Anthrax suspect's colleague 'really, really' doubts his guilt
In the wake of the apparent suicide of government scientist Bruce Ivins, the FBI is preparing to declare the anthrax case closed, even though, as the New York Times reports, the evidence against Ivins was largely circumstantial.
Genetic analysis has identified a flask in Ivins' laboratory at Fort Detrick as the source of the anthrax used in the attack, and the envelopes used to mail the anthrax were purchased at a nearby post office. However, the Times notes that at least ten people had access to the flask in question, and the FBI has never found evidence that Ivins was in New Jersey on the dates when the letters were mailed.
According to the Washington Post, "Knowledgeable officials asserted that Ivins had the skills and access to equipment needed to turn anthrax bacteria into an ultra-fine powder that could be used as a lethal weapon. Court documents and tapes also reveal a therapist's deep concern that Ivins, 62, was homicidal and obsessed with the notion of revenge."
However, colleagues of Ivins told the Post that Fort Detrick was not equipped to create weaponized anthrax, with one explaining, "USAMRIID doesn't deal with powdered anthrax. ... I don't think there's anyone there who would have the foggiest idea how to do it. You would need to have the opportunity, the capability and the motivation, and he didn't possess any of those."
Anthrax expert Dr. Meryl Nass has also cast doubt on whether Ivins had either the expertise needed to produce weaponized anthrax or access to a large enough supply of spores for the volume of anthrax used in the attacks.
The claim that Ivins was homicidal has come from just one source, social worker Jean Carol Duley, who alleges that he "has actually attempted to murder several other people. ... He is a revenge killer." No one else has yet come forward to back Duley up, and her own credibility is now under attack, with both RAW STORY's Larisa Alexandrovna and Salon's
Glenn Greenwald pointing out that Duley only received her degree in social work a year ago and has a history of DUI and other convictions.
NBC News reports that Ivins was well-liked in the community of Frederick, MD, where Fort Detrick is located. He played in a church band and volunteered at the local Red Cross. Neighbors told NBC they trusted Ivins and considered him "really safe."
NBC's Meredith Vieira spoke to Dr. Russell Byrne, who had been both a colleague and a friend of Ivins for 15 years. Sounding distraught, Byrne said he was "still trying to process a lot of information. It's come in really quickly. A lot of it is just consternation at the ridiculous motives they're attributing."
The other motive that has been suggested for why Ivins might have mailed out anthrax is that he could have been hoping to profit from his participation in work at Fort Detrick on an anthrax vaccine. However, Byrne found that unlikely, explaining that the government owns the patent on the vaccine and that Ivins himself was only one of several researchers, so there could have been no more than "small monetary incentives."
Byrne further found it unlikely that Ivins would have been able to transform the anthrax spores into a powdered form at the laboratory without him knowing. "I was the division chief, and I didn't know that anybody did that," he stated. "All of the challenges that we did with animals were with wet spores. ... The dry spores I wasn't aware of."
Byrne said he hadn't recently been working in the same lab as Ivins, but people who were told him him that "changes really began to accelerate in the last year. ... He would sit at his desk weeping. He really couldn't do his work any more because the pressure was tremendous."
Byrne has told the press he believes Ivins was hounded by the FBI, and Ivins' lawyer has blamed FBI harassment for Ivins' suicide. "I think he committed suicide when he was walked out of the building, escorted by law enforcement officials," Byrne told Vieira. "That meant the end of his career."
Ivins was sent for psychiatric evaluation on July 10, because of his "deteriorating emotional condition," and was barred from returning to the base. Until then, he had maintained his full security clearance and continued to take part in sensitive research and discussions.
Byrne concluded, in reference to Duley's allegations, "It's possible that somebody could hide that [violent side] from all of your co-workers and nobody would ever hear about it, but I really, really doubt it."
This video is from NBC's Today Show, broadcast August 4, 2008.