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Context of 'July 29, 2008: FBI Still Building Case Against Anthrax Attacks Suspect Ivins When He Dies'

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Bruce Ivins teaching a child how to juggle in 1983.Bruce Ivins teaching a child how to juggle in 1983. [Source: Sam Yu / Frederick News-Post]Future anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins begins working at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory. He will continue working there until a few weeks before his suicide in July 2008 (see July 29, 2008). He has master’s and doctoral degrees in microbiology. His work at USAMRIID will generally focus on developing anthrax vaccines. He frequent conducts experiments on animals to test vaccines for various types of anthrax exposure. His experiments use only wet anthrax, not the dry powdered anthrax that will be used in the 2001 anthrax attacks. Ivins has a stable decades-long marriage, several children, and is popular with colleagues and friends. One coworker will later say: “a lot of people cared about him.… He is not Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). He’s not the Unabomber” (see April 3, 1996). [Los Angeles Times, 8/1/2008; Washington Post, 8/2/2008]

Entity Tags: Bruce Ivins

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

The five fatal victims of the anthrax attacks, from to right: Josep Curseen Jr., Thomas Morris, Ottilie Lundgren, Robert Stevens, and Kathy Nguyen. The five fatal victims of the anthrax attacks, from to right: Josep Curseen Jr., Thomas Morris, Ottilie Lundgren, Robert Stevens, and Kathy Nguyen. [Source: Reuters and Associated Press] (click image to enlarge)Two waves of letters containing anthrax are received by media outlets including NBC and the New York Post (see September 17-18, 2001), and Democratic senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy (see October 6-9, 2001). The letters sent to the senators both contain the words “Death to America, Death to Israel, Allah is Great.” Five people die:
bullet October 5: Robert Stevens, 63, an employee at the Sun, a tabloid based in Florida.
bullet October 21: Thomas Morris Jr., 55, a postal worker in Washington, DC.
bullet October 22: Joseph Curseen Jr., 47, a postal worker in Washington, DC.
bullet October 31: Kathy Nguyen, 61, a hospital employee in New York City.
bullet November 21: Ottilie Lundgren, 94, of Oxford, Connecticut.
At least 22 more people get sick but survive. Thirty-one others test positive for exposure. As a result of these deaths and injuries, panic sweeps the nation. On October 16, the Senate office buildings are shut down, followed by the House of Representatives, after 28 congressional staffers test positive for exposure to anthrax (see October 16-17, 2001). A number of hoax letters containing harmless powder turn up, spreading the panic further. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 12/8/2001; Associated Press, 8/7/2008] Initially it is suspected that either al-Qaeda or Iraq are behind the anthrax letters (see October 14, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 17, 2001, and October 18, 2001). [Observer, 10/14/2001; BBC, 10/16/2001] However, by November, further investigation leads the US government to conclude that, “everything seems to lean toward a domestic source.… Nothing seems to fit with an overseas terrorist type operation (see November 10, 2001).” [Washington Post, 10/27/2001; St. Petersburg Times, 11/10/2001]

Entity Tags: Iraq, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Patrick J. Leahy, Tom Daschle, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 2001 Anthrax Attacks, US Domestic Terrorism

In 2002, microbiologist Perry Mikesell came under suspicion as the anthrax attacker. Mikesell is an anthrax specialist who worked with Bruce Ivins and others at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, in the 1980s and 1990s. Since then, he had worked at the Battelle Memorial Institute, a private contractor in Ohio working on classified government bioweapons programs. According to family members, he begins drinking heavily after the FBI starts suspecting him, consuming up to a fifth of hard liquor a day. One relative will later say, “It was a shock that all of a sudden he’s a raging alcoholic.” He dies in late October 2002. The relative will say, “He drank himself to death.” His connection to the anthrax investigation will not be revealed until 2008, and it still is completely unknown why the FBI was focusing on him. Two weeks before his suicide (see July 29, 2008), Ivins will liken the pressure he is facing from the FBI to the pressure that had been put on Mikesell. He will reportedly tell a colleague, “Perry [Mikesell] drank himself to death.” [New York Times, 8/9/2008]

Entity Tags: United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Battelle Memorial Institute, Bruce Ivins, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Perry Mikesell

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Bruce Ivins working as a Red Cross volunteer in 2003.Bruce Ivins working as a Red Cross volunteer in 2003. [Source: Associated Press]During a several day search of a pond near Frederick, Maryland, by FBI investigators for clues to the anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), Scientist Bruce Ivins is there with the investigators, working as a Red Cross volunteer. Ivins will commit suicide in 2008 after coming under scrutiny as the FBI’s main suspect in the anthrax attacks (see July 29, 2008). The pond search is highly publicized at the time, and is an unsuccessful effort to find evidence connecting the attacks to Steven Hatfill, the FBI’s main suspect at the time (see December 12-17, 2002). The pond is near USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory where Ivins works and Hatfill used to work. As a Red Cross volunteer, Ivins serves coffee, donuts, and snacks to FBI agents and other investigators in a military tent. He is eventually removed after officials realize he is an anthrax researcher who could compromise the investigation. Apparently, Ivins is a regular Red Cross volunteer at the time. Miriam Fleming, another Red Cross volunteer working at the pond search, will later recall that Ivins “was kind of goofy, but he was always in a good mood. He seemed so normal.” [New York Times, 8/7/2008]

Entity Tags: Miriam Fleming, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bruce Ivins, Steven Hatfill

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Scientist Bruce Ivins begins to believe that the FBI anthrax attacks investigation is turning its focus towards him. He is correct, but it is unclear how he knows this (the FBI begins openly monitoring him at some point in 2007 (see Autumn 2007-July 29, 2008)). At USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, he tells colleagues that the FBI might be trying to set him up to take the fall for the attacks. His former boss Jeffrey Adamovicz will later recall that Ivins begins to poke holes in the FBI’s efforts. For instance, Ivins says a positive DNA match between the anthrax in the letters and anthrax at USAMRIID would mean little, “because those labs are shared.” [Wall Street Journal, 8/7/2008] It is unclear why the FBI is suspecting Ivins already, because a match between the anthrax used in the attacks and anthrax held by him will not be made until early 2007 (see Early 2007).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Bruce Ivins, Jeffrey Adamovicz

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

For about a year until his death in July 2008 (see July 29, 2008), anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins is openly followed by FBI agents in surveillance vehicles. When this begins exactly is not known, but his house is searched by the FBI on November 1, 2007 (see November 1, 2007), so presumably he is followed at least after that date. [New York Times, 8/4/2008] This tactic used on Ivins had already been controversially used on the previous primary anthrax attacks suspect, Steven Hatfill, in 2002 and 2003. One of the heads of the FBI’s anthrax investigation, Robert Roth, later admitted in court that this tactic of openly following Hatfill was against FBI guidelines. “Generally, it’s supposed to be covert,” Roth said. [Associated Press, 8/5/2008]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bruce Ivins, Robert Roth

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

In December 2007, scientist Bruce Ivins is privately told by the FBI that he could be a suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). This is according to Ivins’s attorney Paul Kemp, who also says that he and Ivins have a meeting with the FBI that same month in response. Ivins’s house had been searched by the FBI the month before, which presumably made the FBI’s interest in Ivins obvious (see November 1, 2007). Kemp will later claim that he and Ivins will meet with the FBI about four or five times between this time and Ivins’s death in July 2008 (see July 29, 2008). Additionally, Kemp will claim that Ivins had been interviewed by the FBI about 20 to 25 times before he was told he could be a suspect, yet Ivins regularly had his security clearances renewed. [Time, 8/5/2008]

Entity Tags: Paul Kemp, Bruce Ivins, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

About a week before Bruce Ivins dies (see July 29, 2008), FBI agents take a mouth swab to collect a DNA sample from him. It is unclear why investigators waited so long, since he had been an a suspect since 2006 (see Late 2006). [New York Times, 9/6/2008]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bruce Ivins

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

In an interview with CNN, FBI Director Robert Mueller gives an upbeat assessment of the FBI’s investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), despite the exoneration of Steven Hatfill, the only publicly named suspect, the month before (see June 27, 2008). Mueller says: “I’m confident in the course of the investigation.… And I’m confident that it will be resolved.… I tell you, we’ve made great progress in the investigation. It’s in no way dormant. It’s active.… In some sense there have been breakthroughs, yes.” [CNN, 7/24/2008] Just days after these comments, Bruce Ivins, the FBI’s top unpublicized suspect at the time, will die of an apparent suicide (see July 29, 2008).

Entity Tags: Robert S. Mueller III, Steven Hatfill, Bruce Ivins

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Bruce Ivins in 2003. Bruce Ivins in 2003. [Source: Agence France-Presse / Getty Images]US government microbiologist Bruce Ivins dies of an apparent suicide. The Los Angeles Times is the first media outlet to report on his death three days later. The Times claims that Ivins died “just as the Justice Department was about to file criminal charges against him” for the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). For the last 18 years, Ivins had worked at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), the US government’s top biological research laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland. His name had not been made public as a suspect in the case prior to his death. He dies at Frederick Memorial Hospital after ingesting a massive dose of prescription Tylenol mixed with codeine. Apparently there is no suicide note or any other known final message from Ivins. [Los Angeles Times, 8/1/2008] According to the Washington Post, Ivins had ingested the pills two or three days before he actually died. He was admitted to Frederick Memorial Hospital two days before his death. Investigators had scheduled a meeting with Ivins’s attorneys to discuss the evidence against him. However, Ivins dies two hours before the meeting is to take place (see July 29, 2008). [Washington Post, 8/2/2008] Apparently, no autopsy is performed on Ivins’s body. A Frederick Police Department lieutenant says that based on laboratory test results of blood taken from the body, the state medical examiner “determined that an autopsy wouldn’t be necessary” to confirm he died of a suicide. [Bloomberg, 8/1/2008]

Entity Tags: Bruce Ivins, US Department of Justice, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

On July 29, 2008, when anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins commits suicide (see July 29, 2008), the FBI still has not completed its case against him. Several days later, the New York Times reports that a grand jury in Washington had been planning to hear several more weeks of testimony before deciding to issue an indictment or not. Additionally, just days before his death, FBI agents seize two public computers from the downtown public library in Frederick, the Maryland town where Ivins lives. The Times will call this “an indication that investigators were still trying to strengthen their case…” [New York Times, 8/4/2008]

Entity Tags: Bruce Ivins, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) sends a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey and FBI Director Robert Mueller with a list of 18 questions about the FBI’s anthrax attacks investigation. He gives them two weeks to respond. The Los Angeles Times says the questions raise “concerns about virtually every aspect of the probe.” Grassley’s questions include how the government focused on suspect Bruce Ivins (who apparently committed suicide about a week earlier July 29, 2008), what was known about his deteriorating mental condition, whether he had taken a lie-detector test, and why investigators are sure that no one else helped him. “The FBI has a lot of explaining to do,” Grassley says. Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) also says in an interview that he is in discussions with other Congresspeople to arrange a Congressional inquiry that would combine the efforts of several Congressional oversight committees. Referring to President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 assassination, Holt says, “We don’t want this to be another Lee Harvey Oswald case where the public says it is never solved to their satisfaction. Somebody needs to finish the job that would have been finished in a court of law.” Other than Congress, “I’m not sure where else to do it.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/8/2008]

Entity Tags: Michael Mukasey, Bruce Ivins, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert S. Mueller III, Rush Holt, Charles Grassley

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

In his first public comments since the identification of recently deceased Bruce Ivins as the FBI’s prime suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001 and July 29, 2008), FBI Director Robert Muller tells reporters, “I do not apologize for any aspect of the investigation.” It is erroneous “to say there were mistakes.” [New York Times, 8/9/2008] Ten days later, FBI scientist Dr. Vahid Majidi, leading an FBI press briefing about the anthrax investigation (see August 18, 2008), will say, “Obviously, looking at it in hindsight, we would do things differently today.… And the amazing thing about this case that I would like to additionally point out is the amount of lessons learned. Were we perfect? Absolutely not. We’ve had missteps and those are the lessons learned…” [US Department of Justice, 8/18/2008]

Entity Tags: Robert S. Mueller III, Vahid Majidi

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

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