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Context of 'April 2002: Anthrax Attacks Suspect Ivins Submits Second Anthrax Sample to FBI Investigators'

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Not long after people start dying from the anthrax attacks in October 2001 (see October 5-November 21, 2001), future suspect Bruce Ivins works with the FBI team investigating the attacks. Ivins works at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory. He and about 90 USAMRIID colleagues work long hours to test thousands of samples of suspect powder to see if they contain real anthrax. [New York Times, 8/7/2008; Wall Street Journal, 8/7/2008] There are about 100 people in USAMRIID’s bacteriological division, including technicians and assistants. [New York Times, 8/9/2008] Within days of the attacks being discovered, there are about six people crowded at Ivins’s desk working on the anthrax, and other desks at USAMRIID are similarly crowded. Ivins helps analyze one of the letters containing real anthrax, the one sent to Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD), and goes to the Pentagon to discuss the results of his testing with officials there. Court documents will later claim that Ivins also repeatedly offers the FBI names of colleagues at USAMRIID who might be potential suspects in the attacks. The FBI will later claim he was attempting to mislead the investigation. [New York Times, 8/7/2008; Wall Street Journal, 8/7/2008]

Entity Tags: Bruce Ivins, Federal Bureau of Investigation, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Bruce Ivins handling the Ames strain of anthrax. The timing of the photo is unknown, but he sent this picture to a friend in an e-mail on November 14, 2001. Bruce Ivins handling the Ames strain of anthrax. The timing of the photo is unknown, but he sent this picture to a friend in an e-mail on November 14, 2001. [Source: Associated Press]At some point in the winter of 2001, the FBI has Bruce Ivins take a polygraph test over the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). Ivins is a microbiologist with expertise in anthrax, and works at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory. The FBI’s investigation soon focuses on the possibility that the anthrax attacks could be caused by a single person working at a US lab such as USAMRIID (see November 10, 2001), so Ivins is a likely suspect. But at the same time, he is also assisting the FBI with the anthrax investigation (see Mid-October 2001). Ivins passes the test and retains his role assisting with the investigation. In 2002, more and more USAMRIID employees are given polygraph tests, but Ivins is not tested again. Gerry Andrews, Ivins’s boss at the time, will later explain that Ivins is already considered to be in the “safety zone” of cleared suspects. According to the Wall Street Journal, Ivins is never polygraphed again. [Wall Street Journal, 8/7/2008] However, WorldNetDaily will claim that Ivins is given a second polygraph test years later, after he becomes a prime suspect, and he passes that as well. The FBI will later grow so frustrated at the polygraph results that in October 2007 they will ask a judge for permission to search his home and cars specifically to look for any materials, such as books, that could have helped him “defeat a polygraph.” FBI handwriting analysts also are unable to match samples of Ivins’s handwriting with the writing on the anthrax letters. When this analysis is made is unknown. [WorldNetDaily, 8/7/2008] Justice Department official Dean Boyd will later say, “[Ivins] was told he had passed [the polygraph] because we thought he did.” But after Ivins comes under increased suspicion, the FBI had experts re-examine the polygraph results and concluded he had used “countermeasures” such as controlled breathing to cheat the test. However, the FBI has not publicly released the polygraph results and details of the testing remain murky. [Newsweek, 8/9/2008]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Bruce Ivins, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

In February 2002, scientist Bruce Ivins submitted a sample of the anthrax he has been using to FBI investigators, but it was destroyed because it was not submitted according to strict protocols. As a result, he is asked to submit a second sample in April 2002, and does. Ivins works at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, and is helping with the anthrax investigation even as the FBI has reason to believe the anthrax could have come from USAMRIID (see Mid-October 2001 and Winter 2001). Ivins is using a variety of the Ames anthrax strain known as RMR-1029. Around early 2004, scientists will discover some unique genetic markers to the anthrax used in the 2001 attacks and will start comparing that anthrax to other anthrax. No match will be found between Ivins’s April 2002 sample and the anthrax used in the attacks. As a result of this discrepancy, the FBI will raid Ivins’s lab in July 2004 and seize more samples of RMR-1029 (see July 16, 2004). Additionally, Paul Keim, a biologist at Northern Arizona University and an expert at distinguishing various strains of anthrax, keeps duplicates of all the anthrax samples sent to the FBI. In early 2007, it will be discovered that he still has a copy of Ivins’s February 2002 sample. A match will be discovered between that RMR-1029 sample and the sample from the attacks (see Early 2007). However, at least 100 scientists had access to this sample (see Late 2005-2006). [New York Times, 8/20/2008] It remains unknown if Ivins altered the sample he submitted. Keim will later say that the genetic markers found in other samples of RMR-1029 should have been found in Ivins’s sample. He will note that “the FBI is implying he did it on purpose.” However, he will say that “Ivins may simply have failed to collect a representative sample.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/1/2008] In an August 2008 press briefing (see August 18, 2008), a government official will be asked if the sample submitted was not RMR-1029. The official will reply, “I don’t want to speculate that far.” [US Department of Justice, 8/18/2008]

Entity Tags: Paul Keim, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bruce Ivins

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Between 2003 and 2005, scientists working with the FBI’s anthrax investigation have been developing a system to compare the anthrax used in the 2001 attacks with other anthrax samples they have completed (see Early 2003-2005). By early 2004, the system apparently still is not complete, but scientists have discovered enough to focus their attentions on USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory (see Early 2004). They also note a discrepancy. In 2002, USAMRIID scientist Bruce Ivins had submitted a sample of a variety of the Ames anthrax strain known as RMR-1029 (see April 2002). The FBI had also collected some other samples of RMR-1029 from other scientists. All the samples of RMR-1029 had genetic markers that match the anthrax used in the attacks except for Ivins’s sample. As a result, in July 2004, the FBI will raid Ivins’s lab and seize more of his RMR-1029. These samples will also have the genetic markers matching the anthrax used in the attacks, raising more questions as to why the sample Ivins submitted does not (see July 16, 2004). [Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/1/2008]

Entity Tags: Bruce Ivins, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

The FBI closes some high-security laboratory suites at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland. The FBI apparently is searching for evidence related to the anthrax attacks investigation, although what the target of their search is remains unclear. For several days, investigators shut off access to bacteriology labs in two USAMRIID buildings where anthrax research is done or has been done. Numerous employees at USAMRIID were questioned by the FBI in the first months after the anthrax attacks, but then investigative activity targeting USAMRIID died down. In recent months, the FBI has seized medical records and computer hard drives there. Several days after the search, authorities say it failed to lead to any important breakthrough. The Baltimore Sun notes that USAMRIID’s labs were used extensively after the attacks to study the letters, so if trace amounts of anthrax are found it would very hard to prove if they came from the attacks or the subsequent investigation of the attacks. [Baltimore Sun, 7/21/2004] It will later emerge that the raid takes place at least in part to seize anthrax samples from scientist Bruce Ivins. In April 2002, Ivins had given investigators a sample of anthrax known as RMR-1029 (see April 2002). In early 2004, investigators determined that the sample did not match the anthrax used in the attacks, but other samples of RMR-1029 did (see Early 2004). So Ivins’s flasks of RMR-1029 are seized in the raid. These do show a match with the anthrax used in the attacks, raising questions why the sample Ivins had submitted in 2002 did not. [Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/1/2008] However, it appears the FBI will not begin to seriously focus on Ivins as a suspect until after the head of the FBI’s investigation is replaced in late 2006 (see Autumn 2006).

Entity Tags: Bruce Ivins, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

The FBI questions scientist Bruce Ivins about a marked increase in his after hours laboratory work from mid-August through October 2001 (see Mid-August-October 2001). Ivins tells investigators that he was working late at the time to escape troubles at home. The FBI is unable to find evidence of legitimate work Ivins performed during those visits. He is also asked to explain the differences in anthrax samples he submitted to the FBI in 2002 (see April 2002) and those seized in 2004 (see July 16, 2004). [Washington Post, 8/7/2008; Associated Press, 8/7/2008]

Entity Tags: Bruce Ivins, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

After years of work, by 2005, a scientific team working with the FBI has identified four genetic markers, known as indels, that make the anthrax used in the 2001 anthrax attacks unique (see Early 2003-2005). The anthrax is from the Ames strain, and the FBI has been slowly building a repository of 1,070 Ames anthrax samples from around the world. By late 2005 to 2006, it is discovered that only eight samples match the anthrax used in the attacks. Seven of these eight samples come from USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, and the eighth sample comes from another unnamed laboratory in the US. One of these samples is the ancestor of all eight, and this is a flask known as RMR-1029 kept by USAMRIID scientist Bruce Ivins (see Early 2004). The FBI soon determines that about 100 scientists had access to this flask and its seven descendants. Investigators begin a new phase, using traditional criminology techniques to narrow down the possible suspects. [New York Times, 8/20/2008]

Entity Tags: Bruce Ivins, Federal Bureau of Investigation, United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Paul Keim.Paul Keim. [Source: Public domain]The FBI matches an anthrax sample submitted by suspect Bruce Ivins with the anthrax used in the 2001 attacks. The sample, of anthrax used by Ivins in his work, was submitted to the FBI in February 2002, but the FBI then destroyed it since it had not been prepared using a strict protocol needed for it to be used as evidence in a trial (see February 22-27, 2002). By late 2006, the FBI suspects Ivins sent the 2001 anthrax letters (see Late 2006). Also in 2006, scientists have discovered unique genetic markers in the anthrax used in the 2001 attacks and they are comparing them to other anthrax samples they have collected. A sample Ivins gave to the FBI in April 2002 does not match the anthrax in the letters. However, Paul Keim, a biologist at Northern Arizona University and an expert at distinguishing various strains of anthrax, has kept duplicates of all the anthrax samples sent to the FBI. In early 2007, Keim discovers that he still has a copy of Ivin’s February 2002 sample, known as RMR-1029, and it matches the anthrax used in the attacks. However, at least 100 scientists had access to this sample (see Late 2005-2006), if not 200 to 300 scientists (see 1997). [Frederick News-Post, 8/19/2008; New York Times, 8/20/2008]

Entity Tags: Paul Keim, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bruce Ivins

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Vahid Majidi.Vahid Majidi. [Source: FBI]In the face of continued widespread doubt about the government’s case against deceased anthrax attacks suspect Bruce Ivins (see August 12, 2008), the FBI holds a press conference presenting more of its scientific evidence against Ivins. A panel discussion of experts working with the FBI is headed by Dr. Vahid Majidi, the FBI’s assistant director for the Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate, and Dr. Chris Hassell, who heads the FBI’s laboratory. The others on the panel are Paul Keim, Dr. James Burans, Dr. Rita Colwell, Claire Fraser-Liggett, Jacques Ravel, and Dr. Joseph Michael. They are all scientists who assisted with the FBI investigation.
bullet Majidi says, “[T]here were no additional additives combined with the [anthrax] to make them any more dispersible.” He adds, “The material we have is pure spores.”
bullet Hassell says that over 60 scientists worked with the anthrax investigation, validating the data throughout the process. He also says that more than ten peer reviewed scientific articles will be published in the coming months about the science behind the investigation’s findings.
bullet Michael explains that initial results showed that the anthrax spores contained silicon and oxygen. This led to erroneous conclusions that the anthrax had been weaponized with additives to make it more deadly. Later, more powerful microscope analysis showed that the silicon and oxygen were within the anthrax spores and not a layer outside the spores, indicating the anthrax was not weaponized.
bullet Burans says the silicon and oxygen were natural occurrences in the spores and they would not have made the anthrax deadlier since they were not on the outside of the spores.
bullet Asked if the silicon and oxygen could have been intentionally put in the anthrax by a person, an unnamed official replies, “The understanding of that process is not well understood.”
bullet Majidi says scientists were unable to determine what equipment was used to turn wet anthrax into the dry powder used in the attacks.
bullet Burans says that one reason why there was so much confusion about the weaponization of the anthrax is because so little is known about dry anthrax. Nearly all experimentation on anthrax is done using wet anthrax, because it is much safer to handle. He says: “to this day in our laboratories, we avoid at all costs working with [anthrax] in dried form. There’s no reason to.”
bullet Majidi says scientists were able to make anthrax resembling the anthrax used in the attacks, and the anthrax they made behaved in the same way. However, they were not able to recreate the presence of silicon inside the spores. He says, “It would have been easy to make these samples at USAMRIID.” Burans adds that one person could make the amount of anthrax used in the letters in three to seven days. [US Department of Justice, 8/18/2008]

Entity Tags: Rita Colwell, Vahid Majidi, Joseph Michael, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Claire Fraser-Liggett, Jacques Ravel, Paul Keim, Bruce Ivins, Chris Hassell

Timeline Tags: 2001 Anthrax Attacks

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