The FBI's accusations against dead scientist Bruce Ivins are full of holes. The case may be closed but it isn't solved
August 11 2008
Case closed. The FBI has found the "Anthrax Killer" – and he acted alone. And now that he's committed suicide, just at the moment the Feds were about to finally snare the diabolical menace who arguably brought utter chaos in days following the September 11 attacks when he'd sent deadly letters to Democratic officials and members of the media, his guilt couldn't be clearer.
Then again, you may have also believed that whole "Mission Accomplished" thing.
The case against Dr Bruce Ivins – the widely-respected bio-terror researcher at the US army's medical research institute of infectious disease in Fort Detrick, Maryland – was revealed by the FBI in a press conference, following his reported suicide the previous week, several ensuing days of bad reporting, laughable evidence-free leaks from anonymous government officials to media outlets happy to repeat them, growing scepticism from experts in the field of bio-terror research, colleagues of Ivins' and anybody who bothered to pay close attention beyond the misleading headlines.
The trouble began to reveal itself on the Friday, the same day Ivins' death was first reported, when experts in the field of bio-terror research noted one simple point: Ivins, the FBI's latest supposed "Anthrax Killer" (they had just settled a lawsuit with their last one, Steven Hatfill, in June, to the tune of $4.6m dollars) had "no access to dry, powdered anthrax" at the Fort Detrick facility.
Furthermore, colleagues of his claimed, had he tried to create any from the liquid version kept at the facility, he'd not have been able to do so without being noticed. Even after the FBI finally released a limited subset of one-sided information on Wednesday, the scepticism from experts and peers has persisted.
In explaining the exceptionally complicated procedure that Ivins would have had to secretly carry out in order to turn the liquid bacteria into the dry, powdered, weaponised version said to have been used in the letters which killed five and injured 21 others, University of Illinois microbiology professor and anthrax researcher Brenda Wilson noted that "People would notice what he was doing. People would be aware of him doing it. I know what people are doing in my lab. Even if he wanted to be sneaky about it, people would know that things were done."
Remember, the lab in question is an extraordinarily high-security facility where the world's deadliest bio-weapons are stored and researched.
The FBI notes, however, that it was Ivins himself who was in charge of the vial of liquid anthrax genetically identified as the one from which the spores used in the attacks had come. They say that he had often returned to the lab after hours during the months preceding the first anthrax attack in mid-September. But a closer look reveals that, oddly enough, Ivins' late-night hours began to spike in August of that same year, well before the 9/11 attacks, when the rest of the world, including even George Bush, was largely oblivious to threats of Muslim extremist-inspired terror – even though it was spelled out for him in an August 6 2001 presidential briefing paper entitled: "Bin Laden determined to attack inside the US".
But still, perhaps it's just a coincidence that both Ivins and Bin Laden had the same thing in mind in August of that year. And that Ivins was unable to adequately explain his night-time presence in the lab during that period as anything more than an escape from problems at home, is seemingly "close enough" for the FBI in building their admittedly wholly circumstantial case. That hundreds of scientists also had access to the same vial of spores also seems of little concern to the federal investigators who said they are "now beginning the process of concluding this investigation".
There is little doubt that Ivins was a troubled man. Though whether he became troubled enough to kill himself before or after the relentless hounding of investigators (who showed photos of anthrax victims to his daughter and declared "your father did this" and fruitlessly offered $2.5m to his son as enticement to turn on his own father) is yet another open question.
Then there's the therapist who treated Ivins for the last six months or so, until being encouraged by the FBI to go to a judge to seek a restraining order against him. But the social worker, Jean Duley, whose embarrassing hand-scrawled statement to the judge, declaring Ivins "homicidal" and "sociopathic" and bent on revenge killings as long as ago as 2000 – and who spelled therapist as "theripist" – has her own problems, including a rap sheet for drunk driving, possession of narcotics paraphernalia, and apparently no job or money for an attorney since she no longer works at the Maryland facility where she supposedly treated Ivins.
Notably lacking in the FBI's case, is corroboration of the deadly threats of revenge killings made by Ivins in group therapy, according to Duley. Nobody else from those sessions has spoken up? And if Ivins was known to have begun his killing spree in 2000, and the FBI knew about it, why was he allowed to continue working in the lab, with his high-security clearance as late as just last month? Why was he allowed to roam free for that matter?
Never mind that. A set of emails, culled from thousands on Ivins' seized computers, presumably sent to folks whose names were redacted (so we'll just have to presume they're real), reveal one particularly damning piece of evidence highlighted in the FBI's case. Ivins wrote, in the middle of a longer note on September 26th, 2001: "I just heard tonight that Bin Laden terrorists for sure have anthrax and sarin gas." And later in the same letter: "Osama Bin Laden has just decreed death to all Jews and all Americans."
That note, the feds say, displays "language similar to the text of the anthrax letters postmarked two weeks later warning 'DEATH TO AMERICA,' 'DEATH TO ISRAEL.'"
What the FBI doesn't note, is that the first anthrax letter, sent to NBC anchor-man Tom Brokaw, was postmarked on September 18, a week before the Ivins email, and read: "THIS IS NEXT ... TAKE PENACILIN [sic] NOW ... DEATH TO AMERICA ... DEATH TO ISRAEL ... ALLAH IS GREAT."
And what the media, by and large, failed to note when reporting the Fed's less-than-convincing squib of evidence, was the first part of Ivins' sentence - the part declaring that Ivins had "just heard tonight" about Bin Laden having deadly biological weapons.
We're already down into the weeds, so we'll have to get to the sorority girls nonsense at another time. Citizen journalists on the internet such as Glenn Greenwald, the folks at Talking Points Memo, Larissa Alexandrovna of at-Largely, Marcy Wheeler of EmptyWheel and even my own blog, have already dispatched the absurd claims from both those "unnamed government sources" presented to us in the American corporate media over the last several days, as well as the FBI's own case.
Sure, Ivins could be the man – the terrorist – who, all by himself, carried out multiple terror attacks on American soil after 9/11 (despite repeated claims that we've had none, made by untold supporters of Bush who argue there have been no such attacks since 9/11) as the FBI has definitively argued. But the actual evidence presented in the case falls far short of proving it. And I'm being kind.
But for most who read only the headlines, the last unsolved terrorist attack has now been sealed up and can be added to the great success of the "war on terror" where "the surge has worked" in Iraq, all is well in Afghanistan and "We're fighting them there so we don't have to fight them over here," cause that's what we've been told by the government and the American corporate media (and I dare you to explain to me the difference between the two.)
Anybody who bothers to look below the headlines, to notice what America has become in the bargain – an outlaw nation of organized anarchy, wholly bereft of the watchdogs in the media, the government and the courts on whom we once we relied upon – in the years since those now-solved anthrax attacks is just a deluded, paranoid, conspiracy nut. Like Ivins.
Try not to notice the report from Associated Press last Thursday, not 24 hours after we were informed the FBI had their man. AP's lede: "The government is still searching for evidence that Bruce Ivins was solely responsible for the 2001 anthrax attacks despite declaring the case solved."