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.