Thursday, September 25, 2008

Anthrax, Ivins, FBI--more

Weakness in character assessment and a bungling FBI?

"Anthrax-Case Affidavits Add to Bizarre Portrait"


Eric Lichtblau and Scott Shane

September 25th, 2008

The New York Times

A judge unsealed a new batch of court documents in the anthrax case on Wednesday, filling in further details of the bizarre behavior of Bruce E. Ivins, the Army scientist who the F.B.I. has said carried out the letter attacks of 2001.

Last September, according to a sworn statement from an F.B.I. agent, Dr. Ivins sent himself an exuberant e-mail message under the heading "Finally! I know Who mailed the anthrax!" He did not identify the perpetrator but said he was close to assembling the final proof.

"I'm not looking forward to everybody getting dragged through the mud, but at least it will all be over," Dr. Ivins wrote, adding, "I should have been a private eye!!!!" and signing the message "Bruce."

The documents do not speculate about his motive, though Dr. Ivins was aware by that time that he was under suspicion and might have believed that his e-mail — he maintained at least eight e-mail addresses — was being monitored.

Dr. Ivins, 62, an anthrax vaccine specialist at Fort Detrick, Md., killed himself with an overdose of medication in July after learning that he was likely to be charged in the death of five people exposed to the anthrax-laced letters. The F.B.I. has said he carried out the attacks alone, but friends, colleagues and lawmakers have said they remain skeptical about the evidence the bureau has made public.

The hundreds of pages of search-warrant affidavits made public on Wednesday, after a request by The New York Times, offer no major disclosures. Rather, the documents, unsealed by Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the Federal District Court here and posted online by the Justice Department, add to a portrait of Dr. Ivins's eccentric personality and threatening statements as he faced possible murder charges.

For instance, the documents give a fuller account of a group therapy session on July 9 where Dr. Ivins said that he was a suspect in the anthrax investigation and "that he was angry at the investigators, the government and the system in general."

"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," an affidavit by a federal agent said, citing accounts of those present.

A search of Dr. Ivins's home in Frederick, Md., three days later found ammunition, a bulletproof vest and a homemade body armor plate, the documents say. F.B.I. agents had already taken guns and ammunition from the house in a search the previous November.

In a further development related to the case, an Army document released this week to The Frederick News-Post revealed that Dr. Ivins was placed on administrative leave and barred from all laboratory space at Fort Detrick in March after spilling anthrax on himself and failing to report the incident immediately. Before telling anyone, he walked home and washed and dried his clothes, the report said.

Earlier, after the November search of his home, he had been barred from the most secure laboratories. But until March, he had been allowed to use less secure areas, where, Army officials said Wednesday, he spilled a nonlethal strain of anthrax.

"Ivins claimed he knew who sent anthrax"

Unsealed documents indicate that the suspect was consumed with the criminal case closing in on him


David Willman

September 24th, 2008

Los Angeles Times

On Sept. 7, 2007, as investigators were building the case against him for the deadly anthrax mailings, Army scientist Bruce E. Ivins sent himself an excited e-mail titled, "Finally! I know Who mailed the anthrax!"

The e-mail -- along with other correspondence showing that Ivins more recently mused about how to blind or kill a reality TV participant -- was among previously confidential investigative documents unsealed on Wednesday by a federal judge.

Ivins, 62, a microbiologist who specialized in handling anthrax at the Army's biological warfare research facility at Ft. Detrick, Md., died July 29 in a suicide. Justice Department prosecutors were preparing to charge him in connection with the anthrax mailings, which in 2001 killed five people and sickened or injured 17 others.

The unsealed documents had originally been submitted by investigators last month to win the judge's permission to search seven e-mail accounts that Ivins had maintained. Federal officials declined to comment on the newly unsealed e-mails, which had remained under wraps while investigators combed through Ivins' correspondence.

At face value, the new e-mails reinforce the view that Ivins was consumed with the criminal case closing in on him and, in the final months of his life, behaved in a way that suggested madness.

By early September 2007, the FBI had determined with the help of outside experts that the anthrax used in the mailings originated in a flask of material maintained by Ivins at Ft. Detrick.

But the bureau had not yet done all of the investigative work necessary to exclude as suspects colleagues of Ivins at Ft. Detrick and scientists elsewhere who also had worked with or had access to the material, labeled RMR 1029.

It was against that backdrop that Ivins, at 5:49 p.m. EDT on Sept. 7, sent the e-mail to himself, proclaiming that he had solved the case. Sent from one of the addresses he had registered, KingBadger7@aol .com, Ivins wrote:

"Yes! Yes! Yes!!!!!!! I finally know who mailed the anthrax letters in the fall of 2001. I've pieced it together! Now we can finally get all of this over and done with. I have to check a couple of things to make sure ... absolutely sure . . . and then I can turn over the info. I'll probably turn it over to my lawyer, and then he'll turn info over to the authorities."

Ivins added -- in an apparent reference to his colleagues at Ft. Detrick:

"I'm not looking forward to everybody getting dragged through the mud, but at least it will all be over. Finally! I should have it TOTALLY nailed down within the month. I should have been a private eye!!!!"

Paul F. Kemp, a lawyer whom Ivins had hired to represent him, said that the e-mail "was a note with himself to discuss with me certain information that he wanted to pass on to the FBI. He did, and I passed it on. It was an attempt to say who might have had access to the beaker" containing the RMR 1029 anthrax.

Officials from the FBI and the Justice Department have said that their investigation determined that Ivins, alone, perpetrated the anthrax mailings. Kemp has said that he would have won Ivins' acquittal had the case gone to trial.

Rep. Rush D. Holt (D-N.J.) introduced legislation Wednesday calling for a "9/11-style" commission to investigate the anthrax mailings.

Holt does not have any co-sponsors for his bill, an aide said.

As for the e-mails in which Ivins discussed the TV participant, federal officials said they brought these to the attention of the judge because they wanted to search for any evidence that Ivins had targeted witnesses in the anthrax case, according to the court documents. In the e-mails, Ivins focused on Kathryn Price, who appeared in 2001 in episodes of "The Mole," an ABC-TV reality series.

The FBI, after searching Ivins' trash outside his home, found mentions of addresses that enabled investigators to trace to him this e-mail, discussing how another participant in the "The Mole" could have detected Price's arranged role as the show's spoiler from within.

"He should have taken the hatchet and brought it down hard and sharply across her neck, severing her carotid artery and jugular vein," Ivins wrote in early July. "Then when she hits the ground, he completes the task on the other side of the neck, severing her trachea. . . . I personally would have paid big money to have do[n]e it myself."

Ivins also wrote, "The least someone could do would be to take a sharp ballpoint pin or letter opener and put her eyes out, to complete the task of making her a true mole!" error by the FBI?

"FBI did not analyze anthrax from biodefense lab"


Dan Vergano and Steve Sternberg



The FBI never examined anthrax samples from the 2001 contamination of a biodefense lab that was covered up by their lead suspect in the anthrax mailings — a decision that one of the FBI's leading anthrax experts calls "weird."

Researcher Bruce Ivins in 2002 confessed to cleaning up the office contamination without telling anyone during an Army investigation at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md. Ivins became a suspect in 2005 in the mailings that killed five and sickened 17.

FBI investigators have not yet analyzed the genetic fingerprints of 25 anthrax samples supplied from the lab contamination investigation, says Vahid Majidi of the FBI's Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate.

"They're still in my lab," says Paul Keim, a microbiologist at Northern Arizona University. Keim called the FBI's decision not to examine the contamination samples "weird" given the intensity of investigators' focus on biodefense researchers, which included polygraphs of Army institute researchers.

Keim, until June, retained duplicates of the FBI's repository of 1,070 anthrax samples collected from researchers worldwide after the mailbox attacks. Genetic fingerprints of those repository samples eliminated suspects other than Ivins by 2007, says FBI lab director Chris Hassell.

The investigation into the 2001 anthrax mailings has drawn harsh reviews from critics in recent Senate and House hearings, such as Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who questioned whether one person could have carried out the attacks. The Justice Department publicly named Ivins, 62, as their lead suspect in the attacks in August, days after his suicide.

Ivins' attorney, Paul Kemp, says his client was innocent and suggested many researchers had access to the anthrax identified by genetic fingerprints.

Before landing on the FBI's radar, Ivins emerged as the central figure in the separate investigation of anthrax contamination at Fort Detrick, where he confessed to cleaning up spilled anthrax in his office without telling superiors. "I had no desire to cry wolf," Ivins told an Army investigator at the time. The Army's investigation found samples of the type of anthrax used in the letter attacks on Ivins' desk and elsewhere in his office, according to a report May 9, 2002.

"Why didn't (the FBI) analyze it? One presumes this was pretty relevant evidence," says biodefense analyst Michael Stebbins of the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, D.C., who was not part of the investigation. "It raises questions about systematic errors in the FBI investigation."

Majidi, an FBI scientist involved in the investigation, says the bureau viewed the 2002 contamination investigation as an Army matter. As a result, he says, the FBI never submitted samples from Ivins' office for the detailed genetic analysis that later tied a flask in his laboratory to the anthrax used in the attacks.

"I don't know" why the FBI never analyzed the 2002 anthrax in Ivins' office, says Debbie Weierman of the FBI's Washington Field Office. "Suspicion on him was immense, if you look at this in hindsight."

For Keim, the revelation in August that the FBI had shifted its focus to Ivins cast the omission in a new light. In 2002, he says, "I got the samples and thought, 'What a sloppy place.' But I'm starting to think Bruce was taking anthrax out of his lab and then covering his tracks."

FBI firm on conclusion on anthrax case

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