July 31, 2008

Suicide in 2001 anthrax case

David Willman of the LA Times breaks a big story on the post-9/11 terrorism wave that is one reason why we're in Iraq:

A top government scientist who helped the FBI analyze samples from the 2001 anthrax attacks has died in Maryland from an apparent suicide, just as the Justice Department was about to file criminal charges against him for the attacks, the Los Angeles Times has learned.

Bruce E. Ivins, 62, who for the last 18 years worked at the government's elite biodefense research laboratories at Ft. Detrick, Md., had been informed of his impending prosecution, said people familiar with Ivins, his suspicious death and the FBI investigation.

Ivins, whose name had not been disclosed publicly as a suspect in the case, played a central role in research to improve anthrax vaccines by preparing anthrax formulations used in experiments on animals.

Regarded as a skilled microbiologist, Ivins also helped the FBI analyze the powdery material recovered from one of the anthrax-tainted envelopes sent to a U.S. senator's office in Washington.

Ivins died Tuesday at Frederick Memorial Hospital after ingesting a massive dose of prescription Tylenol mixed with codeine, said a friend and colleague, who declined to be identified out of concern that he would be harassed by the FBI. ...

The anthrax mailings killed five people, crippled national mail service, shut down a Senate office building and spread fear of further terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The extraordinary turn of events followed the government's payment in June of a settlement valued at $5.82 million to a former government scientist, Steven J. Hatfill, who was long targeted as the FBI's chief suspect despite a lack of any evidence that he had ever possessed anthrax.

Early in the year, I took a look at a third Ft. Detrick scientist (since moved on to other jobs) -- i.e., neither Ivins nor Hatfill -- whose name has been fairly widely tossed around as the possible anthrax assassin. The more I Googled, the more the pieces seemed to fit together. I was about ready to post my conspiracy theory when I took one more look at it and -- poof -- I realized that I didn't have any real evidence at all. So, thankfully, I didn't post his name, and instead wrote:
"I'm not going to mention his name, but if you know who I'm talking about and think he did it, try to force yourself into a gestalt where you assume he didn't do it and see if you can think of less sinister explanations for the facts known about him."

As far as I can recall, Ivins's name, in contrast, didn't come up much in the conspiracy theorizing. Here's a Google search that shows relatively little in the way of theorizing about his involvement -- even though his name was published in USA Today in 2004 in regard to some dodgy doings at Detrick.

His name was featured suspiciously in the book Vaccine A by investigative journalist Gary Matsumoto about the anthrax vaccine that Ivins helped develop. But I don't see anything on Google suggesting Matsumoto linked Ivins to involvement with the 2001 terror attacks.

In general, it appears that almost nobody -- whether government investigators, professional journalists, or lone obsessives in their bathrobes -- suspected Ivins, at least not enough to leave much of a trace on Google. (Indeed, most of the Google searches on "Ivins anthrax" turn up references to the late pundit Molly Ivins.)

For example, here's the part of Ed Lake's website where he collects all the published facts on the anthrax attacks where he speculates on traits of the supplier and who the mailer might be. He doesn't sound too far off, but neither set of traits seems to fit Ivins terribly well. Lake's profile is in bold:

1. The supplier probably took the Ames anthrax from a government facility.


2. The supplier was probably fired from that facility.

Not when Lake wrote this a few years ago.

3. The supplier is probably considered an unstable personality, perhaps even a "drunk".

Sounds more like delusions of grandeur, according to Ivins's brother.

4. The supplier is almost certainly unmarried.

No, Ivins was married.

5. The supplier is a loner with few friends - if any.
6. The supplier is disgruntled and uncomfortable working with others.
7. The supplier probably uses phrases like "I keep telling them, but they don't listen."
8. The supplier doesn't care much about "rules".
9. The supplier believes that a free exchange of information is key to advancements in science.
10. The supplier may have had knowledge needed by the refiner/mailer.

I don't know about 5-10.

11. The supplier is probably in his late 40s or early 50s.

A little older.

12. The supplier probably lost his security clearance as a result of his actions.

No, Ivins got off scot-free despite admitting to breaking rules regarding handling of anthrax.

It's striking that here's one of the big historical mysteries of recent years, and yet nobody, official or unofficial, seemed to have had a clue for at least five years. I thought the Internet was supposed to make this kind of thing untenable.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

Why is this story being published by a newspaper owned by a man who likes to fund the worst sort of think tanks? The answer: to move blame away from the real culprits.

Anonymous said...

One conclusion is that humans are too easily fooled.

Anonymous said...

What was most surprising about that incident was how UNfatal anthrax seemed to be. Ii had always been spoken about in such dread tones that I had imagined it as this ultra-deadly substance that even the slightest contact with would result in certain death, something like ebola but with a much longer half life. Yet for all the stuff that got mailed out, how many people ended up dying? One? Two?

Anonymous said...

We still don't know if Ivins was actually responsible. "Charged in connection with the case" is pretty vague.

Planetary Archon Mouse

R J said...

Mr. Sailer, have you thought about possibly writing a book on this whole subject? Lots of your readers keep hoping you'll write a book sooner rather than later; and this seems an area where there's a clear need for a book filled with Sailer-type no-nonsense investigation.

Anonymous said...

So, who are the "real culprits"?

Anonymous said...

From your older post I was able to guess the would-be motive of the guy you didn't name back then. But what would have been Ivins' motive?

And of course suicide is not an admission of guilt. According to the LA Times story he was under investigation for months. A person who thinks he's about to be wrongly accused of something horrible that he didn't do is quite likely to become suicidal.

Anonymous said...

anonymous dumbass:

MSN.com is in on the conspiracy as well.

When we find out that, in fact, Dr. Ivins did not commit suicide, then you'll have a point. Dumbass.

Again, like the non-existent NBC weapons in Iraq, the correct hypothesis was visible early on with a bit of critical analysis. The anthrax came from a USG lab; the anthrax was distributed by someone with access to biohazard suits; the anthrax targets were wildly inapt if the attacks were carried out by militant Muslims; no literate Muslim would ever write, "Allah is great."

This is shocking news only to the deluded.

Anonymous said...

Overdosing on Tylenol is said to be a highly unpleasant way to go. Ivins certainly would have known that. It makes you wonder.

Unknown said...

Ivins may have thought he was omnipotent, but why would he have done what he is accused of? What was his motivation? The article is silent on that issue.

Anonymous said...

A man of Ivin's age and training might be more likely to shoot himself. Pills are more of a woman's method, and besides, if the codeine didn't do him in (by chance or by intervention), he might suffer a death of prolonged agony from liver damage-- something Ivins would probably know.

Anonymous said...

Good for him. If only more of these criminals would do the right thing and spare us the agony of a trial. Did he use the same suicide technique as the DC Madam?

-Tim Osman

Anonymous said...

Just another scientist devoted to making work for himself? Combined, indeed, with "delusions of grandeur"?

Anonymous said...

I don't know. How realistic does this seem to you -- a prominent, recognized scientist with no record doing something like this? He easily could have committed suicide because of being hounded by the government.

Anonymous said...

"... What was his motivation? ..."

I don't know anything about this guy in particular but someone working on anthax could come to believe that the nation was paying insufficient attention to the anthax threat and needed a wakeup call. Or he could have wanted to raise hostility to Muslims and just used anthax because he had access to it.

Anonymous said...

What was his motivation?

Who knows, but...


Ivins: Archived letters to the editor
Originally published August 01, 2008

Dr. Bruce Ivins wrote several letters to the editors in recent years. Below is a list of letters he wrote dating back to March 5, 1998.

— — —

End of 'dialogue'
Originally published August 24, 2006 Rabbi Morris Kosman is entirely correct in summarily rejecting the demands of the Frederick Imam for a "dialogue."

By blood and faith, Jews are God's chosen, and have no need for "dialogue" with any gentile. End of "dialogue."


Conservative Christians now feeling their oats
Originally published November 21, 2004

I would like to comment on the letter to the editor, "Wants off Christian Nation Express," of Nov. 12.

I am certainly pleased that the writer is dedicated to service in the love of God, even though I find her theological focus on agony and suffering rather than the hope, joy and salvation of the resurrection to be puzzling.

Whether Americans like it or not, the results of the presidential election have propelled charismatic and evangelical Christians into new heights of political power. Many of those individuals would agree that the laws of this nation should be compatible with the Gospel, if not actually based upon it.

Whether we're on the "Christian Nation Express" or not, we all need to be ready for a wild political ride these next four years through a landscape of issues deemed important by conservative Christians.


All aboard!
Originally published November 09, 2004

I read Deborah Carter's column of Nov. 7, "Election blues," and I have three comments for the good woman, and for everybody else, as well.

First, it's clear that views like hers would put Jesus on that cross again. Second, thy loom and churn best be still, come the Sabbath. Third, you can get on board or get left behind, because that Christian Nation Express is pulling out of the station!


Meachum right, well almost right
Originally published March 18, 2002

I don't usually agree with Roy Meachum's opinions, but his "Catholic tragedy" (March 13) was quite on the money — almost.

The Roman Catholic Church should learn from other equally worthy Christian denominations and eagerly welcome female clergy as well as married clergy.


Originally published February 05, 1999

Well, I've switched from WFMD to WTOP (1500 AM), thank you very much. Capstar booted Mike Gibbons off the "Morning News Express" and disposed of the "Mitchell and Miller" program. The company dealt with other persons and programs at the station in a similar manner..

In their place they have given us profanity, racial insults and listener abuse. I tuned into WFMD's "John and Ken" program a few weeks ago. One of the hosts unashamedly used "G--d---" on the air, then a few moments later told a caller, "You talk like a black person!".


A few days later I tried WFMD's "Mike Gallagher" program. He referred to some of his listeners as "pinheads."

Click. Again..

Capstar owes a special apology to African-American residents of the area, and local businesses should seriously rethink their commitment to sponsoring racial insensitivity, profanity and abuse on WFMD..

As for me, I find the news, weather and sports format of WTOP to be quite acceptable -- and far more civil.


I'm doubtful he was responsible for the anthrax, but I'm sure as hell he was nuts.

Anonymous said...

Again, like the non-existent NBC weapons in Iraq, the correct hypothesis was visible early on with a bit of critical analysis. The anthrax came from a USG lab; the anthrax was distributed by someone with access to biohazard suits; the anthrax targets were wildly inapt if the attacks were carried out by militant Muslims; no literate Muslim would ever write, "Allah is great."

This was the undersigned, btw. My computer and Blogger don't get along, so I've never been able to register a Blogger ID.

Again, all the signs pointed to a government contractor or employee. The clearest marker to me (well, aside from the anthrax coming from the place this guy worked) was the clumsy "Allah is Great." No literate Arab Muslim would ever write such a phrase.

And again, just as the NBC weapons are still said to be buried in the Syrian desert rather than deployed against invading armies, people are still sure that the jihadists had a bone to pick with Patrick Leahy, Sam Daschle, and Tom Brokaw.

--Senor Doug

Anonymous said...

Yet another of those reasons given to us for killing thousands of Iraqis. Bletch.

Anonymous said...

An other reason why the silence surrounding the anthrax attacks is so strange: journalists were targets.

Anonymous said...

anonymous VI,
Thank you for posting those illuminating letters to the editor in your comment. The first letter reveals Dr. Ivins to be a rabid philo-semite and probable Zionist, and all of the letters taken together reveal him to be some sort of leftward-leaning yet true-believing Christian. The first thought that came to my mind after reading those letters was that the MSM would downplay (or outright ignore!) the former fact and make much ado about the latter fact. Believe it or not this is already happening!

The associated press writes:
Ivins had several letters to the editor published in The Frederick News-Post over the last decade. He denounced taxpayer funding for assisted suicide, pointed readers to a study that suggested a genetic component for homosexuality and said he had stopped listening to local radio station WFMD because he was offended by the language and racially charged commentary of its hosts.

He also commented on the growing political influence of conservative Christians, and he was willing to criticize his [Roman Catholic] church.

That one-fifth of his letters expressed a belief in Jewish chosenness and consequent Jewish moral unimpeachability was not mentioned. Don't go looking for truth in the MSM.

Anonymous said...

Steve -- you're out of your element here, let's go over what's been reported:

1. Government investigators, mostly FBI, are reported to have been following up on Ivins for more than a year.

While the surveillance attracted the notice of his neighbors, it did not make it into Google, and the news was not leaked. FBI investigators are usually discreet and don't leak unless they want to pressure someone (often the target).

Something not showing up in a Google search is meaningless. Mohammed Atta would not have shown up in Google in Sept 10, 2001.

Next, co-workers and neighbors and court records show Ivins making various homicidal threats. As reported in various media. Again those threats would NOT make it into Google and most journalists are lazy and don't do any investigative work, they just take what is handed to them.

Finally, we are in Iraq because after 9/11 bipartisan consensus was that we weren't going to take Saddam's word on anything, and would make an example of him to deter others. It was far more expensive in blood and treasure than the Bush Administration assured America and far cheaper than Liberals and Paleocons guaranteed ("Baghdad will see greater slaughter than Stalingrad!") and so on.

If anything, the Anthrax attacks were a wake-up call on the need to deter foreign attackers since peace, love, and the Obama-messiah are unlikely to deter hard-core attackers. Bioweapons are the cheaper version of nukes, a smart HS student can make a lot of them. Even Aum Shin Rykio made some.

[No one NEEDED to "raise hostility to Muslims" since 9/11, culminating 30+ years of terror by Muslims against "the Great Satan." Conspiracy theorists are nutcases, assuming an all-powerful US that is simultaneously inept so that it can't just kill critics. REAL hard guys like Vladimir Putin (his critics are shot to death in elevators) show how lunatic and stupid conspiracy theorists are. IF Ivins was the guy, arrogance and stupidity combined could have been the motive.

As for Anthrax's deadliness, I doubt the survivors of the victims would share the view that it wasn't deadly enough. A few cases the current medical system can handle -- a massive outbreak with hundreds of thousands is another case. Something Louis J. Freeh takes seriously enough to write articles about.

The problem with Anthrax has always been how it's weaponized. That peaceful, loving guy Saddam spent millions trying to get it to work on the battlefield. His artillery shells tended to kill the spores. There are other ways though that both the USSR and USA researched extensively in the Cold War.]

Saddam DID have lots of weapons, including chemical, biological, and a secret nuclear program all found hidden after the Gulf War after his Sons-in-Law defected briefly and tipped the US off. He did have a long history of concealing those programs, and used chemical weapons on the Iranians and Kurdish villages. There was no reason to trust him unless he came clean something Saddam was unwilling to do.

Unacceptable to both parties after 9/11. Heck Hillary and Bill signed on. Everyone thought Saddam would folk like a cheap tent (he did). Few realized that AQ would rush in and be (painfully) defeated on the battlefield by the US military.

Anonymous said...

I'm doubtful he was responsible for the anthrax, but I'm sure as hell he was nuts.

What in these letters supports that judgment?

Anonymous said...

Halfbreed: Five.

Anonymous said...

The guy was a medical researcher, so it's pretty certain he knew how to get a lethal dose. I suspect he used codeine with Tylenol because that's a very easy pain medicine to get, but it still has a narcotic in it. (I wonder if he washed it down with liquor.) I'm not sure whether the Tylenol would have still killed him, if someone had found him in time and called for help. I know there's some kind of treatment for Tylenol overdose, and it seems like if they caught him in time to shoot him full of Narcan, they'd also have time to treat him for the Tylenol OD. But it would be interesting to see comments from someone who really knows....

We'll probably never know if he did it or not, now. The apparent prime suspect is (conveniently) dead, and the case is likely to peter out. The guy dying right now does make me wonder if there were other people involved he wanted to protect, or alternatively, if there were other people involved who somehow managed to knock him off in a way that looked like suicide.

If he did it, it seems to me that this demonstrates something kind of scary about terrorism. It genuinely doesn't take a big organization with lots of resources to spread terror. (Think of the DC sniper, or any of the wackos who go on shooting sprees at their churches, schools, nearby shopping malls, etc.) The media provide a massive amplifying effect for stuff like this, so that an attack that kills five people in a spectacular way frightens thousands, maybe helped to frighten us into war with Iraq and all kinds of War on Terror policies.

I do wonder why, if this guy was intent on terror and had deep expertise in bioweapons, he didn't manage to kill more people. Was he trying to spread terror among the media and Congress for some specific purpose? If so, what?

Mitchell said...

The assertion that 'no literate Muslim would ever write, "Allah is great"' is very wrong - just google the phrase and see.

If anyone wants to think seriously about whether Ivins did it, I would suggest starting with the Florida anthrax letter, the one sent to the National Enquirer about a week after 9/11. That was the one which truly was just a few degrees of separation from the hijackers.

Anonymous said...

The FBI got their man. Maybe. After,...what,....four or five years of hounding the wrong guy. This surely can be entered in the text book along with their other successes: Ruby Ridge, the Unabomber, The Atlanta Olympics bomber, etc. Scotland Yard, they ain't.

Anonymous said...

I do wonder why, if this guy was intent on terror and had deep expertise in bioweapons, he didn't manage to kill more people. Was he trying to spread terror among the media and Congress for some specific purpose? If so, what?

I have a hypothesis that has not been considered in the MSM. Maybe it was, in a sense, like a hate crime hoax or pious fraud (the forging of religious documents by zealouts). Consistent with the theme of his first letter to the editor, perhaps he wanted to prod the USA into atacking Israel's enemy (Iraq). This hypothesis isn't necessarily correct or more worthy of consideration than others, but since the MSM won't research this, it remains for others to do.

Anonymous said...


That broadly seems plausible. I don't know of any reason to think he especially had it in for Iraq, though it's possible he did. It seems more likely he (or whoever carried out the anthrax attacks) wanted to have some kind of impact on the policies the nation followed, but probably something broader, like wanting to ensure that the rush to an aggressive military response or huge sacrifices of civil liberties at home would not get too much opposition. By terrifying the media, the Congress, and a lot of the top layer of the civil service, a whole lot of the people who would normally have pushed back against these changes instead remained silent.

The Arab/Muslim aspect of the 9/11 attacks, and the connection with Israel, also managed to silence the natural opposition of a lot of liberal Jews who, again, would normally have been at the front of the movement to push back against empire abroad and police state at home.

If that's true, though, it seems hard to believe that the DC sniper attacks weren't part of the same plot, somehow. Because those attacks had the same sort of effect on a lot of the policy elite in the DC area that the anthrax attacks had on the media, and that the 9/11 attacks had on a lot of people at the top of finance, and more broadly on New Yorkers.

The sequence of attacks was stunningly effective at moving US policy, though obviously, the one with the near-4000 body count was surely the one with the main effect. Indeed, the other two attacks had tiny body counts, and their impact was entirely based on the unusual nature and the scarily random selection of victims.