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Context of 'August 7, 2008: New York Times Calls for Congressional Probe into FBI Case against Anthrax Attacks Suspect Ivins'

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Bruce Ivins in high school.Bruce Ivins in high school. [Source: Los Angeles Times]Bruce Ivins, a microbiologist specializing in anthrax, is said to have mental problems at least from this time. In 2000, he begins taking antidepressant drugs and getting professional psychiatric help. [Los Angeles Times, 8/7/2008]
bullet Sometimes he shows evidence of a thinking he might be two people. In an e-mail to an unidentified friend in April 2000, he writes, “Other times it’s like I’m not only sitting at my desk, I’m also a few feet away watching me.” [Wall Street Journal, 8/7/2008]
bullet On June 27, he writes in another e-mail to a friend: “Even with the [antidepressant] Celexa and the counseling, the depression episodes still come and go. That’s unpleasant enough. What is REALLY scary is the paranoia.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/7/2008]
bullet On July 4, he writes, “The thinking now by the psychiatrist and counselor is that my symptoms may not be those of a depression or bipolar disorder, they may be that of a ‘Paranoid Personality Disorder.’”
bullet On July 23, he says, “Sometimes I think it’s all just too much.” [New York Times, 8/6/2008]
bullet On August 12, he writes in another e-mail, “I wish I could control the thoughts in my mind. It’s hard enough sometimes controlling my behavior. When I am being eaten alive inside, I always try to put on a good front here at work and at home, so I don’t spread the pestilence.… I get incredible paranoid, delusional thoughts at times, and there’s nothing I can do until they go away, either by themselves or with drugs.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/7/2008]
bullet Ivins’s comments on his distressed mental state seem to abate for a time after this. On March 4, 2001, he says of his psychiatrist, “He’s not that easy to talk to and doesn’t really pick up on my problems.”
His anxiety at least partly seems related to complications arising from an anthrax vaccine project he had worked on in the late 1990s. By 2000, some Defense Department personnel were publicly complaining that the mandatory vaccine made them severely ill. In one July 2000 e-mail message, he writes, “I think the **** is about to hit the fan bigtime. The control vaccine isn’t working. It’s just a fine mess.” His mental problems will resurface in late 2001 (see September-December 2001). The New York Times will later have Richard Rappaport, an associate clinical psychiatry professor at the University of California, San Diego, examine court documents to assess Ivins’s mental state. Rappaport will wonder why Ivins was allowed to work for so long in a high-security biodefense laboratory. [New York Times, 8/6/2008]

Entity Tags: Richard Rappaport, Bruce Ivins

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Future anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins shows continuing mental problems after the anthrax attacks become publicly known and he and his colleagues start assisting the FBI anthrax investigation (see Mid-October 2001). In 2000, Ivins began taking anti-depressants and getting psychiatric counseling, apparently after facing anxiety in response to difficulties with an anthrax vaccine he had helped make (see April-August 2000). On September 26, 2001, he writes after a group therapy session, “I’m the only really scary one in the group” (see September 15-26, 2001). On October 16, 2001, one of Ivins’s colleagues tells a former colleague that “Bruce has been an absolute manic basket case the last few days.” This may be in response to the frantic pace of activity in his laboratory at the time. However, in 2000, an e-mail showed that he had feelings of being two people at once (see April-August 2000), and by December 2001, he begins writing poems to himself about this split personality sensation. He describes it as feeling there are “two people in one,” meaning “me + the person in my dreams.” In one poem set to the nursery rhyme “I’m a Little Teapot,” he writes: “I’m a little dream-self, short and stout. I’m the other half of Bruce—when he lets me out. When I get all steamed up, I don’t pout. I push Bruce aside, then I’m free to run about!” However, it seems that his problems are not recognized at his work place or not dealt with, even though he is working at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top biological laboratory. [New York Times, 8/6/2008]

Entity Tags: Bruce Ivins

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Security is extremely poor at USAMRIID, the Fort Detrick, Maryland, laboratory linked to the 2001 anthrax attacks, as well as other bio-weapons facilities, in the years prior to the anthrax attacks. The security flaws are documented in two reports that will be completed in 2002. One report will be produced by Sandia National Laboratories, which focused on USAMRIID, and the other by the US Army Inspector General’s office, which examined security at Fort Detrick, as well as other locations, including Battelle Memorial Institute. The existence of these reports will first be disclosed in a joint news report by McClatchy Newspapers, ProPublica, and PBS’s Frontline. According to the McClatchy/ProPublica/PBS article, the reports “describe a haphazard system in which personnel lists included dozens of former employees, where new hires were allowed to work with deadly germs before background checks were done, and where stocks of anthrax and other pathogens weren’t adequately controlled.” Additionally, “The existing security procedures… were so lax they would have allowed any researcher, aide, or temporary worker to walk out of the Army bio-weapons lab at Fort Detrick, Md., with a few drops of anthrax.” The FBI will later claim to have identified, and eliminated as suspects, 419 people at Fort Detrick and other locations who either had access to the lab where Bruce Ivins worked, or who had received samples from anthrax flask RMR-1029. The FBI and Justice Department will claim that RMR-1029 was the source of the anthrax used in the attacks, and that Ivins was the sole perpetrator of the attacks (see August 6, 2008). Both of these claims will be called into question (see August 1-10, 2008, August 3-18, 2008, August 5, 2008, August 9, 2008, April 22, 2010, and February 15, 2011). [Propublica, 10/24/2011]

Entity Tags: Office of the Inspector General (US Army ), Sandia National Laboratories, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Battelle Memorial Institute

Anthrax under magnification.Anthrax under magnification. [Source: T. W. Geisbert / USAMRIID]Scientist Bruce Ivins submits a sample of the anthrax he has been using to FBI investigators. Ivins works at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, and is helping with the anthrax investigation even though the FBI has reason to believe the anthrax could have come from USAMRIID (see Mid-October 2001 and Winter 2001). Ivins is using a variety of the Ames anthrax strain known as RMR-1029. A subpoena dated February 22, 2002 is issued to Ivins and other scientists, telling them to submit samples of their anthrax. Ivins submits his sample on February 27, apparently before he receives the subpoena. He is the only scientist to submit a sample before getting the subpoena. He had been discussing with investigators what kind of protocol to use for the samples, so he is familiar with the desire for the samples and how to submit them, but he does not completely the protocol with his sample. The FBI will soon destroy the sample he submits because it has not been prepared using the protocol, which is necessary for it to be used as valid evidence in trial. In April 2002, Ivins will submit a second anthrax sample. Around 2004, scientists will discover some unique genetic markers to the anthrax used in the 2001 attacks and will start comparing that anthrax to other anthrax. No match will be found between Ivins’s April 2002 sample and the anthrax used in the attacks. However, Paul Keim, a biologist at Northern Arizona University and an expert at distinguishing various strains of anthrax, keeps duplicates of all the anthrax samples sent to the FBI. In early 2007, it will be discovered that he still has a copy of Ivins’s February 2002 sample. A match will be discovered between that RMR-1029 sample and the sample from the attacks (see Early 2007). However, at least 100 scientists had access to this sample (see Late 2005-2006). [US Department of Justice, 8/18/2008; New York Times, 8/20/2008]

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

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

The Wall Street Journal publishes an op-ed by Richard Spertzel entitled, “Bruce Ivins Wasn’t the Anthrax Culprit.” As a UN weapons inspector, Spertzel headed the search for biological weapons in Iraq from 1994 to 1999. Spertzel does not believe the FBI’s case against deceased anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins mainly because he maintains that the anthrax used in the 2001 attacks was weaponized and Ivins did not have the skills to weaponize anthrax. Spertzel writes: “The spores could not have been produced at [USAMRIID], where Ivins worked, without many other people being aware of it. Furthermore, the equipment to make such a product does not exist at the institute.” He says the anthrax spores were “tailored to make them potentially more dangerous.” He cites comments by government officials in the months after the attacks which claimed that the spores were coated with silica and the particles in them were given a weak electric charge, making it easier for the spores to float through the air. He concludes: “From what we know so far, Bruce Ivins, although potentially a brilliant scientist, was not… [someone who] could make such a sophisticated product.… The multiple disciplines and technologies required to make the anthrax in this case do not exist at [USAMRIID]. Inhalation studies are conducted at the institute, but they are done using liquid preparations, not powdered products.” [Wall Street Journal, 8/5/2008] The FBI will present more evidence against Ivins in subsequent days (see August 6, 2008), and will assert that the anthrax spores were not weaponized with silica or anything else. But Spertzel will remain skeptical. On August 13, he will say of the case against Ivins: “Until we see the details, who knows?… There are too many loose ends.” [Time, 8/13/2008]

Entity Tags: Richard Spertzel, Federal Bureau of Investigation, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Jeffrey Taylor at the press conference.Jeffrey Taylor at the press conference. [Source: Agence France-Presse / Getty Images]The FBI holds a press conference laying out their evidence against recently deceased anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins. Some evidence is unsealed by a judge, and US Attorney for the District of Columbia Jeffrey Taylor presents the evidence to the media several hours later. Taylor says, “We consider Dr. Ivins was the sole person responsible for this attack.” Government investigators also allege:
bullet Ivins alone controlled anthrax flask RMR-1029, which matches the anthrax used in the attacks (see February 22-27, 2002). Taylor says RMR-1029 was “created and solely maintained” by Ivins and that no one else could have had access to it without going through him.
bullet Ivins worked an unusual amount of overtime in his lab around the time the anthrax letters were mailed and he could not give a good reason why.
bullet In counseling sessions, he allegedly threatened to kill people. He also sent a threatening email to a friend involved in the case.
bullet He sent a defective anthrax sample when asked to send a sample to investigators (see February 22-27, 2002).
bullet He was having severe psychological problems at the time of the attacks. At one point, he told a colleague that he “feared that he might not be able to control his behavior” (see April-August 2000 and September-December 2001).
bullet Print defects in envelopes used in the letters suggest they were bought at a post office in 2001 in Frederick, Maryland, where he had an account.
bullet He was re-immunized against anthrax in early September 2001.
bullet He sent an e-mail a few days before the anthrax attacks warning that “Bin Laden terrorists” had access to anthrax. This e-mail allegedly used similar language as the anthrax letters.
bullet He frequently wrote letters to the editor and often drove to other locations to disguise his identity as the sender of documents. [BBC, 8/6/2008; US Department of Justice, 8/6/2008]
But many are not impressed with the FBI’s case. Over the next two days, the editorial boards at the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal argue that an independent inquiry should review and judge the evidence against Ivins (see August 7, 2008, August 7, 2008, and August 8, 2008). Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald will note, “One critical caveat to keep at the forefront of one’s mind is that when one side is in exclusive possession of all documents and can pick and choose which ones to release in full or in part in order to make their case, while leaving out the parts that undercut the picture they want to paint—which is exactly what the FBI is doing here—then it is very easy to make things look however you want.” [Salon, 8/6/2008]

Entity Tags: Bruce Ivins, Jeffrey A. Taylor, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Glenn Greenwald

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks, US Domestic Terrorism

The New York Times editorial board writes, “The FBI seems convinced that it has finally solved” the 2001 anthrax attacks by naming Bruce Ivins, yet its description of the evidence “leaves us uncertain about whether investigators have pulled off a brilliant coup after a bumbling start—or are prematurely declaring victory, despite a lack of hard, incontrovertible proof.… None of the investigators’ major assertions… have been tested in cross-examination or evaluated by outside specialists.… The bureau, unfortunately, has a history of building circumstantial cases that seem compelling at first but ultimately fall apart. Congress will need to probe the adequacy of this investigation—and to insist that federal officials release as much evidence as possible, so the public can be assured they really did get the right person this time.” [New York Times, 8/7/2008]

Entity Tags: Bruce Ivins, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes, “As a whole… the FBI has assembled a compelling case” against recently deceased anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins. But the Journal continues, “To resolve any remaining doubts, independent parties need to review all the evidence, especially the scientific forensics. The FBI has so far only released its summary of the evidence, along with interpretative claims. This is an opportunity for Congress to conduct legitimate oversight…” [Wall Street Journal, 8/8/2008]

Entity Tags: Bruce Ivins, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Vahid Majidi.Vahid Majidi. [Source: FBI]In the face of continued widespread doubt about the government’s case against deceased anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins (see August 12, 2008), the FBI holds a press conference presenting more of its scientific evidence against Ivins. A panel discussion of experts working with the FBI is headed by Dr. Vahid Majidi, the FBI’s assistant director for the Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate, and Dr. Chris Hassell, who heads the FBI’s laboratory. The others on the panel are Paul Keim, Dr. James Burans, Dr. Rita Colwell, Claire Fraser-Liggett, Jacques Ravel, and Dr. Joseph Michael. They are all scientists who assisted with the FBI investigation.
bullet Majidi says, “[T]here were no additional additives combined with the [anthrax] to make them any more dispersible.” He adds, “The material we have is pure spores.”
bullet Hassell says that over 60 scientists worked with the anthrax investigation, validating the data throughout the process. He also says that more than ten peer reviewed scientific articles will be published in the coming months about the science behind the investigation’s findings.
bullet Michael explains that initial results showed that the anthrax spores contained silicon and oxygen. This led to erroneous conclusions that the anthrax had been weaponized with additives to make it more deadly. Later, more powerful microscope analysis showed that the silicon and oxygen were within the anthrax spores and not a layer outside the spores, indicating the anthrax was not weaponized.
bullet Burans says the silicon and oxygen were natural occurrences in the spores and they would not have made the anthrax deadlier since they were not on the outside of the spores.
bullet Asked if the silicon and oxygen could have been intentionally put in the anthrax by a person, an unnamed official replies, “The understanding of that process is not well understood.”
bullet Majidi says scientists were unable to determine what equipment was used to turn wet anthrax into the dry powder used in the attacks.
bullet Burans says that one reason why there was so much confusion about the weaponization of the anthrax is because so little is known about dry anthrax. Nearly all experimentation on anthrax is done using wet anthrax, because it is much safer to handle. He says: “to this day in our laboratories, we avoid at all costs working with [anthrax] in dried form. There’s no reason to.”
bullet Majidi says scientists were able to make anthrax resembling the anthrax used in the attacks, and the anthrax they made behaved in the same way. However, they were not able to recreate the presence of silicon inside the spores. He says, “It would have been easy to make these samples at USAMRIID.” Burans adds that one person could make the amount of anthrax used in the letters in three to seven days. [US Department of Justice, 8/18/2008]

Entity Tags: Rita Colwell, Vahid Majidi, Joseph Michael, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Claire Fraser-Liggett, Jacques Ravel, Paul Keim, Bruce Ivins, Chris Hassell

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

On August 18, 2008, the FBI presented some of its scientific evidence against anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins at a press briefing (see August 18, 2008). However, one day later the New York Times editorial board writes that more evidence needs to be presented: “The FBI spent years pointing a finger at a different suspect. It is not enough for the agency to brush off continuing skepticism.… None of this circumstantial evidence [pointing to Ivins] has been subjected to close outside scrutiny. Congress should be sure to examine it closely.… Now that Dr. Ivins’s suicide has precluded a court trial, there needs to be an independent evaluation of whether the FBI has found the right man.” [New York Times, 8/19/2008] The Times editorial board published a similar editorial on August 7, calling for an independent evaluation of the case against Ivins (see August 7, 2008).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bruce Ivins

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

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