FCC to Probe Apple’s Rejection of Google Voice application for iPhone

Following Apple’s rejection of the Google Voice application for iPhone, the FCC has begun an inquiry into the matter.

In a letter sent Friday to Apple, the FCC requested information regarding why it rejected Google’s application for the telephony service Google Voice, along with why it then decided to remove applications with similar functionality from it’s App Store. As The Wall Street Journal reports, letters were also sent to Google and AT&T.

The FCC is interested in the approval process Google went through, along with whether any of its other applications have been approved by Apple (sounds like we’re wandering into Google Latitutde territory—why it is a web app on the iPhone again?). The FCC also requested a description of the Google Voice application’s functions.

AT&T, it appears, is involved only because the FCC is curious to know what role, if any, it played in Apple’s decision to reject the Google Voice application. Presumably, given the threat to its bottom line, AT&T had some involvement. After all, the Google Voice application allows users to send unlimited text messages using the wireless subscriber’s data plan, not text messaging allowance. Inexpensive international calls from one’s mobile phone also further cut into AT&T’s revenues.

On the whole, it looks like Apple’s decision to ban Google Voice may have unintended consequences for it and its application developers. But, to the benefit of Apple’s customers and those developers, some light may be shed on the approval process Apple uses, and some consistency could result. We’ll just have to wait and see.

‘Beer Summit’ Flap Draws More Attention to Already-Divisive Issue

In response to his comment that the officer’s actions were “stupid,” President Obama invited Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and James Crowley to the White House for beers. Now, as The Wall Street Journal reports, even that move is causing some uproar.

As it turns out, no American-owned beers will be served. According to White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, Red Stripe, Blue Moon, and Bud Light are on tap. The first is brewed by Diageo PLC of London, the second by a partnership majority owned by SABMiller of London (even more ironic considering SAB stood for South African Breweries), and the last is now brewed by the Brazilian-Belgian-US conglomerate Anheuser-Busch InBev NV.

Among those breweries raising complaints over the selection: Boston Beer Company (Sam Adams, Twisted Tea), Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, and Genesee Brewery. For the companies’ official comments, see Robert Tomsho’s article “White House ‘Beer Summit’ Becomes Something of a Brouhaha.”

In defense of the President and his guests, the selection represents their personal preferences, as Mr. Gibbs pointed out. Let’s just hope that some cold brews and frank discussion with the president can bring some resolution to the situation in Cambridge. Already, that city’s mayor has called the incident a “turning point.”

DNA Tied Army Researcher to Anthrax Letters

As I mentioned in my previous post, DNA played a central role in tying Army researcher Dr. Bruce Ivins to the anthrax letters of 2001. Having read this widely in recent reports of Dr. Ivins’ suicide, I wondered how the FBI was able to definitively link the anthrax to Ivins. I was certainly not alone in my curiosity, and this morning’s article from the Associated Press, titled “DNA led FBI to anthrax researcher,” deals with exactly this issue.

As technology available at the time was only able to identify which strain the anthrax belonged to, the FBI employed top genome researchers from around the country to develop a new test that could identify the DNA of a particular anthrax strain. Last year, after spending at least $10 million (making this one of the FBI’s most expensive investigations in history), the FBI got the test it was looking for. Investigators were finally able to compare anthrax samples from the letters to those taken at government laboratories across the country. Doing so led them directly to Dr. Bruce Ivins because of ” the very specific characteristics in the DNA of the letters and what was in Bruce’s labs.” According to a scientist cited by the Associated Press, the strain used in the anthrax letters came from “…cultures [Dr. Ivins] was personally responsible for.”

So that’s the short answer. Check out the Associated Press story, published in today’s Baltimore Sun, for further details.

Source:DNA led FBI to anthrax researcher,” The Baltimore Sun, August 4, 2008.

Indictment in Anthrax Case May Not Have Been Imminent, But Evidence Still Compelling

Many of Friday’s reports regarding the untimely death of Dr. Bruce Ivins asserted that his indictment for sending anthrax-laced letters was imminent. Today, NPR’s Dina Temple-Raston cast doubt on the immediacy of that indictment. Citing FBI sources, Ms. Temple-Raston reported that while great progress had been made, there were certain crucial steps that had to be taken before Dr. Ivins could be indicted. The FBI, for example, had written up the case and informed the Justice Department that it would soon seek approval to formally charge Dr. Ivins, but it had not presented all of its evidence to a grand jury, nor had a grand jury voted on whether or not to indict the government researcher. Seeking and receiving a grand jury indictment could itself have taken weeks. Contrary to most early reports of Dr. Ivins’ suicide, a recent meeting between FBI investigators, Dr. Ivins, and his lawyers was not held so that the FBI could inform the doctor of his impending indictment. Instead, the FBI hoped that Dr. Ivins might cooperate with its investigation after seeing some of the evidence against him. Unfortunately, the pressure this meeting put on Dr. Ivins seems to have been too much.

Regardless of the timing of his indictment, or the intent of the FBI meeting, the evidence against Dr. Ivins is compelling. One of the strongest links the government has established between Ivins and the letters comes from new DNA analysis developed just for this case. The FBI has long believed that the anthrax used was made by our own government, simply due to its quality. Knowing this, investigators were able to focus on the few federal facilities that handle anthrax, and Fort Dietrich quickly moved to the top of the list. It appears that Dr. Ivins’ undoing may have come from an unreported contamination incident at Fort Dietrich.

In December 2001, just three months after the anthrax-laced letters began appearing in politicians’ and newsmakers’ offices, the desk of one of Dr. Ivins coworkers became contaminated with anthrax. Rather than report the breach to his supervisors, Dr. Ivins simply cleaned up the anthrax and continued about his business. The contamination went undetected until May 2002, largely due to the investigation into the anthrax-laced letters. When asked about the incident in 2002, Dr. Ivins asserted that he did not want to “cry wolf” given all that was happening at the lab and that he believed he had cleaned up the errant pathogen. These statements, as well as new DNA testing techniques, ultimately brought Dr. Ivins to the fore of the investigation.

Had Dr. Ivins properly reported the December 2001 anthrax contamination at Fort Dietrich, he may never have come under FBI scrutiny for the anthrax letters that terrorized the country just following the 9/11 attacks. The reason for this is twofold. First, Dr. Ivins’ statements themselves, made to Army superiors,  appeared suspicious coming from an experienced anthrax researcher. It appears that the FBI was unsatisfied with his justification for not notifying Army superiors of the contamination. Second, his insufficient cleanup of the affected area provided investigators with the evidence linking him to the letters. After fellow researchers also reported contamination in their work areas, widespread testing was conducted to determine the extent of the breach. This testing revealed anthrax spores on a bookcase in Dr. Ivins office, Room 19, which would lead to his eventual downfall.

As the FBI had long suspected a government employee of involvement in mailing the anthrax-laced letters, it seemed only logical that investigators would compare the DNA of the anthrax from the letters with that of the anthrax that contaminated Dr. Ivins’ office. Coincidence seemed highly unlikely, given the material in question. The positive match between both samples validated the government’s investigation and provided it with the evidence necessary to pressure Dr. Ivins into cooperating. It is this very pressure that led Dr. Ivins to take his own life.


Additional Resources:

Seven Years On, Anthrax Mystery Comes to an End

The Los Angeles Times is reporting today that the government’s primary suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks committed suicide Tuesday, just as the Justice Department prepared to charge him with mailing the anthrax-tainted letters that killed five people. Bruce Ivins, 62, worked at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Dietrich, MD for 18 years, where he had access to anthrax, as well as other biological weapons. Mr. Ivin’s brother confirmed the death to CNN.

The anthrax scare, coming just months after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, has been a particularly troublesome and embarrassing incident for the federal government. In the early days of the attacks, it was not clear whether the anthrax letters were related to the terrorist attacks. When it became clear that the incidents were unrelated, the government was left without much direction in its investigation. The focus eventually fell on Steven J. Hatfill, another scientist at Fort Dietrich, but this proved misguided (the government settled with Mr. Hatfill in June for the tidy sum of $5.82 million). It now appears that the misdirection may have come from Mr. Ivins. In a particularly ironic twist in this seven-year saga, Mr. Ivins assisted the government in its initial investigation focused on Mr. Hatfill.

In 2006, after five years of floundering following its focus on Mr. Hatfill, the FBI appointed new agents to investigate the letters. Agents returned to Maryland to re-interview lab employees, and particular attention was paid to Mr. Ivins after investigators learned he had covered up an anthrax contamination beginning in December of 2001. His actions during and following the contamination made investigators suscipcious, and it would appear for good reason. The government’s settlement with Mr. Hatfill put further pressure on Mr. Ivins, who was already being treated for depression. A collegue reported he was considering suicide as early as June, as the FBI appeared to be closing in on him. He was placed on administrative leave and committed to a psychiatric treatment center, where he spent a few days in June. Following his release, his emotional state deteriorated further, and a collegue reported he was emotionally broken by the federal scrutiny. Mr. Ivins died Tuesday in a Frederick, Maryland hospital after ingesting a lethal dose of Tylenol with codeine.

The Department of Justice is expected to make an announcement regarding Mr. Ivin’s death later today.


UPDATE: Additional Sources (last updated 08/01/08 at 10:05 am):

Well That Didn’t Take Very Long

Just weeks after indicting two Bear Stearns hedge fund managers for securities fraud tied to the credit crisis, The Wall Street Journal today reported that federal prosecutors are investigating the auction-rate bond market. In particular, the US Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York is looking at two Credit Suisse brokers and whether or not they misled investors about the assets backing the securities they purchased.

Very little about this story is surprising, given the failure of the auction-rate market in February. This is just the latest legal fallout from the credit crisis Bear Stearn’s started last June. More announcements like this are almost certain as the current economic turmoil unfolds.

The Wall Street Journal article is titled “Auction-Rate Probe Grows Over Clarity From Brokers” and appeared on July 9, 2008.

The Story That Wasn’t

Today’s Wall Street Journal featured an interesting opinion piece from its former publisher L. Gordon Crovitz about the scandal that wasn’t. I am, of course, talking about the Los Angeles Times story about Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Alex Kozinski wherein the paper accused the judge of peddling pornography. Mr. Crovitz discusses how bloggers got right what the Times did not, and he goes on to discuss different aspects of the article that were discredited by bloggers, a group that included his wife. The article certainly paints an interesting picture of the changing media landscape, where blogging and the internet as a whole have allowed citizens to become journalists, and where old media cannot assume that readers will take them at their word.

The article, “Smearing Judge Kozinski,” which appeared in the Information Age column of June 23’s Wall Street Journal, can be found here.

Bear Stearns’ Hedge Fund Mangers to be Indicted Thursday

National Public Radio’s Dina Temple-Raston this afternoon confirmed that two Bear Stearns’ hedge fund managers are to be indicted Thursday for misleading investors. The indictment was reported first in Monday’s Wall Street Journal but the timing of the indictments was unknown. Managers Ralph Cioffi and Matthew Tannin are accused of “painting a rosy picture to investors…” while internally fretting over investments in mortgage backed securities. These indictments are likely to be the first of many stemming from the credit crisis. Messr. Cioffi and Tannin managed the two Bear Stearns hedge funds which collapsed last June, heralding the start of the credit crisis.

UPDATE: See The Wall Street Journal’s article “Prosecutors in Bear Case Zero (Focus) In On Email” from Thursday’s paper.