WASHINGTON - Army scientist Bruce Ivins had in his lab highly purified anthrax spores that were linked to the 2001 attacks that killed five and access to the distinctive envelopes used to mail them, the government declared Wednesday, releasing a stack of documents to support a damning though circumstantial case.
Who did he tick off? And are they reading this blog? They are now.
Ivins, a brilliant but deeply troubled man who committed suicide last week, was the anthrax killer whose mailings rattled the nation in the worst bioterror case in U.S. history, just a month after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, federal prosecutors asserted. They were backed by court documents that were a combination of hard DNA evidence, suspicious behavior and, sometimes, outright speculation.
Ivins' attorney said the government was "taking a weird guy and convicting him of mass murder" without real evidence. Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa called for a congressional investigation.
Good luck with that. But kudos.
Ivins had submitted false anthrax samples to the FBI to throw investigators off his trail and was unable to provide "an adequate explanation for his late laboratory work hours" around the time of the attacks, according to documents that officials made public to support their conclusions.
Can we get his intern to talk to a wired girlfriend about it?
Investigators also said he sought to frame unnamed co-workers and had immunized himself against anthrax and yellow fever in early September 2001, several weeks before the first anthrax-laced envelope was received in the mail.
Ivins killed himself last week as investigators closed in, and U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Taylor said at a Justice Department news conference, "We regret that we will not have the opportunity to present evidence to the jury."
Think a jury is even dumber than the media?
The scientist's attorney, Paul F. Kemp, heatedly dismissed that comment.
"They didn't talk about one thing that they got as result of all those searches," he said. "I just don't think he did it, and I don't think the evidence exists."
Taylor conceded the evidence was largely if not wholly circumstantial but insisted it would have been enough to convict.
After they sat the jury of their choice, of course...
The prosecutor's news conference capped a fast-paced series of events in which the government partially lifted its veil of secrecy in the investigation of the poisonings that followed closely after the airliner terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The newly released records depict Ivins as deeply troubled, increasingly so as he confronted the possibility of being charged.
"He said he was not going to face the death penalty, but instead had a plan to kill co-workers and other individuals who had wronged him," according to one affidavit. In e-mails to colleagues, Ivins described a feeling of dual personalities, the material said.
Officials disclosed Wednesday they had restricted his access to the biological agents last September.
Ivins had sole custody of highly purified anthrax spores with "certain genetic mutations identical" to the poison used in the attacks, according to an affidavit among a stack of documents the government released, all seemingly pointing to his guilt. Investigators also said they had traced back to his lab the type of envelopes used to send the deadly powder through the mails.
The FBI's investigation had dragged on for years, tarnishing the reputation of the agency in the process. Investigators had long focused on Steven J. Hatfill, whose career as a bioscientist was ruined after then-Attorney General John Ashcroft named him a "person of interest" in 2002. The government recently paid $6 million to settle a lawsuit by Hatfill, who worked in the same lab as Ivins.
So they could ruin two lives for the price of one, they went to the next guy on the lab directory?
Taylor said Wednesday that investigators concluded in 2005 that Hatfill couldn't have had access to a crucial flask of anthrax spores.
Authorities say that language Ivins used in an e-mail days before a second round of anthrax attacks was similar to the messages in anthrax-laced letters received soon after by Democratic Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy.
In the e-mail, Ivins wrote that "Bin Laden terrorists for sure have anthrax and sarin gas" and have "just decreed death to all Jews and all Americans." The letters to Daschle and Leahy said: "WE HAVE THIS ANTHRAX . . . DEATH TO AMERICA . . . DEATH TO ISRAEL."
Wow! Such specialized terminology as 'Death' isn't used everyday by the layperson. Must have been a scientist.
Wednesday's documents were released as FBI Director Robert Mueller met privately with families of the victims of the attacks to lay out the evidence officials said the agency was preparing to close the case.
Always, always, always, get the victim's family on your side. Very powerful.
Patrick O'Donnell, a postal sorter who was sickened after handling one of the contaminated letters, said after attending Tuesday's briefing that he believes Ivins is the man who poisoned him. At the same time, the government didn't provide all the answers.
"I don't know what to think, man," O'Donnell said. "It's closing a lot of things, but it's also opening up a lot of doors."
As for motive, investigators seemed to offer two possible reasons for the attacks: that the brilliant scientist wanted to bolster support for a vaccine he helped create and that the anti-abortion Catholic targeted two pro-choice Catholic lawmakers.
"We are confident that Dr. Ivins was the only person responsible for these attacks," Taylor told a news conference at the Justice Department.
Noting that Ivins would have been entitled to a presumption of innocence, Taylor nevertheless said prosecutors were confident "we could prove his guilt to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt."
The events in Washington unfolded as a memorial service was held for Ivins at Fort Detrick, the secret government installation in Frederick, Md., where he worked. Reporters were barred.
More than 200 pages of documents were made public by the FBI, virtually all of them describing the government's attempts to link Ivins to the crimes.
That's not enough, said Grassley, the Iowa senator. He said there should be hearings rather than "the selective release of a few documents."
"This has been one of the largest domestic terrorism investigations in the FBI's 100-year history, and the investigative team made mistakes, missteps and false accusations," he said.
Pete Yost writes: Before killing himself last week, Army scientist Bruce Ivins told friends that government agents had stalked him and his family for months, offered his son $2.5 million to rat him out and tried to turn his hospitalized daughter against him with photographs of dead anthrax victims.
The pressure on Ivins was extreme, a high-risk strategy that has failed the FBI before. The government was determined to find the villain in the 2001 anthrax attacks; it was too many years without a solution to the case that shocked and terrified a post-9/11 nation.
The last thing the FBI needed was another embarrassment. Overreaching damaged the FBI's reputation in the high-profile investigations: the Centennial Olympic Park bombing probe that falsely accused Richard Jewell; the theft of nuclear secrets and botched prosecution of scientist Wen Ho Lee; and, in this same anthrax probe, the smearing of an innocent man — Ivins' colleague Steven Hatfill.
In the current case, Ivins complained privately that FBI agents had offered his son, Andy, $2.5 million, plus "the sports car of his choice" late last year if he would turn over evidence implicating his father in the anthrax attacks, according to a former U.S. scientist who described himself as a friend of Ivins.
Imagine my poor parents' shame: the focus of an FBI investigation and having it made public that their daughter is suing the agency for 'breech of contract' due to non-delivery of a Ferrari...
Ivins also said the FBI confronted Ivins' daughter, Amanda, with photographs of victims of the anthrax attacks and told her, "This is what your father did," according to the scientist, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because their conversation was confidential.
The scientist said Ivins was angered by the FBI's alleged actions, which he said included following Ivins' family on shopping trips.
They'd need two shift changes to follow me shopping...
The FBI declined to describe its investigative techniques of Ivins.
FBI official John Miller said that "what we have seen over the past few days has been a mix of improper disclosures of partial information mixed with inaccurate information and then drawn into unfounded conclusions. None of that serves the victims, their families or the public."
The FBI "always moves aggressively to get to the bottom of the facts, but that does not include mistreatment of anybody and I don't know of any case where that's happened," said former FBI deputy director Weldon Kennedy, who was with the bureau for 34 years. "That doesn't mean that from time to time people don't make mistakes," he added.
Need I comment here? I thought not.
Dr. W. Russell Byrne, a friend and former supervisor of Ivins at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md., said he had heard from other Ivins associates that investigators were going after Ivins' daughter. But Byrne said those conversations were always short because people were afraid to talk.
"The FBI had asked everybody to sign these nondisclosure things," Byrne said. "They didn't want to run afoul of the FBI."
Or the ghost of J. Edgar...
Byrne, who retired from the lab four years ago, said FBI agents interviewed him seven to 12 times since the investigation began — and he got off easy.
"I think I'm the only person at USAMRIID who didn't get polygraphed," he said.
Byrne said he was told by people who had recently worked with Ivins that the investigation had taken an emotional toll on the researcher. "One person said he'd sit at his desk and weep," he said.
Ya happy, ya big bully?
Questions about the FBI's conduct come as the government takes steps that could signal an end to its investigation. On Wednesday, FBI officials plan to begin briefing family members of victims in the 2001 attacks.
The government is expected to declare the case solved but will keep it open for now, according to two U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation. Several legal and investigatory matters need to be wrapped up before the case can officially be closed, they said.
Some questions may be answered when documents related to the case are released, as soon as Wednesday. For others, the answers may be incomplete, even bizarre. Some may simply never be answered.
It is unclear how the FBI eliminated as suspects others in the lab who had access to the anthrax.
Easy. Political affiliation.
It's not clear what, if any, evidence bolsters the theory that the attacks may have been a twisted effort to test a cure for the toxin. Investigators also can't place Ivins in Princeton, N.J., when the letters were mailed from a mailbox there.
Bummer dude. Oh, wait! He's dead. Nevermind.
Richard Schuler, attorney for anthrax victim Robert Stevens' widow, Maureen Stevens, said his client will attend Wednesday's FBI briefing with a list of questions.
"No. 1 is, 'Did Bruce Ivins mail the anthrax that killed Robert Stevens?'" Schuler said, adding, "I've got healthy skepticism."
Critics of the bureau in and out of government say that in major cases, like the anthrax investigation, it can be difficult for the bureau to stop once it embarks on a single-minded pursuit of a suspect, with any internal dissenters shut out as disloyal subordinates.
Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner!
Before the FBI focused on Ivins, its sights were set on Hatfill, whose career as a bioscientist was ruined after then-Attorney General John Ashcroft named him a "person of interest" in the probe.
Hatfill sued the agency, which recently agreed to pay Hatfill nearly $6 million to settle the lawsuit.
Complaints that the FBI behaved too aggressively conflict with its straight-laced, crime-fighting image of starched agents hunting terrorists.
During its focus on Hatfill, the FBI conducted what became known as "bumper lock surveillance," in which investigators trailed Hatfill so closely that he accused agents of running over his foot with their surveillance vehicle.
FBI agents showed up once to videotape Hatfill in a hotel hallway in Tyson's Corner, Va., when Hatfill was meeting with a prospective employer, according to FBI depositions filed in Hatfill's lawsuit against the government. He didn't get the job.
One of the FBI agents who helped run the anthrax investigation, Robert Roth, said FBI Director Robert Mueller had expressed frustration with the pace of the investigation. He also acknowledged that, under FBI guidelines, targets of surveillance aren't supposed to know they're being followed.
Doin' a great job, Brownie!
"Generally, it's supposed to be covert," Roth told lawyers in Hatfill's lawsuit.
In the 1996 Atlanta Olympic park bombing that dragged Jewell into the limelight, the security guard became the focus of the FBI probe for three months, after initially being hailed as a hero for moving people away from the bomb before it exploded.
The bomber turned out to be anti-government extremist Eric Rudolph, who also planted three other bombs in the Atlanta area and in Birmingham, Ala. Those explosives killed a police officer, maimed a nurse and injured several other people.
In another case, the FBI used as evidence the secrets that a person tells a therapist.
In the Wen Ho Lee case, Lee became the focus of a federal probe into how China may have obtained classified nuclear warhead blueprints. Prosecutors eventually charged him only with mishandling nuclear data, and held him for nine months. In what amounted to a collapse of the government's case, prosecutors agreed to a plea bargain in which Lee pleaded guilty to one of 59 counts.
In 2004, the FBI wrongly arrested lawyer Brandon Mayfield after the Madrid terrorist bombings, due to a misidentified fingerprint. The Justice Department's internal watchdog faulted the bureau for sloppy work. Spanish authorities had doubted the validity of the fingerprint match, but the U.S. government initiated a lengthy investigation, eventually settling with Mayfield for $2 million.