By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Federal investigators probing the deadly 2001 anthrax attacks recovered samples of human hair from a mailbox in Princeton, N.J., but the strands did not match the lead suspect in the case, according to sources briefed on the probe.
FBI agents and U.S. Postal Service inspectors analyzed the data in an effort to place Fort Detrick, Md., scientist Bruce E. Ivins at the mailbox from which bacteria-laden letters were sent to Senate offices and media organizations, the sources said.
The hair sample is one of many pieces of evidence over which researchers continue to puzzle in the case, which ended after Ivins committed suicide July 29 as prosecutors prepared to seek his indictment.
Authorities released sworn statements and search warrants last week at a news conference in which they asserted that Ivins was their sole suspect. But the materials have not dampened speculation about the merits of the investigative findings and the government's aggressive pursuit of Ivins, a 62-year-old anthrax vaccine researcher. Conspiracy theories have flourished since the 2001 attacks, which killed five people and sickened 17 others.
Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee announced it will call FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III to appear at an oversight hearing Sept. 17, when he is likely to be asked about the strength of the government's case against Ivins. A spokeswoman for Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), a vocal FBI critic, said he would demand more information about how authorities narrowed their search.
The House Judiciary panel, meanwhile, is negotiating to hold a separate oversight hearing in September with bureau officials, in a session that could mark the first public occasion in which Mueller faces questions about the FBI's handling of the anthrax case.
Friends and former colleagues of Ivins, who died before he could see the full array of evidence prosecutors had gathered, continue to demand information about the DNA advances that authorities say led them to a flask in Ivins's lab.
Defense lawyer Paul F. Kemp yesterday said he wonders "where Ivins could have possibly stored this anthrax without any employees seeing it, or if he took it home, why there was no trace" of the deadly spores, despite repeated FBI searches over the past two years of Ivins's car, his work locker, a safe-deposit box and his house.
Meanwhile, government sources offered more detail about Ivins's movements on a critical day in the case: when letters were dropped into the postal box on Princeton's Nassau Street, across the street from the university campus.
Investigators now believe that Ivins waited until evening to make the drive to Princeton on Sept. 17, 2001. He showed up at work that day and stayed briefly, then took several hours of administrative leave from the lab, according to partial work logs. Based on information from receipts and interviews, authorities say Ivins filled up his car's gas tank, attended a meeting outside of the office in the late afternoon, and returned to the lab for a few minutes that evening before moving off the radar screen and presumably driving overnight to Princeton. The letters were postmarked Sept. 18.
Nearly seven years after the incidents, however, investigators have come up dry in their efforts to find direct evidence to place Ivins at the Nassau Street mailbox in September and October 2001.