Thursday, Aug. 7, 2008

FBI details anthrax case against Ivins

Pages of evidence released linking Frederick scientist to deadly 2001 attack

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File Photo by Tom Fedor/The Gazette
A pond near the intersection of Gambrill Park Road and Tower Road in Frederick was drained June 10, 2003, in search of evidence relating to the anthrax letter threats. The pond is part of the Municipal Forest. Nothing was found.

The link between a Frederick microbiologist and the 2001 deadly anthrax attacks became a little clearer Wednesday afternoon with the release of hundreds of pages of search warrants, affidavits and other documents from the U.S. Justice Department.

In 66 documents, the government laid out its suspicions against Dr. Bruce E. Ivins, 62, as "a person necessitating further investigation" in the attacks that killed five and sickened 17 others seven years ago.

Among the sources of information for the investigation were Ivins' lab at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick, his home just outside the gates of the military base, a safe deposit box at a West 7th Street bank, three vehicles, and three e-mail accounts.

Federal agents found weapons, ammunition, and a bulletproof vest in his home in July, as well as e-mails dating to the time of the attacks detailing the scientist's feelings of paranoia, isolation, and problems with the anthrax vaccine on which he was working.

In connecting Ivins to the anthrax attacks, the documents detail a link between a large flask of anthrax spores and the ones found in the deadly letters, his inability to explain late nights at his lab, and deceit to investigators about connections between the anthrax used in the attacks and his lab, including submitting false samples to the FBI.

The e-mail evidence also indicates a correspondence sent by Ivins to a colleague with language similar to that found in one of the deadly letters.

E-mails also detail Ivins' displeasure with NBC over the network's filing of a Freedom of Information Act request regarding work with an anthrax vaccine in his lab, and his frustrations with members of the U.S. Senate, both targets of the anthrax-laced letters.

The documents were unsealed in U.S. Federal Court hours after FBI investigators met with victims of the attacks and their families in Washington, D.C.

The seven-year investigation took a turn last week after an Aug. 1 story in the Los Angeles Times, reported that. Ivins, 62, a 36-year employee of the USAMRIID, was about to face criminal charges in connection with the attacks. The newspaper cited unnamed sources.

Ivins died July 29 at Frederick Memorial Hospital, according to Lt. Shawn Martyak of the Frederick Police Department, which is handling the investigation into the death, widely believed to be a suicide.

An initial autopsy by the state medical examiner's office has indicated an "intentional overdose" of acetaminophen, the main ingredient in Tylenol, killed Ivins, the police said.

According to the Times article, Ivins was involved in anthrax research at the military base and helped the FBI analyze anthrax-tainted letters sent seven years ago.

An affidavit released Wednesday indicates that Ivins recently told a colleague his attorney told him to "be prepared for an indictment" from the government. An attorney for Ivins said his client was innocent and prepared to fight any allegations.

In June, the U.S. government reached a settlement of &#e6;5.8 million with Steven J. Hatfill, a former Fort Detrick employee, long considered the chief suspect in the anthrax attack. Hatfill was never officially linked to the mailings. Hatfill sued the FBI and Justice Department for privacy violations and ruining his career by tying him to the attacks.

Following news of the possible link to Ivins, the national media descended on Frederick, with many camped outside the microbiologist's home. Members of Ivins' family did not address the media on Friday, and have not returned calls for comment.

Later that day, the Justice Department issued a statement indicating "significant developments" in the case.

Explanation should be

╬air tight'

One person anxiously awaiting the government's conclusions is Meryl Nass, a Maine physician and a national expert on anthrax and bioterrorism, who has provided Congressional testimony on three occasions.

Nass met Ivins at a biowarfare conference in 1991, calling her colleague with a doctorate in microbiology "a competent doctor" and "a generous soul." The pair last spoke in 2002.

In the days since Ivins' link to the attacks became public, Nass has been vocal on her Web site █ █ about the numerous amount of lanonymous sources cited in media nationwide. One example is the forensic link tying Ivins to a specific strain of anthrax found in his lab, where numerous people had access.

Nass said "forensics won't tell you who did it, just where it came from," and "it's likely you'd choose a strain that would implicate someone else anyway."

"I'm not saying [Ivins] wasn't [responsible], but I don't see him having the motive," she said. "¸If you are making guesses of mass murderers, he would be the last person you might select."

For the case to be truly closed in her mind, Nass said the government needs its conclusion to be "air tight," including placing Ivins at the scene of the mailings in New Jersey or identifying an accomplice who helped him.

"I'm not a cop, I'm a doctor, but that seems to make sense to me," she said. "¸I don't know if Bruce is a victim. He was a good scientist, but we don't have much more information yet."

The government's information details Caucasian hairs found at the Princeton, N.J. mailbox where the letters were sent it feels would be "suitable for comparison."

Nass is also critical of Jean Duley, the counselor who received a temporary peace order against him on July 24.

In a hearing that day, Duley said she had seen Ivins for the last six months, individually and in group therapy sessions.

In her testimony, Duley said Ivins made homicidal threats against others, including plans to go out in a "blaze of glory" killing co-workers at Fort Detrick, and threats against her. The threats, she said, came as Ivins told her he was about to be indicted on capital murder charges.

A bulletproof vest and gun, which Duley testified Ivins' recently purchased, was recovered in a search by the FBI.

She also dubbed Ivins a "revenge killer" when he feels slighted, testifying that in 2000, he attempted to murder someone by poisoning and was recently roaming Frederick's streets to pick a fight and stab someone.

Duley claimed Ivins called her from a psychiatric facility, claiming the therapist ruined his life and "allowed the FBI to prosecute him for murders." She told the court she feared for her life and was working with the FBI, with plans to testify before a Grand Jury on Aug. 1.

Nass called Duley's statements "unprofessional ¸ they don't smell right."

"She's not describing anyone I've known for 10 years," she said.

A representative from Comprehensive Counseling Associates said Duley "doesn't work here anymore," on Tuesday.

A search of Maryland court records shows two incidents of driving under the influence in 2006 and 2007 and a 1992 battery charge against the counselor.

A message left at Duley's last known residence went unanswered by The Gazette's press time.

Ralph Kuehne of Frederick is a former safety officer for USAMRIID, and his wife, Ana, is a microbiologist and colleague of Ivins. He said USAMRIID employees were told on Monday not to talk to reporters and he would not comment on the ongoing investigation by the government.

"I didn't think any more or less about him than most other people there," Kuehne said. "¸He wasn't one of my close friends, but I have no animosity towards him."

Caree Vander Linden, spokesperson for USAMRIID, said the Institute continues to "mourn the loss of" Ivins, noting his "long and faithful government service." A memorial service was held at Fort Detrick Wednesday morning.

Ivins' ╬untimely death'

Rockville-based attorney Paul F. Kemp of Venable LLC said in a statement to The Gazette that he had represented Ivins for more than a year during the government's investigation of the anthrax deaths of 2001.

Calling Ivins "a world renowned and highly decorated scientist," Kemp said he was "disappointed we will not have the opportunity to defend his good name and reputation in a court of law."

"We assert his innocence in these killings, and would have established that at trial," Kemp wrote on behalf of himself and colleague Thomas DeGonia. "The relentless pressure of accusation and innuendo takes its toll in different ways on different people, as has already been seen in this investigation. In Dr. Ivins' case, it led to his untimely death."

Martyak, commander of the Criminal Investigation Division, said Frederick police were called on July 27 around 1:16 a.m. to assist with an unconscious person at Ivins' Military Road home. Officers spoke to Ivins' wife, Diane, who said she found him unresponsive on the floor and called for help.

On July 29, Martyak said the department was notified by Frederick Memorial Hospital that Ivins was dead. Martyak said based on information from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Baltimore, the level of acetaminophen in Ivins' system was "deemed an intentional overdose, rather than an accidental one."

He said nothing on the scene seemed out of the ordinary and there was no suicide note recovered by police.

According to an obituary by Keeney and Basford Funeral Home on East Church Street in Frederick, a memorial service is scheduled for Ivins this Saturday beginning at 10 a.m. Burial will be private.