Published: Wednesday 30 November 2011
At issue was whether a leading U.S. Army bio-weapons laboratory in Frederick, Md., was negligent in failing to adequately secure its anthrax stocks, possibly enabling a mentally troubled researcher at the lab to carry out the attacks.

While denying negligence by one of its premier bio-weapons labs, the government has agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle a wrongful death suit filed by survivors of the first fatality victim of the deadly 2001 anthrax mail attacks, court papers revealed Tuesday.

The money will go to the widow and children of Robert Stevens, a Florida-based photo editor for the National Enquirer and other tabloids who was the first of five people to die after inhaling the tiny spores.

The settlement ended a secrecy-shrouded, eight-year court fight shortly before U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley of West Palm Beach, Fla., was due to either grant a Justice Department motion to dismiss the suit or to send the case forward to trial. By settling, the government protected from public scrutiny a sizable cache of documents about its secretive biological weapons program.

At issue was whether a leading U.S. Army bio-weapons laboratory in Frederick, Md., was negligent in failing to adequately secure its anthrax stocks, possibly enabling a mentally troubled researcher at the lab to carry out the attacks.

Bruce Ivins,  READ FULL POST 6 COMMENTS

Published: Tuesday 11 October 2011
Paul Keim, an anthrax expert at Northern Arizona University who assisted in the FBI investigation, said he had qualms about whether the bureau's groundbreaking laboratory method would have survived a rigorous legal review.

In March 2007, federal agents convened an elite group of outside experts to evaluate the science that had traced the anthrax in the letters to a single flask at an Army lab in Maryland.

Laboratory work had built the heart of the case prosecutors had against Bruce Ivins, an Army researcher who controlled the flask. Investigators had invented a new form of genetic fingerprinting for the case, testing anthrax collected from U.S. and foreign labs for mutations detected in the attack powder.

Out of more than 1,000 samples, only eight had tested positive for four mutations found in the deadly germs sent to Congress and the news media.

Even so, the outside scientists, known as the Red Team, urged the FBI to do more basic research into how and when the mutations arose to make sure the tests were “sound” and the results unchallengeable.

Jenifer Smith, a senior manager at the FBI’s laboratory, shared the team’s concerns. Smith recalled that she was worried the FBI didn’t have a full understanding of the mutations and might see a trial judge throw out the key evidence.

“The admissibility hearing would have been very difficult,” Smith recalled in an interview. “They had some good science but they also had some holes that would have been very difficult to fill.”

Published: Monday 1 August 2011
"Robert Stevens was the first person in U.S. history known to have died from an anthrax attack."

Justice Department lawyers, defending a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of the first victim of the 2001 anthrax letter attacks, won a judge's approval Friday to withdraw a court filing that seemed to undermine the FBI’s assertion that an Army researcher was the killer.

U.S. District Judge David Hurley of West Palm Beach, Fla., accepted a government attorney’s declaration that the FBI and federal prosecutors didn’t alert the government defense team to 10 errors in a statement of facts until after it had been filed in court on July 15.

 

The  initial filing asserted flatly that the U.S. bioweapons facility that employed researcher Bruce Ivins, whom the FBI accused of manufacturing the anthrax, did not have “specialized equipment” needed to produce the deadly powder in the secure biocontainment lab where Ivins had a workspace.

 

The  revised filing said that Ivins had access to a refrigerator-sized machine known as a lyophilizer, which can be used to dry solutions such as anthrax, at the facility in a less secure lab. In addition, it said that Ivins also had a smaller “speed-vac” that could be used for drying substances in his containment lab.

 

Ivins committed suicide on July 29, 2008, not long after federal prosecutors advised his attorney that they were on the verge of seeking his indictment on five capital murder counts.

 

Early last year, the Justice Department closed its eight-year, $100 million investigation into the case and officially declared that the career anthrax researcher had mailed the letters shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The letters were addressed to three media outlets and Democratic U.S. ...

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