Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Was the Fort Detrick Scientist Bruce Ivins the Anthrax Killer?

"[A]ccording to [unnamed] FBI investigators Dr. Ivins had a history of alcohol abuse, and an interest in pornography and was obsessed with university Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority houses."---News-Medical.net (8-5-08)

Sources at American Media [AMI] said the FBI has asked company employees about any “enemies” the company or its papers might have. Given the content of the weekly tabloids, “that list would go on forever,” joked one employee. Alarmed workers say they are urgently trying to recall receiving suspicious or unusual letters and packages. Several are focusing on a letter that arrived at the company about a week before the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. It was described by sources as a “weird love letter to Jennifer Lopez” --similar, outwardly, to the types of mail the tabloids often get. But inside the oddly-worded letter was what was described as a “soapy, powdery substance” and in the pile of that a cheap Star of David charm. The letter, per routine, was taken in by the joint mailroom of the company.---Newsweek (10-8-01) [A different account about what happened at AMI was posted by Ed Lake on 8-4-08]

I posted an earlier article about the alleged anthrax killer here, but the media is now reporting that some journalists and scientists are skeptical about reports that the Fort Detrick scientist Bruce E. Ivins was responsible for the 2001 anthrax letters that killed 5 and sickened 17.

So far, the FBI and Justice department have not confirmed all these off-the-record leaks to reporters by unnamed sources. Officially, the DOJ has only said this.

According to WJLA (Monday/8-4-08):

The Federal Bureau of Investigation hopes to close out the anthrax killer case Monday after the suicide of Bruce Ivins, a newly identified suspect, bringing an end to the nearly seven-year investigation, sources tell ABC 7/NewsChannel 8. The official closure may not come until overnight or Tuesday morning, said the sources...

The reported evidence against Ivins, a former Army scientist at Fort Detrick, includes a Post Office box he reportedly rented under an assumed name, his alleged extensive use of laboratory equipment after hours, and anthrax spores found in his office that were linked through DNA matching to the spores sent through the mail...

FBI agents had been trailing Ivins and had seized his personal computers. Last week, the FBI seized two computers from the Frederick Public Library that Ivins allegedly used after his were taken.

The Associated Press also reported on Monday that the former Army scientist had a long obsessions with a New Jersey sorrority, Kappa Kappa Gamma, that was located fewer than 100 yards from the postal boxes where the anthrax-laced letters were mailed to media organizations and lawmakers in September and October of 2001.

U.S. officials told the AP e-mails or other documents detail Ivins' long-standing fixation on the sorority. His former therapist has said Ivins plotted revenge against those who have slighted him, particularly women. There is nothing to indicate, however, he was focused on any one sorority member or other Princeton student, the officials said.

One hole in the investigators' case has been their inability to place Ivins in Princeton when the letters were mailed. Had Ivins not killed himself last week, authorities would have argued he could have made the seven-hour round trip journey to Princeton after work, the AP reported Monday.

Questions are now being raised about the integrity of Ivins' therapist Jean Duley who has depicted Ivins as a "mad scientist."

Duley stated in court that Ivins was a sociopath who had fantasized about killing people even before the 2001 anthrax attacks, and Duley reportedly sought to have Ivins committed to a high-security mental health facility.

WJLA (8-4-08) reports:

Some reporters have...raised questions about Jean Duley, the social worker who was granted a restraining order against Ivins.

According to court records, Duley has two recent arrests for driving under the influence. In 2006, she pleaded guilty to reckless driving and the DUI charge was dropped. In 2007 she pleaded guilty to a DUI charge. In 1992, she was charged with battery against her then-husband, William Duley. Prosecutors dropped the charges, and the case was not adjudicated. She was also charged with possession of drug paraphernalia with intent in use in 1993. The charges were later dropped.

More questions were raised Wednesday about Jean Duley in the WSJ (8-6-08):

In testimony offered in a Maryland district court, Ms. Duley said Dr. Ivins, a Fort Detrick, Md., scientist, had a years-long history of "homicidal threats, actions, plans," among other assertions. Her testimony was an important element in early coverage of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's probe of Dr. Ivins, whom the FBI was considering charging with five murders in the 2001 anthrax case...

Dr. Ivins killed himself days after police forcibly removed him from the Fort Detrick campus, in response to a call from Ms. Duley, who deemed him a danger to himself and others, according to her testimony.

...Ms. Duley's police record dates back to 1992. That year, her husband filed battery charges against her, and she filed the same charges against him. Both sets of charges were dropped, and the couple began divorce proceedings shortly thereafter.

The following year, Ms. Duley was cited for possible possession of drug paraphernalia in a case that was dismissed. In 1995, she was charged with speeding and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. She pleaded guilty to the speeding charge; the DUI charge was dismissed.

In 1999, she was cited for driving on the wrong side of the road in a case that was dismissed. In 2003, she pleaded guilty and was fined $110 for speeding that caused an accident.

In April 2006, she was stopped by state police for reckless driving and driving under the influence of alcohol. She pleaded guilty to the reckless-driving charge in October of that year, and was fined $580. The DUI charge was dismissed. Shortly before Christmas in 2007, she was detained by Frederick city police for driving under the influence. She pleaded guilty in traffic court in April of this year and was put on two years' supervised probation, with a suspended fine of $500.

Ms. Duley's work with prescription-drug abusers at Comprehensive Counseling Associates in Frederick was detailed in the local paper in June. Friday, as details of her involvement in the Ivins case emerged, a receptionist at the center would say only that Ms. Duley was no longer working there. [Full text]

Richard Spertzel, the head of the biological-weapons section of Unscom from 1994-99, and a member of the Iraq Survey Group, has written an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal (8-5-08) titled "Bruce Ivins Wasn't the Anthrax Culprit." His article appears on Tuesday, August 5, 2008, the very day that WJLA says that the FBI may officially close its case:

[D]espite the seemingly powerful narrative that Ivins committed suicide because investigators were closing in, this is still far from a shut case. The FBI needs to explain why it zeroed in on Ivins, how he could have made the anthrax mailed to lawmakers and the media, and how he (or anyone else) could have pulled off the attacks, acting alone.

I believe this is another mistake in the investigation...

The multiple disciplines and technologies required to make the anthrax in this case do not exist at Army's Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. Inhalation studies are conducted at the institute, but they are done using liquid preparations, not powdered products.

Mr. Spertzel's article is based on his understanding of anthrax research at Fort Detrich, which may not be accurate, and on old press releases from the FBI.

On the other hand, the Minneapolis Star Tribune (8-4-08) is reporting a story originally in the Washington Post:

[Ivins] borrowed freeze-drying equipment from a bioweapons lab that fall that allows scientists to quickly convert wet germ cultures into dry spores, according to sources briefed on the case.

Ivins' possession of the drying equipment could help investigators explain how he may have been able to send letters containing dry, deadly anthrax spores to U.S. senators and news organizations, causing five deaths.

The device was not commonly used by researchers at the Army's sprawling biodefense complex at Fort Detrick, Md., where Ivins worked as a scientist, employees said. Instead, sources said, Ivins had to go through a formal process to check out the equipment, creating a record on which authorities are now relying...

Multiple U.S. officials told the Associated Press that Ivins was obsessed with Kappa Kappa Gamma, going back to his own college days at the University of Cincinnati when he apparently was rebuffed by a woman in the sorority. The officials all spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case publicly.

Four tainted letters postmarked in Princeton, N.J., were dropped in a mailbox near the Princeton University sorority's offices. Still, authorities acknowledge they cannot place Ivins in Princeton the day they were mailed...

Scientific analysis helped researchers pinpoint the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases as the likely source of the anthrax, which was the Ames strain of the bacteria used in various projects at Fort Detrick.

Eventually, through more elaborate DNA testing of the powder and tissue cultures from the victims, they determined that the anthrax probably came from supplies made by Ivins, to which about 10 other people had access.

Researchers at the lab usually work with anthrax in a liquid form, so use of the drying equipment was infrequent. The equipment could have processed a few small batches of anthrax liquid in less than a day, said one scientist familiar with Ivins' lab.

Many of the key documents that would have supported the prosecution of Ivins could be unveiled later this week after Justice Department and FBI officials meet with families of the anthrax victims. [Full text]

News-Medical.net (8-5-08) reports:

The FBI says 'microbial forensics', the use of biochemical clues, was employed to track the anthrax back to its source.

However working out just who was responsible for the anthrax letters would have also relied on more traditional investigative methods and would have included interviewing colleagues and family members, searching houses and cars, carrying out surveillance and making assessments of individuals personalities.

The suspicion is that most of the evidence is possibly in the main circumstantial as apparently at least 10 scientists had regular access to the laboratory and its anthrax stock not counting visitors from other institutions.

It has also been reported that workers at laboratories in Ohio and New Mexico received anthrax samples from the same flask at the Army laboratory.

Sometime in 2006 Dr. Ivins appears to have come under intense surveillance and every aspect of his life and work were examined; but it is only since his suicide last week, that FBI officials have revealed they were about to charge him with sending the anthrax letters, which killed five people.

Dr. Ivins was a respected microbiologist with 30 years of experience at the United States Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, reports say he was popular in his neighborhood, a Red Cross volunteer and an amateur juggler and musician who played at his church.

But according to FBI investigators Dr. Ivins had a history of alcohol abuse, and an interest in pornography and was obsessed with university Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority houses. [Full text]

The connection to pornography is interesting because the suspected anthrax letter sent to the Boca Raton tabloid organization AMI [American Media Inc.] reportedly was a weird love letter to Jennifer Lopez. Unlike the recovered anthrax letters, this letter didn't suggest that the powder it contained was dangerous. [Update-see Ed Lake's 8-4-08 article about what happened at AMI.]

The suspicious letter to AMI was reportedly sent about a week before the 9-11 attacks. It seems that the object of this letter was to murder someone, not scare them. Perhaps AMI was targeted because it was connected with pornography. AMI publishes six supermarket tabloids including The National Enquirer, Globe and Weekly World News.

AMI employees passed the letter around because it was so strange. I recall reading that the man who died on 10-4-01, Robert Stevens, a photo editor at the Sun, put the Jennifer Lopez letter up close to his face because he had poor vision. AMI employees recalled that the envelope had some powder in it and a star of David. Unfortunately, the AMI employees didn't realize this powder was something dangerous, so they had a good laugh at the weird love letter, and threw it away.

UCLA has an archive of articles about the anthrax death of Robert Stevens.

Newsweek (10-8-01) reported:

[A] letter that arrived at the company about a week before the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. It was described by sources as a “weird love letter to Jennifer Lopez” --similar, outwardly, to the types of mail the tabloids often get. But inside the oddly-worded letter was what was described as a “soapy, powdery substance” and in the pile of that a cheap Star of David charm. The letter, per routine, was taken in by the joint mailroom of the company.

The Washington Post (1-27-02) reported:

[A]fter Bob Stevens had died, several AMI employees would remember the letter, addressed to actress and singer Jennifer Lopez, that emitted a puff of white powder when Stevens ripped it open. That is when they believe he inhaled the anthrax spores that killed him.

I hope that the FBI has tracked down the full truth about the anthrax killer/s and that we will soon hear the story directly and officially from the FBI instead of just leaks from "sources."

The "mad scientist" Bruce Ivins reportedly had a secret addiction to pornography and a lot of anger at women. If he sent anthrax to Jennifer Lopez, I wonder if other people may have been murdered with anthrax but their rare illness was misdiagnosed.

Reuters (8-5-08) reports:

[T]he FBI is preparing to release its evidence on the researcher, who killed himself before he could be charged, law enforcement officials said on Tuesday.

The evidence could be released as early as Wednesday [8-6-08] and includes anthrax spores found in the office of Bruce Ivins that were linked through DNA matching to the spores sent through the mail, the officials said.

They said the evidence also included e-mails sent by Ivins that implicate him in the anthrax attacks, the worst biological weapon attack on U.S. soil.

The FBI plans to brief victims and their families on the latest developments, most likely on Wednesday. Court documents detailing the evidence against Ivins also would be unsealed, probably the same day.

Law enforcement officials have expressed confidence in their belief that Ivins acted alone and said they plan to close the investigation soon -- meaning there are no more suspects. But some scientists have questioned whether Ivins could have done it by himself...

Attorney General Michael Mukasey declined to say whether the anthrax investigation had been closed by the Justice Department.

"The department has a legal and a moral obligation to make official statements first to the victims and their families and then to the public," Mukasey said in Boston, adding that he hoped it would happen on Wednesday [8-6-08].

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