- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 7, 2008

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.

In 2002, the FDA once again approved the vaccine on which he had worked. As a result, Mr. Ivins received the Defense Department’s highest civilian honor, according to documents.

After investigators closed in on Mr. Ivins, they said, his behavior portrayed a guilty conscience.

Mr. Ivins couldn’t explain to investigators why he was working late hours, alone, sometimes past midnight, about the time of the anthrax mailings. According to documents, he also gave investigators false anthrax samples to impede forensic analysis and tried to cast suspicion on other scientists.

According to documents, agents saw similarities in the wording of an e-mail Mr. Ivins wrote to a friend a few days before the anthrax attack and the language used in the anthrax letter.

“Bin Laden terrorists for sure have anthrax and sarin gas” and have “just decreed death to all Jews and all Americans,” Mr. Ivins wrote in the e-mail.


Authorities acknowledged that analysts couldn’t match Mr. Ivins’ handwriting samples to the writing on the letters that contained the potentially deadly bacteria, and they didn’t find any other forensic evidence linking Mr. Ivins to the mailings.

Mr. Ivins’ attorney, Paul Kemp, on Wednesday continued to maintain his client’s innocence.

“What the public demanded today was concrete evidence,” Mr. Kemp said. “Instead, it was deluged with everything but. The government released search warrants - investigative tools designed to discover evidence, not to serve as evidence - and treated these warrants as smoking guns.

“The government’s press conference was an orchestrated dance of carefully worded statements, heaps of innuendo and a staggering lack of real evidence - all contorted to create the illusion of guilt by Dr. Ivins.”

Mr. Kemp wasn’t the only one unsatisfied with the information released Wednesday.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called for “a full-blown accounting of the case materials and evidence, not just the selective release of a few documents.”

“There appears to be a lot of circumstantial evidence that may lead to Dr. Ivins, but considering the bureau’s history with this case …,” Mr. Grassley said. “I hope the Senate Judiciary Committee will conduct hearings so we can get a full accounting of the evidence collected by the FBI.”

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth ordered the unsealing of the search warrants Wednesday morning, but they weren’t released until after FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III briefed victims and family members at FBI headquarters.

“I think it was important for all of us, and the investigative team was all there present,” said Joseph Persichini, head of the FBI’s Washington Field Office. “I think I’d describe it as a moving day for all of us, very important in this investigation to bring closure.”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide