November 18, 2008
Bruce Ivins was a cold-blooded murderer, a deranged psycho-killer, who in the fall of 2001, cooked up a virulent batch of powdered anthrax, drove to Princeton, N.J., and mailed letters loaded with the lethal mix to five news organizations and two U.S. senators.
At least, that’s what the FBI says.
The letters infected 22 people, killing five, including two Maryland postal workers.
The sixth victim of the madness was Ivins himself, a 62-year-old biodefense researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, who committed suicide rather than face charges.
Case closed? Neatly wrapped up? Not so fast.
Married for 33 years — and a father of two — with a 35-year career as a civilian microbiologist at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Ivins, a devout Catholic, worked as a senior research scientist and an expert in animal models of anthrax. In 2003 he received the Army’s Decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service for work on an anthrax vaccine — an assignment the FBI now says provided a motive for the attacks.
Ivins apparently was obsessed with the investigation. According to the FBI, on Sept. 7, 2007, he sent an e-mail to himself, claiming to have figured out who mailed the anthrax letters. “I should have it TOTALLY nailed down within the month,” he wrote. “I should have been a private eye.”
Ivins, who did not name anyone in the e-mail, died on July 29, 2008, at Frederick Memorial Hospital after overdosing on prescription Tylenol with codeine. The FBI says he killed himself. The presence of the drug was determined from a blood sample. No autopsy was ordered.
- A d v e r t i s e m e n t
Before his death, he was under 24-hour police surveillance, which included interrogations about his research and work habits, searches of his home and office, and intense questioning of family members and co-workers. Friends say that the FBI offered Ivins’ son $2.5 million and a sports car to hand over evidence implicating his father in the attacks.
The month before Ivins’ death, the federal government agreed to pay $5.8 million to another former Fort Detrick researcher, Steven Hatfill, for “improperly identifying him as a suspect in the case.”
When he learned the FBI was going to charge him with the crime after clearing Hatfill, Ivins swallowed a bottle of Tylenol.
Rush to judgment
In exclusive interviews with The Examiner, two former directors of the bacteriology division at Fort Detrick challenged the science underlying the case against Ivins. They argue it would have been impossible for Ivins to have produced the powdered anthrax in the contaminated letters in the time frame proposed by the FBI — the two weeks following the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
The BSL-3 (biosafety level 3) suite where Ivins worked at the Institute was composed of a series of laboratories and an office where access was restricted to trained personnel who were required to log in and out.
“Knowing the layout of the BSL-3 suite, the implication that Bruce could have whipped out [anthrax mixture] in a couple of weeks without detection is ridiculous,” says Gerald P. Andrews, director of the bacteriology division and Ivins’ supervisor from 2000 to 2003.
The first anthrax letters were mailed to the New York offices of ABC, NBC and CBS, the New York Post and the National Inquirer in Boca Raton, Fla., on Sept. 18, 2001. The second letters were mailed to Sens. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Oct.
Infectious disease specialist W. Russell Byrne, who preceded Andrews as the division’s director, said he “never believed Ivins’ could have produced the preparations used in the anthrax letters working in the bacteriology division area of Building 1425.”
Departmental policy prohibits Institute employees from speaking with the media. But one researcher, speaking anonymously, told The Examiner: “It would have been impossible for Ivins to have grown, purified and loaded the amount of material in the letters in just six days. It simply could not be done.”
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