Thursday, July 28, 2011

Documents: Alleged anthrax killer lacked necessary equipment

Stephen C. Webster
Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

Court documents filed this week by the Department of Justice claim that Dr. Bruce Ivins, an army scientist who allegedly mailed packages of anthrax spores to government officials and members of the press in 2001, did not possess the equipment necessary to have orchestrated the attacks.

Despite the admission, discovered by a reporter with PBS Frontline, officials say they still believe Ivins was behind the ordeal. Ivins was pronounced guilty in a case based largely on circumstantial evidence, decided shortly after he committed suicide in 2008.

The anthrax attacks killed five people and took years to investigate. Even so, an independent panel of scientists said earlier this year that the FBI did not have enough scientific evidence to produce a conviction.

Evidence, they said, proved only that he could have been behind the attacks, not that he was.

Now that case has crumbled even further, with the Department of Justice filing documents in a Florida court this week claiming Ivins' lab "did not have the specialized equipment that would be required to prepare the dried spore preparations that were used in the letters."

Specifically, Ivins' "hot lab" lacked the equipment needed to dry liquid anthrax spores into a powder that could be mailed, leaving in serious doubt the FBI's claim that he was the culprit.

The department's latest filings come as government attorneys defend against a case brought by one of the victims' families, who argue for civil damages over the army's lack of controls on anthrax spores.

Government attorneys are arguing that Ivins did not produce the spores at the army facility, but they lack evidence that he produced them anywhere else.

During the prosecution, the FBI had argued that Ivins was most likely the culprit because he spent a growing amount of time in his lab in the weeks before the anthrax attacks.

An earlier effort to have an independent organization re-investigate the attacks was killed after President Barack Obama issued a veto threat, citing concerns among the intelligence community and a need to maintain the public's faith in the FBI's initial investigation.

The department's latest admissions are to be part of a forthcoming documentary by PBS Frontline, which said it was working with McClatchy Newspapers and Pro Publica on the project.

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