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Last Updated

19 Aug 2008

Source: Frederick News-Post, August 7, 2008.

Ivins alone responsible for attacks, feds claim

Investigators defend use of circumstantial evidence in pointing finger at Detrick scientist

By Staff Reports, News-Post Staff

Investigators are standing by the circumstantial evidence they used to build a case against Bruce Ivins, the FBI's sole suspect in the 2001 anthrax mailings that killed five people and injured 17 others.

Officials at a Wednesday press conference admitted they lacked physical evidence that could better tie Ivins to the mailings that targeted news organizations and elected officials.

Ivins was a Fort Detrick scientist and leading anthrax researcher who died from an apparent suicide July 29. Investigators had been scheduled to meet with Ivins' attorney last week to lay out their case.

U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Jeffrey A. Taylor said the FBI does not have direct evidence. For example, investigators have neither gas nor toll receipts that would place Ivins in Princeton, N.J., the location from where the anthrax letters were mailed. They do not have any samples of his handwriting matching that on the envelopes.

The FBI recognizes its evidence is largely circumstantial, but said it was compelling enough to find Ivins guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, Taylor said.

"Thousands of prosecutors and thousands of courthouses across this country every day prove cases beyond a reasonable doubt using circumstantial evidence," he said.

When asked why and how Ivins, a man characterized as emotionally unpredictable, was allowed to continue working in a highly secure lab, Taylor said Fort Detrick was notified.

"With respect to the access he actually had, I defer to the Department of Defense," Taylor said. "When the investigation began to focus on Dr. Ivins, the lab was notified."

In a statement released Wednesday, The United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases said Ivins was denied access in November 2007 to labs where researchers worked with anthrax and other deadly diseases.

Taylor did not say when the lab was notified about the investigation.

Officials continually urged reporters at Wednesday's briefing to read the unsealed documents rather than answer specific questions about the lack of physical evidence.

When asked about reports FBI agents had approached Ivins' family in a Frederick mall, officials said those claims were "categorically false."

Earlier media reports used unnamed sources to describe FBI agents offering money to Ivins' adult children for information. The reports also stated agents showed his son and daughter pictures of anthrax victims, telling them their father was responsible for the crimes.

Joe Persichini Jr., assistant director in charge of the FBI's Washington Field Office, said agents handled themselves professionally and treated the family with respect.

FBI director Robert Mueller on Wednesday morning briefed survivors of the attacks, as well as family members of those killed, with details of the investigation.

Survivor Leroy Richmond said he was satisfied with the answers he received during the four-hour meeting at FBI headquarters. Richmond, of Stafford, Va., was infected with anthrax while working at the Brentwood postal facility in Washington.

Others affected by the attacks were less sure of the case against Ivins.

"Some of what they said did help a lot, but not totally," said Dena Briscoe, who worked with Richmond at the Brentwood facility and is the president of the Nation's Capital/Southern Maryland Area Local of the American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO.

Briscoe, who missed about two months of work because of bronchitis after the attacks, attended Wednesday's press conference. She said postal workers deserve a formal explanation.


Federal agents built their case against Ivins on 16 points, according to investigative documents released Wednesday afternoon. The following evidence is revealed in those documents:

Genetic analysis

Investigators discovered several unique characteristics of the anthrax used in the attacks that served as a DNA fingerprint.

Following the mailings, 16 government, commercial and university labs that had virulent Ames strain anthrax in their inventories prior to the attacks were identified. In all, investigators obtained more than 1,000 samples of Ames anthrax and archived them in an FBI repository.

The samples from the attacks were compared to the new samples and investigators determined only eight contained all the genetic mutations. Each of those eight related to an Ames strain spore batch, identified as RMR-1029.

That batch was stored in the B3 biocontainment suite in building 1425 of USAMRIID at Fort Detrick.

Ivins had unrestricted access to the suite and had been the sole custodian of RMR-1029 since it was first grown in 1997.

Envelopes used

Four envelopes used in the attacks were recovered. The four envelopes were all 6.75-inch federal eagle envelopes, about 45 million of which were manufactured between Dec. 6, 2000, and March 2002.

These envelopes were sold solely by the U.S. Postal Service between Jan. 8, 2001, and June 2002.

After the attacks, an effort was made to collect all such envelopes for forensic examination, the documents state.

Envelopes with printing defects identical to those used in the attacks were collected from the Fairfax Main, Cumberland and Elkton post offices.

Given that the printing defects are present on only a small number of the envelopes and that those used in the attacks were recovered from post offices serviced by the Dulles Stamp Distribution Office, investigators said it is reasonable to conclude the envelopes used in the attacks were purchased from a post office in Maryland or Virginia.

Of the 16 government, commercial and university laboratories that have virulent Ames strain anthrax material in their inventory, only one lab was in Maryland or Virginia: USAMRIID.

Mental health issues

Ivins was prescribed antidepressants, antipsychotics and anti-anxiety medications for mental health issues from 2000 through 2006. E-mails Ivins wrote to a friend describe his "paranoid personality disorder" and a feeling of "being eaten alive inside." He wrote that a therapist he saw in late 2000 wanted to "get me put in jail," and that he had to transfer to a new psychiatrist and group counseling.

He describes his reaction to the events of Sept. 11, 2001, as "far different" from that of the rest of his counseling group. In the same e-mail, he states that "Osama Bin Laden has just decreed death to all Jews and to all Americans," using similar wording to the "DEATH TO AMERICA" and "DEATH TO ISRAEL" proclamations in the anthrax letters postmarked two weeks later.

In July 2007, a forensic psychiatrist who reviewed Ivins' insurance billing records for medical appointments and prescriptions determined that if Ivins had mailed the anthrax letters, he would have likely retained a souvenir of the event.

Working late nights

Ivins worked odd hours alone in a secured lab that was linked to the 2001 anthrax attacks at USAMRIID. A flask inside the lab contained organisms used in the attacks.

Unlike other researchers, Ivins worked in the lab at night and on weekends by himself. Ivins said he went there "to escape" from home, a place that was "not good." He typically worked from 7:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. and worked at night sometimes to check on experiments.

However, Ivins visited the lab at night more frequently starting in August 2001, just before the anthrax letters were mailed. He spent more than 30 hours working at the lab during evenings in September 2001, compared to less than five hours in September 2000.

Days before anthrax letters were mailed to the New York Post and NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw on Sept. 17 or 18, Ivins worked in the lab two hours and 15 minutes each night from Sept. 14 to 16. He did not enter the lab at night again until Sept. 25.

Ivins also worked at night before anthrax letters were mailed to then-Sen. Tom Daschle and Sen. Patrick Leahy sometime between Oct. 6 and Oct. 9, 2001. Starting Sept. 28, Ivins worked in the lab eight evenings in a row, spending almost four hours in the lab Oct. 5. He didn't enter the lab again until Oct. 9 and worked for 15 minutes.

Failure to cooperate

Ivins gave the FBI samples from a flask used in his lab in 2002. The samples could not be used because Ivins did not "follow protocol," according to documents. The samples tested negative, but FBI agents later seized more samples Ivins did not originally give to the FBI. Those samples tested positive and could be linked to the mailings.

Anthrax knowledge

When the FBI told Ivins that the samples matched genetics found in the mailings, the researcher said he already knew, according to documents. Ivins said an FBI agent had already told him, but that agent said otherwise. Ivins later said he found out from co-workers, but they also denied giving such information to him.

False names and sorority obsession

Ivins used at least two Frederick post office boxes over the past 24 years to communicate with others, mainly regarding the sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma. In an online posting under an e-mail address provided by Ivins, the writer outlines his extensive knowledge of the sorority.

The warrant also includes a police report of vandalism reported in the same area Ivins lived in during his post-doctoral fellowship at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Greek letters were painted on the home's front fence, three adjacent sidewalk areas and on the rear window of a car.

The anthrax letters were mailed in 2001 from a box in Princeton, N.J., about 60 feet from a KKG office.


The investigation showed that all anthrax letters were mailed from a mailbox on Nassau Street in Princeton, N.J., postmarked on Sept. 18, 2001, or Oct. 9, 2001.

Frustrations with the U.S. Senate

Ivins and his wife are practicing Catholics, having attended St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Frederick. Ivins identified his wife as president of the Frederick County chapter of Right to Life.

In 2001, Daschle and Leahy were criticized in a newsletter article published by the Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati for their pro-choice stance on abortion. A Leahy staffer stated in 2001 that Leahy and Daschle were seen by some as trying to slow the passage of the Patriot Act.

Vaccine controversy

An additive in the anthrax vaccine blamed for Gulf War Syndrome came under fire during the 1990s. In 2001, the FDA suspended further production of the vaccine at BioPort, a private company in Michigan. Ivins and USAMRIID scientists were responsible for resolving the vaccine production issues.

In early 2002, following the anthrax attacks, the FDA re-approved the vaccine for human use, and in 2003, Ivins received the highest civilian honor from the Department of Defense for returning the vaccine to production.


Investigators said Ivins had extensive experience in the production of spores to create anthrax. He used equipment in his vaccine research that could have been used to create the anthrax used in the mailings.

Greendale School

The return address on one of the anthrax letters was "4th Grade, Greendale School."

In 1999, the American Family Association filed suit on behalf of parents at Greendale Baptist Academy in Wisconsin, claiming social workers had violated a fourth grade pupil's rights by interviewing the pupil about corporal punishment at the school without parents present.

Donations were made to AFA in the name of Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Ivins 11 times between 1993 and 1997. Another donation by the couple was recorded one month after an article about the Greendale incident appeared in the AFA Journal. The Ivins subscribed to the Journal until March 2005.

Bacterial contaminant

Both of the anthrax spore powders recovered from The New York Post and Brokaw letters contained low levels of a certain bacterial contaminant.

RMR-1029 did not contain that contaminant, which suggests that the anthrax used in the attacks was grown from the material contained in RMR-1029 and not taken directly from the flask and placed in envelopes.

Anthrax origin

Investigators identified a unique elemental signature of silicon on the letters used in the attacks. That silicon signature had not been previously described for anthrax.

A physical comparison of the spore powders revealed differences in the two sets of mailings. While the spore powders for one set were granular and multicolored, the other set's powders were fine and uniform in color.

The documents do not state how this links Ivins to the attacks.

Trace evidence

Anthrax spores can survive extreme conditions inside their dense shells. Investigators believed traces of the bacteria could remain inside the home or car of the person responsible for the 2001 mailings even six years later.

The documents do not state how this links Ivins to the attacks.

Tape, ink and fiber trace evidence

All four of the envelopes containing the letters were taped along the seams with transparent tape, the documents state. Because of patterns placed on the tape as part of the manufacturing process, it is possible to match a piece of tape with the roll where it originated.

According to FBI lab experts, the envelopes were addressed with a pen that dispenses fluid-like ink, rather than the ink found in ball point pens, the documents state. Because of the distinguishing characteristics of ink, which vary by manufacturer, it is sometimes possible to match ink writing with the pen or brand of pen used to apply it.

Forensic analysis of the tape attached to the four envelopes has identified eight different types of fiber attached to the tape: black cotton, black wool, black nylon, brown polyester, blue wool, yellow acrylic, red cotton and red acrylic.

The documents do not state how this links Ivins to the attacks.


Earlier Wednesday, about 11:30 a.m., a private memorial for Ivins took place at Fort Detrick, said Chuck Gordon, an Army spokesman. Prior to the ceremony, Ivins' driveway across from the Army post on Military Road was full of cars.

Ivins' son, Andy, dressed in a dark suit, left for the service at about 11:15 a.m.

He took one of the two cars with Shepherd University decals.

His mother, Ivins' wife, Diane, emerged from the family's two-story white wooden house after her son. With her were two men and a woman.

They departed in a red van and returned in the same van more than 90 minutes later. Diane Ivins chose not to say anything to the press as she walked to her house.

Andy Ivins appeared grief-stricken. He silently carried a bouquet of flowers into the house with him.

Bonnie Duggan, Ivins' neighbor, said she hadn't had a chance to review the evidence Wednesday, but deep down, Ivins didn't have it in him to harm someone, she said.

"It doesn't change the way we knew him as a neighbor," she said.

It would be hard to know what is true without talking to his family, and they're not likely to divulge anything anytime soon, Duggan said.

"The people who are closest to him have not said anything," she said.

Staff writers Ashley Andyshak, Adam Behsudi, Trevor Davis, Marge Neal, Justin M. Palk, Pam Rigaux and David Simon contributed to this story.