back to article Press proves immune to FBI's anthrax corrective

The posting to the net of a transcript of the FBI's briefing to the press on the science behind the anthrax case is remarkable for two things: first, for its explanation of the development of microbial forensics and the team of scientists behind it; and second, for the determination of some members of the press to run off on a …


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  1. Jamie Kitson
    Thumb Down

    Et tu, el Reg?

    I am so sick and tired of Americans sticking "ize" on the end of any and every word, are they all really so lazy as to not be able to use an extra couple <strong>OF</stong> words. We gotta monitize this situation! AAAAHHHHHH

  2. John Lettice (Written by Reg staff)

    Re: Et tu, el Reg?

    Um, George is American, and is therefore allowed to ize as much as he likes, in acordance with The Register style book. Which we have. Oh yes we do.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dems targeted by anthrax?

    Why was it that only outspoken Democrat Congressional offices were targeted by the anthrax mailer? This happened, coincidentally, prior to the passage of the PATRIOT Act. Hmmm.....

    I guess we're all just massive coincidence theorists aren't we?

  4. Nicholas Ettel

    American English

    Yeah, well, I am so sick and tired of Brits choosing to not pronouce whole sections of words... like Leicester. How, exactly, do you get the pronounciation of lěs'tər out of Leicester? So, please, stuff the arrogant, holier than thou attitude that your version of English is better than any one elses.

    "‘A nation needs a dictionary for much more than finding the meaning and pronunciation of words. The best dictionaries are a record of a nation’s history and culture.’ John Simpson, Chief Editor of The Oxford English Dictionary"

    "The main regional standards of English are British, US and Canadian, Australian and New Zealand, South African, Indian, and West Indian. Within each of these regional varieties a number of highly differentiated local dialects may be found."

    Notice how Oxford recognizes (oh, shit, there's an "ize" at the end of that word!) 6 global STANDARDS of English, not just one, not just British.

  5. DZ-Jay


    So first they claimed that it must have been an expert because of the specific knowledge required to make the spores into a weapon (see, I'm American, but I can avoid 'izing' every other word). Then, when the counter-argument came that the alleged single expert with access to the stuff had not the knowledge or skill for such activity (not to mentioned that the other alleged single expert who actually had the knowledge in bio-weapons had to be cleared of all charges with a big apology cheque), then it turns out that it really wasn't all that hard to create weapons (look ma', no 'ize') from the bacteria, and any old Joe could have done it.

    And all the proof ever needed to point the finger indisputably at our guy comes from a brand new branch of biology and test protocols which were invented precisely for this occassion.

    Rather convenient, isn't it.


  6. Solomon Grundy

    The Register style book

    That would be super cool if there was such a thing! I'd even buy it in print if it existed. You should do one up.

  7. Tam Lin
    Thumb Down

    Corruption v Conspiracy

    ... but there IS a conspiracy to overuse the term conspiracy theory when the word corruption applies.

    They aren't the same thing. Usually they come as a brace (see United States Department of the Interior for this morning's example), but without corruption, conspiracy is just a secret.

  8. John

    This is a pack of lies

    The FBI have persecuted three scapegoats so far - the last Ivins killed himself. At every stage the FBI has been looking for a 'lone' killer. In the same way that NIST is determined to prove that 'fires' brought down World Trade Centre 7. Put another way - Forensic science in the US must not unearth facts which can be tracked back to government initiated conspiracies and especially when the events ease the paths of pre-determined government intentions.

    So the anthrax wasn't 'weoponized'? first of all two sets of letters were sent containing different grades of anthrax. The first caused 12 cases of infection, the second 10.

    However the first caused 3 cases of inhalation infection, the second, 8 cases of inhalation infection (80% as opposed to 25%). The second batch of letters was sent to Senators Daschle and Leahy who both by coincidence were the main opponents of the Patriot Act. Result: Patriot Act passed, Cheney happy, the US a police state. So to tidy the loose ends, a scapegoat, preferably dead

    Look at the Wiki entry on the attacks and research the Patriot Act.

  9. Anonymous Coward

    Register Style Book

    Rule 1: Don't be a nit-picking douchebag.

    Rule 2: If you insist on being a douchebag, keep it to yourself.

    Now, to get back to the general incompetance of this entire investigation;

    erm, well, we've wrapped it all up nice and neat and that's that. Got our man....oops, wrong man. Well, we got our man again...oops, drove him to suicide. Damn, guess we're no closer than when we started out.

    That'll be me putting a special envelope in your coat pocket.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Conspiracy theories

    I find it amusing when events like these end up in some form of government inspired conspiracy theory. What most of the conspiracy theorists fail to realise (ize) is that governments are far to incompetent to actually organise (ize) and maintain any conspiracy.

  11. Elizabeth Ferrari

    The idea that Ivins was in sole control of this stock of anthrax has been debunked.

    Please check the notoriously conspiratorial New York Times last Sunday:

    Labeling skeptics conspiracy nuts is not an argument.

  12. Chris Miller


    The article uses both - which is it? (I'm guessing silica.)

  13. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    "Don't threaten me Mulder...."

    "What most of the conspiracy theorists fail to realise (ize) is that governments are far to incompetent to actually organise (ize) and maintain any conspiracy."

    But if in this case the FBI is so inept as to make any reasonable case that they got the correct guy (thus allaying suspicions of a conspiracy), then we are in the strange situation that aggravated incompetence actually may cover up a conspiracy by less incompetents.

    No but really, there is no suspicion in a timeline like this?:

    - 9/11

    - "Unnamed sources" say "hey journos, take cipro, just in case uh?"

    - Unsigned letter arrives the FBI saying "there is this arab lab guy working on anthrax at our place, we want to get rid of him"

    - Anthrax arrives in the mail, panic ensues. Patriot act passes.

    - FBI checks out potential local sources.

    - ABC says "it was Saddam wot did it, see this bentonite? (repeats ad nauseam)"

    - Gummint says "it was Saddam wot did it, see this weaponised anthrax?, Let's whack him. Hey UN, sign here."

    - Saddam whacked. Oh has no anthrax. Oh well.

    - FBI finds person of interest.

    - FBI investigates along the line of guilty until proven innocent, slanders, leaks.

    - Person of interest sues.

    - Former Person of interest no longer person of interest.

    - FBI finds another person of interest, investigates along the line of guilty until proven innocent.


    - Anthrax no longer considered "weaponised".

  14. Jesse

    Conspiracy posts are boring

    "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?"

    I think this is key to the whole thing; if the anthrax had been weaponized, a lot more people would have died.

    Also, if specifically targeting Democrat Congressional offices for attacks and death did occur, as purported to support the passing of the Patriot act, then why don't we have more government conspiracies happening all the time? Because it is hard? Because government is so tight knit and shut lipped that they wait until they can make the perfect crime?

    People that come up with consipracy theories may have a lot of knowledge about the opinions they are contending, but they suspiciously have zero knowledge of the government offices supposedly involved in these conspiracies. So they fill that unknown in to cognitively support whatever outrageous claim it is they are trying to make.

    At any rate, the murders by anthrax are far less interesting than the demonstration of cognitive bias by the confused people who are contending government conspiracy.

    Here is a nice list for your viewing pleasure:

  15. Gilbert Wham


    "So, please, stuff the arrogant, holier than thou attitude that your version of English is better than any one elses."

    What, the English version of English? Also, you missed an apostophe. Quick! Get him!

  16. Cheese

    Re: Silicon/Silica

    Umm...because one is an oxide of the other? i.e. Silica is a common term for silicon dioxide.

    I assume the spores sequester silicon from the environment...stored as an oxide.

  17. Anonymous Coward

    Re: Et tu, el Reg?

    The -ize ending of words is (and always has been) acceptable in British English. Some dictionaries list it as the preferred spelling, others as an alternative. It used to be the standard spelling until those pesky 19th(?) century lexicographers started "Frenchifying" our spelling.

    If your objection is simply to the creation of words like "weaponize" - what is the point of morphemes like -ize if you can't use them to create new words? That's how language works.

  18. Anonymous Coward

    Re: Silicon/Silica

    The article does use both, but in different contexts.

    The cells [naturally] _contain_ silicon (probably as silicon dioxide=silica, but possibly as a more complex compound).

    The spores were claimed to be _coated_ with silica (silicon dioxide) which can be used to weaponize them. (But they weren't; they just contain silicon.)

    At least they didn't contain silicone...

  19. unitron

    "At least they didn't contain silicone..."

    I knew a couple of dancers who used it to develop weapons of mass destraction.

    Mine's the one with no bills left for tipping with in the pockets.

  20. n
    Dead Vulture

    I for one do not welcome our new overlords..... .UK ????

  21. Matt Bryant Silver badge

    US newspapers are getting desperate.

    All the major US newspapers, like many in the UK, are showing big and continued declines in subscriptions, which means falls in advertising revenue, and their business models are failing. They are under pressure from big TV news networks and free news from websites (like The Reg). I personally check a major news story on several different websites to make sure I'm getting a clear picture and not just what one particular outlet wants to say, and I can do this for free, so why pay a newspaper subscription? The newspapers are putting more and more pressure on their journos to discover more sensationalist news items so as to boost sales, and what could be more sensational than a government conspiring to poison its own people so as to get the rights to snoop on said same people? Desperate people do desperate things, and the desperate press are resorting to more and more story-telling over real, impartial news-reporting. Hence, it is easy to understand why a desperate journo would be so adamant in refusing to believe the FBI - if he does then his big story is dead and he fears for his longterm job-security. Is it any surprise that recent polls in America show up to 80% of the US populance just don't trust the press anymore?

    Of course, all members/hacks working for The Reg are completely above bias, sensationalism, equivocation of the truth...... ;)

  22. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    All conspirators shall post their nefarious plans on Wikipedia (you hear, Ollie North?)

    "At any rate, the murders by anthrax are far less interesting than the demonstration of cognitive bias by the confused people who are contending government conspiracy."

    You sadly fail at armchair psychology. The priors for "government conspiracy" are pretty elevated, so these people may not be that confused, just applying Bayesian Reasoning correctly. You don't need many people or complete secrecy, just people with self-censoring attitude and a press trying to be "serious". Hell, "the government" is "low-level conspiring" (taking decisions in hush-hush style within a single office) every single day. Comes with the territory.

  23. Jesse
    Dead Vulture

    RE: All conspirators blah blah blah

    "You sadly fail at armchair psychology"

    Nice, so you suggest that I was somehow "wrong" and then you hint that it wasn't psychology, rather, it was a form of probability mechanism imbedded in our minds that is the cause for the behavior?

    I concede that you win at internet trolling and forming an argument where there is none.

  24. Kevin Kitts

    I object...

    to people who look down on other people who try to find alternate explanations for things. The simplest solution may not be the only solution, and part of science is to prove the theory by finding the facts. If doubts remain, you find all the facts and cross out the theories that don't fit the facts. If you're left with more than one theory, then you obviously don't have all the facts yet.

    However, that doesn't mean you beat down on others for finding different conclusions given the same data. Such behavior is unscientific and plain wrong. Let the conspiracy theories fly, I say. You never know when one of them may turn out to be correct. Like former Presidential candidate John Edwards' affair - that turned out to be true, once all the facts had been found. If the anti-conspiracy-theory posters on here would have their way, we would simply believe everything the government tells us - cause it's true, the government says. Because we're good for you and we're doing the telling.

    Yeah, right. Government is made up of human beings, and I've not seen a perfect human yet. So, I keep my Eye in the Pyramid on our government, and my bullshit detector handy - it gets a lot of use these days. And if someone comes up with a plausible explanation of events, I listen. Then I run down the facts myself and make a decision. **I** make the decision, not you guys.

    And by the way, that's why people are reading more web sites than newspapers, these days. The non-corporate people who are energized enough to find the facts are more useful than the corporate news giants who spew the same opinion-laden crap (like our cable news networks), who don't show news anymore. I haven't seen a news report from Africa or South America on Fox or MSNBC in years (you have to go to their websites for that "fluffy" stuff). I mean, whatever happened to the days when Walter Cronkite just gave you the news, without opinions?! When my newscaster starts telling me how to live my life, I turn off the God-damned TV (or at least switch channels).

    In summary, I'm all for people using their brains and not listening to other people telling them what or how to think. Let the conspiracy theories fly free, and leave their originators alone. The truth will attend to itself.

    Mine's the coat with "Free Thinker" embroidered on the back.

  25. noodle heimer

    It can be an attack and a decision to manage perception

    Someone mailed anthrax. I think we can agree on that. One question is, who did so? At the time of the initial attacks, and for at least three years afterwards, the pool of suspects was in the tens of thousands in the US alone. (Every member of a large microbiological society was sent a letter asking them 'if you can think of anyone, would you tell us?' A joke, as bad as the Unabomber investigation.)

    Did the attacks originate in the US? There was a turf war between various agencies on the answer to this question. Dueling experts from Ft. Detrick, the FBI, etc were being quoted, mostly anonymously. The schools of thought were largely "furrin divils" versus "local wingnuts."

    At some point, not one but four independent government source were reported by ABC news to have said that bentonite had been found in the samples being analyzed, and further declared that the Iraqi weapon program used bentonite to weaponize anthrax.

    That leak to ABC was deliberate perception management. It was instrumental in making the US more willing to attack Iraq -- a number of people are on the record as saying that they were swayed by the bentonite story. (Lots of good reporting in Salon on this topic.)

    The White House had decided by the start of business September 12 that a return to Iraq was on the dance card. Bob Woodward reported that. The week of the 11th, the NSA was openly discussing perception management to channel people's responses to September 11. By 'openly discussing,' I mean 'in interviews broadcast on PBS that very week.'

    Putting the anthrax on Iraq was brilliant. Low likelihood that the mailer was going to be busted in a relevant timeline. The mailer might even have ties to the middle east - no one knew at the time. Why not plant disinformation in the press?

    Now we hear years later:

    - no bentonite

    - no silica of the sort which would be use for weapons forming

    - local boy makes good. BTW, this local boy writes letters to his hometown paper, lots of them, that make him seem a lot closer in outlook to Dorothy Day than Tim McVeigh.

    I'd like to see ABC come clean about who those four sources were, or at least -- if not divulge their identities -- have a chat and ask them for their responses to the death of Ivins, and also what the fuck they were thinking when they said 'bentonite' before. And yes, run a story about what those four had to say, now after the fact.

    As for Ivins: I haven't taken time to read the transcript of the Q and A yet. What I know from what I have read is that they've done a good job of saying "the strain came from a flask in Ivins' lab" in a non-adversarial setting. No one to ask informed questions about chain of custody, about analytical methods, no one with time and background being paid to study the evidence presented.

    Granting the FBI that flask still leaves them a long way from Ivins. In these labs, people wandered around and in and out on a very regular basis. (I had the opportunity to spend a little time at the facility in the mid-90s; yes, it's got strong military overtones - but at the end of the day, it's full of boffins with boffin habits.)

    The reporting on lab procedures and sample handling throughout the case makes it very clear that they actually don't know who had access to what and when.

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