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FBI Closes Anthrax Investigation

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

One of the FBI's longest-running active investigations is now closed. Agents say that Army researcher Bruce Ivins was the man behind the 2001 anthrax killings, and that he acted alone.

This case has been full of controversy. At first, the FBI suspected a different Army researcher, a man named Steven Hatfill. He was exonerated. He sued the government for millions of dollars and won. And then Ivins, who worked on developing an anthrax vaccine, became the prime suspect. He committed suicide before he was formally charged.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston was tracking this story for us two years ago, when Ivins first surfaced as the FBI's main suspect, and she joins me now. Dina, the FBI says Ivins was their man a year and half ago. And now, today, they're formally closing the case. What exactly does it mean, to close the case?

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, by formally closing the case, the FBI is no longer bound by grand jury secrecy requirements. So that means they can release a lot of the evidence that we didn't get to see back in August of 2008, when the story broke.

Now, if you ask the FBI, they'd tell you that they were sure they had the right man back then. But they kept investigating and talking to people for another year and a half until this release today. They've talked to more people who worked with Ivins at the lab at Fort Detrick, Maryland. And at the time, a lot of his colleagues and family members were saying they couldn't believe that he could have been behind it.

And the FBI said that they actually developed a new science to actually type the anthrax and trace it back to a particular strain that Ivins had access to. And scientists had cast doubt on that, too. So what they're hoping is that this new release will kind of put some of that to rest.

SIEGEL: Well, does the new evidence that came out today, does it settle, for once and for all, that Ivins did it?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, the fact that Ivins killed himself without a note before he was charged means that - I think - there will always be doubts in this case. But basically, this is how the FBI lays out the case: that the strain of anthrax that was used in the attacks was a strain that Ivins and only a handful of other people had access to. And the FBI says that they've eliminated the other people as suspects.

Back during that time frame in 2001, Ivins was spending a lot of long hours in the lab alone, and there was no big project going on the lab in September 2001 that would've justified his time there. And then, Ivins explained the hours by saying he was having a difficult home life and was trying to get away from it. But he kept changing his story, so it made the FBI sort of doubt that excuse.

SIEGEL: There were reports in 2008 of some disturbing emails that Ivins had sent.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Exactly. The last time they released some information about this, the FBI released some emails that showed that he might have had some mental health issues, talking about feeling like he was two people and not one. He was stalking a co-worker. He was sending her presents and going to different cities to send them. These were all things that worried the FBI because the anthrax mailings were actually mailed from various cities with fake addresses.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Dina.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Dina Temple-Raston on the news that the FBI is closing its investigation, its formal investigation into the anthrax killings of 2001. 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.