Anthrax suspect afflicted with paranoia

Question of the Day

Is it still considered bad form to talk politics during a social gathering?

View results

Army microbiologist Bruce E. Ivins was becoming increasingly paranoid and his work on an anthrax vaccine - which already had been blamed for causing the Gulf War syndrome - was failing when he mailed poison-laced letters to politicians and news organizations, confidential investigative documents unsealed Wednesday show.

Law enforcement officials theorize that Mr. Ivins’ decaying mental health and his desire to show people the importance of his vaccine could have motivated him to carry out the worst bioterrorism attack in the nation´s history.

The motive will never be known for sure. Mr. Ivins, 62, of Frederick, Md., committed suicide last week as authorities prepared to charge him with the 2001 anthrax mailings that killed five people, sickened 17 and further frayed the nerves of a nation reeling from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In an unusual move, motivated in part by Mr. Ivins’ death, Justice Department officials Wednesday released dozens of documents they say prove his guilt.

Authorities said Mr. Ivins carried out the attacks alone and, as a result, the government will soon close the seven-year investigation known as “Amerithrax.”

“We regret that we will not have the opportunity to present the evidence to a jury to determine whether the evidence establishes Dr. Ivins’ guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Taylor of the District said during a press conference.

The release of the documents ended a much-maligned investigation that resulted in a multimillion-dollar Justice Department settlement with former Army scientist Steven Hatfill, who was publicly identified as a “person of interest” in the case but later was cleared of any wrongdoing. Mr. Hatfill and Mr. Ivins both worked at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, but it wasn’t until 2007 that Mr. Ivins became the focus of the investigation.

Authorities said the investigation, conducted by the FBI and U.S. Postal Service, also had successes, such as the development of scientific processes they say linked Mr. Ivins to the anthrax used in the attacks.

According to search warrants released Wednesday, the anthrax spores used in the attack came from a flask belonging to Mr. Ivins. Mr. Taylor called the flask “effectively the murder weapon.”

“No one received material from that flask without going through Dr. Ivins,” Mr. Taylor said. “We thoroughly investigated every other person who could have had access to the flask, and we were able to rule out all but Dr. Ivins.”

The documents also outline circumstantial evidence authorities claim link Mr. Ivins to the case.

Mr. Ivins had come under scrutiny for his work on an anthrax vaccine that some suspect caused the Gulf War syndrome. Before the attacks in 2001, Mr. Ivins had been under heavy stress while working on an anthrax vaccine that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had suspended.

At the same time, his mental health was deteriorating. According to documents, Mr. Ivins wrote in an e-mail to a friend that his psychiatrist thought he might be suffering from a paranoid personality disorder. He was prescribed a variety of psychotropic medications.

Authorities think the volatile mix of stress and mental illness led to the attacks.

Mr. Ivins’ work took a bright turn after the attacks.

Story Continues →

View Entire Story
About the Author
Ben Conery

Ben Conery

Ben Conery is a member of the investigative team covering the Supreme Court and legal affairs. Prior to coming to The Washington Times in 2008, Mr. Conery covered criminal justice and legal affairs for daily newspapers in Connecticut and Massachusetts. He was a 2006 recipient of the New England Newspaper Association’s Publick Occurrences Award for a series of articles about ...

Latest Stories

Comments
blog comments powered by Disqus