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A Stealth Investigation

POSTED: 12:33 PM ET, 08/ 1/2008 by The Editors

The amazing thing is that it did not leak. Until now.

Today's Los Angeles Times blockbuster report that the Justice Department was about to indict a top government biodefense scientist in the 2001 anthrax attacks is the first indication a solution was close in a case that has baffled investigators for nearly seven years.

But government investigators clearly have learned some lessons that they put to use in their pursuit of Bruce E. Ivins, a 62-year-old with a Ph.D in microbiology who had worked for 18 years at the elite federal biodefense lab at Fort Detrick, Md.

Unlike some other recent high-profile FBI matters, this one was not bedeviled by media leaks that resulted in embarrassing apologies or monetary settlements to individuals identified as suspects, such as Richard Jewell in the Atlanta Olympics bombing case, or Wen Ho Lee in the Los Alamos nuclear secrets investigation.

An earlier leak in the anthrax investigation proved embarrassing and expensive for the feds. In June, the government paid $5.82 million to settle a lawsuit brought by Steven J. Hatfill, who had been the only person publicly identified as a "person of interest" in the attacks.

The news about Ivins comes after his apparent suicide on Tuesday from ingesting prescription Tylenol mixed with codeine. He had been under investigation for months but nothing leaked to reporters. Ivins' brother said that the FBI had been to interview him last year. The story was finally broken by David Willman, one of the top investigative reporters in the country, who had worked on it long enough to be able to make use of the federal Freedom of Information Act, a process that can take weeks or months.

The Washington Post reported today that a grand jury was preparing to indict Ivins, indicating the investigation had spent a long time maturing.

Federal investigators, such as those working for the FBI or the DEA, are not generally prohibited from talking to reporters about their investigations, but Department of Justice guidelines strongly discourage disclosures about suspects or targets. Any information presented to a federal grand jury, however, becomes secret by law, and cannot be disclosed by agents, prosecutors or grand jurors. Witnesses to a grand jury, however, are not prevented from giving interviews about what they said to the grand jury.

In the Ivins case, investigators took an extraordinary step to ensure secrecy. Willman reported that scientists who knew Ivins were asked by the FBI to sign confidentiality agreements
in order to prevent leaks of new investigative details.

By The Editors |  August 1, 2008; 12:33 PM ET
Previous: Picks of the Week: Anthrax; Diploma Mill; Ex-Con Brokers | Next: Long, Crooked Road of the Anthrax Probe


Please email us to report offensive comments.

the FBI and DOJ probably sought this guy out because he was already seeing a mental health professional for "other issues". Their increased patriot act powers, dilution of FISA, polygraph examination for his security clearance, use of wire taps and national security letters probably resulted in finding out other information unrelated to the anthrax leaks that was possibly extremely embarrassing and caused him great personal anguish.

I am wondering if their investigation was tantamount to mental torture that pushed the guy over the edge.

We will never really know, because the case will get buried by bogus nattional security concerns and security classifications.

It's a shame the government is allowed to make such announcements without officially charging the guy -- after he's dead.

dead men can defend themselves.

maybe his family, coworkers, and friends will force the justice department to "show their cards.

are they holding nothing, pair of deuces, or a royal flush?

DOJ, you made a claim, now show the American people the evidence!

Posted by: frank | August 1, 2008 1:19 PM

The government investigators may have learned some lessons, but the news media apparently has not. This man may have killed himself, but that does not mean that he is guilty of the charges that may or may not have eventually been brought against him. The fact that he was about to be indicted by the same bozos who tried to convince us that Hatfill was the culprit undermines the attempts by both the Post and the L.A. Times to implicate Dr. Ivins. His suicide is not an admission of guilt and the credibility of his alleged pending indictment is still seriously diminished by the previous attempts by law enforcement to convince us Dr. Hatfill was the anthrax killer. The nation needs to know the truth about what happened. We don't need more baseless speculation. Please find facts and evidence with which to prove your assertions and please find some sources with credibility. Its really the least you can do.

Posted by: Patrick Huss | August 1, 2008 1:27 PM

I second all of Franks comments. And I would add this in reference to the article stating: "from ingesting prescription Tylenol mixed with codeine". Has there even been an autopsy yet? I don't think so. We cannot know for sure that this was even a suicide. People are "suicided" all the time and you KNOW it. And like Frank says, he was possibly "pushed" to the suicide if it was even that. This is all too coincidental and convenient for the DOJ/FBI. The author also says: "The amazing thing is that it did not leak. Until now." For god's sake, things leak when they want them to leak and don't leak when they don't want them to. People: Start thinking for yourselves. The half brain-dead will call you a conspiracy nut, but at least you'll have your integrity intact.

Posted by: joann | August 1, 2008 1:39 PM

I agree with Frank. The press needs to investigate and tell us whether the FBI cornered the right man. Or did they corner the vulnerable man, end his career, break him financially and emotionally, and pin blame on him after he couldn't defend himself?

Posted by: Richard | August 1, 2008 1:44 PM

This article says past investigations were "bedeviled by leaks" as if the leaks did not come purposely from federal investigators who have repeatedly used a pliant media. Not too amazing there were no "leaks" on this since it didn't serve Feds purposes and the media does so little reporting of anything that isn't dropped in their lap, oh, I mean "leaked." Doubt there'll be any meaningful followup here either.

Posted by: RT | August 1, 2008 1:44 PM

1. You can commit suicide by taking Tylenol? Really?
2. Looks like the neighbors knew something was up, with the surveillance vans outside the house, and raids on his home and office. So where was the WPO. How come the LAT broke this story, and not the WPO.
3. Ivins was a scientist knowledgeable about anthrax. So what turned him into a suspect? And doesn't it strike others passing strange that these allegations allow the FBI now to file the anthrax case away on the shelf, and go on to other pressing issues, such has who made away with all that money involved in mortgage fraud.

Posted by: A skeptical reader | August 1, 2008 2:06 PM

Read: - then continue the discussion.

Posted by: MHO | August 1, 2008 2:08 PM

Given precedent, (particularly with all the other 9/11 "strange fruit," and anything else remotely connected to Cheney, or Bush), I am reminded of David Kelly's death, (the British scientist who also committed suicide for revealing the WMD justification, was, essentially, false).

My sincere condolences to Mr Ivins family, he deserved his day in court, I'm sure the pressure he felt was unbearable.

Posted by: Manly, the Cowhand | August 1, 2008 2:22 PM

The tin foil hat wearers are out in force today.

Posted by: yikes | August 1, 2008 2:38 PM

The press needs to investigate. In fact, I don't know why we have an FBI when we have a press.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 1, 2008 2:54 PM

The has the restraining order this guy's therapist applied for which would seem to indicate that he has a long history of making violent threats. Check it out.

Sometimes law enforcement folks do get it right (eventually).

Posted by: reader | August 1, 2008 3:35 PM

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