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Panel: Anthrax-attack suspect sent up red flags

Scientist in ‘01 scare called unstable

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The man responsible for the 2001 Amerithrax anthrax scare showed signs of instability for decades and should not have been given a security clearance to work in an Army research lab, a panel of scientists has concluded after a court-ordered review of his case.

Bruce E. Ivins was motivated by revenge and a desire for personal and career validation — emotions that should have sent up red flags to his employers. The panel said Ivins did not disclose his mental illness on medical forms, and officials did not follow up on his troubling behavior.

"There were a number of entities Dr. Ivins felt revenge toward," said Gregory Saathoff, executive director of the Critical Incident Analysis Group at the University of Virginia and chairman of the panel, which announced its findings Wednesday at the University Club of D.C.

The scientists affirmed the Department of Justice's conclusions that Ivins was responsible for the attacks.

"In our review of the records, there was a pattern we saw of unusual behavior on the part of Dr. Ivins that appears not to have been looked at as seriously as it could have," Dr. Saathoff said.

The 2001 anthrax letters killed five people, sickened 17 others and fueled the outbreak of fear that swept the nation in the weeks after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

In late July 2008, the scientist killed himself with a sleeping-pill overdose as the FBI was preparing to indict him. He was never tried in court.

Asked whether Ivins was guilty and acted alone, Dr. Saathoff said that nothing his panel found "indicated otherwise."

Dr. Saathoff said there are people familiar with Ivins who continue to stand by his innocence, but what struck the panel was Ivins' ability to compartmentalize.

"We were very impressed with his capacity to 'wall-off,'" said Dr. Ronald Schouten, director of the Law and Psychiatry Service at Massachusetts General Hospital.

The panel — which consisted of prominent experts in behavioral science, toxicology, medicine, terrorism, and organizational systems and operations — was convened in July 2009 under a federal court order to explore the mental health issues Ivins faced and the lessons that can be learned from them.

Among the panel's 14 recommendations was that employers do a more thorough job of scrutinizing employee medical records and that consent to release such records should be made a requirement for an employee's security clearance.

The report also recommended that background investigators be trained to recognize red flags related to mental health issues and to respond with thorough investigations.

"I think the system has improved operations," Dr. Schouten said, "but there are little glitches within our field."

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