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Profile: Bruce Ivins
Bruce Ivins was a participant or observer in the following events:
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]
Around 2004, FBI investigators will come to believe that a version of the Ames strain anthrax known as RMR-1029 was the anthrax used in the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). RMR-1029 is first developed in 1997 by Bruce Ivins, a scientist at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory. The FBI will later claim that Ivins was the sole custodian of RMR-1029, and only about 100 other people potentially had access to it. However, after the FBI makes this claim, the New York Times will report that beginning in 1997, RMR-1029 is not stored in USAMRIID’s Building 1425, where Ivins’s laboratory is, but in the adjacent Building 1412. The Times will report, “Former colleagues said that its storage in both buildings at different times from 1997 to 2001 might mean that the bureau’s estimate of 100 people with physical access to it was two or three times too low.” [New York Times, 9/6/2008]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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.’”
On July 23, he says, “Sometimes I think it’s all just too much.” [New York Times, 8/6/2008]
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]
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]
A chart of Bruce Ivins’s night hours in 2000 and 2001. [Source: FBI]After keeping relatively consistent work hours for most of 2001, from mid-August through October 2001, scientist Bruce Ivins spends much more time working in the evenings and on the weekends. Security logs show him sometimes working in the B3 biosecurity chamber where the RMR-1029 anthrax spores that investigators will later believe are used in the 2001 anthrax attacks are kept. Sometimes he works past midnight and when no other researchers are there. Ivins will be asked about this surge of after-hours work in 2005 (see March 31, 2005). He will tell investigators that he was working late to escape troubles at home. The FBI will later find this explanation unconvincing and will suggest Ivins put together the anthrax attacks during these hours. [Washington Post, 8/7/2008] A Guardian article will later skeptically note, “[O]ddly enough, Ivins’ late-night hours began to spike in August of that same year, well before the 9/11 attacks, when the rest of the world, including even George Bush, was largely oblivious to threats of Muslim extremist-inspired terror… But still, perhaps it’s just a coincidence that both Ivins and Bin Laden had [terrorism] in mind in August of that year…” [Guardian, 8/11/2008]
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]
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]
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]
Security records indicate that Bruce Ivins, a scientist at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, extensively uses a “hot suite” laboratory in the evenings and at weekends around the times when the 2001 anthrax attacks letters are mailed (see Mid-August-October 2001). The security records are based on swipes of magnetized plastic access cards, and Ivins is the only one out of a handful of anthrax researchers at USAMRIID make such use of the laboratory. The Los Angeles Times will later note that these records were easily available to investigators in late 2001, but it is unknown when investigators first make note of them. [Los Angeles Times, 8/15/2008] Ivins will not be questioned about his after hours lab work until 2005 (see March 31, 2005).
Bruce Ivins handling the Ames strain of anthrax. The timing of the photo is unknown, but he sent this picture to a friend in an e-mail on November 14, 2001. [Source: Associated Press]At some point in the winter of 2001, the FBI has Bruce Ivins take a polygraph test over the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). Ivins is a microbiologist with expertise in anthrax, and works at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory. The FBI’s investigation soon focuses on the possibility that the anthrax attacks could be caused by a single person working at a US lab such as USAMRIID (see November 10, 2001), so Ivins is a likely suspect. But at the same time, he is also assisting the FBI with the anthrax investigation (see Mid-October 2001). Ivins passes the test and retains his role assisting with the investigation. In 2002, more and more USAMRIID employees are given polygraph tests, but Ivins is not tested again. Gerry Andrews, Ivins’s boss at the time, will later explain that Ivins is already considered to be in the “safety zone” of cleared suspects. According to the Wall Street Journal, Ivins is never polygraphed again. [Wall Street Journal, 8/7/2008] However, WorldNetDaily will claim that Ivins is given a second polygraph test years later, after he becomes a prime suspect, and he passes that as well. The FBI will later grow so frustrated at the polygraph results that in October 2007 they will ask a judge for permission to search his home and cars specifically to look for any materials, such as books, that could have helped him “defeat a polygraph.” FBI handwriting analysts also are unable to match samples of Ivins’s handwriting with the writing on the anthrax letters. When this analysis is made is unknown. [WorldNetDaily, 8/7/2008] Justice Department official Dean Boyd will later say, “[Ivins] was told he had passed [the polygraph] because we thought he did.” But after Ivins comes under increased suspicion, the FBI had experts re-examine the polygraph results and concluded he had used “countermeasures” such as controlled breathing to cheat the test. However, the FBI has not publicly released the polygraph results and details of the testing remain murky. [Newsweek, 8/9/2008]
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]
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]
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]
In February 2002, scientist Bruce Ivins submitted a sample of the anthrax he has been using to FBI investigators, but it was destroyed because it was not submitted according to strict protocols. As a result, he is asked to submit a second sample in April 2002, and does. Ivins works at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, and is helping with the anthrax investigation even as 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. Around early 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. As a result of this discrepancy, the FBI will raid Ivins’s lab in July 2004 and seize more samples of RMR-1029 (see July 16, 2004). Additionally, 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). [New York Times, 8/20/2008] It remains unknown if Ivins altered the sample he submitted. Keim will later say that the genetic markers found in other samples of RMR-1029 should have been found in Ivins’s sample. He will note that “the FBI is implying he did it on purpose.” However, he will say that “Ivins may simply have failed to collect a representative sample.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/1/2008] In an August 2008 press briefing (see August 18, 2008), a government official will be asked if the sample submitted was not RMR-1029. The official will reply, “I don’t want to speculate that far.” [US Department of Justice, 8/18/2008]
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]
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]
Jacques Ravel. [Source: New York Times / Brendan Smialowsk]In 2002, scientists mapped the anthrax genome in an attempt to generate new leads for the anthrax attacks investigation. Initially, the results are disappointing because the anthrax used in the letters, which is from the Ames strain, do not seem to differ in any way from the original Ames strain used in many laboratories (see Early-Late 2002). But around early 2003, an unnamed US Army microbiologist at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, makes a breakthrough. He discovers a morph (also known as a morphotype) that allows scientists to detect differences between the genetic structure of the anthrax used in the attacks and other anthrax. Jacques Ravel, a leading member of the scientific team at the The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) that is decoding the anthrax genome, is asked to decode more morphs. After two years, the team is able to decode a total of eight morphs. The head of TIGR will later comment that it was not clear why the FBI did not ask other laboratories to share the task and speed up the process. Other scientists working with the FBI select four of the morphs as having the most reliable unique genetic differences, known as indels. All of the anthrax letters used anthrax containing these four indels. The FBI finally has a unique signature for the anthrax used in the attacks and starts looking for laboratories that have used an exact match. [New York Times, 8/20/2008] Apparently, by early 2004 scientists already know enough to notice a discrepancy with a sample scientist Bruce Ivins has submitted to the investigation, and the FBI raids Ivins’s lab in July 2004 to seize more samples from him (see Early 2004 and July 16, 2004).
Between 2003 and 2005, scientists working with the FBI’s anthrax investigation have been developing a system to compare the anthrax used in the 2001 attacks with other anthrax samples they have completed (see Early 2003-2005). By early 2004, the system apparently still is not complete, but scientists have discovered enough to focus their attentions on USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory (see Early 2004). They also note a discrepancy. In 2002, USAMRIID scientist Bruce Ivins had submitted a sample of a variety of the Ames anthrax strain known as RMR-1029 (see April 2002). The FBI had also collected some other samples of RMR-1029 from other scientists. All the samples of RMR-1029 had genetic markers that match the anthrax used in the attacks except for Ivins’s sample. As a result, in July 2004, the FBI will raid Ivins’s lab and seize more of his RMR-1029. These samples will also have the genetic markers matching the anthrax used in the attacks, raising more questions as to why the sample Ivins submitted does not (see July 16, 2004). [Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/1/2008]
USAMRIID. [Source: Skip Lawrence / Frederick News-Post]Scientists working with the FBI have been trying to identify unique genetic markers in the anthrax used in the 2001 anthrax attacks so that other anthrax samples can be compared to it (see Early 2003-2005). By early 2004, their work is not done, but they have been able to identify two unique genetic markers (eventually they will identify four). The investigators begin comparing anthrax samples based on these two markers. Preliminary results strongly suggest the anthrax came from USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory. [US Department of Justice, 8/18/2008] As a result, USAMRIID laboratories are raided to get more samples (see July 16, 2004). Some early results point suspicion at USAMRIID scientist Bruce Ivins (see Early 2004).
The FBI closes some high-security laboratory suites at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland. The FBI apparently is searching for evidence related to the anthrax attacks investigation, although what the target of their search is remains unclear. For several days, investigators shut off access to bacteriology labs in two USAMRIID buildings where anthrax research is done or has been done. Numerous employees at USAMRIID were questioned by the FBI in the first months after the anthrax attacks, but then investigative activity targeting USAMRIID died down. In recent months, the FBI has seized medical records and computer hard drives there. Several days after the search, authorities say it failed to lead to any important breakthrough. The Baltimore Sun notes that USAMRIID’s labs were used extensively after the attacks to study the letters, so if trace amounts of anthrax are found it would very hard to prove if they came from the attacks or the subsequent investigation of the attacks. [Baltimore Sun, 7/21/2004] It will later emerge that the raid takes place at least in part to seize anthrax samples from scientist Bruce Ivins. In April 2002, Ivins had given investigators a sample of anthrax known as RMR-1029 (see April 2002). In early 2004, investigators determined that the sample did not match the anthrax used in the attacks, but other samples of RMR-1029 did (see Early 2004). So Ivins’s flasks of RMR-1029 are seized in the raid. These do show a match with the anthrax used in the attacks, raising questions why the sample Ivins had submitted in 2002 did not. [Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/1/2008] However, it appears the FBI will not begin to seriously focus on Ivins as a suspect until after the head of the FBI’s investigation is replaced in late 2006 (see Autumn 2006).
The FBI questions scientist Bruce Ivins about a marked increase in his after hours laboratory work from mid-August through October 2001 (see Mid-August-October 2001). Ivins tells investigators that he was working late at the time to escape troubles at home. The FBI is unable to find evidence of legitimate work Ivins performed during those visits. He is also asked to explain the differences in anthrax samples he submitted to the FBI in 2002 (see April 2002) and those seized in 2004 (see July 16, 2004). [Washington Post, 8/7/2008; Associated Press, 8/7/2008]
An aerial view of USAMRIID in 2005. [Source: Sam Yu / Frederick News-Post]By the end of March 2005, the FBI clearly suspects Bruce Ivins for the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). Ivins works at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, and his lab was raided by the FBI to find Ivins’ anthrax samples (see July 16, 2004). He has been questioned about suspicious behavior around the time of the attacks and since (see March 31, 2005). Yet Ivins is still allowed to work with anthrax and other deadly germs at USAMRIID. McClatchy Newspapers will report in August 2008, “[A] mystery is why Ivins wasn’t escorted from [USAMRIID] until last month when the FBI had discovered by 2005 that he’d failed to turn over samples of all the anthrax in his lab, as agents had requested three years earlier.” In 2003, USAMRIID implemented a biosurety program that required all scientists working there to undergo regular intrusive background checks, which includes disclosure of mental health issues. They also have to undergo periodic FBI background checks to retain their security clearances. Jeffrey Adamovicz, head of USAMRIID’s bacteriology division in 2003 and 2004, will later say that USAMRIID officials knew at least by late 2006 that Ivins was a suspect, yet he maintained his lab access and security clearances until July 10, 2008, shortly before his suicide later that month (see July 10, 2008 and July 29, 2008). Adamovicz will say, “It’s hard to understand if there was all this negative information out there on Bruce, why wasn’t it picked up in the biosurety program or by law enforcement.” [McClatchy Newspapers, 8/7/2008] By contrast, anthrax attacks suspect Steven Hatfill lost his security clearance in 2001 after it was discovered he had misrepresented some items on his resume (see August 23, 2001).
After years of work, by 2005, a scientific team working with the FBI has identified four genetic markers, known as indels, that make the anthrax used in the 2001 anthrax attacks unique (see Early 2003-2005). The anthrax is from the Ames strain, and the FBI has been slowly building a repository of 1,070 Ames anthrax samples from around the world. By late 2005 to 2006, it is discovered that only eight samples match the anthrax used in the attacks. Seven of these eight samples come from USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, and the eighth sample comes from another unnamed laboratory in the US. One of these samples is the ancestor of all eight, and this is a flask known as RMR-1029 kept by USAMRIID scientist Bruce Ivins (see Early 2004). The FBI soon determines that about 100 scientists had access to this flask and its seven descendants. Investigators begin a new phase, using traditional criminology techniques to narrow down the possible suspects. [New York Times, 8/20/2008]
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).
Paul Keim. [Source: Public domain]The FBI matches an anthrax sample submitted by suspect Bruce Ivins with the anthrax used in the 2001 attacks. The sample, of anthrax used by Ivins in his work, was submitted to the FBI in February 2002, but the FBI then destroyed it since it had not been prepared using a strict protocol needed for it to be used as evidence in a trial (see February 22-27, 2002). By late 2006, the FBI suspects Ivins sent the 2001 anthrax letters (see Late 2006). Also in 2006, scientists have discovered unique genetic markers in the anthrax used in the 2001 attacks and they are comparing them to other anthrax samples they have collected. A sample Ivins gave to the FBI in April 2002 does not match the anthrax in the letters. However, Paul Keim, a biologist at Northern Arizona University and an expert at distinguishing various strains of anthrax, has kept duplicates of all the anthrax samples sent to the FBI. In early 2007, Keim discovers that he still has a copy of Ivin’s February 2002 sample, known as RMR-1029, and it matches the anthrax used in the attacks. However, at least 100 scientists had access to this sample (see Late 2005-2006), if not 200 to 300 scientists (see 1997). [Frederick News-Post, 8/19/2008; New York Times, 8/20/2008]
The FBI’s letter to Bruce Ivins. [Source: FBI] (click image to enlarge)Bruce Ivins is sent a formal letter by prosecutors saying that he is “not a target” of the FBI’s anthrax attacks investigation. In fact, samples of the anthrax used in the attacks have been shown to match anthrax once controlled by Ivins (see Early 2007) and Ivins has already been questioned about late-night work he had conducted in the USAMRIID laboratory shortly before the anthrax letters were mailed (see March 31, 2005). [New York Times, 9/6/2008] Since late 2006, Ivins has correctly been under the impression that he is a target of the investigation (see Late 2006).
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]
Around late autumn 2007, FBI agents pressure the family of anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins. According to an unnamed scientist colleague and friend of Ivins, agents show Ivins’s 24-year-old daughter pictures of the victims of the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) and tell her, “Your father did this.” The agents also offer her brother the $2.5 million reward for solving the anthrax case and the sports car of his choice. Dr. W. Russell Byrne, a friend and former supervisor of Ivins, will later say he heard from other people who knew Ivins that investigators were going after Ivins’s daughter, but these conversations were short because people were afraid to talk. “The FBI had asked everybody to sign these nondisclosure things. They didn’t want to run afoul of the FBI.” [Associated Press, 8/5/2008] Bryne also says the FBI’s repeated discussions with Ivins’s daughter “was not an interview. It was a frank attempt at intimidation.” [Baltimore Sun, 8/5/2008]
Ivins Drinks and Struggles with Pressure - Perhaps as a result of this pressure, Ivins begins drinking heavily (a liter of vodka on some nights) and taking large doses of sleeping and anti-anxiety pills. His unnamed scientist friend later says that Ivins “was e-mailing me late at night with gobbledygook, ranting and raving” about what he called the “persecution” of his family. This friend also later says he is contacted by another colleague of Ivins who says that Ivins “has really gone down the tubes.” Another friend, Gerry Andrews, who worked with Ivins at USAMRIID for nine years, said that prior to this time Ivins drank so little that others teased him about being a teetotaler. Andrews had retired but kept in touch with Ivins until autumn 2007, when Ivins “kind of fell off the radar screen. I found out that there was some issues with his house being surveilled.”
Ivins Seeks Treatment - In March 2008, Ivins is found collapsed in his home. In April, he begins to seek treatment. He spends four weeks at a Maryland hospital for detoxification and rehabilitation, and begins attending therapy sessions with a counselor. In November 2007, Ivins is banned from working with dangerous toxins at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top biological laboratory, where he works (see November 1, 2007). But he will not be permanently barred from working there until July 2008, when he is hospitalized a second time (see July 10, 2008). [Washington Post, 8/6/2008]
The house of Bruce Ivins. [Source: Rob Carr / Associated Press]The FBI suspects that Bruce Ivins, a scientist working at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top biological laboratory, was behind the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). His home is searched by the FBI, but no report of this makes the newspapers. On the same day, USAMRIID cuts off his access to the laboratories where biological agents and toxins are used and stored. However, he continues to work at USAMRIID without such access until July 2008, when he will be completely banned from the lab (see July 10, 2008). [Herald-Mail, 8/8/2008] According to McClatchy Newspapers, his lab access is apparently reinstated some time after this date. [McClatchy Newspapers, 8/7/2008]
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]
According to an unnamed scientist colleague of anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins, around this time FBI agents are pressuring Ivins in public places and also pressuring his children. At some point in March, when Ivins is at a shopping mall with his wife and son, FBI agents confronted him, saying, “You killed a bunch of people.” Then they turn to his wife and say, “Do you know he killed people?” That same week, Ivins angrily tells a former colleague that he suspects his therapist is cooperating with the FBI. [Washington Post, 8/6/2008] Such public pressuring of Ivins’s family members had begun by late autumn 2007 (see Late Autumn 2007).
Fox News reports that the FBI has narrowed its focus to “about four” suspects in its investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). At least three of them are said to be scientists linked to USAMRIID, the US Army’s bioweapons lab at Fort Detrick, Maryland. One is said to be a former deputy commander, another is a leading anthrax scientist, and another is a microbiologist. None of them are said to be Steven Hatfill, a scientist who once worked at USAMRIID and was previously suspected. Fox News reports that the attacks came from a USAMRIID scientist or scientists, and, “A law enforcement source said the FBI is essentially engaged in a process of elimination.” Fox News also claims to have obtained an e-mail of USAMRIID scientists discussing how the anthrax powder they had been asked to analyze after the attacks was nearly identical to that made by one of their colleagues. The undated e-mail reads: “Then he said he had to look at a lot of samples that the FBI had prepared… to duplicate the letter material. Then the bombshell. He said that the best duplication of the material was the stuff made by [name redacted]. He said that it was almost exactly the same… his knees got shaky and he sputtered, ‘But I told the general we didn’t make spore powder!’” [Fox News, 3/28/2008] In August 2008, one of the authors of the Fox News story will say that one of the four suspects was Bruce Ivins, and the e-mail was from 2005 and forwarded by Ivins, but not written by him. [Fox News, 8/4/2008]
Jean Duley. [Source: Skip Lawrence / Fredrick News-Post]Scientist Bruce Ivins has had psychological problems since at least 2000, and his problems had become more pronounced after late 2006, when he realized the FBI was targeting him as their main anthrax attacks suspect. For the past three to six months, Ivins had been attending therapy sessions led by social worker Jean Duley. On July 9, 2008, Duley seeks a restraining order against him.
Duley's Claims against Ivins - In the paperwork for the order, she claims that he arrived for a group counseling session in his hometown of Fredrick and announced that, faced with the prospect of being charged with murder for the anthrax attacks, he had bought a gun and a bulletproof vest and had “a very detailed plan to kill his co-workers” at USAMRIID, the nearby US Army bioweapons laboratory where he still worked. In a court hearing on this day, Duley tells a judge: “He was going to go out in a blaze of glory, that he was going to take everybody out with him.… He is a revenge killer.… When he feels that he has been slighted, and especially towards women, he plots and actually tries to carry out revenge killings.” Duley also says that Ivins had a history of making homicidal threats going back to his college days, and that he has threatened her. She adds that he will soon be charged with five murders, which is the number of deaths in the anthrax attacks. In court records, Duley writes that Ivins’s psychiatrist had “called him homicidal, sociopathic with clear intentions.” [New York Times, 8/2/2008; Washington Post, 8/6/2008]
Unclear Relationship with FBI - Duley says in her court testimony that she is cooperating with the FBI, but the nature and extent of her cooperation remains unclear. It is unclear, for instance, how she could know that Ivins is going to be charged with the anthrax attacks soon.
Duley Alone with Her Claims - Ivins also sees a psychiatrist named David Irwin. But Irwin will later remain silent about Ivins, as will all the people in Ivins’s group therapy sessions. The Washington Post will later note, “To this day, Duley is the only person who has said publicly that Ivins intended to kill.” [Washington Post, 8/6/2008] A Guardian article will later comment: “Notably lacking in the FBI’s case, is corroboration of the deadly threats of revenge killings made by Ivins in group therapy, according to Duley. Nobody else from those sessions has spoken up? And if… the FBI knew about it, why was he allowed to continue working in the lab, with his high-security clearance as late as just [weeks before his suicide]? Why was he allowed to roam free for that matter?” [Guardian, 8/11/2008]
Poor Qualifications - Duley is an entry-level drug counselor and only allowed to work with patients under supervision of a more experienced professional. She is said to be a program director for Comprehensive Counseling Associates, a local mental-health counseling center. But less than one month later, it will be reported that she no longer works there. A Guardian article will call her statement to the judge “embarrassing,” as she misspells basic words one would assume a person in her field would know well, for instance spelling therapist as “theripist.” [Bloomberg, 8/1/2008; Guardian, 8/11/2008]
Duley's Troubled Past - Duley also has what the Washington Post calls a “troubled past.” She has recently completed 90 days of home detention after a drunk driving arrest in December 2007 (which is ironic given that she is working as a drug counselor). She has other convictions, including possession of narcotics paraphernalia. In a 1999 newspaper interview, she said she had been a member of a motorcycle gang member and a drug user. “Heroin. Cocaine. PCP. You name it, I did it.” [Washington Post, 8/6/2008; Guardian, 8/11/2008] In any case, the judge immediately grants an Emergency Medical Evaluation Petition for Ivins. The next day, Ivins is removed from work at USAMRIID and taken to a hospital (see July 10, 2008).
Police at Frederick City, Maryland, enter Fort Detrick to execute an Emergency Medical Evaluation Petition. The petition is for Bruce Ivins, a scientist working at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top biological laboratory, located inside Fort Detrick. The police are escorted to Ivins and take him out of the military base. He is informed that he will not be allowed back into the laboratory or the base again. Ivins is placed in a local hospital the same day. [Herald-Mail, 8/8/2008] Apparently he is hospitalized because he had been acting strangely in recent weeks and associates concluded he could be a danger to himself and others. Jean Duley, a social worker who had treated him in group therapy, sought a restraining order against him the day before (see July 9, 2008). She claims he had been making threats, but she does not claim he confessed to any role in the anthrax attacks. He remains hospitalized until July 23. [New York Times, 8/4/2008]
FBI agents search anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins’s house, office, and cars for a second time. The first search was in November 2007 (see November 1, 2007). This search comes two days after Ivins was removed from his workplace by police and put in a hospital (see July 10, 2008). The FBI will later claim they seize a bulletproof vest, ammunition, and homemade body armor. [Bloomberg, 8/7/2008]
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]
On July 23, 2008, anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins is released from a mental hospital. He had been in the hospital since July 10 after Jean Duley, a social worker who had been leading drug counseling group sessions attended by Ivins, tried to get a restraining order against him (see July 10, 2008). Just before Ivins was hospitalized, Duley made a series of remarkable claims about him, for instance claiming that he had just told her he had “a very detailed plan to kill his co-workers,” and, “He was going to go out in a blaze of glory, that he was going to take everybody out with him” (see July 9, 2008). Jeffrey Taylor, the US Attorney in Washington, DC, will later be asked why Ivins was not arrested after his release. Taylor will avoid the question and merely reply, “Our job in law enforcement is to pursue our criminal investigation.” But Joseph diGenova, who had previously held Taylor’s job, will explain, “They never arrested him because they wanted him to confess.” DiGenova will claim that the FBI was heavily pressuring Ivins into confessing because prosecutors knew “there would have been all sorts of problems on the reliability of the scientific analysis.” Ivins is said to be placed under 24- hour surveillance after his release, although it seems likely he was under surveillance already. [New York Times, 8/4/2008; Bloomberg, 8/7/2008]
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).
Not long before anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins commits suicide on July 29, 2008 (see July 29, 2008), W. Russell Byrne, an infectious-disease specialist who knows Ivins, sees him at a Sunday service at the local Roman Catholic church they both attend. Bryne will later recall: “He just looked worried, depressed, anxious, way turned into himself.… It would be overstating it to say he looked like a guy who was being led to his execution, but it’s not far off.” [Washington Post, 8/2/2008] Ivins is under 24-hour surveillance by the FBI at this time (see July 23, 2008), but it is unknown if he is under any kind of suicide watch. Jeffrey Adamovicz, who was Ivins’s boss several years earlier, will later say: “A lot of the tactics [the FBI used against Ivins] were designed to isolate him from his support. The FBI just continued to push his buttons.” [Washington Post, 8/3/2008]
On July 29, 2008, anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins and his attorney Paul Kemp are scheduled to have a meeting with FBI investigators. However, Ivins overdosed on pills two days earlier and dies two hours before the meeting is to take place (see July 29, 2008). In initial press reports, it is claimed that investigators had scheduled the meeting to discuss a plea bargain that would send Ivins to prison for life, but spare him a death sentence. [Washington Post, 8/2/2008] But these reports appear to be incorrect. Time magazine soon claims, “Contrary to previous media reports, Kemp says his client had not been negotiating a plea agreement at the time of his death. Indeed, contrary to some suggestions in initial reports, the grand jury investigating the case was at least a few weeks from handing down any kind of indictment.” Kemp further claims that he and Ivins had met with the FBI about four or five times since the FBI told Ivins he could be a suspect the year before, and this is just another in that series of meetings. Kemp says he did attend the meeting, not knowing Ivins was already dead. [Time, 8/5/2008] Tom DeGonia, who is co-counsel with Kemp, says that he attended the meeting with Kemp. He says that investigators gave a reverse proffer, which basically means they were revealing their intention to eventually indict him. DeGonia claims that while Ivins was alive, “We were never informed or advised that an indictment was imminent of him,” and while Ivins had been informed that he was a suspect, he had never been informed that he was the prime suspect. [WTOP Radio 103.5 (Washington), 8/8/2008] Jeffrey Taylor, the US Attorney in Washington, DC, also says that the meeting was to present “a reverse proffer, where we were going to sit down with him and lay our cards on the table: Here’s what we have. Here’s where this investigation is going.” [US Department of Justice, 8/6/2008]
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]
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]
Melanie Ulrich. [Source: Andrew Schotz]On August 1, 2008, it is first reported that Bruce Ivins, a scientist at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland, apparently killed himself after the FBI made him their chief suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). But many of Ivins’s colleagues at USAMRIID doubt that he was the killer.
On August 1, one unnamed colleague says, “They took an innocent man, a distinguished scientist, and smeared his reputation, dishonored him, questioned his children and drove him to take his life.… He just didn’t have the swagger, the ego to pull off that kind of thing, and he didn’t have the lab skills to make the fine powder anthrax that was used in the letters.” [ABC News, 8/1/2008]
On August 2, an unnamed USAMRIID employee says, “Almost everybody… believes that he had absolutely nothing to do with [the anthrax attacks].” [Washington Post, 8/2/2008]
Former colleague Norm Covert says, “We’re looking at a man with a distinguished 30-something-year career, unparalleled and known around the world.… His career and his reputation are trashed and the FBI still hasn’t said what they have on him.” [CNN, 8/2/2008]
Also on August 2, Dr. Kenneth Hedlund, the former chief of bacteriology as USAMRIID, says, “He did not seem to have any particular grudges or idiosyncrasies.… He was the last person you would have suspected to be involved in something like this.” [New York Times, 8/2/2008] Three days later, Hedlund adds, “I think he’s a convenient fall guy. They can say, ‘OK, we found him, case closed, we’re going home. The FBI apparently applied a lot of pressure to all the investigators there, and they found the weakest link.” He also says that Ivins was a bacteriologist and lacked the expertise to convert the anthrax into the deadly form used in the 2001 attacks.
Former colleague Dr. W. Russell Byrne says he believe Ivins was singled out partly because of Ivins’s personal weaknesses. “If they had real evidence on him, why did they not just arrest him?” [Baltimore Sun, 8/5/2008]
On August 4, David Franz, head of USAMRIID in the late 1990s, says, “The scientific community seems to be concerned that the FBI is going to blow smoke at us.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/4/2008]
On August 6, more than 200 of his USAMRIID colleagues attend a memorial for him. Col. John Skvorak, commander of USAMRIID, praises Ivins’s “openness, his candor, his humor and his honesty.” [Wall Street Journal, 8/7/2008]
On August 8, former colleague Gerry Andrews says, “Nothing is unimaginable. But I would definitely say it is doubtful” that Ivins was behind the anthrax attacks. [New York Times, 8/8/2008]
Also on August 8, Melanie Ulrich, a USAMRIID scientist until 2007, says the FBI’s case against Ivins does not add up and their description of him does not match the person she worked with for six years. For instance, she said that shortly after 9/11, an intensive, all-encompassing psychological review was conducted of all USAMRIID employees with access to dangerous biological agents, and it does not make sense that some as supposedly as unstable as Ivins could have remained employed for years of such scrutiny. The FBI claims that an anthrax flask in Ivins’s custody was the “parent” of a certain anthrax strain, but Ulrich says different anthrax samples were genetically identical so any one sample can not be more of a “parent” than any other. The FBI suggests Ivins used a lyophilizer to make powdered anthrax, but Ulrich says Ivins signed out a SpeedVac, but not a lyophilizer, which is too large to fit in the secure protective area Ivins used at the time. Furthermore, a SpeedVac operates slowly and it would have been impossible for Ivins to use it to dry the amount of anthrax used in the letters in the time frame the FBI says he did. [Herald-Mail, 8/8/2008]
On August 9, after the FBI has laid out its evidence against Ivins, Jeffrey Adamovicz, one of Ivins’s supervisors in USAMRIID’s bacteriology division, says, “I’d say the vast majority of people [at Fort Detrick] think he had nothing to do with it.” [Newsweek, 8/9/2008] He also says that the anthrax sent to Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) was “so concentrated and so consistent and so clean that I would assert that Bruce could not have done that part.” [McClatchy Newspapers, 8/7/2008]
Former colleague Luann Battersby says Ivins was weird, but “not any weirder than a typical scientist.… He was not the weirdest by far I worked with down there.” She says that he was not a “strong person.… I would say he was milquetoast.… The fact that he was a terrorist doesn’t really square with my opinion with who he was.… I’m amazed at all this. I assume there’s evidence and that it’s true, but I certainly never would have suspected him.” She says she is unsure if he had the technical skills to commit the crime. [Evening Sun, 8/10/2008]
Experts disagree if recently deceased anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins had the skills needed to make the anthrax used in the attacks.
Bioweapons Expert - “One bioweapons expert familiar with the FBI investigation” says Ivins did have this skills. This expert points out that Ivins worked with anthrax at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, and regularly made sophisticated preparations of anthrax bacteria spores for use in animal tests. “You could make it in a week,” the expert says. “And you could leave USAMRIID with nothing more than a couple of vials. Bear in mind, they weren’t exactly doing body searches of scientists back then.”
Former Weapons Inspector - But others disagree. Richard Spertzel, a former UN weapons inspector who worked with Ivins at USAMRIID, says: “USAMRIID doesn’t deal with powdered anthrax.… I don’t think there’s anyone there who would have the foggiest idea how to do it. You would need to have the opportunity, the capability and the motivation, and he didn’t possess any of those.”
Unnamed Former Colleague - An unnamed scientist who worked with Ivins says it was technically possible to make powdered anthrax at USAMRIID, but, “As well as we knew each other, and the way the labs were run, someone would discover what was going on, especially since dry spores were not something that we prepared or worked with.” [Washington Post, 8/3/2008]
Former Supervisor - Jeffrey Adamovicz, who had been Ivins’s supervisor in recent years, says that the anthrax sent to Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) was “so concentrated and so consistent and so clean that I would assert that [Ivins] could not have done that part.” [McClatchy Newspapers, 8/7/2008]
USAMRIID Division Chief - Gerry Andrews, the chief of USAMRIID’s bacteriology division at USAMRIID from 1999 to 2003, says the anthrax in the Daschle letter was “a startlingly refined weapons-grade anthrax spore preparation, the likes of which had never been seen before by personnel at [USAMRIID]. It is extremely improbable that this type of preparation could ever have been produced [there], certainly not of the grade and quality found in that envelope” (see August 9, 2008).
FBI Scientist - On August 18, FBI scientist Vahid Majidi says, “It would have been easy to make these samples at USAMRIID.” He believes that one person could make the right amount of anthrax in three to seven days (see August 18, 2008). [US Department of Justice, 8/18/2008]
The Kappa Kappa Gamma storage facility is located in this brick building. [Source: Mike Derer / Associated Press]On August 4, 2008, the Associated Press reports that the FBI has an explanation for why deceased anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins allegedly mailed the anthrax letters from a particular mailbox in Princeton, New Jersey: it is located across the street from a college sorority that he has had a grudge and obsession with for many years. “Multiple US officials” tell the Associated Press that Ivins was obsessed with Kappa Kappa Gamma, which has “a sorority that [sits] less than 100 yards away from” the mailbox from which he is said to have sent the letters. Ivins was said to have been fixated about the sorority since he apparently was romantically rebuffed by one of its members while attending college in Ohio decades earlier. Katherine Breckinridge Graham, an adviser to the sorority’s Princeton University chapter, says she has been interviewed by FBI agents “over the last couple of years” about the case. She says Ivins had no known connection to the Princeton chapter of the sorority or any of its members. [Associated Press, 8/4/2008; Associated Press, 8/5/2008] But the next day, the Associated Press publishes an updated version of the same article which reveals that Kappa Kappa Gamma does not have a Princeton University house for its members at all. The mailbox is near where the sorority has a storage unit for its initiation robes, rush materials, and other property. The article notes, “Even the government officials [who leaked the story] acknowledged that the sorority connection is a strange one, and it’s not likely to ease concerns among Ivins’ friends and former co-workers who are skeptical about the case against him.” [Associated Press, 8/5/2008] The New York Times notes that Ivins had visited “Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority houses at universities in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia,” but the last such visit was in 1981. [New York Times, 8/5/2008] Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald, a skeptic of the FBI’s case against Ivins, calls the sorority theory a “pitifully thin reed.” [Salon, 8/6/2008]
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:
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.
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.
In counseling sessions, he allegedly threatened to kill people. He also sent a threatening email to a friend involved in the case.
He sent a defective anthrax sample when asked to send a sample to investigators (see February 22-27, 2002).
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).
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.
He was re-immunized against anthrax in early September 2001.
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.
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]
In the face of pressure after the death of anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins, ABC News responds to criticism of its false stories in October 2001 linking the anthrax attacks to Iraq (see October 26-November 1, 2001). ABC News, particularly its reporter Brian Ross, repeatedly pushed a story claiming that initial analysis of the anthrax used in the attacks showed that it contained bentonite, and that this was a signature of anthrax used by the Iraqi government. In fact, no tests ever showed any signs of bentonite in the anthrax, and bentonite was not a signature of Iraqi anthrax in any case (see October 26-November 1, 2001). Ross responds to questions about his reporting, but to the obscure media outlet TVNewser instead of on ABC News itself. He says: “In the end, you’re only as good as your sources. My sources were good, we just got information that became outdated before they could update. My point of view is viewers of World News knew early that week we had been wrong to say bentonite.” In 2001, Ross claimed his story was backed by four independent sources. Now, he reveals, “Our sources were current and former government scientists who were all involved in analyzing the substance in the letter.” But he says that anthrax suspect Ivins was not one of those sources: “No he was not. If it was Ivins, I would report that in a second.” He continues to maintain that ABC News was not lied to and initial tests had simply given a mistaken result, confusing bentonite for silica. [TVNewser, 8/6/2008]
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]
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]
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]
On August 7, 2008, the Washington Post editorial board writes, “The circumstantial evidence against Bruce E. Ivins appears overwhelming.… But as compelling as the allegations contained in the affidavits are, they have not been subjected to the rigors of a criminal trial… Although it would be no substitute for the testing of a judicial trial, an independent third party should be tapped to perform that task, weighing the validity of government allegations and analyzing the legitimacy of government conclusions. Such a third party could also examine allegations that the FBI hounded Mr. Ivins; if the allegations are unfounded, an independent assessment would benefit the agency. There is also an urgent need to explain how a man presumably as disturbed as Mr. Ivins was could have maintained a security clearance that allowed him to work with such deadly substances.” [Washington Post, 8/7/2008]
On August 8, 2005, the Washington Post reports that the FBI concedes that the anthrax sample that the FBI believes Bruce Ivins used in the 2001 anthrax attacks, RMR-1029, was shared with as many as 15 other laboratories across the US. But another clue was used to rule out the other labs. All four recovered anthrax letters used the same pre-stamped envelope, and the envelopes had a tiny printing defect. All of the envelopes with this defect were sold at post offices in Virginia and Maryland. Ivins was living in Frederick, Maryland, and rented a mailbox at the Frederick post office. Jeffrey Taylor, US Attorney for Washington, DC, says that investigators eventually concluded that “the envelopes used in the mailings were very likely sold at a post office in the greater Frederick, Md. area.” [Washington Post, 8/7/2008] However, it is not clear how the FBI narrowed down to just Frederick and not elsewhere in Maryland or Virginia. On August 15, the New York Times reports, “[P]eople who were briefed by the FBI said a batch of misprinted envelopes used in the anthrax attacks… could have been much more widely available than bureau officials had initially led them to believe.” [New York Times, 8/15/2008]
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]
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]
Gerry Andrews, the chief of the bacteriology division at USAMRIID from 1999 to 2003, publishes an editorial in the New York Times. USAMRIID is the US Army’s top biological laboratory, and one of Andrew’s subordinates there was Bruce Ivins, the FBI’s main suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) and also a friend of Andrews. Andrews says that the FBI’s recently revealed case against Ivins is unimpressive and lacks physical evidence. He states that the anthrax contained in a letter to Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD) was “a startlingly refined weapons-grade anthrax spore preparation, the likes of which had never been seen before by personnel at [USAMRIID]. It is extremely improbable that this type of preparation could ever have been produced [there], certainly not of the grade and quality found in that envelope.” Andrews also complains that the FBI has not provided “enough detail about their procedure to enable other scientists to tell whether they could actually single out Dr. Ivins’s spore preparation as the culprit…” [New York Times, 8/9/2008]
The Justice Department gives a private briefing to some Congresspeople and government officials outlining the FBI’s case against deceased anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins. Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD), a target of one of the 2001 anthrax letters, attends the briefing and is impressed with the FBI’s arguments. He says that prior to the briefing, he was “very dubious,” but now he finds the government’s case “complete and persuasive.” [USA Today, 8/13/2008] However, Daschle’s reaction seems to be unusual. The New York Times reports that “a number of listeners said the briefing left them less convinced that the FBI had the right man, and they said some of the government’s public statements appeared incomplete or misleading.” Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) says, “The case is built from a number of pieces of circumstantial evidence, and for a case this important, it’s troubling to have so many loose ends. The briefing pointed out even more loose ends than I thought there were before.” Naba Barkakati, the chief technologist for the Government Accountability Office (GAO), says: “It’s very hard to get the sense of whether this was scientifically good or bad. We didn’t really get the question settled, other than taking their word for it.” As a result of these continuing doubts, the FBI decides to make public more details of their scientific evidence against Ivins in a press conference to be held a week later. [New York Times, 8/15/2008]
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Majidi says scientists were unable to determine what equipment was used to turn wet anthrax into the dry powder used in the attacks.
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.”
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]
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).
The New York Times reports that the FBI is still trying to strengthen its case against deceased anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins in the face of heavy criticism (see September 6, 2008). In early August, days after Ivins’s death, Justice Department officials said the investigation would be formally closed within days or weeks. But now they say it will likely remain open for three to six more months. FBI agents are continuing to interview Ivins’s acquaintances and examine the computers he used in an effort to strengthen the case against him. But FBI and Justice Department officials say they have no doubt about their judgment against Ivins. One anonymous Justice Department official says, “People feel just as strongly as they did a month ago that this was the guy.” [New York Times, 9/6/2008]
The New York Times reports that “in interviews last week, two dozen bioterrorism experts, veteran investigators, and members of Congress expressed doubts about the FBI’s conclusions” about deceased anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins, and many “do not think the [FBI] has proved its case” against him. For instance:
Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) says, “My conclusion at this point is that it’s very much an open matter.… There are some very serious questions that have yet to be answered and need to be made public.”
Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) says, “If the case is solved, why isn’t it solved? It’s all very suspicious, and you wonder whether or not the FBI doesn’t have something to cover up and that they don’t want to come clean.”
Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) says, “[The FBI] took their shot… They hoped and maybe believed that the case they laid out would persuade everyone. I think they’re probably surprised by the level of skepticism.”
Bioterrorism expert Dr. Thomas Inglesby says, “For a lot of the scientific community, the word would be agnostic.… They still don’t feel they have enough information to judge whether the case has been solved.”
Dr. Ralph Frerichs, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, says, “There’s no clarity on the simplest aspect: is [making the anthrax used in the attacks] hard to do or easy to do?”
Dr. Gerry Andrews, who once served as Ivins’s boss at USAMRIID, says, “Despite the FBI’s scientific and circumstantial evidence, I and many of Dr. Ivins’s former colleagues don’t believe he did it and don’t believe the spore preparations were made at [USAMRIID]” (see August 1-10, 2008).
Officials have acknowledged “that they did not have a single, definitive piece of evidence indisputably proving that Dr. Ivins mailed the letters—no confession, no trace of his DNA on the letters, no security camera recording the mailings in Princeton, [New Jersey.]” But the Times also notes, “Even the strongest skeptics acknowledged that the bureau had raised troubling questions about Dr. Ivins’s mental health and had made a strong scientific case linking the mailed anthrax to a supply in his laboratory. But they said the bureau’s piecemeal release of information, in search warrant affidavits and in briefings for reporters and Congress, had left significant gaps in the trail that led to Dr. Ivins and had failed to explain how investigators ruled out at least 100 other people who the bureau acknowledged had access to the same flasks of anthrax.” [New York Times, 9/6/2008]
Microbiologist Dr. Henry Heine, a former colleague of alleged anthrax attacker Bruce Ivins, appears before a National Academy of Sciences panel tasked with reviewing the FBI’s scientific work on the investigation. Dr. Heine testifies that it would have been impossible for Ivins to have produced the number of anthrax spores alleged without his colleagues noticing. Dr. Heine also indicates that biological containment measures were inadequate in Ivins’s lab to prevent escape of anthrax spores. [New York Times, 4/22/2010]
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) finds that the source of the anthrax involved in the 2001 attacks was not established by the FBI’s science. This conclusion is in contrast to that of the Justice Department and the FBI, which have asserted unequivocally that RMR-1029, an anthrax flask linked to USAMRIID vaccine researcher and deceased alleged anthrax-killer Bruce Ivins, was the source of the anthrax used in the attacks. The NAS was contracted by the FBI in 2009, for nearly $880,000, to review the science underlying the FBI’s investigation. The NAS council did not review other types of evidence assembled by the FBI, did not have access to classified materials, and did not do its own research. In its report, it makes no judgments regarding the guilt or innocence of any parties, or judgments about the FBI’s conclusion that Ivins was the sole perpetrator. [Associated Press, 5/9/2009; Justice, 2/19/2010, pp. 28 PDF ; National Academy of Sciences, 2/15/2011; McClatchy-ProPublica-PBS Frontline, 10/11/2011] The primary conclusion of the NAS is that “it is not possible to reach a definitive conclusion about the origins of the anthrax… based solely on the available scientific evidence.” The NAS says there were “genetic similarities” between the samples from the letters and RMR-1029, but that “other possible explanations for the similarities—such as independent, parallel evolution—were not definitively explored during the investigation,” and “the data did not rule out other possible sources.” The NAS agrees with the FBI that “RMR-1029… was not the immediate source of spores used in the letters,” and that “one or more derivative growth steps would have been required to produce the anthrax in the attack letters.” The NAS says the FBI did correctly identify the anthrax as Ames strain. It also agrees with the FBI that there was no evidence that the silicon present in the samples had been added in order to weaponize the anthrax, but says that, based on the information made available to it, “one cannot rule out the intentional addition of a silicon-based substance to the New York Post letter, in a failed attempt to enhance dispersion.” Silicon had not been present in the anthrax in RMR-1029 and it is not a normal part of anthrax spores, though it may be incorporated if it is present in its environment as the spores develop. The reason for the presence of silicon (up to 10 percent by bulk mass in the New York Post sample, though this differed with the amount measured in the spores), as well as other elements such as tin, remains unresolved. [National Academy of Sciences, 2/15/2011] At a NAS press conference accompanying the report’s release, questions are raised regarding the amount of time needed to prepare the anthrax. Committee Chair Alice P. Gast responds, “There’s a lack of certainty in the time and effort it would take to make [the powders]… the FBI has not determined what method was used to create the powders.” In some situations several months might be required, but, according to Vice Chair David A. Relman, it would have been possible to complete the work in as little as two days. Regarding the low end of the estimate, Relman says: “There are a number of factors that would have to go into that calculation, including the skill set of the person or persons involved, the equipment and resources available, and the procedures and process selected. And, on that last point, that low end would rely upon the use of batch fermentation methods—liquid cultivation methods—which are available in a number of locations.” Co-workers of Ivins and other experts previously expressed doubts that Ivins had the skill, equipment, or opportunity to prepare the anthrax used, let alone do so in as short a time as the FBI has alleged (see August 1-10, 2008, August 3-18, 2008, August 5, 2008, August 9, 2008 and April 22, 2010). [National Academy of Sciences, 2/15/2011; ProPublica, 2/15/2011] In response to the NAS report, the FBI says in a press release that it was not the science alone that led it to conclude that Ivins was the sole perpetrator: “The FBI has long maintained that while science played a significant role, it was the totality of the investigative process that determined the outcome of the anthrax case. The scientific findings in this case provided investigators with valuable investigative leads that led to the identification of the late Dr. Bruce Ivins as the perpetrator of the anthrax attacks.” [Department of Justice, 2/15/2011] The FBI has claimed to have identified, and eliminated as suspects, 419 people at Fort Detrick and other locations, who either had access to the lab where Ivins worked or received samples from RMR-1029. However, the NAS finding that RMR-1029 has not been conclusively identified as the anthrax source indicates the pool of suspects may be wider than just those with links to RMR-1029. The NAS press release notes that, in October 2010, a draft version of the NAS report underwent a “required FBI security review,” and following that the FBI asked to submit materials to NAS that it had not previously provided. The NAS says: “Included in the new materials were results of analyses performed on environmental samples collected from an overseas site. Those analyses yielded inconsistent evidence of the Ames strain of B. anthracis in some samples. The committee recommends further review of the investigation of overseas environmental samples and of classified investigations carried out by the FBI and Department of Justice.” [National Academy of Sciences, 2/15/2011]
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