Seven years later, the FBI is said to be ready to go public with documents and explanations about its investigation into the fatal anthrax attacks that still has no definitive culprit.
The bureau, working with universities and research labs, by all accounts did a brilliant job of forensic science in narrowing the source of the anthrax. Unfortunately the shoe leather part of the investigation didn’t match the cutting edge science.
Last month the Justice department agreed to a $5.8 million settlement with bioweapons scientist Steven Hatfill for essentially ruining his life and his career. Hatfill had been publicly identified early on as "a person of interest" early in the investigation, and the bureau seems to have fixated on him, to the exclusion of other avenues of investigation, as the guilty party.
Last week Dr. Bruce Ivins, like Hatfill, a Fort Detrick bioweapons scientist, committed suicide as prosecutors were preparing to indict him for the 2001 killings in which the anthrax was distributed by mail.
Even though Ivins can’t defend himself, it would be helpful if the FBI laid out the evidence pointing to Ivins. He had the knowledge and access to the equipment and anthrax strain to put it in powdered form. And as co-holder of patents for an anthrax vaccine he had a possible motive.
But there are troubling parallels to the Hatfill case. Ivins had a number of quirks and eccentricities that his colleagues said led the FBI to zero in on him, again perhaps to the exclusion of other possible suspects.
According to published accounts, Ivins had problems with alcohol, received pornography under an assumed name, had a bizarre fascination with the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority and his therapist had recently filed for a protective order against him.
Two of his former colleagues told The New York Times that they believed the FBI targeted Ivins because the microbiologist was the weakest link among his fellow scientists and the one most susceptible to pressure.
The FBI has a vested interest in laying out conclusive evidence leading to Ivins — as proof that they didn’t hound a troubled individual to his death.