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New Details Show Anthrax Suspect Away On Key Day
FBI officials said the powdered bacteria mailed to news outlets and Senate offices had a distinct genetic heritage that precisely matched anthrax spores Ivins kept in a flask in his laboratory. But the officials also acknowledged that 15 other labs had the same strain, known as RMR-1029. How, O'Toole asked, were investigators able to rule out other labs, as well as other workers with access to the bacteria?
Others noted the lack of evidence directly linking Ivins to the attack strain. Meryl Nass, a physician and prominent opponent of the Army's mandatory anthrax vaccination program, said the FBI ultimately proved only that Ivins had access to the right kinds of bacteria and equipment. "They found not a spore in his home or car," Nass said.
Court filings released this week sometimes ran counter to findings that authorities announced years earlier. In June 2002, the FBI revealed that radiocarbon dating analyses conducted by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory had found that the strain used in the letters had been cultured no more than two years before the mailings. The findings were considered important because they told investigators that the material was newly made and not from a laboratory's aging stocks.
But the documents released Wednesday said without explanation that Ivins had been "the sole custodian of RMR-1029 since it was first grown in 1997" -- dating the material back as far as four years before the letters were mailed.
Justice spokesman Dean Boyd said prosecutors were "confident" in their ability to defend the science in court.
Another missing link was the bureau's inability to match Ivins's handwriting with the primitive block print of the letters used in the anthrax mailings. In dealing with at least one earlier "person of interest" in the case, the FBI's handwriting experts in Quantico worked with outside consultants to try to match handwriting samples taken in property searches.
But authorities, who acknowledged seizing 68 handwritten letters to members of Congress and the news media from Ivins's property, said they could not make a specific identification. U.S. Attorney Jeffrey A. Taylor told reporters Wednesday that investigators concluded that Ivins had disguised his handwriting, leaving agents "unable to make a comparison."
Defense lawyer Kemp said he was told by the government that an analysis had come back negative, but that report has not been made public. Kemp had not won access to the government's scientific findings, and he asserted yesterday that authorities had misplaced or mistakenly destroyed an early anthrax sample that Ivins had provided from his lab in 2002, facts he said he would have exploited at trial.
Fresh accounts of Ivins's deterioration in his final weeks also came to light in court papers that federal agents filed in order to search two computers they seized from a Frederick library. Investigators watched Ivins enter the C. Burr Artz Library between 7 and 8:30 p.m. July 24, wrote FBI agent Marlo Arredondo. Earlier that day, he had been released from a Sheppard Pratt facility in Baltimore, where he had been sent after a counselor reported he had made "homicidal" threats.
FBI agents watched Ivins "reviewing websites dedicated to the Anthrax investigation and examining email accounts," Arrendondo wrote. "A search of the computers may reveal documentary evidence that will assist the investigation into these threats to witnesses related to the anthrax investigation, and obstruction of that investigation," the agent wrote.
Staff writers Marilyn W. Thompson and Paul Kane and staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.