I’ve had serious doubts all along about the anthrax investigation, but the latest turn raises even more questions about the government’s case. According to former co-worker of Ivins’ and former USAMRIID microbacteriologist Henry Heine, the science doesn’t seem to support Ivins’ guilt (italics mine):
Heine told the panel that the most common way of growing bacteria at USAMRIID is in flasks. Based on the number of envelopes mailed out (eight to 10), the concentration of spores in the powder (10 to the 12th power spores per gram) and the number of grams of anthrax per envelope (1 to 2 grams), he calculated there were at least 10 to the 13th power anthrax spores in the attacks. Under ideal conditions, growing anthrax in a flask could produce only 10 to the 11th power spores — one hundredth of the total needed.
…The committee also asked Heine how the anthrax could have been dried into a powder. He replied that the FBI had asked him the same question in October 2001, and he said then and still thinks a lyophilizer would be the simplest way to dry large quantities of spores.
But “the idea of lyophilizing this actually scares the hell out of me, this material is so fine.” It would have contaminated the whole room when the air and moisture was vacuumed out, he said.
He said the lyophilizer at USAMRIID was not in the containment area, and if it had been used to prepare anthrax there would have been a trail of dead animals and people leading investigators to it.
USAMRIID had a speed-vac that someone could have used, but that would dry only 30 to 40 milliliters at a time.
Heine told the FBI the only other way he could think to dry the anthrax would be to use acetone, which would pull out the water.
“I have no idea what that would do to the spores and whether they’d still be viable,” he said, adding there would likely be evidence that acetone was used.
Add to that some investigatory bungling:
He said the whole investigation was filled with lies. Officials told different USAMRIID researchers their co-workers accused them of committing the attacks, just to see their reaction. They searched his vacation house and car without warrants.
They misled him about the questions they would ask him in front of a grand jury. And they tried to get him to seek a restraining order against Ivins, only days before he committed suicide, by saying Ivins had threatened to kill Heine during a group therapy session….
“At least among my closest colleagues, nobody believes Bruce did this,” he said. He thinks the FBI went after Ivins because “personality-wise, he was the weakest link.”
The real problem here is that there are very few people who are familiar with the details of anthrax production–most microbiologists, even those who have worked with other Bacillus species (including the Mad Biologist) simply don’t know the technical ins and outs needed to conduct this investigation. In many ways, this was similar to the ludicrous statements about Saddam Hussein’s non-existent biological warfare program being conducted in the back of small trucks (it was so ludicrous, any microbiologist who has worked with any Bacillus spp. would have realized it wouldn’t have worked and would have probably killed the scientists).
In the absence of factual knowledge, the Justice Department had to rely on human profiles, and so they settled on Ivins, without really comprehending if he could have done this.