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"A strong hunch, based on a pattern of damning circumstances."
January 4, 2009 9:44 AM   Subscribe

A New York Times investigative report on the case against alleged anthrax terrorist Bruce Ivins: "[U]nless new evidence were to surface, the enormous public investment in the case would appear to have yielded nothing more persuasive than a strong hunch, based on a pattern of damning circumstances, that Dr. Ivins was the perpetrator."

Dr. Ivins committed suicide last summer, before he could be arrested. Despite strong circumstantial evidence (and a psychological profile at least as disturbing as that as the previous suspect, Dr. Steven Hatfill), some scientists aren't convinced Ivins had the time or means to manufacture the anthrax in question.

The case has been a bizarre one from the beginning, involving everything from obsessive Wikipedia editing, stalking allegations on both sides, and questions on the credibility of an addictions counselor who assumed a prominent role in the investigation.
posted by availablelight (84 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
In the court of public opinion, that's usually all you need.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:50 AM on January 4, 2009


For anyone interested in this subject, some of the best writing has been done by Glenn Greenwald at Salon.com and Dr. Meryl Nass (a colleague of Ivins) on her blog.

The anthrax case is a fascinating story.
posted by grounded at 9:56 AM on January 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


If he was the killer, and had really hated Kappa Kappa Gamma that much he probably would have sent some anthrax there. Also the "Sent from a P.O. box 60 feet from a KKΓ office" thing is a bit of a red herring. The office was not a sorority, rather it was just an administrative office.
posted by delmoi at 10:08 AM on January 4, 2009


Thanks, grounded-- the Greenwald series on the case can be found here. Links to Greenwald, Dr. Nass, and other great sources on the controversy published at the time of Ivins' death can be found throughout the August MeFi thread in the second link.
posted by availablelight at 10:13 AM on January 4, 2009


I read that article and found it fascinating. Ivins was definitely off-the-charts freaky. The long-standing fascination with sororities (Ivins admitted to driving to various campuses to visit sorority houses, and on some occasions sneaked in and stole things from them) is really bizarre.
posted by jayder at 11:01 AM on January 4, 2009


The thing that scares me is that I'm sure my life could sound just as weird in the proper context. "ThePinkSuperhero was prone to staying up late, posting to internet message boards on such odd varied topics as the Playboy empire, Hillary Clinton, and child abuse laws. Many of her comments on celebrity gossip blog 'Oh No They Didn't' eschewed traditional English grammar, suggesting a tortured mind."
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:09 AM on January 4, 2009 [15 favorites]


If he was the killer, and had really hated Kappa Kappa Gamma that much he probably would have sent some anthrax there.

That's speculation without any basis in fact.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:12 AM on January 4, 2009


Greenwald's piece is a masterful hit job. He spends graf after graf laying out the criminal record of Duley, as if her unrelated misdeeds have absolutely anything to do with her statements regarding Ivins. As a lawyer, he should know better. Such "evidence" is utterly inadmissible in a criminal case.

He then tries to save himself: None of this is to defend Ivins, nor is to suggest that this constitutes evidence that Duley is lying or is otherwise inaccurate in her claims.
if this is the case, why does Greenwald bring it up?

What we do know is this: Ivins (1) is one of a very, very few people who had access to the bacteria; (2) lived and worked in the single municipality where water used to manufacture the anthrax came from; (3) was probably the number one expert on weaponized anthrax in the US; (4) worked overly long hours at the lab during the very few days when the mailings occured;(5) admitted to conducting a test (against lab regulations and procedure)for anthrax contamination at a co-worker's workstation for no apparent reason; and (6) committed suicide when the feds closed in.

This evidence is circumstantial. Such evidence is enough for a jury to convict under US law. People will have to make up their own minds.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:32 AM on January 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


The OP makes it sound like the article doubts whether Ivins sent the anthrax, and I'm not sure that's a fair summary. More accurately, IMHO, it says

1) There isn't any evidence beyond "damning" circumstantial facts;
2) The five year pursuit of Hatfill instead of Ivins may have made it impossible to prove;
3) Some of the scientific criticisms of the case, such as the November Baltimore Examiner article linked in the OP, have now been disproven -- Ivins DID have the equipment and time, and the anthrax did NOT come from labs in Utah or Ohio.

The most interesting new detail I saw was that tests were able to determine the chemical composition of the water that the spores were grown in, which showed that it was grown in the Fort Detrick area.
posted by msalt at 11:33 AM on January 4, 2009


The thing that scares me is that I'm sure my life could sound just as weird in the proper context.

Yep. As frustrating as the FBI's focus on Hatfill was, it's amazing how powerful the circumstantial evidence against him was -- suspended a month before the attacks for failing a lie detector test, unpublished novel about a covert bioweapons attack, and his apartment contained notes on anthrax dissemination, and cultures of a bacillus used as an anthrax stimulant.
posted by msalt at 11:47 AM on January 4, 2009


That's speculation without any basis in fact.

Perfectly summarizes the case against Ivins.
“I read that e-mail, and I thought, He did it,” the fellow scientist, Nancy Haigwood, said in a recent interview.
[...]
In November 2001, when she got the e-mailed photograph of Dr. Ivins working with anthrax in the laboratory, she noticed that he was not wearing gloves — a safety breach she thought showed an unnerving “hubris.” That fed her hunch that he had sent the deadly letters."
I think Dr. Haigwood needs a refresher course on inductive reasoning.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:47 AM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


The OP makes it sound like the article doubts whether Ivins sent the anthrax, and I'm not sure that's a fair summary.

This wasn't my intention...and I'll agree that I came away from from the NYT piece myself thinking, "Yeah, that's some pretty damning circumstantial evidence." I don't know enough about biotech to judge if the article disproved all of the questions raised in the Baltimore Examiner article from November (which went beyond whether or not he had certain equipment available). I'm looking forward to seeing if any Ivins supporters from the scientific community will weigh in again on the current info. As the article states, "If the F.B.I. is wrong, then a troubled man was hounded to death and the anthrax perpetrator is still at large, as many of Dr. Ivins’s colleagues at Fort Detrick believe. When institute scientists began their own review of the evidence, nervous Army officials ordered the inquiry dropped."

I think he's probably guilty, but I also think it would have been a hell of a trial.
posted by availablelight at 11:55 AM on January 4, 2009


1) There isn't any evidence beyond "damning" circumstantial facts;
It's a pet peeve of mine that people tend to view circumstantial evidence as somehow necessarily weak (not saying that msalt is, though), thanks to decades of cop shows full of defense lawyers sputtering "that evidence is circumstantial!" "Circumstantial" is not synonymous with "weak". It is evidence that requires reasoning by the jury to infer guilt. This is in contrast to direct evidence. If I see you stab someone with a knife, my testimony is direct evidence of your guilt; if I see you walk into a room with a single door containing the victim and no one else, carrying a knife, hear the victim scream "ZOMG, he's is stabbing me!", followed by you walking out with a bloody knife, my testimony to those facts is circumstantial evidence.

The case against Hans Reiser was entirely circumstantial, yet the jury had little trouble convicting him, even without a body being found (Reiser agreed to lead police to the body in return for a sentencing recommendation following the guilty verdict). I've heard it said that most convictions are based on circumstantial evidence.
posted by fatbird at 12:09 PM on January 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


As the article states, "If the F.B.I. is wrong, then a troubled man was hounded to death..."

The facts are that Ivins was hounded and harassed - as were his colleagues and family members -- by federal agents, regardless of his guilt or innocence. These tactics are inexcusable.

Two examples from the Washington Post:

It was around the time that FBI agents showed Ivins' 24-year-old daughter pictures of the victims who had died in the 2001 anthrax attacks and told her, "Your father did this," the scientist said. The agents also offered her twin brother the $2.5 million reward for solving the anthrax case -- and the sports car of his choice.

and:

One day in March, when Ivins was at a Frederick mall with his wife and son, the agents confronted the researcher and said, "You killed a bunch of people." Then they turned to his wife and said, "Do you know he killed people?"

Makes you wonder who the real sociopaths are.
posted by grounded at 12:12 PM on January 4, 2009 [6 favorites]


Makes you wonder who the real sociopaths are.

I'd say it's pretty clear that the real sociopath is the guy who killed a bunch of people, not the people trying to find the guy who killed a bunch of people.
posted by jayder at 12:28 PM on January 4, 2009 [8 favorites]


"That fed her hunch that he had sent the deadly letters."

I think Dr. Haigwood needs a refresher course on inductive reasoning.


-- She knew the guy was extremely weird, with a creepy dark side, based on previous correspondence.
-- He sent out a cheerful e-mail crowing about his importance to the unfolding anthrax investigation.
-- She saw a photo of him disregarding important safety procedures mandatory for any anthrax researcher.

Sounds like enough for a hunch. She herself was reluctant to go to the authorities, since it was just a hunch. A hunch is a suspicion, nothing more. Isn't the fact that it may not be supported by reasoning what makes a hunch a hunch?
posted by jayder at 12:35 PM on January 4, 2009


jayder, can you explain to me -- in either of my examples -- how these agents were 'trying to find the guy who killed a bunch of people'?

Harassment is not a form of investigative work. Neither is lying to a suspect's wife and children and offering them money/cars to change their story.
posted by grounded at 12:40 PM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


People, people, relax. There's room for lots of sociopaths in this thread!
posted by mannequito at 12:44 PM on January 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


You guys do realize that the Baltimore Examiner is a tabloid not known for fact checking or objectivity? It is roughly equivalent to quoting the NY Post. Except that the Examiner is like a third tier Post.
posted by QIbHom at 12:49 PM on January 4, 2009


You guys do realize that the Baltimore Examiner is a tabloid not known for fact checking or objectivity? It is roughly equivalent to quoting the NY Post. Except that the Examiner is like a third tier Post.

That's interesting, and I wasn't aware of that. This particular article didn't seem too pulpy to me at first glance, and most of the scientists raising objections were quoted by name.

The NYT article mentioned that even within Fort Detrick, there continue to be serious doubts about the available evidence. To quote again (for emphasis) from that article,

"If the F.B.I. is wrong, then a troubled man was hounded to death and the anthrax perpetrator is still at large, as many of Dr. Ivins’s colleagues at Fort Detrick believe. When institute scientists began their own review of the evidence, nervous Army officials ordered the inquiry dropped."

I'd be interested in knowing more about what these doubts are based on, since the government case seems relatively strong.
posted by availablelight at 1:00 PM on January 4, 2009


Harassment is not a form of investigative work. Neither is lying to a suspect's wife and children and offering them money/cars to change their story.

Actually, what you call harassment can be a form of investigative work. (I will assume for the sake of argument that what the agents did is "harassment," though I'm not sure I agree.)

Consider that the targets of this harassment were family members of the suspect. Obviously there may be reluctance on the part of families of suspects to cooperate with agents. But agents know they may have valuable information that, if they were to divulge it, would prove the suspect killed the people.

So, to take each example one by one:

[A]gents showed Ivins' 24-year-old daughter pictures of the victims who had died in the 2001 anthrax attacks and told her, "Your father did this" ...

If his daughter is informed of the gravity of the killings and she believes Ivins did it, she may be induced to cooperate with the authorities, and give them information that may seal the case against him. That seems pretty simple.

The agents also offered her twin brother the $2.5 million reward for solving the anthrax case -- and the sports car of his choice.

Offering a reward is pretty basic crime solving technique, isn't it? If people are reluctant to assist the authorities, what's wrong with offering a reward, and in a hugely important case, why does offering a sports car make this somehow suspect? It's just a reward.

[W]hen Ivins was at a Frederick mall with his wife and son, the agents confronted the researcher and said, "You killed a bunch of people." Then they turned to his wife and said, "Do you know he killed people?"

Increasing pressure on the suspect, and his spouse, in the hope that he will break down, or that his spouse will finally turn on him and help authorities, seems pretty fundamental to a high-pressure investigation.
posted by jayder at 1:13 PM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Jaydar, you should probably water-board them just to be sure.

If you were accused of being a killer and the investigators were absolutely convinced you were, I bet they could harass your family, friends and co-workers enough that one or more of them is eventually going to "turn"--your past innocent jokes and running errands alone turn into "he said some weird things" and "I don't know where he was."

Not saying the dude is or isn't guilty, but this kind of constant pressure isn't investigation, it's an agenda.
posted by maxwelton at 1:26 PM on January 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Jaydar, you should probably water-board them just to be sure.

Absolute rubbish, maxwelton. Thankfully, your involvement in this matter is limited to making inane comments that show absolutely no understating of how criminal investigations work.
posted by dhammond at 1:40 PM on January 4, 2009


I recall reading in the NY Times (I think) that the procedures for identifying the specific strain of anthrax came about only after several years and millions of dollars spent by the FBI. One could see how Dr. Ivins might have thought his spores untraceable at the time, because the tests hadn't been invented yet. Without that evidence - that the spores were from his lab, his flask even - he might have escaped prosecution, if not the constant hounding of the feds, because he was quite fastidious in removing any hint of his identity from the rest of the physical evidence, like the envelopes themselves.

He was obviously very technically smart, but he also had a cleverness and a peculiar sense of humor, which his peers probably saw as lighthearted mischief or corny joking-around. He had a big ego and a passion for his work bordering on mania, but this is not uncommon amongst scientists. He was bitter about the fate of the anthrax vaccine he had helped create, but no one apparently suspected that he'd do anything about it. His aggressive and erratic behavior was known only to a few past acquaintances and his therapy group. Most people had no hint of his private obsessions, as we do now, and were convinced that his everyday persona was not just a mask.

In light of all the facts, including his admitted penchant for stalking sororities and late-night drives to deliver gifts, it is fairly simple to imagine him as someone capable of such devious crimes. I imagine Ivins turning on the tv on Sept. 11 and the circuitry of his brain shorting out. The attacks that day were as much of a surprise to him as to any of us, and so his decision to mail the anthrax must have been quite an impulsive one. He lost his already tenuous grip on reality, stayed late at work growing very potent (but not weaponized) anthrax, forged the envelopes, drove to NJ and mailed it to people or entities that he disliked. Then, years later, when the feds finally had the tests to trace the strain to its source and their case against him grew, the booze he used to cope with the pressure wasn't strong enough anymore and so he put himself to sleep. Not exactly rock solid, but plausible, and that's the best we can hope for in this case.
posted by kurtroehl at 2:00 PM on January 4, 2009


> Harassment is not a form of investigative work. Neither is lying to a suspect's wife and children and offering them money/cars to change their story.
Sadly, harassment is a useful technique. How someone reacts to being confronted with the accusation can tell them a lot about the suspect; how someone reacts to their family being confronted with the accusation, too.

On the balance, the sociopath is still the guy who killed a lot of people.
posted by fatbird at 2:04 PM on January 4, 2009


Harassment can't be used to "find" the killer in any sense. It could theoretically be used in order to get people to tell you what you want to hear, but it can't lead you to find someone you're not already targeting.

In other words, if Ivins wasn't the killer. None of that stuff would have lead to finding the actual killer. If Ivins was the killer, then obviously he would already have been found.

Furthermore, the fact that they did all the same stuff to completely different person, who they eventually gave up on indicates that they didn't do much good, and in fact wasted everyone's time.
posted by delmoi at 2:12 PM on January 4, 2009 [6 favorites]


Sadly, harassment is a useful technique. How someone reacts to being confronted with the accusation can tell them a lot about the suspect; how someone reacts to their family being confronted with the accusation, too.

Actually, it can't tell you anything at all. It's just an excuse to engage in evidence free speculation about how people act based on superstition. Whether or not people "Act guilty" depends on what you think acting guilty actually looks like, and there is no scientifically valid definition. None.
posted by delmoi at 2:16 PM on January 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


I like Law and Order too, but you folks really have to stop thinking it's an accurate portrayal of the criminal justice system.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:31 PM on January 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


It may not be pleasant or "nice" to be aggressive in investigating people, but do you expect agents who strongly suspect someone of committing mass murder to be delicate and respectful in how they treat that person or the people who may be protecting him?

This is not akin to a situation where one is extracting questionable information through the use of torture.

The agents (I would guess) were hoping to get solid leads from the family of Ivins, and if it takes inducement with a reward, or by shocking the daughter into realizing how serious her dad's alleged crime is, or increasing the pressure on the wife, I would think it is worth it. I don't see anything the agents are accused of doing that shocks the conscience.
posted by jayder at 2:34 PM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: room for lots of sociopaths
posted by DU at 2:35 PM on January 4, 2009


The agents (I would guess) were hoping to get solid leads from the family of Ivins, and if it takes inducement with a reward, or by shocking the daughter into realizing how serious her dad's alleged crime is, or increasing the pressure on the wife, I would think it is worth it.
posted by jayder at 2:34 PM on January 4


yeah it was especially worth it when they did it to hatfill and proved that he was the anthrax terrorist just some really great police work there
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:40 PM on January 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


Whatever. The guy was clearly nuts, an obvious sociolath, and I find it unbelievable that our fine government allowed him anywher near a bioweapons lab. I mean, the secret life shit would get you disqualified from most classified work to begin with. Or so one would think.

I love the US govt. Incompetent coming and going. Fuck.

These same idiots and whackjobs run the nukes too.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:27 PM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Police do all sorts of weird and manipulative things to people.

At a recent party, the friend designated as the sober person for talking to police, talked to the police. After calmly telling the cops the music would be turned down, the police took his ID back to the car, then came back and declared that there was a warrant for my friend's arrest in Mono County for outstanding driving violations. After my friend called their bluff (he doesn't actually drive, much less in Mono county), they went off in a huff. We eventually determined it was an older cop showing the rookie how to strong arm college kids. Ha.

Police can lie to you, but if you lie to them, it might be a felony. And any response you give can be used against you, regardless of what the cops did to get you to say it. Undercover cops can do drugs with you before selling you a dime bag and hauling your ass to jail. (And get hazard pay for doing so.)

There's a fundamental asymmetry to the relation between the investigator and the suspect, which encourages bad behavior on the part of law enforcement to get the suspect to 'slip.' Torture isn't effective because the 'slips' it produces aren't necessarily the truth, but an attempt to get the torture to stop. Having the FBI tell all your friends and relatives that you killed a bunch of people is certainly harassment, and is nasty enough that one might go to extreme lengths to get the harassment to stop - like admitting to something one didn't do, or perhaps even suicide.
posted by kaibutsu at 4:04 PM on January 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


I work at Fort Detrick. You have to understand that for a while, all we could talk about in our building was whether the FBI could drive us to suicide. We concluded that it could. That does not make us very sympathetic to the FBI, even though we would very much like the anthrax killer to be caught.
posted by acrasis at 4:46 PM on January 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


Whether or not people "Act guilty" depends on what you think acting guilty actually looks like, and there is no scientifically valid definition. None.

I hate to break it to you but criminal investigations aren't scientific theorems that require "provable" definitions. A good number of the comments in this thread betray an utter lack of understanding of due process and the legal system and it's no surprise given the false equivalencies bandied about so readily.
posted by dhammond at 5:12 PM on January 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


jayder: So, to take each example one by one:

Yes, let's. And let's consider for the point of this demonstration that they had the wrong guy and he was in fact innocent. Because that happens sometimes.

If his daughter is informed of the gravity of the killings and she believes Ivins did it, she may be induced to cooperate with the authorities, and give them information that may seal the case against him. That seems pretty simple.

It's also a fantastic way to convince his daughter that he did it, regardless of the truth (which she may not know) and permanently ruin his relationship with her.

Offering a reward is pretty basic crime solving technique, isn't it? If people are reluctant to assist the authorities, what's wrong with offering a reward, and in a hugely important case, why does offering a sports car make this somehow suspect? It's just a reward.


It's also a fantastic way to get an unscrupulous person to make something up to get the reward, in the likely event that they know nothing. Many, many of the falsely imprisoned people that have been exonerated over the years were convicted - often solely - on the basis of their 'confessions' that their cellmates made up to get out of prison.

Increasing pressure on the suspect, and his spouse, in the hope that he will break down, or that his spouse will finally turn on him and help authorities, seems pretty fundamental to a high-pressure investigation.


Of course, if you're wrong, it's probably the end of their marriage, and I suspect most if not all people can be hounded to suicide regardless of innocence or guilt. But who cares, right? You're sure you have the right guy, so might as well dispense with the trial nonsense and just start ruining his life immediately. After all, you could never be wrong.
posted by Mitrovarr at 5:14 PM on January 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


And let's consider for the point of this demonstration that they had the wrong guy and he was in fact innocent. Because that happens sometimes.

Okay, if you're right, I guess this is what the FBI will have to do. They create a warm, supportive, nurturing environment for mass murder suspects and their families. Take very good care of them because if they're wrong we won't want there to be any lingering ill-will.
posted by jayder at 5:31 PM on January 4, 2009


Okay, if you're right, I guess this is what the FBI will have to do. They create a warm, supportive, nurturing environment for mass murder suspects and their families. Take very good care of them because if they're wrong we won't want there to be any lingering ill-will.
posted by jayder at 5:31 PM on January 4


jayder thanks for the endless parade of strawmen that creates a great environment for substantive discussion you are a wonderful addition to mefi because you are so intellectually honest and you never invent false positions for us to hold

god keep posting more please
posted by Optimus Chyme at 5:45 PM on January 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


Optimus:

The idea that law enforcement has to worry about the families of suspects having a damaged relationship with said suspect is absurd. To suggest that they should, is to approach the issue with a child's naivete. This was a nationwide mass murder we are talking about, of course the FBI is not going to walk on eggshells. It's not a straw man argument for me to point that out.
posted by jayder at 6:13 PM on January 4, 2009


I'm fairly sure it is still a strawman. Law enforcement is not limited to the either-or choice of A) water-boarding suspects or B) feeding them ice cream and asking them to talk about which Dr. Who they liked best. The commenters thought that the FBI tactics were too harsh and were liable to get false positives because of that. This seems reasonable given that the FBI wasted 5 years chasing such false positives (and ruined a couple more lives in the process). Note that the commenters were not proposing the strawman option B.
posted by Balna Watya at 6:39 PM on January 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Jayder, I agree you're not a murderer, and so will anyone else we ask. So I'm sure you wouldn't mind if I started calling up all your friends and family and acquaintances and started telling them about all those prostitutes you killed, just to hear them agree you're not a murderer?

Really, the FBI didn't have the evidence they needed to convict anyone (or even find the right person), so they resorted to intimidation tactics to try and get someone to crack.
posted by kaibutsu at 6:42 PM on January 4, 2009


To law and order types, being a suspect is as bad--possibly worse--than being a convicted criminal; they're wasting everyone's time by not copping to the crime. Minor details like possible innocence and such just get in the way.

It's one thing to say "we suspect your husband may have done such and such, can you tell us whether you noticed x" and another to say "we know your husband killed a bunch of people," with all of the baggage that statement would carry with it. To pretend that's good police work is juvenile.
posted by maxwelton at 7:05 PM on January 4, 2009


That's speculation without any basis in fact.

Perfectly summarizes the case against Ivins.


That summarizes most murder cases until the suspect confesses and accepts a plea bargain. Welcome to the real world of criminal justice.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:25 PM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why did Hatfill fill prescriptions for Cipro days prior to each of the two anthrax mailings? It seems likely that Ivins prepared the spores, but he could easily have passed it to Hatfill for mailing - they both lived in Fort Detrick. Just some idle speculation.
posted by metaplectic at 7:54 PM on January 4, 2009


That summarizes most murder cases until the suspect confesses and accepts a plea bargain. Welcome to the real world of criminal justice.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:25 PM on January 4


So what's your point? Secretly everyone (Hatfill) is actually guilty (Hatfill), except on those extra-rare (Hatfill) occasions that they're not?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:00 PM on January 4, 2009


For the people upset by the pressure put on the suspect's family--this is done day after day, in place after place, in case after case. Are we to value the sensibilities of a single person over the collective need for justice for society and the people who were murdered. Would you say that the daughter of a child-killer should not be confronted with evidence of his misdeeds in order to get information to secure a conviction? A gangbanger who has shot a child in a gang shooting? Because you cannot pick and choose. You cannot say that one person's murderer's family should be spared this pain and another's not.

Life is hard. Some people not responsible for something must be pressed very, very hard for justice to be done. Because or society has a deep interest in having a multiple-murderer stopped. You and I have a deep interest in these murders being stopped. For me, this is a local murder. My mail goes through the very post office where those postal workers were killed. I want the person caught.

The problem is that we have a duty to inform the authorities of any information about the crime. We do this for our collective survival. That is why our law mandates that we can be forced to testify in court against criminals. Only the marriage bond is protected from this rule.

For reasons of love or familial bonds, people do not want to help the authorities. However, if they do not, murders do not get solved. Our rule is that justice must be able to press the family members for information.

A killing is a highly karmic event. Ripples of social force extend outward and touch many persons not directly connected to the murder. The effects hurt many people, most of whom hold no moral blame for the crime. That is becase we are connected to one another--we have thrown our lot in with one another.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:11 PM on January 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


I want the person caught.

So do I. But unlike you, apparently, I want the actual criminal apprehended, not the nearest convenient scapegoat. I'd like to see some police work that wasn't the typical lazy, bullying, throwing-money-at-the-problem bullshit, and failing even that, trying to beat a confession of out somebody, anybody.

For the police, finding the actual criminal is secondary. They'll happily settle for a conviction as long as he's the right skin color and they don't have to get hassled for it anymore.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:25 PM on January 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


For the police, finding the actual criminal is secondary. They'll happily settle for a conviction as long as he's the right skin color and they don't have to get hassled for it anymore.

You're wrong. Cops are great people with no concern higher than justice and can be trusted to abuse human beings in a manner that improves the world. Anything that looks like abuse is just standard procedure and suggesting that there is something wrong with that is naive.

Oh wait, sorry, I thought I was Ironmouth. Never mind.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:32 PM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hilariously, you guys are so busy with straw-man battlebots that you don't seem to have noticed that someone who actually works at Fort Detrick is in this thread.

acrasis, do you have any other information or opinions you can share with us? I realize you are likely very constrained in what you can say. How about this question: do you think there is any way the FBI could ever know, at this point, who did this (short of a confession)? In other words, did 5 years barking up the wrong tree make it unlikely this will ever be solved?
posted by msalt at 8:41 PM on January 4, 2009


Ironmouth, pressing harder and harder does less and less good, ultimately becoming worse than useless in the harm and self-deception it causes. Moaning about the children doesn't change anything.
posted by metaplectic at 8:41 PM on January 4, 2009


So what's your point? Secretly everyone (Hatfill) is actually guilty (Hatfill), except on those extra-rare (Hatfill) occasions that they're not.

My point is that there's nothing wrong with this case. This isn't something that is somehow defective. It is a case whose progress was set back by the suicide of the prime suspect, one of a very few people who could have committed the crime. There's no reason to think that the FBI has done anything wrong in its investigation of this particular person. The fact that another person in the past was the prime suspect of another set of prior investigators. The fact that they work for the same agency that the prior investigators is irrelevant. There is more evidence here pointing to this suspect then exists prior to arrest in many of the thousands of other murders we don't read about every day. In many of these cases relatives, friends and co-workers cannot believe that the suspect could have committed the crime. In some of these cases, these people who care for the suspect are right and in some cases they are wrong.

But there is nothing here to say that the authorities were wrong to focus on Ivins.

We do not know if Ivins was guilty. But I see nothing here that says the FBI made an error in pursuing a full investigation of this man. He had opportunity--the rare knowledge and access necessary to carrying out this plan. He lived amongst a small number of people in the community where the weapon was known to have been created. What we don't have is motive. But we do know that such a killing is not the act of a rational man and that Ivins did have mental health issues.

These facts, in my opinion, make Ivins a credible suspect. Even if it turns out that Ivins did not commit the murders, the FBI should have investigated him based on that set of facts. The police do not get the benefit of the hindsight we have here. Their job is to pursue suspects like this.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:57 PM on January 4, 2009


So do I. But unlike you, apparently, I want the actual criminal apprehended, not the nearest convenient scapegoat. I'd like to see some police work that wasn't the typical lazy, bullying, throwing-money-at-the-problem bullshit, and failing even that, trying to beat a confession of out somebody, anybody.

You know nothing of the quality of the work. There is no evidence here indicating that a single person was beaten. Yet you casually throw out these accusations as hyperbole. This is not fair, seeing as it is based on no facts. FBI agents do not beat suspects. Why? Because it doesn't work and it is against the guidelines of the bureau.
Lazy? Hardly. Thousands of dollars and man-hours were expended on this investigation.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:11 PM on January 4, 2009


You're wrong. Cops are great people with no concern higher than justice and can be trusted to abuse human beings in a manner that improves the world.

We know nothing about the individual agents involved here. That is a fact.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:20 PM on January 4, 2009


I think Dr. Haigwood needs a refresher course on inductive reasoning.-

Dr. Haigwood knew the suspect personally. You never met him. Yet you are now stating that she was wrong in believing that this person was responsible. What evidence do you have? None. Has she committed a wrong by expressing her suspicions to the FBI? She's an expert in the field and knows the suspect personally.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:29 PM on January 4, 2009


You know nothing of the quality of the work.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:20 PM on January 4


We know that the agency was convinced Hatfill did it. We know that they did a shit job investigating him. We know that they were so wrong they couldn't even manage to frame him for it. So I'd say we know quite a bit about the quality of the work.

Add that to the long history of failure the FBI has kindly saddled us with and I'd say my conclusions regarding the agency, and of American law enforcement in general, are very justified.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:33 PM on January 4, 2009


We know that they were so wrong they couldn't even manage to frame him for it.

Frame him for it? Is it your belief that it was the deliberate intention of the agents invloved to convict the wrong man for the crime? There has not been a single shread of evidence that it was the deliberate intention of the agents involved to convict the wrong person and let the guilty go free. None. You have no such evidence.

This makes you guilty of the very misconduct you are accusing these agents of engaging in. Except you have no facts to support you accusations you so casually throw out. Can't you see that you are doing the same thing you are accusing them of?
posted by Ironmouth at 9:43 PM on January 4, 2009


Is it your belief that it was the deliberate intention of the agents invloved to convict the wrong man for the crime?

Their intention was to "solve" the crime, that is, put someone in jail for it and move on. The actual guilt or innocence of the person in jail is typically immaterial, as it was in this specific case. Again, their tactics with both Hatfill and Ivins demonstrate that they were interested in forcing a confession and not solving a crime. Even ardent, ardent defenders of the FBI - and lord knows your pager goes off if anyone ever points out the failures of law enforcement - couldn't possibly say with a straight face that this investigation was the FBI's best hour.

You said, quote, that "we know nothing of the quality of the work." But we do. We know they fucked it up from the first day, and that once their shiny new suspect "killed himself" they packed up their little kits and closed the case. How you manage to defend this every time, in every circumstance, regardless of the evidence, is a tribute to your tenacity. Bravo.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:09 PM on January 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I hate to break it to you but criminal investigations aren't scientific theorems that require "provable" definitions.

Of course not. That's why they're so terrible. Look at how many death row inmates are being released with new DNA evidence, for example. I bet a lot of those guys were put away because of "hunches" of the investigators and by amateur hour psychology of the type fatbird advocated.

My point is that there's nothing wrong with this case. This isn't something that is somehow defective. It is a case whose progress was set back by the suicide of the prime suspect

Well, nothing except that he couldn't have possibly mailed the letters, because he didn't have time to drive to the mailboxes, etc. It's one thing to argue for intimidation tactics, but to argue that the case isn't "defective" is a little absurd. The case presented was a joke. Ivins may well have been guilty, or it might have been something else. We'll never know.
posted by delmoi at 1:15 AM on January 5, 2009


Dude liked to sniff cheerleaders panties -- this fact alone makes him a perfect candidate, in a merrily Puritanical (on the surface) country, for the role of crazed killer -- that mythical "lone nut" so often popping up, Forrest Gump-like, at crucial moments of American history. No matter that the equation "stalked sorority girls, hence he had the motive to send weaponized anthrax to Tom Daschle" is quite baffling the public just loves the "crazed killer", the "loner", the kinkier the better.

The case against Ivins makes the one against Wen Ho Lee and Richard Jewell seem watertight -- if half-assed investigations and good old plain innuendo were actual evidence, the FBI would be the greatest investigative body since Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson's retirement. Unfortunately, the FBI in charge of the anthrax case are the same guys who torched the Branch Davidians compound as their then-boss, wiping her ass with Posse Comitatus, deployed actual tanks against American citizens on American soil (well, Texas). But of course the humanitarian Attorney General was worried about the children trapped in there (Judge Reno, ever so motherly, is also the one who so politely removed a small Cuban child from America's premises).

Anyway, if on the one hand a cop's work is obviously not to find out some often metaphysical Truth but instead to simply provide a prosecutor with a winnable case, and if the accused is actually guilty that's a nice bonus, on the other hand one cannot avoid a certain surprise considering the sloppiness of the whole anthrax investigation. Besides commissioning some really expensive, certainly interesting lab work on the physical evidence, the rest of the investigation -- the actual legwork -- is a textbook case of Keystone Kop shenanigans: Osama, no wait it's Iraq, no no it's Zack, no, no, it's Hatfill, wait wait it really was Ivins -- it all makes the Dallas Police Department nonexistentcase against Lee Harvey Oswald (who could only have been convicted by a kangaroo court, had he lived) seem airtight.

Now that the government has de facto convicted, post mortem, Ivins, we'll never know. Unless someone else eventually confesses but I'm not holding my breath.

I still think that two things are fucking funny:

1) If Ivins and/or one of his colleagues is/are indeed guilty, that means that once you factor in Bronze Star recipient and First Gulf War veteran Timothy McVeigh, 100% of recent American Terrorists were, at the moment of their attack, either current or former employees of the Pentagon.

2) Sen. Daschle, Senate Majority Leader, and Sen. Leahy, head of the Senate Judiciary Committee didn't really seem to like the PATRIOT Act that much. Daschle said the one-week timeframe given him by the White House doesn't work. Leahy does have the power to sink the bill in its current form. Justice accuses both of dragging their feet. They receive the anthrax with that crazy "Allah is great" note. The PATRIOT Act passes, the star spangled banner waving all over America. If Ivins really did it, he didn't simply have a hardon for hot sorority girls, he also had a pretty precise idea of how to ram bills through Congress.

Bah. Besides all this, I'd really love to know who and why sent anthrax to that Chilean doctor.
posted by matteo at 3:32 AM on January 5, 2009 [5 favorites]


it all makes the Dallas Police Department nonexistentcase against Lee Harvey Oswald (who could only have been convicted by a kangaroo court, had he lived)

Man, you had me and then you lost me.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:22 AM on January 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


No eyewitnesses, nonexistent chain of custody for the rifle they found, no prints on the rifle, neither tapes nor transcripts (!) of the several interrogations he was subject to after his arrest. Eyewtinesses who saw him elsewhere in the building right after the shots were heard.

All they had was the fact he had once defected to Russia (and he was then happily readmitted back to the US as if nothing had happened, lucky), and a badly doctored photo of Oswald in his backyard holding a rifle and a communist newspaper. That's a textbook example of a very weak case. Ivins they can at least convincingly link to the anthrax used in the attacks. Oswald? Whether or not you believe he did it -- and, if he did it, whether or not he acted alone -- you must acknowledge the case against him was thin as hell, whether for incompetence on the part of the Dallas police or for other reasons.
posted by matteo at 8:36 AM on January 5, 2009


All they had was the fact he had once defected to Russia (and he was then happily readmitted back to the US as if nothing had happened, lucky), and a badly doctored photo of Oswald in his backyard holding a rifle and a communist newspaper.

Twelve people witnessed Lee Harvey Oswald kill Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit.

Helen Markham witnessed the shooting and identified Oswald in a lineup hours later.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:07 AM on January 5, 2009


The actual guilt or innocence of the person in jail is typically immaterial, as it was in this specific case. Again, their tactics with both Hatfill and Ivins demonstrate that they were interested in forcing a confession and not solving a crime.

You do know that you have no actual facts to support your conclusion, right? Explain to me how you aren't doing the exact thing that you are accusing the FBI of doing?
posted by Ironmouth at 9:11 AM on January 5, 2009


You do know that you have no actual facts to support your conclusion, right? Explain to me how you aren't doing the exact thing that you are accusing the FBI of doing?

Well, for one thing, we're not going up to family members of the FBI agents and saying shit like "You know your dad drove an innocent man to suicide!?" We're not advocating throwing anyone in jail. We're just bitching about unprofessionalism.
posted by delmoi at 9:29 AM on January 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


You do know that you have no actual facts to support your conclusion, right?

Fact: the FBI identified Steven Hatfill as a "person of interest."
Fact: the FBI ran over Hatfill's foot with a car.
Fact: the FBI leaked information to the news media regarding Hatfill's personal and professional life, presumably as a show of force.
Fact: Steven Hatfill is not the anthrax mailer.
Conclusion: the FBI had very little interest in real investigation; they presumed that Hatfill was guilty and tried to fit the crime to the suspect instead of the other way around.

Ironmouth, it is well known that you will keep repeating the same lie until your debate opponents grow tired of your games. But no matter how many times you say it, your accusation that I "have no actual facts to support [my] conclusion" is demonstrably wrong.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:05 AM on January 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Twelve people witnessed Lee Harvey Oswald kill Dallas Police Officer J.D. Tippit.

Helen Markham witnessed the shooting and identified Oswald in a lineup hours later.


Egads. You're citing the Warren Commission Report, a marvelous compendium of a non-investigation. You need to dig a little deeper, Ironmouth. Like go to the Warren Commission volumes and see that a WC attorney said Markham was 'utterly unreliable' as she'd made many conflicting and demonstrably untrue statements as well as describing an assailant who did not match Oswald. Your twelve witnesses saw someone (or in some cases, two men) kill Tippit but perhaps not Oswald -- some of them couldn't identify him and others were shown pictures of Oswald before going in to the line-up. But as everyone knows, eyewitnesses are often unreliable. However, the physical evidence isn't much better here -- the cartridges allegedly found at the scene and presented to WC witnesses did not appear to match those placed into evidence by Dallas PD.

You're a good student of the official story, Ironmouth. I'm sure you believed it was Hatfill when they said it was Hatfill and now you'll believe it was Ivins because they say it was Ivins. I'm sure you also thought Richard Jewell was the Atlanta Olympics bomber.
posted by grounded at 10:11 AM on January 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ironmouth, it is well known that you will keep repeating the same lie until your debate opponents grow tired of your games.

The fact that I disagree with you does not mean I am lying. I am certain upon reflection that you will agree with me, that you didn't mean to accuse me of lying.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:31 AM on January 5, 2009


Well, for one thing, we're not going up to family members of the FBI agents and saying shit like "You know your dad drove an innocent man to suicide!?"

That does not answer the question of how your fact-free assertion that the FBI agents in the case sought to "frame" Ivins and or Hatfill is any better than the behavior that you are accusing them of engaging in.

You're a good student of the official story, Ironmouth. I'm sure you believed it was Hatfill when they said it was Hatfill and now you'll believe it was Ivins because they say it was Ivins. I'm sure you also thought Richard Jewell was the Atlanta Olympics bomber.

You have no idea what I thought of any of those cases. Why must you engage in straw man attacks regarding what I believed about anything? Why can you not stick to "the issues, topics, and facts at hand."

Frankly, I had no opinion of Hatfill's guilt or innocence. I did not follow the case, and I did not form an opinion. I know better than to do that because I am fully aware of my ignorance of the case against him. Did the FBI err in focusing on him? They seem to think so. Nor do I have an opinion of whether Ivins is guilty or not. I do think that the evidence involved as laid out in the article is enough to justify the FBI's investigation of the man. When people asked me if OJ was guilty I always said the same thing--I don't know if he was guilty or not and that the jury was far more informed than I was. I cannot make the call whether or not these people are guilty and neither can you, because we don't know all the facts in the case. I do think that the facts presented in the case, as I detailed above, indicate that the FBI had good reason to investigate Ivins.

Is it your belief that the FBI did not have good reason to investigate Ivins? If so, what is the basis for your belief? I would actually like to debate this question, but no one else wants to. I've also wanted to discuss whether or not it was proper for the FBI to put pressure on the family members of Dr. Ivins in the way they did. I believe it was proper. However, I think that an excellent good-faith argument can be made that such pressure should not be applied. Yet you don't debate me on the subject, and instead engage in personal attacks that have nothing to do with the question at hand.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:48 AM on January 5, 2009


Did the FBI err in focusing on him? They seem to think so.

Why, then, did Hatfill feel the need to file a lawsuit against them? It seems pretty well understood by anyone following this, that the FBI attempted to connect Hatfill with the anthrax mailings by nearly any means possible, and that it took a massive legal effort on Hatfill's part to get them to admit any culpability.

On this basis alone, a compelling and good-faith argument could be made that the FBI may have targeted the wrong individual a second time, in that they have been using the very same "investigative techniques" to link Ivins to the crimes: namely, by ruining his career and hounding his family.

Does that sound at all like an investigation with much that is substantive to run on? To me, it sounds like the very same sort of "investigation" they led against Hatfill.

The more I read about Ivins, the less I like about him as a human being. That said, his personal life is really not a good justification for a case against him that involves capital murders. Stick to the facts.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:14 AM on January 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Fact: the FBI identified Steven Hatfill as a "person of interest."
Fact: the FBI ran over Hatfill's foot with a car.
Fact: the FBI leaked information to the news media regarding Hatfill's personal and professional life, presumably as a show of force.
Fact: Steven Hatfill is not the anthrax mailer.
Conclusion: the FBI had very little interest in real investigation; they presumed that Hatfill was guilty and tried to fit the crime to the suspect instead of the other way around.


Fact: Hatfill was never charged with a crime.

If they weren't interested in a real investigation, they would have charged him. Instead, they felt that they made a mistake, admitted said mistake, stopped investigating Hatfill; paid Hatfill a settlement and moved on. These are facts that support an opposite conclusion, that the FBI decided Hatfill was not the mailer and moved on to search for other suspects--that the FBI was actually interested in getting the case actually solved.

Your facts simply do not support your conclusion. Your argument is as follows: (1) Hatfill was identified as a person of interest by the FBI; (2) Hatfill's foot was run over by an FBI agent; (3) the FBI leaked information to the media about Hatfill's personal life; (4) Hatfill was later thought not to be the mailer, therefore (5) The FBI had "little interest" in real investigation.

How do these facts actually relate to your conclusion? How exactly is the fact that Hatfill's foot was run over by an FBI agent related to any conclusion about interests of the FBI in investigating the case? I simply cannot see how the fact that a foot was run over during surveillance of a suspect has anything at all to tell us about the facts of what the motivation was in investigation? Nor do I see how using hardball tactics indicates not caring about who was caught. Investigators use hardball tactics against suspects who are actually guilty are still trying to catch the guilty.

Information that would tell us about that would be (1) admissions by the persons involved that they simply did not care about who was really guilty; (2) recordings of statements by the agents involved where they stated, directly or implied that they did not care about whether or not the person they caught was responsible; and (3) Statements by persons having overheard statements of the type described in (2), above.

We have no information of that type.

From what I see, the mistake made in Hatfill case was a common one: Investigators assume Hatfill's lying about one thing and the positive "polygraph" that he was lying about something indicated he was the mailer. Here is where investigators often make huge mistakes. Polygraphs are very often unreliable and there is no logical connection between the fact that a person lies about one thing and the guilt of a person in an unrelated matter. They may have also focused on Hatfill's enlistment in the South African military at a time when the great evil of Apartheid was at its height as a reason to think he was an unsavory character. Hatfill's own attorney admitted he lied about a lot of stuff very important to his job, including his schooling and degrees. Investigators are too often concerned with finding inconsistencies in a person's statements without finding out whether or not those inconsistencies actually relate to the matter at hand. This has been my personal experience in dozens of cases.

But the Ivins matter is different--it is based on circumstances, not inconsistent statements about unrelated matters by the suspect. The focus is on circumstances that make Ivins a potential suspect (1) having personal custody of the anthrax strain in question; (2) living and working in the very small, very limited area where the water used to grow the strain in question was; (3) being one of the few persons on planet Earth known to possess the ability to carry out the attacks; and (4) having a history of mental illness. I think this is enough to make him a suspect in the case.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:22 AM on January 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


On this basis alone, a compelling and good-faith argument could be made that the FBI may have targeted the wrong individual a second time, in that they have been using the very same "investigative techniques" to link Ivins to the crimes: namely, by ruining his career and hounding his family.

This is a logical fallacy--the fact that one set of investigators, led by one agent, made an erroneous decision in one circumstance in the past is not evidence that a later set of investigators, led by another agent have made another mistake in another case. "Evidence" of this sort is excluded in most criminal cases---you cannot say the defendant did X 4 times before therefore that is evidence that the defendant did X this time as well. There is simply no logical link between those two cases.

As for "ruining his career," the Ivins' admitted behavior and substance abuse problems are grounds, under the security clearance guidelines for immediate termination of security clearance. Same with Blago. Mere suspicion of a crime is grounds for immediate suspension of clearance until the crime is investigated and adjudicated. That's why Blago's clearance has been suspended.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:29 AM on January 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is a logical fallacy--the fact that one set of investigators, led by one agent, made an erroneous decision in one circumstance in the past is not evidence that a later set of investigators, led by another agent have made another mistake in another case.

It's not a fallacy, really. The question posed is whether the technique of smearing a person's name and hounding that individual's family provides sufficient grounds for assigning guilt. As Hatfill's case demonstrated empirically, this investigative technique is not sufficient for assigning guilt.

As for "ruining his career," the Ivins' admitted behavior and substance abuse problems are grounds, under the security clearance guidelines for immediate termination of security clearance.

Sure, but what does any of that behavior have to do with the specific charge of mailing anthrax? It bears mentioning that a lot of government officials in positions of critical importance would lose security clearance for their own drug use. Stick to the facts.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:57 AM on January 5, 2009


It's not a fallacy, really. The question posed is whether the technique of smearing a person's name and hounding that individual's family provides sufficient grounds for assigning guilt. As Hatfill's case demonstrated empirically, this investigative technique is not sufficient for assigning guilt.

I am very confused by your answer.

You stated the following: On this basis alone, a compelling and good-faith argument could be made that the FBI may have targeted the wrong individual a second time, in that they have been using the very same "investigative techniques" to link Ivins to the crimes: namely, by ruining his career and hounding his family.

I indicated your statement was a logical fallacy because there is nothing linking the evidence in situation A (Hatfill) to situation B (Ivins, with a different set of investigators).

Your answer was that the question posed was "whether the technique of smearing a person's name and hounding a person's name and hounding that individual's family provides sufficient grounds for assigning guilt."

That was not the question you posed. The question you posed was whether or not a compelling and good-faith argument could be made that the FBI may have targeted the wrong individual a second time."

Regardless of whether or not you think the techniques used in the investigation were ethical or not, no one is associating those techniques with proving guilt. How could they? Guilt is proven by evidence. The US Attorney does not prove guilt on the basis of the type of investigative techniques used to obtain evidence, it proves guilt on the basis of the evidence obtained by the techniques.

Sure, but what does any of that behavior have to do with the specific charge of mailing anthrax?

You claimed the FBI ruined his career. He ruined it himself by stalking behavior. Once he engages in this behavior, he is going to be deemed to be not safe to engage in work requiring a security clearance. The point I was answering was your claim regarding his career, not the investigation or whether or not he was the right person.

What is really amazing here is that evidence of one thing is being touted as establishing its opposite. If the FBI had made the ultimate wrong call and the US Attorney had charged Hatfill, it would have been wrong. Instead, the FBI decided, after a tough investigation of the person in question, that it did not have enough evidence and that the person in question was not the killer. So the right thing was done. The wrong person did not go to jail. This is the system working, not failing.

Let me just again ask the question--who here believes that the FBI did not have evidence enough to consider Bruce Ivins a person of interest in this case? That is the question to be answered.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:59 PM on January 5, 2009


I am very confused by your answer.

Basically, the argument has been put forward by you that the FBI are justified in destroying the suspect's professional and personal lives, as this is a common and useful investigatory technique that is applied to pressure suspects, which is performed regardless of which team of investigators is assigned to a case.

I would argue that, as demonstrated by the FBI investigation of Hatfill, this technique is not only useless, but empirically detrimental to the FBI's mission of catching the bad guys. That the Hatfill and Ivans investigations were conducted by different people is immaterial.

There is no logical fallacy. You're confused, perhaps, about the premises of what you are arguing.

You claimed the FBI ruined his career. He ruined it himself by stalking behavior.

I suspect if the FBI had decided to follow you and your family around, they would dig up something on you that would be released to the public, so as to impugn your reputation (if that would mean anything to you, which it might, depending on your career goals).

None of which, of course, should necessarily justify an inference that you send anthrax through the US Mail. Stick to the facts.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:54 PM on January 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


That does not answer the question of how your fact-free assertion that the FBI agents in the case sought to "frame" Ivins and or Hatfill is any better than the behavior that you are accusing them of engaging in.

Fuck you. The idea that accusing someone of framing a person for terrorism is in any sense equivalent to framing someone for terrorism is absurd and reprehensible, and you're an asshole for promoting it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:10 PM on January 5, 2009


>acrasis, do you have any other information or opinions you can share with us? I realize >you are likely very constrained in what you can say. How about this question: do you >think there is any way the FBI could ever know, at this point, who did this (short of a >confession)? In other words, did 5 years barking up the wrong tree make it unlikely this >will ever be solved?

Sheesh, thanks for asking. I suppose it's inevitable in such a situation that rumors will fly and conspiracy theories will be hatched, but the FBI's lack of professionalism and disregard for human decency has made things worse. In the short term, bullying the family of suspects may yield results, but in the long term most people will fear you and will hesitate to cooperate.

I'm not constrained, because I know nothing. However, whenever the FBI releases information on the science they used to come to their conclusions, my colleagues and I get calmer, because they seem to have done a good job *as far as we can tell*. This is an aspect of the investigation where they should be as transparent as possible- it would win them allies in the scientific community, and we would be valuable allies.

Can they solve this case? Not beyond a shadow of a doubt, unless a witness or accomplice comes forward. I'm now willing to believe (based on the evidence I've seen reported in the NYTs) that the anthrax used in the attacks came from the Fort Detrick flask. I didn't know Ivins (although his wife babysat my boss's kids), so I can't say if there was anything sinister about his juggling. I'll simply say this was not the FBI's shining hour.
posted by acrasis at 5:18 PM on January 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would argue that, as demonstrated by the FBI investigation of Hatfill, this technique is not only useless, but empirically detrimental to the FBI's mission of catching the bad guys.

You can make an argument that it is immoral, but not that it is useless. This is how the vast majority of cases in this country are solved. Evidence of one sort or another points to a suspect. Investigators question someone who may not want to cooperate with them. They demonstrate to that person what they believe the suspect in and try to appeal to their conscience or pressure them in other ways. Then the bring the suspect in. They try every psychological trick in the book--getting them on another charge, parole violation, whatever. We are talking the vast majority of rapes, murders, hate crimes, whatever. Remember also, however, that the suspect has the right to an attorney and cand request one at any time and the questioning will stop.

The FBI felt that multiple terror murders that indiscriminately killed people (remember those postal workers? They had nothing to do with this) justified the use of high-pressure tactics. You can argue they don't. But your argument has to take into account that actual real people were murdered here. Yo must balance your concern that people were harmed by the investigation with the very real danger that such a crime could occur again. You have never done so.

What are the investigators supposed to do? Ask pretty please tell us if you killed those people? Hold a killer's hand and ask pretty please? Because it takes real pressure to get actual people who have actually committed the crime to confess.

Here's what happens if we decide we are not going to let investigators put the screws to these people--people will start taking the law into their own hands. Or even worse they vote to legally remove the real rights that criminal defendants possess. Because they can do it. Did you know that the entire Bill of Rights is legally repealable? Every single right, including Habeus, could be removed by legal means. All of them. Did you know that in England, the Labor party has moved to already take away key rights formerly possessed by criminal defendants? The idea sickens me.

I happen to think that our evolving system does a tolerable job of balancing the interest of the collective in getting crimes solved and criminals neutralized and the rights of defendants not to be forced to speak or incriminate themselves, or suffer physical torture. But a criminal justice system which includes individual rights run by human beings requires hard everyday choices which don't always turn out perfectly. These are real people who are making these calls, not infallible robots. Your demands that nobody's toes ever get stepped on in the process is unrealistic. That is why our system compels testimony from witnesses.

In the end you must remember a single thing: this case began because an individual took the right of innocent people to continue to live away from them. The job of the investigators is to prevent that from happening again--to protect the lives of innocent people and to punish those who have killed others. They have no real personal stake other than to get that job done. A murderer and his or her friends and relatives have a very persona stake in remaining free. They can try to lie on the stand, destroy evidence, threaten or kill witnesses. What are we to do as a community to stop them? If you have a better answer, one realistically rooted in actual experience in the justice system, please, let us hear it.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:35 PM on January 5, 2009


None of which, of course, should necessarily justify an inference that you send anthrax through the US Mail.

Again, the inference that Ivins may have been responsible was based on the following facts: (1) Ivins had within his custody the genetic strain of Anthrax used to murder people; (2) Ivins had the very, very rare ability to create a weaponized strain of Anthrax for murdering people, an ability so rare that the FBI turned to him to investigate the crime; (3) Ivins had access to the equipment used to create the Anthrax used to murder people; (4)the strain of Anthrax used to murder people was grown in water taken from the Ft. Detrick water system, indicating that the murderer either lived or worked there; (5) Ivins both lived and worked at Ft. Detrick; (6) Ivins worked late and alone in his lab in the very narrow window of time when the murderer must have created the deadly Anthrax that killed people; (7) Several people reported that he had engaged in threatening behavior towards them; and (8) Ivins had a documented history of mental illness.

The fact that he was put under a great deal of pressure from the FBI is not the basis for any person's inference that Ivins may have committed the crime. That fact cannot support an inference of anything.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:52 PM on January 5, 2009


Fuck you. The idea that accusing someone of framing a person for terrorism is in any sense equivalent to framing someone for terrorism is absurd and reprehensible, and you're an asshole for promoting it.

I am certain upon reflection that you would agree that it does not advance any debate on this or any other subject on Metafilter to say "fuck you" or to call me an "asshole."

Having said that, I'd like you to support your assertion. Exactly why is it that "accusing someone of framing a person for terrorism is in any sense equivalent to framing someone for terrorism is absurd and reprehensible?" As I see it, the argument presented above is that the FBI did not have a factual basis for accusing Ivins. If this were the case, it would wrong for the FBI to accuse him. Yet some of the very same parties expressing this argument also stated, without having any basis in facts specific to the case, that the FBI investigators did not care about catching the actual murderer.

The persons throwing out these accusations are thus doing the same exact thing. So, I'm asking you to support your assertion.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:06 PM on January 5, 2009


You can make an argument that it is immoral, but not that it is useless.

I can and do make the argument that it is useless, on the simple basis that it has failed — and failed very badly and expensively — in a nearly identical case made against another researcher who was framed in a similar manner. Whether the group of investigators leading the charge is the same or different is entirely irrelevant to the utility of threatening the suspect, the suspect's family, or ruining the man's career.

Here's what happens if we decide we are not going to let investigators put the screws to these people--people will start taking the law into their own hands.

At the end of the day, ultimately what you have been advocating here is that investigators should have the legal right to harass, threaten, lie, cheat, steal, and otherwise break any and all laws necessary to hurt a suspect and his or her family, so as to coerce the needed confession.

Where this tactic occurs without any recourse, we most often call the type of governments running these countries a dictatorship.

As to the "facts" you provide, security at many research labs — including military labs — can be very sloppy, even if the US government will not be strongly motivated to admit it. Further, the United States is not known for having strong inventory processes in place, especially in the military.

A much stronger case needs to be provided for means and opportunity, when there are so many holes that are open. Motive is the weakest link, and it is inferred on the basis of his seemingly unstable behavior, some of which could easily be explained by the continuous harassment he received at the hands of his bosses.

If you believe that the US government is infallible, this is a very strong case against Ivins. If you think that the US government has demonstrated that it can and does often make mistakes and that it is often mismanaged, then this can be a very weak case.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:50 AM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


At the end of the day, ultimately what you have been advocating here is that investigators should have the legal right to harass, threaten, lie, cheat, steal, and otherwise break any and all laws necessary to hurt a suspect and his or her family, so as to coerce the needed confession.

I do not advocate illegal behavior and none has occured. But in terms of lying and using high-pressure tactics? That is how the majority of violent crimes are solved in this country. Because people don't just confess.

And there is recourse--the person can sue. Thousands of these lawsuits are filed every single year. Hatfill sued and got a settlement.

A much stronger case needs to be provided for means and opportunity, when there are so many holes that are open.

Did you read the article? Only a handful of people have direct custody of this bacteria. The murderer had it.Ivins was such an expert that the FBI used him in the investigation. An even smaller handful of people had the knowledge of the techniques that the murderer used to create this weaponized strain. Ivins was amongst that group. An even smaller number of people than that had access to the equipment to do this safely. Ivins was also in this group. Finally, the murderer did his work at Ft. Detrick as the water in which the strain was grown was from there. Ivins both lived and worked there.

You don't get a better case for means and opportunity. You really don't. This case is all about means and opportunity and I don't see how a stronger case could be made on those grounds. Its the motive part that is shaky.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:58 AM on January 6, 2009


Sigh.

Dr. Haigwood knew the suspect personally.
Dr. Haigwood knows a lot of people personally.

You never met him.
My having met or not met Dr. Ivans is irrelevant.

Yet you are now stating that she was wrong in believing that this person was responsible.
That is not what I said. What I said was that she needs a refresher course in inductive reasoning. Whether she is right or wrong is irrelevant. That's what you seem to be missing.

What evidence do you have?
About what? Her reasoning skills? They're right there in the article. Weird stalker + no gloves = He did it. You think that's a logical progression, do you?

None.
No, some. See above.

Has she committed a wrong by expressing her suspicions to the FBI?
Has she cooked mashed potatoes for her children? What do these two questions have in common? That's right, they're both irrelevant!

She's an expert in the field and knows the suspect personally.
And yet, it wasn't her expertise in the field that led her to the conclusion, nor was it some personal knowledge of the suspect that only she knew about. No, according to the article, the equation for her was "panty stalker + no gloves = criminal mastermind terrorist killer." Ergo, my criticism.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:48 AM on January 7, 2009


You still haven't answered the question whether or not you believe the evidence exists to put Dr. Ivins at the top of the suspect list. I think there is enough evidence there. Do you?
posted by Ironmouth at 8:22 AM on January 7, 2009


Why all the posturing on both sides here? Consensus reality on this case is not that difficult. Let me break it down:

1) This crime was committed by a very intelligent US government scientist, who covered his or her tracks very well.
2) We may never have definitive evidence of who committed this crime, or what Ivin's role was, due to Ivins' suicide.
3) The FBI overreacted to some strong circumstantial evidence against Hatfill, ignoring evidence that contradicted the theory it was him and screwing up the investigation for years.
4) Based on much, much stronger circumstantial evidence, Ivins is clearly the most likely suspect, and there is NO solid evidence disproving him that I've seen (unlike with Hatfill). Certainly the NYT didn't see any.
5) Police, like people in any other job, range from excellent to incompetent, and from earnest straight shooter to lazy hack to proud fool to corrupt powermonger. The FBI is certain to have a combination of these.
6) Given the massive scrutiny of these investigations and the change in administrations, the theory that the FBI has no interest in finding the real killer and just wanted to frame first Hatfill, and now Ivins, is in the 5th percentile of tin-foil hat conspiracy theories -- as demonstrated by some of the theory's proponents in this very topic.
7) That anthrax sent to the Chilean doctor is a fascinating lead and Congress should be pursuing that in the planned hearings. (Thanks!)
posted by msalt at 10:17 AM on January 7, 2009


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