Anthrax: FBI closes case, but will questions remain open?
LETTER sent to US senator. Two postal workers killed
NINE years after the anthrax attacks in the United States which caused the deaths of five people and a national, if not global scare, the FBI has concluded that a lone "mad scientist" with a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality was to blame, and announced it was closing the case.
A 92 page report issued in Washington says the 2001 attacks were the work of Bruce E.Ivins, a biological warfare expert working for the US military at Fort Detrick, in Maryland. It refers to downloaded porn and problems with female colleagues as evidence of a disturbed personality, and cites a recorded conversation with a friend:
“If I found out I was involved in some way...” Dr.Ivins says, not finishing the sentence. “I do not have any recollection of ever doing anything like that,” ... “I can tell you, I am not a killer at heart.” And a 2008 e-mail to a former colleague, reflecting distress, “I can hurt, kill, and terrorize.”
Ivins can't answer questions about just what he meant, or how he felt about his work. He died in July 2008 of an overdose of Tylenol, while under FBI surveillance, during which his car wa tagged, and his wife and children were questioned.
The FBI believes Ivins embedded a complex coded message in the notes mailed with the anthrax, alluding to two female former colleagues with whom he was obsessed.
The report describes how an F.B.I. surveillance agent watched in 2007 as Dr. Ivins threw out a article and a book, Douglas Hofstadter’s “Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid,” that could betray his interest in codes, coming out of his house in Frederick, Md., at 1 a.m. in long underwear to make certain the garbage truck had taken his trash.
Coming amid the fever over the 9/11 attacks, and scares that something else would be attempted, anthrax fears were raised over any white powder, and some newspapers received less dangerous forms. The envelopes also contained crude notes extolling Islamic terror. But the real anthrax infected 22 people,including several postal workers, and killed five. Government offices were evacuated, and millions of dollars spent cleaning mail sorting offices.
The investigation included 10,000 interviews around the world, and media pointed to numerous countries where anthrax might be stored in laboratories. Meanwhile, in the United States, the government increased spending on "biodefense" and revived the military anthrax vaccination programme on which Dr.Irvine had been working. The anthrax scare contributed to the build up for war with Iraq, as well as the worldwide "war on terror", even though it soon became know that the anthrax strain used in the attacks was developed by the US military itself.
For a time attention turned to another scientist who had worked for the military, Dr. Steven J. Hatfill. It was revealed that Hatfill had a colourful CV. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, he grew up in Mattoon, Illinois, and in the early 1970s he studied biology at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas. During this period, he left his studies and traveled to Kapanga, Zaire, where he worked with Dr. Glenn Eschtruth as a medical missionary. After graduating from Southwestern in 1975, Hatfill enlisted in the United States Army. In October 1976 he married Caroline Eschtruth, the daughter of his mentor.
A few months after their marriage, the mission was attacked by guerrillas from Angola, and Dr.Eschtruth was killed. In May 1978, hatfill divorced his wife, but returned to Afica, this time attending the Godfrey Huggins Medical School in White-ruled Rhodesia. While in Rhodesia, Hatfill claims to have served with the Selous Scouts, carrying out counter-insurgency raids against the African national liberation forces and their people.
In 1984 he moved to the Republic of South Africa, finding time off his medical research to join the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) or Afrikaner Resistance Movement, with its military wing Aquila. Indicating its inspiration this white supremacist movement used a flag similar to that of Nazi Germany, but with a three-pronged device in place of the swastika. This symbol became fashionable for a time with some racist groups outside South Africa.
The FBI investigators began interviewing Hatfill in 2002. They had difficulty tracing material evidence linking either him or Dr. Ivins with the anthrax attacks.
Dr.Hatfill insisted his speciality had not been anthrax but Ebola and Harburg viruses - which caused epidemics in Africa. Though Dr,Ivins had worked on anthrax, the powder used in the lethal attacks was a kind developed for aerosols, linking the anthrax itself with fine silicon particles. This work had been done after his time, and he would not have either the skills nor equipment to duplicate it. The anthrax strain was supposedly traced to a flask used by Dr.Ivins, but this contained no silicon.
Still, the FBI decided Ivins was their man soon after his suicide. The government exonerated Dr. Hatfill and agreed to a settlement worth $4.6 million to resolve a lawsuit alleging that his privacy rights had been violated.
Not everyone is satisfied that the FBI has solved the anthrax mystery. Representative Rush D. Holt, a New Jersey Democrat and a physicist who has sharply criticized the bureau’s work, said the case should not have been closed.
“Arbitrarily closing the case on a Friday afternoon should not mean the end of this investigation,” Mr. Holt said, noting that the National Academy of Sciences was still studying the F.B.I.’s scientific work. He said the F.B.I. report laid out “barely a circumstantial case” that “would not, I think, stand up in court.”
Some of Dr. Ivins’s colleagues at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Frederick, including several supervisors who knew him well, publicly rejected the F.B.I.’s conclusion. They said he was eccentric but incapable of such a diabolical act, and they questioned whether he could have produced the deadly powder with the equipment in his lab.
The FBI refers to “an illogical 12-point memo” written by Dr,Ivins uggesting that the two female former colleagues with whom he was obsessed might have mailed the letters. When one of the women, made aware of the memo, confronted Dr. Ivins about it in 2008, he wrote to her, blaming an alternate personality he called “ ‘Crazy Bruce,’ who surfaces periodically as paranoid, severely depressed and ridden with incredible anxiety.” He complained that “it seems as though I have been selected as the blood sacrifice for this whole thing.”
FBI declares case closed.
Doubts over Ivins' culprit
An extensive view from the wild side - conspiracy theory but with interesting facts: