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An Improbable Ending:

An Improbable Ending:

Scientist Bruce Ivins Tried and Convicted by the Media as Anthrax
Letter perpetrator, after his suicide

by Meryl Nass, MD

For 7 years the Justice Department couldn't seem to get anything right
about the anthrax letters. For years, it harrassed Steven Hatfill, a
self-described bodyguard for South African white supremacist Eugene
Terrblanche and an unlicensed physician, despite a shocking lack of
evidence. He is now $5.8 million richer as a result.

But the White House told press just days after the letters started
appearing that the anthrax came from a government lab. Then that
claim was buried as the justice department "pursued" the case
everywhere else. Only recently were the press informed that
government scientists were being investigated regarding the crime.

Ph.D. scientist Bruce Ivins worked at Fort Detrick, the Army's center
for biodefense, since about 1980. He was one of a small group of
scientists who worked exclusively on anthrax, and most of his career
dealt with the development of anthrax vaccines.

I first met Bruce at a conference on biowarfare in the spring of 1991
at the University of Maryland. We happened to sit next to each other,
in the front row, and enjoyed chatting. Bruce sent me information
relevant to my research on Zimbabwe's anthrax epidemic, and I
commented on his work. We continued to correspond occasionally for
about ten years. Bruce had a chronic blood disorder, which he thought
might have been due to his many anthrax immunizations, and encouraged
me to continue investigating the vaccine's side effects. He shared
papers with me on the effects of the vaccine's aluminum adjuvant in
experimental animals.

Now it turns out that Bruce was one of several scientists the justice
department turned its spotlight on, after Hatfill succeeded in not
only getting them to leave him alone, but also pay him for destroying
his (admittedly tawdry) reputation. Bruce was a gentle guy, the
opposite of Hatfill. While Hatfill stirred up a cauldron of
controversy, held press conferences and initiated many legal efforts
(I was subpoenaed as a witness for his case against the New York
Times), Bruce got depressed. Then killed himself, apparently.

Bruce wasn't the anthrax perpetrator. First off, he had no motive.
He didn't need to direct money toward the bioterrorism effort, or
increase interest in it. He had a very solid job, since he was the
army's top expert on anthrax vaccines. He didn't move on to a better
job in industry, unlike many of his colleagues at Fort Detrick, after
the anthrax letters made bioterrorism a profitable industry.

Second, he had no access to dry, powdered anthrax, according to Fort
Detrick spokespersons, who said that only liquid anthrax was used at
the Fort Detrick facility in animal aerosolization experiments. If he
had been making dry anthrax, it would have been detectable: because
anthrax forms a protective spore, the bacteria contaminate the
facilities where they are produced. A wet swab can then be used to
remove them from surfaces for culture and identification. So if Bruce
had made enough anthrax (at least 10-20 grams) to fill the letters, it
would have been detectable and the strain would have matched that of
the letters. It would not take 7 years to perform the forensics for
this experiment, though it could take 7 months. His colleagues would
have noted something amiss: half an ounce of dried anthrax requires a
lot of fermentation and processing to prepare.

So, we have what appears to be a deliberately botched investigation of
the anthrax letters case, and it is all going to end with the suicide
of an ill and depressed scientist who lacked a motive and probably
lacked access to powdered anthrax.

In my opinion anyway, this case is not closed. I will be reposting an
article I wrote about this investigation in early 2002, to provide
additional perspective, and a statement made by Bruce's attorney.

Meryl Nass, MD
Mount Desert Island Hospital
Bar Harbor, Maine 04609
207 288-5081 ext. 220
http://anthraxvacci ne.blogspot. com
http://www.anthraxv accine.org