Bruce E. Ivins, the government's leading suspect in the 2001 anthrax killings, borrowed from a bioweapons lab that fall freeze-drying equipment that allows scientists to quickly convert wet germ cultures into dry spores, according to sources briefed on the case.
Look, Here's the Thing!: it might be nice if, three days after word got around that Ivins did not work with dry anthrax, the "explanation" that surfaces comes with some acknowledgment of the fact. Was this why reporters asked? Was it why "sources briefed on the case"--th' fuck is that, by the way? Is it more or less than "familiarity"?--brought this up now? Did someone actually inside the investigation just now cough up that lil' lunger of evidence? If so, was it prompted by news reports? Does it confirm, to any extent, that Ivins had no contact with supplies of dry anthrax, and thus is suspected of having concocted his own? None of these is particularly damning, which is all the more reason it'd be refreshing if the niceties would be followed, for once.
The device was not commonly used by researchers at the Army's sprawling biodefense complex at Fort Detrick, Md., where Ivins worked as a scientist, employees at the base said. Instead, sources said, Ivins had to go through a formal process to check out the lyopholizer, creating a record on which authorities are now relying. He did at least one project for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency that would have given him reason to use the drying equipment, according to a former colleague in his lab.
Look, Here's the Thing!: if Ivins had a perfectly good, job-related excuse for requisitioning the thing, in his own name, then, at the very least, it's not a real key to the mystery that he checked one out, is it? He didn't ask Joe in shipping to look the other way while he "borrowed one for the weekend" so he could "freeze-dry his own coffee". This, then, may be a Key to the Probe in the same sense that a large, buoyant piece of flotsam may be a Key to Not Sinking in the Aftermath of a Shipwreck. (The simile is not a haphazard one.) At any rate, maybe paragraph three is a tad tardy on the Rounding Out with Relevant but Ameliorating Information the Charges Made in the Headline scale.
Eventually, through more elaborate DNA testing of the power and tissue cultures from the victims, they determined that the powder probably came from supplies made by Ivins, to which about 10 other people had access. Authorities last week cited "new and sophisticated scientific tools" that helped advance the investigation.
Look, Here's the Thing!: We like to apply something we call the So Long, Mom! Test in these circumstances. That is, given this explanation with your dear gray-haired momma, mutatis mutandis, in the role of actual suspect, would you pick up the phone and promise her you'll see her every visiting day?
Similarly, CBS News reported last night that Ivins lived near the shop where the envelopes were purchased (the rest of the Fort Detrick staff commuted from Maine, evidently), and had "an obsession with Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority" (which, full disclosure, is the Hellenistic attachment favored by my own Poor Wife) which, perhaps suspicious enough in itself, becomes doubly compelling when one learns a chapter of that organization may be found in Princeton, New Jersey, where some of the anthrax bombs were mailed! We've got the goods on you, Rico! Don't do anything stupid!
The nature of this obsession has not been explained, though it is said to have gone back to Ivins' college days in Cincinnati, a city which accepts the same denomination of stamps! Someone really needs to begin explaining how this guy came to be heading The Nonexistent US Bioweapons Program, or, alternately, why he wasn't tapped as Paul Bremer's assistant.
"Dry anthrax is much harder to work with," said one scientist familiar with Ivins's lab. A lyopholizer would fit inside the ventilated "biosafety cabinet" at the lab and could have been used without drawing notice, the scientist said. The machine could have processed a few small batches of anthrax liquid in less than a day, he said.
Look, Here's the Thing!: If he had the thing to work on a project, wouldn't the other people involved in the project have noticed that it was nowhere to be seen? Okay, maybe nobody wanted to rat. The Empiricists' Code. Maybe they just figured it was another one of Crazy Bruce's sorority-obsessed pranks. It's the weekend. Dr. Ivins must be headed up to Princeton with another thermos of Ames Strain Cosmos again! Then again, maybe you could do the same thing on a hot plate.
Other biodefense experts noted that the drying step could have been carried out with equipment no more complicated than a kitchen oven. "It is the simplest . . . but it is the least reproducible," said Sergei Popov, a former Soviet bioweapons scientist who now specializes in biodefense at George Mason University. "If you go too fast you get 'sand,' " he said, referring to the coarser anthrax powder used in the first attacks, in September 2001.
Okey dokey, now that we understand the evidence may point to the use of an ad-hoc, easily obtainable mechanism, the freeze-dryer with Ivins' prints really looms large as the Key to the Whole Fucking Mystery.
The Army issued final rules last week that would cover workers who act in an aggressive or threatening manner. Those employees would be denied access to toxic or lethal biological agents under the revised regulations. Other potentially disqualifying personality traits include "arrogance, inflexibility, suspiciousness, hostility . . . and extreme moods or mood swings," according to the document.
Now if we can just figure out a way to have that disqualify you from being in a position to order its use.