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Anthrax suspect kills himself ahead of arrest
July 31, 2008 10:22 PM   Subscribe

Breaking anthrax attacks update: A new suspect, a US goverment expert on anthrax, kills himself as he's about to be arrested. Bruce Ivins helped analyze the killer powder sent by mail in 2001 that killed five people and freaked out the US right after 9/11. The govt paid out $5.82 million just last month to former govt scientist Steven Hatfill for wrongly targeting him in the investigation.
posted by CunningLinguist (166 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is an interesting recounting of the probe until recently by Brad Garret, one of the main agents involved.
posted by CunningLinguist at 10:29 PM on July 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


"I was questioned by the feds, and I sung like a canary," Thomas Ivins said, referring to his efforts to describe his brother's personality and tendencies. "He had in his mind that he was omnipotent."

Wow. No love lost between those Ivins brothers, eh?
posted by retronic at 10:32 PM on July 31, 2008


Yeah, I wish they had asked him what he said, exactly.
posted by CunningLinguist at 10:36 PM on July 31, 2008


Still so many loose ends in this case. A now dead suspect only makes this case more baffling. The total absence of any known motive on the part of Ivins is troubling. I would still like to know, among other things, who tried to frame the biowarfare researcher Dr. Ayaad Assaad, if the 10/9/01 postmarked letters sent to Daschle and Leahy were indeed meant to prod them into passing the Patriot Act (as they appear to have been), why these anthrax letters were all written with fake Islamic terrorist messages, and how NYC hospital worker Kathy Nguyen wound up a victim.
posted by ornate insect at 11:03 PM on July 31, 2008 [5 favorites]


In case the LATimes is being as uncooperative for others as it is for me, here's an alternate link. Sad and very weird.

No love lost between those Ivins brothers, eh?
Thanksgiving just got even more awkward, I'm guessing.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:05 PM on July 31, 2008


Anthrax suspect kills himself ahead of arrest

How terribly convenient.
posted by Avenger at 11:12 PM on July 31, 2008 [6 favorites]


In case the LATimes is being as uncooperative for others as it is for me

Yeah, the breaking update is finally broken.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:20 PM on July 31, 2008


I'd also like to point out that if you had gone back in time to October-November 2001 and told everybody that the "Praise Allah" anthrax letters would eventually be traced back to a US Army Research Lab and a top-level US scientist, they would have called you an America-hating conspiracy-nutter.
posted by Avenger at 11:25 PM on July 31, 2008 [41 favorites]


The total absence of any known motive on the part of Ivins is troubling.

It was probably just a big-ass check from Karl Rove & Company.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:38 PM on July 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


Avenger: They still do.
posted by pompomtom at 11:40 PM on July 31, 2008


or longer: that this was done by an American is (and, at the time, was) so unsurprising as to be surprisingly surprising in its unsurprisingness.
posted by pompomtom at 11:41 PM on July 31, 2008


Last time I linked to the LA Times they randomly changed the link to other stories, making me look a right idiot. Grr LA Times.

I'd also like to point out that if you had gone back in time to October-November 2001 and told everybody that the "Praise Allah" anthrax letters would eventually be traced back to a US Army Research Lab and a top-level US scientist, they would have called you an America-hating conspiracy-nutter.

Er, that was pretty much the conclusion I and anyone who I can recall talking to about it leapt to. Though quite often there were colourful additiions such as neo-nazi connections.
posted by Artw at 11:41 PM on July 31, 2008



Er, that was pretty much the conclusion I and anyone who I can recall talking to about it leapt to.


So then, that would make you an America-hating conspiracy-nutter?
posted by tkolar at 11:45 PM on July 31, 2008


Well, I am foreign.
posted by Artw at 11:48 PM on July 31, 2008


I'm trying to get the link fixed. I didn't know the LAT was so fickle.
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:52 PM on July 31, 2008


cl--FYI, the AP has the story up as well.
posted by ornate insect at 11:55 PM on July 31, 2008


From ornate insect's AP link:
After the government's settlement with Hatfill was announced in late June, Ivins started showing signs of strain, the Times said. [...] Ivins was being treated for depression and indicated to a therapist that he was considering suicide. [....] his access to sensitive areas was curtailed [....] Ivins was facing a forced retirement in September.
So the suicide didn't exactly come out of the blue.
posted by hattifattener at 12:15 AM on August 1, 2008


Wake up, sheeple!
posted by zardoz at 12:48 AM on August 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'd also like to point out that if you had gone back in time to October-November 2001 and told everybody that the "Praise Allah" anthrax letters would eventually be traced back to a US Army Research Lab and a top-level US scientist, they would have called you an America-hating conspiracy-nutter.

This is true. It is also true that at the time it was clearly an inside job. The grade and strain of anthrax indicated that it could only have come from a handful of laboratories, and most likely from Fort Detrick. This was no backyard job.

However, knowing this doesn't tell us anything about the motive behind the attacks and Ivin's suicide serves only to deepen the mystery. Labeling Ivins a nut or extremist doesn't serve as an explanation, but only to explain away everything.
posted by outlier at 1:05 AM on August 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


So the suicide didn't exactly come out of the blue.

Well, to be fair, I read about it on the blue, so it kind of did for me.

I'm curious to see what evidence the FBI amassed against him. It could very well be that he was having spousal/family/health/some type of life crisis troubles and the investigation and impending charges sent him over the edge. It could also be that he was guilty in some way. There is also the (very small) possibility that he was killed, either because he knew to much (and/or was being framed) or was not the only one involved.

Personally, I think he had a hand in it. What is laid out by the AP is pretty damning if only because they were developing a vaccine. It's definitely not hard for me to imagine if they were facing fund cuts in some way.

Why not secure that 20+ million dollars by mailing out a few letters containing anthrax? Hell, they'll never catch us. Only a few people will die. They'll have to use us to figure out where the strain came from anyways. They'll believe whatever we tell them. They'll even need our vaccine. It's perfect.

I can certainly see that scenario playing out whether it's from one person or many. I'd still like to see the FBI's evidence. Otherwise, I'm just making conclusions based on a few news articles.

Oh, and what zardoz said. Damned sheeple, always sleeping, never grazing!
posted by robtf3 at 1:09 AM on August 1, 2008


This will be an interesting story to watch. Bruce Ivins doesn't sound, from his credentials, like a Kaczynski type. If orders came from above though, you have to wonder how far the FBI will really go in prosecuting it.
posted by arcanecrowbar at 1:10 AM on August 1, 2008


Suicide, or "suicide"?
posted by orthogonality at 1:52 AM on August 1, 2008


I want to know what motive they have for the guy. It's entirely feasible to me that an innocent person would become stressed and depressed enough to kill himself because the FBI intends to arrest him for something like that. They had already taken away his access to sensitive areas of the lab, so he probably felt like his job was falling apart. Think of the work that goes into getting that position; it had to be a central focus of his life. Then he probably thought everyone was going to look down on him and his family and never believe he didn't do it.

Also, the fact that he would show strain after they exonerated Hatfield makes sense if he's innocent, too. I wish I could find the article I read about it earlier, but it was about how stressed out the biodefense researchers were because the FBI was treating them all like suspects; they were all aware of how specialized their knowledge is, so it made them all nervous. It was undoubtedly some relief to everyone else when Hatfield was the prime suspect, because they could feel a little safer that it wouldn't be pinned on them. When he was no longer the suspect, it's understandable the researchers would get stressed out again. Some people, even if innocent, do not handle that well.

The reasons he gave for unauthorized testing he did for anthrax around the office seemed feasible to me too. Obviously not the best decision, and yeah he could be guilty and lying about, but it doesn't seem outright damning to me.

Of course, he might be guilty. But I'm not convinced yet. I hope we get more information about a motive soon.
posted by Nattie at 2:09 AM on August 1, 2008


It is also true that at the time it was clearly an inside job. The grade and strain of anthrax indicated that it could only have come from a handful of laboratories, and most likely from Fort Detrick. This was no backyard job.

That what a friend who works for the Postal Inspection Service told be back in 2002. She said it was the reason they convinced themselves, sans evidence, that Hatfill HAD to be guilty.

Which makes one wonder, why everyone with any access to an U.S. Anthrax lab wasn't rounded up, sent to Gitmo, and water-boarded to prevent another attack? I've used this argument against rabid Republicans to show them how weak and cowardly their hero Bush really is. Like the feckless Bill Clinton, I would say "Bush treated this terrorist act like a criminal investigation, instead of a war."
posted by three blind mice at 2:44 AM on August 1, 2008 [4 favorites]


It's entirely feasible to me that an innocent person would become stressed and depressed enough to kill himself because the FBI intends to arrest him for something like that. They had already taken away his access to sensitive areas of the lab, so he probably felt like his job was falling apart.

FBI: "We didn't find what we were looking for on your computer, Doctor."

Suspect: "Of course you didn't. I haven't done anything wrong."

FBI: "If we showed all that gay porn we found on your computer to your wife, she might not agree."

An organisation that tortures people for its own amusement will do anything so, yes, it's entirely feasible that an innocent person would become stressed when forced to deal with such criminals.
posted by three blind mice at 2:52 AM on August 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is true. It is also true that at the time it was clearly an inside job. The grade and strain of anthrax indicated that it could only have come from a handful of laboratories, and most likely from Fort Detrick. This was no backyard job.

Ok. I'd like to apologize ahead of time for wearing my Woo-Woo Conspiracy Theory Hat, but here I go.

I'm not sure what kind of TV you were watching in Fall of 2001 (likely news 24/7, like the rest of us) but I distinctly remember a plethora of talking-heads and "experts" (both handwriting and bio-weapon "experts") breathlessly speculating that the anthrax came from a "foreign source" which, of course, in the unspoken thought, meant Saddam Hussein.

The anthrax scare was no small boon to the White House in their plan to invade Iraq (which, if the authors of COBRA II are to be believed, was a plan in full swing on Sept. 12th, with an invasion tentatively planned for spring of 2002!). The anthrax scare gave President Bush an example of the kinds of weapons that Saddam & Co. were supposedly brewing in their mobile WMD-factories. (remember those?)

Richard O. Spertzel, another "expert" who testified before Congress on Iraqi WMD capability, said that "I have believed all along that Iraqi intelligence had their dirty hands on this event. ... I now suspect that Syria made the anthrax product with Iraqi Intelligence assistance. The cooperation included Iraqi scientists assisting the Syrians."

George Tenet didn't openly blame Saddam, but he said that arresting Zawahiri had stopped the attacks, which, frankly, makes even less sense than Spertzel's ideas. Did Tenet really believe that Al-Qaeda had some miraculously high-tech biology labs tucked away in the barren hills of Afghanistan?

I'm not saying that we went to war over the anthrax letters, but it would be a mistake, I think, to not see how those letters set the stage for selling the public on the necessity of a "defensive war" against Saddam. We really were under attack from WMD's, for real this time. And yet now we discover that those letters not only originated from within the US, but from within the Top-Secret echelons of America's most secure military research laboratory.

Of course, it doesn't make tons of sense to conclude that elements within the US Government are behind the attack either, right? I mean, support for the war was close to 100% in the months after 9/11, so why the need to manufacture a real "WMD event" to get people's attention?

Thats a good question. Sadly, the only man who might know the answer is now conveniently dead, and his case will forever remain conveniently closed.
posted by Avenger at 3:18 AM on August 1, 2008 [5 favorites]


I'd also like to point out that if you had gone back in time to October-November 2001 and told everybody that the "Praise Allah" anthrax letters would eventually be traced back to a US Army Research Lab and a top-level US scientist, they would have called you an America-hating conspiracy-nutter.

I'd also like to point out that this sort of remark is why "they" would consider Metafilter a website with a persecution complex, much more than one with a leftward slant. Never mind that I remember everyone in the social circle of my very conservative parents, including 2nd amendment freaks with gunshop businesses, evangelical christians, and dittoheads, thought in 2001 that this was most likely either the work of a government scientist in a lab, or that at least the "turrurists" had bought the anthrax from someone working in a government lab, echoing the conclusion of the media, because of the grade and strain.

Why not debate real people on real issues and not make martyr with a persecution complex straw men about a monolithic "they" as though all of blue collar America are in on one big conspiracy. I mean, are all incredibly dumb. Wait... it can't be both, can you make up your mind which one it is?
posted by no1hatchling at 3:21 AM on August 1, 2008 [4 favorites]


Shit, it stripped out my italics tags... that first paragraph is a quote of the comment by Avenger that currently has 12 favorites.
posted by no1hatchling at 3:22 AM on August 1, 2008


I'd also like to point out that this sort of remark is why "they" would consider Metafilter a website with a persecution complex, much more than one with a leftward slant.

First of all, lets not make this an argument about Metafilter.

Why not debate real people on real issues and not make martyr with a persecution complex straw men about a monolithic "they" as though all of blue collar America are in on one big conspiracy.

Whoa whoa whoa. As I recall, almost everyone was being fed the "foreign source" anthrax story in 2001, not just "blue collar Americans" as you put it. So lets not try to imply any classist bias on my part. I meant "they" in the broadest possible sense, i.e, almost everyone including myself. I probably would have been one of those naysayers.

Also, the "LETS DEBATE REAL ISSUES" feint is, well, just that. It's a feint designed to steer people away from the topic at hand to talk about something more palatable, like farm subsidies or lolcats or whatever.

I'm sorry if my comment offended your parents, their circle of friends and the entire human race, including Red China. I really am. I would like to offer you my own Woo-Woo Conspiracy Hat as a token of friendship and a symbol of my apology.
posted by Avenger at 3:37 AM on August 1, 2008


Avenger, perhaps I shouldn't have called out your particular comment, but it had 12 favorites and reflected an aspect of Metafilter that really bugs me. Which is that mefites, with our fancy degrees and shiny technical toys, seem to be isolated and insulated from the majority of Americans. We demonize them, make fun of them, call them stupid. Sometimes I'm guilty of this... I have a graduate degree, consider myself a moderate-to-liberal independent, and the vast majority of my friends are academics and liberals. And sometimes, in our groupthink, we fall into the tired old pattern of stereotyping and dehumanizing those who think differently than us.

But my upbringing was in a conservative family in a semi-rural area, the majority of my friends were blue collar and similarly religious and conservative, and by the large, they are well meaning, smart people, who often vote Republican but rarely fit the stereotypes. And my experience with the anthrax scares of 2001 was pretty much the opposite of your memory. I didn't mean to cause offense, now I've spoke my piece and I'm moving on to the fast food thread, where I'll easily blend in.
posted by no1hatchling at 3:51 AM on August 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


Also, I'll gladly accept your Woo-Woo Conspiracy Hat as a token of friendship because I think it would probably look awesome in a display case in my living room coffee table.
posted by no1hatchling at 3:56 AM on August 1, 2008


Well. That settles that.

Nothing to see here. Move along folks...
posted by jpburns at 4:02 AM on August 1, 2008


My own Woo-Woo Conspiracy Hat has told me I belong in Slytherin.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 4:05 AM on August 1, 2008 [4 favorites]


Suicide is popular with this administration.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 4:07 AM on August 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


It is also true that at the time it was clearly an inside job.

There are a lot of things that were and are clearly true but are nonetheless denied by the Administration and its apologists.
posted by DU at 4:16 AM on August 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


My immediate assumption on reading this headline was that a member of the band Anthrax had been caught in a kiddie porn sting.
posted by mattholomew at 4:31 AM on August 1, 2008


CASE CLOSED!
posted by matteo at 4:45 AM on August 1, 2008


"Bush treated this terrorist act like a criminal investigation, instead of a war."

well, it's not like the letters were sent to Republicans, you know
posted by matteo at 4:46 AM on August 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


in a semi-rural area, the majority of my friends were blue collar and similarly religious and conservative, and by the large, they are well meaning, smart people, who often vote Republican

If the majority of your friends were blue collar, semi-rural, and were still voting Republican, that means they were voting against their own self-interest. Which makes them idiots. Sorry to have to break it to you.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:47 AM on August 1, 2008 [3 favorites]


the fact that the White House started taking Cipro weeks before the anthrax attacks leads me to believe...well, Avenger, do you have a spare hat?

I can't seem to find how the lawsuits ended?
posted by Challahtronix at 4:54 AM on August 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


that means they were voting against their own self-interest. Which makes them idiots. Sorry to have to break it to you.

so, in your world, any hint of altruism is evidence of an intellectual deficiency?
interesting outlook, that.
posted by quonsar at 5:02 AM on August 1, 2008 [4 favorites]


> If the majority of your friends were blue collar, semi-rural, and were still voting
>? Republican, that means they were voting against their own self-interest. Which
> makes them idiots. Sorry to have to break it to you.

Only monkeys lead lives ruled by self-interest. Persons are often otherwise motivated.
posted by jfuller at 5:10 AM on August 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


If the majority of your friends were blue collar, semi-rural, and were still voting Republican, that means they were voting against their own self-interest. Which makes them idiots. Sorry to have to break it to you.

Civil_Disobedient, this statement is neither as cute or profound as you think it is. I perform actions against my self-interest all the time in daily life, because of morals or ideals that I hold. Does that make me an idiot?
posted by no1hatchling at 5:12 AM on August 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


If it was an inside job, why were they about to indict the guy who actually did it? Wouldn't they find some Muslim patsy to take the fall?

And before you respond, yes, I'm part of the conspiracy too.
posted by mattholomew at 5:30 AM on August 1, 2008


I have no opinion on it being an inside job or not, mainly because I'm profoundly ignorant on the topic. But in general, the "they" that does the setting up of a conspiracy and the "they" that arrests someone don't have to be the same group. And the conspiratorial "they" can set up a front man, or multiple front men, to take the fall. (I.e. make it look like an American scientist made it look like a Muslim, so if they see through the first layer of deception they are stopped by the second.)
posted by DU at 5:37 AM on August 1, 2008


Bush treated this terrorist act like a criminal investigation, instead of a war.

Not at first (emphasis added):
As all Americans know, recent weeks have brought a second wave of terrorist attacks upon our country...Four Americans have died as a result of these acts of terrorism...The Postal Service and the FBI have offered a reward of up to $1 million for information leading to the arrest and the conviction of the anthrax terrorists...We do not yet know who sent the anthrax -- whether it was the same terrorists who committed the attacks on September the 11th, or whether it was the -- other international or domestic terrorists. We do know that anyone who would try to infect other people with anthrax is guilty of an act of terror...I'm proud of our citizens' calm and reasoned response to this ongoing terrorist attack.
It pisses me off that Bush claims that we haven't been attacked since the 9/11 attacks when he said himself that we have. We're supposedly in a Global War on Terror, we were attacked by Weapons of Mass Destruction (the little vial Colin Powell shook at the UN represented anthrax), and he gets a pass.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:49 AM on August 1, 2008


Only monkeys lead lives ruled by self-interest

and since Adam wasn't a monkey like the traitors say but was instead created by the Good Lord out of a bunch of clay, all is good.

Persons are often otherwise motivated

indeed -- the Bush/Cheney administration has been unbelievably generous toward Halliburton, KBR, Chevron, Blackwater, etc

But at least Professor Rice got her oil tanker in exchange!
posted by matteo at 7:00 AM on August 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Jeeze. Quonsar came this close to using 'Republican' and 'alruism' in the same sentence.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:02 AM on August 1, 2008


altruism
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:02 AM on August 1, 2008


Meanwhile, back in October of 2001, Brian Ross of ABC News was reporting with breathless enthusiasm (and quite possibly someone's semen on his breath from the dick-sucking he did to get the information):

And despite continued White House denials, four well-placed and separate sources have told ABC News that initial tests on the anthrax by the US Army at Fort Detrick, Maryland, have detected trace amounts of the chemical additives bentonite and silica.

He then went on to note that bentonite was 'characteristic' of the Iraqi bioweapons program.

A lovely twofold benefit here: getting the PATRIOT Act passed AND giving ammo to the OMGSADDAMZEVUL! crowd.
posted by mephron at 7:11 AM on August 1, 2008


Why do Americans hate their freedom?
posted by dobbs at 7:23 AM on August 1, 2008


so, in your world, any hint of altruism is evidence of an intellectual deficiency?

Altruism towards mulitnational corporations, war profiteers and oil companies? Okay, then.
posted by LionIndex at 7:37 AM on August 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


They didn't use the word "terrorist" in the article even one time. Oh yeah, he's white. Never mind.
posted by Mr_Zero at 7:38 AM on August 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


If you really want to strap on the tinfoil you need to ask what was up with an editor at the National Enquirer (one of the first targets of the letters) renting an apartment to two of the 9/11 hijackers.
posted by ryoshu at 7:44 AM on August 1, 2008 [3 favorites]


I want a woo woo conspiracy hat. I want to wear my woo woo conspiracy hat to a party where we talk about anthrax and seized laptops and we dance. We dance like there's no tomorrow. Because increasingly it seems like that might end up being true. Woo woo!
posted by cashman at 7:46 AM on August 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Making people who vote republican the enemy will certainly help us mend the rift that Bush tore in the country. Anyone who disagrees with this is obviously an idiot, and probably a hillbilly.
posted by garlic at 7:47 AM on August 1, 2008 [3 favorites]


On a related conspiracy-tinged note, here's where I put my conspiracy hat on:

The CIA has recently reported conclusive evidence that Pakistan's ISI (its military intelligence agency) played an active role in recent terrorist incidents in India. The same ISI that helped us funnel arms to Al-Qaeda back when they were on our side against the Soviets in Afghanistan. The same ISI that, as a military intelligence organization, is responsible solely to Pakistan's chief military leader, Musharraf, to whom we've funneled literally billions of untraceable dollars since the start of the War on Terrah. The same India that for some time seemed to get hit by a terrorist attack almost on cue anytime the domestic political pressure on Bush reached a boiling point a few years back, as I recall.

with our fancy degrees and shiny technical toys, seem to be isolated and insulated from the majority of Americans.... But my upbringing was in a conservative family in a semi-rural area, the majority of my friends were blue collar and similarly religious and conservative,

You misunderstand and misrepresent both MeFites and likely your own "blue-collar" roots (assuming you really do have some). My entire immediate family (in the states) have been nothing but blue-collar laborers since our first immediate ancestor (the son of an engineer) migrated to the states as a laborer in the 1860s--and yet, among those ancestors were union workers and organizers, progressive activists like my great great great grand uncle Thomas W. Mizener, who wrote socialist broadsheets, as well as pro-establishment Reagan-conservatives like the grandparents who raised me.

Most people with fancy degrees and technical degrees come from blue-collar backgrounds. That's often why they pursue fancy degrees, in fact: Because they don't come from the kinds of families that don't need them to get ahead.

Political views are not about culture and lifestyle. You can be blue-collar and as left as the day is long, just like Woody Guthrie and Willie Nelson. Anyone with common-sense should know better than to let themselves be divided against their own neighbors and kin based on little more than a bunch of media-perpetuated stereotypes about what being blue-collar means.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:53 AM on August 1, 2008 [6 favorites]


Bruce Ivins is a world class asshole. No conspiracy needed.
posted by stbalbach at 7:59 AM on August 1, 2008


No love lost between those Ivins brothers, eh?

Kind of like the Kaczynski brothers.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:02 AM on August 1, 2008


If it was an inside job, why were they about to indict the guy who actually did it?

I have a theory on this; the kind of mind that believes that killing a couple of Americans with anthrax spoors for the purposes of creating an environment of fear probably don't think of things like legal repercussions, because such minor concerns as law enforcement investigations are something that happens to other people.

And the FBI, not being a part of this particular conspiracy, were just doing their jobs and tracking down every lead in a criminal case, which eventually led to this guy.

I really hope the facts come out on this one, because it really stinks of a much bigger story than a single nut with murder on his mind.
posted by quin at 8:14 AM on August 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Sadly, the only man who might know the answer is now conveniently dead, and his case will forever remain conveniently closed.

There is no conspiracy. It's just coincidence that he happened to die just before anyone could ask questions.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:25 AM on August 1, 2008


As for motive, AP is saying "Authorities were investigating whether Ivins released the anthrax as a way to test his vaccine". I don't understand how that could possibly make sense, but /shrug.

Too bad I let my amerithrax.com registration lapse. I loved that word. Amerithrax.
posted by Nelson at 8:30 AM on August 1, 2008


I'd also like to point out that if you had gone back in time to October-November 2001 and told everybody that the "Praise Allah" anthrax letters would eventually be traced back to a US Army Research Lab and a top-level US scientist, they would have called you an America-hating conspiracy-nutter.

How about December 2, 2001?

posted by caddis at 8:50 AM on August 1, 2008


is was responsible solely to Pakistan's chief military leader, Musharraf /self-edit

On topic, funny how often people from miners to prostitutes decide to kill themselves just before they get a chance to answer any questions in public.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:53 AM on August 1, 2008


"You misunderstand and misrepresent both MeFites and likely your own "blue-collar" roots (assuming you really do have some)...."

Saulgoodman, you'll notice that I don't claim that my family was actually blue-collar, cuz we weren't. But the majority of my friends were, because the church we went to was. And putting aside the fact that fewer of my blue collar friends have achieved a college degree than the white collar ones, I still see today among my friends in academia an us-and-them mentality regarding blue collar people that is also reflected on Metafilter, and it doesn't help anything. Our nation is very divided right now, pushing it further apart only hurts any chance of healing after this next election.

Political views are not about culture and lifestyle. You can be blue-collar and as left as the day is long, just like Woody Guthrie and Willie Nelson. Anyone with common-sense should know better than to let themselves be divided against their own neighbors and kin based on little more than a bunch of media-perpetuated stereotypes about what being blue-collar means.

They should, but don't. Still, I should not have brought up class even though Avenger's original "America-hating conspiracy nutter" reeked in my mind of red-state vs. blue-state bullshit.
posted by no1hatchling at 9:09 AM on August 1, 2008


ah, i see, no1hatchling. it still strikes me there are some ways in which your comments may accidentally work counter to your stated intentions, but i wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:14 AM on August 1, 2008


Our nation is very divided right now, pushing it further apart only hurts any chance of healing after this next election.

Metafilter needs a uniter, not a divider. /salutes_flag
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:15 AM on August 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


miners? I get the DC madam reference, but you lost me on miners.
posted by msalt at 9:15 AM on August 1, 2008


Anthrax Scientist’s Lawyer Asserts His Client’s Innocence
posted by ornate insect at 9:17 AM on August 1, 2008


Which is that mefites, with our fancy degrees and shiny technical toys, seem to be isolated and insulated from the majority of Americans.

That desn't describe me at all. I think MetaFilter might be more diverse than you are giving it credit for.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:18 AM on August 1, 2008


msalt: sago miners (the miners in this case had been questioned by investigators, but as far as i know, never took the stand). and yeah, i admit, i'm seriously testing the limits of the elasticity of relevance here.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:26 AM on August 1, 2008


Anthrax Scientist’s Lawyer Asserts His Client’s Innocence

The comments are gold:

``Also if anyone is still scared of anthrax, recall that a far higher number of people die every year from falling down stairs, so your real worry should be staircases.''

You heard it first from the grey lady: Watch out for terrorists pushing people down flights of stairs.

Still, that the lawyer asserts innocence has to be meaningful, if only because there seems to be little if any motivation to defend a client who cannot be charged posthumously.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:28 AM on August 1, 2008


Do you have stairs in your house?
posted by Nelson at 9:49 AM on August 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


You know, this blue/white collar digression is misplaced. The real class division in this story is the scientists who (the theory goes, whether Hatfill or Ivins or whoever) wanted to scare people straight about the anthrax danger, and the postal workers and hospital staffer who died because the stuff leaked through envelopes. No one at the networks or Capitol Hill died after all, just the guys who handled their mail.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:52 AM on August 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Vital unresolved anthrax questions and ABC News:
During the last week of October, 2001, ABC News, led by Brian Ross, continuously trumpeted the claim as their top news story that government tests conducted on the anthrax -- tests conducted at Ft. Detrick -- revealed that the anthrax sent to Daschele contained the chemical additive known as bentonite. ABC News, including Peter Jennings, repeatedly claimed that the presence of bentonite in the anthrax was compelling evidence that Iraq was responsible for the attacks, since -- as ABC variously claimed -- bentonite "is a trademark of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's biological weapons program" and "only one country, Iraq, has used bentonite to produce biological weapons."

ABC News' claim -- which they said came at first from "three well-placed but separate sources," followed by "four well-placed and separate sources" -- was completely false from the beginning. There never was any bentonite detected in the anthrax (a fact ABC News acknowledged for the first time in 2007 only as a result of my badgering them about this issue). It's critical to note that it isn't the case that preliminary tests really did detect bentonite and then subsequent tests found there was none. No tests ever found or even suggested the presence bentonite. The claim was just concocted from the start. It just never happened.

That means that ABC News' "four well-placed and separate sources" fed them information that was completely false -- false information that created a very significant link in the public mind between the anthrax attacks and Saddam Hussein.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:05 AM on August 1, 2008 [3 favorites]


The smoking gun has a protective order his shrink filed against him, accusing him of "homicidal threats."
posted by CunningLinguist at 10:19 AM on August 1, 2008


Another pesky Army scientist suicide
posted by hortense at 10:33 AM on August 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Atrios joins the tinfoil hat brigade!
posted by ryoshu at 10:36 AM on August 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


Speaking of suicides, Air Force officer in Alaska dies in likely suicide.

His previous 22-month assignment was executive officer to the Air Force chief of staff, Gen. T. Michael "Buzz" Mosely, who resigned in June under pressure in an agency shake-up.

Mosely, the Air Force military chief, and Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne, the agency's civilian head, were held accountable for failing to fully correct an erosion of nuclear-related performance standards. One concern was a cross-country flight in August of a B-52 carrying armed nuclear weapons.

posted by ryoshu at 10:40 AM on August 1, 2008


Biology is deadly work.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:40 AM on August 1, 2008


[ABC claimed that] government tests conducted on the anthrax -- tests conducted at Ft. Detrick -- revealed that the anthrax sent to Daschele contained the chemical additive known as bentonite. ... ABC News' "four well-placed and separate sources" fed them information that was completely false

What are the ethics and practices of the journalists here -- if Ivins was one (or more) of the sources, could and would ABC now admit that?
posted by msalt at 10:45 AM on August 1, 2008


how odd that the protective order wasn't filed until about a week before ivins killed himself. and a quick search of the district court records shows no previous court orders against ivins, despite the original complaints' claims of a long history of sociopathic behavior. if he's got such a long history of threatening and harassing people, why did the subject seemingly only come up for the first time about a week ago?
posted by saulgoodman at 10:51 AM on August 1, 2008


I'm curious about how often the FBI tells a terrorism suspect he's about to be arrested.

FBI: Hey, we're going to arrest you in a week or so.
Suspect: Oh dear, now I'm all depressed.
FBI: No big deal. Just wanted to let you know.
posted by ryoshu at 10:59 AM on August 1, 2008 [3 favorites]


"Y'know, there's a PharmaPlus on the way back to the Field Office, if, if you wanted a ride there, you could hop in with us... just sayin', is all."
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:07 AM on August 1, 2008


Having been tangentially involved with a couple of cases where individuals have ended up being the subjects of Federal investigations and/or prosecutions my immediate reaction when I see something like this has become "I hope the guy was guilty". My experience has been that once someone attracts that kind of attention from the Feds their lives are often ruined whether innocent or guilty.

Also, with cases like this I'm convinced we (the public) can never be certain we know the truth. Was Ivin's the victim/fall-guy for a government conspiracy, was it some scheme on his part to pump up funding for his pet project, was he just a garden variety nut, etc.???? It makes me kind of sad but I've come to feel that if something is big enough to make the national news that I'll never know what the real truth is.
posted by Carbolic at 12:17 PM on August 1, 2008


carbolic--one such example that relates directly to this discussion might be that of UK weapons inspector David Kelly, whose 2003 "suicide" remains potentially problematic.
posted by ornate insect at 12:23 PM on August 1, 2008


One way or another, Blair killed him.
posted by Artw at 12:46 PM on August 1, 2008


Oh, now I see. Thanks to US News for decoding and properly contextualizing this for me. It's now official (so stop all that pointless speculating): The "Anthrax Attacks Mystery" is at an end, because:

"there finally appears to be some resolution to the question of who was behind the mysterious, deadly envelopes."

...as unsatisfying as this end may seem to some, it's time to move on, America. Ivin's suicide clearly makes any further investigation at all redundant. No less an authority than US News has spoken. So be it.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:55 PM on August 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


and even though the US News article saulgoodman quotes ends this way, "Ivins's death may mean that questions about how and why the attack was staged will never be fully answered," it's clear there's nothing the press likes LESS than following through on an unsolved mystery. They would prefer to let the trail go cold, so they can go back to regurgitating official lies, polishing platitudes, sweeping corruption under the rug, and generally being as un-investigative and uncurious as possible.
posted by ornate insect at 1:04 PM on August 1, 2008


exactly ornate insect: it's a black dahlia case now, as far as the press is concerned.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:14 PM on August 1, 2008


Our doubts about Dr Kelly's suicide.
posted by adamvasco at 1:34 PM on August 1, 2008


The story seems to be gelling now that Ivins was a imbalanced individual with a history of homicidal rage whose motive in mailing the anthrax letters was to give himself a chance to test his own anthrax vaccine, and thus, presumably, become a hero. If that sounds like a bit of a stretch to you, especially in terms of a motive, I would have to agree.
posted by ornate insect at 1:39 PM on August 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


Ivins also seems to be a fundamentalist Catholic and we all know that Catholics love them some suicide.
posted by ryoshu at 1:42 PM on August 1, 2008 [1 favorite]


To be fair it’s no stupider than the origin story in the most recent Hulk film.
posted by Artw at 1:44 PM on August 1, 2008


Who was the reporter writing all the articles about Hatfill initially? Basically calling him guilty, saying he was the only one who could've done it? Was that Novak?
posted by inigo2 at 5:25 PM on August 1, 2008


Yeah, it's fascinating that the the very same place that ABC found "four sources" to say the Anthrax was Iraqi now turns out to be the real, actual source.
posted by delmoi at 5:39 PM on August 1, 2008


Who was the reporter writing all the articles about Hatfill initially? Basically calling him guilty, saying he was the only one who could've done it? Was that Novak?

Nicholas Kristof of the NYT. He's generally very good.
posted by msalt at 5:55 PM on August 1, 2008


Answers in anthrax case may have died with suicide
posted by ornate insect at 6:15 PM on August 1, 2008


bentonite "is a trademark of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's biological weapons program"

Shit, I've got a 50 gallon drum of the stuff that I use in my foundry. Does that mean I'm part of Saddam's WMD program?
posted by Tenuki at 6:20 PM on August 1, 2008


Okay, I think there are enough pieces of this puzzle to conjecture as to what happened. The following is my extended theory.

Bruce Ivins is guilty. His motive is reflected in the irrational letter to the editor. This is in regards to a local rabbi speaking with a local imam in Frederick, Maryland. "Rabbi Morris Kosman is entirely correct in summarily rejecting the demands of the Frederick Imam for a "dialogue." By blood and faith, Jews are God's chosen, and have no need for "dialogue" with any gentile. End of "dialogue."

This sounds like someone who conflates evangelical Christianity with a form of Zionism, not uncommon among fundamentalists. I'm not criticizing Zionists here or fundamentalists - this guy is crazy, he has as much in common with the movements he believed in as the Unabomber had with environmentalism. (I also suspect he was a Christian millennarist.)

Ivins used his position with access to anthrax to spread terrorism and make it look like it was anti-Israel/anti-America/9-11 terrorists. Witness one of the notes with the anthrax:

09-11-01 . . . Death to America/Death to Israel/Allah is great.

He took advantage of the 9/11 attacks to launch his own, an extra twist of the knife in the gut to push America to war against the Muslim world. Why anthrax? Beyond his access to it, anthrax had been regularly tossed out as a terrorist weapon and one that Hussein possessed. It also fit up there in the Michael Bay / action movie version of what terrorists do even if its actual difficulties as a weapon of mass destruction are many, including there are straightforward treatments and it is difficult to disperse to infect many people. Still, it is an excellent agent of terror and clearing a building - and killing a few.

The reason why some administration officials had been recommended to take ciprofloxacin before the anthrax attacks was because of the anthrax as weapon meme. Perhaps this meme was being pushed by Ivins in his position of authority. Journalists heard about taking ciprofloxacin from their sources. (As a pharmacologist, the sudden claim of ciprofloxacin as a miracle drug for anthrax was a bit strange. Cipro had been around since the eighties and was about the fourth line therapy for anthrax.)

The administration took hold of the Hussein as the source of anthrax ball and ran with it, the way they ran with any half-baked idea of what Hussein may have been doing.

After Ivins sent out the anthrax, he was further involved as an expert in analyzing the attack. He claimed bentonite was added to point a finger at Hussein. He spread this tidbit of news to others and together, they became the sources for the ABC stories. As his lab reasonably became a potential source of the anthrax, he pointed his finger at Steven Hatfill.

In retrospect, a lot of clues point back to Ivins. Since the anthrax did not have special treatment, his claim that it did (if my theory is correct) pointed back to him. His odd actions of finding anthrax on coworkers desks (and then cleaning it up) was his attempt to point at coworkers.

If this scenario is correct and it was Ivins goal to use the anthrax scare to provoke the war with Iraq, he was the most successful of all terrorists in terms of lives taken.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:14 PM on August 1, 2008 [2 favorites]


Nothing to see here folks! He's dead. We'll never know now. Just move along, please move along.
posted by benzenedream at 10:10 PM on August 1, 2008


The reason why some administration officials had been recommended to take ciprofloxacin before the anthrax attacks was because of the anthrax as weapon meme.

Or they knew anthrax had been stolen. They had the administration on cipro well in advance of the attacks. They know that anthrax stolen by an government employee is probably going to be used against the administration or other public figures. This would mean they were initially lying about the source of the attack which, sadly, makes more sense than believing they were honest.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:46 PM on August 1, 2008


The issue of the administration being on Cipro is not small. This is not like taking tetracycline long term for acne or something. Cipro is an extremely potent antibiotic with tons of side effects and not really appropriate for prophylactic long term therapy, although it is not unknown to use it long term with known infections. Unless there was some very real fear, prophylactic long term use of Cipro is essentially reckless prescribing behavior. Why would they do this unless they knew something, or they were stupid. Well, with this admin, either option is possible.
posted by caddis at 12:59 AM on August 2, 2008


no1hatchling writes "I perform actions against my self-interest all the time in daily life, because of morals or ideals that I hold. Does that make me an idiot?"

Well, if those actions result in your children lacking health and dental care, and receiving a woefully inadequate education, just so that you can ensure that a lesbian dying in a hospital can't embrace her partner one last time, then yes, in my opinion, you'd be an idiot.
posted by orthogonality at 3:51 AM on August 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


so, in your world, any hint of altruism is evidence of an intellectual deficiency?

Second person plural. Their self-interest. Altruism is just collective self-interest on a larger scale. I help you because I know that some day I might need your help.

I perform actions against my self-interest all the time in daily life, because of morals or ideals that I hold. Does that make me an idiot?

Again: second person plural. I highly doubt you routinely act against the self-interest of the various groups you consider yourself a member of. Usually that's the sort of thing that gets you kicked out of said groups.

Making people who vote republican the enemy will certainly help us mend the rift that Bush tore in the country.

The rift was there for a long time before that--it wasn't until Bush's presidency that the idiots felt confident enough to come out from the shadows.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:10 AM on August 2, 2008


Altruism is just collective self-interest on a larger scale. I help you because I know that some day I might need your help.


Wow. It must suck to be you.
posted by caddis at 6:24 AM on August 2, 2008


I've got a 50 gallon drum of the stuff that I use in my foundry. Does that mean I'm part of Saddam's WMD program?

No. It means you're violating his trademark. Lucky for you he's dead.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:33 AM on August 2, 2008


In response to the poster who said Cipro is extremely potent with tons of side effects there are several pharmacological fallacies. Potency is not efficacy. Cipro was not nearly the best in its class (fluoroquinolones) even in 2001. Although the fluoroquinolones are now considered more dangerous than once thought, they were considered pretty much free of major side effects in 2001. The cartilage tears with long term use were hypothetical then, the Qtc interval increase was just becoming known. They would have been considered a safe drug for most people and more convenient than penicillins for anthrax (because they are oral).
What is probably prominent in the decision to use them as anthrax prophylaxis in 2001 is that they were approved specifically for treating anthrax in 2000. Not many drugs were (anthrax being very rare - there was not a huge concern to test and specifically approve drugs for this). Ciprofloxacin had been around since the late 80s - it should not have been considered a mystical wonder drug, other than by those who didn't know much about it and would have asked, oh come on, penicillin or a tetracycline? You can't do better than that? Which may have been the mindset of the politicians who took it.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:10 AM on August 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


One Month After 9/11, McCain Said Anthrax 'May Have Come From Iraq'

it's clear there's nothing the press likes LESS than following through on an unsolved mystery

The Washington Post recently ran a 12-part, Page 1 series on the death of Chandra Levy that they spent a year investigating.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:24 AM on August 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


One Month After 9/11, McCain Said Anthrax 'May Have Come From Iraq'

it's clear there's nothing the press likes LESS than following through on an unsolved mystery

The Washington Post recently ran a 12-part, Page 1 series on the death of Chandra Levy that they spent a year investigating.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:24 AM on August 2, 2008


The Washington Post recently ran a 12-part, Page 1 series on the death of Chandra Levy that they spent a year investigating.

Good for them. Let's hope it sets a new precedent, although I would not hold my breath. You may believe what is called investigative journalism is alive and well, and you may be right, but my own view is that your example is by far the exception and not the rule.

The overwhelming tendency of the press, as I see it, is to remain, at best, on the thin surface of current events; to maintain, that is, the status quo of America's short attention span. Most of what passes for journalism, even in the supposed places that still retain some shred of integrity, is perception management and PR stenography: a distracting froth of lies of omission or just old-fashioned lies--both big and small.
posted by ornate insect at 10:49 AM on August 2, 2008


After suicide, feds consider closing anthrax case

I don't know if anybody is still reading this thread, but if one contrasts the quickness with which this case, in the wake of Ivins death, is being closed, with the near total lack of evidence provided thus far (and presumably if the government had actual evidence against Ivins, they would have provided it by now, but unless I'm missing something all I've seen so far is innuendo and vague suggestion), is truly striking. The whole thing practically screams cover up.
posted by ornate insect at 3:15 PM on August 2, 2008


Okay, I think there are enough pieces of this puzzle to conjecture as to what happened. The following is my extended theory.

Interesting theory, but apparently Ivins didn't have access to powdered anthrax:
Ezzell said the experiments did not involve anthrax in its dried form, the type found in the letter to then-Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) that was so finely ground it could immediately become airborne. Ivins worked with small teams of scientists; their findings had global significance in the field of anthrax studies and were later used by opponents of a mandatory vaccination program instituted by the Pentagon that has been highly controversial.
posted by ryoshu at 7:55 PM on August 2, 2008


Perhaps he didn't suicide, then.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:36 PM on August 2, 2008


The Anthrax Mystery Deepens:

It now remains incumbent on the FBI to reveal what information it had linking Ivins to the attacks. Given the federal government's record on the anthrax investigation, and the national security interests involved, Ivins' death should not be used as an excuse for the case to be closed without a full, public airing.

Kudos to the TIME reporter who wrote these words.
posted by ornate insect at 9:13 AM on August 3, 2008


Glenn Greenwald and Dr. Meryl Nass on Democracy Now.
posted by homunculus at 10:16 AM on August 4, 2008


Biodefense Labs, Bad for Our Health
posted by homunculus at 1:30 PM on August 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


New York Times: Anthrax evidence called mostly circumstantial.
The evidence amassed by F.B.I. investigators against Dr. Bruce E. Ivins, the Army scientist who killed himself last week after learning that he was likely to be charged in the anthrax letter attacks of 2001, was largely circumstantial, and a grand jury in Washington was planning to hear several more weeks of testimony before issuing an indictment, a person who has been briefed on the investigation said on Sunday.
posted by Nelson at 1:42 PM on August 4, 2008


FBI was told to blame Anthrax scare on Al Qaeda by White House officials
posted by homunculus at 12:48 PM on August 5, 2008


Pressure Grows for F.B.I.’s Anthrax Evidence
posted by homunculus at 12:49 PM on August 5, 2008


Is ‘Anthrax Killer’ Bruce Ivins Just The Latest Richard Jewell?
posted by homunculus at 1:25 PM on August 5, 2008


Can someone please develop a web application that does nothing more than dynamically write the word "Arghhhhhh...!!!" to an HTML page, but with continuous updates to append yet another 'h' at the end of the string every millisecond or so, so that I won't have to keep screaming silently in my own head anymore? It's just, a break would be nice. (Maybe there could be an accompanying audio loop of a scream spliced to sustain infinitely, too...?)
posted by saulgoodman at 1:30 PM on August 5, 2008


Of course, the FBI already has a Richard Jewell in the anthrax case: Steven Hatfill, the wrongfully accused Fort Detrick scientist who successfully sued the crap out of the government for linking him to the killings. Now it appears the FBI is eager to dump the case in the lap of a man who is dead.
Dead men don't register lawsuits.

Bruce Ivins: The Safe Choice of Perp.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:04 PM on August 5, 2008


Can you believe this bullshit about Ivin's use of a lyophilizer.

Ivins filed a patent noting that he had used a lyophilizer. Lyophilizers are not exotic equipment, most microbiology labs have one.

Those FBI straws must be getting mighty crumpled.
posted by benzenedream at 12:27 AM on August 6, 2008


I want to move to another planet. This one is infested with assholes.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 6:38 AM on August 6, 2008


(No, not MeFi. The "civilized" world. God, all we do is shoot each other, poison each other, oppress each other, torture each other... and then lie about it. It's enough to turn a Guy into a misanthrope.)
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 6:40 AM on August 6, 2008


Lots of interesting details in the WSJ story this morning (subscription required//worth a trip to a coffee shop or library): Therapist Jean Duley's criminal record,
and details on the DNA evidence tracking the anthrax strain.

Synopsis: Duley is a hard-core alcoholic and/or druggie, based on the fact that she has been arrested several times for DUI though only convicted of it once (at least twice she plead down to charges like reckless driving.)

Cultures from the victim's bodies showed a mix of two strains of anthrax from different US govt. labs. One lab (not Ft. Detrick) was the source of the powdery spores in the Daschle letter. The very rigorous records of these govt. strains, which get transported around, showed that there is only one place that both strains have been: Ivin's lab.
posted by msalt at 11:13 AM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


showed that there is only one place that both strains have been: Ivin's lab.

msalt: Not to be too persnickety, but it's not "Ivins' lab." It's a US military lab based at Fort Detrick, where Ivins' was employed--along with at least 10 other researchers who had access to the same materials (and for all we know, where some kind of security clearance could potentially grant other government researchers not based in that particular lab access to the materials, too--I don't know one way or the other, because no one's exploring that angle, but obviously these materials get moved around, since the materials from that other lab somehow ended up, at least on paper, moving through Fort Detrick).

This should be stated again more clearly, I think: The anthrax didn't "belong to Ivins' lab"--it belonged to the US military, operating a research facility out of Fort Detrick, a lab at which Ivins was employed. To gloss over the nuances of the custody of these materials seems sloppy and irresponsible to me.

And if there was any chance from the outset that Ivins' might have played some role in the attacks, why was Ivins' originally enlisted by the FBI to analyze samples of the anthrax used in the attacks? Why did someone with a "long history of psychotic and violent behavior" continue to enjoy such a high-level of security clearance?

And this crazy, half-assed, completely incredible motive being offered up by officials is just an ungodly mess. Ivins was obsessed with a sorority girl, so he sent poison letters to the publisher of the Sun, Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy (among other prominent Democrats), and a bunch of television news anchors? WTF? That's not the kind of crazy behavior that actual crazy people engage in. It's not even the kind of crazy behavior that sane people faking crazy engage in.

The alleged motive is a pure just-so story, with no plausible connection to reality. Given the obvious and all-too-timely political opportunities created by the attacks, in terms of stifling the dissent of key political adversaries of the political right and further solidifying support for the right's political agenda how can any plausible investigation not explore political extremism as a motivation, even allowing for the possibility of an independent right-wing radical actor, as opposed to any kind of official conspiracy (the ceaseless mantra of radical right wingers in America for the last 50 years or so has been what? Yeah, that all America's problems just coincidentally happen to be the fault of the two groups seemingly targeted in the attacks, Democrats and the Press.) The last major terrorist attack on US soil, excluding 9-11, was the Oklahoma City bombing, which was the work of right-wing extremists. And yet, there's apparently been no consideration at all on the part of the official investigation into possible political motivations?

This looks to me like just another sick joke, from a government that now seems completely convinced at all levels that the citizens it serves are nothing more than a bunch of clowns.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:34 PM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well, I'm not arguing with you, or anybody, just passing on some interesting facts. Everyone including the FBI agrees that 10 other people have access to that lab, though the WSJ implied that Ivins ran the lab.

The story added two crucial details IMHO: the source of the refined, powdery anthrax in the Daschle letter, which Greenwald among others has pointed out was not made at Ft. Detrick; and the fact that two specific strains of Ames anthrax were found in the victims' bodies, and -- how about if I say -- the lab where Ivins worked and 10 others had access was the only place on earth that the powdery strain and the other strain found have both been.

I haven't seen anyone claim the sorority thing is MOTIVE -- but it does apparently place Ivins in New Jersey, near where many of the letters were mailed. I think one was mailed in Florida though.
posted by msalt at 12:51 PM on August 6, 2008


msalt: Let's also not forget that these are bacteria, not plutonium. Once you get a tiny sample, you can grow more off the record with no paper trail. The perpetrator(s) must have had access to both strains at some point in time, but not necessarily at the same time or place.
posted by benzenedream at 12:52 PM on August 6, 2008


True. I'm no expert in DNA analysis, but apparently the technique here is looking for very minute differences is strains, even one base pair. At a certain point, mutation will allow strains to be distinguished, but I have no idea what that point is. The WSJ mentioned that some kind of analysis showed that the strains used had been cultivated within the two years preceding the 2001 attacks.

Also interesting: this DNA analysis is apparently what convinced the FBI that Hatfill was innocent. He was not among the 10 with access to Ivins' lab, and the two samples didn't arrive in the lab until after Hatfill left the facility, or something like that.
posted by msalt at 12:58 PM on August 6, 2008


Well, I'm not arguing with you, or anybody, just passing on some interesting facts.

msalt: Didn't mean to suggest we had any real disagreement. I just thought it bore pointing out how often the phrase "Ivins' lab" is being used all over the place in the reporting and discussion about this story, and how that potentially colors the perception around the DOJ's case. The bigger point being completely overlooked in all this is that, even if Ivins' was somehow shown to be solely responsible for the attacks (which to me is far from a closed case, regardless of its official status), that would mean there was a massive security breach at a US military biological weapons production facility under the watch of the Bush administration. Yet another massive national defense and "homeland security" fail from the most solidly Republican-dominated administration in history.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:07 PM on August 6, 2008


Holy crap, now it's even turning out that it was an FBI agent who first suggested that Jean Duley file the court order for a restraining order against Ivins. And all this close cooperation with the Ivins' investigation just happened to come something like three months after Duley was charged with DUI (after multiple prior DUI convictions), an offense for which she received only a suspended sentence and civil fine? I'd love to know how she managed to get a suspended sentence.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:39 PM on August 6, 2008


Depending on how this stuff holds up to closer scrutiny (I've started looking over some of the newly released documents, but there's a lot to sort through), some of the DOJ's newly released documents (which can be found on their own site here) might change the picture considerably.

The take home message hitting the press is that all the anthrax samples used were found to trace back to a particular strain of spores over which Ivins' personally had sole custody. And Ivins apparently also had unfettered and unsupervised access to all the lab equipment he'd need to make weaponized spores, too.

That seems like a pretty crappy security protocol to me, letting a single civilian scientist working on a US military base have unfettered and unsupervised access to dangerous biological weapons making equipment and materials, but that's apparently how the FBI has concluded this went down (assuming no elaborate cover-up or other shenanigans). And there's apparently nothing unusual about such a loose security arrangement. Makes me feel safe as all hell.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:30 PM on August 6, 2008


The FBI released the search warrant evidence.

Most damning fact to my eye -- "searches of Dr. Ivins’s home in Frederick, Md., turned up 'hundreds' of similar letters that had not yet been sent to media outlets and members of Congress". That's the only thing like a smoking gun that I see.

Also: - Ivins sent an email days before the attacks warning that Osama bin Laden’s “terrorists for sure have anthrax and sarin gas” and have “just decreed death to all Jews and all Americans”
-- the anthrax letters were sent from a mailbox 100 yards from the headquarters of the sorority Ivins was obsessed with (HQ being what Greenwald apparently is calling "a storage closet")
-- motive for Daschle and Leahy is that they were pro-choice Catholics. Mrs. Ivins was the county Right to Life chairperson.
-- Ivins couldn't explain late night work at the lab right before the mailings
-- He described his own “incredible paranoid, delusional thoughts at times”
-- He was the "sole custodian as microbiologist of the lab", though others had access. So apparently it WAS "his" lab.
posted by msalt at 2:37 PM on August 6, 2008


Beginning in mid-August 200 1 ; however, there was a noticeable spike in Dr. Ivins's evening access to the B3 hot, Suite.

One oddity that a TPM reader pointed out: Affadavit 07-524-M-01 indicates that the increase in "suspicious late night activity" that's such a key part of the case the DOJ's making actually begins in mid-August and peaks around September 1st, prior to the 9/11 attacks.

Unless the doctor somehow had advance warning of the attacks (that is, unless he had better threat assessment intelligence than the Bush administration), the DOJ's argument that Ivins' was opportunistically using the 9/11 attacks to launch his own attacks (for whatever crazy-person reasons related to his obsession with a sorority he might have had) seems at least a little strained.

-- motive for Daschle and Leahy is that they were pro-choice Catholics. Mrs. Ivins was the county Right to Life chairperson.
-- Ivins couldn't explain late night work at the lab right before the mailings
-- He described his own “incredible paranoid, delusional thoughts at times”
-- He was the "sole custodian as microbiologist of the lab", though others had access. So apparently it WAS "his" lab.


To address these specific points:
1) So we were attacked by a conservative right-wing extremist, is basically the conclusion.
2) See above.
3) Maybe something to this. But maybe not. What's the hard evidence corroborating this claim? Is there anything more solid than a statement on a piece of paper, in other words?
4) As mentioned up-thread, this seems to be the crux of the DOJ's case. But still, it leaves me slapping myself in the forehead and asking, can that possibly be the usual way of doing business with a civilian scientist conducting extremely sensitive and high-risk biological weapons research at a secured military facility? If that's true, we've got a serious problem.
posted by saulgoodman at 3:19 PM on August 6, 2008


I really recommend the link saulgoodman provided. I only read the first affidavit but there is tons of fascinating stuff in there. Dude was batshitinsane. There are 3 nursery rhymes HE wrote about how crazy he was.

P. 15 of first affidavit has motive:
"Beginning shortly after the first Gulf War and through 2001, USAMRID and Dr. Ivins was the focus of public criticism concerning their introduction of a squalene adjuvant (or additive) to the AVA anthrax vaccine, which was blamed for the Gulf War Syndrome. ... The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had suspended further production at Bioport, and the U.S. government, specifically the Department of Defense, was running out of approved lots of the vaccine. ...In the weeks immediately prior to the attacks, Dr. Ivins became aware that an investigative journalist who worked for NBC News had submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests on USAMRlD seeking detailed information fiom Dr. Ivins's laboratory notebooks as they related to the AVA vaccine and the use of adjuvants. On August 28,2001, Dr. Ivins appeared angry about the request providing the following response in an e-mail: 'Tell Matsurnoto to kiss my ass. We've got better things to do than shine his shoes and pee on command. He's gotten everything from me he will get.'

"In early 2002, shortly after the anthrax letter attacks, the FDA re-approved the AVA vaccine for human use, production at Bioport resumed, and anthrax research at USAMRIID continued without interruption.... Dr. Ivins thereafter received the highest honor given to Defense Department civilians at a Pentagon ceremony on March 14, 2003 for his work in 'getting the anthrax vaccine back into production.'"
posted by msalt at 3:38 PM on August 6, 2008


So Ivins really was batshitinsane and the facts really do point toward him being the culprit?

Colour me surprised. This must be the first time this Administration has told the truth.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:55 PM on August 6, 2008


So Ivins really was batshitinsane and the facts really do point toward him being the culprit?

Colour me surprised.


Don't go letting those cheeks get all flushed just yet, FFF.

There really doesn't seem to be much more than hearsay and circumstantial evidence in the documents (lots of statements made by various parties not under oath in a courtroom), but none of it so far amounts to any kind of case that would even come close to standing up in court. But then, fortunately for the authorities, the substance of most of the more attention-grabbing (and slippery) claims about Ivins' personal character will probably never be put to any rigorous scrutiny.

And I'm sure nobody's going to bother pushing for an investigation of just how it is that a guy like Ivins could come to have such wide latitude that, even when he was purportedly known to have a potentially unstable personality, he could come and go at will and otherwise use every resource available within a high-security biological weapons research laboratory on a US military base to create large volumes of weaponized anthrax in his spare time. And of course, there's nothing at all too-coincidental or odd about the fact that Ivins' was supposedly working all those suspiciously late hours to produce the anthrax roughly a month before the 9/11 attacks ever happened.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:19 PM on August 6, 2008


Oh--and how the DOJ account assumes Ivins was able to transport the weaponized anthrax he produced in the lab on and off the base at his leisure without ever being caught in a security check or arousing anyone's suspicions? Nothing implausible, or at the very least, extremely disconcerting about that either.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:47 PM on August 6, 2008


One of Ivins' former colleagues, another national expert on anthrax, examines and challenges the DOJ case against Ivins (which she doesn't buy, like many of his other colleagues) here on her blog.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:25 PM on August 6, 2008


Msalt -- the line in the NYT story about "hundreds of similar letters" seems to have disappeared (unless I'm somehow missing it now.) I saw the same line when I first read the article and thought that it couldn't possibly be correct because, if the FBI had "hundreds" of letters in Ivins' house that were "similar" to the actual anthrax letters (e.g., handwriting, language, etc.), then they would have published them.
posted by Mid at 8:29 PM on August 6, 2008


Good catch, Mid. A Google search found an online comment saying that the FBI press conference on C-Span mentioned the unsent letters.

I do hope there's a big open hearing on all this stuff. The next most damning piece of evidence was Ivins allegedly providing a false sample for testing, and fingering another Ft. Detrick scientist (Hatfill?) After a couple years they went back with an armed agent and seized his flask of anthrax, which testing matched to the attacks. They say that Ivins' response was 'I knew that, but it wasn't me."
posted by msalt at 10:01 PM on August 6, 2008


they went back with an armed agent and seized his flask of anthrax,

Here's a little more about that from TPM (conspiratorial emphasis is my own):
"The feds were suspicious enough in April 2004 to send an FBI agent back to the military lab in Fort Detrick to seize the flask of anthrax, known as "RMR-1029." The flask was sealed with evidence tape and carried out by FBI contractors.

Nine months later, on March 31, 2005, the FBI confronted Ivins with their belief that he had not given them the sample they asked for.

"Dr. Ivins was adamant in his response that there had been no omission from his [REDACTED] submission, and he insisted that he had provided RMR-1029 to the FBI in his second submission samples in April 2002," according to the affidavit.

Even after that conversation, it took more than two years until they sought a search warrant for Ivins' home. "
(*Bonus points if you can spot any potential gaps in the chain of accountability or any possible avenues for further investigation in the seizure of the materials as described.)

Also notable from same:
"It was a flask that was "created and solely maintained" by Dr. Bruce Ivins, the key suspect who killed himself last week. Others at the lab also had access to the flask, officials said. "
posted by saulgoodman at 10:18 PM on August 6, 2008


Why does this case give me the same feeling as fbi spy Hanson? Was Ivins involved with opus-dei as was Hanson? same social circle as Scalia and the crowd clamoring to get in the congregation of the faithful
posted by hortense at 11:04 PM on August 6, 2008


There's more detail in the first affidavit about the flask seizure. The agent actually secured it in a double-locked safe in Ivins' lab until it could be securely transferred.

I think Glenn Greenwald and some others are just looking for any reason to attack the FBI's handling; instead of just looking at the evidence he's pretty much arguing with it. EG compare "others at the lab also had access" with "it took more than two years to get a search warrant for Ivins' house." The FBI said it took that long to rule out the other 10 who had access, which sounds pretty reasonable, esp. after the Hatfill fiasco.
posted by msalt at 11:04 PM on August 6, 2008


The agent actually secured it in a double-locked safe in Ivins' lab until it could be securely transferred.

Maybe so, msalt, but when it was transferred, the material was apparently at least briefly put in the custody of private contractors working on behalf of the FBI. I point that out not just to be conspiratorial, but because it's a legitimate point a defense might raise in court and that therefore merits further investigation. Which firm did the FBI employ do carry out this transfer? Could there have been any opportunity for evidence tampering at that point in the chain of custody, leading to the lab results that reportedly aroused the FBI's suspicions that Ivins wasn't playing straight with them? It's not as though there haven't been previous examples in recent history of certain interests within the current administration using private contractors to carry out questionable actions on their behalf as a bulwark against potential legal liability. Not to mention it raises reasonable concerns that, yet again, sensitive biological weapons-making materials may have been allowed to pass unsupervised out of the custody of official US government hands. Maybe there were adequate security controls in place, maybe not. Without further investigation or new information, who knows?

Glenn Greenwald and some others are just looking for any reason to attack the FBI's handling

I think you and many others are just looking for a way to feel comfortable and safe in light of the DOJ investigation, because accepting the alternative (that its a cover-up complete with government thugs killing a potential witness, and that our political system has gradually begun to transform into a Saudi Arabian-style thugocracy, in which the state uses the constant threat of terrorism as a plausible-sounding political rationale to expand its policing powers to serve what are, ultimately, the narrow economic interests of a smaller and smaller ruling elite) requires an acceptance of a reality that may not for many people be compatible with a state of psychological well-being.

This is not a case that would have held up in a court of law by the account of experts in the field, nor does it meet the basic legal standard of providing anything even resembling a coherent motive for the crimes Ivins allegedly committed.

And one more incredibly telling detail: Another fact that recently came to light is that Ivins was a registered Democrat, so the vague insinuations that he may have been motivated to target congressional Democrats because he held radical anti-abortion views is just another insultingly stupid just-so story like every other possible motive that's been offered in this case so far. If you can honestly step back, calmly evaluate all the facts and circumstances in this case (and the broader context of the DOJ's increasing politicization and near-total disregard for the constitution and rule of law) and still come away with the conclusion that the DOJ is being an honest actor in its rush to declare this case closed, I'd really, really like to play a game of high stakes poker with you someday. I'll even bring my deck of nudie cards.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:25 AM on August 7, 2008


In some new reporting on the story from NPR:
Officials also said Ivins did a great deal of mailing under pseudonyms and from various cities other than his hometown of Frederick. Much of that letter traffic involved anti-abortion or Right to Life activities, they said. Ivins' lawyer, Paul Kemp, told NPR that attributing a new motive to Ivins was hogwash. He says the FBI is just floating a new theory and can't prove that Ivins was so passionate about his anti-abortion beliefs.
Well, gee. It sure wouldn't be easy to manufacture evidence to support all kinds of bizarre claims about Ivins' far-out political views in a scenario like the one this statement posits. How odd that unlike so many other passionate anti-abortion activists who don't also happen to be registered Democrats, Ivins felt the need to go about conducting seemingly all of his political activism in ways that really can't be corroborated apart from the DOJ investigation, in ways that left behind only circumstantial evidence.

Also, it turns out that like seemingly all the other supposedly damning claims made in the case so far, the early reports about the envelopes used in the attacks only being sold at the same post office Ivins used? Turns out that's not so much true either.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:01 PM on August 7, 2008


I think you and many others are just looking for a way to feel comfortable and safe in light of the DOJ investigation, because accepting considering the worst-case alternative (that its a cover-up complete with government thugs killing a potential witness, and that our political system has gradually begun to transform into a Saudi Arabian-style thugocracy, in which the state uses the constant threat of terrorism as a plausible-sounding political rationale to expand its policing powers to serve what are, ultimately, the narrow economic interests of a smaller and smaller ruling elite) requires an acceptance of a reality that may not for many people be compatible with a state of psychological well-being.

This earlier comment of mine should have been tempered a bit, because of course, it's also quite possible the only attempted cover-up here is of the fact the FBI just hasn't made any real progress on this case ten years later. And I'm sure they're under a lot of pressure from some quarters to persuade the public that the case is closed so that it can't yield any more scandal-mill grist that might further damage the Republican party come election time. But it's the more deeply troubling possibilities that feed into the all-too-reasonable but dangerous impulse to accept the first superficially plausible seeming explanation that officials offer in a case like this.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:27 AM on August 8, 2008


Wall Street Journal ain't buying the Ivins story.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:23 AM on August 8, 2008


Ivins' Strain Of Anthrax Was Not So Rare After All
posted by homunculus at 5:24 PM on August 8, 2008


Details of anthrax DNA analysis from Science Magazine via slashdot

Ivins avoided the long lie-detector test because he took (and presumably passed) an early short one
posted by msalt at 1:01 PM on August 13, 2008


By the way, my second link there is from the Wall Street Journal. It isn't buying or refusing to buy anything, just reporting the facts as they see them. FFF's link above is an Op-Ed column the Journal ran, not reporting. This is another recent WSJ op-ed which, while not taking a position on whether the FBI is right, explores how disturbing it is is if they are.
posted by msalt at 2:55 PM on August 13, 2008


The Senate Judiciary Committee will call FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III to appear at an oversight hearing Sept. 17, when he is likely to be asked about the strength of the government's case against Ivins.
A spokeswoman for Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), a vocal FBI critic, said he would demand more information about how authorities narrowed their search. - WP
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:23 AM on August 14, 2008


I read somewhere that full hearings are planned, which is great. Don't remember where, though.
posted by msalt at 9:43 AM on August 14, 2008


FBI Appears To Change Theory In Anthrax Case
posted by homunculus at 1:33 PM on August 14, 2008


I don't understand why it's so widely seen as a flaw in the FBI's case that they can't document that Ivins was in New Jersey to mail the letters. Wouldn't we expect someone committing this crime to hide what they are doing? Not that hard to pay cash for gas and a burger.

How many people remember and can identify someone they saw mail a letter at some random time? "Did you see a middle aged man from a different state mail a letter on October 17th last year? What was his name?"

Granted, the way they are throwing theories out looks a bit slapdash.
posted by msalt at 1:48 PM on August 14, 2008


Heh. The FBI seems to approach investigations like a Creationist approaches science: make the facts fit the theory.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:50 PM on August 14, 2008


FBI Agrees To Release More Details From Anthrax Probe, Backpeddles On Key Elements
posted by homunculus at 3:19 PM on August 18, 2008


Here are the details.

No real substantive criticism of their methods, just some critics saying "maybe but we need more time, more research."
posted by msalt at 10:51 PM on August 18, 2008


Tomdispatch - Six Questions about the Anthrax Case; Double Standards in the Global War on Terror.
posted by adamvasco at 12:30 AM on August 19, 2008


more doubts
posted by five fresh fish at 6:37 PM on August 19, 2008


more doubts

Meh. Someone with no apparent qualifications posted a comment on Democratic Underground with sarcastic denials of their own straw man interpretations of the FBI's case. Literally, most of the rebuttals consist of three words: "Well, um, no."
posted by msalt at 7:09 PM on August 19, 2008


I thought it was a nice summary of the holes in the case. Enough unanswered questions and raw assumptions that one has to wonder what their case actually is.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:57 PM on August 19, 2008


nice link fff
posted by caddis at 8:51 PM on August 19, 2008


The first public interviews with the scientists involved in tracing the anthrax.
"The scientists say they are confident the F.B.I. has identified the source of the anthrax, a flask in the custody of Bruce E. Ivins, whom the F.B.I. considers to have been the perpetrator of the attacks. But almost a hundred other people were known to have had access to cultures from the flask, and the scientists say they have no opinion as to whether Dr. Ivins, who committed suicide last month, was the culprit. "
posted by msalt at 10:26 AM on August 21, 2008


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