Did Bruce Ivins do it?

Our view : FBI presents compelling but circumstantial case

August 07, 2008

Bruce E. Ivins may not have been the anthrax killer, but scientific, postal and investigative evidence painstakingly compiled by federal agents and released yesterday points strongly to his guilt, as declared by the FBI. The case, detailed by prosecutors and investigators, is circumstantial - there are no witnesses or incriminating statements about the attack that killed five people and terrorized the nation in 2001. But it presents a plausible portrait of Mr. Ivins as the mastermind and sole perpetrator of the first bioterrorist attack in the United States .

Mr. Ivins' suicide last week prevents a conclusive resolution of the 7-year-old case. But the decision by U.S. prosecutors, the FBI and postal inspectors to reveal key aspects of their case in the absence of an indictment dispels some of the mystery in this true-life whodunit and redeems, in part, the FBI's initial mishandling of the case. It was an extraordinary move by federal officials, driven by Mr. Ivins' death and the public's reaction to it. Colleagues of Mr. Ivins, an anthrax researcher at the Army's biodefense laboratory at Fort Detrick in Frederick, said they wouldn't believe the scientist was behind the attacks without proof. Others raised concerns that Mr. Ivins was a convenient suspect now that the government had wrongly pursued a former Detrick researcher, Steven J. Hatfill, for years.

Families of victims wanted and deserved answers.

The evidence, as shared by federal officials, is terrifying in that it alleges how a trusted government scientist with a high security clearance could subvert the system and use his expertise to maim or kill. A critical aspect of the government's case relies on a new, sophisticated DNA testing technique that linked the anthrax used in the attack to material handled by the scientist at Fort Detrick. Investigators also traced the U.S. postal envelopes used to mail the anthrax to a defective batch that were sold in Frederick, where Mr. Ivins had a P.O. box - a masterful bit of detective work.

An impressive array of material linked Mr. Ivins' expertise, his troubled mental state and his penchant for sending letters under aliases to the crime - circumstantial evidence that won't ever have to undergo the scrutiny of a federal court trial. That would have been the true test of Mr. Ivins' guilt or innocence in this signature crime.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.