"Our sense of wonder grows exponentially; the greater the knowledge, the deeper the mystery."

-- E.O. Wilson

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Forensic Science

Interesting article on the 2001 American anthrax attacks... STIIIIIILL, an open case:



Cotinis said...

Well, I think you have to look at that source with a critical eye. A lot of people still want to pin the 2001 anthrax attacks on Iraq somehow, and the whole question of weaponization bears on this. The Wikipedia article on the 2001 Anthrax attacks has links to, and quotes from, an authoritative peer-reviewed journal article stating that there was no weaponization of the spores in that attack.
It seems that we will never know for sure, given the untimely death of the principal suspect. There was a long article in the New York Times a year or so ago looking into his background. To me, what is rather damning is that he seems to have been the one who put the FBI onto Hatfill as a suspect. (I think that was mentioned in the NY Times article.) In such a criminal investigation, the nitty-gritty details are never going to be public for a long time, but I would look at the WSJ as a very slanted source on that issue, given the importance of the anthrax attacks in justifying the war with Iraq.
See Glenn Greenwald for a discussion of this issue, and note that he, too, has doubts about the FBI's case against Ivins.

ARJ said...

WSJ may be slanted, but Edward Jay Epstein has a long history as an experienced investigative reporter (granted some of his work may be questionable). I haven't kept up with the story lately, but did at one time read Greenwald's work and I believe Sen. Leahy (who has a lot of inside info) is also not 100% convinced of Ivins' guilt.
Possibly yet another one of those cases that will never be solved to everyone's satisfaction, though it seems amazing that a crime with such a limited no. of suspects can't be settled definitively.

Cotinis said...

Well, I think it is very common that random "serial killer" crimes, even the high-profile ones, go unsolved, or at least unsolved for a long time. Most of what investigators use to find a perp is motive, and if the motive is known only to the perpetrator, investigators may never be able to piece together everything. Look at the Unabomber--went unsolved for almost 20 years, despite massive manpower devoted to the case. The Zodiac Killer was never caught, despite huge resources devoted to the case. The DC snipers were on a killing spree all over the country and weren't even noticed until they concentrated in one area, and then still killed at will despite a massive manhunt. All of those cases shared the fact of obscure or insane motive, not comprehensible to law enforcement, or any rational person.

Furthermore, the WSJ is particularly unreliable on this (not to mention the New York Times). As far back as 15 October, 2001, the WSJ was trying to pin the anthrax attacks on Iraq (link). That was back when nobody knew anything.

Supposedly the genetics show that the anthrax of the attacks came from the USAMRIID (New Scientist). Nobody at that lab was supposed to be weaponizing anthrax--it is against an international treaty. That makes me doubt the analysis quoted by the WSJ. Or maybe the perpetrator at that lab decided to do a little home-spun weaponization on there own when drying down the spores. The broad outlines for how to do this are well-known to anyone with some knowledge of aerosol behavior. Even the presence of some carrier particles (weaponization) does not mean Ivins did not do it.

To me, Ivins makes sense as a perp, because nothing about the 2001 antrhax attacks makes sense, and it sounds like Ivins was mentally unstable. Again, given his death, and the secrecy surrounding this case, we will likely never know. However I will not be surprised if people of various persuasions try to raise the possibility of state sponsorship of the 2001 attacks whenever it suits their political ends. That will likely go on forever.