Judge agrees to unseal documents in anthrax probe

Judge agrees to unseal documents in anthrax probe

Posted: Wednesday, August 6, 2008 8:11 pm
By: AP

By LARA JAKES JORDAN and MATT APUZZO WASHINGTON (AP) — The chief judge of Washington’s federal courthouse on Wednesday unsealed hundreds of pages of documents in the FBI’s nearly 7-year investigation of anthrax mailings that killed five people. The move by U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth came after consultation with Amy Jeffress, a national security prosecutor at Justice, and as FBI Director Robert Mueller prepared to brief the families of anthrax victims on details of the case. The documents that Lamberth authorized to be released include more than a dozen search warrants aimed at Army microbiologist Bruce Ivins, whom federal investigators were closing in on as he committed suicide last week. Among other things, the papers are expected to reveal how the FBI narrowed the scope of its investigation to the Fort Detrick, Md., scientist. The evidence that Lamberth authorized to be made public should answer many questions in the bizarre investigation. Still, skeptics may never be satisfied if the documents fail to show conclusively that Ivins was solely responsible for mailing the anthrax letters that killed five and sickened 17. The judge indicated that it would take until at least midday or early afternoon Wednesday to clear the clerical hurdles to a full public release of the documents, which were to be posted on both the Justice Department’s and federal courthouse’s Web sites. The anthrax letters were mailed in 2001, not long after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, and shook a nation already traumatized by the attacks in New York and Washington. The government’s briefing for victims and their survivors at FBI headquarters came eight days after Ivins killed himself as prosecutors prepared to charge him with murder. Ivins’ lawyer has maintained that the brilliant but troubled 62-year-old scientist would have been proved innocent had he lived. And some of Ivins’ friends and former co-workers at the Fort Detrick biological warfare lab in Frederick, Md., say they doubt he could or would have unleashed the deadly toxin. But the FBI is ready, nevertheless, to end the “Amerithrax” investigation by outlining its evidence against Ivins, according to two U.S. officials. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case publicly. The Justice Department “has a legal and moral obligation to make official statements first to the victims and their families, then the public,” Attorney General Michael Mukasey said Tuesday. “And that’s the order in which we’re going to do it.” Officially, the case will stay open for an undetermined but short period of time. That will allow the government to complete several legal and investigatory matters that need to be wrapped up before it can be closed, the officials said. The case may turn on a couple of key points, including: —An advanced DNA analysis that matched the anthrax used in the attacks to a specific batch controlled by Ivins. It is unclear, however, how the FBI eliminated as suspects others in the lab who had access to it. —Ivins’ purported motive of sending the anthrax in a twisted effort to test a cure for it, according to authorities. Ivins complained of the limitations of animal testing and shared in a patent for an anthrax vaccine. No evidence has been revealed so far to bolster that theory. —Why Ivins would have mailed the deadly letters from Princeton, N.J., a seven-hour round trip from his home. In perhaps the strangest explanation to emerge in the case so far, authorities said Ivins had been obsessed with the sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma for more than 30 years. The letters were sent from a mailbox down the street from the sorority’s offices at Princeton University. Investigators can’t place Ivins in Princeton but say the evidence will show he had disturbing attitudes toward women. Other haunting details about Ivins’ mental health have emerged, and his therapist described him as having a history of homicidal and sociopathic thoughts. Published in The Messenger 8.6.08

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