Friday, February 19, 2010

FBI pins blame for anthrax attacks on Army microbiologist

News that the FBI had wrapped up its long-running investigation into the anthrax mailings that terrorized the United States in the weeks following the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 is, apparently, not reassuring to anybody. Friday's announcement set off a storm of criticism because some government experts were still studying the evidence collected in what have called the largest investigation in FBI history. U.S. Rep. Rush D. Holt (D-New Jersey), a physician, said the closure of the case was premature and laid out only "barely a circumstantial case" against a U.S. Army scientist, according to the New York Times. "Arbitrarily closing the case on a Friday afternoon should not mean the end of this investigation,” Holt said, since the National Academy of Sciences was still studying the FBI's scientific work, and since the bureau had accused the wrong man earlier in the probe. The case catapulted into the national spotlight just a week after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington when anthrax-contaminated letters began arriving at the offices of news organizations and two senators. Five people were killed and 22 more, including five postal workers, were exposed to the contamination, and offices on Capitol Hill and the U.S. Supreme Court had to be evacuated. The U.S. Postal Service spent hundreds of millions of dollars to decontaminate its offices, the Times said. But the FBI concluded in a 92-page report that Dr. Bruce Ivins, who even helped work on the investigation at the Army’s biodefense laboratory in Fort Detrick, Md., was solely responsible for the contaminated mailings, based on coded DNA messages discovered in them. Ivins killed himself in 2008 after months of being followed and questioned by agents. But Ivins' colleagues at the U.S. Army Medical Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fredrick, Md., said the scientist was not capable of such an act, and doubted whether he had the capability of producing the powder in his lab, the Times said. The report also revived memories of the FBI's earlier incorrect pursuit of Dr. Steven Hatfill, a former Army scientist who was kept under 24-hour surveillance in 2002 and 2003. Hatfill eventually sued the government for violating his privacy and settled for $4.6 million, the Times said.

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