The committee did not receive nor review classified material. In November 2010 discussions with FBI and DOJ leadership regarding this report, we were made aware of additional information that would require review of classified material. Due to the lateness of this revelation and the importance we placed on issuing a timely report, and the agreement between the NRC and the FBI that all material we considered be publicly available, the committee did not undertake this additional review of classified material.

Recommendation 3.2: The goals of forensic science and realistic expectations and limitations regarding its use in the investigation of a biological attack must be communicated to the public and policymakers with as much clarity and detail as possible before, during, and after the investigation.

Communicating with the public and policymakers is extremely important in order to ensure that accurate information is available and to minimize unrealistic expectations. Special attention will need to be paid to communicating scientific information to these groups in an accurate and credible manner, especially if the information will play a critical role in the investigation.

When presenting to the public the findings of an investigation that involve scientific evidence, especially one as important as the anthrax letters investigation, officials will need to make every effort to have scientists verify the accuracy of the scientific information they report. The inaccurate reporting of facts or the overstatement of scientific evidence is a disservice to the public. In the anthrax letters investigation, there were repeated claims that all of the attack letters contained all of the genotypic variants (see Chapter 6 and Finding 6.7) that implicated flask RMR-1029 as the source of the anthrax spores, when in fact not all of the letters were checked for these variants. Of even greater concern, because it suggested possible deception by the suspect, the strength of the evidence was overstated that a disputed sample submitted by the suspect had not come from the proper source (see Chapter 6 and Finding 6.4). Similar mistakes can be avoided in the future by involving the relevant scientists in fact checking of the reports before they are released.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement