Wednesday, August 06, 2008

"Amerithrax" Documents to Be Unsealed Today

Pictures of the "Amerithrax" letters in the possession of the FBI

"[T]he bureau, for its efforts, owes an apology to no one. This is the most complex investigation the bureau has ever had."--Michael Mason, FBI

UPDATE: FBI "Amerithrax" documents released by DOJ

The public and the families of the anthrax victims are all waiting to hear what the FBI has to say about developments in the "Amerithrax" case. So far, the FBI has only posted a press release (8-1-08) from the Department of Justice, but the Amerithrax documents are expected to be released today.

According to the Wall Street Journal (8-6-08):

A federal prosecutor arrived at a U.S. courthouse as the Justice Department begins the process of unsealing documents in the investigation of the 2001 anthrax mailings.

Documents weren't expected to be made available until midday Wednesday, once the government has finished briefing family members of the anthrax victims on their contents and on various elements of the nearly seven-year investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Director Robert Mueller was presiding at the briefing.

The Associated Press reported that the FBI was ready to end its probe.

The FBI is basing a central part of its case against Bruce Ivins on anthrax spores found on a laboratory flask to which the scientist had access, according to two people briefed on the matter.

Information on the flask and other evidence, including emails, shipping records and surveillance, is expected to be made public Wednesday after a briefing for the families of the five people killed and the 17 injured by a series of anthrax-laced letters sent in September 2001. The FBI's case was assembled through a combination of scientific methods investigators say weren't available at the time of the attacks, and through detective work by a new team.

...At least seven anthrax-laced letters were sent in September 2001 to lawmakers and the media from a mailbox near Princeton University in New Jersey. The attacks stoked fears of a new wave of terrorism weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The flask evidence came from work last year that mapped the genetic makeup of anthrax found in the victims, according to one person familiar with the investigation. Those findings showed that the anthrax was a combination of two strains. One originated at Dugway Proving Ground, the only lab in the country known to have processed the powdery Ames anthrax strain like that found in the letter to then-Sen. Tom Daschle. The other came from a third lab.

Records show when those strains were grown, when they shipped and where they went. The two strains intersected at one place: the bacteriology division of the lab at Fort Detrick, where Dr. Ivins worked. Agents discovered that the strains arrived months after the 1999 departure of Steven Hatfill, the scientist who had been the prime focus of the bureau's efforts.

The DNA exams of the anthrax from the letters were "a perfect match," said one federal law-enforcement official familiar with the investigation. The official added, however, it was unclear how many others at Fort Detrick had access to the flask. The FBI tested multiple samples from other labs and apparently didn't find another match, according to a law-enforcement official and a scientist involved in the investigation.

Justice Department and FBI officials are bracing for the possibility of a skeptical reception from scientists and amateur analysts poised to compete with the official version of events.

...Michael Mason, former assistant director in charge of the FBI's Washington field office during a portion of the investigation and later a senior official at FBI headquarters, says despite criticism, "the bureau, for its efforts, owes an apology to no one. This is the most complex investigation the bureau has ever had."

The FBI appointed two veteran agents to take over leadership of the case in 2006. Vincent Lisi, a supervisory agent, and Edward Montooth, an inspector in the case, helped lead a team that re-examined all the evidence.

By late 2006, it was clear the investigation was homing in on Dr. Ivins, said Jeffrey Adamovicz, who took over as chief of Dr. Ivins's division in 2003. The FBI began searches and seizures in the lab, usually but not always at night. Dr. Adamovicz didn't know what was searched because the FBI would turn off the security cameras while they were there.

The FBI took samples of anthrax from Dr. Ivins's freezer relating to old experiments, Dr. Adamovicz said. Agents returned a few months later and took a different set of samples contained in a "beaker or large vial," Dr. Adamovicz recalled. It isn't clear whether this is the flask the FBI is focused on. Later, the FBI took Dr. Ivins's computer. Dr. Adamovicz said the scientist was very upset, adding, "He mentioned a couple times maybe they were trying to set him up."

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