F.B.I. Presents Anthrax Case, Saying Scientist Acted Alone
By SCOTT SHANE and ERIC LICHTBLAU
WASHINGTON — The Federal Bureau of Investigation on Wednesday outlined a pattern of bizarre and deceptive conduct by Bruce E. Ivins, an Army microbiologist who killed himself last week, presenting a sweeping but circumstantial case that he was solely responsible for mailing the deadly anthrax letters that killed five people in 2001.
After nearly seven years of a troubled investigation, officials of the F.B.I. and the Justice Department declared that the case had been solved. Jeffrey A. Taylor, the United States attorney for the District of Columbia, said the authorities believed "that based on the evidence we had collected, we could prove his guilt to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt."
Some survivors of the attacks and members of Congress said they were persuaded by the evidence against Dr. Ivins, laid out in hundreds of pages of applications for search warrants unsealed for the first time. But some independent scientists, friends and colleagues of Dr. Ivins remained skeptical, noting that officials admitted that more than 100 people had access to the supply of anthrax that matched the powder in the letters.
Lawyers for Dr. Ivins reasserted their late client's innocence and criticized the government for presenting what they called "heaps of innuendo" that failed to link him directly to the crime and would never have to be tested in court. "It was an explanation of why Bruce Ivins was a suspect," said Paul F. Kemp, who represented the scientist for more than a year before his death on July 29 at age 62. "But there's a total absence of proof that he committed this crime."
The conflicting views of Dr. Ivins emerged in a day of emotional crosscurrents. At a morning memorial service at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md., weeping Army scientists praised Dr. Ivins as a beloved colleague "known for his patience and enthusiasm for science," as a written program put it. At the same time, at F.B.I. headquarters in Washington, the F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III, and bureau officials were explaining to survivors of the anthrax attacks and relatives of the five people who died why they believe Dr. Ivins was a mass murderer.
Later, at an afternoon news conference, Mr. Taylor, the United States attorney, called Dr. Ivins "a troubled individual" who had carried out "the worst act of bioterrorism in U.S. history."
Pressure on the F.B.I. to present a powerful case was enormous, in part because some colleagues of Dr. Ivins have accused investigators of hounding an innocent man to suicide. The skepticism was all the greater because investigators have recently acknowledged that for years they had focused on the wrong man, Steven J. Hatfill, whose career was ruined and who received a settlement worth $4.6 million from the Justice Department in June.
Justice Department officials did not give Dr. Hatfill the all-out exoneration that he and his lawyers had sought, and they appeared reluctant to even mention Dr. Hatfill by name when asked repeatedly about his status. "With respect to the individual you mentioned," Mr. Taylor told a reporter, "we were able to determine that at no time could that individual be put in the presence of that flask from which these spores came." Mr. Hatfill's lawyer declined to comment.
The case against Dr. Ivins combined scientific analysis of the mailed anthrax, whose genetic fingerprint investigators linked to a supply in the scientist's laboratory, with a review of his e-mail messages, which showed fury and frustration at problems in his anthrax vaccine research, worsening symptoms of mental illness and language that echoed a phrase in the note sent in the poisoned letters.
In addition, investigators from the F.B.I. and the Postal Inspection Service found records showing that Dr. Ivins had worked late at night in his laboratory at Fort Detrick in the days before the two mailings in September and October 2001, an unusual pattern that investigators said he did not persuasively explain.
Dr. Ivins "could provide no legitimate reason for the extended hours, other than ‘home was not good' and he went there ‘to escape' from his life at home," an investigator wrote in an affidavit last Oct. 31 to persuade a judge to permit a search of his house in Frederick. Investigators also noted that envelopes used in the attacks all had a printing defect indicating that they were sold at only a small number of post offices in Maryland and Virginia in 2001 — including the location in Frederick where Dr. Ivins maintained a box under an assumed name.
An inventory of items taken in the Nov. 1 search included a briefcase containing three handguns and a "notebook detailing firearms training."
But Mr. Kemp and his co-counsel, Thomas M. DeGonia, both of the Venable law firm, said that more important was what was not found.
Multiple searches of Dr. Ivins's house and cars turned up not a spore of anthrax, the lawyers said, and perusal of thousands of his e-mail messages turned up no indication that he planned to commit the crime or pleasure or regret at having committed it.
Moreover, months of work uncovered no evidence that Dr. Ivins had traveled to Princeton, N.J., where investigators believe the letters were mailed. The closest connection was that a chapter house of Kappa Kappa Gamma, a sorority with which Dr. Ivins had a long and strange obsession, is located near the contaminated Princeton mailbox.
In fact, many of the documents enumerate bizarre acts and e-mail messages, many related to the sorority, with no direct relation to the anthrax case. For example Dr. Ivins engaged in an editing war on the Wikipedia entry for the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, trying, often unsuccessfully, "to post derogatory information."
He wrote scores of letters to members of Congress and the news media, sometimes under assumed names, the documents said. Investigators wrote that the mailings were "significant since all of the anthrax-laden letters were sent to" media organizations and Congress.
The anthrax investigation began in October 2001 with hundreds of agents working around the clock and many expecting the letters to be linked to Al Qaeda. But investigators concluded early on that a more likely perpetrator was an American biodefense insider, possibly one who wanted to raise public awareness of the bioterrorist threat.
That was the approach when the bureau focused on Dr. Hatfill with heavily publicized searches, obvious surveillance and leaks about bloodhounds that "went crazy" in supposedly linking him to the letters. But he was not charged, and by 2003, at least some investigators doubted he was the culprit, although others continued to describe him as a suspect.
By 2005, genetic research had tied the anthrax to a supply in Dr. Ivins's laboratory. But officials indicated that it took nearly four years to eliminate others who had access to the same supply.
At the news conference, Mr. Taylor acknowledged that the case was circumstantial but said, "We have a flask that's effectively the murder weapon from which those spores were taken that was controlled by Dr. Ivins."
Mr. Kemp, the defense lawyer, said the flask was far from "controlled" by Dr. Ivins. "Other scientists helped him create that anthrax and worked with it constantly," he said. "They kept no records of who took a sample."
Patrick D. O'Donnell, a New Jersey mail sorter who developed a severe cutaneous anthrax infection on his neck after handling a letter, attended the F.B.I. briefing, which he said drew about 40 victims and survivors, and found it compelling.
"It is hard not to be convinced, with what they have," Mr. O'Donnell said after the meeting. "It is mostly all circumstantial. But they just have so much evidence I just can't see it being anybody else."
Representative Rush Holt, Democrat of New Jersey, who has been one of the F.B.I.'s most dogged critics on the case, said he found the evidence against Dr. Ivins "compelling" but wanted to know why investigators had remained focused on Dr. Hatfill for so long and why they are so certain that Dr. Ivins acted alone.
Two bioterrorism experts who reviewed the F.B.I. evidence at the request of The New York Times said the bureau would have to release far more scientific evidence to convince specialists.
One expert, Dr. Thomas V. Inglesby, deputy director of the Center for Biosecurity of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said the bureau "certainly has strong circumstantial evidence" but added that "it's important that the F.B.I. go on to release the scientific details."
He said the search warrant affidavits offered only incomplete data on how the letter anthrax was linked genetically to Dr. Ivins's lab to the letters and almost nothing on the preparation of the powder.
The other, Jonathan B. Tucker, a biological warfare expert on the staff of a federal commission for the prevention of terrorism with unconventional weapons, said the documents contained "a number of gaps and inferences."
The F.B.I. made no mention of handwriting analysis, for example, that might tie Dr. Ivins to the attack letters, Dr. Tucker said.
"It's not an open-and-shut case," he said. "There are some pieces of evidence that are much more compelling than others, and a number of loose ends that haven't been tied."
William J. Broad, Eric Lipton and Sarah Abruzzese contributed reporting from Washington, and Nicholas Wade from New York.