A Fort Detrick lab is guiding an overhaul of the FBI's bioforensics methods after a federal watchdog found flaws in the investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks.

During its investigation of the attacks, the FBI lacked a framework that would standardize its genetic testing process and provide statistical confidence in its results, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Friday.

Dr. Bruce Ivins, an anthrax researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, was the FBI's main suspect in the anthrax mailings, also known as the "Amerithrax" case, that killed five people and sickened 17 others.

The FBI traced samples of the anthrax spores found in the letters to a flask stored in a USAMRIID lab at Fort Detrick.

When the FBI started its investigation into the spores, "no standards or guidelines existed for verifying and validating microbial forensic methods," the GAO report stated. 

The FBI asked laboratories that stored the Ames strain of the bacteria to send them to USAMRIID for preparation and entry into the FBI's repository, which eventually contained 1,070 anthrax samples.

The FBI then contracted four labs to find similarities between the Ames strain found on the letters and the Ames strain samples in the repository. 

The GAO report stated the FBI lacked rigorous controls over the sampling procedures it used to build the repository, did not have a full understanding of genetic mutations in strains of bacteria and did not include "measures of uncertainty" that would help scientists interpret the evidence.

The GAO suggested the creation of a validation framework to ensure consistency when conducting genetic testing in future cases.

That framework may be developed by the National Bioforensics Analysis Center, a part of the Department of Homeland Security's National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center at Fort Detrick.

The lab, which opened in 2010, is the federal government's leading organization for forensic analysis of bioterrorism attacks or bio-crime and often assists the FBI in its investigations.

A spokesman for NBACC declined to comment on the Amerithrax case.

According to the report, the bioforensics center has standards in place to ensure that the results of its research meet requirements for admission of evidence in federal court proceedings.

The FBI concluded in 2010 that Ivins was responsible for the attacks, but as the GAO report states, "neither the case nor the totality of the evidence, including the scientific evidence that provided the FBI with valuable leads, was brought to trial in a court of law."

Ivins died in 2008 of an overdose of acetaminophen.

A spokesman for the FBI said the agency does not intend to reopen the case.

Follow Sylvia Carignan on Twitter: @SylviaCarignan.

(5) comments

Faith83

Sadly, this just seems like another article that gives people false hope....

barrykissin

The GAO confines itself to supplementing the conclusions already reached by the NAS regarding the FBI's faulty genetic analysis. This further erodes the linchpin of the case against Ivins (that identified Ivins' RMR-1029 as the source of the attack anthrax) but says nothing about the scientific analysis by Rosenberg, Hugh-Jones and Jacobsen regarding chemical additives and processing (weaponization). For a summary of the work by Rosenberg et. al., see http://www.fredericknewspost.com/news/crime_and_justice/crime/article_ba94ae84-4b8f-589e-af97-f20743937956.html

The GAO thus entirely avoids the issue the DOJ/FBI did its best to cover up throughout the so-called investigation. We are thus brought no closer to identifying the real source of the attack anthrax. Originally, the GAO said the report would be completed by September, 2011. We have waited three more years for perpetuation of coverup.
Back in May, 2010, Rep. Holt (D-N.J.), Senator Grassley (R-Iowa) and three others from the House requested the GAO to answer specific questions about the methods used during the FBI investigation. In a letter addressed to Holt dated August 27, 2010, the GAO accepted this request. In the same letter, the GAO stated: “Please know that we may encounter challenges to our access to sensitive and classified information from the FBI and the intelligence agencies. We will consult with you if this occurs.”
This reference to "classified information" dovetailed with what Alice Gast, chairperson of the NAS panel that reviewed the science underlying Amerithrax, told the NY Times in 2011. “Dr. Gast, a chemical engineer, said the ‘chemical signatures’ in the mailed anthrax and their potential value to the criminal investigation had not been fully explored … She also noted that the academy panel suggested a full review of classified government research on anthrax, which her panel never saw.”
In this GAO report, we don’t even have a “suggestion” of the need for a “review of classified government research on anthrax.” This is a total cop-out.

Dwasserba

God bless the Ivins family.

Extra Ignored

WE HAVE THIS ANTHRAX.

Sounds like a group rather than individual.

If it was militants wouldn't they have taken credit for it. They could have gotten it from the spoils of war or stole it out of a lab where it had been lost for decades. Maybe they killed themselves because they didn't know how to handle this anthrax safely.

http://ecdc.europa.eu/en/publications/Publications/Rapid-risk-assessent-anthrax-IDUs-July-13.pdf

jamesnee

People who new Bruce Ivins believe he was not capable of committing such an act on his fellow man. I have heard that certain aspects of the anthrax product could not have been done at this location. Fort Detrick has had its faults of contamination from past years but as a native of Frederick, Md. I believe many government people know where the product had to have been made and this is no less than a false charge committed against all of US.

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