Doubts Raised on Probe of Anthrax Killer

By Andrew Kreig

Bruce IvinsPBS Frontline has identified a big flaw in the official FBI account closing its case on suspects in the deadly anthrax letters in 2001 to congressional leaders and prominent journalists. Those letters frightened the nation's leadership and prompted passage of the Patriot Act curtailing American freedoms. The official view from the FBI and other authorities is that the leading suspect, Bruce Ivins, right, acted alone and then killed himself in 2008 after an award-winning career as a researcher at the Army's advanced research laboratory in Fort Detrick, MD.

But his lab area did not contain the right equipment need to turn liquid anthrax into the powder used to frighten recipients in Congress or the news media, according to FBI disclosures July 15 in a related legal dispute. Among the handful of letter recipients were Senate Majority Leaders Thomas Daschle (D-SD) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT). The two led the Democratic majority to rush passage of far-reaching laws curtailing civil liberties, with the stated purposed of stopping such attacks. Congress renewed those laws this spring with scant debate.

In a separate case, Alabama journalists Roger Shuler (who has repeatedly received threats for his writing, including against his dog) and Lori Alexandra Moore report that a medical examiner's findings suggest foul-play in what was originally reported as the suicide of Major Bashinsky, an attorney prominent in that state's notoriously volatile politics. Shuler and Moore reported that the corpse had no sign of the "strippling" marks normally associated with a close-up wound, but did have signs of duct-tape around the mouth. "The absence of stippling means the shot was from a distance of more than two feet," the authors wrote. "Why would someone shoot themselves in the head from a distance of more than two feet? Is that even possible for most people?" Details are in the appendix below.

Regarding the anthrax case, Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald published a July 19 column summarizing the recent research above by PBS, which is working on the story in cooperation with McClatchy Newspapers and Pro Publica:

That Ivins lacked the means, ability and equipment to produce the sophisticated strain of anthrax used in the attacks -- especially to do so without detection and leaving ample traces -- has long been one of the many arguments as to why it is so unlikely that he was the culprit (or at least the sole culprit). The anthrax attack was at least as important as (if not more important than) the 9/11 attack in creating a climate of fear in the U.S. that spawned the next decade's War on Civil Liberties and Terror and posture of Endless War; multiple government officials used ABC News' Brian Ross to convince the nation that Saddam was likely behind those attacks (as but one example, The Washington Post's Richard Cohen, in 2008, cited the anthrax attacks as his primary reason for supporting the attack on Iraq; in October, 2001, John McCain said on David Letterman's program that there is evidence linking Iraq to the anthrax attack).

Greenwald also connected other troublesome dots. We recommend the entire column. But we'll share also one of his conclusions:

Even if one believes the FBI's case, it means that one of the most significant Terrorist attacks in American history was launched from within the U.S. military. As a result, President Obama -- in what I think is one his most indefensible acts -- actually threatened to veto the entire intelligence authorization bill if it included a proposed bipartisan amendment (passed by the House) that would have mandated an independent inquiry into the FBI's anthrax investigation. In a rational, non-corrupt environment, that would be a reason to insist upon -- not take extraordinary steps to block -- an independent investigation into one of the most consequential crimes ever committed on U.S. soil.

The government has responded by stating that it did not mean in its Florida filing to undermine its view tha Ivins is guilty. The Florida case is a negligence action by the heirs of an American Media, Inc. photographer killed when he opened a letter addressed to him containing anthrax. The tabloid journalist, who had been involved in unflattering coverage of prominent people over his career, including the daughters of George W. Bush, is believed to be the only person killed in the attacks by a letter specficially addressed to the victim.

Ivins was the second suspect identified by authorities as the sole perpetrator. The first was later cleared, and sued for defamation. Ivins, 62, died of an apparent suicide on July 29, 2008, after learning that federal prosecutors were preparing to indict him on murder charges in the 2001 anthrax attacks that left five people dead. The New York Times has prepared a summary of the case that can be seen here. According to that summary:

The seven-year inquiry by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s, perhaps the largest and most complex in the agency’s history, concluded that Dr. Ivins, a microbiologist at Fort Detrick, the Army's bio-defense research center in Maryland, prepared the deadly powder and mailed it to two senators and several media organizations. The F.B.I. has made public its circumstantial case against Dr. Ivins, which included genetic fingerprinting linking the mailed anthrax to a supply in his laboratory and his late hours in the lab in the days before the two mailings.
ruce Ivins, 62, died of an apparent suicide on July 29, 2008, after learning that federal prosecutors were preparing to indict him on murder charges in the 2001 anthrax attacks that left five people dead.

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Below are significant articles that illustrate issues described above. See the full article by clicking the link.

Anthrax Case and Civil Liberties Cutbacks

Salon / Unclaimed Territory, DOJ casts serious doubt on its own claims about the anthrax attack, Glenn Greenwald, July 19, 2011. Ever since the FBI claimed (for a second time) that it had discovered in 2008 the identity of the anthrax attacker -- the recently-deceased-by-suicide Army researcher Bruce Ivins -- it was glaringly obvious, as I documented many times, that the case against him was exceedingly weak, unpersuasive and full of gaping logical, scientific, and evidentiary holes. The biggest blow yet to the FBI's case has just occurred as the result of an amazing discovery by PBS' Frontline, which is working on a documentary about the case with McClatchy and ProPublica:The Justice Department has called into question a key pillar of the FBI's case against Bruce Ivins. . . . 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.

Washington Post, After Anthrax Scientist's Threats, Counselor Faced a Hard Choice, Anne Hull, Aug. 10, 2008. On the morning of July 10, Jean C. Duley decided she had a phone call to make. She had agonized all night. Her counseling client, Bruce E. Ivins, had announced in a group therapy session the evening before that he was a suspect in the 2001 anthrax investigation and had a plan to kill his co-workers. From her desk at Comprehensive Counseling Associates in Frederick, Duley called the Frederick Police Department to report Ivins's threats. The scientist was taken into custody that afternoon and placed in a psychiatric hospital. A day later, the FBI showed up at Duley's office for the first time. "Everyone thinks I was complicit with the FBI," Duley said in an interview Friday. "The FBI didn't tell me anything."

Alabama Mysterious Death

Legal Schnauzer, Suicide Finding in the Major Bashinsky Case Springs Multiple Leaks, Roger Shuler and Lori Alexandra Moore, July 20, 2011. We have reported on two issues that raise serious questions about the suicide finding in the March 2010 death of prominent Alabama attorney Major Bashinsky. After a full review of the medical examiner's report, we have even more questions about a manner-of-death finding that never seemed to add up from the outset. The Bashinsky case is particularly compelling because it was the first of what has become a string of mysterious suicides in Alabama. Did Major Bashinsky kill himself? We find it unlikely.

Federal Prosecutions

Eliott SpitzerHarvey Silverglate Forbes / Injustice Department, News Corp, the FCPA, and Eliot Spitzer’s “Longstanding Practice” of Hypocrisy, Harvey Silverglate (left), July 18, 2011. Eliot Spitzer should count himself lucky that he did not exercise his right of self-representation. The former attorney general and then governor has been leading the charge for pursuing a federal indictment of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation following the News of the World corruption scandal (which includes bribery of police officers, illegal phone tapping, and, in one possible case, interference with a murder investigation). Spitzer, right, takes these Draconian positions regarding a media entity while being (or pretending to be) blissfully unaware that, had a different prosecutor used this logic in pursuing a federal indictment against him, the former governor might very well be in prison right now rather than writing for and pontificating in the public arena. Indeed, Eliot Spitzer’s actions with prostitutes represented a more tenable federal crime—as a violation of the Mann Act—than did News Corp’s supposed violation of FCPA, the Federal Corrupt Practices Act.

New York Times, Internet Activist Charged in M.I.T. Data Theft, Nick Bilton, July 19, 2011. Aaron Swartz, a 24-year-old programmer and online political activist, has been indicted in Boston on charges that he stole more than four million documents from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and JSTOR, an archive of scientific journals and academic papers. (Read the full indictment below.) Authorities said he broke into a restricted area of M.I.T. and entered a computer wiring closet. He apparently then accessed the M.I.T. computer network and took millions of documents from JSTOR.

New Jersey Controversies

Newark Star-Ledger, Ex-Assemblyman Louis Manzo pleads not guilty to new bribery-related charges, Jason Grant, July 19, 2011. Former state assemblyman and Jersey City mayoral candidate Louis Manzo pleaded not guilty today to new bribery-related charges, his attorney John Lynch said. "I’ve been through this for two years and it’s been wearing," Manzo, 56, said today outside a federal courtroom in Newark. "This … is just retaliation for my being outspoken about what this case was about." Manzo has pleaded not guilty to other versions of corruption charges brought in the massive 2009 Bid Rig III sting based largely on the prolific work of government informant Solomon Dwek. He has repeatedly accused Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a former U.S. attorney, of targeting him and other Hudson County Democrats in a tainted probe aimed at helping Christie snag the governorship.

Hudson Reporter, Former Jersey City assemblyman pleads not guilty to all corruption charges, Terrence T. McDonald, July 19, 2011. Manzo is accused of accepting $27,500 in cash bribes from federal informant Solomon Dwek during meetings the two had in Staten Island in 2009 with Manzo's brother, Ron, and former Jersey City official Ed Cheatam.

Bergen Record, Former assemblyman Louis Manzo pleads not guilty in corruption case, Peter J. Sampson, July 19, 2011. Manzo, the former state assemblyman and 2009 Jersey City mayoral candidate, was back in federal court in Newark on Tuesday to enter a “not guilty” plea for a third time to the latest version of a corruption indictment against him. Nearly two years after he and more than 40 other people were arrested in an historic FBI sting, Manzo told reporters he is “growing weary” and eager to clear his name. U.S. District Judge Jose L. Linares set deadlines for motions and scheduled trial for Feb. 7.

Jersey Journal Video, Louis Manzo Pleads Not Guilty, Adam Holsten, July 19, 2011.

Murdoch Phone-Hacking/Privacy Invasion Hearings

OpEd News, Murdoch Hearings: See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Michael Collins, July 20, 2011. The Murdochs and their former chief executive of News International testified before a House of Commons committee yesterday. Their hours of explanations can be summarized in a phrase: We knew nothing. Both Murdochs, Brooks, and the two resigned police heads know absolutely nothing about phone hacking. There is proof positive that both the Murdoch faction and the police officials were simply ignoring the obvious as they mocked the committee and the citizens of the United Kingdom.