Friday, August 15, 2008

Assumptions; the Ames Anthrax Strain; Ames, Iowa, and Fort Deterick

The anthrax letters of 2001 contained the Ames variety of anthrax. This has been public knowledge for quite a few years.


It seems obvious that the Ames strain came from Ames, Iowa. Particularly since Iowa State University, is in Ames, and has laboratories. Iowa State University even admits to involvement in germ cell migration! In fruit flies.

There's just one problem with that obvious origin: it's not so.

This is why I do research. It's 'way too easy to pick up a fact, like the name of an anthrax strain, and run with it: far beyond the reasonable and the real.

A blog I'd been referred to recently mentioned that the strain of anthrax used in the 2001 letter attacks came from Ames, Iowa. This caught my eye, since it was the first time I'd read of a connection between that city in Iowa and the anthrax letters.

A little digging showed that quite a few people believe that the Ames strain of anthrax came from Ames, Iowa. I've put a few samples, farther down.

Exactly where the Ames strain comes from is interesting, but not important, in my opinion. However, the explanation of how a strain of anthrax found in a Texan cow got called the "Ames strain" is a good example of how even very smart people can take a fact and an assumption, and come up with a wrong conclusion.

Assigning a geographically confused name to a biological sample is a relatively minor issue.

But mistaking assumptions for facts can be a very serious matter. For example, if you're looking at a traffic light with no lights burning, the fact is that you don't see either a red, amber, or green light. Assuming that the light is (or should be) green may be true: but that's an assumption, not a fact. And, you'd better be aware that it's an assumption, if you step into the street.

American voters will be selecting a president in November, and I hope that everyone who casts a ballot makes decisions on facts, not assumptions.

I've got two reasons for writing this post.
  1. Assumptions aren't facts - and assumptions made about the Ames strain are a good illustration
  2. I thought of a wonderfully nutty conspiracy theory - and want to share it

The Ames Strain, Texas, and a Fort Deterick Oops

An article in the Washington Post, and another in The New Yorker, both republished on the UCLA website, tells how the Ames strain got its name. And, shows why there's some confusion about the Ames strain's origins.

The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) sends a special sort of container to veterinary labs in America. These containers are used to ship dangerous biological samples, like anthrax. The return address on the packages is for the USDA's Veterinary Services Center in Ames Iowa.

When researchers at Fort Detrick, Maryland, got an anthrax sample from a dead cow in Texas, they looked at the return address on the package, and figured it was from Ames, Iowa.

Later, when they wrote about that strain of anthrax, they called in the Ames strain. After that, it would have been confusing - and rather difficult - to change the name. After The New Yorker published a vivid account of events in an Ames laboratory that never happened, the Ames strain was almost guaranteed to be associated with Iowa.

The UCLA website has copies of two articles that show how the Ames strain got its name, and why people might assume it's from Iowa. I put the key sentences in bold.
    Washington Post (January 29, 2002)1
    • "...But here's one thing the lethal bug is decidedly not: originally from Ames, Iowa.
    • "New details emerging from the infamous bacterium's murky past suggest the Ames strain did not come from the sleepy Iowa college town of the same name, or from anywhere else in Iowa. It was a Texas strain, cultured from a Texas cow, federal officials now say.
    • "How it came to be known internationally as the Ames strain is a story of confused labeling and mistaken identity in the Defense Department's two-decade-old quest to find the perfect vaccine to protect troops against a near-perfect killer...."
    • "...The Army acquired the strain in 1981 as part of a national search for novel types of anthrax to use in testing vaccines. It had no name until 1985, when it was described in a scientific paper by researchers at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Md."
    • "The name 'Ames' was chosen because the researchers believed the strain came from there: The shipping package bore a return address from the USDA's National Veterinary Services Laboratories, an Ames, Iowa, lab that diagnoses illnesses in cattle, according to Gregory Knudson, a former USAMRIID scientist and a co-author of the article that identified the strain. The label stuck....
    • "...A search of long-forgotten Army documents finally resolved the mystery. The strain, it turns out, had come from Texas, which did experience anthrax outbreaks around 1980. The bacteria was isolated by the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostics Laboratory at Texas A&M University and shipped to USAMRIID in May 1981.
    • "The germs were mailed in a special container, a package identical to hundreds of others that the USDA supplies to veterinary labs around the country. The return address on the package: The USDA's Veterinary Services Center, Ames, Iowa."
    The New Yorker (November 12, 2001)
    "How a sick cow in Iowa may have helped to create a lethal bioweapon.
    • "On the evening of October 12th, a group of scientists and academics at Iowa State University's veterinary college, in Ames, Iowa, gathered in one of the school's laboratories for a procedure involving the university's collection of Bacillus anthracis, the bacteria that causes the disease anthrax. The school's anthrax collection was noteworthy both for what was known about it and for what was merely speculated. What was known was that over the years Iowa State's veterinary microbiologists had accumulated more than a hundred vials containing various strains of anthrax, some dating back to 1928. In 1978, a fondly remembered professor named R. Allen Packer had uncorked one of the fifty-year-old vials and, after a couple of tries, was able to coax the bacillus back to life. The experiment, a testament to the remarkable durability of anthrax spores, had lent a certain distinction to the collection.
    • "What was speculated about the Iowa State anthrax was even more compelling. One week earlier, on October 5th, a Florida photo editor named Bob Stevens (case 5), at American Media Inc., had died of anthrax, the first bioterror fatality in what has come to be known as 'the homeland.' Early news reports suggested that the F.B.I. had traced the anthrax to a laboratory in Ames, from which the bacteria had perhaps been stolen or otherwise obtained by terrorists.
    • "The reports of an Ames connection to the anthrax terrors caused much excitement in Iowa, and the College of Veterinary Medicine was suddenly fielding scores of calls from reporters wanting to know about the deadly 'Ames strain' of anthrax. The trouble was, nobody at the school knew anything about an 'Ames strain' -- whether it was the strain of anthrax infecting the mail, whether the Iowa State lab had ever possessed it, or even whether there was such a thing as an 'Ames strain.' None of the vials were identified as 'Ames,' but then the labels were cryptic, some bearing only numbers or dates...."
Despite that article in the Washington Post, and UCLA's efforts at setting the record straight, the assumed Iowa connection keeps showing up. Here's a sample - I put the 'Ames' references in bold.
  • "...Bush Pressured FBI to Blame al-Qaeda for Anthrax..." (Informed Comment (August 5, 2008))
    • "...One thing I haven't seen mentioned with regard to the attempt to implicate Iraq in the anthrax scare in fall of 2001 is the reason Iraq was hard to rule out as a source. It was that it clearly originated in labs in Ames, Iowa. The Reagan administration had permitted the provision to Iraq of anthrax precursors . . . from Ames, Iowa. That is, the Republican Party was proliferating weapons of mass destruction to Saddam Hussein in the 1980s...."
  • "Why I Believe Bush is the Anthrax Terrorist - 11. Anthrax Targets"
    #newsgarden (October 10, 2004)
    • "...All the contaminated letters contained the Ames strain of anthrax, the DNA of which is traced to the original batch preserved in a university lab in Ames, Iowa. This strain was 'weaponized' in Utah into a potent powder with an elaborate secret technique developed at Fort Detrick, Md...."
  • "The CIA's Role in the Anthrax Mailings: Could Our Spies be Agents for Military-Industrial Sabotage, Terrorism, and Even Population Control?"
    Tetrahedron Publishing (2001)
    • "...In summary, there are several serious indicators that the source of the anthrax weapon used in the mailings was the Ames, Iowa strain of silica-impregnated and electro-statically charged anthrax produced by the Battelle Memorial Institute under their classified CIA and Defense Department 'Project Jefferson.' This hyper-weaponized germ was likely produced with the help (or under the direction) of Dr. Alibekov and/or Dr. Patrick. The fact that these Battelle agents and affiliated agencies gained financially as a result of the anthrax mailings and public fright fits the parameters of a conspiracy to commit military-industrial sabotage, terrorism, and serial homicide approaching economic genocide...."
The author of that last article was particularly impressed at how many laboratories in the Ames, Iowa, area were involved in the production of anthrax vaccines, or had actually been doing anthrax research.

I suspect that there may be an innocent explanation for all that anthrax research around Ames, Iowa. Iowa is one of America's major cattle-producing states, and cattle farmers don't like anthrax.

1 As republished on the UCLA website
(University of California, Los Angeles, Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health)

About Fort Detrick, Maryland

Since Fort Detrick shows up in quite a few of these "anthrax" posts, I thought it would be a good idea to provide a few links, and a little background. The Fort Detrick Post Guide's cover describes the place as a "Center of Excellence for National Biological Defense Medical Research, Strategic Communication, and Defense Medical Logistics." The base has been around since about 1940.

While studying Fort Detrick, I found that the military post's history had a covert aspect. The original version was written by Norman M. Covert. Mr. Covert was Fort Detrick's public affairs officer and historian from 1977 to 1999. He's since retired from his Fort Detrick position and is living in Frederick, Maryland.
And now, something quite silly:

THEY Are Behind It!

The conspiracy theories I ran into, growing up, were mostly about commie plots to subvert American Democracy. That theme doesn't seem to be so common now, but conspiracy theories are still part of the cultural landscape: Considering the sort of ideas that I find, floating in the pool of knowledge, a disclaimer seems prudent.

What you read next is make-believe. It isn't true. I made it up.

Actually, I enjoy making up conspiracy theories. It's fun, taking assumptions and a few facts, giving logic and common sense a coffee break, and watching what happens.

Besides, I've often thought that most conspiracy theories lack the vision, the scope, the epic scale, that global events deserve. In short, they show a certain lack of imagination.

With that introduction, I present:

The Ames Strain, Texas, and What THEY Won't Tell You!!!

Dr. Bruce Ivins, and all scientists at Fort Detrick, were dupes of the military-industrial complex! They were meant to assume that the anthrax from TEXAS came from Ames, Iowa!!

These pawns of dark forces, seeing a return address label with "Ames Iowa" on it, were forced to believe that the anthrax within came from Ames!!

A cabal of Army officers, shadow scientists, and renegade psychotherapists conspired to spike their coffee with a strange brew of psychoactive drugs which made them particularly susceptible to the subliminal message hidden in Fort Detrick's restroom signs.

You see?! When you get THE TRUTH, it ALL MAKES SENSE!!!!!

Of course, the anthrax came from TEXAS. As is well known, the diabolical Bush comes from Texas: both the senior Bush, and the evil twin clone that's been fobbed off on an unsuspecting American Public as his son!!!

(And it's true: McCain is just the same as Bush! He's an evil clone that didn't come out quite right, and had to be planted in another family, to spread chaos and intolerance across the world!)

As for the sick cow that spawned the Ames strain of anthrax: that was no accident! That cow was DELIBERATELY INFECTED with a serum developed in a secret underground laboratory under Crawford, TEXAS, where slave labor was used to create bioterror weapons of mass destruction to use against minorities and free thinkers!!!!!!!

The seemingly innocent use of an Ames, Iowa, return address on those USDA packages was in fact part of a sinister plot.

And, I have PROOF!!!. As anyone can see, by this map, Iowa, the state that Bush's minions forced the scientist pawns to identify as the source of the anthrax, is far removed from TEXAS, where the Ames strain anthrax serum was actually created!!!

Scientists in Maryland, their minds swirling from mind-bending drugs and hypnotic restroom signs, could hardly be expected to verify that the anthrax sample labeled "Ames, Iowa," had actually come from a distant state.

PROOF!!!!! Evil scientists under Crawford, Texas, created the "Ames strain!!!
More posts (serious ones) about the "Amerithrax" case, in this blog: And, a more serious look at conspiracy theories: And in the news, learning from mistakes:

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.