Lawmakers Are Seeking Answers in Anthrax Case
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
The strength of the government's evidence against Bruce E. Ivins, who died before prosecutors publicly labeled him the lone culprit in the 2001 anthrax-by-mail attacks, will be tested anew today when FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III appears before the House Judiciary Committee.
Authorities have released scores of pages from search warrants that they executed in an attempt to link Ivins, a bioweapons researcher at the Army lab at Fort Detrick, Md., to poison-laced letters that killed five people and sickened 17.
The case relies on a patchwork of circumstantial and scientific evidence tracing anthrax spores back to a beaker in Ivins's lab and a series of work logs, unusual e-mails and behavior patterns that Ivins exhibited. It adds up, officials argue, to a portrait of a man who had the know-how, motive and opportunity to pull off the largest biological attack in U.S. history.
But the material and a series of private briefings by Justice Department and FBI officials have yet to convince a small but vocal group of lawmakers that the government has solved the case.
Last week, staff members for Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) pressed U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Taylor and two FBI officials to say when the anthrax case will be closed and why investigators had fixed on Ivins six months after notifying him in April 2007 that he was not a target. Investigators told congressional aides that they are still pursuing leads in the "Amerithrax" investigation, sources said.
Several lawmakers said they are contemplating more hearings or a joint congressional inquiry.
"I just see so many loose ends in the case that I question whether the FBI is in the right frame of mind to bring this matter to the kind of closure that the public needs," said Rep. Rush D. Holt (D-N.J.).
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (Mich.) and two other Democrats on the panel have signaled they will scrutinize the FBI's work today. This month, they wrote Mueller asking about missteps in identifying the anthrax strain used in the attacks and tracing it back to Ivins.
Aides to Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said he will pursue answers to 18 anthrax-related questions at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday. Among them: why Ivins was allowed to retain his Army security clearance until late 2007, after he had become the bureau's "prime suspect."