7/30 Bruce Ivins – Anthrax Fall Guy?

7/30 Bruce Ivins – Anthrax Fall Guy?

Bruce Ivins – Anthrax Fall Guy?

Fall Guy

noun informal a scapegoat.

One year ago this week, the FBI announced that after an intense seven-year manhunt—reportedly the biggest in Bureau history—it had identified the perpetrator of the infamous 2001 U.S. anthrax attacks. The feds said that Bruce E. Ivins—an Army scientist who worked on anthrax vaccines at Fort Detrick, Maryland—was the lone individual responsible for putting deadly anthrax into the U.S. mail system. Five people died and 22 were injured as a result.

The FBI also announced that unfortunately Ivins had just committed suicide (an overdose of prescription Tylenol), and thus the murder charges against him would not have to be proven in a court of law. It then promptly announced that it was soon to officially close the case. The stunning developments generated several days of huge headlines—and then, like the anthrax attacks themselves, soon became the discourse primarily of internet chat rooms—many of the conspiratorial bent.

Still, legitimate questions about the affair were raised in more conventional quarters. Ivins’ family didn’t believe the official line, charging through their attorney that the FBI hounded an innocent man– with substance abuse and mental health problems—to his grave. And Ivins’ co-workers and some scientific experts claimed Ivins lacked the equipment and the skill set necssary to develop the sophisticated powders sent to the Washington offices of Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy.

At a hearing in the Senate in September 2008, Leahy who had stayed relatively mum about the attacks for years, thundered to FBI Director Robert Mueller that he believed “there are others who can be charged with murder”. And New Jersey Congressman Rush Holt, who represents the district in Princeton from where the anthrax letters were mailed, has introduced a bill in Congress for an independent probe of the matter.


The key evidence in the case boils down to the murder weapon—the anthrax aerosol, which Army scientists said was the most sophisticated anthrax powder ever seen. The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) says the powder contained an additive –silica—which makes the anthrax a more effective killer. This, say many, is evidence of a sophisticated, perhaps state-sponsored program, and that the anthrax was ‘weaponized”.

The FBI and the experts it hired claim the powder had no additives; that the silica in the spores was “naturally occurring” and could have been made by Ivins after hours with rudimentary equipment. Most tellingly, the FBI has refused to release the AFIP report to date, and has never officially closed the case. Many observers say the data contained therein could destroy the FBI’s case that Ivins acted alone.

Our investigation turned up two interesting pieces of forensic data:

1.We interviewed Dr. Jeff Mohr of the U.S. military’s Dugway Proving Grounds, who examined the powder at the behest of the FBI. He told us on-camera that the anthrax spores were milled down to a size of “ one micron” per spore—which is phenomenally small and evidence of a specialized technical activity beyond Ivins’ capability and the equipment available to him at Ft. Detrick.

2. Working with the office of U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, we got the FBI to admit that the percentage weight of the silica in the anthrax powder sent to Senator Leahy was 1.45%. Several experts told us that no “naturally occurring” silicon content over 1% had ever been discovered. This percentage, they say, is convincing evidence the anthrax was “weaponized”, and required more skills and equipment that Bruce Ivins had available to him.

FBI responses

Download FBI responses to Congressional questions

Even the FBI admits that the case against Ivins is largely circumstantial. The great strides in microbiological forensics it has enlisted –including ground-breaking DNA analysis used in the latter years of the investigation –don’t prove Ivins’ guilt.

This week, the first meeting of a National Academy of Sciences panel asked by the FBI to examine the forensics of their case, took place. All eyes in the community of those who continue to focus their attention on the unsolved mysteries of the anthrax attacks were on Washington. And the first public session was disappointing, with an FBI spokesman deflecting detailed questions , saying they were beyond his personal expertise, and promising answers via written supplmentary evidence. We shall see….