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2001 Anthrax Attacks

FBI Investigation

Project: 2001 Anthrax Attacks
Open-Content project managed by Paul, KJF, paxvector

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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]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bruce Ivins

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins, FBI Investigation

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]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bruce Ivins

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins, FBI Investigation

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]

Entity Tags: Jean Duley, Bruce Ivins, Jeffrey A. Taylor, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Joseph diGenova

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins, FBI Investigation

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).

Entity Tags: Robert S. Mueller III, Steven Hatfill, Bruce Ivins

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins, FBI Investigation

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]

Entity Tags: Tom DeGonia, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bruce Ivins, Jeffrey A. Taylor, Paul Kemp

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins, FBI Investigation

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]

Entity Tags: Bruce Ivins, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins, FBI Investigation

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]

Entity Tags: Vahid Majidi, Jeffrey Adamovicz, Gerry Andrews, Bruce Ivins, Richard Spertzel, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins, USAMRIID, FBI Investigation

The Kappa Kappa Gamma storage facility is located in this brick building.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]

Entity Tags: Katherine Breckinridge Graham, Bruce Ivins, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins, FBI Investigation

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

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

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins, USAMRIID, FBI Investigation

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

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

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins, FBI Investigation

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

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bruce Ivins

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins, FBI Investigation

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

Entity Tags: Bruce Ivins, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins, FBI Investigation

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]

Entity Tags: Bruce Ivins

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins, FBI Investigation

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]

Entity Tags: Michael Mukasey, Bruce Ivins, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert S. Mueller III, Rush Holt, Charles Grassley

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins, FBI Investigation

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]

Entity Tags: Bruce Ivins, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins, FBI Investigation

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

Entity Tags: Bruce Ivins, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins, FBI Investigation

The Justice Department formally clears Steven Hatfill of any involvement in the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). The department sends a letter to Hatfill’s lawyer, stating: “We have concluded, based on lab access records, witness accounts, and other information, that Dr. Hatfill did not have access to the particular anthrax used in the attacks, and that he was not involved in the anthrax mailings.” [MSNBC, 8/8/2008] Hatfill won $5.8 million from the government in a settlement in June 2008, but the government admitted no wrongdoing and did not make any statement officially clearing him (see June 27, 2008).

Entity Tags: Steven Hatfill, US Department of Justice

Category Tags: Steven Hatfill, FBI Investigation

In his first public comments since the identification of recently deceased Bruce Ivins as the FBI’s prime suspect in the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001 and July 29, 2008), FBI Director Robert Muller tells reporters, “I do not apologize for any aspect of the investigation.” It is erroneous “to say there were mistakes.” [New York Times, 8/9/2008] Ten days later, FBI scientist Dr. Vahid Majidi, leading an FBI press briefing about the anthrax investigation (see August 18, 2008), will say, “Obviously, looking at it in hindsight, we would do things differently today.… And the amazing thing about this case that I would like to additionally point out is the amount of lessons learned. Were we perfect? Absolutely not. We’ve had missteps and those are the lessons learned…” [US Department of Justice, 8/18/2008]

Entity Tags: Robert S. Mueller III, Vahid Majidi

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins, Steven Hatfill, FBI Investigation

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

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

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins, FBI Investigation

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]

Entity Tags: Gerry Andrews, Bruce Ivins, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Category Tags: USAMRIID, FBI Investigation

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]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Rush Holt, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bruce Ivins, Naba Barkakati, Tom Daschle

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins, FBI Investigation

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

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

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins, USAMRIID, FBI Investigation

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

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bruce Ivins

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins, FBI Investigation

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:
bullet 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.”
bullet 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.”
bullet 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.”
bullet 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.”
bullet 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?”
bullet 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]

Entity Tags: Rush Holt, Thomas Inglesby, Gerry Andrews, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Charles Grassley, Ralph Frerichs, Bruce Ivins, Arlen Specter

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins, FBI Investigation

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]

Entity Tags: Bruce Ivins, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Category Tags: Bruce Ivins, FBI Investigation

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 pdf file; 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]

Entity Tags: FBI Headquarters, Dugway Proving Ground, National Academy of Sciences, Battelle Memorial Institute, “Justice Department”, Bruce Ivins, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases

Category Tags: Real Anthrax Attacks, Battelle Memorial Institute, Dugway Proving Ground, USAMRIID, Anthrax Letters & Hoax Letters, FBI Investigation, US Military Bioweapons, Bruce Ivins

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