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Doubts Arise In Bruce Ivins Case


From the studios of NPR West, this is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand.


I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up, a new poll says voters feel Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is overexposed. We'll have a round up of political news coming up.

BRAND: First, though, details continue to trickle out about the FBI's investigation into scientist Bruce Ivins and the anthrax attacks. The Justice Department said yesterday that Army microbiologist Ivins was the only person responsible for the deadly 2001 attacks. The case was the longest and the most complicated investigation the FBI has tackled in the last decade. And the fact that Ivins committed suicide last week has cast a shadow over the proceedings.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston has been following this story, and she's here now. Dina, scientists and legal experts, they're saying that the evidence against Ivins is really far from foolproof, that there is no smoking gun. What are they concerned about?

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, a lot of the scientists who have looked at this say that they couldn't - that the FBI couldn't possibly have ruled out everyone who might have matched the anthrax vial or had access to the anthrax vial that they matched to Ivins. And this is basically, without getting too much into the science, this is because anthrax, all you have to do is grow more. So if you had some anthrax, conceivably, from this vial that they linked to Ivins, you could have grown your own source of more of that.

They also can't place him in Princeton, which is where the letters were mailed from, and he has this very distinctive, cramped handwriting that they couldn't match the handwriting on the envelopes. The FBI said it was similar, but there was nothing conclusive there. And there's this broader feeling that he couldn't have possibly accomplished all of this on his own. The plan was too elaborate and too technical for one person to do by themselves.

BRAND: So what does the FBI say to all those questions?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, the FBI said, when it came to the anthrax, they actually used just old-fashioned gumshoe investigations to narrow it down to Ivins. They said they interviewed hundreds of people to account for the anthrax, asking questions like how much did you use, what did you use it for, what did you do with what was left, that sort of thing. Ivins was basically the gatekeeper on this vial of anthrax and was really meticulous about who had different pieces of it. And basically, they ruled out everyone, and that's how they got to Ivins.

You know, they took a look also at his not being able to be placed in Princeton, but they said he had this history of mailing things under false names and addresses, and he did mailings to both the media and congressmen in the past. These are the two groups that happened to be targeted in the anthrax attacks.

And there is also this idea that he had this obsession with the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, and as it turns out, the mailbox from which these anthrax letters were posted was about 60 feet from the Princeton chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma. Now, that doesn't actually put him there, but it adds to this narrative, to this, you know, evidence that they're trying to compile against him. Even though it's not forensic evidence, it's pretty compelling.

The handwriting analysis wasn't conclusive, but they didn't rule him out, either. And the FBI, in terms of whether or not he could have done this on his own, he had all these long. unaccounted-for hours in the lab just before the mailings happened. And the FBI said that together, these things painted a picture of how he could have done it.

BRAND: OK. What about the complaints from Ivins's lawyers and others that the FBI really drove their client to commit suicide, that there was near- constant surveillance, and they basically hounded this man to his death.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, there are lots of e-mails that they released that happened in 2000, which would have been before the anthrax attacks, where Ivins sounded very mentally unstable and paranoid. He complained about a metallic taste in his mouth and feeling like he was outside of himself and that he had become two different people.

You know, the officials I spoke to said that a lot of what was being - has been reported up to now is just flat wrong. You know, one often reported inaccuracy is that the FBI offered Ivins's son $2.5 million to turn in his dad and apparently, that never happened.

BRAND: NPR's Dina Temple-Raston covering the anthrax story. Thank you very much.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Dina Temple-Raston is a correspondent on NPR's Investigations team focusing on breaking news stories and national security, technology and social justice.
Madeleine Brand
Madeleine Brand is the host of NPR’s newest and fastest-growing daily show, Day to Day. She conducts interviews with newsmakers (Iraqi politicians, US senators), entertainment figures (Bernardo Bertolluci, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ricky Gervais), and the everyday people affected by the news (an autoworker laid off at GM, a mother whose son was killed in Iraq).