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Context of 'Mid-August-October 2001: Future Anthrax Attacks Suspect Ivins Works Extra Hours in Laboratory at Nights and on Weekends'

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A chart of Bruce Ivins’s night hours in 2000 and 2001.A chart of Bruce Ivins’s night hours in 2000 and 2001. [Source: FBI]After keeping relatively consistent work hours for most of 2001, from mid-August through October 2001, scientist Bruce Ivins spends much more time working in the evenings and on the weekends. Security logs show him sometimes working in the B3 biosecurity chamber where the RMR-1029 anthrax spores that investigators will later believe are used in the 2001 anthrax attacks are kept. Sometimes he works past midnight and when no other researchers are there. Ivins will be asked about this surge of after-hours work in 2005 (see March 31, 2005). He will tell investigators that he was working late to escape troubles at home. The FBI will later find this explanation unconvincing and will suggest Ivins put together the anthrax attacks during these hours. (Warrick 8/7/2008) A Guardian article will later skeptically note, “[O]ddly enough, Ivins’ late-night hours began to spike in August of that same year, well before the 9/11 attacks, when the rest of the world, including even George Bush, was largely oblivious to threats of Muslim extremist-inspired terror… But still, perhaps it’s just a coincidence that both Ivins and Bin Laden had [terrorism] in mind in August of that year…” (Friedman 8/11/2008)

Security records indicate that Bruce Ivins, a scientist at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, extensively uses a “hot suite” laboratory in the evenings and at weekends around the times when the 2001 anthrax attacks letters are mailed (see Mid-August-October 2001). The security records are based on swipes of magnetized plastic access cards, and Ivins is the only one out of a handful of anthrax researchers at USAMRIID make such use of the laboratory. The Los Angeles Times will later note that these records were easily available to investigators in late 2001, but it is unknown when investigators first make note of them. (Willman 8/15/2008) Ivins will not be questioned about his after hours lab work until 2005 (see March 31, 2005).

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). (Wade 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.” (Flam 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)

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. (Shane 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. (Flam 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).

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). (Warrick 8/7/2008; Associated Press 8/7/2008)

An aerial view of USAMRIID in 2005.An aerial view of USAMRIID in 2005. [Source: Sam Yu / Frederick News-Post]By the end of March 2005, the FBI clearly suspects Bruce Ivins for the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). Ivins works at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, and his lab was raided by the FBI to find Ivins’ anthrax samples (see July 16, 2004). He has been questioned about suspicious behavior around the time of the attacks and since (see March 31, 2005). Yet Ivins is still allowed to work with anthrax and other deadly germs at USAMRIID. McClatchy Newspapers will report in August 2008, “[A] mystery is why Ivins wasn’t escorted from [USAMRIID] until last month when the FBI had discovered by 2005 that he’d failed to turn over samples of all the anthrax in his lab, as agents had requested three years earlier.” In 2003, USAMRIID implemented a biosurety program that required all scientists working there to undergo regular intrusive background checks, which includes disclosure of mental health issues. They also have to undergo periodic FBI background checks to retain their security clearances. Jeffrey Adamovicz, head of USAMRIID’s bacteriology division in 2003 and 2004, will later say that USAMRIID officials knew at least by late 2006 that Ivins was a suspect, yet he maintained his lab access and security clearances until July 10, 2008, shortly before his suicide later that month (see July 10, 2008 and July 29, 2008). Adamovicz will say, “It’s hard to understand if there was all this negative information out there on Bruce, why wasn’t it picked up in the biosurety program or by law enforcement.” (Gordon 8/7/2008) By contrast, anthrax attacks suspect Steven Hatfill lost his security clearance in 2001 after it was discovered he had misrepresented some items on his resume (see August 23, 2001).

The FBI’s letter to Bruce Ivins.The FBI’s letter to Bruce Ivins. [Source: FBI] (click image to enlarge)Bruce Ivins is sent a formal letter by prosecutors saying that he is “not a target” of the FBI’s anthrax attacks investigation. In fact, samples of the anthrax used in the attacks have been shown to match anthrax once controlled by Ivins (see Early 2007) and Ivins has already been questioned about late-night work he had conducted in the USAMRIID laboratory shortly before the anthrax letters were mailed (see March 31, 2005). (Shane and Lichtblau 9/6/2008) Since late 2006, Ivins has correctly been under the impression that he is a target of the investigation (see Late 2006).

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