Thursday, March 24, 2011

Psychologizing Bruce Ivins: Who are the Amerithrax Behavioral Analysis Experts?

The investigation by the "Amerithrax Expert Behavioral Analysis Panel" on "the mental health issues" of accused anthrax mailer Dr. Bruce Ivins purports to have been undertaken with "no predispositions regarding Dr. Ivin's guilt or innocence." Yet the report (PDF here of the released partial redacted version) says the Panel's review of sealed psychiatric records "does support the Department of Justice's (DOJ's) determination that he was responsible.

In a separate article by Marcy Wheeler earlier today, she points out that the report totally accepts the allegation that the anthrax spores originated from flask RMR-1029, and that therefore Ivins had "the motivation and the means" to carry out the attack. Of course, as Wheeler notes, the National Academy of Sciences recently said that there is insufficient scientific evidence to back up DOJ's conclusion regarding this. (Jim White also wrote about the NAS report when it first came out.) Wheeler's article also points out other inconsistencies and illogical aspects of the Panel's report.

I wish to concentrate a bit more on the idea this panel had no "predispositions." Unfortunately, just as the released summary leaves out over 250 pages of the report, including its case narrative and "behavioral analysis and interpretation", that unreleased portion also leaves out the biographies included about the Panel's members. As a result, the lack of presented evidence makes it extremely difficult to comment about the conclusions noted in the Executive Summary regarding Ivins' supposed penchant for "revenge", his purported tendencies towards exploitation and manipulation (as they allege), his being "skilled in deceit", his "obsessions," his "strange and traumatic childhood," and "his desperate need for personal validation," among other post hoc conclusions made by the Panel's authors.

While the lack of evidence makes it difficult to swallow what sounds like character assassination, we do at least have the list of panel members by which to examine the neutral disinterest the forensic psychiatric examination should demand of those who are investigating the background of Dr. Ivins. Instead, what a brief review of the panel's bona fides reveals is an overwhelming stacking of this "expert" panel by doctors and others who are deeply beholden to government interests, and in particular to security agencies, including those involved in bioterrorism security. For such individuals, it is difficult to see that they would buck the position of the FBI and DOJ that Ivins was guilty.

Who are the Behavioral Experts?

As an article at the Los Angeles Times points out, without further elaborating, they weren't all behavioral experts:

The behavioral panel was formed in late 2009 at the suggestion of Saathoff, people familiar with the matter said. Saathoff appointed the remaining panelists: five other psychiatrists, two officials from the American Red Cross and a physician-toxicologist.

The addition of the Red Cross members is curious, especially since Ivins is accused of joining the Red Cross at the time of the anthrax mailings to gain self-importance as an anthrax expert, and to appear "as a prophet and as a defender of the nation" to a woman he was reportedly obsessed with. Indeed, the report has a nine-page appendix dedicated to Ivins and the Red Cross, which has not been published publicly.

In any case, one of the Red Cross personnel is in fact the vice-chair of the Panel, Gerald DeFrancisco, listed as President, Humanitarian Services, American National Red Cross. DeFrancisco is also on the Board of Directors of Research Strategies Network (RSN), the 2008-founded “professional services organization... whose missions support the national security of the United States and its allies.” RSN is the publisher and copyright holder of the Expert Panel's report. The Panel Chair is Dr. Gregory Saathoff, who is also President of RSN, while the Chairman of RSN is former Reagan-era Attorney General Edward Meese.

Saathoff specifically cites "guidance" by Meese in the making of the Ivins report, as well as that of another RSN board member, former U.S. senator Chuck Robb. Among other things, Robb is former President Bush, Jr.'s co-chairman to the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction. He is also on the board of Defense Department-DARPA-linked Mitre Corporation. Other RSN board members are also linked to the military. As far as DeFrancisco goes, it's hard to know what expertise he brings to the Panel, as formerly he worked at AT&T as Vice President of Business Innovation, and Executive Vice President of Broadband & Internet Services, as well as CEO at AT&T Alascom, a $300 million AT&T subsidiary.

The other Red Cross member of the panel is Joseph C. White, listed as Senior Vice President, Chapter Operations, American National Red Cross. White is a banker, the former Chairman and CEO of Boatmen’s Bancshares, and Vice President in Investor Relations at Fleishman-Hillard. He retired from Bank of America. But he was also "chief executive officer of the St. Louis Area Chapter of the Red Cross," when he "was sworn in January 10 [2008] as a member of the Emergency Response Senior Advisory Committee. The committee is one of five panels that advise the Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC), which provides recommendations to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff on homeland security."

Among the actual doctors, we have Dr. Sally C. Johnson, listed as Professor, Department of Psychiatry at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She may be best known as one of the forensic psychiatric examiners of Theodore Kaczynski, but more recently, she testified regarding the fitness of supposed Al Qaeda-linked suspect Dr. Aafia Siddique to stand trial for attempted murder. In her written report on Siddique, "Johnson left a warning... saying that in spite of Siddiqui’s frail and timid appearance – she has weighed as little as 90 pounds – ‘her potential for aggression towards herself or others might be underestimated.’"

Then there is Dr. David Benedek, listed as Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Uniformed Services University School of Medicine. Dr. Benedek has served at Guantanamo, although we don't know in what capacity. He was also acting as an army psychiatrist on the panel which consulted with others about Nidal Hasan in Spring 2008. Apparently, they failed to find him dangerous at that time, for which I can't fault Dr. Benedek, as it is a notorious fact that forensic evaluations of dangerousness are terribly unreliable, eliciting high levels of false positives, and a failure to distinguish who will or won't be dangerous. Unfortunately, the panel's executive summary never refers to this poor forensic record in determining who is or isn't dangerous while they put forth their certain but "circumstantial" evidence regarding the state of mind of the late Dr. Ivins.

Interestingly, Dr. Benedek was on a 2003 panel presentation on "Psychological Reactions to Chemical, Biological, and Radiological Events" at the Annual Meeting of Psychiatry and the Law, along with another military psychiatrist, who was at Guantanamo, Col. Elspeth Ritchie, who was Psychiatry Consultant to the US Army Surgeon General, and involved in psychiatric examinations for the government of at least a few of the detainees to come before the military commissions, including Salim Hamden.

Another panel member, Dr. Ronald Schouten (MD and JD) is listed as Director of the Law and Psychiatry Service, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard University School of Medicine. A forensic psychitrist, Dr. Schouten also "served as a subject matter expert for the Biological Threat Classification Program of the Department of Homeland Security and has testified before the Congressional Subcommittee on Prevention of Nuclear and Biological Attack.

And yet another panel member has government connections, as Dr. Anita Everett, listed as Section Director, Community and General Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, is a senior medical advisor on psychiatric issues at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in Rockland, Maryland.

The chair of the Expert Panel is Gregory Saathoff MD, who is listed as Executive Director of the Critical Incident Analysis Group (CIAG) at the University of Virginia. An entire article could be spent on Dr. Saathoff and the CIAG, which was founded in the wake of the Waco events. I found it kind of interesting that CIAG's Spring 2001 conference was entitled "Public Responsibility and Mass Destruction: Facing the Threat of Bioterrorism," and considered among the various terrorist possiblities "potential anthrax attack."

But probably most apposite for the point of this article is Dr. Saathoff's links to the FBI.

In 1996 he was appointed to a Commission charged with developing a methodology to enable the FBI to better access non-governmental expertise during times of crisis. In that regard, Dr. Saathoff has since 1996 served as the Conflict Resolution Specialist to the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group. In this role, he consults with the Crisis Negotiation Unit and the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime.

I believe I have set out more than enough information here to challenge the supposed disinterest and lack of "predispositions" that supposedly animated this group of "behavioral experts." In fact, it's hard to believe that any group thus constituted could have or would have challenged the conclusions of the DOJ. Reading the Executive Summary, it's apparent how their case is built on a flimsy and prejudiced analysis, as they consistently refer to "circumstantial" evidence, as they construct a dire portrait of a man who is portrayed as "clever," who "cultivated" a benign presence, while masking his "criminal thoughts."

Since someone saw fit to show the entire report to the L.A. Times, perhaps the government would want to have this report examined by peer-review. It wouldn't be so hard to find individuals not linked to the government, but capable of the requisite security clearances. But then, the government hasn't taken the anthrax terrorism really seriously, leading many to conclude, rightly or wrongly, they have something to cover up. In any case, this latest "expert behavioral analysis" isn't going to convince anyone, as it is stacked with government-linked authorities, many of them to DoJ, DHS, or the Pentagon.

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