August 7, 2008 / 12:50 AM / 12 years ago

Anthrax probe to close after suspect's death

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Army scientist Dr. Bruce Ivins was the only person responsible for the 2001 U.S. anthrax attacks that killed five people, and authorities will close the case, a federal prosecutor said on Wednesday.

Bruce Ivins is seen during a 2003 awards ceremony at the Pentagon. REUTERS/USAMRIID/Handout

“We are confident that Dr. Ivins was the only person responsible for these attacks, Jeffrey Taylor, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, told a news conference.

Taylor spoke shortly after documents released by a federal court outlined the government’s case against Ivins, who killed himself last week before he could be charged with murder for committing the letter-borne attacks.

“We are now beginning the process of concluding this investigation. Once this process is complete, we will formally close the case,” Taylor said.

The letters also sickened 17 people, severely disrupted the national postal service and spread fear of further biological attacks among Americans reeling from the September 11, 2001, attacks by al Qaeda.

The documents said that just before the 2001 anthrax attacks, Ivins sent an e-mail warning that Osama “bin Laden terrorists” had anthrax and sarin gas and included language similar to that in the anthrax letters.

The more than 100 pages of previously secret documents also said Ivins had a large flask of highly purified anthrax spores later found to match what was used in the letters.

The documents portrayed a man with paranoid fears, under pressure over a faltering anthrax vaccine project, having multiple circumstantial links to the attacks and keeping a copy of “The Plague” by Albert Camus in his house.


Thomas Dellafera, an investigator for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which conducted the probe with the FBI, said Ivins wrote in the e-mail that the terrorists have “just decreed death to all Jews and all Americans.”

The language was similar to that of the anthrax letters, which warned, “WE HAVE THIS ANTHRAX ... DEATH TO AMERICA ... DEATH TO ISRAEL,” Dellafera said in the documents.

Dellafera said Ivins had been unable to give investigators an adequate explanation for his late-night laboratory work hours around the time of both anthrax mailings.

Ivins was believed to have submitted false samples of anthrax from his lab to the FBI to mislead investigators, he said.

“Ivins has claimed that he was suffering serious mental health issues in the months preceding the attacks, and told a co-worker that he had ‘incredible paranoid, delusional thoughts at times’ and feared that he might not be able to control his behavior,” Dellafera said.

Ivins, 62, was a microbiologist at an Army biodefense research laboratory in Fort Detrick, Maryland.

Paul Kemp, an attorney for Ivins, has said his client was innocent and his innocence would have been established at trial.

The anthrax-laced letters were mailed from New Jersey to media organizations in New York and Florida and to Democratic lawmakers in Congress.

Critics have questioned the evidence against Ivins, partly because FBI investigators mistakenly focused for years on another scientist at Fort Detrick, Steven Hatfill. Hatfill was never charged and the government agreed in June to pay him $5.85 million to settle a lawsuit.

At the time of the attacks, Ivins faced pressure at work to help a private company that had lost its government approval to produce an anthrax vaccine for U.S. troops, Dellafera said.

Ivins was directly involved in the stalled vaccine project, and received a Pentagon award once it was revived after the anthrax attacks.

In e-mail excerpts from 2000 and 2001, Ivins spoke of battling depression and desolation, and the stress of trying to avert a shutdown of the vaccine program. “What is REALLY scary is the paranoia,” he wrote, according to the court documents.

He also wrote, in July 2000, of his interest in being an anonymous subject in an unspecified case study. The documents quoted him as saying he did not want to see a tabloid headline that read “paranoid man works with deadly anthrax.”

Editing by Patricia Zengerle

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