WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Army researcher Bruce Ivins, who committed suicide last week as federal officers prepared to arrest him for the 2001 U.S. anthrax attacks that killed five people, had been barred from his lab since last November, officials confirmed on Wednesday.
Ivins was working on a new and improved anthrax vaccine at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Maryland, just outside Washington, where he had worked for 28 years, the institute said in a statement.
“On 1 November 2007, USAMRIID removed Dr. Ivins’ access to the laboratories where biological select agents and toxins are used and stored,” the institute said in a statement.
Federal court documents released on Wednesday outlined the government’s case against Ivins as the sole suspect behind the letter-borne attacks, casting him as a paranoid anthrax expert who had threatened people.
Ivins killed himself with an overdose of acetaminophen (paracetamol) before he could be charged. Ivins’ attorneys and some co-workers have maintained his innocence, but prosecutors said the case will be closed with his death.
USAMRIID said officials at Ft. Detrick had been cooperating with the Federal Bureau of Investigation on the case.
“It has always been considered possible that a U.S. government employee could have been responsible for the letters. For that reason, USAMRIID leadership and staff cooperated fully through every phase of the investigation,” the statement read.
Several different labs are at the Ft. Detrick facility, including National Cancer Institute laboratories, and the work of USAMRIID is not classified, although it includes research on potential biological warfare agents and defenses against them.
The statement did not say specifically why Ivins’ security clearance was removed. It said employees’ access can be temporarily suspended to avoid laboratory mishaps if they appear stressed or unusually distracted.
It then noted that Ivins’ clearance was taken away.
Then last month, he was barred from the facility.
“On Thursday, July 10, Frederick City Police requested permission to enter Fort Detrick to execute an Emergency Medical Evaluation Petition,” the statement said. The police escorted Ivins out of USAMRIID and off Fort Detrick. After that the U.S. Army Garrison Commander ordered Ivins barred.
Reporting by Maggie Fox, Editing by Anthony Boadle