- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 3, 2008

ASSOCIATED PRESS

With the chief suspect in the anthrax attacks now dead, the Justice Department is expected to decide within days whether to close what had been one of its highest-profile unsolved cases.

Five people died and 17 others were sickened when anthrax-laced letters began showing up at congressional offices, newsrooms and post offices soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

After wrongly investigating Army scientist Steven Hatfill, the FBI more than a year ago began looking at another suspect: Bruce E. Ivins, who worked at the same military lab. Mr. Ivins, an award-winning scientist who was working on an anthrax cure, killed himself Tuesday.

Col. David R. Franz, a retired former commander of the Army’s biological warfare laboratories at Fort Detrick, Md., where Mr. Ivins worked, said Saturday that he thought it was “very important that the FBI present their case against Bruce and not just state that the investigation was over because it was him and he’s gone.”

Col. Franz added, “I’m concerned about what closing this case without conclusive evidence might do to harm our life sciences enterprise. … I think we as Americans need to see the proof.”

Prosecutors were mulling this weekend whether to tell a grand jury investigating evidence against Mr. Ivins to close the case. If that happens, court documents outlining the government’s evidence are expected to be unsealed.

Two U.S. officials said victims and their survivors could be briefed as early as Tuesday on the final piece of the bioterrorism attacks that confounded the government.

The Justice Department attributed the break in the case to “new and sophisticated scientific tools.” Investigators said the science focused, in part, on how the anthrax strains were handled and who had access to it at the time of the mailings.

Had the same process been used years ago, it would have cleared Mr. Hatfill, according to two people familiar with the FBI investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case is not officially closed.

FBI profilers said they probably were looking for a loner with a scientific background. Maybe he had a grudge against the lawmakers and news organizations. Investigators also considered possible links to al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

Intensive focus initially settled on Mr. Hatfill, who for years accused the government of unfairly targeting him. In late June, the government exonerated Mr. Hatfill and paid him a $5.82 million settlement.

Among the unanswered questions is why the anthrax was sent. The FBI was investigating whether Mr. Ivins, renowned for his work developing anthrax vaccines and treatment, released the toxin to test those cures. Mr. Ivins was one of several scientists named in an application for a vaccine patent 18 months before the attacks.

Another puzzle is what finally led the FBI to focus on Mr. Ivins a year or so ago. Mr. Ivins attracted some attention for conducting unauthorized anthrax testing in the six months after the anthrax mailings, but the FBI focus stayed on Mr. Hatfill.

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