Monthly Archives: November 2008
Cleveland, OH – Cleveland is a city with well documented problems – our streets and bridges falling apart. Jobs disappearing. Not enough police on the streets to help combat crime. Yet, 19 Action News Investigator Scott Taylor found Mayor Frank Jackson is living a life that some Hollywood stars would envy! Why does the Mayor of Cleveland Ohio have three drivers waiting to chauffeur him to anywhere he wants to go? Can’t he drive himself like the most of us do? 19 Action News asks him, and you’ll see what happens when we go face to face.
By Deborah Rudacille
Examiner Correspondent 11/16/08
Bruce Ivins was a cold-blooded murderer, a deranged psycho-killer, who in the fall of 2001, cooked up a virulent batch of powdered anthrax, drove to Princeton, N.J., and mailed letters loaded with the lethal mix to five news organizations and two U.S. senators.
At least, that’s what the FBI says.
Frederick Police talk with a woman who they identified as Diane Ivins, the widow of Bruce E. Ivins, 62, who died of an apparent overdose of prescription Tylenol mixed with codeine, at their home, Friday, Aug. 1, 2008, in Frederick, Md. AP Photo/Rob Carr
The letters infected 22 people, killing five, including two Maryland postal workers.
The sixth victim of the madness was Ivins himself, a 62-year-old biodefense researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, who committed suicide rather than face charges.
Case closed? Neatly wrapped up? Not so fast.
Married for 33 years — and a father of two — with a 35-year career as a civilian microbiologist at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Ivins, a devout Catholic, worked as a senior research scientist and an expert in animal models of anthrax. In 2003 he received the Army’s Decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service for work on an anthrax vaccine — an assignment the FBI now says provided a motive for the attacks.
Ivins apparently was obsessed with the investigation. According to the FBI, on Sept. 7, 2007, he sent an e-mail to himself, claiming to have figured out who mailed the anthrax letters. “I should have it TOTALLY nailed down within the month,” he wrote. “I should have been a private eye.”
Ivins, who did not name anyone in the e-mail, died on July 29, 2008, at Frederick Memorial Hospital after overdosing on prescription Tylenol with codeine. The FBI says he killed himself. The presence of the drug was determined from a blood sample. No autopsy was ordered.
Before his death, he was under 24-hour police surveillance, which included interrogations about his research and work habits, searches of his home and office, and intense questioning of family members and co-workers. Friends say that the FBI offered Ivins’ son $2.5 million and a sports car to hand over evidence implicating his father in the attacks.
The month before Ivins’ death, the federal government agreed to pay $5.8 million to another former Fort Detrick researcher, Steven Hatfill, for “improperly identifying him as a suspect in the case.”
When he learned the FBI was going to charge him with the crime after clearing Hatfill, Ivins swallowed a bottle of Tylenol.
Rush to judgment
In exclusive interviews with The Examiner, two former directors of the bacteriology division at Fort Detrick challenged the science underlying the case against Ivins. They argue it would have been impossible for Ivins to have produced the powdered anthrax in the contaminated letters in the time frame proposed by the FBI — the two weeks following the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
The BSL-3 (biosafety level 3) suite where Ivins worked at the Institute was composed of a series of laboratories and an office where access was restricted to trained personnel who were required to log in and out.
“Knowing the layout of the BSL-3 suite, the implication that Bruce could have whipped out [anthrax mixture] in a couple of weeks without detection is ridiculous,” says Gerald P. Andrews, director of the bacteriology division and Ivins’ supervisor from 2000 to 2003.
The first anthrax letters were mailed to the New York offices of ABC, NBC and CBS, the New York Post and the National Inquirer in Boca Raton, Fla., on Sept. 18, 2001. The second letters were mailed to Sens. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Oct.
Infectious disease specialist W. Russell Byrne, who preceded Andrews as the division’s director, said he “never believed Ivins’ could have produced the preparations used in the anthrax letters working in the bacteriology division area of Building 1425.”
Departmental policy prohibits Institute employees from speaking with the media. But one researcher, speaking anonymously, told The Examiner: “It would have been impossible for Ivins to have grown, purified and loaded the amount of material in the letters in just six days. It simply could not be done.”
Claire Fraser-Liggett, professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and director of the University of Maryland Institute for Genome Sciences, asked, “What would have happened in this investigation had Dr. Hatfill not been so forceful in his response to being named a person of interest. What if he, instead of fighting back, had committed suicide because of the pressure? Would that have been the end of the investigation?”
The smoking flask
Fraser-Liggett’s genetic analysis of the anthrax spores in the letters led to a flask of hybrid anthrax bacillus (known as RMR-1029) created and managed by Ivins at Fort Detrick — a preparation the Justice Department says is the murder weapon.
“The key breakthrough was the science that then focused their attention laserlike onto that flask and the person who had control of that flask and the person who made the spores in that flask,” U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Taylor claimed in laying out the evidence against Ivins on Aug. 6, 2008.
The DNA evidence linking the dry anthrax spores in the contaminated letters to the “wet” anthrax spores in the flask of RMR-1029 is not in dispute. “The part that seems still hotly debated is whether there was sufficient evidence to name Dr. Ivins as the perpetrator,” Fraser-Liggett says.
Ivins kept the one-liter flask of RMR-1029, but some 300 people within the Institute also had access to the flask, according to those familiar with operations there. Before 1999, the preparation was stored in a separate containment area, about 100 yards from the main building. At that time, “access was more vague, because the flask wasn’t under Ivins’ direct custodial control,” Andrews says.
Ivins also shared samples of RMR-1029 with researchers at other facilities.
“Another lab might take a couple of milliliters of that spore preparation and create a daughter preparation,” Andrews says. “How many [samples] Ivins gave out I have no idea, but he did it through official channels, and there is a chain of custody records that indicates which labs got RMR-1029 and how much of the material they got.”
It was those “daughter preps” that ultimately led Fraser-Liggett to Ivins’ flask. Her team at the Institute for Genomic Research began DNA sequencing of the spores in the four anthrax-loaded letters recovered after the 2001 attacks. The team spent two years analyzing 20 different samples of B. anthracis to create a group of tests capable of genetically fingering the distinctive variety of anthrax found in the letters.
They screened nearly 1,000 samples of B. anthracis collected from labs around the world. “The results identified only eight samples that contained all four of the genetic mutations,” she says. “Each of those could be traced back to this one flask at USARMRIID-RMR-1029.”
“I have complete confidence in the accuracy of our data,” Fraser-Liggett says, but she concedes it fails to prove Ivins is guilty.
One reason for doubt is the sheer volume of powdered anthrax Ivins is alleged to have grown. Nearly 1 gram per contaminated letter would have required months of intensive labor and hundreds of agar “plates,” on which the spores are grown, Byrne says.
“This number of plates is impossible to handle inconspicuously,” says George Mason University professor and former Soviet bioweapons researcher Sergei Popov. “It would be impossible to cover up these activities.”
Prosecutors insist Ivins carried out the work secretly at night and on weekends.
That scenario is patently impossible, Andrews says. “You can’t just throw a flask up in the air and have dry weaponized spores come down. One preparation may take between three and five days — Day 1 to prepare the materials and start seed cultures, Day 2 to inoculate the spores, Day 3 to harvest, centrifuge and purify the spores. And those are the wet spores,” he says, which then need to be dried into a powder. And that would take at least another day.
“So for 10 envelopes, 100 preparations would be required to make all the mailed material at three to five days for each preparation,” he says. “Months of continuous spore preparation without doing any other work and avoiding detection? It’s ridiculous.”
Taylor also insists Ivins had access to a lyophilizer — a sophisticated machine used to dry anthrax.
Andrews mocks the suggestion that Ivins produced the fine powdered anthrax by freeze-drying the newly harvested pores in the lab’s lyophylizer. “The only lyophylizer available was a speed vac,” he says. “That’s a low-volume instrument that you can’t even fit under a hood” used to contain toxic vapors and debris.
Even with the proper equipment, mass producing a sufficient volume of spores remained dangerous. It had the potential to contaminate not only the person doing the work, but also the lab environment. “Certainly if you had makeshift equipment you wouldn’t be able to pull it off without making a mess,” Andrews says.
Popov said that the only way the FBI scenario works is if someone else provided the spores to Ivins. “What if somebody fermented the spores for him?” he asks. “What’s in favor of this hypothesis is the presence of silica in the spores. This is a signature of a large-scale fermentation process.”
In other words, the evidence points to a high-volume, mechanized operation and not to a lone madman cackling over agar plates at night in an empty lab.
Lack of evidence
The anthrax-laced letters contained no traces of DNA. There is no evidence indicating Ivins visited Princeton, N.J., at the time the letters were mailed — no fingerprints or hair samples from the “smoking mailbox,” no time-stamped photos at New Jersey automated teller machines or convenience stores, no gas receipts.
Apart from the flask of RMR-1029, the case against Ivins is this: He was depressed, working long nights and weekends in September 2001, and had the time to drive to New Jersey.
Ivins’ therapist, Jean Duley, who had a history of drug and alcohol-related charges, treated him for six months. She told authorities he threatened to kill her and his co-workers after learning he faced indictment. He was committed for a few days and released five days before his death.
“Dr. Ivins had a history of mental health problems and was facing a difficult time professionally in the summer and fall of 2001 because an anthrax vaccine he was working on was failing,” Taylor said in August. “He was very concerned, according to the evidence, that the vaccination program he was working on may come to an end.”
For more than a year, Ivins and other institute researchers had been working out the kinks on a 30-year-old anthrax vaccine suspected of causing serious health problems in Gulf War vets. He also was working on a next-generation vaccine for which he already had secured two patents. But in the fall of 2001, the Pentagon’s vaccine program for 2.4 million troops faced fierce opposition by lawmakers — including Daschle, pushing to end the program.
Taylor insists Ivins was the “sole culprit” and wanted “to create a situation, where people all of a sudden realized the need to have this vaccine.”
If that was indeed the anthrax killer’s motive, it worked.
Ivins’ innocence could rest on weird science
The single most important piece of scientific evidence that raises doubt on whether Bruce Ivins was the mastermind behind the anthrax attacks could very well prove his innocence.
The high silicon content of the spores and the presence of a bacterium B. subtilis in two of the recovered letters are significant scientific factors that have yet to be satisfactorily explained.
The FBI says that the silicon in the spores accumulated naturally during the growth process — important to its case against Ivins, who co-workers say did not have knowledge of the specialized techniques used to weaponize anthrax spores by coating them in silicon.
Silicon creates an electrostatic charge between particles that helps the lethal powder disperse more readily.
“The silicon is probably the most important scientific evidence that would lead anybody to question whether Bruce was capable of making these spores,” says Gerald P. Andrews, Ivins’ former boss.
Andrews and George Mason University professor and former Soviet bioweapons researcher Sergei Popov believe the silicon was purposely added, due to unnaturally high levels of the mineral in the spores.
Also unexplained is the presence of a unique genetic strain of the bacterium B. subtilis in the anthrax letters.
“Why wasn’t this unique B. subtilis strain looked for in Bruce’s lab — or any other lab in the BSL-3 suite?” Andrews asks. “It may, in fact, serve as a marker for where those preparations were really made.”
So far, FBI scientists have failed to produce a powdered anthrax equivalent to the toxic mix that Ivins is alleged to have turned out in the course of a few late nights and weekends in the lab at Fort Detrick.
“The only opinions that I would place any confidence in would have to come from individuals who have made the stuff, in the same quantity of the letters,” said infectious disease specialist W. Russell Byrne. “And then I would ask them to go into B3 in building 1425, work there for a couple of weeks and reproduce what they say Bruce did. That’s the only way I could, in good conscience and in the spirit of objective scientific inquiry, believe them.”
Bruce Edwards Ivins
• Born: April 22, 1946 in Lebanon, Ohio.
• Died: July 29, 2008 in Frederick, Md.
• Family: Married for 33 years to Diane Ivins (homemaker, day care provider and former president of Frederick County’s Right to Life). Two grown children, Andrew and Amanda
• Work: Senior biodefense researcher at the United States Army Medical Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick in Frederick
• Education: B.A. (1968); M.A. (1971) and Ph.D. (1976) in microbiology, University of Cincinnati
• Hobbies: Played keyboards and sang in a folk group at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Frederick; founded the Frederick • Jugglers, who performed at nursing homes, schools and festivals.
• Volunteer work: Frederick County Chapter of American Red Cross
• Political party: Democrat
November 6, 2008
RALEIGH — Democrats in the U.S. House have been conducting hearings on proposals to confiscate workers’ personal retirement accounts — including 401(k)s and IRAs — and convert them to accounts managed by the Social Security Administration.
Triggered by the financial crisis the past two months, the hearings reportedly were meant to stem losses incurred by many workers and retirees whose 401(k) and IRA balances have been shrinking rapidly.
The testimony of Teresa Ghilarducci, professor of economic policy analysis at the New School for Social Research in New York, in hearings Oct. 7 drew the most attention and criticism. Testifying for the House Committee on Education and Labor, Ghilarducci proposed that the government eliminate tax breaks for 401(k) and similar retirement accounts, such as IRAs, and confiscate workers’ retirement plan accounts and convert them to universal Guaranteed Retirement Accounts (GRAs) managed by the Social Security Administration.
Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, in prepared remarks for the hearing on “The Impact of the Financial Crisis on Workers’ Retirement Security,” blamed Wall Street for the financial crisis and said his committee will “strengthen and protect Americans’ 401(k)s, pensions, and other retirement plans” and the “Democratic Congress will continue to conduct this much-needed oversight on behalf of the American people.”
Currently, 401(k) plans allow Americans to invest pretax money and their employers match up to a defined percentage, which not only increases workers’ retirement savings but also reduces their annual income tax. The balances are fully inheritable, subject to income tax, meaning workers pass on their wealth to their heirs, unlike Social Security. Even when they leave an employer and go to one that doesn’t offer a 401(k) or pension, workers can transfer their balances to a qualified IRA.
October 29, 2008
Up to 50 nurseries and playgroups have already signed up for the new security measures, thought to be the first time parents have been targetted in this way.
Civil libertarians have branded the decision a “huge overeaction”.
The new entry system requires people who collect their children to place their finger on a scanner, to make sure that only nominated individuals can get through secure entrances.
Kidsunlimited, the nursery chain, will be rolling out the new technology to its 50 playgroups.
Honeycomb Solutions, the security firm behind the technology, say it is an effective way to monitor who is on their premises.
The scanners work by converting parents’ finger prints into a code number. This number enables the system to recognise the finger, without storing any biometric data.
The company claims that the database cannot be accessed by any human, similar to the way banks protect credit card pin numbers.
Peter Churchley of Caring Daycare, a group of eight nursery schools in Surrey that cater for children aged 3 months to 5 years, said: “We’ve had the Honeycombe Solutions fingerprinting technology installed in two of our nurseries.
“Parents have reacted very positively to the moves and the security is a reassurace that the premises are secure for recognised people. I do think a greater number of nurseries will be thinking about finger printing. We also have CCTV camera.”
November 7, 2008
Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, President-Elect Barack Obama’s choice for chief of staff in his incoming administration, is co-author of a book, The Plan: Big Ideas for America, that calls for, among other things, compulsory service for all Americans ages 18 to 25. The following excerpt is from pages 61-62 of the 2006 book:
It’s time for a real Patriot Act that brings out the patriot in all of us. We propose universal civilian service for every young American. Under this plan, All Americans between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five will be asked to serve their country by going through three months of basic training, civil defense preparation and community service. …
Here’s how it would work. Young people will know that between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five, the nation will enlist them for three months of civilian service. They’ll be asked to report for three months of basic civil defense training in their state or community, where they will learn what to do in the event of biochemical, nuclear or conventional attack; how to assist others in an evacuation; how to respond when a levee breaks or we’re hit by a natural disaster. These young people will be available to address their communities’ most pressing needs.
Emanuel and co-author Bruce Reed insist “this is not a draft,” but go on to write of young men and women, “the nation will enlist them for three months of civilian service.” They also warn, “[s]ome Republicans will squeal about individual freedom,” ruling out any likelihood that they would let people opt out of universal citizen service.
As chief of staff, Emanuel will not be in a position to directly introduce public policy, but his enthusiasm for compulsory service, combined with Barack Obama’s own plan to require high school students to perform 50 hours of government-approved service, suggest an unfortunate direction for the new administration.
November 8, 2008
LOS ANGELES–Windows 7 has a new programming interface designed to make it a whole lot easier for software to figure out where in the world a PC and its user are located.
That should make it easier for a whole new range of location-based services from finding nearby friends to LoJack-like PC tracking programs. Even search could be a whole lot better if the search engine knew where you were. Indeed, searchers often enter their city with their location to try and get just that benefit.
“There’s so many times you have to enter in where you are at,” said Microsoft program manager Alec Berntson.
At the same time, broader use of location-based services could also open up a range of privacy concerns.
Those issues–and how to handle them–was the subject of a discussion this week at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) here.
Microsoft does give a range of control options, such as turning off location services by default, as well as the ability to limit such services only to specific users or only to applications, as opposed to services that run in the background. However, the operating system doesn’t allow users the option of letting only certain applications access your location. So, for example, if you turn it on for a mapping program, any other Windows application running could also access that information.
The reason, Microsoft officials say, is that Windows doesn’t have a reliable means of determining that an application is what it says it is, so any attempt to limit the location to a specific application would be easily spoofable, Berntson said during the WinHEC discussion.
News 8 Austin
November 12, 2008
AUSTIN — The state’s top law enforcement agency asked Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott for a ruling on the legality of setting up statewide driver’s license checkpoints.
The Houston Chronicle reported 15 lawmakers said such a move would be unauthorized immigration policymaking.
The proposed checkpoints would stop drivers to review their licenses, vehicle registrations and proof of insurance.
A number of state legislators argue the Department of Public Safety Commission overstepped its authority Aug. 25 by issuing new rules requiring applicants to prove they are legally in the U.S. before they can receive a Texas driver’s license or identification.
Two weeks later, lawmakers were further disturbed after learning the commission’s chairman, Allan B. Polunsky, wanted a ruling on the checkpoints.
State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, and 14 other Texas lawmakers sent Abbott a letter asking him to ignore the commission’s legal opinion request because the Legislature has not authorized a DPS checkpoint program.
– Checkpoints haven’t been allowed in Texas since the state Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in 1994 they must be authorized by a “politically accountable governing body at the state level.”
– Spokeswoman Allison Castle said Gov. Rick Perry favors the checkpoints.
November 14, 2008
This week and into next, NorthCom and NORAD are conducting a joint exercise called “Vigilant Shield ’09.”
The focus will be on “homeland defense and civil support,” a NorthCom press release states.
From November 12-18, it will be testing a “synchronized response of federal, state, local and international partners in preparation for homeland defense, homeland security, and civil support missions in the United States and abroad.”
NorthCom is short for the Pentagon’s Northern Command. President Bush created it in October 2002. (The Southern Command, or SouthCom, covers Latin America. Central Command, or CentCom, covers Iraq and Afghanistan. And the new AfriCom covers, well, you get the picture.)
Vigilant Shield ’09 “will include scenarios to achieve exercise objectives within the maritime, aerospace, ballistic missile defense, cyber, consequence management, strategic communications, and counter terrorism domains,” the press release states.
NorthCom’s press release also says that other participants in the exercise include the U.S. Strategic Command’s “Global Lightning 09,” which is a plan to use nuclear weapons in a surprise attack.
The Pentagon’s “Bulwark Defender 09” is also involved in the exercise, and it is a cyberspace protection outfit of the Pentagon.
Something called the “Canada Command DETERMINED DRAGON” also is participating, as is the California National Guard and California’s “Golden Guardian.”
California’s involvement appears to center around planning for a catastrophic earthquake.
“Under the leadership of Governor Schwarzenegger and direction of his Office of Homeland Security, the nation’s largest state sponsored emergency exercise will take place November 13-18,” a press release from the governor’s office states.
“Golden Guardian 2008 tests California’s capability to respond and recover during a major catastrophic earthquake. The Golden Guardian 2008 full-scale exercise scenario focuses on a simulated, catastrophic 7.8 magnitude earthquake along the southern portion of the San Andreas Fault.”
NorthCom is being shy about giving out additional information about Vigilant Shield ’09. When I called for a fact sheet on it, I was told there was none.
But the Pentagon did issue such a fact sheet for Vigilant Shield ’08.
Last year’s exercise included “the simulated detonation of three nuclear dispersal devices.” The fact sheet stressed the need to support a “civilian-led response” and to “exercise defense support of civil authorities,” including involvement in “critical infrastructure protection events” and coordinating “Anti-Terrorism/Force Protection activities.”
That fact sheet ended by saying: “There will be minimal deployment of active duty forces and no crossborder deployments. We anticipate little to no direct impact on local communities.”
NorthCom has been in the news lately, after the Pentagon designated to it a battle-tested fighting unit from the war on Iraq. This appears to be against the law, according to the ACLU, since the army isn’t supposed to be patrolling our own country.
On top of that, NorthCom was up to its eyeballs in getting peace groups spied upon.
“The security people at USNORTHCOM . . . had begun noticing some trouble at a few military recruiting events in 2005,” Eric Lichtblau recounts in Bush’s Law: The Remaking of American Justice. “Military officials at NORTHCOM asked their counterparts at CIFA [the Pentagon’s Counterintelligence Field Activity] to ping their powerful new database—do a broader study and find out how many episodes of violence and disruption were actually imperiling their recruiters.”
And NorthCom even was in the loop at the Republican Convention in St. Paul.
Is it too much to ask Congress to look into NorthCom?
BRUSSELS: The head of the European Union (EU)’s executive body, the European Commission, on Wednesday congratulated Barack Obama on his victory in
the US presidential election and called on him to work with the EU to shape a “new deal for a new world”.
“This is a time for a renewed commitment between Europe and the US. I want to assure Senator Obama of the support of the European Commission and of my personal support in forging this renewed commitment to face together the many challenges ahead of us,” European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said.
“We need a new deal for a new world. I sincerely hope that with the leadership of President Obama, the US will join forces with Europe to drive this new deal – for the benefit of our societies, for the benefit of the world,” he said in a statement.
Ahead of Tuesday’s election, politicians across Europe had expressed the hope that the successor to US President George W Bush – whether Obama or his rival, John McCain – would abandon Bush’s unilateral stance in favour of more cooperation with the EU.