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Context of 'April 2002: FBI Supposedly Suspects Ivins for Anthrax Attacks, but Allows Him to Continue Helping Anthrax Investigation'

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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

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

Shortly after the October 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), suspicions focus on USAMRIID, the US Army’s top biological laboratory, as one of the few places where people would have the skills to make the anthrax. In December 2001, one USAMRIID scientist raises the issue of possible anthrax contamination in the lab. Another USAMRIID scientist, Bruce Ivins, takes it upon himself to investigate. He discovers traces of anthrax near his desk, which is away from the lab facilities where he and others work with anthrax and other dangerous substances. He swabs the area clean and decontaminates it. Then he delays filing a report about this for three months. The FBI is suspicious of this, and begins to consider Ivins as a possible suspect. But in sworn statements to the Army in May 2002, Ivins says he avoided filing a report because he did not want to cause an uproar in the facility with people worrying that they were contaminated. He also suggests that a sloppy lab technician could have spread anthrax from secured work spaces to unsecured ones including the desk area. The Army finishes a 300-plus page report that same month. The report concludes the anthrax contamination was accidental and not potentially deadly, and no discipline is recommended against anyone. But after Ivins’s death in 2008, the unnamed officer who wrote the report will say: “Of course I think [Ivins’s cleaning of the area] was a cover-up.… He was trying to clean up the material” used in the anthrax letters. The report is made available to the FBI, but it is unknown if the FBI makes use of it at the time. By this time, the FBI is more interested in investigating former USAMRIID scientist Steven Hatfill and they put aside their concerns about Ivins. Instead, Ivins remains deeply involved in assisting the FBI’s anthrax investigation (see April 2002). [ABC News, 8/1/2008; Los Angeles Times, 8/15/2008]

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

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Barbara Hatch Rosenberg.Barbara Hatch Rosenberg. [Source: Public domain]In February 2002, Dr. Barbara Hatch Rosenberg claims in a public speech at Princeton University that she knows the identity of the killer behind the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). Rosenberg is a professor of molecular biology at the State University of New York at Purchase, and a biological arms control expert. She states: “There are a number of insiders—government insiders—who know people in the anthrax field who have a common suspect. The FBI has questioned that person more than once… so it looks as though the FBI is taking that person very seriously.” She also claims that the FBI is not that interested in going after this suspect because “[t]his guy knows too much, and knows things the US isn’t very anxious to publicize” (see February 8, 2002). In June 2002, she puts out a paper that details her theory about this suspect. She states that “a number of inside experts (at least five that I know about) gave the FBI the name of one specific person as the most likely suspect.” That same month, she presents her ideas to Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy, both of whom had been targeted in the anthrax attacks. She also is invited to brief the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee (see June 24, 2002). Immediately after this, the FBI searches Hatfill’s home while reporters watch, putting him in the public eye as a possible suspect (see June 25, 2002). Rosenberg later denies ever mentioning Hatfill by name. However, one reporter later claims that Rosenberg had specifically given Hatfill’s name as the lead suspect. Furthermore, the description of her suspect exactly matches Hatfill. Hatfill will later blame Rosenberg for the FBI’s interest in him. He will say: “She’s crazy. She caused it.” [Washington City Paper, 7/25/2003] In 2008, Hatfill will be officially cleared of any involvement in the anthrax attacks (see August 8, 2008).

Entity Tags: Steven Hatfill, Patrick J. Leahy, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Tom Daschle

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

ABC News will later report that the FBI begins suspecting scientist Bruce Ivins for the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) in early 2002. The FBI first begins to suspect Ivins in April when it is discovered he had failed to quickly report anthrax had been found near his desk, away from the laboratory area where he usually works with anthrax. Ivins claims he did not report the leak in a timely manner because he did not want to cause an uproar (see December 2001-May 2002). One of Ivins’s colleagues will later confirm that Ivins knew he had been under suspicion for years, and hired a criminal defense lawyer not long after the attacks. However, the FBI is already focusing their suspicions on a different scientist, Steven Hatfill (see February-June 2002), and largely dismisses concerns about Ivins. Ivins had passed a polygraph test (see Winter 2001), and directly assists the FBI with the anthrax investigation (see Mid-October 2001). Not only does he help analyze the anthrax letters, but he participates in strategy meetings on how to find the person responsible. [ABC News, 8/1/2008] 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. In a 2007 search of his house, the FBI will find an e-mail from 2002 in which he names two fellow scientists and gives 11 reasons for their possible guilt. He sent the email from a personal account to his Army account, but it is not known if he sent it to anyone else. The FBI will later claim he was attempting to mislead the investigation. [New York Times, 8/7/2008; Wall Street Journal, 8/7/2008] Brad Garrett, a former FBI agent involved in the anthrax investigation, will later say, “If he in fact was the correct person, he was actually put in charge of analyzing the evidence of his own crime.” [ABC News, 8/1/2008]

Entity Tags: Brad Garrett, Bruce Ivins, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

On August 6, 2008, the FBI claims that anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins did not cooperate with investigators in 2002 and failed to hand over anthrax samples that could have linked him to the attacks. This is cited as an important reason why he is named as the FBI’s prime suspect. However, on August 19, it is revealed that Ivins did in fact hand over anthrax samples to the FBI in 2002. In February 2002, he sent in a sample but it did not meet the FBI’s standards for evidence, so the FBI destroyed it (see February 22-27, 2002). In April 2002, he sent in another sample and the FBI did use that (see April 2002). However, one investigator had kept a copy of the first sample, and it was later found not to match the second sample. This first sample was eventually shown to match with the anthrax used in the attacks, while the second one did not match. [Frederick News-Post, 8/19/2008]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bruce Ivins

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

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