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Biotech Crime The Military Science

Colleague Comes Forward To Defend Anthrax Suspect 164

Posted by kdawson
from the take-a-deep-breath dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "The NY Times writes about Henry S. Heine, a former Army microbiologist who worked for years with Bruce E. Ivins, whom the FBI has blamed for the anthrax letter attacks that killed five people in 2001. Heine told a 16-member National Academy of Sciences panel reviewing the FBI's scientific work on the investigation that he believes it is impossible that the deadly spores could have been produced undetected in Ivins's laboratory, as the FBI asserts. Heine told the panel that producing the quantity of spores in the letters would have taken at least a year of intensive work using the equipment at the army lab, an effort that would not have escaped colleagues' notice. Lab technicians who worked closely with Ivins have told Heine they saw no such work. Heine adds that, in addition, the biological containment measures where Ivins worked were inadequate to prevent the spores from floating out of the laboratory into animal cages and offices. 'You'd have had dead animals or dead people.' Asked why he is speaking out now, almost two years after Ivins's suicide, Heine says that Army officials had prohibited comment on the case, silencing him until he left the government laboratory. Although Heine does not dispute that there was a genetic link between the spores in the letters and the anthrax in Ivins's flask, Heine says samples from the flask were widely shared. 'Whoever did this is still running around out there. I truly believe that.'"
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Colleague Comes Forward To Defend Anthrax Suspect

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  • Anthrax... (Score:2, Informative)

    ...is generally not that deadly. My uncle used to deal with cattle with black leg all the time. This story is ONCE AGAIN blown out of proportion--thanks, FBI.
    • Re:Anthrax... (Score:5, Informative)

      by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Friday April 23, 2010 @11:43AM (#31957132) Journal

      ...is generally not that deadly. My uncle used to deal with cattle with black leg all the time. This story is ONCE AGAIN blown out of proportion--thanks, FBI.

      Depends. I'm not a microbiologist but you know there are different strains (89 I think [wikipedia.org]) of anthrax and it is delivered many different ways. I believe the concern here is spore anthrax or aerosol anthrax which is probably a bit more problematic than black leg. If you think it isn't deadly, there are about a hundred graves in Russia you could visit for an interview [wikipedia.org].

      • by blair1q (305137)

        The Anthrax found in the letters was allowed to float around in the air in crowded places, too. How many people died?

        This guy is giving second-hand and speculative "evidence", and it's not holding up to scrutiny.

    • Re:Anthrax... (Score:4, Informative)

      by Beelzebud (1361137) on Friday April 23, 2010 @11:48AM (#31957190)
      That stuff your uncle used to deal with wasn't a weaponized aerosol either. I'm sure the people that died from the anthrax attack would take issue with your statement about it being blown out of proportion.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by maxume (22995)

        Sure they would. But the other 299,999,950 of us need to decide if such attacks warrant as much attention as, say, car accidents.

      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by chill (34294)

        Yeah, all 5 of them out of a country of 330,000,000.

        An Anthrax Epidemic?

        Killed in car accidents 42,116*
        Killed by the common flu 20,000*
        Killed by murders 15,517*
        Killed in airline crashes
        (of 477m passenger trips) 120 (1)
        Killed by lightning strikes 90*
        Killed by Anthrax 5

        (1) Annual average over 19 year period.
        *Average annual totals in United States.

        While their deaths were tragic, putting it in perspective puts death by Anthrax WAY down the list of things to really worry about. Somewhere way d

        • Re:Anthrax... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Beelzebud (1361137) on Friday April 23, 2010 @12:24PM (#31957612)
          Who in the hell said it was an epidemic? It was a targeted attack, and people died at the places it was sent.

          Who said you should spend your time worrying about it?
        • Re:Anthrax... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by dave562 (969951) on Friday April 23, 2010 @12:28PM (#31957666) Journal

          The "blown out of proportion" aspect of the story was the "threat of terrorism". The anthrax attacks hit the Capitol at the same time legislators were being pressured to pass the PATRIOT Act. The anthrax attacks delivered the unspoken message to our representatives that "nobody is safe from terrorists".

          • Re:Anthrax... (Score:5, Interesting)

            by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Friday April 23, 2010 @01:34PM (#31958612) Homepage Journal

            The anthrax attacks hit the Capitol at the same time legislators were being pressured to pass the PATRIOT Act. The anthrax attacks delivered the unspoken message to our representatives that "nobody is safe from terrorists".

            I'm not saying that Vice President Cheney was involved in any way, but you've got to admit that his agenda, formed long before September of 2001, got a big boost from the attacks.

            Obviously though, he's far too nice of a guy to ever do anything underhanded.

            • by Livius (318358)

              Cheney is such a horrible human being that it's surprising something hasn't leaked yet.

            • Obviously though, he's far too nice of a guy to ever do anything underhanded.

              Absolutely. He's the kind of classy guy that will shoot you in the face, not in the back.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by RiddleofSteel (819662)
            Exactly. These were used on us by our own military to push through the Patriot act. That poor guy was used as the scape goat. I know people love to call these conspiracy theorists a bunch of wackjobs but it seems more and more like we are the idiots for sticking our head in the sands while this goes on all around us.
        • While their deaths were tragic, putting it in perspective puts death by Anthrax WAY down the list of things to really worry about.

          The difference, of course, being that lightning, tornadoes, hurricanes and, to some degree, car accidents are things we have little to no control over. Just because only 5 people died from the anthrax attack did not mean (at the time) that's all there would be. Someone had access to a lab capable of making a weaponized version of anthrax, was doing so AND had used it. You d
      • Re:Anthrax... (Score:4, Informative)

        by thms (1339227) on Friday April 23, 2010 @12:04PM (#31957380)

        That stuff your uncle used to deal with wasn't a weaponized aerosol either.

        Even a very dedicated and professional group couldn't properly weaponize anthrax: The Japanese Aum sect, which later opted for sarin gas to attack the Tokio Subway, tried that twice and didn't kill anyone with it.

    • by areusche (1297613)

      ...is generally not that deadly. My uncle used to deal with cattle with black leg all the time. This story is ONCE AGAIN blown out of proportion--thanks, FBI.

      This isn't wild anthrax that cows get from the prairie, this is anthrax that was designed to facilitate infection by the easiest means possible (breathing). I'm not a scientists, but this strain came directly from an Army research facility designed to research and produce biological weapons. I'm pretty sure it isn't the same as naturally occurring anthrax.

      On top of that according to Wikipedia the FBI closed the case on the 2001 Anthrax Scares back in February http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2001_anthrax_att [wikipedia.org]

    • "cattle with black leg"

      There is a difference between anthrax that occurs naturally and anthrax specifically designed for use in biowarfare in a government lab. The strains of bioweapons that are kept in bioweapons labs are orders of magnitude more resistant and more deadly than anything you'll ever encounter on the face of this planet.
  • Silence != Truth (Score:5, Interesting)

    by WrongSizeGlass (838941) on Friday April 23, 2010 @11:42AM (#31957104)

    Army officials had prohibited comment on the case, silencing him until he left the government laboratory.

    I'm sure he told the Army & FBI about this. Sounds like anthrax killed a scapegoat named Bruce E. Ivins to me.

    • Re:Silence != Truth (Score:5, Interesting)

      by AndersOSU (873247) on Friday April 23, 2010 @12:03PM (#31957364)

      This story never made sense.

      The way I see it there are three possibilities. When the anthrax events were taking place, you'll recall that this was high-grade weaponized anthrax containing silica, that indicates a high level of technical competence. So that leads to the first possibility, a sufficiently competent person can, on their own, weaponize anthrax from a culture. This, to me, is the most frightening, but also the least likely possibility. If one person could do it, someone else would have. I don't doubt that there are sufficiently motivated and financed terror groups who would have repeated the procedure if this were possible. This stuff was supposedly (although there are contradictory statements) better than the soviet weaponized anthrax.

      The second possibility is that Ivins had nothing to do with this, except possibly supplying the culture to a third party - a third party who stopped the attacks for some unknown reason.

      The third - and this is where I put on my tinfoil hat - is that the US maintains stores of weapons grade anthrax in contradiction to our biological warfare treaty obligations that someone, probably Ivins, pilfered.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jdev (227251)

        you'll recall that this was high-grade weaponized anthrax containing silica, that indicates a high level of technical competence

        There was a lot of press initially about the anthrax being high end weapons grade with silica. The truth is, the initial reports of silica are very dubious. That highlights one of the issues in a case like this - you don't even know what basic facts to believe. Almost all of the evidence against Ivins is circumstantial and claims by the government haven't always held up.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2001_anthrax_attacks#Silicon_content_too_high [wikipedia.org]

      • The third - and this is where I put on my tinfoil hat - is that the US maintains stores of weapons grade anthrax in contradiction to our biological warfare treaty obligations that someone, probably Ivins, pilfered.

        That actually seems to be the most likely. A ban means you do it only in secret and keep it small, not that you actually stop doing it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by AndersOSU (873247)

          I'd agree, but I'd think if we were running a covert bio-weapons program there'd be pretty tight controls on it - tight enough that if some got mailed to a congressman we'd get the right guy the first time.

          This whole thing stinks, but I still don't buy the even more conspiratorial we did it to pass the patriot act - does anyone really believe that a few people getting sick on September 20th 2001 is the real impetus behind patriot?

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by TimurLeng (1796944)

        quote: The third - and this is where I put on my tinfoil hat - is that the US maintains stores of weapons grade anthrax in contradiction to our biological warfare treaty obligations that someone, probably Ivins, pilfered.
        ------------------
        Spot on! I think that is exactly what could have happened, as all else just doesn't make any sense.
        Silly conspiracy theories like "Dick Cheney" did it, overlook the lynching party that would have happened on Capitol Hill, would that have ever come out.
        Its not like those la

    • by b4upoo (166390) on Friday April 23, 2010 @12:41PM (#31957822)

      It really makes me wonder if overzealous nuts in the Bush regime could have caused anthrax to be let lose to justify our military actions. I have no trust at all after things like WaterGate and the arms for drugs crap that went on under republican administrations.

  • suicide? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by genican1 (1150855) on Friday April 23, 2010 @11:42AM (#31957108)
    Nobody OD's on Tylenol in order to commit suicide. It's too ugly and painful. There are much quicker ways.
    • by geekoid (135745)

      People kill themselves in a manner of horrific ways.
      Years ago there was a guy who filled his toilet with gasoline, drop his pants, sat on it and then lit it on fire.

      Suicide by fire is pretty painful...for a little while.

      Well, ok it was an attempt suicide as the guy did live, but my point is valid.

      People use chemicals that are very nasty, drown, and a variety of other ways that make people go "why the fuck would you do it that way?"

      Even slitting you wrist is more painful then jumping off a bridge... assuming

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by logjon (1411219)
        The point here being that as a biologist he would have a clue what kind of pain he was really in for in an APAP-induced liver failure death.
    • Right. Nobody at all. Tell that to the girl I briefly dated about 20 years ago, when I was a kid. Can you please also tell it to the ER doctors that pumped her stomach and filled it with charcoal once I discovered what she had done?
      Thanks so much.
      • by spun (1352)

        That girl wasn't a trained biologist and had no idea what she was in for with APAP induced liver failure. Nobody who knows what APAP will do to you would choose to go that way, unless they really wanted a slow, painful death.

        • by blair1q (305137)

          The codeine would mask the pain and induce death itself. A "trained biologist" would know that.

          • by logjon (1411219)
            It truly wouldn't "mask the pain." Codeine is a joke.
            • by blair1q (305137)

              50 pills * 30 mg = 1.5 grams of codeine.

              LD 50 for codeine is 0.8 grams.

              You won't feel a thing. Except maybe the itching.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by spun (1352)

            Do you have any idea how little codeine is in those pills? Even downing more than enough for the APA to kill you wouldn't result in significant pain reduction. It wouldn't do squat to alleviate the pain of liver failure.

            As logion said, codeine is a joke. Tylenol with codeine is what they hand out when people think they need something stronger than tylenol, but they don't. If they actually need something stronger than tylenol, they will get something with oxycodone in it.

            • by logjon (1411219)
              Hydrocodone or propoxyphene are usually prescribed before oxycodone.
              • by spun (1352)

                I was going to put hydrocodone in, but that's just codeine and oxycodone mixed, and I didn't want to confuse the issue. People here in the US know oxycodone from a certain radio personality who was heavily addicted to the stuff, so, it was better for the sake of example, I think.

                • by logjon (1411219)
                  I guess I can understand that. Best to keep it simple, what with dealing with someone who thinks that the codeine in T3 would mask the pain from an APAP overdose.
                  • by Chris Burke (6130)

                    I guess I can understand that. Best to keep it simple, what with dealing with someone who thinks that the codeine in T3 would mask the pain from an APAP overdose.

                    There was codeine in Terminator 3?

                    Wow, you're right, that stuff is useless. It didn't do a thing to relieve the pain of watching that movie!

          • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

            Tylenol+codeine has about 30 mg in it. That's a joke dosage.

          • by durrr (1316311)
            Death by liver failure induced by paracetamol takes far longer than the time codeine stays in the system, and to die of codeine you need, as mentioned, a lot of pills.
      • You see, noone who really wants to die OD's on tylenol because it's a horrible way to die (though something like taking some monk's hood is probably even worse). You don't try to off yourself with tylenol unless either you want to *punish* yourself, you don't know any better, or you are doing it to get attention (which since it takes a while gives them plenty of time to "save" you).

    • by bmo (77928)

      Never happens?

      I know someone personally who did it. Really nice girl. Pretty, too. Took a bunch of Tylenol and killed her liver dead.

      Modded informative? Mods on crack.

      --
      BMO

    • by DebateG (1001165)
      That's simply not true. I'll reference you this article [cjem-online.ca] which says that between 1997 and 2002, there were around 2700 patients in Canada admitted to the ER for acetaminophen overdose and 69% of them overdosed intentionally. That's about 370 people a year intentionally overdosing themselves with acetaminophen a year. In the US, 26,000 people [bloomberg.com] overdosed on the drug over around 10 years. If the rate of intentional overdose is similar in the US and Canada, that's about 1800 people intentionally overdosing on the
      • Like some previous comments indicate, a biologist would know that a Tylenol OD would be a painful way to go, unlike the 2700 Canadians in your article.

        Your notion that liver failure is nasty relative to firearms illustrates the point those posters are trying to make well. I was an 0311/8541 in the USMC during a particularly active time in USMC history, so I'm familiar with the variety of damage dealt by firearms. If I were to decide to off myself, I wouldn't do it with a firearm, for sure.

        • by logjon (1411219)
          You wouldn't use the surest and quickest method because of its damaging effects?
          • It isn't the 'surest method' and very often isn't quick relative to others and in those instances is most definitely not painless. What I refer to is the length of time people often remain conscious after an eventually fatal wound delivered by a firearm. Even with multiple hits.
      • by logjon (1411219)
        We're not talking about a 16 year old emo girl here.
    • by zero_out (1705074)
      What about Benadryl? Also ugly and painful. One of my best friends in HS killed himself on that stuff after doing something really stupid (kissing the newlywed wife of another friend). Vomitting, convulsions, and other nastiness, eventually leading to his heart stopping. I don't doubt that there are certain questions surrounding the circumstances of this man's death, but ugly and painful suicides happen quite often.
  • No kidding. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by flitty (981864) on Friday April 23, 2010 @11:43AM (#31957126)
    And no one who was paying attention to the original details of the story are surprised.
    • And for those who haven't been paying attention, check out Glenn Greenwald's [salon.com] writings on the subject. Something is rotten in the state of America.
      • by flitty (981864)
        Glenn Also pointed to this [businessweek.com] story about how Obama would veto a budget bill if it included money to reinvestigate the 2001 anthrax attacks.

        Transparency, this is not.
  • by Beelzebud (1361137) on Friday April 23, 2010 @11:47AM (#31957182)
    So a strain of Anthrax, developed by the US Military, get's mailed to a Democratic senator, and a high profile journalist, about a month after 9/11. After years of "investigating" they blame a dead guy who can't defend himself.

    This is a case that will never be solved because whoever it was in the government that did it, has covered their tracks.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by stewbacca (1033764)

      They blamed the dead guy before he killed himself.

      • They blamed the dead guy before they made it look like he killed himself.
        • They blamed the dead guy before they made it look like he killed himself.

          I don't generally subscribe to conspiracy theories, but I thought it was *very* strange that they would cremate the suspect in a high-profile national security case without an autopsy, after he had apparently killed himself.


      • Just to clarify,

        They blamed the dead guy before "he" killed "himself."

        Seth

        • Just to clarify,

          They blamed the dead guy before "he" killed "himself."

          Seth

          I don't get it. Are we now calling into question whether or not Bruce Ivens was male? That would be a twist - especially to "his" widow and children!

      • They blamed the dead guy before he killed himself.

        They had blamed several guys already, this one, was the one who got depressed and killed himself. Of course, that depends on your definition of blamed. No charges has been filed. People had just been investigated and labeled "person of interest".

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by AK Marc (707885)
        They blamed a bunch of people. The suspicions alone ruined people's lives. He was depressed over his life being ruined, and killed himself. He was never charged. He was never formally accused. He had his life ruined because he worked with something related to what was used, and killed himself. So, suspecting the real end was the US military (either directly doing the acts, or just having the weaponized anthrax around to be stolen, in violation of treaties), everyone in the government was happy to publ
    • by geekoid (135745) <`moc.oohay' `ta' `dnaltropnidad'> on Friday April 23, 2010 @12:01PM (#31957348) Homepage Journal

      So a strain of Anthrax, developed by the US Military,

      No.
      A strain of Anthrax with similar genetic code as one being developed by the military.

      The security around the anthrax at that time wasn't what anyone would call 'high'.

      • by Chris Burke (6130)

        The security around the anthrax at that time wasn't what anyone would call 'high'.

        Or alternatively they were and this was the problem. ;)

    • by jythie (914043)
      More likely they just wanted a solution since solving high profile cases tends to result in promotions and job offers while failing to solve said cases results in public scorn. History is filled with police that advancd their careers via finding a patsy to pin a high profile crime on.
    • by Livius (318358)

      Pretty much everything the FBI did was entirely for show, so they could knowingly let the real perpetrator(s) continue to remain at large.

  • by Jainith (153344) on Friday April 23, 2010 @11:49AM (#31957198) Homepage Journal

    The Atlantic has a really interesting article about the FBI's multi-year investigation of Stephen Hatfill for the same crime.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/04/the-wrong-man/8019 [theatlantic.com]

  • That's two... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Manip (656104) on Friday April 23, 2010 @11:50AM (#31957210)

    So that is two men the US Government accused of the Anthrax attacks, one of which killed himself and the second almost did. Neither with any real evidence other than vague coincidences. Just goes to show that when the pressure to solve an investigation goes to such extremes mistakes are bound to happen.

    I think we should ask about the state's method. In one case they intentionally harassed a suspect by releasing his name to the media, conducting multiple searches, and following him around 24/7 and even having local law enforcement arrest him multiple times on silly charges.

    In any other country that has some kind of independent police watchdog you would have consequences but in the US where law enforcement seem to be above the law and "investigate" (ha ha) themselves they just get worse and worse year after year.

  • by slashdot_commentator (444053) on Friday April 23, 2010 @11:59AM (#31957316) Journal

    Everyone is assuming that all that weaponized anthrax came from the lab by its genetic makeup. Its possible only a sample was taken, and "mass produced" elsewhere. Yeah, it takes "special equipment", but its not like you need nuclear tools or there's only 7 machines in the world like it. Like the Kennedy assassination, and 9/11, we're never going to get the complete truth out of this.

  • it screams conspiracies and secret government involvement

    but real life is not a hollywood movie, occam's razor is unfortunately mundane and boring. the simplest, lamest, conspiracy-free explanation is the truth

    but flame on paranoid schizophrenics: this story is made for you. wig out and bug out while you can

    • Riight. Because only a paranoid schizophrenic would find this at all suspicious. Do you work for the FBI, or are you just naturally trusting?
    • The simplest explanation is that a highly trained and successful microbiologist found the time and equipment to culture, weaponize, and distribute anthrax in his spare time while still maintaining his normal duties without arising any suspicion from his peers, and then proceeded to kill himself in just about the slowest, most inefficient, and most painful way possible.

      Now I'm not saying there's no way it's true, but it smells fishy enough to warrant looking further into in my opinion.

      • by tftp (111690)

        You forgot to mention that Cipro was distributed to "people who matter" in the government weeks in advance, and nobody is willing to explain this or even ask why it was done.

    • by UnknowingFool (672806) on Friday April 23, 2010 @12:31PM (#31957712)

      No it screams government incompetence. Someone sent the samples. The FBI jumped to conclusions and harassed a man to death that they thought was a suspect.

      It's not the first time. Remember Richard Jewell [wikipedia.org]? After he saved countless lives by noticing a suspicious backpack and evacuating the area around it in Centennial Olympic Park, he was first hailed as a hero. The FBI investigated him for no other reason than he fit the profile of a lone bomber despite having no background with bomb making. What's worse is that he FBI leaked that he was a suspect. After a trial in the media and having all his possessions thoroughly search by the FBI, it wasn't until months later that a US Attorney (and not the FBI) declared he was no longer a suspect. Years later Eric Rudolph admitted he planted the bombs.

  • I didn't know Alex Jones was a slashdot member.

  • by DebateG (1001165) on Friday April 23, 2010 @12:12PM (#31957458)
    The Atlantic magazine just published a really eye-opening article on Steven Hatfill [theatlantic.com], the FBI's first suspect. It is very clear from the article that the FBI was hell-bent on finding a perpetrator of the crime even in the absence of any solid evidence. It's an interesting and frightening read about how the FBI could completely destroy your job, your friends, your day-to-day life, and your family if they falsely accuse you of a crime.
  • How often do folks come forward to say that they can't imagine that their associate/friend/neighbor/spouse couldn't have done the crime. Sometimes they're right and their wrong.
    • by sjames (1099)

      Usually they base that on the person not "seeming" to be that sort of person rather than on an objective look at the logistics that would be involved. This is quite a different matter.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Anthrax cover-up on line one !

  • The FBI already did this to another guy.

    They smeared and squeezed Steven Hatfill for several years. Ashcroft accused him publicly. They shadowed him 24-7. He lost all work and most friends. He is innocent.

    The only reason he didn't commit suicide from the harassment was that, "If I would've killed myself, I would've been automatically judged by the press and the FBI to be guilty."

    Don't take my word for it, read it here [theatlantic.com].

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