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back to article $5.8m payout draws line under FBI's anthrax screw-up

When the US Department of Justice agreed to pay Steven J. Hatfill $5.82 million in damages for trashing his life and reputation late last week, it was another big low in the mess that's been the Amerithrax 2001 case. With the de facto exoneration of Hatfill, who had been dubbed a "person of interest" by the FBI, bystanders can …

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Anonymous Coward

Anthrax came from US Military (NewScientist)

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn2265-anthrax-attack-bug-identical-to-army-strain.html

"The DNA sequence of the anthrax sent through the US mail in 2001 has been revealed and confirms suspicions that the bacteria originally came from a US military laboratory."

"The data released uses codenames for the reference strains against which the attack strain was compared. But New Scientist can reveal that the two reference strains that appear identical to the attack strain most likely originated at the US Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick (USAMRIID), Maryland."

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Alien

Oh Where Oh Where

Where's Mulder and Scully when we need 'em???

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Black Helicopters

Movie Plot

It this were a movie plot, someone within the FBI would have done it.

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Boffin

On the difficulty of making bioweapons

Making a "weapon grade" biological agent is trivial. While you cannot grow smallpox on a windowsill as the idiotic BBC Mocumentary claimed many other agents can be created in a DIY environment (including Anthrax).

Now making a usable delivery system is a completely different story. This is the bit that needs the resources of a small country (or a the resources rather large religious sect - your choice really) to achieve.

However, the anthrax scare showed that it does not take an effective delivery system to make good use of a weapon grade agent. Even a lousy delivery system can achieve the goal of spreading fear and panic into the population.

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Stop

Love the CNN Link

FBI Agent runs over man's foot. Man gets fined for walking "to create a hazard"

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Al
Paris Hilton

Anthrax-sniffing dogs?

How does that work? If a dog sniffs anthrax on you, surely that means you've got the anthrax - and now, so has the dog. Didn't anyone spot the fatal flaw in that plan?

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Anonymous Coward

@ Al

Good point. And how long is the working life of one of these dogs?

"Here Lassie, find!"

[sniff]

[scamper]

[whimper]

[expire]

Better hope to get some use our of Lassie before she succumbs to the smell sample...

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Anonymous Coward

@ AC "On the difficulty of making bioweapons"

Actually, it's not THAT easy to make "weapons-grade" bioweapons. It's comparatively easy to make something nasty that could kill a few people, but then it is more than likely that the would-be mass murderer would terminate himself first. And as you rightly pointed out, once you've got something nasty and have managed not to kill yourself with it, you have to distribute it. To be honest, I'm more worried about bird flu and Salmonella in eggs than by bioterrorism!

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Pirate

Dog's not stupid

No wonder the dog went nuts. It detects anthrax. Woofs to himself, ***t it's anthrax. I'm going to get the flock out of here!

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Anonymous Coward

US Military Psychop

My guess is that this was a US military psychop.

The anthrax samples were sent to various labs around the world for testing, this is where they hit the problem. Anthrax was found to mutate very quickly, but the sample were found to EXACTLY MATCH the reference samples provided by Fort Detrick. Meaning that the anthrax came from the US military bio weapons lab, not from terrorist labs in Iraq developed over the last 20 years. (See the New Scientist story).

I'm guessing there was a damage limitation meeting, they decided not to target any current employee, since they could spill the beans... so they went for an outsider who hadn't worked there a year and didn't know anything damaging that might be disclosed.

But it was a stretch, who would believe it, when he had no trace of anthrax on him, no lab to process it in and no place to store it. Plus there was the New Scientist story:

"The new work also shows that substantial genetic differences can emerge in two samples of an anthrax culture separated for only three years."

Meaning that even if he had stole it and secretly developed it, the chance of it being identical even after 1 year was very unlikely.

A single rogue employee perhaps could have done it, or an agent of a foreign power doing a psychop but that doesn't explain the coordinated targetting of Dr Hatfill, and certainly doesn't explain why President Bush increased it's budget the following year

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4183/is_20031009/ai_n10058624

"The largest allocation from BioShield will be an $88 million research facility at the Interagency Biodefense Campus at Fort Detrick in Frederick."

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What's "reasonable"?

"A judge dismissed the suit early last year in finding that Hatfill was a public official and had not shown that the newspaper had published information it reasonably may have believed to be false."

That's the problem with defamation (and libel and slander). You can talk to one total crackpot who gives you a wild made-up story, and then you can go and spread that story with immunity because you did not "reasonably" believe it to be false. What about reasonably believe it to be true? Why isn't that a factor?

According to that rule, I could tell a journalist (even as a bad joke), and they could print in the newspaper tomorrow, "court-worker-x shows porn to children". Because it's a court worker, it's a public official. And the journalist has no reason not to believe me, so they do not reasonably believe it to be false. That journalist could effectively ruin court-worker-x's life and because they do not reasonably believe it is false, there would be no consequences (especially in this climate of "won't somebody think of the children").

re: "Anthrax-sniffing dogs" -- "If a dog sniffs anthrax on you, surely that means you've got the anthrax..." -- I sincerely hope you're being sarcastic and I'm just too tired to detect it, because dogs, even trained dogs, will very likely make some mistakes (false-positive or false-negative). Let's ask that Japanese airport how perfect sniffer-dogs are.

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re: US Military Psychop

"A single rogue employee perhaps could have done it, or an agent of a foreign power doing a psychop but that doesn't explain the coordinated targetting of Dr Hatfill, and certainly doesn't explain why President Bush increased it's budget the following year"

Pfffh. This is easy to explain: Monkey nature. We fear what we don't know.

The FBI was targetting Hatfill as a scapegoat, to cover their blue babboon arses in a mad scramble to suppress their monkey fears, nevermind the issue of deployment/cultivation.

Curious George Bush is just a shaved monkey--he's easily led by his monkey fear and the Big Red Phone on his desk, if someone whispers in his ears long enough.

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Anonymous Coward

@Pyros, maybe

"The FBI was targetting Hatfill as a scapegoat, to cover their blue babboon arses....Curious George Bush is just a shaved monkey"

What are the options here:

1. Muslim terrorists , well that did seem to make sense, before the UK lab decided to DNA sequence the Anthrax and the source was identified. Clearly all the pointers where aimed at this option. This is what we were supposed to think.

2. A rogue employee on his own, with access to recent anthrax samples from Fort Detrick, who widely travels (letters posted from Fl, NY, DC, etc.) writes letters with the anthrax 'death to American... Death to israel, Allah is great' (Death to Israel? WTF? ).

First set posted Sept 18 shortly after 911, trouble I have with that idea, is this rogue person would be captured on CCTV, and would have to get a flight at short notice after the FAA had grounded flights for days and be absent from work. Not likely. The first was only one week after 911 (?). He would have been filmed, noticed, unable to account for his time.

3. A foreign government (e.g. an Israel psychop to encourage all out war against Islam), doubful, I doubt they would take the risk. I'm not a Israel fan, but I reckon sending anthrax to senators as a psychop is even beyond them. Plus I assume when the samples were identifed as USmil samples, that was checked. As strange as this may sound, if this was a psychop by the Israeli nutters, I'd expect them to also send anthrax letters to Israel (to unify them as a fellow victim) but I don't recall such an event.

4. An Islamic employee at the labs working with Islamic fanatics, .... maybe, that's a possible too, I assume they do background checks? Lets put this on the maybe pile.

5. An ex employee with a grudge. Don't see the motive, the letters indicate muslims, and the result would be lots of defense biochemical work, *benefitting* the lab. Plus all the problems of 2.

6. An ex employee trying to help his former lab/America by building up the threat of biochemical attack (overzealous patriot). Trouble with that is he would have to have the anthrax from before 911 and have it on hand. Some sort of complicity or crystal ball seems to be needed.

7. A US Psychop, Bush said 'do anything' and anything meant getting America in scared mode... that would explain the source, the ability to send letters from anywhere, etc. Given the stuff that's gone on since I can believe that.

I'm doubtful of 2 and 4 because the funding that was pumped into that lab. I don't think Bush is in charge, he's more a figurehead that reads prepared speeches. Doesn't mean the people under him are clueless, if there was any likelyhood of 2 or 4, I don't think they'd have pumped money into that lab.

The choices don't seem to be many, and psychop seems to be the most likely.

Look at the psychop we had on Iraq to convince us it was an imminent threat and not a clapped out state close to collapse.

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Odd recollection

About two weeks before the news stories of anthrax being mailed to Congress, there was an NPR (National Public Radio) story on the afternoon news program regarding a little island in the Middle East that had reportedly been used as a biological weapons test site where, if I recall correctly, one could collect "weapons grade" anthrax spores using nothing more complicated than a shovel. Much like the story at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/russia/1358442/Soviet-anthrax-lying-unguarded-on-test-island.html

Setting the stage?

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