By David Willman, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer, August 1, 2008So was this man, Bruce E. Ivins, 62, really the man who mailed out the anthrax letters in 2001? Personally, based on my prior investigations, I was inclined to think that Ivin's fellow scientist Philip Zack was a more likely culprit. OTOH I never even heard the name Bruce Ivins mentioned on any website I visited, even though he worked in the same lab as Dr Zack.
A top government scientist who helped the FBI analyze samples from the 2001 anthrax attacks has died in Maryland from an apparent suicide, just as the Justice Department was about to file criminal charges against him for the attacks, the Los Angeles Times has learned.
Bruce E. Ivins, 62, who for the last 18 years worked at the government's elite biodefense research laboratories at Ft. Detrick, Md., had been informed of his impending prosecution, said people familiar with Ivins, his suspicious death and the FBI investigation.
Ivins, whose name had not been disclosed publicly as a suspect in the case, played a central role in research to improve anthrax vaccines by preparing anthrax formulations used in experiments on animals.
Regarded as a skilled microbiologist, Ivins also helped the FBI analyze the powdery material recovered from one of the anthrax-tainted envelopes sent to a U.S. senator's office in Washington.
Ivins died Tuesday at Frederick Memorial Hospital after ingesting a massive dose of prescription Tylenol mixed with codeine, said a friend and colleague, who declined to be identified out of concern that he would be harassed by the FBI.
The death -- without any mention of suicide -- was announced to Ivins' colleagues at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, or USAMRIID, through a staffwide e-mail.
"People here are pretty shook up about it," said Caree Vander Linden, a spokeswoman for USAMRIID, who said she was not at liberty to discuss details surrounding the death.
The anthrax mailings killed five people, crippled national mail service, shut down a Senate office building and spread fear of further terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The extraordinary turn of events followed the government's payment in June of a settlement valued at $5.82 million to a former government scientist, Steven J. Hatfill, who was long targeted as the FBI's chief suspect despite a lack of any evidence that he had ever possessed anthrax.
The payout to Hatfill, a highly unusual development that all but exonerated him in the mailings, was an essential step to clear the way for prosecuting Ivins, according to lawyers familiar with the matter.
Federal investigators moved away from Hatfill -- for years the only publicly identified "person of interest" -- and ultimately concluded that Ivins was the culprit after FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III changed leadership of the investigation in late 2006.
The FBI's new top investigators -- Vincent B. Lisi and Edward W. Montooth -- instructed agents to reexamine leads or potential suspects that may have received insufficient attention. Moreover, significant progress was made in analyzing genetic properties of the anthrax powder recovered from letters addressed to two senators.
The renewed efforts led the FBI back to USAMRIID, where agents first questioned scientists in December 2001, a few weeks after the fatal mailings.
By spring of this year, FBI agents were still contacting Ivins' present and former colleagues. At USAMRIID and elsewhere, scientists acquainted with Ivins were asked to sign confidentiality agreements in order to prevent leaks of new investigative details.
Ivins, employed as a civilian at Ft. Detrick, earlier had attracted the attention of Army officials because of anthrax contaminations that Ivins failed to report for five months. In sworn oral and written statements to an Army investigator, Ivins said that he had erred by keeping the episodes secret -- from December 2001 to late April 2002. He said he had swabbed and bleached more than 20 areas that he suspected were contaminated by a sloppy lab technician.
"In retrospect, although my concern for biosafety was honest and my desire to refrain from crying 'Wolf!' . . . was sincere, I should have notified my supervisor ahead of time of my worries about a possible breach in biocontainment," Ivins told the Army. "I thought that quietly and diligently cleaning the dirty desk area would both eliminate any possible [anthrax] contamination as well as prevent unintended anxiety at the institute."
The Army chose not to discipline Ivins regarding his failure to report the contamination. Officials said that penalizing Ivins might discourage other employees from voluntarily reporting accidental spills of "hot" agents.
But Ivins' recollections should have raised serious questions about his veracity and his intentions, according to some of those familiar with the investigation. For instance, although Ivins said that he swabbed areas near and within his personal office, and bleached surfaces to kill any spores, and that some of the swabs tested positive, he was vague about what should have been an essential next step:
Reswabbing to check whether any spores remained.
"I honestly do not recall if follow-up swabs were taken of the area," Ivins said. "I may have done so, but I do not now remember reswabbing."
"That's bull----," said one former senior USAMRIID official. "If there's contamination, you always reswab. And you would remember doing it."
The former official told The Times that Ivins might have hedged regarding reswabbing out of fear that investigators would find more of the spores inside or near his office.
Ivins' statements were contained within a May 2002 Army report on the contamination at USAMRIID and was obtained by The Times under the Freedom of Information Act.
Soon after the government's settlement with Hatfill was announced June 27, Ivins began showing signs of serious strain.
One of his longtime colleagues told The Times that Ivins, who was being treated for depression, indicated to a therapist that he was considering suicide.
Soon thereafter, family members and local police officers escorted Ivins from USAMRIID, where his access to sensitive areas was curtailed, the colleague said.
Ivins was committed to a facility in Frederick for treatment of his depression. On July 24, he was released from the facility, operated by Sheppard Pratt Health System. A telephone call that same day by The Times verified that Ivins' government voice mail was still functioning at the bacteriology division of USAMRIID.
The scientist faced forced retirement, planned for September, said his longtime colleague, who described Ivins as emotionally fractured by the federal scrutiny.
"He didn't have any more money to spend on legal fees. He was much more emotionally labile, in terms of sensitivity to things, than most scientists. . . . He was very thin-skinned."
FBI spokeswoman Debra J. Weierman said Thursday that the bureau would not comment on the death of Ivins.
Last week, FBI Director Mueller told CNN that "in some sense, there have been breakthroughs" in the case.
"I'll tell you we made great progress in the investigation," Mueller added.
"And it's in no way dormant."
Ivins, the son of a Princeton-educated pharmacist, was born and raised in Lebanon, Ohio, and received undergraduate and graduate degrees, including a doctorate in microbiology, from the University of Cincinnati.
The eldest of his two brothers, Thomas Ivins, said he was not surprised by the events that have unfolded.
"He buckled under the pressure from the federal government," Thomas Ivins said, adding that FBI agents came to Ohio last year to question him about his brother.
"I was questioned by the feds, and I sung like a canary" about Bruce Ivins' personality and tendencies, Thomas Ivins said.
"He had in his mind that he was omnipotent."
Ivins' widow declined to be interviewed when reached Thursday at her home in Frederick. The couple raised twins, now 24.
The family's home is 198 miles -- about a 3 1/2 -hour drive -- from a mailbox in Princeton, N.J., where anthrax spores were found by investigators.
All of the recovered anthrax letters were postmarked in that vicinity.
It's interesting that Ed Lake, whose anthraxinvestigation.com website has a lot of information, just updated his site two weeks ago with a post defending Zack from mounting online suspicion:
On the morning of April 11, 2008, someone who truly believes that al Qaeda sent the anthrax letters sent me a clipping from the July 28, 1974, issue of The Zanesville, Ohio, Times Recorder. Here is the section of that clipping which refers to Dr. Zack:Lake suggests that the article proves that Zack was not Jewish, which means any Zionist-influenced conspiracy theories (like mine) should be put to rest. OTOH Lake's credibility takes a blow when he calls Justin Raimondo a "conservative"!
But why does Mr. Raimondo point at Dr. Zack? Why not point at others who belonged to "The Camel Club" at Ft. Detrick? Why ignore the fact that Dr. Zack lived in Colorado at the time of the attacks? Why ignore the fact that the incident with Dr. Assaad took place ten years before the attacks? Why ignore the fact that it took place at the time of the first Gulf War when many Americans were "anti-Arab?" Why ignore the fact that the attack anthrax was made no more than two years before the attacks? Why ignore the fact that there is really nothing that points at Dr. Zack other than a mistaken belief that he's a Jew and part of The Great Jewish Conspiracy?Hmmn. That's strangely incoherent and uninformed, in contrast with other information Lake has provided.
Do conservatives like Mr. Raimondo think that Dr. Zack is a liberal Arab hater? Is there such a thing as a liberal Arab hater?
If Dr. Zack is not a Jew, who conservatives readily label as "bigots" because Jews don't seem to like the Arabs who want to exterminate them, what kind of "bigot" could Dr. Zack be? If he's a Catholic who didn't like Arabs at the time of the first Gulf War, what kind of "bigot" would that make him? Does "conservative bigot" seem a reasonable term? It appears that Mr. Raimondo is pointing the finger at a fellow conservative!
It's possible that Raimondo jumped to conclusions because only two members of the Camel Club were publicly named, and even that was only because they quit their jobs. I haven't seen any other websites mentioning Ivins' name. And yet, as I said a month ago:
It seems clear that the prime suspects in the anthrax case today must be Dr. Philip M. Zack, Dr. Marian K. Rippy, their "camel club" colleagues, and their supervisors.So now we find out that Bruce Ivins was a member of the Camel Club, and he is conveniently dead. His Wikipedia page has already been updated (just 5 hours after the LAS Times story broke):
After Hatfill was no longer considered a suspect, Ivins began "showing signs of serious strain". As a result, he lost access to sensitive areas at his job. He began being treated for depression and expressed some suicidal thoughts.Does that mean he was the author of the anthrax letters? No.
Late in July 2008, investigators informed Ivins of his impending prosecution for his alleged involvement in the 2001 Anthrax Attacks that Ivins himself had previously assisted authorities in investigating.
Ivins apparently committed suicide on July 29, 2008 by overdosing on Tylenol with Codeine.
Does it mean he wasn't? No.
We should expect a lot more information about this case to come through soon. Keep your eyes open for what is NOT said. There are a lot of unanswered questions at this point.
If Ivins did it, what was his motivation? Why did he frame Arabs for the attacks? Who fingered Dr Assad? Who fingered Dr Hatfill, and why did the FBI (ad the corporate media) pursue these leads so aggressively while ignoring others?
What did the Feds find in that lake?
Did the DoJ try to block this investigation? If so, why? As I write, the DoJ still has no comment.
Did those reporters reveal their sources?
And could all this have anything to do with Jerome Hauer?