Anthrax questions

Our view: The FBI still has some explaining to do

August 05, 2008

The Federal Bureau of Investigation owes it to the victims of the fatal anthrax attacks and to all Americans to make public in detail its case against scientist Bruce Ivins, who committed suicide last week after being told he would be charged with murder in the case.

The reason is simple enough: The FBI pursued the wrong suspect for years after the mailing of anthrax-laced letters to members of Congress and the media in 2001, and public confidence in the agency's ability to have identified the right suspect is low. In June, the government agreed to pay Steven J. Hatfill $5.8 million in return for his dropping a harassment lawsuit against the Justice Department. Mr. Hatfill was a researcher at the biological defense lab at Fort Detrick in Frederick, where Mr. Ivins worked.

The government's focus on Mr. Ivins is based on new DNA evidence that links him directly to anthrax spores sent to victims of the 2001 attack, according to media reports quoting unidentified federal officials close to the investigation. Mr. Ivins' friends believe the government has it all wrong again. Given the tangled history of the probe, the FBI has a responsibility to present a convincing case against Mr. Ivins. Otherwise, serious doubts will linger about what really happened in a bioterrorism assault that briefly terrorized the nation.

Presenting strong evidence against Mr. Ivins could also help ease concerns about security at the increased number of labs where dangerous biological poisons are being worked on. While more scientists are working to answer bioterrorism threats such as anthrax - the Department of Homeland Security is building new bio-research facilities at Fort Detrick - experts say little progress has been made on the means of detecting biological attacks or providing cures. Those are deficiencies that the government can't afford to ignore.

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