Rush Holt Blasts FBI for Withholding Documents from Outside Review of Scientific Work in Anthrax Investigation
[Ed. note: Link to Rep. Holt’s statement and letter have been added below.]
Both the New York Times and McClatchy report that Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ) has written a letter to the FBI, blasting them for requesting a delay in the release of the final report from the National Academy of Sciences panel that has been reviewing the scientific analyses used in the FBI’s Amerithrax Investigation of the 2001 Anthrax mailings. It appears that in requesting the National Academies to delay release of its final report, the FBI has released an additional 500 pages of documents to the panel, but only after having seen the draft final report from the panel.
Holt, a scientist and the chairman of the House Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, said the academy recently shared with the bureau its draft report on the “Amerithrax” investigation, a narrow scientific review that the FBI requested in 2008 in an effort to quell controversy over its findings that a disgruntled government scientist was behind the attacks.
“This week I was informed by the NAS that the FBI would be releasing an additional 500 pages of previously undisclosed investigative material from the Amerithrax investigation to the NAS,” he wrote. Holt said he understands that the “document dump . . . is intended to contest and challenge the independent NAS panel’s draft findings.”
“If these new documents were relevant to the NAS’ review, why were they previously undisclosed and withheld?” Holt wrote. He requested a meeting with the FBI director.
In the Times, Scott Shane reports that the National Academy has agreed to extend its study:
E. William Colglazier, the academy’s executive officer, said the F.B.I.’s request was a surprise and came after the bureau saw the panel’s peer-reviewed final report, which was scheduled for release in November. He said that the committee’s 15 members, top scientists who serve as volunteers, were “exhausted,” but that the panel had agreed to extend the study and consider revising the report in return for an additional fee, probably about $50,000, beyond the $879,550 the F.B.I. has already paid for the study.
Dr. Colglazier declined to say if the report was critical of the F.B.I.’s work but said it was “very direct.” The report sticks to science and does not offer an opinion on whether Dr. Ivins carried out the anthrax attacks, he said.
The McClatchy article also quotes Holt as saying of the FBI that it “consistently botched and bungled this case from the beginning.” In addition to the early focus on Steven Hatfill as the primary suspect, followed by a settlement of more than $4 million paid to Hatfill after he was cleared of involvement, several aspects of the FBI case do not appear to withstand scientific scrutiny.
In this diary, I pointed out that the amount of highly purified anthrax material that was used in the mailings would have been very difficult, if not impossible for Bruce Ivins, whom the FBI stated was solely responsible for the attacks, to have produced at his government laboratory without arousing the suspicion of his coworkers. The small shake flasks that Ivins would have used produce very little material, so he would have had to grow anthrax in a very large number (over 35 or so) of the cultures he normally grew.
On the other hand, a single production of spores from a fermenter of at least 70 liters would have produced enough anthrax spore material to account for what was used in the attacks. Further, in this diary, I point out that the abnormal silicon content of the spores used in the attack can be accounted for by the presence of an agent called “antifoam”, that is added to microbial cultures when they are grown in large fermenters, again suggesting that the attack material was produced in a fermenter to which Ivins did not have access.
I had been monitoring the website for the National Academies investigation regularly since the project’s slated termination in late October, looking for their final report. It appears now that we all will have to wait a bit longer before we see that report. My only hope is that Rush Holt is making sure that David Margolis is not allowed anywhere near the report before it is made final.
(h/t to @jaraparilla for alerting me to the Times article and to Retired Military Patriot for finding the McClatchy article)