Anthrax Redux: Did the Feds Nab the Wrong Guy?
Noah Shachtman - Wired April 2011
Finally, the investigation was over. The riddle solved. On August 18, 2008—after almost seven years, nearly 10,000 interviews, and millions of dollars spent developing a whole new form of microbial forensics—some of the FBI’s top brass filed into a dimly lit, flag-lined room in the bureau’s Washington, DC, headquarters. They were there to lay out the evidence proving who was responsible for the anthrax attacks that had terrified the nation in the fall of 2001.
It had been the most expensive, and arguably the toughest, case in FBI history, the assembled reporters were told. But the facts showed that Army biodefense researcher Bruce Ivins was the person responsible for killing five people and sickening 17 others in those frightening weeks after 9/11. It was Ivins, they were now certain, who had mailed the anthrax-filled letters that exposed as many as 30,000 people to the lethal spores.
The FBI unraveled the mystery, officials said, thanks in part to the microbiologists seated at a U-shaped table in the front of the room. Among them was Paul Keim, who first identified the anthrax strain used in the attacks, and genetic specialist Claire Fraser-Liggett, who led the team that sequenced the DNA of the anthrax in the letters, tracing the spores back to their genetic match: a flask of superconcentrated, ultrapure anthrax held by Ivins. Several of the researchers at the table had previously counted Ivins as a peer and even a friend. Now they were helping brand him a monster.
Between the officials and the scientists, it was a convincing display. It had to be. Ivins had killed himself three weeks earlier. There would be no arrest, no trial, no sentencing. Absent a courtroom and a verdict to provide a sense of finality or some measure of catharsis, all the FBI could do was present its findings and declare the case closed.