First take on evidence against Dr. Bruce Ivins, as revealed to victims' families.
"At the time of the attacks, he was the custodian of a large flask of highly purified anthrax spores that possess certain genetic mutations identical to the anthrax used in the attacks," according to a July 11 affidavit from a U.S. postal inspector. ...
A source familiar with the investigation said Tuesday that in the fall of 2001, Ivins borrowed a machine that can convert wet anthrax -- the kind used at Fort Detrick where Ivins worked -- into dry powder -- the kind used in the anthrax letters.
By the way, the first anthrax attack, as I recall, wasn't technically in the Fall, it was on September 18, 2001, in the very late summer. So, I'd like to hear the exact date.
Washington Post reports on the timeline:
"According to a chart investigators submitted with their October 2007 request for a search warrant, Ivins began working longer hours in mid-August 2001, logging lengthy evening shifts from Sept. 14, 2001, through Sept. 16, 2001, with another spike in late hours in early October 2001.
Ivins explained his longer shifts by telling investigators that he retreated to the lab "to escape" from problems at home, Dellafera said in his affidavit. The document referred to e-mail messages Ivins sent to a friend describing his rising stress loads, depression and feelings of "isolation -- and desolation" in 2000 and through the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The anthrax letters sent to congressional offices and news organizations that fall were postmarked Sept. 18, 2001, and Oct. 9, 2001, investigators said.
The timeline fits pretty well: Ivins' anthrax vaccine project got cancelled before 9/11. Then 9/11 happens showing how vulnerable we are to terrorism. He spends the following weekend, Friday through Sunday in the lab. Then, after work on Monday, Feb. 17, he drives 198 miles to Princeton and back to mail the letter. It gets postmarked on 9/18.
From the NYT:
Documents Detail Evidence Against Anthrax Scientist
By DAVID STOUT and SCOTT SHANE
WASHINGTON — A few days before the anthrax attacks of 2001, the scientist who has emerged as the suspect in the case sent e-mails warning that Osama bin Laden’s “terrorists for sure have anthrax and sarin gas” and have “just decreed death to all Jews and all Americans,” according to documents released by the government on Wednesday.
The documents, released on the orders of federal judge, were made public to bolster the Justice Department’s contention that the scientist, Bruce E. Ivins, was the man behind the lethal mailings that killed five people and made at least 17 others ill while the country was still traumatized by the Sept. 11 attacks.
The segment about the e-mails does not reveal to whom they were sent — the address was redacted before the documents’ release — but it notes that the wording was similar, and in some instances identical, to the language in the anthrax-laced letters. “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” were phrases that appeared both in the doctor’s e-mails and in the letters.
Moreover, the envelopes that held the letters were “federal eagle” envelopes, so-named because of the eagle perched on a bar bearing the initials “USA” in the upper right-hand corner, and bore tiny but tell-tale defects that searchers determined were bought from a post office in Maryland or Virginia, the official documents relate.
And of the 16 government, commercial and university laboratories that had virulent anthrax strains like the one used in the deadly mailings, only one was located in Maryland or Virginia — the Fort Detrick, Md., lab where Dr. Ivins worked before his July 29 suicide, the documents say.
In addition, searches of Dr. Ivins’s home in Frederick, Md., turned up “hundreds” of similar letters that had not yet been sent to media outlets and members of Congress, people who were briefed by the F.B.I. on Wednesday said. Those people said investigators found that Dr. Ivins sometimes kept odd, night-time hours in the lab, and that he would sometimes drive to mailboxes miles out of his way.
“Ivins has been unable to give investigators an adequate explanation for his late night laboratory work hours around the time” of the mailings, the documents say. And around that time, Dr. Ivins was suffering from “incredible paranoid, delusional thoughts at times,” in the doctor’s own words to a colleague, and feared that he might not be able to control his own behavior, the documents go on.
The material released Wednesday is meant to bolster the F.B.I.’s circumstantial case against Dr. Ivins, who by many accounts had descended into paranoia and despair before he took his own life.
As for motive, the documents suggest that in addition to whatever long-term personal problems he had, Dr. Ivins was distraught because a company had lost its government approval to produce an anthrax vaccine for troops, and he believed the vaccine was essential.
So, mass-murderer or harmless weirdo who was in the wrong place at the wrong time? I lean toward the former, but I'm not sure yet.
My experience, as I've gone through life, is that the fraction of people who, at some point in their lives, aren't quite right in the head is much higher than you might imagine.
I suspect that the terrorist wasn't actually trying to kill people, just to scare the country into taking anthrax vaccines seriously.