TPM News

In trying to make the case that military scientist Bruce Ivins was a lunatic who sent anthrax through the mail and killed five people, federal agents disclosed a batch of emails Ivins wrote before and after the attack letters were sent.

The feds presumably plucked them from thousands of emails Ivins sent over the past several years. They paint a picture of a disturbed and well-medicated individual. They're laid out in a 25-page affidavit that federal agents drew up last fall when asking for search warrants.

The affidavit, unsealed and disclosed publicly yesterday, spotlights one email from just a few days after the first anthrax letter was sent. The affidavit draws a parallel with the phrasing in one of the unsigned anthrax letters, which read: "We have this anthrax...Death to America...Death to Israel," according to the court document.

Sept. 26, 2001, [Ivins wrote] "Of the people in my "group" everyone but me is in the depression/sadness/flight mode for stress. I'm really the only scary one in the group. Others are talking about how sad they are or scared they are, but my reaction to the WTC/Pentagon events is far different. Of course, I don't talk about how I really feel with them - it would just make them worse. Seeing how differently I reacted than they did to the recent events makes me really think about myself a lot. I just heard tonight that Bin Laden terrorists for sure have anthrax and sarin gas. You [REDACTED].

In that same September 26, 2001 email, Dr. Ivins states "Osama Bin Laden has just decreed death to all Jews and all Americans" -- language similar to the text of the anthrax letters postmarked two weeks later warning "DEATH TO AMERICA," "DEATH TO ISRAEL."
The affidavit does not provide the full context of Ivins' Bin Laden remark here. And, as Glenn Greenwald at Salon noted, alarmist reports about Bin Laden and Islamic radicalism were common in the daily press at that time.

The affidavit does not disclose any of the emails' recipients.

Other emails featured in the affidavit include:
"June 27, 2000, "Even with the Celexa and the counseling, the depression episodes still come and go. That's unpleasant enough. What is REALLY scary is the paranoia...Remember when I told you about the "metallic" taste in my mouth that I got periodically? It's when I get these "paranoid" episodes. Of course I regret them thoroughly when they are over, but when I'm going through them, it's as if I'm on a passenger on a ride...Ominously, a lot of the feelings of isolation - and desolation - that I went through before college are returning. I don't want to relive those years again...I've been seeing the counselor once a week."


Read more for additional emails.

Read More →

The first anthrax-laced letter was sent out on Sept. 18, 2001.

And according to the FBI, Dr. Bruce Ivins was probably plotting and preparing his anthrax attacks for several weeks before that -- starting back as early as August 2001.

Among the pile of circumstantial evidence that federal agents compiled against Ivins was a log of his frequent night hours in the lab in 2001. (The military lab at Fort Detrick has electronic locks with swipe cards that allow detailed monitoring of people who have access to the stocks of the world's most dangerous biological agents.)

And the chart the FBI compiled shows that he began spending a lot of extra time in the lab at night in August.

Ivins explained to the FBI that he was having family problems at the time and preferred working late to going home.

On March 31, 2005, Dr. Ivins was asked by Task Force Investigators about his access to [the lab known as] B3 and could provide no legitimate reason for the extended hours other than "home was not good" and he went there "to escape" from his life at home.


Ivins provided that alibi back in March of 2005. The FBI didn't buy it. Which raises questions about why it took the FBI another two and a half years to ask for a search warrant for Ivins' home.

For a comprehensive timeline of the whole anthrax investigation, check out Marcy Wheeler's over here.

The big turning point in the FBI's seven-year investigation came when scientists confirmed that the anthrax used in the 2001 letter attacks came from a specific flask stored at the military lab at Fort Detrick in Maryland.

"The key breakthrough was the science that focused their attention laser-like on that flask," said U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Taylor at a news conference today.

It was a flask that was "created and solely maintained" by Dr. Bruce Ivins, the key suspect who killed himself last week. Others at the lab also had access to the flask, officials said.

The FBI identified the flask as the source no later than March 2005, according to a set of court documents unsealed today.

But it was not until October 2007 that federal agents went to a judge seeking a search warrant for Ivins' home.

Identifying the source of the anthrax used in the attacks took several years.

In 2002, federal agents first asked for a sample from Ivins' jar of anthrax. He provided one but the FBI says it was bogus, possibly an effort to obstruct the investigation, according to the search warrant.

The feds were suspicious enough in April 2004 to send an FBI agent back to the military lab in Fort Detrick to seize the flask of anthrax, known as "RMR-1029." The flask was sealed with evidence tape and carried out by FBI contractors.

Nine months later, on March 31, 2005, the FBI confronted Ivins with their belief that he had not given them the sample they asked for.

"Dr. Ivins was adamant in his response that there had been no omission from his [REDACTED] submission, and he insisted that he had provided RMR-1029 to the FBI in his second submission samples in April 2002," according to the affidavit.

Even after that conversation, it took more than two years until they sought a search warrant for Ivins' home.

So what took so long?

Reporters posed that question to Taylor at this afternoon's press conference.

It's important to remember how complex, complicated, this investigation was. At the outset we had to identify the universe of persons and labs that might have access to this type of anthrax, once we identified what type of anthrax it was. And then over the years there were efforts to shrink the size of that pool. ...


We've got a video of the rest of his response.

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) is making good on his promise "to travel to any place in the state. . . to listen to Alaskans." On Saturday, Stevens visited the small town of Ketchikan, for their annual blueberry festival and gave an interesting quote to the Ketchikan Daily News (sub. req.):

"This is an indictment for failure to disclose gifts that are controversial in terms of whether they were or were not gifts. It's not bribery; it's not some corruption; it's not some extreme felony."


Interesting defense, senator. We wonder how that will go over with the judge.

From the AP:

Army scientist Bruce Ivins "was the only person responsible" for anthrax attacks in 2001 that killed five and rattled the nation, the Justice Department said Wednesday, backing up the claim with dozens of documents all pointing to his guilt.

Documents made public alleged that Ivins, who committed suicide last week, had sole custody of highly purified anthrax spores with "certain genetic mutations identical" to the poison used in the attacks. Investigators also said they had traced back to his lab the type of envelopes used to send the deadly spores through the mails.

Ivins killed himself last week as investigators closed in, and U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Taylor said, "We regret that we will not have the opportunity to present evidence to the jury."


The newly released court documents are available here.

Lifting the veil on one of the two remaining Justice Department OIG reports, Murray Waas for the Huffington Post reports that Hans von Spakovsky, among other former Justice Department lawyers, has been subpoenaed by the OIG to testify about politicization of the Civil Rights Division.

Investigators for the Inspector General have also asked whether [Brad] Schlozman, while an interim U.S. attorney in Missouri, brought certain actions and even a voting fraud indictment for political ends, according to witnesses questioned by the investigators. But it is unclear whether the grand jury is going to hear testimony on that issue as well.

One person who has been subpoenaed before the grand jury, sources said, was Hans von Spakovsky, who as a former counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights was a top aide to Schlozman.


As Waas points out in the article, the DOJ forcing former members of its own ranks to testify is an "extraordinary step."

Both Schlozman and Spakovsky are being investigated for violating civil service laws in making hiring decisions based on political affiliation.

Jason Torchinsky is also reported to have been subpoenaed, though sources tell Waas that Torchinsky is not under investigation and has been only asked for witness testimony.

Two previous reports by the OIG have both found that hirings were politicized at various points at the Justice Department. The first report showed the politicization of the Attorney General's Honors Program, while the second, released last week, focused on the politicized hiring surrounding Monica Goodling and others at the DOJ.

New details about the FBI investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks have only reinforced a long-standing trend -- the more we hear about the probe, the more botched it sounds.

Today the Washington Post reports that FBI agents harassed Ivins's daughters and offered his son millions of dollars to help convict Ivins in the anthrax killings. That's according to a friend and former co-worker whom Ivins confided in last fall.

It was around the time that FBI agents showed Ivins' 24-year-old daughter pictures of the victims who had died in the 2001 anthrax attacks and told her, "Your father did this," the scientist said. The agents also offered her twin brother the $2.5 million reward for solving the anthrax case -- and the sports car of his choice.
Talking abrasively to potential witnesses might not be uncommon for criminal investigators. But offering money and a car?

Also according to the same scientist, FBI agents had approached Ivins and his family in public. The Post reports:
One day in March, when Ivins was at a Frederick mall with his wife and son, the agents confronted the researcher and said, "You killed a bunch of people." Then they turned to his wife and said, "Do you know he killed people?" according to the scientist.
The only person to say publicly that Ivins talked like a homicidal sociopath was Jean Duley, Ivins' therapist, who was cooperating with the FBI investigation.

In fact, it was an FBI agent who suggested that she contact authorities about a so-called "Peace Order" and make those allegations available in public documents.

Duley got involved with the investigation after Ivins launched into a homicidal tirade during one of their therapy sessions, she said. Ivins talked about the possibility of facing capital murder charges soon and his desire to kill people and "go out in a blaze of glory," Duley told Maryland court officials.

Fearing Ivins may hurt someone, Duley contacted the local police in Frederick, MD. That one call from Duley led local police to remove him from the military research facility in Ft. Detrick and take him to a local mental health facility. (Duley sought a restraining order because Ivins threatened her when he learned she had contacted the police, she said.)

The Frederick Police response offers a stark contrast to the FBI, which was apparently concerned enough about Ivins to put him under surveillance more than a year ago, but not to seek to revoke his security clearance at Fort Detrick, where he handled deadly biological agents like bubonic plague.

The flawed investigation has already forced federal taxpayers to pay out nearly $6 million to settle a lawsuit filed against the Department of Justice by Steven Hatfill, the other scientist the feds accused in the case who had nothing to do with it.

This afternoon, we're expecting more details of the investigation. The FBI says these newly unsealed documents will prove their case against Ivins. We'll see.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey has appointed Brian Benczkowski to serve as his chief of staff, replacing Brett Gerry the Justice Department announced today:

Benczkowski, 38, currently serves as chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Mark Filip.

[He] will succeed Brett Gerry, who will be leaving the Department after more than four years in the Executive Branch, and who has served as the Attorney General's chief of staff since his confirmation.

. . . "I am happy that Brian Benczkowski has agreed to serve as my chief of staff," Attorney General Mukasey said. "Brian has been one of my closest advisers in the Department since my confirmation process, and his exceptional judgment and extensive experience in the Department will be of great value to me and to the Department in the upcoming months."


Regular TPMmuckraker readers might remember Benczkowski as a mouthpiece for the DOJ on the ambiguity of torture and the word "exclusive" as it pertains to FISA.

Samuel Israel III, the convicted hedge-fund manager who faked suicide and went on the lam to avoid going to prison, will plead guilty today in U.S. District Court.

From Reuters:

Israel, bearded and dressed in a baggy brown tee-shirt and light pants, appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Lisa Margaret Smith in White Plains, a suburb of New York City. He agreed to waive an indictment on a charge of failure to surrender for service of a prison sentence.

The magistrate judge told Israel: "I understand that you have decided to enter a plea of guilty." Israel told the judge he did want to plead guilty, but Smith said the formal plea would have to be entered before the district judge.

Reuters and CNN are reporting that Osama bin Laden's driver, Salim Hadam, has been convicted. No word yet on whether it's on all 10 counts of conspiracy and abetting terrorism.

Late update: From Reuters:

A jury of U.S. military officers convicted Osama bin Laden's driver on charges of providing material support for terrorism on Wednesday but acquitted him on charges of providing material support for al Qaeda in the first U.S. war crimes trial since World War Two.

The case of Yemeni driver Salim Hamdan, who faces life in prison, is the first full test of the controversial Guantanamo tribunal authorized by the Bush administration to try non-U.S. captives on terrorism charges outside the regular civilian and military courts.


Sentencing is scheduled for this afternoon.

Late late update: We know that the convicted on "providing material support for terrorism" and acquitted on "providing material support for al Qaeda" seems confusing and maybe a bit contradictory. The AP puts it another way that might clear things up:
The Pentagon-selected jury deliberated for about eight hours over three days before convicting Salim Hamdan of supporting terrorism. He was cleared of the conspiracy charge.

TPMLivewire