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David Willman

Chicago Tribune: Science in anthrax letter case comes under attack

Bruce E. Ivins, the chief suspect in the 2001 anthrax mailings, committed suicide before the FBI could present its case in court. Years later, some suspicions remain over results of the inquiry.

By David Willman, Washington Bureau
http://www.chicagotribune.com
October 16, 2011

WASHINGTON — FBI Agent Edward Montooth began worrying the moment he got the call early on the morning of July 27, 2008: The chief suspect in the deadly anthrax letter attacks of 2001 had just been rushed to a hospital.

The leader of the FBI investigation knew that if Army microbiologist Bruce E. Ivins died, the opportunity to present the case against him in a courtroom would be lost. Conspiracy theories and speculation, he feared, could well overshadow the evidence.

"They better save [him]," Montooth snapped to a colleague as he hung up the phone.

In previous weeks, Ivins had been warned by his lawyer that he faced an indictment, and the possibility of the death penalty, in connection with the attacks, which killed five people, injured or hospitalized 17 others and helped spur significant changes in national security policies. Ivins died two days after he arrived at the hospital, minutes from his home, in Frederick, Md.

More than three years after Ivins' suicide, Montooth has retired from the FBI, but his earlier concern — that the lack of a trial could fuel suspicions about the government's case — remains valid. Over the last week alone, media reports have questioned anew the evidence against Ivins, while suggesting that the anthrax attacks may have been committed by unidentified wrongdoers.

One account came from three scientists — long critical of the FBI — whose questions were the subject of a story in the New York Times. Another came from the nonprofit group ProPublica, the PBS documentary unit Frontline and McClatchy Newspapers. The coverage highlighted the lingering antagonism toward the FBI among some of Ivins' colleagues at the Army's biowarfare research center at Ft. Detrick, Md.