FM newswire for 27 January, articles for your morning reading

Today’s links to interesting news and analysis.  If you find this useful, pass it to a friend or colleague.  Esp note #2 and #3, investigative reporting done by “an army of Davids” (Glen Reynold’s description of the Internet).

  1. Big implications from this, all bad:  “Majority of Union Members Now Work for the Government“, Wall Street Journal, 22 January 2010
  2. We’re not yet finished with the civil rights project:  “Teen violist alleges Pittsburgh police brutality“, Washington Post, 22 January 2010 — “Alleges” is technically correct, but a gross understatement.
  3. Ignored by the media, climate science continues to uncover other influences on global temperatures:  “Contribution of Semi-Arid Forests to the Climate System“, Eyal Rotenberg and Dan Yakir, Science, 22 January 2010
  4. Summary of the above study:  “Desertification may have retarded global warming by as much as 20%“, Jerusalem Post, 23 January 2010
  5. Much of the research cited by the IPCC was non-peer reviewed reports by advocacy groups:  “More Dodgy Citations in the Nobel-Winning IPCC Report“, No Frakking Consensus, 23 January 2010
  6. The next scandal of the IPCC:  “And now for Amazongate“, Richard North, Eureferendum, 25 January 2010 — “The IPCC also made false predictions on the Amazon rain forests, referenced to a non peer-reviewed paper produced by an advocacy group working with the WWF. This time though, the claim made is not even supported by the report and seems to be a complete fabrication.”
  7. Short version of the above:  “After Climategate, Pachaurigate and Glaciergate: Amazongate“, James Delingpole, blog of the Daily Telegraph, 25 January 2010
  8. Important information about important but widely misunderstand facts:  “The Schools Have Gone Down!“, E.D. Hirsch, Jr., New York Review of Books, 11 February 2010
  9. Valuable insights about human intelligence, and the ingredients for success in the 21st century:  “The Chess Master and the Computer“, Garry Kasparov, New York Review of Books, 11 February 2010

Today’s Most Disturbing news (sometimes news is just recognising what we don’t know)

There are so many mysteries, hidden history which may never be revealed in my lifetime — or my children’s.  Such as the many levels to the mystery of why “The Anthrax Attacks Remain Unsolved“, Wall Street Journal, 24 January 2010 — Excerpt (red emphasis added):

The investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks ended as far as the public knew on July 29, 2008, with the death of Bruce Ivins, a senior biodefense researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in Fort Detrick, Md. The cause of death was an overdose of the painkiller Tylenol. No autopsy was performed, and there was no suicide note. Less than a week after his apparent suicide, the FBI declared Ivins to have been the sole perpetrator of the 2001 Anthrax attacks, and the person who mailed deadly anthrax spores to NBC, the New York Post, and Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. These attacks killed five people, closed down a Senate office building, caused a national panic, and nearly paralyzed the postal system.

The FBI’s six-year investigation was the largest inquest in its history, involving 9,000 interviews, 6,000 subpoenas, and the examination of tens of thousands of photocopiers, typewriters, computers and mailboxes. Yet it failed to find a shred of evidence that identified the anthrax killer — or even a witness to the mailings. With the help of a task force of scientists, it found a flask of anthrax that closely matched—through its genetic markers—the anthrax used in the attack.

This flask had been in the custody of Ivins, who had published no fewer than 44 scientific papers over three decades as a microbiologist and who was working on developing vaccines against anthrax. As custodian, he provided samples of it to other scientists at Fort Detrick, the Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio, and other facilities involved in anthrax research. According to the FBI’s reckoning, over 100 scientists had been given access to it. Any of these scientists (or their co-workers) could have stolen a minute quantity of this anthrax and, by mixing it into a media of water and nutrients, used it to grow enough spores to launch the anthrax attacks.

Consequently, Ivins, who was assisting the FBI with its investigation, as well as all the scientists who had access to the anthrax, became suspects in the investigation. They were intensely questioned, given polygraph examinations, and played off against one another in variations of the prisoner’s dilemma game. Their labs, computers, phones, homes and personal effects were scrutinized for possible clues.

As the so-called Amerithrax investigation proceeded, the FBI ran into frustrating dead ends, such as its relentless five-year pursuit of Steven Hatfill, which ended with an apology in 2007 and Mr. Hatfill receiving a $5.8 million settlement from the U.S. government as compensation. Another scientist, Perry Mikesell, became so stressed by the FBI’s games that he began to drink heavily and died of a heart attack in October 2002.

Eventually, the FBI zeroed in on Ivins. Not only did he have access to the anthrax, but FBI agents suspected he had subtly misled them into their Hatfill fiasco. A search of his email turned up pornography and bizarre emails which, though unrelated to anthrax, suggested that he was a deeply disturbed individual. The FBI turned the pressure up on him, isolating him at work and forcing him to spend what little money he had on lawyers to defend himself. He became increasingly stressed. His therapist reported that Ivins seemed obsessed with the notion of revenge and even homicide. Then came his suicide (which, as Eric Nadler and Bob Coen show in their documentary “The Anthrax War,” was one of four suicides among American and British biowarfare researchers in past years).

… If Ivins had neither the equipment or skills to weaponize anthrax with silicon, then some other party with access to the anthrax must have done it. Even before these startling results, Sen. Leahy had told Director Mueller, “I do not believe in any way, shape, or manner that [Ivins] is the only person involved in this attack on Congress.”

When I asked a FBI spokesman this month about the Livermore findings, he said the FBI was not commenting on any specifics of the case, other than those discussed in the 2008 briefing (which was about a year before Livermore disclosed its results). He stated: “The Justice Department and the FBI continue working to conclude the investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks. We anticipate closing the case in the near future.”

So, even though the public may be under the impression that the anthrax case had been closed in 2008, the FBI investigation is still open—and, unless it can refute the Livermore findings on the silicon, it is back to square one.

Afterword

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4 thoughts on “FM newswire for 27 January, articles for your morning reading

  1. Has there ever been a high profile investigation the FBI hasn’t screwed up in some way? I’m really curious how they continue to exist in spite of a litany of public, high profile failures.
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    FM reply: I know little about the FBI history, but I recall the widespread shock (including mine) when Frederick Whitehurst (Wikipedia) blew the whistle on the scandals at the FBI laboratory — and the rumors about Hoover being blackmailed by the Mafia (Wikipedia).

  2. The FBI didn’t necessarily screw this up, if you understand what they’re really about. Federal law enforcement in general, and the FBI in particular, is in the entertainment business. They’re there to reassure the public. The FBI sought, in this case, to reassure the public that a.) the anthrax didn’t come from overseas, and b.) the perpetrator had been caught. So they used a profile to establish what the culprit should look like, and then sought to convict someone who fit that profile.

    Note that I do not claim that the anthrax came from overseas. I do not know where it came from, but apparently neither does the FBI. But the public is to be reassured that everything is under control, and that their government is on top of things.
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    FM reply: I would love to say that this is too cynical a view. But the record suggests this analysis is correct, and that the government was prepared to frame two scientists in order to “solve” the case.

  3. If you study the articles by Meryl Nass, M.D., the so-called “case” against Ivins quickly falls apart. The timeline according to which Ivins allegedly mailed the anthrax was impossible, since he had an appointment which he kept at 5:30 PM on the day he was supposed to mail the packet. Ivins did not have the equipment required to weaponize the spores; the RNA analysis of Ivins’ own spores at the lab does not match the RNA of the weaponized spores…and so on.

    Since the antharx scare represnted the key element in the public hysteria immediately after 9/11 which allowed the passage of the USA Treason Act (incorrectly known as the USA Patriot Act) which abolished most of the Bill of Rights, a less charitable assessment suggests that elements of the defense department and/or the American intelligence community used weaponized anthrax and then framed Dr. Ivins.

    The only serious question at this point involves whether the weaponized anthrax was sent by rogue members of the U.S. defense/intelligence establishment, or instead was officially sanctioned at the highest levels in order to expand executive power and clear the path for unlimited increases in the U.S. military budget.

    That would sound like an insane conspiracy theory…but for the fact that we now know Dick Cheney ran a private global assassination squad out of his office, accountable to no one, beyond the law, and completely outside the purview of the national budget (i.e., a “deep black” operation, in the parlance of the intelligence community). Everything about the U.S. anthrax attack and Ivin’s subsequent “suicide” smells like a deep black operation.

  4. This may sound dumb or obvious, but when reading things like that excerpt about the “Amerithrax” case, my generalized worldview only gets a little stronger. My generalized worldview is that we’re just a random-ass bunch of fools running around like mouth-breathing chimpanzees on this big ‘ol rock we call “Earth”. Every one of us chimps knows that we would sometimes like to kill another one, and this makes us afraid because we know they feel the same way. So we imagine this concept called “security”, a strong castle wall around us keeping all the scary chimps out. And then we hire folks to help us feel safe… pretend they are standing on the castle walls with imaginary spears & whatnot. The pretense often works.

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