[Guest post by DRJ]
By now, most of us have read about the recent suicide of Bruce Ivins, a government scientist who was reportedly about to be indicted on murder charges in connection with the 2001 anthrax letters. Letters containing anthrax were mailed to the news media and government leaders, caused 5 deaths, sickened 17, and terrorized Americans in the wake of 9/11.
An article in today’s Washington Post reports new details about how the FBI linked Ivins to the anthrax:
“Although the Army biological weapons lab where Ivins worked _ Ft. Detrick in Frederick, Md. _ had long been on the FBI’s radar, scientists were unable to pinpoint the specific strain used in the attacks until recently.
The FBI recruited top genome researchers from across the country and gave them “no rules, so we could do the best and most compelling approaches,” said the scientist. At least $10 million was spent on the case, in what the scientist called “clearly the most expensive case FBI’s ever undertaken. And the most scientifically compelling case.”
The new genome technology used to track down Ivins was either not available or too expensive to use often until about three years ago.”
Researchers were able to isolate differences in the Ames strain used at Ft. Dietrick and trace it to Ivins’ research. Such genome advances could be valuable in the legal and medical fields.
Another Washington Post article addresses the FBI investigation and how it impacted the scientists at Ft. Dietrick. Some scientists express skepticism about Ivins’ guilt, especially in light of what happened to their former colleague Stephen Hatfill.
EDIT: I forgot to include this information in my post. The AP reports that Bruce Ivins had been under psychiatric care, both recently and perhaps for some time. The report includes these disquieting statements by his therapist Jean Duley at a July 24 court hearing in which Duley was granted a protective order from Ivins:
“As far back as the year 2000, the respondent [Ivins] has actually attempted to murder several other people, either through poisoning. He is a revenge killer. When he feels that he’s been slighted or has had – especially toward women – he plots and actually tries to carry out revenge killings,” Duley said.
She added that Ivins “has been forensically diagnosed by several top psychiatrists as a sociopathic, homicidal killer. I have that in evidence. And through my working with him, I also believe that to be very true.”
It’s hard to believe Ivins was allowed to work at Ft. Dietrick, let alone research and handle dangerous biologicals. As tragic as the anthrax letter attacks were, it sounds like they could have been much worse.