The Fantasy Worlds of Bruce Ivins and the FBI

The Fantasy Worlds of Bruce Ivins and the FBI

The Fantasy Worlds of Bruce Ivins and the FBI

fantasy: noun 1. the imagining of improbable or impossible things 2. an idea with no basis in reality 3. a genre of imaginative fiction involving magic and adventure.


It has been two weeks since the FBI announced the official closing of Amerithrax, its 8+ year investigation into the 2001 Anthrax Atttacks – eighteen months after the “suicide” of their prime suspect.

Time enough to peruse the accompanying report on Dr. Bruce (“Dr. Doom”) Ivins–the allegedly crazed killer with the high US Army security clearences. It is a fascinating piece of business: a serious effort by skilled Government wordsmiths to imagine the mind of a madman, sprinkle in some CSI whiz-bang, and pass it all off as good gum-shooing. No easy task. We have dog-eared our copy and urge citizens to download it for themselves.

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From where we stand, the 92 page “Investigative Summary” is an instant classic–not only for the intensity of its cover our ass narrative, but for its literary bent. Part Don DeLillo, part Dan Brown, this official FBI narrative of the ‘Amerithrax’ affair is screenwriter-ready… You are there as as the G-Men close in on Dr. Ivins in the humid Maryland days and nights of August ’08 , and you can hear the crazy whispers inside the head of this purported serial killer racked with guilt and fear as he does himself in with handfuls (60!) of Prescription Tylenol #3,–supposedly inducing a two day coma that ended in a final dead silence .

The G-Men scribes use the text of never- before-released Ivins e-mails as the narrative thread in their report, and even uncover a DaVinci code buried in the infamous DEATH TO AMERICA note sent with the deadly powders in the anthrax attacks of 2001. The FBI says that the code– supposedly based on DNA components (“codons”)–in one instance spelled out the name of a women who was presumably one of Ivins’ sexual obsessions . Another ‘message’ revealed his deep seated anger toward New York City.

While it demanded a leap of imagination, there’s no denying that the secret code was kind of cool…


The FBI's decoding of the text in the 2001 Anthrax letters to NBC's Tom Brokaw. (Courtesy the NY Times)

The FBI's decoding of the text in the 2001 Anthrax letters to NBC's Tom Brokaw. (Courtesy the NY Times)

So lemme get this straight, all those T&As are really amino acid symbols equaling PAT and FNY? Hmmm…

Why the Feds overlooked an interpretation embraced by neo-cons –that the emphasized ATTA’s may have been a final farewell from 9/11 Terrorist Mohammed ATTA—remains a mystery. Talk about not connecting the dots. But that’s just nit-picking, given the larger scandals embedded in this flat-footed effort.

Even the FBI’s head office wasn’t particularly proud of its anthrax detectives. It released the report suddenly with no fanfare, no press opportunities in the deadest of news dead zones–Friday afternoon at 4, the same day as Tiger Wood’s mea culpa. It was no contest. The media spent one breathless day on it and then it was over, we had closure. The biggest FBI investigation in history ended with a whimper and it wasn’t even on the mop-up segments of cable news debating parlors. The only real traction the story got was in the low precincts where Ivins’ off-hour interests in bondage, blind-folded women and sororities titillated.

While mainstream reaction was muted, a hearty band of skeptics came out swinging: They say the case against Dr. Ivins, which never has to be proven in court, screams reasonable doubt. There is no incriminating physical evidence. Ivins had even passed his polygraph. Narrative inconsistencies. Hearsay quotes. Scientific implausibility. Selective prosecution based on circumstantial evidence requiring an X-Files like leap of faith into Mulder and Scully-land.

Paul Kemp, Ivins’ former lawyer, thundered:”There’s absolutely no evidence he did anything…”

Rep. Rush D. Holt, a Democrat from central New Jersey, grumbled: “This has been a closed-minded, closed process from the beginning. Arbitrarily closing the case on a Friday afternoon should not mean the end of this investigation… The evidence the FBI produced would not, I think, stand up in court. But because their prime suspect is dead, and they’re not going to court; they seem satisfied with barely a circumstantial case. The National Academies of Science review of the FBI’s scientific methods in this case won’t be released until summer, but the FBI doesn’t seem to care.”

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D–NY) echoed Holt’s skepticism and called for a probe of the FBI’s casework.

But the cagey Sen. Patrick Leahy, one of the targets of the attacks and a critic of the FBI’s performance, held his fire. The Senator who’s told FBI Director Mueller directly that there was conspiracy and cover-up at the core of the anthrax murders had no comment and refused interviews on the topic. What’s up with that?

The best detailed blog-response came from Dr. Merryl Nass, named in the report as an activist critic who drove Ivins nuts while he was working on a controversial anthrax vaccine for the Army with the private company BioPort.

Forensically, the FBI was taken to task for sidestepping the crucial issue of ‘weaponization” of the attack powder, ignoring Army data and the FBI’s own admission of high levels of the additive silicon—a story we broke on this blog last July.

This failure to grapple with the hard science was picked up by Richard Bernstein in the New York Times and International Herald Tribune which followed veteran investigative reporter and author Edward Jay Epstein’s much discussed piece in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks prior to the closing of the case.

Bottom line, the FBI report did nothing to mollify leading mainstream opinion recently outlined by Salon’s Glenn Greenwald:

“The case against Ivins is so riddled with logical and evidentiary holes that it has generated extreme doubts not merely from typical government skeptics but from the most mainstream establishment-revering, and ideologically disparate sources. Just consider some of the outlets and individuals who have stated unequivocally that the FBI’s case against Ivinis is unpersausive and requires a meaningful investigation: The Washington Post Editorial Page; The New York Times Editorial Page; The Wall St. Journal Editorial Page; the science journal Nature; Senators Pat Leahy, Arlen Specter and Charles Grassley; physicist and Congressman Rush Holt, whose New Jersey district was where the anthrax letters were sent; Dr. Alan Pearson, Director of the Biological and Chemical Weapons Control Program at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation; and a vast array of scientific and legal experts in the field.”

So as the case comes to an official close, some big plots holes remain in the story. We’re particularly fascinated with the final days of Bruce Ivins . He spent ten of the last 12 days and nights of his life involuntarily committed to a mental health facility in Baltimore on the basis of remarks he made in a group therapy session led by substance abuse “counselor” Jean Duley who later took out a restraining order against him because she feared for her life.


Interestingly, Ms. Duley was embroiled with legal problems of her own at the time involving multiple D.U.I .charges (!). After Ivins’ death she–along with one-time Ivins’ shrink the very mysterious Dr. David Irwin– dropped from sight.

We find these phone calls to be an interesting piece of the puzzle….

Click here to hear the voice of “evil”… Dr. Ivins calling his counselor angry that she has gotten him arrested and involuntarily committed to a psychiatric faciliity on July 11-12 2008, two weeks before he commits suicide. Sound crazed to you?

Duley suddently reemerged on CNN this week too eager to heap further dirt on the corpse of a troubled man who sought her professional advice. (How exactly did these two hook up in the first place?)

Too busy fingering Ivins circumstantially, the FBI report fails to shed much light on how other US government labs and contractors who may have had access to the same genetic mutant Ames anthrax as Ivins escaped the Amerithrax net. But there are glimspes of this shadowy germ war complex buried within supporting documents.

Can you find a note–apparently by Ivins –tucked deep inside the two-hundred and fifty-four pages of just-released FBI documents -implying that CIA contractor Battelle made weaponized anthrax spore powder from Ames strain anthrax sent by Ivins and then misled the FBI about its role in the affair?

Prizes also to those who discover another diagram sketched by Ivins, that seems to show that the Ames strain of anthrax was sent to other top-secret labs including the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah and interestingly Porton Down in the U.K. We are especially intrigued by Ivins’ note’s reference to the low-profile Southern Research Institute, (Hint: Look for SORES–second arrow from top on right) a government-wired lab with a bad safety record for its anthrax research.

Porton Down, of course, is another top-secret germ war facility we examine in our film ANTHRAX WAR (paperback book coming May 1). The former head of microbiology there and fellow anthrax expert Doctor David Kelly met a similar fate to Ivins – a questionable suicide of an army scientist at the center of anthrax research. And like Ivins the questions on the other side of the pond are not going away.

What inquiring minds want to know hereabouts are:

What drugs was the U.S. Army’s Dr Ivins, a top echelon member of our Bio-Defense Command- given during his commitment to a mental health facility in Baltimore for two weeks prior to his suicide? Did they contribute to his death?

We may never know. Amazingly, no autopsy in this high-profile case was performed.

Was Bruce Ivins driven to suicide by his guilt or by dark actors playing games? Can we honestly rule out foul play?

What does the Ivins family say about all this? Was their loved one a homicidal madman or an innocent driven to suicide by the powers of the U.S. government? Or worse?

Stay tuned. This story is fantastic.