The Anthrax Files

Article excerpt

[case not closed]

The FBI claims to have caught the killer. But so much evidence has been neglected or mishandled that many experts still have doubts.

SEVEN YEARS AFTER the anthrax attacks shut down Congress, sowed panic nationwide, killed five, sickened 17, and allowed neocon propagandists to variously blame al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, the FBI claims to have gotten its man. But the official story doesn't fully accord with the facts. Any reasonable assessment of the evidence suggests that the same powerful interests that might have been served by prolonging the investigation would have had a stake in finally bringing it to a tidy conclusion. That doesn't mean that the killer was caught

The acknowledged certainty is that the anthrax letters weren't the work of Islamiste or Iraqis. The attacks were perpetrated by someone with highlevel access to U.S. government supplies of the deadly bacteria. Ground zero of the investigation has long been the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick, Maryland. But the lab had dropped from the headlines until recently, much as the FBI had seemingly allowed its investigation to languish.

The first week of August, the popular press got back in the game, reporting the apparent suicide of USAMRIID scientist Bruce E. Ivins, alleged to be the sole operator behind the anthrax letters. The Associated Press reported that Ivins, who is said to have killed himself on July 29 with an overdose of prescription Tylenol mixed with codeine, was "one of the government's leading scientists researching vaccines and cures for anthrax exposure." According to the AP, he was "brilliant but troubled." His lawyer, Paul Kemp, says that Ivins passed a pair of polygraph tests and that the grand jury investigating the case was weeks from returning an indictment. Yet within days of his death, the bureau announced that it was beginning the shutdown of its "Amerithrax" investigation. "Anthrax case a Wrap," blared the Daily News on Aug. 4.

In April, it was reported that the FBI had been focusing on as many as four suspects. Fox News identified them as a "former deputy commander," presumably in the U.S. Army, a "leading anthrax scientist," and "a microbiologist." The fourth suspect was given no description. Now the bureau is "confident that Dr. Ivins was the only person responsible for these attacks," according to the assurances of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia

The Ivins news came close on the heels of a far quieter announcement on June 27 that the FBI's investigation of the previous top anthrax suspect, Steven Hatffll, also a USAMRIID bioresearcher, ended not with a trial and conviction but with a $5.8 million settlement effectively admitting that the bureau had the wrong guy. Hatflll had been hounded by investigators for three years, his career and reputation ruined.

Ivins was subjected to similar treatment. According to the AP, he complained to friends that agents had "stalked" him and his family. They offered his son $2.5 million and "a sports car of his choice" to rat out his father. They approached his hospitalized daughter to turn evidence on him, plying her at bedside with pictures of the murdered anthrax victims and telling her, "This is what your father did." W. Russell Byrne, Ivins's supervisor at USAMRIID, told the AP that Ivins, 62, was emotionally broken by the FBFs behavior: "One person said he'd sit at his desk and weep."

Francis Boyle, a professor of law at the University of Illinois who drafted the 1989 Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act signed by President George H. W. Bush, advised the FBI in its initial investigation of the anthrax letters. Along with several other American bioweapons experts-among them Jonathan King, professor of molecular biology at MIT, and Barbara Rosenberg, who studied biowarfare with the Federation of American Scientists-Boyle warned early on that the spores issued from inside a U. …