Anthrax Mystery Might Still Be Unsolved

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Bruce Ivins.
Bruce Ivins. Photo: Wikipedia

A new report to be published in the Journal of Bioterrorism & Biodefense raises more questions about the culpability of scientist Bruce Ivins in the anthrax attacks that killed five people and freaked out an already-terrorized nation. The F.B.I. officially closed the case last year based only on circumstantial evidence against Ivins, but a new analysis indicates their decision might've been premature, mostly because of the curious presence of tin on the deadly spores:

F.B.I. documents reviewed by The New York Times show that bureau scientists focused on tin early in their eight-year investigation, calling it an "element of interest" and a potentially critical clue to the criminal case. They later dropped their lengthy inquiry, never mentioned tin publicly and never offered any detailed account of how they thought the powder had been made.

Ivins, meanwhile, killed himself during the investigation.

Over the summer, PBS Frontline reported that, "On July 15 ... Justice Department lawyers acknowledged in court papers that the sealed area in Ivins' lab — the so-called hot suite — did not contain the equipment needed to turn liquid anthrax into the refined powder that floated through congressional buildings and post offices in the fall of 2001."

The authors of the new study say the chemical makeup of the powder "indicates a very special processing, and expertise," while the government has always maintained that the germs were unsophisticated. The scientists contend that either Ivins was innocent or he had some help along the way. A justice department spokesperson, having none of it, said, "We stand by our conclusion."

Scientists’ Analysis Disputes F.B.I. Closing of Anthrax Case [NYT]