and the case did not go to trial.

OTOH I don't believe there was some kind of high-level conspiracy involved either. Basically I don't have a viable conclusion for this.

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As for Hatfill, the comments section after the Atlantic article is full of back-and-forth garbage about Hatfill being a bad guy, a good guy, a victim, this that and the other thing.

Seems to me the right thing to do is just leave the guy alone. He was declared to be an innocent person, so leave him be.

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I really hope the FBI did a thorough and complete after-action review of this case, and made whatever adjustments and improvements are necessary to prevent another one going like this ever again.

In the past ten years it appears they've gotten incredibly good at going after terrorists. The Hutaree raid was an example of the "precision pounce" at its finest: All the primary suspects and a handful of aiders-and-abettors in custody, no injuries to anyone, and apparently the whole thing went by the book and makes for a textbook case in how to do it right.

If there's ever another bioattack on the US, I hope they handle it as well and get it as right, as they did with the Hutaree raid.

And I will never complain about FBI or DOJ spokespeople telling the media, "this is an ongoing investigation and we cannot comment at this time."