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U.S. Could Owe Millions for Anthrax Mailings


The United States could face tens of millions of dollars in liability payments over the 2001 anthrax mailings if it is ruled to have overlooked security risks posed by the scientist alleged to be the sole suspect for the attacks that killed five people, USA Today reported yesterday (see GSN, Aug. 11).

The central question is whether the U.S. Army Research Institute of Infectious Diseases was or should have been aware of indicators that microbiologist Bruce Ivins was mentally unstable, according to Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University.

The U.S. Justice Department last year identified Ivins as the perpetrator of the mailings and was reportedly preparing charges against him when he committed suicide in late July. Ivins’s legal team maintains he had no role in the mailings.

Whether or not the laboratory was aware of Ivins’s mental instability, "the question is whether they should have known," Turley said. "It's like saying that you didn't know that a physician was a perfect lunatic at a hospital. The expectation is that a hospital would have sufficient monitoring to detect lunacy."

One $50 million lawsuit contends that American Media Inc. photo editor Bob Stevens died after exposure to one contaminated envelope because the Fort Detrick biological defense facility failed to properly store and secure an anthrax supply allegedly used in the attacks (see GSN, May 6).

"One of the people that worked at the laboratory told me they had better security at a 7-Eleven than they did at the … laboratory where they had the most dangerous substances known to mankind," said Richard Schuler, a lawyer for Stevens’s family (Ken Dilanian, USA Today, Aug. 11).

The years-long federal investigation of the mailings shattered the careers and personal lives of some people it targeted, the New York Times reported yesterday.

Before setting its sights on Ivins, the probe grilled academics, non-U.S. nationals and biological warfare experts, including other USAMRIID staffers.

“It was not pleasant,” said Jeffrey Adamovicz, a former USAMRIID official who remembered employees viewing each other with suspicion. “There was a general sense of paranoia that they were going to get somebody no matter what.”

When Ohio microbiologist Perry Mikesell came under the scrutiny of investigators, he turned to alcohol abuse and died soon after, according to relatives. A New York doctor lost his marriage and was damaged professionally when he became a suspect, his lawyer said. Two Pakistani brothers were forced to find work outside the United States after falling under suspicion for a short time.

“You do the best you can, and it’s not always pretty,” said former FBI domestic terrorism chief Robert Blitzer. “Here you have a bunch of people dead and several diminished, and you’re charged with solving the crime. You try not to step on people’s toes, but sometimes it happens” (Broad/Shane, New York Times, Aug. 11).