U.S. lawmakers want details of anthrax investigation
” … New details of the investigation, revealed in recent interviews, raised questions about when the bureau focused on Ivins as the likely perpetrator and how solid its evidence was. In April 2007, after the mailed anthrax was genetically linked to Ivins’s laboratory and after he was questioned about late-night work in the laboratory before the letters were mailed, prosecutors sent Ivins a formal letter saying he was “not a target” of the investigation. And only a week before Ivins died did agents first take a mouth swab to collect a DNA sample, officials said. … “
By Scott Shane and Eric Lichtblau
September 7, 2008
WASHINGTON: A month after the FBI declared that a U.S. Army scientist was the anthrax killer of 2001, leading members of Congress are demanding more information about the seven-year investigation, saying they do not think that the bureau has proved its case.
In a letter sent Friday to Robert Mueller 3rd, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Democratic leaders of the House Judiciary Committee said that “important and lingering questions remain that are crucial for you to address, especially since there will never be a trial to examine the facts of the case.”
The scientist, Bruce Ivins, committed suicide in July, and Mueller is likely to face demands for additional answers about the anthrax case when he appears before the House and Senate Judiciary Committees on Sept. 16 and 17.
“My conclusion at this point is that it’s very much an open matter,” Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the top Republican on the Senate committee, said of the strength of the case against Ivins, a microbiologist at the army’s biodefense laboratory who worked on anthrax vaccines. “There are some very serious questions that have yet to be answered and need to be made public.”
Bureau officials say they are certain that they have solved the nation’s first major bioterrorism attack …
But in interviews last week, two dozen bioterrorism specialists, veteran investigators and members of Congress expressed doubts about the bureau’s conclusions. Some called for an independent review of the case to reassure the public and assess policies on the handling of dangerous pathogens like anthrax.
Meanwhile, new details of the investigation, revealed in recent interviews, raised questions about when the bureau focused on Ivins as the likely perpetrator and how solid its evidence was.
In April 2007, after the mailed anthrax was genetically linked to Ivins’s laboratory and after he was questioned about late-night work in the laboratory before the letters were mailed, prosecutors sent Ivins a formal letter saying he was “not a target” of the investigation. And only a week before Ivins died did agents first take a mouth swab to collect a DNA sample, officials said.
Justice Department officials, who said in early August that the investigation was likely to be closed formally within days or weeks, now say it is likely to remain open for three to six more months.
In the meantime, agents are continuing to conduct interviews with acquaintances of Ivins and are examining computers he used, seeking information that could strengthen the case.
But bureau and Justice Department officials insist that the delay, which they say is necessary to tie up loose ends in a complex investigation, reflects no doubts about their ultimate verdict. “People feel just as strongly as they did a month ago that this was the guy,” said a department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
In interviews, FBI officials said they knew their findings would face intense scrutiny after the bureau admitted that for years it had pursued the wrong man, Steven Hatfill, whom the government paid $4.6 million in June to settle a lawsuit that accused the government of leaking information about him to the news media.
Officials also acknowledged that they did not have a single, definitive piece of evidence indisputably proving that Ivins mailed the letters – no confession, no trace of his DNA on the letters, no security camera recording the mailings in Princeton, New Jersey.
But they said the case consisted of a powerfully persuasive accumulation of incriminating details. Dr. Vahid Majidi, head of the FBI’s weapons of mass destruction directorate, said the accumulation of evidence against Ivins was overwhelming: his oversight of the anthrax supply, his night hours, his mental problems and his habit of driving to far-off locations at night to mail anonymous packages.
“Who had the means, motive and opportunity?” said John Miller, assistant FBI director for public affairs. “Some potential suspects may have had one, some had two, but on the cumulative scale, Dr. Ivins had many more of these elements than any other potential suspect.”