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Context of 'September-December 2001: Anthrax Attacks Suspect Ivins’s Mental Problems Resurface'

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In 2000, US military personnel are being required under the threat of court-martial to be inoculated with an anthrax vaccine. But the vaccine, known as Anthrax Vaccine Absorbed (AVA), is not working very well and some soldiers are getting sick. This results in a loud public outcry lasting into 2001. One of the key scientists working on the vaccine is future anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins.
Problems - The vaccine is being made by a company known as BioPort, but in 1998 the company’s sole manufacturing plant was shut down following the discovery of problems there. Ivins is working at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, and he and about six other USAMRIID scientists were assigned by the Defense Department to fix the problems with the vaccine so production could resume. In a June 2000 e-mail message, Ivins writes, “Unfortunately, since the BioPort people aren’t scientists, the task of solving their problem has fallen on us.” In a July 2000 e-mail message, he writes about the inoculation program, “think the sh_t is about to hit the fan… big time… It’s just a fine mess.”
Alleged Motive - After Ivins’s suicide in 2008, government officials will theorize that Ivins was stressed out due to the vaccine crisis and started having psychological problems. It is undisputed he was having problems at this time (see April-August 2000 and September-December 2001), but officials will further theorize he grew so upset that he was driven to launch the anthrax attacks to eliminate doubts about the vaccine. Investigators will cite Ivins’s e-mail messages from August 2001 regarding ABC News reporter Gary Matsumoto, who had been pressuring Ivins to turn over copies of his notebooks detailing experiments with the vaccine. Ivins complains about Matsumoto, “We’ve got better things to do than shine his shoes and pee on command. He’s gotten everything from me he will get.”
Criticism of FBI - However, Ivins’s colleagues will later criticize the FBI’s vaccine theory. They acknowledge that there was a real threat the AVA vaccine could be pulled from the market. But they also say that Ivins and others were working on a promising new vaccine that was considered safer and more effective. Ivins’s colleague Jeffrey Adamovicz will comment, “There was a lot of consternation, a lot of pressure to rescue this thing. But if AVA failed, he had his next vaccine candidate. It was well on its way to what looked to be a very bright future.” Colleague Gerry Andrews will similarly comment, “Nothing is unimaginable… But I would definitely say [the FBI’s AVA theory] is doubtful.” The Defense Department claims at the time that the vaccine is both safe and effective. But eventually Ivins’s notebooks will be made public and they will show Ivins thought the vaccine was making some test animals sick. [New York Times, 8/8/2008]

Entity Tags: Gary Matsumoto, Bruce Ivins, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, BioPort, Gerry Andrews, US Department of Defense, Jeffrey Adamovicz

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

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

Bruce Ivins playing keyboards in a Celtic band.Bruce Ivins playing keyboards in a Celtic band. [Source: New York Times]Future anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins expresses anger at the 9/11 attacks in e-mails.
First E-mail - On September 15, 2001, he writes in an e-mail to a friend: “I am incredibly sad and angry at what happened, now that it has sunk in. Sad for all the victims, their families, their friends. And angry. Very angry. Angry at those who did this, who support them, who coddle them, and who excuse them.”
Second E-mail - Ivins has been receiving psychological help since 2000, and in an e-mail on September 26, he makes reference to a group counseling session: “Of the people in my ‘group,’ everyone but me is in the depression/sadness/flight mode for stress. I’m really the only scary one in the group. Others are talking about how sad they are or scared they are, but my reaction to the WTC/Pentagon events is far different. Of course, I don’t talk about how I really feel with them—it would just make them worse. Seeing how differently I reacted than they did to the recent events makes me really think about myself a lot. I just heard tonight that bin Laden terrorists for sure have anthrax and sarin gas.” He also says in the same e-mail, “Osama bin Laden has just decreed death to all Jews and all Americans.”
Similar Wording with Anthrax Letters - The FBI will later consider this e-mail evidence that Ivins was behind the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), even though feelings of anger after 9/11 were hardly unusual. The FBI will note the similarity of that last sentence and the text in anthrax letters sent around September 18 and October 9 that say “DEATH TO AMERICA” and “DEATH TO ISRAEL” (see September 17-18, 2001 and October 6-9, 2001). [Frederick News-Post, 8/7/2008]
Newspaper Reference - Ivins’s e-mail appears to at least partially be in reference to a newspaper article that day in the Washington Times. The article reports, “Intelligence officials say classified analysis of the types of chemicals and toxins sought by al-Qaeda indicate the group probably is trying to produce the nerve agent sarin, or biological weapons made up of anthrax spores.” [Washington Times, 9/26/2001]
Common Phrasing - In 2008, Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald will note that “‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to Israel’ were hardly some exotic or unique phrases the use of which by both Ivins and the anthrax attacker would constitute anything incriminating. To the contrary, those phrases were very common, and routinely appeared in press reports, particularly around the time of 9/11, for obvious reasons…” He will note that both exact phrases appeared in newspapers at the time, including mentions in the Chicago Tribune and Washington Post on September 27, one day after Ivins’s second e-mail. Greenwald will add: “[I]f anything is true, it’s that attributing to Islamic radicals the phrases ‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to Israel’ was a cliché, not some unique rhetorical fingerprint marking Ivins as the author of the anthrax letters. That’s almost certainly why the anthrax attacker invoked those images in the letters—because they were such common fears among Americans in the wake of 9/11.” [Salon, 8/6/2008]

Entity Tags: Glenn Greenwald, Bruce Ivins

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Not long after people start dying from the anthrax attacks in October 2001 (see October 5-November 21, 2001), future suspect Bruce Ivins works with the FBI team investigating the attacks. Ivins works at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory. He and about 90 USAMRIID colleagues work long hours to test thousands of samples of suspect powder to see if they contain real anthrax. [New York Times, 8/7/2008; Wall Street Journal, 8/7/2008] There are about 100 people in USAMRIID’s bacteriological division, including technicians and assistants. [New York Times, 8/9/2008] Within days of the attacks being discovered, there are about six people crowded at Ivins’s desk working on the anthrax, and other desks at USAMRIID are similarly crowded. Ivins helps analyze one of the letters containing real anthrax, the one sent to Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD), and goes to the Pentagon to discuss the results of his testing with officials there. Court documents will later claim that Ivins also repeatedly offers the FBI names of colleagues at USAMRIID who might be potential suspects in the attacks. The FBI will later claim he was attempting to mislead the investigation. [New York Times, 8/7/2008; Wall Street Journal, 8/7/2008]

Entity Tags: Bruce Ivins, 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

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