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Press proves immune to FBI's anthrax corrective

Facts bounce off the conspiracy theories

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Majidi did not want to get "wrapped around the issue of how was a sample processed" - referring to the briefing's hijacking into a discussion of weaponization.

Whether or not the anthrax was weaponized was not a critical piece of evidence, the FBI man maintained.

"The important part of the evidence is that the materials of the letter with the genetic mutations could exclusively be related only to RMR-1029," said Majidi. RMR-1029 was the lot of anthrax spores in the care of Bruce Ivins, a very large reserve of spores - ten to the twelfth power - considered a high quality preparation which was the "gold standard" for anthrax research at Detrick.

And the incriminating genetic signature of RMR-1029 was worked out as the science of genomic microbial forensics advanced between 2002 and 2007.

RMR-1029 was an accumulation of over thirty production runs of anthrax - "over 164 liters of spore production, concentrated down to about a liter."

It was, the FBI said, an unusual preparation and not a single culture, atypical in its phenotypic variance from a standard overnight plating of anthrax. The variations of it, and hundreds of other samples, were slowly teased out by analysis and the science was validated by a team of scientists from government, academia and the private sector.

Paul Keim, a genomic scientist who identified the spore powders as the Ames strain of anthrax for the FBI explained the mutation variance with respect to Ivins' flask of RMR-1029.

There was "a very large number of generations" in the RMR-1029 spore flask, said Keim. "[And] so mutations... while they're rare... are observable when working with very large numbers, like a trillion ..." RMR-1029's variations were narrowed to a unique four, all of which were found in the attack letters.

Harder than it looks

One last point to consider is that the FBI's explanation of the Ivins case supports the idea that it's elementary to engineer a biological attack. If Ivins, a single individual with no training in weaponization could do it, couldn't anyone?

This writer thinks that's overly simplistic.

Bruce Ivins was the perfect example of someone uniquely trained to work with anthrax. And Ft. Detrick was the ideal place to engineer it. He (or, if you still don't believe it was Ivins, someone at Detrick) had easy access to a large, perfect and proven virulent reservoir of anthrax. And everyone in the facility was immunized against it, so risk in mishandling was not a significant obstacle. Any mistakes made in the making of the attack letters wouldn't sicken someone and expose the plot. Indeed, the existence of anthrax biodefense research at the facility provided ample cover for hiding one's work.

One can't just walk down the street to the micro-lab at the local city college and find the same thing. ®

George Smith is a senior fellow at GlobalSecurity.org, a defense affairs think tank and public information group. At Dick Destiny, he blogs his way through chemical, biological, and nuclear terror hysteria, often by way of the contents of neighbourhood hardware stores.

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