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Context of 'August 8-14, 2008: FBI’s Account of How Ivins Sent Anthrax Letters Is Debunked; FBI Comes Up with Completely Different Account Days Later'

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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

On August 8, 2008, the Washington Post prints an FBI leak that on September 17, 2001, anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins took administrative leave from his job at USAMRIID (the US Army’s top biological laboratory) in the morning and did not return to a work appointment until about 4 or 5 p.m. later that day. USAMRIID, in Frederick, Maryland, is about three hours away from the Princeton, New Jersey, mailbox where the first batch of anthrax letters are mailed that day. This would give him just enough time to drive to Princeton and then quickly return. The Post says that “government sources” believe “the gap recorded on his time sheet [offers] investigators a key clue into how he could have pulled off” the anthrax attacks. [Washington Post, 8/8/2008]
Debunked - However, Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald soon points out, “But almost immediately after the FBI leaked this theory as to when and how Ivins traveled to New Jersey undetected, it was pointed out in several online venues… that this timeline made no sense whatsoever—that, indeed, the FBI’s own theories were self-contradictory.” In other recently released documents, the FBI defines the “window of opportunity” for mailing that batch of letters as beginning on September 17 at 5 p.m. and ending sometime on September 18, because the last mail pick up is at 5 p.m. and the letters in question have a September 18 postmark. Ivins could not have traveled by day to Princeton and posted the letters after 5 p.m. if he was already back in his Maryland office by 5 p.m. [Salon, 8/18/2008]
FBI Changes Claim - On August 14, 2008, the FBI completely changes its claim. The Post reports: “[G]overnment sources offered more detail about Ivins’s movements on a critical day in the case: when letters were dropped into the postal box on Princeton’s Nassau Street… Investigators now believe that Ivins waited until evening to make the drive to Princeton on Sept. 17, 2001. He showed up at work that day and stayed briefly, then took several hours of administrative leave from the lab, according to partial work logs. Based on information from receipts and interviews, authorities say Ivins filled up his car’s gas tank, attended a meeting outside of the office in the late afternoon, and returned to the lab for a few minutes that evening before moving off the radar screen and presumably driving overnight to Princeton. The letters were postmarked Sept. 18.” [Washington Post, 8/14/2008]
Criticism of FBI - Greenwald comments several days later, “That the FBI is still, to this day, radically changing its story on such a vital issue—namely, how and when Bruce Ivins traveled to New Jersey, twice, without detection and mailed the anthrax letters—is a testament to how precarious the FBI’s case is.… [T]heir own theory as to how and when he sent the letters was squarely negated by their own claims, and so they had to re-leak their theory to the Post once that glaring deficiency, which they apparently overlooked, was pointed out on-line. This isn’t some side issue or small, obscure detail. Being able to link an accused to the scene of the crime is the centerpiece of any case.”
Criticism of Washington Post - Greenwald is also critical of the Post, noting that one Post journalist, Carrie Johnson, wrote or co-wrote the two articles, and yet failed to note the second article presented “a brand new theory that contradicted the one she mindlessly passed on from the FBI the week before.… To the contrary, in touting the FBI’s brand new theory, Johnson wrote that ‘government sources offered more detail about Ivins’s movements on a critical day in the case’—as though the FBI’s abandonment of its prior claim in favor of a new one comprised ‘more detail.’ The FBI didn’t offer ‘more detail’; it offered completely ‘new detail’ because the last ‘detail’ they leaked to Johnson was almost instantaneously disproven…” [Salon, 8/18/2008]

Entity Tags: Carrie Johnson, Bruce Ivins, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Glenn Greenwald

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

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