Suspect in Anthrax Case Commits Suicide

The suicide of Bruce Ivins, a prime suspect in the 2001 anthrax mail poisonings will certainly give the conspiracy jobbers something to wag their tongues about for a few days. But until a little more information becomes available, I would hold to the facts and not speculate too forcefully - yet.

There are certainly troubling aspects to the idea that the anthrax attacks were planned and carried out by an employee who works in a government lab. And the strange way the investigation was handled by the FBI and the Army leaves many questions unanswered.

There is also the timing of the attacks - so soon after 9/11 that at the time, it was easy to believe America was under attack by Islamic militiants on several fronts.

To those inclined to believe the worst of Bush and the American government, the answer is simple; Ivins was a tool of the Administration and that the Bushies sought to gin up fear of terrorism to pass their dictatorial agenda that included the Patriot Act and other domestic spy initiatives. He didn't commit suicide but was killed to keep him quiet.

Nice movie script but several problems are immediately apparent. First, according to this LA Times article, Ivins had been depressed for months, had run out of money to pay for legal fees, and actually told his therapist he wanted to commit suicide:

Soon after the government's settlement with Hatfill was announced June 27, Ivins began showing signs of serious strain.

One of his longtime colleagues told The Times that Ivins, who was being treated for depression, indicated to a therapist that he was considering suicide.

Soon thereafter, family members and local police officers escorted Ivins from USAMRIID, where his access to sensitive areas was curtailed, the colleague said.

Ivins was committed to a facility in Frederick for treatment of his depression. On July 24, he was released from the facility, operated by Sheppard Pratt Health System. A telephone call that same day by The Times verified that Ivins' government voice mail was still functioning at the bacteriology division of USAMRIID.

The scientist faced forced retirement, planned for September, said his longtime colleague, who described Ivins as emotionally fractured by the federal scrutiny.

"He didn't have any more money to spend on legal fees. He was much more emotionally labile, in terms of sensitivity to things, than most scientists. . . . He was very thin-skinned."

Secondly, there's the FBI. Reviewing the investigation of the anthrax attacks until 2006 is a study in incompetence by the FBI and the Army. Is it possible they deliberately blew the investigation in order to keep the plot from being exposed? Conspiracists will make that argument. I reject it because all too often, human error and coincidence is the much simpler and therefore more realistic explanation. It may very well be that the Army didn't want to know if anyone from their lab was involved - a plausible explanation when considering the bureaucratic mindset at work in the lab's own investigation of Ivins for an incident regarding a possible anthrax "spill" that the suspect never reported to his superiors. Covering up lax safety at the lab by not disciplining Ivins is perfectly in keeping with the way some in the Army bureacracy might operate. If that reflects badly on the Army, I'm sorry but we have seen similar cover ups over the years.

The FBI, however, knew of Ivins activities in cleaning anthrax from lab areas at Fort Detrick and still never made him a focus of the investigation. It wasn't until FBI chief Mueller kicked out the agents heading the inquiry in 2006 and replaced them that movement towards Ivins began. 

Why did the FBI concentrate their investigation instead on Stephen Hatfill, recipient of more than $5 million in a settlement agreed to just a few months ago and another employee at the lab? While demonstrating a breathtaking incompetence,this fact alone absolves the government of any conspiracy in my mind for the simple fact it would be stupid to make someone from the same lab as Ivins a suspect if there was a plot afoot. There are other labs they could have grabbed a patsy from while deflecting attention from Ivins. Therefore, we can almost certainly conclude that the FBI would not be part of any plot.

This is not to say that a thorough investigation shouldn't immediately be undertaken by either a bi-partisan Congressional or independent panel that would examine all aspects of the case - including possible conspiracies. This matter went unresolved for entirely too long and whether it was incompetence or just bad luck, answers must be found regarding the Army and the FBI's investigation of both Hatfill - whose case is strange indeed - and Ivins. 

This case is far from closed. But I would urge everyone to wait upon the facts before connecting any dots - even if those dots are tempting one to posit conspiracies about the matter. Because at bottom, in order to believe in a government conspiracy to ratchet up fear following 9/11, one must suppose something so monstrous at the core of our government that if proven correct, will bring the United States to ruin.