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The Biowar Story Not Told In The Aftermath Of A Scientist’s Suicide

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Danny Schechter
News Dissector
Monday, Aug 4, 2008

It is Saturday morning, and as the skies darken, and the rains threaten, I am reading about biowar investigator Bruce E. Ivins who is said to have taken his life with a fatal cocktail of codeine and other drugs just as he was about to be arrested and charged with five cases of murder in connection with the still fully unsolved anthrax attacks of 2001.

The naming of Mr. Ivins, born in Lebanon (Ohio), not the Middle East, and a veteran employee at the U.S. Government’s massive US Army bio weapons lab at Ft. Detrick, MD at least suggests, as many have long contended, that this was a domestic crime, not a foreign terrorist act.

The story, broken by the LA Times Friday got the full card monte coverage treatment by the New York Times on Saturday with acres of print. Is there any reason to conclude that we now know all the facts, or that the case is closed or even that Ivins was the guilty party?

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The last man accused by the FBI Dr Stephen Hatfill went to Court and won a $4.6 million settlement in his suit against the FBI for violating his rights. His law suit against the NY Times reporting on the issue failed when the Judge ruled he could not prove the newspaper knowingly published false information. Clearly, the information was false then. How credible is the reporting now?

Ivins’ lawyer Paul Kemp insists that it was FBI harassment and humiliation that led to the suicide. He also contends that Ivins would have been exonerated if his case went to trial. Obviously he was facing a long and costly legal ordeal contributing to his anxieties. One report said he did not have the money to properly defend himself.

The Washington Post reports that other scientists at the lab are skeptical about suggestions that Ivins is the man described in the NY Post as “DR DOOM.”

Yet, colleagues and friends of the vaccine specialist remained convinced that Ivins was innocent: They contended that he had neither the motive nor the means to create the fine, lethal powder that was sent by mail to news outlets and congressional offices in the late summer and fall of 2001. Mindful of previous FBI mistakes in fingering others in the case, many are deeply skeptical that the bureau has gotten it right this time.

“I really don’t think he’s the guy. I say to the FBI, ‘Show me your evidence,’ ” said Jeffrey J. Adamovicz, former director of the bacteriology division at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases, or USAMRIID, on the grounds of the sprawling Army fort in Frederick. “A lot of the tactics they used were designed to isolate him from his support. The FBI just continued to push his buttons.”

Investigators are so confident of Ivins’s involvement that they have been debating since Friday whether and how to close the seven-year-old anthrax investigation. That would involve disbanding a grand jury in the District and unsealing scores of documents that form the basis of the government’s case against Ivins.

Congressman Rush Holt does not trust the FBI either. In a statement buried at the end of the Times story on page A10, rather than in the lead on page l where it belonged, he said, “What we learn will not change the fact that this has been a poorly handled investigation that has lasted 6 years and already has resulted in a trail of embarrassment and personal tragedy.”

According to another report, FBI investigators had conducted 9100 interviews, sent out 6000 grand jury subpoenas and conducted 67 searches. They also traveled to “many” unnamed countries. They would not disclose their case against the late Mr. Ivins. He saw himself as a fall guy or patsy. Was he? Who else and what else was behind this attack on news outlets, US Senators and the postal service employees who died.

UNASKED QUESTIONS

The Brad Blog noted that “it’s curious — if hardly surprising — that none of the major outlets reporting the news bothered to note that the attacks were all made on perceived “liberals”.

Even a parade of reporters contacting Ivins family today, failed to bring up the topic.

We called Ivins oldest brother Thomas today, to ask if he had any idea of Bruce’s political leanings, and he told us “No, I didn’t. I didn’t know what his affiliations where. And that’s a good question.”

He was surprised by the question and though he said he’d been speaking with reporters all day, “one after another,” he told The BRAD BLOG, none of the other reporters, not one of them, had asked him about his brother’s political affiliations, leanings or beliefs….”

No reporters have also brought up a crazy angle on the case: a reported at the time JLO connection.

FBI AND MEDIA FLAWED

So both the FBI probe and the media coverage has been flawed but there is one rather large and dangerous aspect of this that has also so far escaped much notice. In the Times accounts, one story suggested that Ivins may have acted to “raise an alarm about the bio terrorism threat.” Another suggested that Ivins had bought a bullet proof vest and gun and contemplated killing co-workers at the Army research lab “to take everyone else out with him.”

Was he a nut, another lone maniac, or is it possible that his motives were more nuanced?

The NY POST reduced his motive to making money, although he never made any as a result of his still unproven role in the anthrax attacks:

The suicidal scientist revealed as the likely culprit behind the 2001 anthrax mailings was part of a megamillion-dollar deal to have his own vaccine mass produced in the wake of those biological attacks and the national panic they created.

Bruce Ivins, 62, was the co-owner of a patent on what was seen as a cure to the terrifying threat.

Before the attacks, the vaccine developed by Ivins – who killed himself last week as a seven-year federal investigation closed in on indicting him for five murders – garnered little attention. But the deadly post-9/11 mailings brought $50 billion in government funding to the field of bioterror prevention.

An $877.5 million contract was inked with biotech firm VaxGen to provide Ivins’ vaccine in a deal in which he stood to profit, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times. One estimate put the potential windfall in the tens of thousands of dollars.

A VaxGen executive said his company did not have a profit-sharing agreement with Ivins personally, and he had no knowledge of what arrangement Ivins had with his employers.

A former senior official at the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases – the high-security lab in Maryland where Ivins worked for 36 years – believed the mad researcher mailed the anthrax-laced letters to move government resources to his field.

“It had to have been a motive,” the official told the LA Times. “I don’t think he ever intended to kill anybody. He just wanted to prove ‘Look, this is possible.’ He probably had no clue that it would aerosolize through those envelopes and kill those postal workers.”

The Associated Press quoted a therapist who suggested the scientist was a homocidal killer. This angle will no doubt interest Hollywood. Watch for the HBO Special later this year:

Social worker Jean Duley testified at a court hearing in Frederick on July 24 in a successful bid for a protective order from Ivins — who five days later committed suicide — that he “actually attempted to murder several other people.”

Ivins took a fatal dose of acetaminophen, the active drug in Tylenol, as federal authorities monitored his movements and prepared to charge him with the murder of five people who died from anthrax poisoning in the weeks after the Sept. 2001 terror attacks.

An audio recording of the court session was obtained by The New York Times and posted it on its Web site.

“As far back as the year 2000, the respondent has actually attempted to murder several other people, either through poisoning. He is a revenge killer. When he feels that he’s been slighted or has had — especially toward women — he plots and actually tries to carry out revenge killings,” Duley said.

Another possible motive: could it be that the threat he saw, from his own insider experience, was not overseas, but here at home, inside the military for whom he worked, not from some cave in Afghanistan? He was a vaccine man in a world that was increasingly moving in a more military mode. Maybe that is what he wanted to “take out!”

WHERE IS THE REAL THREAT?

If so, he would not be the only scientist worried about the direction bio research was taking and this new threat. And what could that threat be? Perhaps it was not necessarily one fabricated bio attack but rather the covert development of a bio war industry through which the US government is reviving its bio war capacity for aggressive use, not domestic protection. In fact, many researchers in this field share this concern.

Reported the Times about his work, ”the work became even more intense in the aftermath of the 2001 anthrax attack, as the field grew tremendously with BILLIONS (my caps) in new federal support for research on anthrax AND OTHER POTENTIAL BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS (my caps) and to buy new drugs or vaccines to handle a possible future attack.”

The Times might have added this line had they conducted their own investigation into the controversy over the proliferating U.S. bio war INDUSTRY: “and to create new weapons for use in a possible future attack by the US military.”

Bear in mind that it was the US and Germany who sold Saddam the bioweapons he used on the Kurds. Also remember the Operation Tailwind Story suppressed by CNN alleging bio-weapons (ie. nerve gas) use in Vietnam by the US. When the producers fired by CNN later sued, demanding access to documents and information on the pressure the network came under for their story, CNN settled and paid the producers large sums of money as long as they signed a gag order and refused to disclose the amount they were paid and other information. I covered this issue extensively on Mediachannel.org

That industry is, of course, sold to the public entirely as a defensive response and public health necessity. In the same way that the attack on Iraq was sold to the US to protect us from attack, using the 911 attack as its rationale, the far less public expansion of the Bio war industry had a similar rationale.

The anthrax attack was a 9/11 for the expansion of the biowar industry.

INVESTIGATING THE BIO WAR INDUSTRY

I know a bit about this because three years ago, I was working with a team to find funding for an investigative film about this issue. We begged funders for help, writing:

While most of our media is focused on covering the war on terror and the conflict in Iraq, another Administration initiative could easily turn into another arena of conflict with truly frightening implications.

I am referring to a massive and under-reported Bush Administration initiative to spend six BILLION dollars on a new “Bio-Defense” program that is building as many as 20 BL-4 labs equipped to handle the deadliest pathogens known to man. Without a public debate or media scrutiny this program is attacking serious criticism from the scientific community and community groups opposed to siting these labs in densely populated urban areas

The International Center for Global Communications Foundation is seeking support for a Globalvision investigative documentary on the dangers posed by this Initiative. “WHEN BIO SAFELY BECOMES A BIO THREAT” (TENTATIVE TITLE) will examine this program which major medical schools and the National Institute of Health has embraced while community groups and top scientists involved in arms control oppose.

The response: ZERO, ZIP, NADA!

We first learned about this story because of opposition in Boston to the construction of a level containment 4 lab (top security), for use with major pathogens, at Boston University. When the university announced it was to be built in the black community of Roxbury, community groups there became concerned.

They were pissed that they were not consulted, but and, also, soon worried about how any accident at the lab might put the community at risk. Their initial fears were predictably dismissed until reports came out of an unplanned release of a dangerous rabbit virus at a nearby level 2 lab. Suddenly, their concerns could not downplayed as a hysterical or paranoid reaction.

The organization Roxbury Safety Net contacted Globalvision and we started looking into the issue. So did a Boston area anti-war organization. What we found was that the Boston lab was part of a national program run out of the National Institute of Health and coordinated by an ex CIA official with a budget of billions. The NIH, at the direction of the Bush Administration and with funding provided by Congress, escalating bio research will cutting back on funding for other diseases and research,

Slowly, opposition to more labs emerged in other parts of the country, at the Livermore Labs in the Bay Area and even at Ft Detrich in Maryland. Some were defeated. Across the country, citizen researchers dug out documents and soon scientists expressed alarm.

WHEN DEFENSE BECOMES OFFENSE

I spoke with a top researcher at Rutger’s University who explained how easily a “defensive” program could become an offensive one even as the flouted international treaties and American law. (Richard Nixon ended the US bio war program, but many in the military objected in part because the Soviet Union had its own massive and secret facility for many years. And yes,there had been accidents.)

This became a media story, or rather anon media story, when we could not find any money to fund our investigation and film. Thank you media consolidation and caution at all the foundations for the fear to challenge the government’s national security obsession.

Despite its importance, despite the unsolved anthrax attacks, and despite the obvious public concern, fear of terrorism and worries about public safety, we struck out. Our film has yet to be made. It is painful for a journalist to have a big story and not be able to interest any outlet or funder in it.

Most of the media was once again asleep at the switch, Perhaps with this suicide, some media outlets will pursue the story and the larger context that has been missing. I am also trying to get back in touch with activists at Ft Detrich who have been monitoring this story and have additional information missing in most press reports.

SAFETY CONCERNS RAISED

Most media outlets have yet to discuss the potential for a revival of our bio-war program but are raising deeper questions. The Houston Chronicle asked this weekend:

“Has the unprecedented boom in biodefense research made the country less secure by multiplying the places and people with access to dangerous germs?

“We are putting America at more risk, not less risk,” said Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., chairman of a House panel that has investigated recent safety lapses at biolabs.”

But the proliferation of biodefense research laboratories presents real threats, too, congressional investigators recently warned.

More people in more places handling toxic agents create more opportunities for an accident or intentional misuse by an insider, Keith Rhodes, an investigator with the Government Accountability Office, said at a congressional hearing in October.

Nationwide, there are an estimated 14,000 people working at about 400 laboratories who have permission to work with so-called “select agents” — which could be used in a bioterror attack — although a much smaller amount of this research involves the most dangerous materials, like anthrax.

With so many people involved, there is insufficient federal oversight of biodefense facilities, Rhodes testified.

Heightening the concern has been a string of accidents at certain new or expanded biodefense laboratories, several of which were not properly reported to the authorities when they first took place.

One of the first accidents was in Ivins’ laboratory in late 2001, when he and his colleagues were aiding the federal investigation of the anthrax attacks and spores accidentally spilled outside the secure area.

He failed to report the event to his superiors and instead tried to disinfect the contaminated areas, according to an Army report, which concluded, “Adherence to institute safety procedures by laboratory personnel is lax.”

In early 2006, at Texas A&M University, a worker was infected with Brucella bacteria, a pathogen common in livestock that can cause flulike symptoms like fever, fatigue and joint pain, although it is rarely fatal. Later, three researchers at the same lab were infected with Q fever, another cattle-borne disease that can cause serious but generally not fatal illness in humans.

After the two incidents belatedly became public, federal officials temporarily shut down the laboratory, citing a series of safety shortcomings.

This story originally came from the NY Times. It also raises a related question: have tens of millions poured into bio research presumably investigating various new threats, led to funding cutbacks of serious other health crises?

“Apart from the threat from insiders, some public health experts believe money being used to study obscure pathogens that are not a major disease problem could be better directed to study known killers like influenza or AIDS.”
(IF YOU CAN HELP US MAKE THIS FILM, OR HAVE INFORMATION ABOUT THE ISSUE PLEASE CONTACT ME AT dissector@mediachannel.org)

This article was posted: Monday, August 4, 2008 at 3:58 am





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