The fastest one can drive from Frederick, Maryland to Princeton, New Jersey is 3 hours, which would mean that Ivins would have had to have dropped the anthrax letters in the New Jersey mailbox on September 17 by 1 p.m. or -- at the latest -- 2 p.m. in order to be able to attend a 4:00 or 5:00 p.m. meeting back at Ft. Detrick. But had he dropped the letters in the mailbox before 5:00 p.m. on September 17, the letters would have borne a September 17 postmark, rather than the September 18 postmark they bore (letters picked up from that Princeton mailbox before 5 p.m. bear the postmark from that day; letters picked up after 5 p.m. bear the postmark of the next day). That's why the Search Warrant Affidavit (.pdf) released by the FBI on Friday said this (page 8):
If the Post's reporting about Ivins' September 17 activities is accurate -- that he "return[ed to Fort Detrick] for an appointment in the early evening, about 4 or 5 p.m." -- then that would constitute an alibi, not, as the Post breathlessly described it, "a key clue into how he could have pulled off an elaborate crime," since any letter he mailed that way would have a September 17 -- not a September 18 -- postmark. Just compare the FBI's own definition of "window of opportunity" to its September 17 timeline for Ivins to see how glaring that contradiction is.
In theory (and there is no evidence for this at all), Ivins could have left Fort Detrick that night after work and driven to New Jersey, but then the leaked information reported by the Post about Ivins' September 17 morning "administrative leave" would be completely irrelevant, and according to the Post, that isn't what the FBI believes occurred ("Authorities assume that he drove to Princeton immediately after" he took administrative leave in the morning). The FBI's theory as to how and when Ivins traveled to New Jersey on September 17 and mailed the letters is simply impossible, given the statement in their own Probable Cause Affidavit as to "the window of opportunity" the anthrax attacker had to mail the letters in order to have them bear a September 18 postmark. Marcy Wheeler and Larisa Alexandrovna have now noted the same discrepancy. That is a pretty enormous contradiction in the FBI's case.
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The FBI's total failure to point to a shred of evidence placing Ivins in New Jersey on either of the two days the anthrax letters were sent is a very conspicuous deficiency in its case. It's possible that Ivins was able to travel to Princeton on two occasions in three weeks without leaving the slightest trace of having done so (not a credit card purchase, ATM withdrawal, unusual gas purchases, nothing), but that relies on a depiction of Ivins as a cunning and extremely foresightful criminal, an image squarely at odds with most of the FBI's circumstantial evidence that suggests Ivins was actually quite careless, even reckless, in how he perpetrated this crime (spending unusual amounts of time in his lab before the attacks despite knowing that there would be a paper trail; taking an "administrative leave" from work to go mail the anthrax letters rather than just doing it on the weekend when no paper trail of his absence would be created; using his own anthrax strain rather than any of the other strains to which he had access at Fort Detrick; keeping that strain in its same molecular form for years rather than altering it, etc.).
The FBI dumped a large number of uncorroborated conclusions at once on Wednesday, carefully assembled to create the most compelling case they could make, and many people -- as intended -- jumped to proclaim that it was convincing. But the more that case is digested and assessed, the more questions and the more skepticism seem to arise among virtually everyone...
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Salon's Glenn Greenwald is looking at FBI "evidence" somewhat critically...