Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Amerithrax: Case Closed

Joseph Persichini (center), Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI's Washington Field Office, with U.S. Attorney Jeff Taylor (left), District of Columbia, and Chief Postal Inspector Alexander Lazaroff of the U.S. Postal Service, explains recent developments in the government's Amerithrax case.

In early 2005, newly-developed scientific tests made it possible for the FBI to establish that the anthrax spores that killed five people and sickened 17 in the days following the 9-11 attacks were unique to Fort Detrick.

Still, long before 2005, the public learned from news accounts that the FBI believed that "Amerithrax" was a case of domestic terrorism because the media reported that the FBI's initial suspect was a former Fort Detrick scientist named Dr. Steven Hatfill.

Even in November 2001, FBI linguistic and behavioral analysis suggested that this crime was the work of a scientist with psychological problems and not the work of a terrorist organization such as Al Qaeda. The FBI experts apparently did not take the letters in the anthrax mailings at face value.

The Salt Lake Tribune (8-7-08) writes that Dr. Ivins "deliberately misled officers early in the investigation when they relied on him to prepare samples of the suspected anthrax in his custody."

Why did Dr. Ivins send the anthrax letters? According to the FBI, Dr. Ivins had a mental illness and a history of making threats. He may also have been worried about the future of his research program.

My Fox D.C. (8-7-08) reports:

In documents released Wednesday, prosecutors suggested several possible motives...from concern that the vaccine program Ivins worked in was in trouble to his dislike of Catholic senators who favor abortion rights.

The FBI has consolidated documentation about their Amerithrax investigation here. The newly released court affidavits as well as older information are all here.

The FBI post states:

Because of Ivins’ death, the government will not be able to present its case in court. But according to Assistant Director in Charge Joseph Persichini, FBI Washington Field Office, “Bruce Ivins was responsible for the death, sickness, and fear brought to our country by the 2001 anthrax mailings.”

...[During the investigation] a brand new science was developed that ultimately led to the big break in the case.

That science—creating a DNA equivalent of a fingerprint—allowed investigators to pinpoint the origins of the anthrax. The FBI Laboratory, in conjunction with the best experts in the scientific community, developed four highly sensitive and specific tests to detect the unique qualities of the anthrax used in the 2001 attacks. This took several years to accomplish, but in early 2005 the groundbreaking research successfully identified where the anthrax used in the mailings had come from.

Another key piece of evidence was provided when investigators were able to identify a limited geographic area where the anthrax envelopes were purchased based on a forensic investigation that revealed printing defects in certain batches of envelopes.

In 2006, speaking about the investigation, Persichini said investigators were frustrated that no arrests had been made, but that “no one in the FBI has, for a moment, stopped thinking about the innocent victims of these attacks...The FBI's commitment to solving this case is undiminished."

Today, Persichini was able to tell the American public that a chapter on one of the most heinous crimes committed against the citizens of the United States has been closed. [See the entire site]

I feel pretty certain that the FBI has finally solved this difficult case.

Some scientists, journalists, and politicians are calling for a Congressional investigation since Ivins' suicide has prevented the case from going to trial.

Note: a man named Ed Lake has kept a blog called Anthrax Investigation that contains analysis and news articles about the 2001 anthrax attack.

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