by Sheila Casey / February 26th, 2009
Back in 2001, just months after the anthrax attacks that killed five people, several articles came out in mainstream newspapers that pointed clearly to the CIA and Army as the most likely sources of the weaponized anthrax. Articles in The Baltimore Sun, Miami Herald, Washington Post and New York Times laid out the facts that incriminated Battelle Memorial Labs in West Jefferson, Ohio, and the Army’s lab at the Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah as the only logical sources for the anthrax. These facts, as reported in 2001, include:
1. For over a decade, Army scientists at Dugway have been making weapons-grade anthrax that is “virtually identical” to the anthrax used in the attacks.
2. The anthrax used in the 2001 attacks was extremely concentrated, with a trillion spores per gram. The Dugway anthrax had a similar concentration.
3. The FBI was increasingly focused on US government bioweapons research programs as the source of the deadly anthrax.
4. Both the lab in Utah and the lab in Ohio received anthrax samples from the United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick, although USAMRIID deals only with wet anthrax and ships it wet.
5. The investigation was focused on the Dugway anthrax, and Dugway was described as the only facility that was known to be weaponizing anthrax.
6. One FBI official said that the CIA’s anthrax was “the best lead we have at this point.”
7. Army officials said that Fort Detrick did not have the equipment for weaponizing anthrax.
The FBI has never explained what became of this initial focus on the labs in Utah and Ohio. Instead, after the death of Fort Detrick anthrax researcher Bruce Ivins in July 2008, the FBI attempted to make the case that Ivins was the murderer and all other suspects had been cleared of suspicion.
Since Ivins’ death, the media have, with very few exceptions, passively swallowed the line dispensed by the FBI, and have acted as little more than stenographers in parroting the hollow arguments presented by the FBI that Ivins is guilty.
On December 12, 2001, The Baltimore Sun published a seminal article by Scott Shane that clearly laid out just how strong the evidence was against the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. Subtitled “Organisms made at a military laboratory in Utah are genetically identical to those mailed to members of Congress,” Shane’s article also includes this eyebrow-raising line: “Scientists familiar with the anthrax program at Dugway described it to The Sun on the condition that they not be named.”
Apparently Shane has forgotten all that he reported seven years ago. Now with The New York Times, Shane’s latest piece, published January 4, 2009, raises troubling questions about the independence of The Times, and the memory hole that Shane must have used to shunt away all that he once knew about the case the FBI code-named Amerithrax.
Shane calls his 5,200-word article “the deepest look so far at the investigation.” Titled “Portrait Emerges of Anthrax Suspect’s Troubled Life,” it is primarily a hatchet job on Bruce Ivins. Filled with innuendo and unsubstantiated allegations, the purpose of the article is clearly to solidify the perception that Ivins was the killer, and to pooh-pooh the widely held belief that the anthrax came from a CIA or military lab in Utah or Ohio.
Shane dismisses these beliefs breezily, stating: “The Times review found that the FBI had disproved the assertion, widespread among scientists who believe Dr. Ivins was innocent, that the anthrax might have come from military and intelligence research programs in Utah or Ohio.” Not a single piece of evidence is presented to back up this sweeping claim.
Halfway through his article, Shane springs another shocker on us. “By early 2004, FBI scientists had discovered that out of 60 domestic and foreign water samples, only water from Frederick, Maryland, had the same chemical signature as the water used to grow the mailed anthrax.”
Really? Do FBI scientists think that anthrax researchers go to the kitchen sink for the water they use to grow the anthrax? According to Wikipedia, biochemistry labs use only highly purified water, such as double-distilled. Distilled water is created by boiling water and collecting the steam. To obtain double-distilled water, the process is done twice, so that all impurities and minerals are removed. Distilled water has the same chemical signature, namely none, no matter where in the world it originates.
It is unprecedented to have a major development in a high profile case go unreported for a full five years. Not only has the FBI never before mentioned this so-called discovery about the signature of the water, but when they were specifically asked if anything could be learned from the water, they said no.
The question came up on August 18, 2008, when the FBI held a science briefing to follow up on the highly publicized August 6 press conference by DOJ attorney Jeff Taylor. The science briefing was hosted by Dr. Vahid Majidi, Assistant Director of the FBI Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate.
Dr. Majidi was asked: “In your looking at the elemental and chemical properties, could you tell anything about the water that was used to filter this anthrax, and did that do you any good?”
Dr. Majidi replied: “No. No.”
Yet here we are, five months later, with Scott Shane telling us that the FBI has known since 2004 that the anthrax was grown near Fort Detrick, because of the chemical signature of the water.
Beyond these outrageous claims, Shane’s article is busy assassinating Bruce Ivins’ character. We have Nancy Haigwood saying of Ivins “he did it,” for no apparent reason other than she doesn’t like him and thinks he’s odd. She also thinks Ivins vandalized her house 27 years ago and impersonated her. No reason is given for why she believes these things.
Shane editorializes heavily. He charges that Ivins was “chipper” even as five people were dead or dying of anthrax inhalation, and was relishing his moment in the spotlight. No evidence is presented for how Shane reached these conclusions about Ivins.
Words Shane uses to describe Ivins (including quotes from others) are: corny, dour, scary, provocative, emotionally laden, thin-skinned, aggressive, goody two shoes, very sensitive, creepy, possessing an unnerving hubris, stressed, depressed, rude, sarcastic, nasty, devious, jumpy and agitated.
We find out that Ivins had been a nerdy, awkward teenager, was not popular in high school, and was still bitter about this.
He liked to eat a mixture of peas, yogurt and tuna for lunch and wore outdated bell-bottoms, practices that, according to Shane, got him labeled an “oddball.” The words odd, oddball or oddities appear five times in Shane’s article.
The final reference, regarding “a man whose oddities, for many people, made the FBI’s anthrax accusation more plausible,” tips Shane’s hand. His constant harping on Ivins oddness betrays the poverty of the FBI’s case, which Shane acknowledges has “yielded nothing more persuasive than a strong hunch” that Ivins was the killer.
Fortunately for many of us, being odd is not a crime.
But was Ivins odd? The Frederick News Post published a letter from Amanda Lane on August 10, 2008 that includes: “I want to shout from the mountain tops that Bruce was the kind of man we look up to . . . He was a decorated scientist and the humblest of men who didn’t use his title as a status symbol. He picked up a mop or emptied the trash without a moment’s hesitation. If he thought you were having a bad day he would offer candy or a catchy tune to cheer you up. If someone had to stay late to accomplish a task, Bruce would work with you so that the task would get completed faster.
“He was not the greatest athlete, but he was the best cheerleader present at every game to support his friends. I will truly miss his good humor, as there are few people in life who measure up to this man. I hope that he knew how much joy he brought to my life and others around him. If I learned anything from Bruce, it was to enjoy life and to always smile. His friendship brightened so many lives. I hope that Americans will remember Bruce for the funny and compassionate person that he was, because that is all Bruce knew how to be.”
Although Shane does mention that Ivins’ colleagues cherished him, the implication is that they didn’t really know him, as “he hid from them a shadow side of mental illness, alcoholism, secret obsessions and hints of violence.”
The New York Times has published a hit piece, devoid of incriminating facts, more gossip than journalism. Shane’s article raises disturbing questions about the relationship between The New York Times and the US government. What happened to the FBI’s original focus on the CIA and Army labs? Who is behind the drive to pin the attacks on a dead man who possessed neither the means nor the motive to carry them out? And why is The Times acting as a PR arm for those with an agenda that has nothing to do with journalism?
Sheila Casey is a DC-based journalist. Her work has appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, Reuters, The Denver Post, Buzz Flash, Common Dreams and the Rock Creek Free Press. She blogs at blog. Read other articles by Sheila.