August 7, 2008

Occam's Butterknife always more popular

The unmasking of Bruce E. Ivins as a mad scientist who, with a high degree of likelihood, carried out the 2001 anthrax attacks, most likely singlehandedly, has not proven popular. People want to hear that Bush did it, Saddam Hussein did it, the cigarette-smoking man did it, whatever. Personally, I think the idea that a mad scientist at the government's bioweapons lab did it is pretty interesting, but apparently that's not good enough. Everybody wants a conspiracy that goes all the way to the Top! (Which Top is a matter of dispute, but that's not the point; the point is that a mere mad scientist just isn't good enough.)

One thing to keep in mind is that everybody failed in the case of Ivins. The FBI overlooked him for years; his bosses let him continue to work on deadly toxins despite homicidal ideation about "mixing poisons" to murder some poor soccer-playing girl in 2000; the war-bloggers never gave him a moment's thought; the Bushitler crowd never did either; the conspiracy theorist hobbyists did a terrible job too.

The guy who did the best job, amateur analyst Edward G. Lake, still didn't come close to Ivins. In fact, he admitted last week,

"Bruce Ivins is a name I don't recall ever hearing before (but I'm told his name appears in several articles on this site)."

That's fascinating, because Lake was generally considered the best informed amateur analyst in the country.

Last week, Lake was highly skeptical that Ivins did it at first, but said after yesterday's FBI news conference:

"The FBI certainly has a better case against Ivins than I've seen against anyone else."

Here's Lake's list of his conclusions from several years ago, with his brand new updatings as of 86/08:

1. Dr. Steven Jay Hatfill is innocent of any connection to the anthrax attacks, and his life was ruined by a band of politically-motivated conspiracy theorists who conned the media, the public and government officials into forcing the FBI to publicly investigate him. Links: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7

2. The culprit almost certainly used a child to write the anthrax letters and to address the anthrax envelopes. Links: 1 - 2

3. In the tense and panicky first few days of the investigation, mistakes were made at USAMRIID and the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) which were unfortunately leaked to the media. The result was that the silly mistakes and false assumptions were turned into false headlines which misled the world and continue to mislead the world about the nature of the attack anthrax to this day. Links: 1 - 2 - 3

4. Despite all the erroneous media headlines and made up theories, the attack anthrax did not contain any visible additives as so many scientists and media people believe. That basic misconception has caused much of the scientific community and the media to look in the wrong direction for the culprit. Links: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11 - 12 - 13 - 14 - 15 - 16 - 17

5. The cause of Kathy Nguyen's anthrax exposure was never properly investigated because the investigators were caught up in the thinking of the moment and didn't look at the "whole picture". Link: 1

6. The common belief that Bob Stevens was exposed to anthrax as a result of examining the so-called "J-Lo letter" is total nonsense and just more of the thinking of the moment. It doesn't stand up against facts. Link: 1 - 2

7. The anthrax powder in the attack letters was a "garden variety" powder and was most likely made in either a commercial lab, a university lab or a hospital lab in Central New Jersey that is still in use. Link: 1Partially wrong.

8. The anthrax mailer most likely lives and works in Central New Jersey and has not been arrested because the FBI has not yet obtained sufficient evidence to make an arrest. It is hoped (and possibly expected) that the new science of microbial forensics will produce the evidence that is lacking for a conviction. Link: 1 - 2 Partially wrong.

9. The motivation for the attacks was almost certainly to awaken America to the danger of a bioweapons attack by Muslim terrorists - particularly any Muslim terrorists that might be living or staying in Central New Jersey. Link: 1Partially wrong.

10. The anthrax mailer probably had no direct connection to any source of the Ames strain of anthrax and probably never worked for any government lab. Link: 1Totally wrong.

11. The person who removed the Ames anthrax from the lab where it was being used for medical research is almost certainly not the same person who refined and mailed the anthrax. Link: 1 Totally wrong.

12. Al Qaeda was not involved with the anthrax attacks in any way. Link: 1

So, Lake wasn't close at all to identifying Ivins, but he got much of the big picture right -- it wasn't Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, Stephen Hatfill, Dick Cheney or that other Fr. Detrick scientist whom I looked into but resolved not to publish his name. But congratulations to Lake for publicly grading himself like this.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


RKU said...

Well, let's see...

Rosenberg's single biggest claim was that the Anthrax killer got the spores from a U.S. government lab at which he worked.

Lake's claim was that the Anthrax killer had absolutely no connection with any U.S. government lab.

Score: Rosenberg, 7; Lake, 0.

Frankly, I've only discovered Lake's website in the last few days, but he seems like a totally incompetent loon.

On the other hand, he has collected a great deal of very useful primary source material, so he's an obsessive---and fairly useful---incompetent loon.

Anonymous said...

I would like to see the evidence that has made the FBI and others dismiss the possibility that the culprits are the two that Ivins and others have pointed to.

Born Again Democrat said...

I notice Lake claims a child addressed the envelopes that were used. Which child would that be in the case of Ivins?

Anonymous said...

I'm a teacher. A kid wouldn't write in all caps...

testing99 said...

I personally find the idea that a lone scientist could mail anthrax, avoid detection for years, and kill a bunch of people terrifying.

That's one man. Now scale that up to a trained lab, in the service of some foreign power or bought by a terrorist group (perhaps by a wealthy Gulf backer). With trained intelligence people carrying out the execution of the attack.

Just like Tim McVeigh was the wake-up call (along with 1993's WTC bombing) for what could happen in the US, so too these attacks. Particularly if it was just Ivins.

Anonymous said...

I think your first sentence is incorrect. It seems most people accept the idea that a scientist or a group of scientists at the government's bioweapons lab did conduct this operation they are just not willing to take the FBI's word for it hook, line, and sinker at this moment in time. Given the circumstantial evidence, the remaining questions, and the FBI track record recently, I think that is quite reasonable.

Maybe, the truther movement will pick up on it: "Anthrax '01 was an inside job!"

Barry Wood said...

Which conspiracy theorists will come up with... two separate culprits operating independently of each other

hardright@30 said...


The government's case seems to boil down to this:

1) Crazy people might do anything, for no reason at all. Or maybe for profit motive, or possibly because they're obsessed with a sorority.

2) According to reliable witness with an penchant for drug use and drunk driving, who graduated from school last year, but who we will describe as a "psychologist". Ivins was crazy.

3) Also, this stack of email demonstrates conclusively that Ivins was crazy and homicidal, and also that Bill Gates will pay us all $1000 if we forward this email to everyone in the country.

4) Finally, if we don't get somebody (anybody!) real soon now, we're going to have to go work mall security.

5) Therefore, the crazy person did it. It's unfortunate that he's dead, and we'll be forced to try him in the press, but you should all believe us, before we're forced to find new lines of work.

dearieme said...

"which were unfortunately leaked to the media": forgive this intrusion by a bloody foreigner, but isn't the fact that no-one can trust the US government machine not to blab one hell of a disadvantage in this rough old world?

travis said...

Dr. Strangelove lurks in all scientists. What makes them so creepy is that they enhance human power without making it any more likely that humans will use that increased power to do good rather than evil. And to reference another Kubrick film, even if science could condition humans to choose good over evil -- to turn man into a clockwork orange -- that only adds to the creepiness of the scientist. So geeks, stop getting bitter because the sorostitutes at Kappa Kappa Gamma think you're weird. said...
President Nixon on the homosexual power in San Francisco and at Bohemian Grove.
Friday, August 08, 2008
Is there anything you wouldn't believe?
I'm sorry, but I can't help mulling over the preposterousness of the FBI's case against Bruce Ivins. The anthrax attack was made with state-of-the-art - let me correct myself, beyond-state-of-the-art - weaponized anthrax. The Russians couldn't have made it, the Chinese couldn't have made it, hell, even the Iraqis (ha!) couldn't have made it. Only one tiny group of people in the world could have made it, a handful of scientists at . . . Fort Detrick. I hate to even bring it up, but developing this expertise is completely illegal under treaties signed and ratified by the American government. The main point is that the manufacturing process needed to make this stuff was beyond the ability of anyone other than a tiny number of American scientists, and Bruce Ivins wasn't one of them.

The case against Ivins is based entirely on (questionable) DNA analysis which is said to prove that he had custody of a flask of the base anthrax material from which the weaponized powder was made. How do we get from anthrax spores to weaponized powder? According to the FBI, Ivins made it all by himself in his spare time at night.

Ivins was an immunologist. He worked on vaccines. He had neither the expertise - remember, it is beyond-state-of-the-art - nor the equipment to turn the spores into weaponized anthrax. It is as if he was trained as an accountant and the FBI told us his night-time hobby was brain surgery. Or better, manufacturing gasoline out of crude oil in the oil refinery he built in his lab, without anybody noticing. Or better, manufacturing gasoline out of crude oil in the oil refinery he built in his lab, using beyond-state-of-the-art refining techniques developed over years of experimentation, without anybody noticing.

And yet, we're told he must have done it, as he had custody of the flask. Others, some of whom were part of a team that actually had made beyond-state-of-the-art weaponized anthrax based on years of (illegal) experiments using the most sophisticated equipment and techniques, also had access to the contents of the flask, but they have been 'ruled out'. Somehow Ivins, without training in the right field, the proper equipment, years of (illegal) experiments, and a team of scientists, turned the contents of his flask into beyond-state-of-the-art weaponized anthrax in his spare time at night without anybody noticing. On top of this, he did it without getting any of the notoriously hard-to-contain spores on himself or his car or his home. If you believe this, is there anything you wouldn't believe? I have a bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to sell you.

Anonymous said...

I'm a teacher. A kid wouldn't write in all caps...
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