The FBI Should Release Its File on Bruce Ivins

For seven years, the identity of the person who mailed letters contaminated with anthrax has been a mystery. The FBI, once quite certain that Steven Hatfill was the culprit, eventually expressed regret at ruining an innocent man's life with its false accusations. Now the FBI has decided that Army scientist Bruce Ivins was the guilty party. Ivins' apparent suicide conveniently allows the FBI to close its investigation without being bothered to prove that he was any more guilty than Hatfill.

The FBI views the suicide as a confession. In the absence of a suicide note that actually admits the crime, that assertion is speculative. Ivins' lawyer points out that people who are dogged with life-ruining accusations, true or false, might lose the will to live.

Tom Daschle correctly argues that the public deserves to know whether the evidence against Ivins was compelling. If not, the true criminal may still be at large. [more ...]

"I think the FBI owes us a complete accounting of their investigation and ought to be able to tell us at some point, how we're going to bring this to closure," said former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, whose office received a letter containing the deadly white powder in 2001. "It's been seven years, there's a lot of unanswered questions and I think the American people deserve to know more than they do today."

Ivins supposedly has "a long history of homicidal threats," but it's one thing to threaten specific people and another to kill anyone who happened to open a letter. There are conflicting reports regarding Ivins' emotional stability. He apparently threatened the lives of therapists, but others saw him as "a churchgoing, family-oriented germ researcher known for his jolly disposition."

Ivins also failed to report an anthrax spill, which sounds more like butt-covering than evidence of homicidal intent. Ivins did have access to anthrax and didn't always follow research protocols, but his motive to kill the people to whom anthrax-laced letters were addressed is unclear.

Authorities were investigating whether Ivins, who had complained about the limits of testing anthrax drugs on animals, had released the toxin to test the treatment on humans.

Maybe, but that speclative reasoning seems a bit far-fetched. Perhaps he merely wanted to give his career a boost, or to call attention to the risk of an anthrax attack. Conjecture is easy. Surely the FBI had better evidence than this if it intended to indict Ivins for murder and to seek the death penalty. If so, it's time to make that evidence public.

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    Their Track Record Is Poor (5.00 / 2) (#4)
    by squeaky on Sat Aug 02, 2008 at 01:00:56 PM EST
    It is all too convenient to peg this on a dead man, imo. Especially when they are doing it in secrecy.

    I do not wear a colander on my head, (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by KeysDan on Sat Aug 02, 2008 at 01:21:09 PM EST
    but, do forgive my skeptical, if not conspiratorial, thinking on this curious case. Gosh, where to start?  Six years of investigation, with the embarrassing settlement with Dr. Hatfill to the tune of $2,8 million plus a 20-year annual annuity of $150,000, followed by the alleged suicide of another person of interest, Dr. Ivins, whom the government was preparing to seek indictment for the anthrax crimes.  The Ivins investigation was ongoing while the government was still fighting the Hatfill suit.  Of course, the case against Dr. Ivins cannot be made public because the evidence was under court seal as part of the grand jury investigation, and out of concern for privacy, victims and families needed to be briefed.  Sounds like an investigation of the investigation is needed, but who can or will do it?

    Don't use a colander (none / 0) (#8)
    by sj on Sat Aug 02, 2008 at 01:31:50 PM EST
    Too many holes.  If you want something pre-made, I'd recommend a nice aluminum mixing bowl.  They also come in several sizes (unlike the colanders) so you can probably find one to fit.

    Seriously, six years?  To reach no indictment?  They couldn't even find a suitable scapegoat.


    Wait...There's More!!! (none / 0) (#22)
    by dianem on Sat Aug 02, 2008 at 09:00:52 PM EST
    According to the New York Times, Ivins' therapist sought out (and received) a restraining order against him because she was terrified of him. She said he has been diagnosed as a "sociopathic, homicidal killer" (is that redundant?) by several psychiatrists. She said he has tried to poison people in revenge killings as far back as 2001. But,somehow, this guy was working as a top scientist in anthrax research.

    What is wrong with this picture? I'm not doubting the suicide. A scientist of his merit would not be unaware of the toxicity of tylenol in high doses, and that is not a likely poison - you need quite a bit over a long time to result in death. But this is going to get weirder before it gets sorted out.


    Greenwald has very interesting post (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by nellre on Sat Aug 02, 2008 at 01:54:56 PM EST
    Tom Brokaw MUST get this in front of a judge (5.00 / 1) (#14)
    by exlibris on Sat Aug 02, 2008 at 02:40:23 PM EST
    Brokaw is the only one who could. Daschle barely sounds concerned and will do nothing.

    Democratic government employees were terrorized by a government strain of bacteria purposely sent with at least some physical connection to a government lab and a corrupt Republican Justice Dept of the same administration is the investigator...American citizens were killed!

    We have no idea what Dr. Ivins knew or True or false we know the narrative is being cooked now. As a former government research microbiologist with high level of clearance, I and anyone can be just as maligned as Dr. Ivins has been the past day on more suggestive data.  Without a full hearing in front of a judge, Dr. Ivins is the goat - no more no less.

    I remain outraged and the salt in this wound is having zero confidence in the next President to investigate.

    This, my friends and fellow patriots, is what America has become.

    the ivins family and the american people (5.00 / 1) (#18)
    by hellothere on Sat Aug 02, 2008 at 05:41:01 PM EST
    deserve the truth however i don't think any of us will get it. our government plays "i've got a secret" at our expense.

    I think this time they'll get the truth (none / 0) (#23)
    by dianem on Sat Aug 02, 2008 at 09:02:19 PM EST
    There is no way the media is going to let go of a quote like "sociopathic, homicidal killer" on tape. Somebody is going to want to know why this guy had access to anthrax. Or sharp knives.

    I usually laugh at conspiracy theorists . . . (5.00 / 1) (#24)
    by txpublicdefender on Sun Aug 03, 2008 at 10:45:52 AM EST
    . . . but this case just screams of a big, fat government conspiracy.  Either that, or the worst government incompetence of all time.  How in the hell could someone who was diagnosed as a "sociopathic, homicidal killer" as far back as 2000 or 2001 be given access to anthrax???  And why on earth would a Justice Department that likes to pull a surprise arrest on white collar folks in big investment banking offices in Manhattan, and frog march them in handcuffs down to the local federal lockup give advance notice of an indictment to someone they are about to charge with multiple counts of capital murder?  This is the most bizarre thing I've ever seen.

    After reading Glenn Greenwald's piece on Salon, I also think ABC News could do some actual public service reporting here by finally revealing who the "four highly placed government officials" who acted as sources for them in reporting that the anthrax found in the letters contained a compound which linked it to Iraq.  They were only too happy to trumpet this news repeatedly, connecting Iraq with terrorism on American soil, and thus adding to the drumbeat for war with Iraq, when it was allowing them to talk about a big scoop.  Now, years after those claims have definitively proven to be false, they still refuse to name their sources, who obviously LIED to them.  Why in hell journalists continue to protect sources who lie to them is beyond me.  I thought you protected your sources so that you would be able to continue to get truthful information, not flat-out lies of enormous magnitude and significance.

    I do wonder what Steven Hatfill is thinking right now.

    I agree. It seemed (none / 0) (#1)
    by hairspray on Sat Aug 02, 2008 at 12:54:10 PM EST
    strange that they would notify him that he was being charged.  Wasn't it a capital crime?  What would the procedure be at that point?  Considering their track record, I think the FBI owes it to his family and those of his victims to lay out the facts.  

    In my view... (none / 0) (#2)
    by pmj6 on Sat Aug 02, 2008 at 12:55:53 PM EST
    ...even if there were a suicide note admitting guilt that would still be a very weak standard of evidence, and frankly a rather scary precedent. Given the current administration's approach to collecting counter-terrorism intel, the scope for abuse is enormous. I mean, right now they are calling suicide attempts at Guantanamo "asymmetrical warfare". What if they simply let the detainees kill themselves, then use such suicides as evidence they were guilty to begin with?

    The evidence... (none / 0) (#3)
    by EL seattle on Sat Aug 02, 2008 at 12:56:24 PM EST
    ... plus the precise timeline for when the evidence came to their attention.  Was the FBI so obsessed with Hatfill that they ignored this guy?  Or did his Ivins' behavior only really get suspicious this past year?

    Yesterday's NYT story about Ivins (none / 0) (#5)
    by imhotep on Sat Aug 02, 2008 at 01:19:39 PM EST
    said that all scientists involved in anthrax research were heavily scrutinized including lie detector tests.  
    Ivins seems to have had a history of mental illness but may also have gone over the top because of guilt feelings.
    Personally, I always suspected someone with right-wing leanings sent the anthrax letters because two prominent Dems received them, but no pubs.  I was always skeptical that the anthrax scare had anything to do with terrorists.

    Of course it had to do with terrorists (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by sj on Sat Aug 02, 2008 at 01:27:23 PM EST
    It was absolutely domestic terrorism.  As was the OKC bombing.  Not all terrorist acts come from international mysterious brown people, you know?  

    That doesn't at all discount your suspicion that they were sent by someone with right-wing leanings.  The two concepts are not mutually exclusive.


    As far as "terrorists" (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by imhotep on Sat Aug 02, 2008 at 02:10:04 PM EST
    the commonly accepted definition at that time referred to OBL's followers.  That is what most people had in mind when the anthrax scare was referred to as a "terrorist threat" since 9/11.
    But, as it turned out, it was one of "us".

    Oh, I agree (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by sj on Sat Aug 02, 2008 at 02:11:39 PM EST
    That it was the commonly accepted definition.  But that's a marketing "success" and a big mistake in my mind.

    Let's not forget (5.00 / 3) (#13)
    by TChris on Sat Aug 02, 2008 at 02:15:08 PM EST
    that the Justice Department routinely brands animal rights and environmental activists as domestic terrorists.

    The Highest Civilian Defense Department Award (none / 0) (#15)
    by KeysDan on Sat Aug 02, 2008 at 02:58:21 PM EST
    was given to Dr. ivins in 2003.  It was reported that of the 15 academic papers he published since 2001 (very productive record, especially for someone supposedly mentally unbalanced) 14  involved anthrax vaccines and treatment.  This leaves to be ascertained  Dr. ivins. capabilities in the separate area of expertise, the conversion of the anthrax bacilli into powder for inhalation.  Curiouser and curiouser.

    A possible theory of the case? (none / 0) (#9)
    by Mitch Guthman on Sat Aug 02, 2008 at 01:42:58 PM EST
    One thing seems particularly odd to me.  The Justice Department acted very strangely in this case and it did so in a way that is apparently at odds with the presumptions underlying its own case.   Here is a man the FBI says has "a long history of homicidal threats" and is apparently mentally unstable to boot.  

    Also, if he is the "Anthrax Killer" it stands to reason that he might well have a substantial stockpile of weapons-grade anthrax hidden somewhere.  Why then was he apparently given advance warning that he would be charged?   Apart from the risk of flight, surely the possibility that this obviously mentally unstable man might take lots of people with him if he decided to kill himself must have been obvious even to the FBI?  So, why would Justice disregard its own procedures in such a high profile case?  

    One possible answer might be that they were aware their evidence was very weak and probably would not result in a conviction but were nonetheless under tremendous pressure to produce a result.  If certain people were fairly sure that he wasn't the killer (and so would not be able to release his hidden stockpile of anthrax) but that he seemed to be buckling under the constant pressure and might kill himself rather than be dragged through the court system, telling him might make some sense.    

    Normally, I'd be the first to dismiss this as "conspiracy theory" ranting but these are not normal people we are dealing with and this is not a normal time. Sy Hersh's latest piece on Iran really makes me wonder.

    Dr. Ivins... (none / 0) (#16)
    by desertswine on Sat Aug 02, 2008 at 04:10:02 PM EST
    provided cover so that the neocons could blame Iraq.

    Didn't report a spill? (none / 0) (#17)
    by Jen M on Sat Aug 02, 2008 at 04:13:55 PM EST
    That means absolutely nothing.

    Reporting any mishap in our (army) research lab means hours and hours of insufferable cr*p. And thats for harmless stuff.

    Ivins' group therapy audiotape released (none / 0) (#19)
    by wurman on Sat Aug 02, 2008 at 06:48:01 PM EST
    This on Aug 2, 2008, from MSNBC (link):
    The New York Times exclusively obtained the audiotape of a court hearing in which therapist Jean Duley told a judge that she feared for her life. She testifies that, at a July 9 group-therapy session, Ivins announced that he had bought a gun and a bulletproof vest and was plotting to kill his co-workers at the Fort Detrick Army research laboratory.

    As this develops, we may once again learn that the confidentiality of patient & counselor relationships can give "cover" to some really terrible people.

    The story will develop quickly, now.

    But Nowhere Near As Much Cover (5.00 / 2) (#20)
    by squeaky on Sat Aug 02, 2008 at 06:50:59 PM EST
    As this develops, we may once again learn that the confidentiality of patient & counselor relationships can give "cover" to some really terrible people.

    As being part of the executive branch, or DOJ.


    I'm inclined to think they'll unseal the files. (none / 0) (#21)
    by RonK Seattle on Sat Aug 02, 2008 at 07:00:59 PM EST
    Signs point in that direction.

    I'm also inclined to think they should not close the investigation.